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Dealing With Toxic People
“Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV).
Many years ago as a college student I took a biology class, and we spent some time learning about toxicology. I remember learning about the toxic threshold, which is the exposure level or dose of an agent above which toxicity or adverse health effects can occur.
I recently listened to a radio show about “toxic” people on a local Christian station. Clearly, exposure to these people is not lethal, but it is very problematic. All of us can be toxic to others at times, and Christians are not immune. Some Christians are particularly prone to being toxic due to arrogance or self-righteousness.
A toxic person is driven by pride and ego. They have a need for control, and their heart is often filled will hate, shame, or other negative emotions. They are not aware of their problem and will become defensive and accusatory if even gently confronted.
As Christians we are all called into ministry through our baptism and our profession of faith in Jesus Christ. In any ministry you will encounter toxic people. I think many of us struggle to deal with these people. As parents we want to model for our children how to live a life of ministry. We want to be helpful but some of these people consume so much of our time and it feels as if our time is wasted because they are not receptive, and there is no progress. I am blessed to minister to anybody in need, and I honestly don’t mind being placed in an uncomfortable position if I detect that I am being productive. In other words, I want to see that even a mustard seed of conviction is present. However, if there is no conviction then counseling will not yield good fruit, and I am not being a good steward of my time.
Time spent in ministry is holy and it is foolish to offer something valuable to someone who is unable to appreciate that value. The Bible speaks to this in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” Our job is to plant seeds, but it is wasteful to endlessly plant on rocky soil when there is so much fertile soil that needs to be sewn. Matthew 7:13-14 expand on the reality that not all will respond to the invitation; “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Ministry must be done in tandem with the Holy Spirit. One of the guests on the radio show said, “without the Spirit we cannot receive God’s blessings.” This comment made my mind wander to “…apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It also made me ponder on the power of humility. If we keep ourselves humble, we reduce the chances of being toxic to others. We also must realize that we may not be able to significantly help every person that we encounter. Sometimes we have to stop and refer them to someone else and pray that our work with the Spirit did make a small positive impact, and the next person will be able to make more progress.
Prayer: Dear God: Please continue to be with us as we do ministry to glorify you. Give us a sense of discernment to know when our efforts our futile, and it is time to refer to another brother or sister in Christ. Amen.
Meet the Author
Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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