Caring for a Difficult Person
Some personalities require extra attention.
by Louis McBurney
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?
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
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
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."
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.
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.
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?
How comfortable are we with confrontation? Describe a recent example
in our church of a loving confrontation.
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 (c)
2000 Christianity Today Intl.