If you lead an ongoing Bible study group long enough, you’ll have to say goodbye to some of your group’s members over the course of time. Some leave on a positive note to serve elsewhere, or because of a job transfer; but others do not – they leave murmuring and grumbling about something that didn’t meet their expectations, or disappointed them, or both. How do you respond when a person (or persons) leaves your group? What if the person has been difficult and they leave grousing? Should you throw a party and say “good riddance,” or is there a better way to deal with them? Here are 10 things you can do when difficult people decide to leave your group.
1. Love them. Difficult people can be hard to love, can’t they? We probably all have 1 or 2 in our groups – you know the kind – the ones who are perennially unhappy about something. Love them anyway. My tendency is to have a “win-lose” mindset – I’m a competitive person. I have to guard against viewing difficult people as combatants with me. I want to make sure that I love and accept them as Christ has loved and accepted me, with all my imperfections and blemishes. How do I know if I love a difficult person? I’ll be saddened by their departure and I’ll grieve the loss to my group. The last thing on my mind will be a “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” mindset.
2. Pray for them. This is a tangible way that I show my love for a difficult person. We are challenged by Scripture to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us (sounds like difficult people, right?). By regularly taking my recently departed group member to the Lord in prayer, I unleash the power of heaven on him and the situation that caused him to leave the group.
3. Initiate a conversation. Many times difficult group members leave without saying much. They vote with their feet, leaving you to guess why they chose to leave. When difficult persons leaves your group, take the first step and reach out to the them. Seek to understand their motivation for leaving. Don’t wait for difficult persons to contact you – they probably aren’t going to do that. And don’t listen to gossip about them. Simply pick up the phone or drop by their home or workplace and let them know you care why they left.
4. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” No one is perfect, and often times we may have contributed to a difficult person’s unhappiness. Is there something you could have done better? faster? Were you at fault in any way? Are other group members struggling with the same issues as the difficult person? How will you allow this situation to be a teachable moment for you as you grow in your leadership ability?
5. Ask yourself, “Is the person’s issue fixable?” If the answer is yes, get busy. Listen, listen, and listen some more. Seek first to understand the person’s viewpoint. Be empathetic. Be proactive and work out a solution together.
6. Don’t hang a label on the difficult person. As tempting as it may be, resist the tendency to label the person as “difficult” or “a troublemaker.” Years ago I heard a conference leader make the statement that, “Hurting people hurt.” That’s turned out to be a truism I’ve seen in my ministry. Try viewing the difficult person through a new lens. Work hard to see the situation from their vantage point. Don’t label them.
7. Ask yourself, “Do I owe the person an apology?” It’s possible that something you said, something you didn’t say, something you did, or something you didn’t do led to the person’s unhappiness. If you are the source of the person’s angst, simply ask for his forgiveness and apologize.
8. Thank the person. When you learn that a difficult person is leaving your group, don’t forget to thank him for his participation and contributions to the group. Chances are he was used by the Lord in various ways while he was a member of your group. A note, email, or a public thank-you is appropriate in most cases.
9. Inform church leaders. We are accountable to our church staff leaders. As a group leader I want to make sure my pastor or other staff leader knows about the difficult person’s departure. Perhaps the staff can reach out to him in ways I can’t. The staff is accountable to the Lord for all the sheep in their care, and that includes my group’s difficult member. Staff needs to know he’s decided to leave so they can initiate ministry to him.
10. Keep the doors open. I have seen some disgruntled group members leave a group and a church, only to return later. Don’t write off the person. Keep the doors open and as one motel chain’s commercial says, “We’ll leave the light on for ya.” Tell the difficult person they are welcome to return to the group should they have a change of heart.
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