DEALING WITH PROBLEM PEOPLE
It is a common struggle for church planters to try to any retain every newcomer that visits your new church. But that’s not always a good thing. I am currently planting a church, so I get it.
All of it.
Live bodies to help with set up, volunteers to care for the children, workers for mid-week ministry…the list of needs is seemingly endless and that’s just the beginning. But here’s a few people that bring baggage you must address toward Gospel change if you want the church to prevail.
This is the person who is thoroughly committed to “pointing out all the problems” without ever being part of the “solution.” They might even think it is their gift. It isn’t. They bring down morale and discourage everyone around them.
This is the person who is happy to come and take from the church without ever giving in return - financially or otherwise. The modern church landscape is filled with folks who have been trained to believe this is acceptable behavior. It isn’t.
This is the person who is happy to offer plenty of advice about what to do, yet actually not getting involved in doing any of the work. Uh yeah, ideas are good, but action along with those ideas is better.
This is the person who is always mad about something. It could be anything, actually. And they come from all sides - Right, Left, Center. But they cannot be ignored because they contaminate the culture you are trying to create.
This person comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. It could be a highly theological “footnotes on the footnotes” kind of person that has no room for anyone who may read certain Texts differently than he does. It could also just as easily be the “highly experiential and doesn’t really like doctrine” gal that insists her “experience with Jesus” cancels out everyone else’s biblically informed opinion. But make no mistake, the graceless arrogance displayed by each individual is a threat to the new church.
How I Handle Each
My hope in the next few paragraphs is to offer some “non-exhaustive, yet actionable” help to help you address each of these scenarios. But first, a couple of provisos.
First, on my better days, each of my “tactics," begins with a hearty amount of prayer for wisdom, myself, the person that needs to be confronted and for the fledgling church. Though I may have given them “tongue in cheek” names above, we are talking about humans with eternal souls - likely, less mature believers in each of these scenarios and each should be handled with care.
Second, in most cases, though I tend to be involved in planting/pastoring medium sized churches, I have some degree of relational connection with each individual, though that is not necessary to address such situations.
Third, each one of the people mentioned above likely has a web of relationships within your church body already and you should “count the cost” as you take necessary action.
Fourth, I use the pulpit to guide the church. I spend lots of time talking about the “kind of church we want to be” in my preaching. This helps establish the kinds of behaviors that are “in” and “out.” I believe in the power of God’s Word and it also gives me a reference point when I have to have those “hard conversations."
Now, for specifics.
The Complainer and the Expert: I will often thank them for their feedback and seek to encourage their desire to make the church better. Where appropriate, I invite them into being part of the change they seek to see and give them concrete ways they can help. If they don’t get involved and/or stop the complaining, we have a more firm conversation the next time around.
The Consumer: I personally invite them to take the next step - whatever that is. Join a group, attend the membership class…whatever. I also enlist a couple key leaders to seek to help me “draw them in.” The relational piece is often what is missing for folks who “go to church” but don’t consider this “their church.” Many of them can be brought along.
The Angry The “Only”: Pastorally, I try to figure out what is BEHIND their bad behavior. It is my experience that angry people are usually hurt or afraid. I try to figure out what that pain point is and take Jesus there. When dealing with an “Only,” I refer people back to the kind of church we want to be. One that has both “Closed Handed” (things we must ALL agree on) and “Open handed” (things we allow for diversity.) Beliefs. I remind them of that we are called to be a Refuge for our community and that the tone with which we speak matters in helping others feel safe and welcome. Then I pray and give it some time. If it doesn’t correct itself, we step in to correct it.
Planters, you need to know that everyone who walks through your doors comes with baggage—including you. But some baggage can be particularly detrimental to a young flock.
May God, by His grace, give us all great patience and great insight in shepherding His sheep AND protecting His Mission.
They are not mutually exclusive.
And by His grace, we can do both.