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In life and in ministry, we all meet difficult people. Difficult people are those people who never approve of anything you do and always feel the need to let you know their disapproval. They consume much more of your time than is necessary just so they can complain about things that may or may not be under your control. These may be great people and they may have great intentions, but their emotions have taken over their brains. Their actions are not normal, and certainly not constructive. Whether they’re complaints are right or wrong, these “difficult people” can suck the life out of you.

I don’t have a foolproof way of dealing with difficult people, but I have picked up a few things over the years. Here are 5 tips for dealing with difficult people in a healthy way:

1. Don’t get defensive
When you become defensive, it paralyzes your ability to make good decisions. Most of the time, these people are approaching you with an outburst of emotion. The worst thing you can do is to respond by letting your emotions get out of control.

2. Respond with grace
No matter what they say or do, respond with an attitude of grace. When the Pharisees would complain or hurl insults at Jesus, He always kept a spirit of grace. Sure, Jesus would rebuke them. But He would also take the time to teach them to understand the Truth. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

3. Listen closely for what they’re NOT saying
I’ve found that some complaints are only the tip of a much larger iceberg. Listen for clues that might point to the larger problem. It could be that they have been hurt by you or someone else, and their complaints are just a symptom of a much deeper wound.

4. Work toward resolution
The best way to deal with difficult people is to solve the difficult situation. Look for solutions without compromising your calling or vision for the ministry. Even with the most difficult people, they will often shed light on real problems that need to be solved.

5. When necessary, cut ties
There comes a time when it is healthier for you and the other person to just cut ties. Again, try to do so with a spirit of grace, but get out of dodge. In ministry, there is way too much at stake for you to be consumed by one difficult person. For the sake of the ministry, separate yourself from that person and move on.

What tips do you have for dealing with difficult people?


When I was a kid, I absolutely despised summer reading! The only reason for me to pick up a book in the summer time was to prop up the broken leg of the ping-pong table! But over the years, I’ve enjoyed the slower pace of summer and the opportunity it brings to read some books on my wish list. I may not get through them all, but here are the books I have on the agenda for this summer:

1. Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God by Bruce A. Ware
I’m currently reading this book, and I am loving it. The purpose of the book is to enable parents of 6-14 year olds to guide their child through all major doctrines of the Christian faith. This book is Systematic Theology 101 put in an understandable, easy-to-use guide for parent-child discussions. I am definitely going to recommend this book for preteen parents.

2. Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan K. Dodson
I’m really excited about the emphasis that our church has placed on discipleship for the coming year. I’ve heard great things about this book, and I really think it can help me better define discipleship for my life and ministry. I’m also looking for some major themes that we can use to better train our leaders who are discipling preteens.

3. Speaking to Teenagers: How to Think About, Create, and Deliver Effective Messages by Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins
I’ve been in the Children’s Ministry world for 10 years, but I feel a shift occurring in our preteens and in our ministry philosophy. I really want to call them up and challenge them on a deeper level, so I’m hoping this book will give me some ideas for how to move in that direction. I know it may not be 100% applicable to preteens, but there are always transferable nuggets.

4. Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem
As we launch our new preteen ministry, the first year of curriculum is going to include teaching on some major doctrines: Biblical inspiration and authority, what is sin, the Gospel, etc. I spent two semesters going through Grudem’s Systematic Theology textbook, so I’m hoping this book will be a refresher for some of the points made in that book.

5. Growing up Too Fast: The Rimm Report on the Secret World of America’s Middle Schoolers by Sylvia Rimm
I’m intrigued by this study. The study surveyed over five-thousand preteens to look at the big issues they face in this stage of life. Many of the issues were thought to be “teenage” issues, but the study found that many preteens (and even younger children) were struggling with the issues.

6. Adolescence Isn’t Terminal by Kevin Leman
This is another book that I want to read in hopes that it might be a recommended resource for preteen parents. I’ve read other books from Dr. Leman, and I’m a fan of his research and writing style. The book tackles some major preteen issues such as sexual maturity, peer pressure, relationships, etc. The reviews all say that is very practical and helpful for parents, so I’m looking forward to reading it for myself.

What books are you reading this summer?
What books should I add to the list?

This video was released about 8 months ago as a part of a training initiative from CCB (Church Community Builder). I have always appreciated the humility and passion of Francis Chan, and you can see his heartfelt concern in this video.

There is truth in his message. As a young pastor, I know that I struggle with wanting popularity and success. I want people to be impressed by my teaching. God has taught me a valuable lesson over the last year, and that is this: My teaching should not impress people, it should connect them with the power of God and urge them to move in action!

This means I must spend more time thinking through a strategy of calling people out and allowing room for the Holy Spirit to move in them. I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m thankful for what God is teaching me. And I’m thankful for pastors like Francis Chan that take time to speak truth to young pastors like myself.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for Gordon and Becki West. They are pioneers in preteen ministry (Gordon, I did not say “Grandparents”). Gordon and Becki began working with preteens when I was just a toddler, and they continue to lead the charge for communicating the Gospel to this unique group.

In true pioneering fashion, Gordon West opened the 2012 Preteen Leaders Conference. There were so many great things that Gordon said, but here are the highlights from his session that I was able to capture in my notes.

    “When children’s leaders and junior high leaders don’t get along, everyone loses. Not just the kids, EVERYONE.”

Gordon really nailed the need for collaboration between children’s and student ministries. For preteen ministry to succeed, it must be a joint effort. There needs to be a strategy for how we transition preteens from ministry to ministry.

    “You can pick up any curriculum or any teaching guide and make it work if you understand your preteens.”

So true! My guess is that the majority of the room was struggling with what curriculum to teach preteens. Do we use a children’s curriculum? Do we use a student ministry curriculum? Do we write our own? Those are all questions we in preteen ministry have dealt with. Gordon reminded leaders that you can’t copy a model. You have to understand the idea and how it could work in the context of your church and with your unique group of preteens. If we will spend time getting to know them, building relationships with them, and listening to their needs—the teachings will flow from that.

    “Even on the worst day of your ministry, Jesus is madly in love with you and He is delighted with what you’re doing in the life of preteens.”

Hearing those words from an experienced leader and veteran in preteen ministry was just what I needed. We all make plans that we believe will be great, but plans fail. When I experience a failure, I tend to be overwhelmed with the weight of that failure. It is so refreshing and uplifting to be reminded that Jesus loves me and is delighted in my service no matter what.

BONUS

Gordon West is not a fan of the term “tweens!” I know many people use the term interchangeably with preteens and think nothing of it. I too had a slight aversion to the word “tween,” but I couldn’t really give a reason. I may be biased, but Gordon’s reason was compelling. Gordon argued that preteens are not “tween” anything. We don’t call High School students “tweens” just because they are between Jr. High and College, Gordon pointed out that preteen is a cross-culturally identifiable developmental stage. Therefore, they deserve a distinct title that fits this stage of life.

Where you there? What did you gain from the session with Gordon West?