We are called to love and lead everyone who is part of the church.
But some who attend your church are easier to lead than others. Right?
Those who love the vision, are positive and want what's best for the big picture are easier to lead. That doesn't mean there are no disagreements along the way, that's natural, but vision overrides opinion, and progress wins the day.
In contrast, some of the most difficult people to lead are those who are negative.
They focus on problems but not solutions, consistently resist change and question everything. Questions are good, but their questions are critical, not constructive. And their cup is half-empty no matter how much you pour in.
Even though they are negative, we must genuinely love each one, and leading a negative person requires maturity and experience. Without this experience, they can wear you out and discourage you.
I was recently talking with someone new to the church and asked them why they left their previous church. They launched into an exhaustive list of all that's "wrong" with their former church and how ineffective the leadership is, and I had to cut them off. I became concerned that they may not be happy here either. Yet, they are welcome. So, how to lead someone like that is an important skill.
That person may represent an extreme case, but the insights and principles are the same.
The encouraging thing is that, like positivity, negativity is a choice. That means a negative person is not destined to remain negative because of their personality, wiring, DNA or upbringing.
One of the most significant resources you have as a spiritual leader is the power of the Holy Spirit to help a person change from negative to positive. If they're genuinely stuck, meaning they want to change but are having trouble becoming more positive, there is much hope. The wonderful news is that they have access to the same power.
The following insights will be helpful to you as you lead those who have or lean toward a negative disposition.
5 Positive Insights to Help You Lead Negative People
1. Treat them with kindness.
Sometimes negative people can get on your nerves. You're trying to move the vision forward, and they seem to want to shut things down and drag you into long and unproductive conversations. But that's not always the case. Sometimes they want to move forward but don't see that they're negative.
Grant them love and grace but tell them the truth. Speak candidly and directly, and give them examples of their negative attitude. Ask them if they want to change. If yes, offer to help. (They have to see it, own their negativity and want to change before you can be helpful.)
The purpose is not to get someone to agree with everything you say, but to help them mature and develop as a person. In this case, a more positive person.
2. Don't leverage your position.
Avoid using the power and authority of your position to shut someone down.
Trust is never elevated by a power play.
When they go negative, and you go power, it's just a different version of the same problem, an attempt to control. Control never solves the problem.
You lead most effectively by building bridges not by establishing moats. (Eventually, the most powerful person fills the moat with their own alligators, and then all the progress is over, and probably the relationship too.)
The goal is to bring them with you in alignment with the vision and productive harmony with the team.
3. Help them see a different perspective.
This is the crucial turning point. Like the 12 spies sent into Canaan, two came out with a positive perspective, and 10 came out with a negative perspective, but they all saw the same view. They just saw it differently.
Your job as a leader is to help clarify reality according to the vision. It's your responsibility to help each person see the issue, problem, new idea, vision and so on differently so they can move forward, not get stuck in Egypt.
There is no need to sell or convince. Instead, inspire according to what you sincerely believe God is saying and have agreement and alignment from the larger team.
4. Always point to the bigger picture and greater good.
Negatively tends to make things smaller and vision makes them bigger. Lead with vision. Vision is always true north when dealing with a negative person. Ultimately, if they don't buy into the vision, you will never lead them successfully. If you allow a negative person to pull you down into small rabbit trails that are disconnected from the vision, you will both remain frustrated.
The greater good means each of you must lay down personal wants, desires and preferences for the greater good of the church. Again, this is accomplished through vision alignment.
5. Don't hesitate to move on if they will not respond.
Is there ever a time when as the leader you draw a line, and the conversations are over? Yes, of course. But these should be rare.
You will occasionally encounter an individual who just can't find anything good or positive and wants their way. If you have invested time, energy and genuine care, and the situation is just not working, it's time to move the investment of your time to more productive efforts.
Do everything possible to preserve the relationship itself. However, if they serve in a ministry and are making everything around them toxic, you may need to ask them to step out of serving for a season. That's not the long-term goal, but you can never allow someone's negativity to take your leadership and the vision of the church hostage.
I pray this is helpful to you in what can be a tough area of leadership.
Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.
This article originally appeared at danreiland.com.
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