5. Assume Honorable Motives Until Proven Otherwise
It’s easy to assume that people with control issues have wrong motivations. I’ve seldom found that to be true. Control freaks usually have good motives, but are going about it the wrong way. Sometimes their need for control is the result of past hurts and distrust, as we’ll see in the following point. Sometimes it’s their personality. So be careful not to assign evil intention to people without ample evidence.
Don’t worry that this will make you a doormat. If you assume good intentions, then discover bad ones, it’s always easy to ramp up the confrontation. But if you assume wrong intentions, it’s very hard to back off from a confrontational footing if you’re wrong.
6. Deal With Problems Before Control Freaks Do
When I was a young pastor, our church did a much-needed facility upgrade. Every Sunday before church, one of the members came early to give the project a going-over. Then, just as the service was about to start, he brought me the list of problems, demanding to know how I was going to fix them.
After a few weeks, I decided to beat him to the punch. When he arrived I said “I’m glad you’re here! There are some things you need to see.” Then I led him on a tour of all the problems and how I was working to fix them. I did it to inform and reassure him, not to rub his nose in it. At the end of the second week’s tour he told me, “it seems like you have a handle on this. I won’t need to see any more. Thanks.”
That was it.
I later discovered he had been through a previous facilities upgrade in which the pastor hadn’t been properly diligent, costing the church thousands of dollars extra. Once I had proven that I had the issues in hand, he let it go. Some control freaks are concerned members who’ve been burned before. Earn their trust and you can win them back.
7. Outlove Outlive Them
Sometimes the answer to dealing with control freaks is simple endurance. I’m going to hang in here longer than they are. Either until they leave (hopefully not) or until I earn their trust.
Sometimes the control freaks are so embedded, they make pastoring the church impossible. That happened in a previous church, which I had to leave. They outlived me. But even if that happens, we need to love them. Really and truly love them. Even if they never let go of control, we need to rise above the battle.
8. Realize Who’s Really In Control
The hardest thing about control freaks is when we think they’re taking control that rightly belongs to us, the pastor. But control of the church never belongs to us. Or to them.
It’s Jesus’s church. Control freaks in the pew or the pulpit will never be able to take it from him.
This article on dealing with control freaks is an excerpt from Karl Vaters’ book, Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250 and is used by permission.