One Big Mistake in Dealing With Difficult People

Think of your groups ministry. Somewhere in that context is someone that bugs you. Of course it’s not a pretty thing we talk about as pastors, but everyone has that person. You’re probably picturing them right now. Hold that person in your mind for the next few minutes.

“That guy”

Not too long ago I had a small group member rise up into a leadership position when his leader moved away. Todd was a challenging guy for me to lead. Whether it was the fact that we were polar opposites or just my own fallen nature, he was just someone who rubbed me the wrong way.

And due to a severe case of Murphy’s Law (and a lack of volunteers), I was the one who was to be his closest point of contact.

In one of our meetings, I discovered a situation in which Todd needed some support. He was in conflict with a member of the group, and he wanted me to step in the middle of things and help resolve it. Obviously, I was less than excited about this.

I learned more about the conflict. It was clear that the next step was for Todd to approach this person over a coffee or a meal and attempt to clear things up on his own first. Inserting a third person would have made things much worse, actually.

I thought to myself, “Aha! I’m off the hook!!” I could visualize holding onto my Matthew 18 “Get out of jail free” card. I felt relieved – saved! However, that relief was followed quickly by a pang of guilt. Why was I so happy not to be involved? Where was that feeling coming from? Should a small groups pastor not want to be involved in relational restoration?

The Mistake

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever done the right thing even if the wrong thing was in your heart? The GNT translates Proverbs 16:2 this way: “You may think everything you do is right, but the Lord judges your motives.”

A big mistake we face as ministers is doing what’s best even though our hearts are sour.

What’s the fix? Doing the wrong thing instead? Absolutely not! We’re called to do what’s right and lead well. But even before we do that, we are called to be actively changing our hearts and minds. I’m called to lead Todd well, and I’ll do that best by allowing God to lead me.

In these moments we need to call on God. Romans 12:2 tells us to renew our minds and be transformed. In Ezekiel 36:26 we hear a promise from God to rely on: “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Scripture is littered with calls and commands of transformation. It is full of stories of God changing the world through changing hearts. That promise is as true today for us as it has always been.

Take Action

Think of the person in your ministry that might be “that guy” or “that gal” that triggers your stubborn heart. It’s in those moments we need to connect with each other, tell the truth, and pray together that God gives us tender, responsive hearts. Let’s maintain doing the “right thing,” but let’s do it while asking God to shape our hearts to celebrate for the right reasons.

Are you in a stony, stubborn season? In need of prayer? Speak up in the comments section below or connect on the Small Group Network’s Facebook page.


  • Jon Noto

    Jon Noto is a licensed Christian therapist who was called into ministry and served at Willow Creek Community Church’s North Shore campus as Community Life Pastor. Now Jon works with White Stone Counseling Resources, a Christian counseling practice that serves local churches. Jon continues to write, teach, and train in addition to private practice. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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Daniel Thomas

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Daniel serves as Executive Pastor at Community Church of Mountain City, TN.  Daniel and his family are on a mission to establish roots within their community, fight for peace and serve well.  He serves as our Connections Director in laying the groundwork for Circles. He loves great coffee and traveling with his wife Tia and two children, Deklan and Aden



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