3.2 steps for dealing with crazy people

If you serve in ministry than there’s a good chance you have one or two crazy people regularly occupying your time. (I don’t mean mentally ill people, I just mean irrational people who bring undue stress to your daily life.)

For example:

  • A homeschooling mom who constantly tells you she doesn’t want her teenage son influenced by non-Christian boys despite the fact that she has a raging addiction to prescription pain killers and her children know it.
  • A group of parents that won’t let their kids go to a Christian concert because crowds are dangerous and terrorists are likely to attack.
  • A couple in the church who calls together the elders because I was teaching kids how to pray. And we know there’s only one kind of acceptable prayer, and the kind Adam teaches must be emergent and he’s leading kids to hell because their friend from the other Baptist church gave them a tract that said that Rick Warren and Tony Jones had a secret arrangement to destroy the church in America. And Adam has read Purpose Driven Life and he has a Tony Jones book on his bookshelf.

The question for those of us in ministry isn’t, if we can avoid these people as the church somehow magically attracts them. The question is “What’s a strategy for dealing with these crazy people that works while not eating up all of your time or disrespecting a child of God acting irrationally?”

Here’s how I handle it.

Step .2: Tell your boss

It’s always a good idea to let your boss know that someone is behaving irrationally. If you don’t manage the situation well than the situation may just handle you. (Many, many church staff lose their jobs annually because crazy people complained to the right people.) There’s a good possibility this person/people are going to tell everyone how you are mistreating them or ignoring them or whatever. So, it’s just good to go ahead and put it on your bosses radar early.

Step 1.2: Breathe deep, remain calm, and smile when you see them

I know these people are making your life uncomfortable. But you are still a minister of the Gospel called to love all people. One way I’ve tried to adjust my attitude towards the crazy people in my life is to label their behavior, “misplaced care” or “something they can control in a life spinning out-of-control.” My observation is that these folks aren’t driving you batty simply for the sake of that, it’s somehow fulfilling something they are passionate about. And it’s a good thing to be passionate about their kids, their kids faith development, their church, and the integrity of the church they attend. Changing my attitude towards their behavior helps me remain professional for the next step.

Step 2.2: Explain your thinking or your philosophy behind their concern

Fear, by its very nature, is irrational. And while it may merely fuel the fires I always try to backfill irrational behavior with my rationale. It might not help very much in the end but I find it best to schedule a time to sit down with the person and overload them with kindness and information. I’ll explain what I am doing, why I am doing it, I’ll fill their hands with books and documents, and most importantly– I will listen intently to their concerns. Listening validates their personhood without you having to change or agree with their perspective. Next, I’ll invite them to talk with someone else on the church staff or even an elder. Then, when the meeting is over, I document the meeting and share the notes with my boss. If the situation explodes later, everyone who needs to know will know that I treated that person with respect, I gave them all the information they wanted, and I acted professionally.

Step 3.2: Minimize your time invested in crazy people

Once you’ve done the first steps it’s probably best to just move on. There’s no need to rehash the thing with co-workers and waste their time. If you’ve followed the steps above, the best thing to do is stop talking and/or thinking about the situation and just get back to the task at hand. Don’t allow someone else’s irrational behavior to distract you too much.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

6 comments

  1. This is excellent advice, and I especially like Step 1.2. You have to try to see things from their side of the fence. It also helps to remember I don’t own the rights to BEING right, and sometimes we can even learn from these people. (gasp, shocking, I know!) That being said, I might suggest that you coin them something other than “crazy”. 😀

  2. genius. i especially like the third example at the beginning of dealing with crazy people since i just finished our yearly retreat where we teach teenagers to pray (with Tony Jones book in hand).
    Thanks for the pointers

  3. I actually think Step .2 is spot on. In my experience, going to my superiors AS SOON AS I hear a grumble has helped immensly. They don’t feel blindsided (or think I’m as clueless) therefore when they start hearing complaints from those involved. I certianly don’t expect blind support form my pastor, but what I have discovered is that the more he knows right off the bat (and from me), the more likely he is to offer support to me as opposed to the complainer. Now, we may still have some conversations privately (pastor and myself) looking deeper at the issue, looking for better ways of doing things, and even at times I may need to humble myself and either admit where I may have been wrong or be willing to ponder areas he may think I could have done things better, but this is always preferred to when the pastor hears grumbling without warning…

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