He was one of the most cantankerous men I had ever known. When all the church wished to move forward into a new area of ministry, you could count on him confronting the elders about it in a negative way. In fact, “negative” was his middle name. Our system of decision-making did not allow his views to be buried in a hidden vote, but brought him straight into contact with the leaders with whom he almost always disagreed. Time after time, there he was, the only “aginner.”
What did we do?
The leaders decided not to solve the problem administratively, by a system change. No, we were looking for a heart change. We felt we should confront him directly in the hope that he could become the man God wanted him to be. Much to our surprise, it worked! He received our admonition with amazing calm. He appreciated our concern. And he completely reset his life and renewed his sense of commitment to the church. At the end of it all, our greatest leadership curmudgeon became one of our most reliable allies. Love won out.
Why should we desire love above administrative solutions?
First of all, love is the highest mark of maturity. Therefore, not loving the other members of the church is a sign of our immaturity. There may be problems with the other person that are inexcusable, but no problem makes love impossible. In fact, it might be love that calls for helping the offending person see the right way, if you can do it with grace. Or, in other cases, it might mean overlooking his or her fault.
Second, love is the “perfect bond of unity,” the glue that keeps the church together, according to the apostle Paul (Col. 3:14). Do you want unity in the church? Of course you do. But love is critical to make that happen. A church that does not major on love is headed toward disruption. Nothing bonds like love as it works itself out in forgiveness and acceptance.
Third, love is the way of blessing because it is grounded in humility.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)
God says that the humble person is the blessed person. “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pet. 5:5). A church is always in need of more grace. More grace comes from more humility toward each other. And humility toward others is, in essence, love at work.
Finally, love is the reasonable return for what God has given you. “Forgive each other as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you” (Col. 3:13; Rom. 15:7). Christians should never forget God’s mercy toward them. If you have experienced the love of God, it is natural for you to extend the same toward others.
Getting practical toward the persons hardest to love
As you are seeking to raise the level of love in the church as a whole, some will not cooperate. Here are some practical reminders for loving the cantankerous person, the person who seems to be out of sync with everyone.
1. Invite him to your home. His fear of you may be at the heart of his problem. Deflate that by letting him into your life. When he is there in your home, give him much respect, ask him questions and show genuine loving interest. It will do both of you good. Often people squeal only because nobody pays them any attention.
2. Try to find out what drives him. Most people are resistant to change. This man will likely think of a certain period in his church life as the most exciting. Perhaps in the 50s he was the young married man who had a lot to do with the changes taking place then (there were plenty of them). He fought for them and they appeared to succeed. But now he is marginalized and someone is introducing changes that leave him cold. You could do well to find out more about his way of thinking. And remember that you might be in the same position someday.
3. Within reason, give him some servant responsibility. I don’t think we ought to promote cantankerous people to positions that give them a platform for their negativity. Nor do we reward sin. Yet, all believers should serve. Perhaps this difficult person had notable responsibilities in the past, but now has none. Imagine how he feels. Yet there are important jobs that he can do, and do well. Employ him in a servant’s role (rather than a management role) that makes a difference. Check up on his progress and commend him when appropriate.
4. Confront him if he continues to cause problems in the church. It is sinful to disrupt church unity, so, sadly, you must confront people who are creating unrest. Do it kindly, with as much interest in their side as possible. See if God will turn on the light of understanding for both of you. Pray much for a loving attitude toward him. If he persists in sin, he will need further discussions and even a rebuke or church discipline.
The church’s unity and loving acceptance is not a minor matter, and is worth all your efforts at restoring it. This will always involve reaching out to the resistant persons in the group. Do it with genuine love. The old poem by Edward Markham is still instructional:
He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took him in.
When the cantankerous person will not keep from harming the church, action must be taken that maintains the unity of the Spirit without him. Sad, but true. It is loving toward the disruptive person and toward the church as a whole to deal decisively with this disunity, and it must be done.
 See Restoring Those Who Fall, a church discipline policy statement for clear instructions. Order at www.CCWtoday.org.