When I was called to my second full time ministry position, I was relieved that a couple of people in my first church who were a source of difficulty or conflict would not be in my new church setting. What was rather funny now that I look back on serving in these churches is that there are difficult people in every ministry setting. They are there in your next church but with different names. One wise minister once said that ministry would be easy if it weren’t for the people. That’s an interesting thought but a little unrealistic.
Randall Bradley in his book on music ministry makes some insightful points on dealing with conflict and difficult people in ministry:
“If you find yourself dealing with many difficult people, you should examine yourself, especially if these people are not considered ‘difficult’ by other persons. Perhaps you are the one that is difficult.” Bradley goes on to suggest:
- Many criticisms have a spark of truth.
- Receiving criticism goes with the territory of being in a position of leadership.
- When you receive criticism, resist the temptation to deal with the issue then. Tell the person thanks and that you would like to take some time to consider what they are saying before responding.
Bradley says that when you are confronted in a more hostile manner, you should:
- Never interrupt, listen to the very end, and respond with clarity questions.
- Don’t attempt to reason with an irrational person. They probably do not want to hear a logical argument.
- Be gracious.
- Attempt to love difficult people.
- Work at forgiveness.
- Don’t answer at the same emotional level (a gentle answer).
- Refuse to take everything personally.
- Choose your battles carefully.
Randal Bradley speaks from experience having spent many years in music ministry. I’ve found that one of the best ways to deal with conflict is to make sure you are spiritually prepared and to do your best to be rested before you arrive at church on Sundays and Wednesdays when most people are present. When I am tired I usually do not deal with conflict very well.
Bradley’s book, From Postlude to Prelude: Music Ministry’s Other Six Days (MorningStar Publishers, 2004, ISBN 0944529364) has an excellent chapter on this topic of conflict (chapter 5). I have found the whole book to be helpful for beginning music ministers as well as seasoned ones.