Church Conflict – Criticism, Difficult People, Difficult Conversations
Part of the LifeandLeadership.com ministry resources on Church Conflict
Conflict situations almost always require church leaders to weather criticism, absorb varying levels of hostility, respond to very difficult behavior from individuals or groups, or relate to persons who are overtly antagonistic. There is help. Ministry resources in this area are usually written with very specific issues in mind, and it is easy for readers to select based on need. Thus they are listed alphabetically, not according to priority. Remember to see the list at the bottom for ministry resources on related areas.
- Handling Criticism
- Difficult People
- Difficult Conversations, Confrontation
- Related Ministry Resources
- Blaine Allen, When People Throw Stones: A Leader’s Guide to Fielding Personal Criticism – Offers helpful advice on dealing with the flood of negative emotions, assessing the best course of action, and responding in a way that demonstrates respect for self and others.
- Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks – An insightful resource for ministers who have been deeply hurt by their experience in ministry, not only by personal attacks but also abusive churches. Arguably the best on the subject.
- Ministry Burnout and Self-Care – Dealing with criticism and difficult people often contributes to discouragement. This Ministry Resource Guide lists volumes on self-care, preventing burnout, ministry support systems, and renewing the ministry call.
Specialty material on antagonistic behaviors:
- Arthur Paul Boers, Never Call Them Jerks: Healthy Responses to Difficult Behavior – Seeks to avoid the trap of overreacting and labeling others, and focuses on the self-management of leaders and civil, non-punitive, and redemptive interaction. May be overly optimistic in some respects, and should be balanced by volumes below.
- Elizabeth B. Brown, Working Successfully With Screwed Up People – A popular, readable, practical volume on work relationships with difficult people. It is especially good at expressing principles in memorable phrases and describing practices in a simple, executable manner.
- Kenneth Haugk, Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict — The long-recognized standard on the subject. Defines what is meant by an “antagonist,” when they appear, their spiritual an psychological manifestations, how to identify them and deal with them.
- Dennis R. Maynard, When Sheep Attack – Addresses what happens when a small group of antagonists maneuver successfully to completely derail a ministry, despite strong support from the vast majority of the congregation
- G. Lloyd Rediger, Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack — A harshly realistic look at those with personality disorders, mental illnesses and mean streaks whom it is impossible to pacify with gentle kindness and rational negotiations, and who target ministers. May encourage labeling and less redemptive postures, and may need balancing with other volumes; but discusses an undeniable reality in the experience of many.
General materials on dealing with difficult persons:
- Larry Crabb, Understanding People: Why We Long for Relationship – Sets forth the idea that our deep longings for true relationship inevitably lead to pain and hurt. Attempts to avoid the pain of sorrow, disappointing relationships, or conflicts rob us of the experience of our true humanness.
- Katherine Crowley and Kathie Elster, Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work – Looks at how we get “hooked” into emotionally draining situations with a co-worker, boss, or subordinate. Offers a “Four-Pronged Unhooking Technique.”
- Robert D. Dale, Surviving Difficult Church Members – Presents helpful diagnostic information for six types of difficult individuals, along with suggestions for constructive responses, all in a positive and hopeful context.
- Leroy T. Howe, Angry People in the Pews: Managing Anger in the Church – A unique volume discussing the place of anger among church members. It neither justifies nor demonizes this powerful emotion, but explains and illustrates how it manifests itself and how it can be dealt with responsibly.
- Clinton McLemore and Les Parrott, Toxic Relationships and How to Change Them — Offers theological and psychological insight on toxicity, describes eight common toxic patterns, and suggests antidotes to toxicity.
- Wayne E. Oates, The Care of Troublesome People – Discusses how to assess and interact with five different types of people who often create difficulty for church leaders.
- Les Parrot, High-Maintenance Relationships: How to Handle Impossible People – Discusses fifteen different difficult personalities that are often found in churches.
- Marshall Shelly, Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church — Discusses several types of sincere, well-meaning Christians who make ministry difficult, describing their tactics and ways to handle them.
- David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Confront: How to Understand and Express Your Deepest Feelings Toward Others – Augsburger coins the phrase “care-fronting” to help believers deal truthfully with one another through valuing both principle and relationship, owning anger, inviting change, giving trust, ending blame, letting go of prejudices, and making peace.
- David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard – Approaches the task of difficult conversations from the standpoint of both listening and speaking. Equips one for six stages of such conversations.
- Ben Benjamin, Conversation Transformation: Recognize and Overcome the 6 Most Destructive Communication Patterns – Gives comprehensive, practical guidelines for managing the six most common (and aggravating) conversation killers: yes-buts, mind-reads, negative predictions, leading questions, complaining, and verbal attacks.
- Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries Face to Face: How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding — A very sensitive, well-written volume on how to have a direct conversation, or “boundary conversation” with a person with a person with whom you have problems.
- Larry Dressler, Standing in the Fire: Leading High-Heat Meetings with Clarity, Calm, and Courage – A very practical guide for leaders as they convene high-heat meetings. Full of concrete suggestions.
- Sue Annis Hammond and Andrea Mayfield, The Thin Book of Naming Elephants: How to Surface Undiscussables for Greater Organizational Success – Addresses a piece of the Appreciative Inquiry process as it relates to conflict – equipping leaders to identify, surface, acknowledge, discuss and act on the “elephants,” or subjects everyone recognizes but no one brings out into the open.
- Phyllis Beck Kritek, Negotiating at an Uneven Table: Developing Moral Courage in Resolving Our Conflicts — Sound advice on how to grow in self-respect, moral strength, and clear communication in situations where one feels powerless.
- Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. Also, Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior — Tools for helping people engage difficult conversations productively. Results from interviews with over 25,000 people to discover those who were most effective in difficult conversations, over 10,000 hours in observing these people and documenting what they saw, and then testing their insights by training over 300,000 people.
- Deborah Smith Pegues, Confronting Without Offending: Positive and Practical Steps to Resolving Conflict – A popularly-written, biblically-based guide on confrontation, integrating conflict styles, and DISC personality temperament.
- Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time — A Wall Street Journal bestseller that represents over 13 years and 10,000 hours of helping business executives tackle tough issues and make hard decisions.
- Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, 10th Anniversary Edition – Based on fifteen years of work at the Harvard Negotiation Project and consultations with thousands of people, the authors answer the question: When people confront the conversations they dread the most, what works?
- Ruth N. Koch and Kenneth C. Haugk, Speaking the Truth in Love: How to be an Assertive Christian – An excellent Christian defense of the practice of assertiveness and a base-level “how-to” guide on sharing assertive appreciation or putting forth assertive defense.
- Randy J. Paterson, Ph.D., The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships — An excellent workbook with helpful insight into assertiveness interspersed with reflective assessments and exercises that lead one into ever-increasing skill levels.
Related Ministry Resources
- Church Conflict, Index to Resource Guides
- Transition and Change in Church
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal
- Emotional Systems
- Leadership Development
- Ministry Burnout, Self-Care
See Resources on Over 100 Areas of Christian Ministry: