I’m new to ministry, but I’m guessing every pastor has people in his congregation that could be categorized as negative. Many people are supportive, kind, and generally seem spiritually heathy (not that its supporting the pastor that qualifies someone for spiritual health). But there are some who, no matter what you do, don’t seem to be satisfied. There is always something they don’t like, and they want you to know about it.
As I can tell, there are two bad ways to pastor these kind of people.
Option 1: Write them off and keep them at arms length.
Daniel Edwards is a pastor friend of mine who suggested to me the thing to do with negative people isn’t to stay away from them, but to get closer to them. I think that’s wise in many cases.
There are a few things wrong with simply writing the negative person off. Here are two:
- It ignores the fact you’re called to pastor that person. Paul David Tripp writes in his book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands that sometimes young pastors (guilty as charged) can have a picture of what their church is supposed to look like that is more like a fairy tale than real life. When they realize their people are actually sinners, they’re taken aback by it.Tripp is right, and I was convicted by that when I read it. I’m called to pastor sinners (repenting sinners, but sinners nonetheless). That means I have to love people who have real problems. Keeping the negative person at arms length shows that we’re not concerned about the spiritual health of the church as much as we are establishing our agenda for “progress.” We think, “Mr. Negative is getting in the way of my plans to grow this church. Therefore, I’m going to neglect my responsibility to help pastor him through this and ignore him until he goes away. Then, God will leave the people I’m really called to pastor.”
- You could miss truth. Negative people aren’t always wrong. They probably exaggerate often. But they’re not always wrong. Keeping those kind of people at arms length can keep you from learning some very true things.Chad Minter, in his helpful post about this, said the following:
Search your heart and see if there is even a crumb of truth to what your criticizer claimed. Any criticism, whether warranted or not, can be to your benefit. It does not excuse his offense, but you are to gain because now you see a caricature or yourself and are able to work at fixing even the smallest of your weaknesses.
“Yes men” may be good for your ego, but they aren’t good for helping you see blind spots. Perhaps the “thorn” that some people unknowingly are to you have been put there by God Himself to keep you humble. Learn where you can, even if you don’t like the source.
Option 2: Let them hijack your leadership.
The other bad response I can have toward negative people comes from my desire to pacify them in order to keep the peace. It’s good to be a peacemaker, but being a peacemaker doesn’t mean allowing negative people to rule. There are a few reasons this option is a poor way to deal with Mr. Negative:
- You will lose the respect of others. Everyone knows Mr. Negative is who he is. There are other people on the committee with you who realize certain people are, for the most part, generally critical and find something wrong with what the best decision is. Those people will see you bowing to Mr. Negative, knowing the right decision to be made. Because you allow Mr. Negative to hijack what needs to be done, they will lose confidence in your leadership. The next time you ask them to be on a committee, they’re going to turn you down. Why? Because they know who’s really in charge, and its not you.
- You will encourage others to be negative. Every time you allow a negative person to whine and get his way, you reward his behavior. The message you’re sending him and everyone else who knows the situation is, “If you want the pastor to do what you want, just be really critical and whiny about it.”There is a place for constructive criticism. You should listen very closely to people who have invested their lives into your church and who have your back and who are not nit-picky people. But negative people are not showing the fruit of the Spirit by their critical, diminutive, selfish attitude. Doing whatever they want in order to keep the peace actually doesn’t encourage peace. It rewards and encourages negativity.
- You will fear man more than God. God has called you to lead, not Mr. Negative. Bowing to his preferences could be the fruit of the fear of man in your heart. Personally, I can’t stand when people don’t like me. My wife, my daughter, anyone really. There will come a time when I know the right decision to be made and the right direction in which to head, and someone will oppose it. Will I fear God, or will I fear man? One can ruin my reputation, run me out of my church, or even kill me, but the other can cast my soul into hell. One is a contemporary, but the other is my King. I pray I have the strength and courage to fear God more than man.
What do you think? As a leader, what are some other bad ways to deal with negative people?