Archive for August, 2014

Dealing with Difficult People – Part 1

In the work of the local church, a pastor will frequently come across people that are challenging to manage, much less lead. These are folks that have established unhealthy habits in relationships or have learned responses to conflict that have frequently proved destructive.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at such people and offer a few insights into managing them, and even leading them to healthier behaviors. First up…the VOLCANO!

We label this person a volcano because they tend to erupt when things don’t go their way. It’s the threat of their explosion and the experience others have of the resulting lava burns that keep everyone on edge when difficult subjects must be discussed. This is the “Oh no, Bill’s going to hit the roof when he hears this” type of reality that many churches are crippled by.

In a church setting, a volcano will often get their way simply due to the threat of explosion. After a few well-remembered eruptions, people don’t want to risk another scene so they quietly succumb to whatever they believe the volcano personality will want.

No pastor can afford too many volcano explosions among his people. Such moments are embarrassing and disruptive to the desired peaceful life of a congregation. Yet, often volcanoes seem oblivious to their own destructive impact. So how do you deal with such people?

  1. Remove them from the crowd.

The first step in dealing with a volcano is to draw them away from people when they are ready to spew. Share new direction or decisions privately where there is no audience. If they’re erupting in a crowded hallway, ask them to step into your office or some other private place. Never try to deal with a volcano in front of an audience. If they won’t move into a private place with you, go there anyway and leave them where they stand. You can’t deal with a volcano in front of a crowd—that’s their home turf!

  1. Ask them to sit down.

It’s very difficult to maintain the same intensity of negative emotion when you’re sitting down. Animated people need to move to fully express themselves so sitting down takes away a large chunk of that opportunity. Invite the volcano to sit down (you sit too) and tell him that you’ll be glad to discuss their issue if they’ll sit with you. Calmly refuse to engage the conversation until they sit too.

  1. Don’t try to match their intensity.

When a volcano is erupting, someone has to remain calm. Let that be you. Speak in soft tones. Lower the register of your voice a bit. Refuse to be baited into an emotional reaction. The wider the gap between your tone and theirs, the more you encourage them to soften their approach. If you escalate with them, the volcano will gain energy and keep spewing. If you have a tendency to express anger or lose your temper, this step will take real self-discipline, but keep in mind that you will never win a shouting match with a volcano.

  1. Listen, without interrupting.

Once seated, listen to the complaint of the volcano. Let him get it all out. Don’t interrupt or correct or argue. Drain the lava flow fully. Sometimes this individual just needs to be heard so hear him.

  1. Ask him to repeat details.

Once the spewing is done, ask this individual to repeat key details. “So, you’re telling me that my youth pastor…” or something to focus them on the specifics of what they said. Often when someone is angry, the details get overstated, so here is a chance to ask for a clear and accurate description of the situation.

  1. Remove hearsay and exaggeration.

Here, you want the volcano to own up to his own involvement. “So did you see this happen?” “So who was it that told you this happened?” These questions get more of the truth to the table. There may be a legitimate issue amidst the explosion, but you want to get the facts as clearly as possible. Also, ask questions that can help trim the exaggerations away. When people are angry, they tend to say more than is true to help fuel their anger.

  1. Give a soft, clear answer.

If there is something to investigate, assure the volcano that you will research the situation and deal with it appropriately. Don’t tell the volcano what your response will be, but assure them that you’ll do what is needed.

  1. Hold them accountable for what they’ve said and done.

After you have listened, discerned the situation, and pledged to take appropriate action, now you must deal with the volcanoes behavior. If they have wronged someone, this must be dealt with. If they made a scene, insist that they handle things differently in the future. Explain that while you want to deal effectively with every situation, their behavior has not been wise or helpful. Help the volcano see how you want them to respond to such situations.

Remember that the goal of such moments is not merely to survive the latest eruption, but to teach new behaviors and help the volcano learn new patterns for dealing with people. Clearly this isn’t an exact science and great results may take several such efforts, but you can ultimately help train these individuals to manage their conduct and their lives more effectively. And that’s a win for everyone!

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 170

170. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).

This is what servant leadership is all about–laying down one’s life BY CHOICE. I’ve met pastors whose necessary sacrifice came without their full cooperation. They were mistreated, overlooked, abused, lied about, and even sent packing by the misdeeds of others. And in their hurt, they decide that they have laid their lives down. Yes, they have entered a profession where such episodes are sadly common, but Jesus isn’t speaking of mistreatment alone. Instead, He says that His sacrifice was entered into wilfully BY HIM. In other words, he walked toward the burning building. He knew what would happen and did nothing to prevent it. He knew the bigger picture and willingly played the tragic role. Only when we engage suffering that we could have side-stepped do we understand the path of His leadership.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

The Brotherhood – Part 168

The Brotherhood of the Second Cross was established on Father’s Day 2005 where 160 men stood before their wives and children to pledge themselves to purity, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and excellence.Today, hundreds more have joined the commitment.

Choices are the great challenge of life—two possible paths, two roads with their separate consequences or destinations. How to choose? Consider a few thoughts:
  1. Destinations

When you make a decision, whether it’s a new career move, a significant new direction, or even a simple behavioral choice, a wise man will consider the destination such a choice leads to. Every decision in life has a destination. Whatever steps you take will always be followed by another step and then another. Soon you have a journey that was launched by that initial decision and that road is taking you somewhere. For example, if you make sinful choices, yielding to the temptations that Satan may bring your way, you won’t be on the path to God’s best. That destination requires decisions of obedience to God’s truth. Every road is headed somewhere.

  1. Sensibilities

Another consideration when making a decision is whether or not the choice will help me be at my best. Some behavior choices weaken us—they make us more susceptible to mistakes. I’ve counseled many folks who opened a few behavioral doors only to find themselves making other choices that messed up their lives. Someone has wisely said that “Sin will make you stupid.” That may seem harsh, but repeated choices away from God’s best path have a way of reshaping our view of reality and causing us to choose against things we once valued.

  1. Hunger

One of the best decision-making tools I know is the hunger test. When considering two options, ask yourself, “What will each choice reveal about my heart?” If I go this direction, is it for money or some form of gratification? Which choice would one make who is truly hungering for closeness to God? If I make choices that reveal my own desire for excellence and pursuit of God, those will likely prove to be my best choices.

How do you make your daily decisions? Every one of them truly do matter, so give your best to making the decisions that will ultimately shape your life’s journey.


Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 169

169. “I have other sheep that are not of this pen” (John 10:16).

It seems likely that Jesus is referencing the Gentiles here, but regardless of who the “other pen” is, the important point is that there is one. We are never God’s only expression. Our ways are never the only acceptable versions. While Jesus has made clear that He alone is the path to the Father, there are many paths to Him. When we decide that our way is the only way, we close ourselves to the amazing work Jesus may be doing in others. We draw lines in the proverbial sand and separate ourselves from truth that would broaden our understanding. We are not the only pen and thankfully no other group is either.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

Are Your Convictions Causing Conflict at Church?

There are few things more devastating to a community and to individual lives than conflicts at church. Somehow we expect difficult moments and relational challenges at work, at home, and in just about every other setting of our lives. But church? Well, that just shouldn’t be.

Okay, yes, we could argue that a local church is full of people too and, therefore, we should anticipate a few challenging relational moments, but much of the angst can be avoided if we would understand the differences between truth, convictions, and preferences.

Ultimately, there are four levels on this continuum, and keeping them clear of each other is critical to the health of your congregation.

1. Biblical Absolutes

As the name implies, these are the truth statements provided for us in the Bible. As an absolute, we mean that these concepts are true no matter when or where we live. For example, the Bible makes it clear that all of us are sinners. That’s true whether you lived in 15th century England or 21st century Mexico, or even 24th century America should such a day ever come. Biblical absolutes stand tall regardless of current culture. The Bible’s insistence that Jesus is the only means of salvation is absolutely true, even though modern thinking wants to open up other roadways to God. No matter our ideas or preferences, absolutes are absolutes–even in a culture that wants to define truth as what works for you.

2. Community Standards

This second level of conviction contains the rules we choose to live by in our community of faith. They are not Biblical directives, but they are agreed upon standards that allow our place in the body of Christ to be evident. For example, most of us worship on Sunday mornings. While local churches have been doing that for a very long time, it’s not a Biblical absolute, is it? We don’t discount congregations that choose to meet on different days, but we have our own agreed upon practices that we maintain. We also choose certain behaviors to either act out or avoid. Here, we often see a church’s membership standards or the “understood” rules we live by. We may not be able to offer chapter and verse to insist that everyone act as we do, but in our community, this is what we do.

3. Personal Convictions

This third group is comprised of those things that we have personally chosen as expressions of our faith in Christ. For some of us, there are things we won’t do because of our own convictions. The Apostle Paul dealt with these at Corinth when the issue of eating meat that had been previously offered to idols arose. Some felt that such eating was inappropriate while others didn’t wrestle with the idea. We should note that Paul didn’t take a side or establish either view as a standard or absolute, but instead made room for each person to follow their own heart and asked them to respect and love each other enough to allow for different choices.

4. Personal Preferences

This final group is filled with all sorts of ideas. It’s “the way we like it” category of opinions and ideas. Music styles, Bible versions, carpet colors, ministry models, and so much more offer different approaches baed on what I personally enjoy most. And yet, while these are the lowest group on the conviction scale, they are often the largest source of conflict. You see, many of us (especially when we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s harvest) simply want things to be the way we like them.

Now, having preferences surely isn’t wrong. You can prefer certain styles of worship expression or decide that you like the New King James Version better than the old one, but when personal preferences aren’t kept personal, problems arise. Any time these start climbing the ladder into the other categories, trouble will soon erupt.

If I insist that my preferences are really my convictions, I will find myself easily offended. If try to make my Convictions into Community Standards, I will become demanding and difficult for others to work with. And if we try turning our Community Standards into Biblical Absolutes, we end up treating our ways and traditions as equal with the Bible.

So keep these things in their proper box. For most of us, that starts with acknowledging our Preferences and allowing others to have some too. We’ve all soon too many congregational battles  over stuff like music. While folks on both sides of such issues often act inappropriately, frankly, I’m surprised when those who have walked with Jesus the longest are the ones acting most immaturely, demanding that their preferences become priorities. The priorities at church should be centered on reaching and discipling people, not shaping a community where my favorite things rule the day.   

If each of us take responsibility for keep Absolutes, Standards, Convictions, and Preferences in their appropriate boxes, a new level of peace and ministry health becomes possible. And the number of folks driven from church because of our humanity will become fewer and fewer. 

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 168

168. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14).

How do sheep know their shepherd? Seems such is not an inherent knowledge, but one that needs to be cultivated. Because of what the shepherd has done to care for the sheep, the sheep become familiar with and learn to trust the shepherd. He is their Protector, their Leader, their Provider. And as He cares for them and knows them by name, they learn His. They begin to recognize His voice, the same voice that called to them in kindness, the same voice that corrected them in times of failure. Sheep know their shepherd’s voice because it is the only voice that speaks safety and hope for their futures.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

The Brotherhood – Part 167


The Brotherhood of the Second Cross was established on Father’s Day 2005 where 160 men stood before their wives and children to pledge themselves to purity, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and excellence.Today, hundreds more have joined the commitment.


What does faithfulness mean to you? 

When I think of faithfulness, I want to focus on God. After all, His name is more attached to that word in my vocabulary than anyone else’s. I easily say “He is faithful.” I even grew up singing hymns that celebrated that particular character trait.

In that context, faithfulness means always dependable. It means that He always will do what He has said He will do. It means I never have to be uncertain about Him or what I can count on from Him. God is truly faithful–almost as if He can be without even trying.

But when I aim that word at myself or at you, the definition gets a little hazy. I want to be dependable. I want people to be able to count on me. I want to live so that my faithfulness is unquestioned. But I also fully understand that I can’t be that guy without trying…really hard.

Faithfulness to God, to my family, to my local church, and to my nation demands a close attention to priorities. Other things may have their moment of feeling important, but I can’t allow anything to rise to the level of those four priorities, or I will make a wrong turn when the road forks. Faithfulness is all about priorities. It demands that the most important things stay the most important.

You see, I can’t truly be faithful to everything. I can’t faithfully spend time with every friend every day or faithfully make every sacrifice on the job without affecting my faithfulness to God and family. Something has to come first. And it is to that something that I can be truly faithful.

So, if I’m going to be a man of faithfulness, I must be certain that my list is in order. No one gets God’s place at the top or my family’s slot just below. And my choice to be faithful to my local church grows out of my effort to show faithfulness to God. I choose faithfulness to my nation because so many have lived and died faithfully for me. After that, I’ll give my absolute best on my job, to my friends, my neighborhood, and then…well, you get the idea.

So when I challenge you to be faithful too, now you know what I mean and what it really takes to be that guy.