How to Deal with Dysfunctional People

by Michael C. Mack 

As shepherd-leaders; we lead messy, meandering, often seemingly unmanageable sheep.  But we’re not alone.  The world’s greatest leader had to deal with many kinds of trials with those he led. And while Jesus’ followers eventually did great things that changed the world, at times they looked more like a dysfunctional mess. 

Within two pages in my Bible, Jesus had to…  

  • rebuke his leader-intern (Mark 8:33).  Actually, this verse says he looked at all the disciples as he addressed Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
  • deal with Peter missing the bigger vision during their mountaintop experience (9:5-6)
  • stop an argument between some of his group members and the religious leaders (9:14-16)
  • rescue his group members when they couldn’t do what he had told them to do (9:18, 25-28)
  • correct his disciples who were arguing about which of them was the greatest (9:33-34; also see 10:35-45)

The next time you’re frustrated by tensions and problems in your church (or even in your eldership!), look again at Jesus’ group. 

Jesus’ goal was to develop these same messed-up men into fishers of men who would actualize His church, carry His mission forward, and make disciples of all nations.  If I were leading these guys, at this point I might have given up or decided to start over.  (Then again, I probably wouldn’t have called these guys in the first place!) 

I often miss God’s long-term perspective and the big-picture plan He’s using me to accomplish.  I’m guessing I’m not alone.  

I want to encourage us by considering how Jesus dealt with the dysfunctions in His group.  

While Jesus’ group was a mess and often dysfunctional, it was healthy.  That might seem like an oxymoron, but Jesus understood the principle of process.  He saw not only what they were, but what they were becoming.  And often this process of becoming looks very messy.  But think about this: Jesus’ dysfunctional group eventually changed the world!  We do ministry today because of what these ordinary, unschooled men did through God’s power.  

If your church is a mess – if it includes a bunch of dysfunctional, sinful, pride-laden, argumentative men and women – don’t give up!  Ask God to help you see the process of what your group members are becoming.  At the proper time – God’s time – you will reap a harvest if you do not give up!  That takes standing on faith, as Jesus did. 

Jesus was modeling for these men how to stand firm when they would need to deal with opposition, because they certainly would.  As they carried out His mission, they, too, would need to lead messy, meandering, seemingly unmanageable people, and they would remember how the Chief Shepherd had patiently discipled them. 

Keep in mind the perspective of Jesus: “My Father is always at his work to this very day” (John 5:17).  God knows, better than you, what the people in your church need, and He is working in their lives. Your job is to continue to do what He’s called you to do, trusting God to do what only He can do in and through His sheep that He has entrusted to your care.

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