Every pastor, ministry leader, and church-goer knows what a negative church person smells like. Cantankerous with a hint of Folgers.
But let’s get more specific.
I’m talking about the person who is negative about everything but they show up every Sunday, are in a community group, shoot — they even give 10%. What do you do with this person? They are suspicious of your leadership, the direction of the church, the new ministry endeavor, the new hire, the last sermon series, the mission’s dollars, the elders, the deacons, the membership process, the lack of position papers on alcohol and home-schooling, the quilting ladies, and the amount of bulletins printed. But they love the bad church coffee, which makes sense, they are in charge of it!
Get the picture?
Negativity comes in many different packages and people; emails and phone calls, early coffee meetings and late night barn-burners — how will you deal with it? I’ve had a man stand in my office, look me in the eyes and say, “I don’t like that you are the pastor of this church.” Thanks for sharing!
Here are three things to consider when dealing with negative church people.
1. Humble Yourself
Before you handle the pan, put on a glove. Deal with your sin before you deal with theirs. Search your own heart before you deal with someone else's.
It’s always good and biblical to humble yourself. You aren’t that great. You aren’t above being questioned or criticized. Don’t pull a muscle while thinking so highly of yourself (Rom. 12:3). Let the gospel shape and mold you.
Jesus had negative critics — and still does. Some of the strongest negativity came from his team of leaders; Peter had a knack for being negative. Peter tried to stop Jesus from fulfilling his mission. Jesus corrected him, strongly mind you, and still kept him around.
I’ve heard too many pastors and planters shoo someone away that was detracting from their mission and vision because they went against the grain; don’t put the cart infront of the horse and kick out the passengers.
2. Shepherd Them
Negative saints are still saints. They need a shepherd, not a sniper.
Instead of writing them off, fulfill your duty as a Pastor and pastor them. If they’ve sinned, rebuke them. Encourage them in the gospel. Meet with them, face to face — email wars are for losers. And when you meet, be biblical. Embody the fruits of the Spirit. You may benefit from them by asking about their perspectives. Do your homework before you give a grade. It takes a humble shepherd to learn from a negative wart, and it take a proud pastor to send a saint out to pasture with out shepherding them on the way. Maybe Mr. Negative needs to find a new church, or maybe he needs his pastor to pastor him.
Here’s the deal: negative sheep don’t detract from the mission and vision, they are whom the mission and vision exists for — if it’s biblical. Christians are never distractions. Mr. Chipper might be a slithering wolf, but you have to get up close and find out. Don’t judge negative church folk like you’re cooking a hot-pocket; you need more time. “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14-15).
Some negative church folk have a rap-sheet filled with church hopping. Could it be that none of their past pastors had the love and guts to shepherd them? The pastor couldn’t get over his wounded pride in order to deal with the pride of his assailant?
I don’t have any data but I bet I’m close to the bullseye.
3. Be Biblical
This should go without saying, but sometimes what is crystal clear is missed.
When dealing with negative church people here are a few verses to remember and put into practice.
The aim of your leadership is love. . .
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim. 1:5)
And love looks like. . .
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4–7)
It’s easy to love those who love your sermons. It’s biblical love to love those who can’t stand the way you write your emails and let you know it.
And there will come a time when the controversial straw is breaking the Elder’s back. Titus 3 might be one of the ignored passages in the Bible.
“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10–11)
Proverbs and the French call this person, Le Fool.
Negative folks might need an heart adjustment from a loving pastor, others may not change and remain unrepentant. But you gotta go the distance here. Matthew 18 still applies. Titus 3 needs a hearing in the ears of the heart. How many ramped up negative Neil’s and Nancy’s have heard Titus 3:10-11 from the heart of a true shepherd? I bet E.T. could count it on one hand.
J.A. Medders is the Lead Pastor of Redeemer Church in Tomball, TX. He is pursuing his M.Div at Southern Seminary. He and Natalie have one precious little girl, Ivy. Jeff digs caffeinated drinks, books, and the Triune God. He blogs at www.jamedders.com and tweets from @mrmedders.