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C ECIL S HERMAN

GAVE HIS LIFE TO THE WORK OF

MINISTRY AND ALONG THE WAY INSPIRED UNTOLD NUMBERS OF US TO DO THE SAME.

THIS

BOOK OUGHT

sherman

Ministry/Leadership

TO SIT WITHIN ARM’S REACH ON EVERY PASTOR’S DESK. —Stephen H. Cook Pastor, First Baptist Church, Danville, Virginia 2002 Graduate, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

—Victoria Atkinson White Chaplain, Westminster Canterbury, Richmond, Virginia 2000 Graduate, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

For anyone who cares about pastoral work in Jesus’ name, this is a must read. —W. Randall Lolley Retired President of Southeastern Seminary

I couldn’t put it down. If To Be a Good and Faithful Servant doesn’t become a pastoral ministry classic and standard text for seminary classes, someone isn’t paying attention. —James H. Slatton Pastor Emeritus, River Road Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia

I predict that To Be a Good and Faithful Servant will be a textbook and handbook for a multitude of ministers.



—Daniel Vestal Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Atlanta, Georgia

CECIL SHERMAN most recently served as visiting professor of pastoral ministries at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. During his long career, Dr. Sherman served pastorates in North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, and Texas and was very active in church life and community service.

to be a good and faithful servant

From the course heralded as the most practical class a seminarian could take in preparation for ministry comes the quintessential instruction and commentary on servant leadership.


Chapter 7

WORKING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE

Every congregation I served included difficult people. An idealist might suggest that none of them would be members of a church, but such idealism does not rest on good theology. The church is not a collection of saints; it is a halfway house on the road to heaven. We Christians are a community of people who are in the process of being saved, and for some of us the process has only begun. We must address this topic with humility. After all, likely some of the “difficult people” in my congregations thought they had a “difficult pastor.” The political nature of a congregation (every church has one) opens the door for a few to have real power. One negative person on a personnel committee can change the atmosphere of a meeting. One obstinate member of a board of elders can send people home dreading the next meeting. My former students have spoken to me at length about one or two people in their congregations who do not seem to like them. Most churches want to accomplish goals while maintaining congregational harmony. It is the pastor’s assignment to get something done and keep everyone happy. If the difficult person is persistent and persuasive, the pastor may be able to get something done, but not without sacrificing the people’s happiness. Or the pastor may be able to keep everybody happy by backing down. Eventually, neither solution works. Thoughtful people recognize that nothing is getting done, and the pastor is labeled “ineffective.” Usually, “getting something done” hinges on a pastor’s ability to get along with or get past difficult


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TO BE A GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT

people. How do you approach the subject of difficult people in your church?

WHAT MAKES SOME PEOPLE DIFFICULT? People do what they do for a reason. I do not speak from the perspective of one trained in psychology, but here are obvious reasons for difficulties between you and some of the people you serve: 1. People who hold a different theology from you will eventually have a hard time working alongside you. Sooner or later, theology becomes a sticking point. It would seem that the subtle differences between fundamentalists and conservatives are slight, but that opinion comes from one who is conservative. A woman in a church I served came to my office by appointment. She wanted to confront me about the language I used when I called people to profess faith. The conversation was not comfortable; she was not comfortable. When she finished talking with me, I was not comfortable either. A similar situation involved a deacon chairman who asserted that the focus of my work should be evangelism. I believe in evangelism and always tried to give place to it, but I did not believe it was the sum of our ministry. The deacon did. Since he was chair of deacons that year, I was not able to dismiss his opinion. Theology drove our differences. 2. People who hold real power in a congregation often see change as a threat to their power. A former student of mine was of an evangelistic bent. A rural church called him; the search committee told him they wanted their church to grow. The pastor took them seriously and went to work gathering a younger set of people. He had come to the pulpit from the world of business, and salesmanship was easy for him. In two years, the little church doubled in size. Brand-new members began coming to business meetings. The “old church” came to view the “young church” with suspicion. As long as the new people came to church, taught Sunday school, and gave offerings, they were welcome.


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59

But when they wanted to serve on substantive committees and take part in business meetings, they were unwelcome. Threat to power made some people become difficult. 3. Not all people naturally “get along.” There is a myth in the minds of some seminary students. They think they can go into a church and get along with everyone. As students, they have done so. But attending college and seminary are different from being pastor of a congregation. In college and seminary, you choose your friends and have some control over the people who come close to you. In a congregation, the pastor is supposed to be able to get close to everyone. That is not my experience. I’ve been able to work congenially with more than ninety-five percent of the members of my congregations, but not with all of them. During my first year at the Asheville church, a serious division took place over admitting a black woman into membership (see chapter 11 to learn about this experience in more detail). One man was of a different mind from me on that issue. When I left the church twenty years later, that man still had not allowed me to become his pastor. We differed over a matter he thought important; he never got over it. For a time, he was on the finance committee, and he made my life difficult. In congregational meetings from time to time, he was my public critic. I tried to get close to the man, but I was not successful. I wish I could get along with everyone. I take no pleasure in saying I failed in my attempts to warm to him. He did not go away, and I stayed for twenty years. During that time, I learned to live with a constant critic. I did not find it easy. 4. My dictionary defines “cussedness” as “a disposition to willful perversity.” Cussed people are born “in the objective case.” There seems to be no evidence that the grace of God has taken root in them. They seem to find pleasure in voting against anything proposed. Happily, I served churches that had no tolerance for “willful perversity,” and they handled those people. But in some small churches, homegrown negative people receive free rein. A promising pastor


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TO BE A GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT

should not suffer abuse. We are called to serve; we are not called to stand still while mean-spirited people harass us.

HOW DO YOU WORK WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE? 1. Maintain courtesy. People can disagree without becoming disagreeable. Most people expect pastors to live to a higher standard. Strive to meet their expectations. When people are unkind or when the conversation begins to deteriorate, work hard at kindness. A light touch and a little humor can come in handy. 2. Work at ways to communicate with difficult people. Sometimes the problem with difficult people is that they do not understand what you are trying to do. If that is the case, make time for them and go over every detail. Don’t freeze them out of the process. If lack of understanding is the basis of disagreement, help the person comprehend the issue or situation. 3. Never lose your temper. Some people have a low opinion of pastors from the outset. They think pastors work for them and that they have the right to order their leaders around, embarrass them, or humiliate them in public. When the Asheville church was getting ready to build, we had arranged a sizeable loan with a local bank. A difficult man who opposed the project unilaterally arranged a meeting with the chair of deacons, the chair of finance, the bank president, and myself. At the meeting, the man opened a plat of the church property and said to the bank president, “When our church cannot repay this loan, how much of our property are you going to take?” I was angry that the man put me in an awkward position. In fact, I was seething. But I held my tongue. The bank president replied, “We would not have offered you the loan had we not thought your church could repay it. We have more confidence in your church leadership than you do.” Despite the difficult man’s galling behavior, it was crucial that I not show my


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anger. Happily, the project went forward, and the church repaid the loan years early. When a church member tempts you to say something rash, with good cause or without, carefully hold your temper in check. If you respond in anger, then the issue shifts: you become the issue rather than the church program, ministry, etc. What you say can hurt you more than it hurts others. 4. Provide full pastoral care to difficult people and their families. I tried to be prompt in pastoral care for every member, but when one of the few difficult people in my church was involved, I strove to be more prompt than usual. Pastoral care ought not to depend on my feelings for the person in need. Everybody has trouble. Reasoning that difficult people deserve what they are getting does not become a representative of Jesus. What if I did measure my pastoral care in proportion to the feelings I had for this member or that? If so, shame on me. It is possible that difficult people need special care. Give it to them. 5. Be honest, even to difficult people. If your critics catch you in a lie, you have both sinned and armed your opponents. Be known as a truth-teller, and be so consistent that you become like Caesar’s wife: “You are not only virtuous; you are known to be virtuous.” An unkind remark does not deserve a reply. Let it pass. Of course, you shouldn’t forget all critical remarks; you can learn from some of them. But most do no good. The sooner you can put them out of mind, the happier you will be. Sitting on them, nursing them, and enlarging them causes misery and harm. 6. Learn to find humor in difficult people. This is not the same as making fun of them. Bruce McIver, author of Stories I Couldn’t Tell While I Was a Pastor, was a pastor in Dallas, Texas. He learned to see the funny side of a pastor’s work, and he went about the country teaching hard-pressed preachers how to laugh.


C ECIL S HERMAN

GAVE HIS LIFE TO THE WORK OF

MINISTRY AND ALONG THE WAY INSPIRED UNTOLD NUMBERS OF US TO DO THE SAME.

THIS

BOOK OUGHT

sherman

Ministry/Leadership

TO SIT WITHIN ARM’S REACH ON EVERY PASTOR’S DESK. —Stephen H. Cook Pastor, First Baptist Church, Danville, Virginia 2002 Graduate, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

—Victoria Atkinson White Chaplain, Westminster Canterbury, Richmond, Virginia 2000 Graduate, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

For anyone who cares about pastoral work in Jesus’ name, this is a must read. —W. Randall Lolley Retired President of Southeastern Seminary

I couldn’t put it down. If To Be a Good and Faithful Servant doesn’t become a pastoral ministry classic and standard text for seminary classes, someone isn’t paying attention. —James H. Slatton Pastor Emeritus, River Road Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia

I predict that To Be a Good and Faithful Servant will be a textbook and handbook for a multitude of ministers.



—Daniel Vestal Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Atlanta, Georgia

CECIL SHERMAN most recently served as visiting professor of pastoral ministries at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. During his long career, Dr. Sherman served pastorates in North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, and Texas and was very active in church life and community service.

to be a good and faithful servant

From the course heralded as the most practical class a seminarian could take in preparation for ministry comes the quintessential instruction and commentary on servant leadership.


To Be A Good and Faithful Servant