In ministry, well, just in life, we will come across people who are all prickles and stings. They have harsh expressions, they often spew harsh words and critical remarks, and can only see the black side of things. You can choose to respond in one of two ways: #1. Get angry and yell at them. #2. Have a meek and quiet spirit and love them. I try to choose the latter. I’m trying to think…I don’t remember ever losing my temper on one such person. (Does my husband count? Just kidding.) Here are some ways that have helped me to deal with cactus people:

1. Imagine what they may have been through in the past. You just never know what a person has experienced at age 2 or 20! They may have been abused as a child. They may have been addicted to drugs or alcohol. They may have been in prison! People in church – and in the world, period – come from all sorts of backgrounds. Next time a prickly person sticks you with their words, smile and remember that they may be carrying a lot of baggage. And pray for them.
2. Pretend you are “Pollyanna”. Yes, it’s corny, but it truly helps to look for the good! Everyone has something good about them. Maybe they can grow a garden or sew or sing. Steer them onto subjects about which they know a great deal and just listen. When they come to mind, think of their talent. And pray for them.
3. Accept them as they are, don’t preach to them or try to change them. We cannot change people, only how we react to people. Endure. Endure. Endure. And keep praying!
4. Avoid them when you are vulnerable. There are times when I am especially weak. Perhaps I’ve had one of those days where the dog bites and the bee stings and I have a headache the size of Indiana. If that’s the case, I stay busy, stay away or keep conversations brief. I’m the only one who can protect my spirit when I’m vulnerable. If I can’t avoid them, I ask the Lord to help me to be especially careful of my words.
5. Manage them. Learn what to say and not say. There are some people with whom you simply cannot discuss politics (or whatever) because they get too angry. Stay off that topic. Keep a mental list of safe topics. Keep a mental list of generic responses to criticism. A good one? “Oh really? That’s interesting.” or “I’ll have to mention that to my husband.”
6. When confronted remember that “a soft answer turneth away wrath”(Prov. 15:1), and try not to say much at all. Do not respond immediately. Hand the situation to your husband, if possible. If not, take the blame and apologize. If you have nothing to apologize for, then perhaps a reply could be, “I’m sorry you feel that way. Would you like me to pray with you?” Whatever you do, don’t get the foul! 

I’m not an expert, but I’ve dealt with lots of prickly people. My brother, who is also a pastor, used the age-old saying “hurting people, hurt people” – and there are a lot of people who are hurting. When the Word of God pierces a soul, the response seems to be either hatred toward the messenger or repentance. Our desire is for all to repent, but we can’t control others (see #3) so we must leave them in God’s hands. The important thing is that we remain blameless, and let’s face it, they can’t quote what we didn’t say.


7 thoughts on “Ministry Musings: Dealing with Prickly People

  1. Carole says:

    Good Stuff!


  2. I've tried to apply #1 for some situations. I'm not sure who should get the credit for the saying “Hurt people hurt people”, but it sure is true. That doesn't excuse their bad behavior, but it should make it easier for us to give grace.


  3. I wasn't trying to give him “credit”, he's just the first person I heard say it. And yes, we can't control them, just us.


  4. Thank you, Carole! You are always an encouragement to me. 🙂


  5. I re-worded it. 🙂


  6. Anonymous says:

    Very good counsel! I wish I would always follow it.


  7. I hope you think it's good – I learned it from you! 🙂


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