Many a pastor and his wife have discovered that some of their greatest burdens in the ministry come not from great outward persecutions, but from the little frustrations that make up their everyday life. A lot of these come from immature Christians that we must work with. Few are called on to endure physical torture—in the stocks, in prison, stoning, being thrown to the lions. Those things are not commonplace in our day, at least not here in America. But all of us will have daily trials that might be likened to the nibbling of the little foxes on the grapes. You need to be prepared for this type of persecution—it is subtle but insidious in its discouraging effects on your ministry. How do you handle difficult people?
* Learn to take criticism. Ask God to show you if the criticism is true. If the person is right, then you should work at fixing the problem. And remember: don’t be mad at the person who pointed out your need. If the person is wrong, then consider, “Was she sincere? Or was she trying to hurt me?” If she was trying to hurt you, remember her sin is against God. She has a spiritual problem. But remember too that God allowed the criticism for a purpose. Maybe God wants you to pray for her or take a special interest in trying to help her. Maybe He wants you to reach out to her in love.
* Be sensitive to people’s needs. Be interested in what interests them. Notice their strengths and weaknesses. Comfort them, show appreciation, listen with concern, pray with them and for them, and visit with them in their home. Show interest in them as a person. Show them they are important to God. Sometimes difficult people are so shy that they don’t know how to reach out. Sometimes they just need someone to be their friend. Begin by reaching out to them.
* Ask God to show you what is really important to that difficult person. Then use that as a point of contact to build a relationship with them.
* Remember that God accepts you just the way you are in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:6). Often church people expect you to be perfect. If they loved the previous pastor’s wife, don’t be hurt by that. If they were critical of her, they will also be critical of you. There is no room for self-pity or jealousy in the Lord’s work. Just be yourself and serve the Lord in a way that is pleasing to Him.
* What about the church gossip? Every church has at least one—someone who likes to be the first to share all the details with you. Forget the details of the gossip, but listen for clues to her real problem. Does she tear others down so she will feel better about herself? Deal with the problem of the person who comes to you with the gossip. Remember there are always two sides to every story. Don’t take sides.
If it is an issue you feel must be dealt with, inform your husband about it. He might know something that you don’t know. If your husband wants you to handle the situation, be sure you have all the facts first. Ask her to go with you to confront the person (Matthew 18). If she is not willing to do so, or willing to let you use her name as the source of your information, then gently admonish her that she needs to refrain from gossiping or she will be in sin.
* What about the hostile person? Hostility is a response to an unresolved problem. Accept her anger without judging. Listen to her as she talks. Help her to see her real problem. Work with her on forgiveness. Show her how our forgiveness is to be like God’s forgiveness for us. Help her to remember God’s purposes for allowing trials in our life: that we might be a testimony to others; for chastening; to prune and refine us and make us more like Jesus Christ.
* What about an enemy? Sometimes we have to handle opposition. Usually they don’t come to you; they just work behind the scenes to oppose you. Remember, if people are out of step with God, they will try to give you trouble. Here are some steps you can take.
1. Read Matthew 18 and try to apply its principles. Turn the other cheek. Suffer injustice with patience. Go the second mile. Do whatever is in your power to solve the problem. Ask God to help you love that person as He loves you.
2. Be objective. You will have opposition. It is guaranteed. The important thing is how you respond. Don’t react. Don’t take it personally. Watch your pride.
3. Focus on the needs of the person. Her opposition may be God’s way of calling your attention to her.
4. Sometimes you need to find something for her to do. A horse can’t kick while it is working. But be careful about putting such a person in a position of responsibility or prominence.
5. Learn to be thankful for your opposition. If you handle it right, it is a great blessing. Sometimes a kick in the seat of the pants will send you along further in progress than a pat on the back.
6. Be wise. Pray about the problem. Don’t rush to fix it. Sometimes the best solution is to do nothing but to wait. Ask: Has she been hurt by lack of love? Does she have health problems? Is she dealing with guilt? God said, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.”
7. Be yourself. God put you right where you are. Your personality will be right for what God wants accomplished.
8. Allow God to lead you as you counsel. Don’t lecture. Don’t judge. Don’t be self-righteous. Gently, gradually deal with the situation. If you are following the leading of the Lord, He will direct your steps. Many times we have seen Him take an impossible situation and turn it around; because we were willing to leave it in His hands and not try to “fix-it” ourselves. As we waited on the Lord, He would bring new information across our path, or we would see the offending person “hang himself” by his own actions or words.
9. Find a quiet place to work with her. Don’t be distracted, like jumping up to answer the phone. Give her your total undivided attention and your unconditional acceptance. Don’t endorse her sin, but accept her.