What’s your biggest relationship challenge at church?

Every pastor has one. The relationship that takes extra energy. The person you think about more than anyone else at church. The one who keeps you awake at night. It might be a key staff person who doesn’t want supervision (yet really needs the job). It might be a lay leader who always wants to tell you what you are doing wrong. Or a church member with multiple problems who is convinced you are the one to solve them.

What’s a pastor to do?

fight smaller

Here are three thoughts for reflection.

1. What is your responsibility? As a pastor, your responsibility will always involve the wider congregation, not simply one individual. As you consider any of these situations, remember that.

While individual staff needs can be taken into consideration, their work is in service to the whole. Taking a stand with them about their work is critical (and, in the long run, in their best interests). One individual’s perspective on your work is not the whole picture of what you need to be doing. And spending hours with someone who is not willing to take responsibility for their own life may not be the best use of your limited time. Each case is different, of course, and there are nuances. However, if you think about the larger whole and your responsibility to it, you will better be able to think through your best response.

2. How can you define yourself? Pastors can find it hard to take a stand with people they find challenging. See it as a chance to practice. I guarantee you’ll get more opportunities in the future. For example:  “We’re not going to invest more time and money in that favorite program of yours.” “The board has already decided on next year’s budget proposal.” “I can’t spend any time with you today, but I can talk with you later in the week.” Then (more practice) don’t get too caught up in how they react. See if you can stay calm and clear (at least 50% of the time).

3. What is the emotional “hook” for you? The people who keep us awake at night are not random folks. Something about them grabs something in us. Usually it comes from our family of origin experience, and sometimes it comes from the multigenerational family story. The staff member is that younger sibling or uncle (or both) who always seemed to get away with everything. The critical lay leader is that parent who was never satisfied. The needy church member is the parent who needed us to take care of them. It may not be that obvious. However, it can be helpful to see our side of the equation. This perspective can move us away from blaming the other and toward compassion for them and for ourselves.

There’s no quick fix for these challenges. And if one of these people moves out of our lives, the chances are that someone will replace them. Here’s the good news: each of them can be a teacher for us, if we choose to take it that way. Can we get a little less hooked? Can we say no more easily? Can we focus more on our own goals and less on what other people think of us?

How are you working on these matters in your own ministry? Comment below and let me know.

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