Church Leadership & Difficult People – When Being Nice is Not Enough

by Grady King

Charles Schultz is on one my favorite theologians. What he communicated through Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Lucy reached millions of peopl

 “There’s nothing you need more than Christ.”

 “Keep looking up…that’s the secret of life.”

Whatever is worrying you right now, forget about it.  Take a deep breath and trust in God.

For church leaders, here is one that resonates—

            “I love humanity, it people I can’t stand.”.

The call to love people is the greatest challenge of following Christ, particularly when people disagree. It is exhausting. Relational exhaustion is real—even when people are on good behavior and possess a healthy spirit. Every church person has “hot buttons.” You know, the things that define church and more specifically, the way church is understood and to be done. Any deviance evokes discomfort, resistance and a for some, a threat to their faith.  Enter discomfort, resistance, and pain. If not resolved—which usually means wearing out their favorite leader, then exhaustion can be debilitating.

Leaders have choices. Simply being nice and avoiding pain is not loving.  It is understandable and I certainly have had those Sunday mornings when I chose to go down another aisle to avoid someone.  Ouch! Yet, as leaders it is unloving to allow people to act immature and not speak the truth in love when they:

Nice is not a fruit of the Spirit. Kindness is. We can be kind and direct at the same time.
  • Talk about rather to someone with whom they have a problem.
  • Manipulate others and even Scripture to get their way.
  • Rally others to their viewpoint to influence a leader.
  • Withhold their contribution until whatever they want happens.
  • Threaten to leave and speak of “others” who feel the same.

Somewhere along the way in church leadership we have come to believe that conflict is bad, hard conversations can’t happen and being nice is loving. Nice is not a fruit of the Spirit. Kindness is. We can be kind and direct at the same time. Pain avoidance can, and often does stifle unity because meaningful conversation cannot happen. They are stopped when pain becomes apparent.  It’s one thing for people in the pew to struggle with pain avoidance and quite another for the leader group to adopt the posture.  Being stuck in a leadership position of perennial pain avoidance quenches the spirit and hope.

The call to love people is the greatest challenge of following Christ, particularly when people disagree.

Most leader groups, ironically, know who has the power among them. How is it that one person can control a whole room of intelligent, talented, caring leaders for years? How is it that everyone simply “sanctifies” their behavior by saying, “They have a good heart and have done good things,: or, “They mean well and  would be crushed to know what others really feel and think.”  In other words, let’s avoid the pain and be nice—I love humanity, it is people I can’t stand.

Even Jesus says otherwise.  

Next Week: Being Nice at What Price?

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