The late great rabbi Edwin Friedman used to say, “People respond better to challenge than support.” That was shocking to me when I first heard him say it. I was socialized to be nice, and I had an idea that my job as a pastor was to care for people.
Then I thought about it some more. At the time I had young children, and I realized that in raising children you challenge them all the time, to clean their rooms, do the homework they don’t want to do, be polite. It’s exhausting sometimes for both parents and children, but that’s what it takes to raise decent human beings.
We often put up with immature behavior on the part of church people. It may be that we feel our job is to be supportive. “They’re going through a hard time,” we may say. Or, “That’s just the way they are.” Or we think the church is supposed to be a loving place, so we have to put up with anything and everything.
Even people who are going through a hard time or have had a hard life have a range of functioning. We can challenge them to do the best they can, or do better than they are.
Remember that you don’t have to:
- Listen to people as long as they want to talk to you (especially if they are complaining).
- Allow people to lose their temper in conversations or in meetings.
- Answer the phone every time they call or respond to every text.
- Allow staff to chronically avoid doing their jobs.
- Step in to fix something so someone doesn’t have to take the consequences of their failing to do what they said they would.
- Allow someone else’s procrastination become your emergency.
I’ll be honest: it’s still hard for me to take stands and set limits with people. What helps me do it when necessary is to think about what’s in everyone’s best interest. It is better for people when we expect them to respect others and fulfill their commitments (whether they are paid staff or volunteers). It’s better for the whole community when standards of behavior are clear and people are held to account. (This is in the Bible. See Matthew 18:15-17)