by Dan Grider
1 Some people will always be high-maintenance. They live and operate out of their woundedness. Remind yourself, “I am not the Holy Spirit. I can’t change them. It’s not my job to change them. My mission has nothing to do with their happiness. I’m never going to please them. I will not sacrifice what matters, to chase after toxic people. I will sacrifice what matters most if I try.”
2 High-maintenance people will always be a distraction. They consume valuable time and staff resources. If something doesn’t change, they will distract us from our mission. I am not the leader that the Father has called me to be if I allow their destructive habits to erode the culture and be counterproductive in Jesus’s church. Regardless of how much they give or serve, it is too costly in the long run. No amount of finances or talent is worth the damage that they will create. I am not helping them if I enable their sinful narcissistic behavior.
3 They keep me from serving others. It’s not fair to my staff and the others that I serve to try to make them happy. I am better off to say “no” and trust the Father to meet our financial needs than to sacrifice the mission by keeping them around. This situation is a test of your ability to trust the Father for your financial needs.
No one family is worth the price of your mission. You were not called to invest valuable time and resources responding to unfounded drama and inappropriate demands.
We have all encountered “high maintenance.” difficult church attenders. A few years ago, a couple started to attend our church who seemed to be very generous. We noticed an immediate financial impact from their giving. The increase made a difference to our strained budget. It wasn’t long until they began to want to meet with me. I soon discovered that they had unreasonable expectations for the church and me. Unfortunately, I didn’t see that on the front end. I was too focused on trying to keep them and their giving, and the supposed opportunity to disciple them. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long to find out we had a problem on our hands.
We had been working hard to make some productive changes to our church ministry structure. I was sure we were hitting it out of the park. To my surprise, they were not happy at all. Not only did they not recognize that our mission was aligned with Jesus, but they also couldn’t acknowledge the profound life change that was happening in the church around them. They focused exclusively on their set of issues and concerns. Talk about living life with blinders on.
Not surprisingly, they left the church a few months later. It was very hurtful. But as difficult as that experience was, it did lead to some positive outcomes, Starting with me. I began to understand the need to clarify our vision and direction from the get-go.
But here’s where it gets interesting. It wasn’t long before that family came back to the church claiming to have seen the light. They spoke of how they had missed the transforming Spirit of God was at work in our church. They asked me to forgive them and give them another chance to connect at our church. I was more cautious and set some conditions this time. I told them that they would not be eligible for leadership and they would have to read and agree without discipleship strategy. They gladly responded and gave it a shot the second time. I hoped that this second time would be different.
The problem with this couple was that they had not changed. It wasn’t long until they found something to criticize. These people could say the right things to appear spiritually repentant and contrite, but fundamentally, they were narcissists. Nothing I could do—or could ever do—would change them. They were never going to be content with any church that they would join. I must admit that like most pastors I want to believe the best in people. This quality has sabotaged my leadership time and again. Most church planters tend to be optimistic leaders who wish to see the best in people. My advice is to listen to your spouse and your staff.
The sooner you cut the cord and move on, the more productive your church will be. And perhaps more importantly, the sooner you can get back to the mission where the Father has called you to lead. You can spend your time caught up in the drama of these life-sucking people, or you can get back to the reason you were put here on this earth.