"I need advice," Dave began our conversation. Dave is like many pastors who call Metanoia Ministries for counsel about how to handle conflict in their church.
Dave told me about Tom, a founding member and retired businessman in his church. "He acts like he is the boss and I am his employee," Dave explained, "constantly telling me what I did or said wrong."
"Well, how do you respond?" I asked.
"I'd like to tell him off," Dave admitted. "But I'm trying to extend grace. I pulled him aside after service last week and said I'd like to talk to him. I mentioned that his words to me were discouraging. Tom immediately became defensive, telling me he is a 'straight-shooter.' He said that I needed more 'backbone,' or I would not last long as pastor.
"This morning Tom sent me an e-mail warning me that he will be dropping by later today to discuss 'serious concerns about my preaching and leadership,'" Dave told me. "My stomach is tied up in knots. I know I need to confront Tom, but he has a history of being argumentative and manipulative.
"What do I do?" Dave asked me. "How do you confront a critical and defensive person?"
We talked on the phone awhile longer. I explained how defensive people are good at seeing the fault of others while failing to see their own. When confronted, defensive people will always find ways to disagree. If they cannot win they will feign hurt, blaming you for "judging" their hearts.
"Dave," I said, "to confront a defensive person like Tom, you must first understand why he needs to be defensive." I told Dave to spend some time in prayer asking God for wisdom and insight.
We talked about other encounters people had with Tom. I explained that often people like Tom put on an outward bravado in order to mask a deep ...