I’m writing this as requested by a friend who asked if I would do so. Although I am no expert I have dealt with varying levels of difficult people in ministry. I’ve learnt one or two things on the way that may help others who are sleepless with frustration.

I’ve been there. Sometimes I still am there.


Difficult People Don’t Exist

The idea that someone is difficult is a false observation. It’s not true. It may seem that way but look deeper at a person through the eyes of Jesus and you may learn a thing or two.

Often conflict arises because of one of two underlying factors:

1 – Insecurity

We all have insecurities in different areas. If the person you’re dealing with is feeling insecure they will react out of adrenaline rather than conscious response. If you’ve touched on something they’re trying desperately to hide or cover up then they will enter into ‘fight or flight’ mode.

For example: If someone is always late and you point it out to them, they may react with anger even though they are in the wrong. Perhaps they feel insecure about being a good asset to the team. Your simple address translates to them as: “you were not on time because you’re a bad asset to the team.”

You never said that. That is what they heard. That’s where the tension rose.

If you miss seeing a person’s insecurity then you’ll brand them as a difficult person. Recognising insecurities allows you to address them accordingly.

2) – Personality

If you’re in leadership you need to do a personality test. Simple.

It will show you how you think, act and communicate to others around you. More importantly it will show you how others think, act and communicate. You’ll begin to see not all people are like you.

For example: Betty is a fun loving personality who adores people but under performs when it comes to administration. If you’re a details person you’ll interpret Betty’s poor admin as sloppy and bad work ethics. But not everyone is like you remember? Betty is different and sees the world differently. She is bad at admin because she is motivated by loving people. She is people orientated and not task orientated.

If you blow up at Betty for being a ‘difficult person’ then you’ll make a personality clash a bigger problem than it needs to be. Recognising differences allows you to address them accordingly.


Responding to ‘Difficult People’ in Ministry

Hiding from people and avoiding crucial conversations is the fertiliser of conflict. Don’t do that. No communication is still a form of communication that shouts “I don’t care about you or our relationship”.

The quicker you address conflict the healthier your ministry will be.

  •  Talk to the person face to face. Arrange a meeting in a neutral setting (not their office or yours as this creates a bias).
  •  Ask them if they know why you want to talk to them. If conflict is looming they will usually admit they see a problem too. By getting them to say what the problem is will help them to  participate in the resolve, otherwise it can seem like you’re attacking them.
  •  If you’re the problem then start by apologising and ask them if they’ve been affected by your actions. This allows them to get emotions off their chest rather than exploding later to their friends. Take the feedback.
  •  Now use the PNCP principle. This is simple and easy to remember:

Positive Negative Correction Positive

Positive: Everyone wants to feel valued, respected, and loved. Start by saying what you love about that person and if you can’t think of anything you probably shouldn’t be having the meeting; get your heart right first.

Negative: Address the problem and explain why it is a problem. By offering an explanation it communicates that they are adults to be reasoned with and not kids to be disciplined. Even if they disagree with your reasoning they will feel valued.

Correction: How will you move forward from now? Will you need to add accountability to ensure the issue doesn’t rise again?

Positive: Repeat everything you said at the beginning. Most people aren’t A type leaders and may feel raw after addressing some hard stuff. Ensure that they know your heart and why you value them. Name times you’ve seen them shine and succeed.


Let’s see an example of this:

Positive: Betty I love your dedication to people. You’re such an example to others and people look up to you. You’re hard working and I know you give up a lot of your free time to help others. That’s amazing.

Negative: I know your heart is good but your office hours are quite poor right now. I know you don’t like admin. I know you struggle with it but if it doesn’t get done we can’t run and maintain the programs we are committed to. Other people are funding us to do this and trusting in our integrity; that we’re accountable and doing things well.

Correction: How do you think we could work on this? My idea would be to schedule in 2 hours admin every morning, before you leave the office to visit people. That way you can space it out and have something to look forward to on completion.

Positive: Like I said, you’re a great inspiration to others. You’re probably the best relational person we have on team and we value your input. Don’t give up. I mean it.

In Closing

Perhaps people will disagree with your explanation. Very rarely and only in extremities will you have to ask people to step down (usually for legal reasons) but if possible ask them to choose if they can live with the ministry guidelines or not. This again allows them the responsibility to choose. After all they’re Gods loved children not ‘difficult people’.

Depending on your personality you’ll find conflict easy or hard. That doesn’t matter. Loving people well is the most important thing. I’ve seen people skilled at addressing conflicts who don’t love the people they’re talking to. They can be worse than the person who is terrible at it but does so with love.

Difficult people in ministry don’t exist. See them as human and love them well.

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