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Caring for a Difficult Person
Some personalities require extra attention.

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1 John 4:7-8; Colossians 3:12-14

A passive-aggressive person appears friendly and is eager to get involved in the church-until you entrust him or her with an important task. Then, to your surprise and confusion, this person often drops the ball. This type of personality submerges negative feelings and resists open, healthy discussion of problems.

Instead, this hidden hostility takes the form of procrastination, lack of cooperation, and behind-the-scenes manipulation of others. How does a church leader handle such a frustrating personality?

  1. Confront. Assertive confrontation lessens your vulnerability to passive-aggressive people and reduces your frustration. Set up a meeting, and prepare to be persistent when he is late or misses the appointment altogether.

  2. Identify the pattern. When you do get together, identify what you perceive happens in your interactions with him, and then invite the person to share his perception of those events. Be specific; give illustrations.

  3. Own your feelings. You might say, "Last spring I asked you to organize some summer events you had expressed interest in. The events never happened. When all was said and done, I was disappointed and angry."

  4. Break out of the pattern. Make clear you prefer to avoid perpetuating a pattern of relating that leaves you both guilty and frustrated. If he wants to commit to a future ministry activity, ask him to arrange an accountability system that will enhance the likelihood of his success, such as a series of deadlines.

  5. Make him responsible for his future choices. Invite him to express his anger or fear more openly. Listen, but say, "I know for me it's more comfortable when I'm direct with my feelings-well, like I'm doing now with you. Otherwise I'd struggle with my anger and end up feeling guilty or just avoiding our relationship. Think about what I've said and let me know what you think."

Follow up your confrontation with some distinct boundary identifications depending on the response (or more likely, the non-response) you receive.

To Discuss

  1. Think about some recent conflict in your extended family or work place. Has that conflict centered on one person? Does that person exhibit any of the passive-aggressive characteristics?

  2. How comfortable are we with confrontation? Describe a recent example in our church of a loving confrontation.

  3. Where is the line between compassion for one who struggles emotionally but causes disruption in the body of Christ and the need to make sure the mission of the church doesn't get sidetracked?

From Building Church Leaders, published by Leadership Resources © 2000 Christianity Today Intl.

Topics:Compassion, Counseling, Difficult people, Discipleship, Mentoring, Shepherding, Spiritual Care, Spiritual Direction, Spiritual Formation
Filters:Church staff, Counseling, Discipleship, Elder, Pastor, Pastoral care, Shepherd
References:Colossians 3:12-14, 1 John 4:7-8

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