How to disciple difficult people in your small group

How to Disciple Difficult People In Your Small Group

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”Romans 12:9-10

Do we pray for God to send people we can get along with simply because we do not want to be in conflict with anyone or do we accept whoever God sends us knowing that He is the one who best connects people for His purpose and glory?

“Ministering in everyday opportunities that surround us does not mean that we select our own surroundings — it means being God’s very special choice to be available for use in any of the seemingly random surroundings which He has engineered for us. The very character we exhibit in our present surroundings is an indication of what we will be like in other surroundings.”Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Many pray to face “less difficulties”, my former self included. Surrendering to God and submitting to His plan moved me to let go of my old ways, living a new life in Christ. Difficulties that I once dreaded, I now embrace knowing that I am enduring it with the Lord.

When I experience difficulties, I appreciate His power made perfect in my weakness. I am humbled by how He refines me and builds my character to be more like Him as I go through every difficulty. By His grace, I am no longer grumbling about difficulties. When I am grateful for what God has on my plate, I see His beauty shine and radiate.

It has been more than thirty months since I started leading an all-women group. God graciously opened the door for me to lead eighteen months after I surrendered my life to Him. When I decided to follow Jesus, there was truly no turning back. I praise and thank God for each woman He has entrusted to me. It is a privilege to be trained by God to lead. As I made time to get to know each one more deeply, He never failed to reassure me of His love through them. There were definitely highs and lows but God remained faithful regardless of the season.

Every time I recall how my journey with God started and how His grace has sustained me through the years, I am moved to tears. I responded to God’s invitation when I lost everything I was holding on to in my business, which was what defined me that time. I had to be broken to experience what it means to be restored by God.

I had to wholeheartedly admit and thoroughly process how difficult a person I was to understand how to disciple difficult people.

“If we are to come into this right relationship with Christ, the first thing we must learn is that our wills must be broken to His will. To be broken is the beginning of Revival. It is painful, humiliating, but it is the only way. It is being “Not I, but Christ”, and a “C” is a bent “I”. The Lord Jesus cannot live in us fully and reveal Himself until the proud self within us is broken. This simply means that the hard unyielding self (which justifies itself, wants its own way, stands up for its rights, and seeks its own glory) at last bows its head to God’s will, admits its wrong, gives up its own way to Jesus, surrenders its rights and discards its own glory — that the Lord Jesus might have all and be all. In other words, it is dying to self and self-attitudes.”Roy Hession, The Calvary Road

In 2011, three years after I started my first business out of college, I had the desire to grow the enterprise. I asked friends to invest in my business and hired a new set of employees who went through a rigorous screening process. I thought everything would fall into place if I did things my way. I was obsessed about producing results and achieving goals, not knowing that I was doing it for myself.

I kept on justifying in my head that it was for God until one day, I hit my head hard. God revealed to me how wicked my heart was. I failed to realize that what I have is actually not my business but God’s. I was reluctant to see it from that perspective because I have always wanted to be the boss.

God’s the real boss after all.

My task is to be an excellent steward of His resources and grow what He has entrusted to me. I had no concept of that when I started my business. It was all about what I wanted to gain for my own glory.

One of the biggest mistakes I committed that led to the company’s downfall was leading my employees closer to me and to my vision, not to God and to His purpose for each one of them. It was a headache for me manage them because from the beginning, my heart was already in the wrong place. I was proud, stubborn, and oozing with self-righteousness. I did not consider the consequences of my self-directed actions. I pursued what I thought was right but it was wrong because it was not rooted in God’s truth. I was determined to achieve results not knowing my efforts were futile because it was not for God.

It was only when I allowed God to work through me and in me that my focus was redirected from producing results to enjoying the moment by moment leading of His Holy Spirit.

As I reflect on the life God has allowed me to experience, I would like to share what He has been teaching me when it comes to dealing with difficult people:

1. Delete: “Holier than thou”.

Romans 12:3. When I encounter people who are seemingly are not in the “same level” in terms of spiritual maturity, I often have the tendency to think of myself better than them. When this thought crosses my mind, I pray and ask God to take captive that thought, for Him to renew my mind and heart. As I reflect on my own sinfulness, I am reminded of how wretched I am. When I started leading, the first thing I needed to surrender was my pride. We are not meant to compare to lift ourselves higher. We are meant to humble ourselves before God, support each other, not bring each other down.

“Pride Edges God Out (EGO). When false pride and toxic fear enter into a relationship, they poison it. When they become the driving force in our leadership decisions, they render them ineffective. When you are tempted to make decisions out of pride, ask yourself: Do I really want to make a decision based on my over-inflated perception of myself? You can be sure that pride-based decisions won’t give you the best long-term results. You might get a mile or so down the road, but such decisions won’t see you through the entire trip.” Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, authors of Lead Like Jesus

Jeremiah 9:23-24. More often than not, it is our pride that makes it difficult for us to handle difficult people. Is our sole motive to lead people closer to Jesus or do we lead them astray when we put ourselves first?

2. Edit: Respond, do not react.

We cannot control what the other person says but no matter how harsh it is, we are called to be compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8). True servant leaders do not react even when their pride is bruised. Instead, they humbly respond and ask how to improve the way they serve. They profit from correction, appreciate rejection, and welcome His loving discipline.

3. Add: Extra patience.

We fall into the trap of going for a “quick fix”. Sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) is a process, not a button that we push when we want things to go well. We will definitely encounter people who will wrong us, people who will challenge us, people who will ask countless questions, people who will annoy us, people who will doubt us, people who just want to prove they are right, and so on.

Regardless of the person we encounter, God calls us to be patient just as He is patient with us. We cannot fast forward the process, but we can definitely enjoy every second of it knowing and trusting that is God directing every step. James 5:7-11

4. Explore: See Jesus in every person’s face.

This is one of the most challenging tasks but it can definitely be done by God’s grace. I pray to have the genuine desire to get to know each member and see Jesus in them in spite of their weaknesses and shortcomings. When we ask God to reveal how He wants us to see the person from His lens, there will be no room for judgment but so much room for His love to fill the hearts of those who long for it.

Mother Theresa expressed this beautifully: “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

5. Inquire: Always clarify, never assume.

When there is something I do not understand about what one is going through or why one behaves in a certain way, I pray to have the boldness and courage to ask what is wrong or to clarify in a sweet, gentle, and kind manner. No matter how many times we ask God, He will always give us a clear answer on how to do it. His Word brings us back to His right perspective.

6. Celebrate: Progress.

When we walk by faith and not by sight, we appreciate God’s work even when we do not see the results we aspire to see. Being focused on results will cause disappointments but in fixing our gaze on Jesus, we are always fulfilled and satisfied by Him. We feel disheartened when we see people are not growing in the pace and manner that we want them to. When we trust that God hears our prayers and moves us to apply His truth for His glory, we are not discouraged by what we see because we are focused on Him alone. 1 Corinthians 15:58

7. Refine: Iron sharpens iron.

It’s a blessing to learn from each member of the group. Every time one opens up, I affirm. Whenever I need to call out something that should not be tolerated, I do it right away. Delayed obedience is disobedience. As we deal with people who come from different backgrounds, let us appreciate how God refines us and how He uses us to refine others when we share our lives with them. Proverbs 27:17

8. Define: Healthy boundaries.

Just as we protect our bodies from toxic elements that cause us to be physically sick, we also have to do the same for our mind, heart, and soul. Setting healthy boundaries helps relationships to grow. It is essential to make a list of what we can and cannot deal with, then share it with each other to know where to draw the line. We have to set the right boundaries with each person and be transparent about our expectations and theirs too.

9. Understand: Background.

In studying the Bible and getting to know God through His Word, it is essential to understand the context — when it was written, why it was written, who wrote it and to whom was it written. When we fail to understand where the person is coming from, we fail to meet them where they are. God meets us where we are and calls us to do the same for others. Always dig deeper to understand patterns of behavior that get in the way of a person’s full surrender to the Lord.

10. Appreciate: Languages of Love and Apology.

Each person has a specific love language they prefer to receive and give. Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, Acts of service. There are also languages of apology. Expressing regret (“I’m sorry for what I did.”), Accepting responsibility (“I was wrong.”), Making restitution (“What can I do to make things right?”), Genuine repentance (“I don’t ever want to do that again.”), Requesting forgiveness (“Will you please forgive me?”). Perhaps the person you are dealing with did not grow up in a loving environment. Knowing that, how would that person want to be appreciated and loved? If you make a mistake, what would render your apology sincere in the eyes of that person? 1 Samuel 16:7

Lord Jesus,

You are the best example of leadership. You are the ultimate servant leader. You came to serve and not be served. Thank you for the privilege to share my life with fellow single women who seek to fall more deeply in love with You every moment. May I empty my cup so you may fill me with your lasting joy and your peace that transcends all understanding. May you guard my mind and my heart, may it never go astray and always seek you first. I humbly ask you to teach me how to lead like You. As I become more intimate with You, may You align my heart, head, hands, and habits to reflect your character and bring others closer to You. I love you. I give you all the honor, glory, and praise.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.


Hi, I’m Riva and I would love to hear from you! If you want to connect with other women, we meet in small groups for dynamic Bible studies throughout the year. Each meeting lasts around 60 minutes to study the scripture, have fellowship, and pray for one another. You can reach me via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Google +!

If you’re too busy for a meet up, Proverbs 31 Woman also holds an online prayer group via Google Hangouts every Wednesday from 8:00-9:00pm. Time is UTC/GMT +8 hours. You can join the online group here.

Proverbs 31 Woman Online Prayer Group


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5 thoughts on “How to Disciple Difficult People In Your Small Group

  1. I am very happy to walk with you in my faith journey Rivs! Thank you for being a passionate disciple who always empowers us to live a fruitful life for God’s glory. I am truly blessed with our friendship!

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  2. Riva, thank you for sharing your story of how God brought you from a place of pride to a place of humility. And you’ve compiled such a great list for small group leaders to take to heart. I volunteer in the high school ministry at my church as a small group co-leader, and it is challenging finding the balance between encouraging the girls to open up and pushing them to talk about stuff they’re not ready to talk about just yet (respecting boundaries). And I agree that incorporating the love languages and languages of apology (love those Gary Chapman books!) is important when discipling difficult people.

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  3. Thank you Riva for your articles i’ve read,i can use it for handling women in our church.The Lord really used your story to give me more wisdom in handling His people.

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