Dealing With Hard Cases Webinar


So the topic tonight for this minister webinar is dealing with hard cases. And it’s a broad topic, but it’s a topic that’s come up in multiple settings and at multiple times we’ve had this request to step into it. And so we’ve asked Ron and Matt to have a conversation about it. But just a word or a verse to talk about before we get into that.

In Timothy, you see, towards the end of chapter two, you see this passage. You know, and Paul is instructing Timothy a young church leader by historical accounts and a not easy situation a difficult circumstance. I think especially as you look into some of the things that might have been going on during the background of where he was at in second Timothy.

And Paul gives this instruction. He says, The servant of the Lord must not strive, but must be gentle unto all men, apt to teach patient. And I think at least as far as myself goes as a minister, I find that there are times when it’s easier to do that than others. And yet we are called to do that, to be gentle to all men and easy cases or difficult cases so to speak.

And, so we really wanna to spend some time tonight talking through some principles, some ideas and some thoughts in that regard. And, Matt, I’m gonna turn over to you as you can walk through that and Ron will share with you. And again, if you have questions throughout the night, feel free to include them in the chat.

And then at the end we’ll have question, answer time as well. Thanks, Arlan, it’s wonderful to be with each one of you. It warms my heart to see so many names come through and appear. I think this topic of dealing with hard cases resonates with all of us. And so really I’m gonna break down the next 25 or 30 minutes into three different groups.

The first, let’s get our minds around what we mean by difficult cases. So we’re gonna provide some illustrations, some examples to say, Okay, this are some examples of difficult cases, Do you see? Or is this your experience? Or, does this make you, does this get you thinking in the categories that we’re talking about here tonight?

And then we’re gonna take a look at, well, as we look at difficult cases, there’s something about self preparation. So we’re gonna turn inward and I’ve got some questions for Brother Ron to just say, Okay, what do we need to know about ourselves as we engage these difficult cases?

And then we’re gonna turn our sight outward and say, Okay, so now let’s go to that difficult case and help me process it and how can I think it through? So let’s start with the first objective, and that is, what do we mean by difficult cases? I’ve got a list of examples right here. Okay, that I’m sure would probably strike very near to your experience, couples and individuals who refuse to change, or a desire for marriage but it’s just not likely to happen. Maybe there’s a chronic time consumer or maybe there’s a wounded person that’s wounding others and trying to work through that. Maybe mental health is a factor in what we’re dealing with. Maybe it’s a rigid personality or, maybe it’s no motion towards baptism yet repenting. Perhaps a person who’s struggling with gender identity, and a difficult personal reality that they deal with a struggle. Or maybe in this last bullet here, you get pitted against the masses by someone who’s a charmer, right? And you are left tongue tied because you really can’t say certain things, but yet people don’t understand all of the moving parts and they don’t have the advantage of knowing everything that you know.

And so you kind of work through this situation in isolation a little bit. I’ll sum it up, Brother Ron is a difficult case is when we have no idea, and I just had one last night. A sister called me up and has an adult child who is now back in the home with sheltering in place.

She’s 20 years old. And she just doesn’t want to abide by the shelter in place rules, the rules set forward by her parents on what it means to be safe and to keep this family safe, nor for the community. And so, as you can imagine, I, listen, I don’t know. I mean, I listened for a long time and in my mind was echoing, I have no idea. So difficult, a difficult case. And I think we all have those in our experience. Ron, do any of these strike near to your experience? Yeah, I think probably all of us. In fact, we probably have more trouble not assigning names to them because we would be through these.

And as you read certain ones, like, well, that’s right, don’t use names, because that’s really it. It’s not the point. But I think it’s interesting when you talk about last night, if you think about it from tonight, what do you think it was she was asking you? Was she asking you what to do or for suggestions or was she saying, Could you just hear me out because I don’t know what to do?

I think she was, I think she was looking, I think she had made some decisions and I think she was looking like, Am I crazy? Did I just do the wrong thing with my adult child? And, am I missing something? I think she definitely wants a fix because right now there’s a conundrum and so anyway, I do think she was looking for an answer. She was looking for, what’s your advice on how I should move forward and what my expectation should be. So, I think there was an element of help me fix this. So instead of giving her the answer, unless you had something brilliant that we’d all be interested in hearing you adjusted the conversation in some way toward, and there are things we’ll go over, but what you actually can do, what you can’t do, what the limits are on your role and the other person’s role, what level of influence we have in the other person with whether you knew you did that or not.

Yeah. You probably did that cuz because you didn’t have the answer, right. Unless of course you did. And again, we’re interested in hearing the answer if you do. No, I didn’t have a clear answer. But I think you’re right. It really makes you look inward on yourself and said, Who am I? And, what can I possibly offer here? And so there’s an inward inspection. And then there is the outward inspection of the raw reality in place that says, Okay, what’s my suggestion here? She’s asking for suggestions and I start grabbing things it seems like outta the air, but, so anyway, to your point, yes, I do think so.

There is a shift at some point in that conversation to say, Well, I’m not gonna be able perhaps to supply what she’s looking for, but what can I supply? And I think maybe that should guide a little bit of our conversation. So I think it’s the better place to start. It would be nice to go through that list and just put an answer by each one of those.

But I think everybody on the call knows, or if you don’t, you will by the time we get done with it tonight, they’re often is not an answer. And I think it’s helpful for us if at the beginning we define, how am I coming at this, what’s my attitude and what do I think my assignment is?

Yes. What do I bring to this case? And we have to avoid, and I’m pretty sure everybody in this call has been there, where somebody from the church or community, our family calls on us because of the role we’re in, and they put us into the expert role. The person who should be able to open the Word and, here, let’s look at this first and that’ll help. Or the person who’s been through this experience, and that’s what they would like, but we have to be careful to start with no what’s the appropriate for us to be in. And, Brother Ron, I think that’s exactly where we’re gonna start. And let’s go to this next slide here, because I do think there’s some personal preparation that we have, and I think even some of what you just mentioned speaks very clear, very nearly to some of these points here.

So looking right off the top there, what are my limits? Last night, my limits were exploding in my head. They were very clear in my mind what my limits are. But is there a larger understanding of my scope as Matt as a minister of the gospel or as this person that somebody thinks to call concerning this matter.

So why don’t you speak maybe to this concept of limits. What are our limits and why is it important to know them? So, I think most of us would go to the same place. It’s more about how do we apply that? The Bible speaks clearly about gifts and it speaks clearly about parts in the body, responsibilities in the body.

And if we look at that seriously, it means we’re only certain of those. So inherently we’re beginning with, this might not be my area or that I can provide a great deal of support, of love, encouragement, but not much in the way of answers or direction. So it’s different for each of us, but I think we have to start first with that piece of recognizing I really just have one of those eight gifts, or I have one of those eight parts of the body or two, I’m not trying to limit what it is. Some people are gifted in really wonderful ways and some less so, but the recognition still is, if you go through the list, we’re likely only to have a few of those.

Would there be an advantage, Ron? And being clear about that with the individual to simply say, Listen, I’ll tell you where my limits are on this particular issue, however I can provide this, if that makes sense. Yeah, it does. But I think you have to be a little careful.

It depends on the person and how needy they are. You know, if somebody comes to you in desperation, you don’t start with what you can’t do. You start with listening and speaking hope to who they are. And as you go into it and try to think through what the needs are and what could be done, then you begin to introduce this is not a strong spot for me, but here’s a place we could go with that.

Or maybe that’s not the greatest need. We could do these, but I wouldn’t start with those unless somebody’s coming to you in a, well, let me back that up a little bit. Generally when people are coming to you with difficult cases, they aren’t coming calmly and objectively and looking to just hear things in a matter of fact kind of way. They’re often coming a bit desperate, or by the time it becomes a difficult case, they’re becoming a little desperate.

And, you have to speak into their emotional reality first. It’s not unlike Paul’s saying, to the Romans, I became a Roman to the Greeks, I became a Greek. He joined them in some way in where they were because he knew they wouldn’t understand him otherwise. Yeah. And so if somebody’s distraught, you have to speak into that distress before you go to we’re financially ruined, or my husband is looking somewhere else, or whatever those things are.

But you have to join them and you don’t have to become distressed, but you have to speak into their distress before going to your limits. Otherwise, they will just take that as a reject. What they will hear is unwilling. They won’t hear unable, they will hear unwilling. And that’s actually what comes later. And I think that’s really critical, Ron, because if they want, they need hope.

And, a disclaimer off the start is not hope at all, as true as it might be. Excellent point. Let’s move to this next one on expectation though, Ron, because I could tell just by the way you interacted with me regarding my last night call, you really were getting to this expectation. You asked me what do you think her expectation was?

So I can see, just by the way you unpacked my moment, you had expectation on top of your head. Say, can you say a little bit more about that? What should we be thinking about our expectations and what should have my expectation been last night, I guess. Yeah. Let me go maybe a little different direction with that, Matt.

So it’s partly what are yours and then what are the other person’s? And they may be in a different place and you may not even be able to answer that, but I think you have to ask the question. So those pieces of it is my expectation that I should be able to, that I’m not gonna appear godly or wise or capable if I don’t solve this, is my expectation that I’m here as an encourager or so that’s yours. And then there’s the other person’s. And it, in some ways, it sounded like at the beginning, at least yours and hers didn’t line up. Because you never did have the expectation that you knew what to do with a 20 year old self-willed daughter who moved back home and doesn’t care what’s going on.

That was never yours. But it was Mom’s because she has picked up responsibility that may not even be hers but, no, daughter moved home. So now I have that. So at some point you have to compare those, but I think you wanna think of them separately in that what’s my expectation? And this, I wanna spend a little time, You’re gonna have to manage my time cuz I could talk too much.

So go ahead and manage that. But, I really wanna encourage you when you think about your expectations, to ask them questions of yourself. So those are things like, will I be a failure if this situation fails? And everybody on the call will say, no. But that’s not an honest answer because many of us are in a place, we are gonna feel like we failed if the situation fails. That’s, of course, a wrong answer. You know, the right answer has to be that we’re successful if we offer what we’re able to offer. We’re not a failure if it goes wrong but we have to address that ahead of time. We have to address things like, So who’s responsibility is this?

So the one that you were talking about, but maybe even more so, one of the questions you had about the person who’s been repenting forever and not making progress, whose responsibility is this? And we, all of us is, and I think especially as we move into roles that people ask us to fill, we take on too much responsibility.

We feel it deeply. We feel it in our gut or in our chest or in our head, and in our thinking. The expectation that this responsibility’s mine. I need to, and it is sometimes, I mean, there’s a lot of cases where, you know what? I don’t like this, but I’m expected to do this and I should. But I think we do that too often when sometimes, the responsibility is always God’s, but knowing when we shouldn’t even be stepping into that.

And, it’s such a reality. We all deal with it, but we all ignore it. We don’t convert souls. Even ones who say they want to be converted or they want to repent, or I’m gonna avoid situations cuz I think people in the call will guess some of them. But, where’s God’s responsibility and where’s mine?

And to think that through clearly and to recognize most of us will err on the side of taking too much responsibility. Our responsibility is to hear and direct them to the Word and be kind and encourage. But the change part that responsibility has to be with the person and with God and whatever the mix of that is.

One that you reference and then I’ll leave. We may come back to the others, but we do need to ask this question, Do I have the skills? Are these gifts mine or would this be better someplace else? Is there somebody else who should pick this up? And unfortunately, I think most of us do that when we’re sick and tired of it, as opposed to when we objectively, kindly and in love recognize we’re not the best match.

Yes. And, I think we need to do that differently. And it’s tough. I’m gonna watch, there’s something that comes to me too, Ron, as you mentioned, that if we can make that transition at the appropriate time, we are healthy to make that transition and we’re healthy to support that person in that transition as opposed to good riddance.

Yes, it’s better for both of us and better for the outcome. But you gotta get your heart and your head straight, both spiritually scripturally, but also just emotionally in terms of your own self esteem. If you don’t get that straight, you’re gonna continue in cases you shouldn’t. You’re gonna not give people the skills they should have, you know, they could get from someone else.

And so it’s not only, not the best course, but it’s actually harmful to not recognize that. I wanna the expectation, what should my goals be? I just wanna highlight a few things. This concept of success and failure and having those expectations. What I wrote down here, Ron, which I really appreciate, is I cannot model all of the attributes of Jesus to this person.

For example, he is perfectly wise, and right now I don’t have the wisdom to impart in this situation, but there are aspects of Jesus that I can model in this situation. And I think if I have that expectation in my mind to say, You know what? It’s not gonna be the wisdom of Christ, but it can be the love of Christ, for example.

And then having that expectation is helpful. Let’s go to the broken realities. Brother Ron, I knew this PowerPoint right? I knew this point was here, and I heard it in your prayer. You mentioned in your prayer broken world, which tells me that there is a lens that you have as you approach this topic, and a part of that lens is brokenness.

Can you say something more about that mindset? Yeah, probably several things, but I think the bigger key piece is just recognizing that, in the same way that you can’t make your crop grow if it doesn’t rain, you can’t make the stock market do what you want it to. If you’re a physician, you can’t heal all the patients.

Some people have chronic conditions and to work that into these relationship kinds of things. And there are a significant number of situations which will not get fixed. It’s hard to start there. And some would say that’s a lack of faith. And some would go as far as saying God can do anything he wants to, which of course I would agree with.

And then we get into theology that’s not useful. Like, why doesn’t he want to? And but I think in the big picture, we would all agree, we do live in a broken world and we see around us some things which won’t be fixed. There are people for their whole life who battle with difficult physical disabilities, people who battle with difficult mental health things.

And some of those are obvious. Some of them drive us kind of crazy. Some of ’em we can accept better and some are kind of subtle. Sometimes we don’t recognize how much somebody’s rigid personality is built into who they are. We want it changed. We want it changed in the way that’ll work. And even that may be a part of the brokenness of the world we live in, whether that’s inherited or from life experiences or whatever it is.

But it can’t all be changed. So I think accepting that. And, I think we’re gonna come and circle back to this broken realities. A few things are firing in my head, but I think we’ll find them relevant even in the next slide. So we’re gonna hold off on that. Let’s move now to that healthy self.

How do I know I’m staying healthy? Right? So there’s this element of if we’re gonna help people, we need to be healthy ourselves. Certainly that’s gotta be top of mind. Yeah. So that might circle back a little bit to some things we said, but I think it goes to those questions. If you can’t define yourself as doing okay in spite of a situation that fails, whether it’s your ego or just your sense of feeling successful or not is tied to the outcome of another person, that’s not healthy.

And it doesn’t matter if that person is your wife, your child, a parishioner, somebody in your church, a neighbor or whoever they are. A healthy self has to stay focused on am I where God wants me to be in my relationship with him? That may sound a little selfish, but that has to be, There is no other place to be healthy.

If healthy is tied to being everything my wife needs me to be, always responding appropriately with my kids and not having any unhealthy interventions, being able to assist everybody who asks for it, then we will inherently be unhealthy. But I think there’s more in that. And, we don’t necessarily have to go a long ways into it, but I think we need to keep it.

And that is knowing when you need respite and trying to do that before you’re desperate. But when you know if you’re feeling too tired all the time, if you’re starting to really dislike somebody, you know, we have to, if you’re gonna intervene with somebody, you have to love them deeply. You don’t have to love them with your heart and soul in the sense of feeling it, but in the sense of First Corinthians 13, talking about bearing all things and believing all things and not wanting.

So if you’re losing on those that I think there’s other verses too, but I think those are good verses to take and say am I staying okay with those? You know, you think about heart, we think about loving from the heart. You got a healthy heart if you’re still in the right place with those.

If you’re shifting, you’re not, and you either need to back away, ask for help, get some respite, whatever that is. I love that. Respite before desperate, makes a lot of sense. And that’s how we best love people. And that really is the last point there. How do I continue to love as Jesus loves and I think that challenges all of us to love like Jesus did. But really, that’s what’s on the chopping block. As you have explained it, love itself. Yeah, I think it’s important on the last one. So if you ask the question, how did Jesus love? And I don’t know that the Bible ever references tough love.

We do sometimes, and I think it’s true, but there were times that Jesus expressed love that way. He knew that some people were gonna be hurt when they heard his point. When he talked to the rich young ruler or to others, that was stated in love. It was what they needed to do in order to have the relationship with God that they wanted to have.

And he knew they weren’t gonna be able to, but he didn’t just love them in a way that he wanted to make sure they felt good after they were done talking, which is what we sometimes think should happen. That I just love you and give you a hug and I just know you wanna give me a hug before you leave too.

And, I don’t think that’s necessarily accurate. We should be careful not to use tough love as an excuse to explode at somebody, which we do once in a while. But there is a piece of love which is accurate and honest and not tied too closely to their opinion of me when they leave.

And that love, the love of Christ certainly has a long view which is, I think important, isn’t it? It’s not necessarily a quick fix, but a long view mindset. I wanna go now, in the interest of time, let’s now talk about, now this is the personal we’ve looked into ourselves, expectations, a mindset of brokenness.

And so now we’re gonna look a little bit outward and say, Okay, let’s engage, this difficult case. And let me just set up the screen, Ron, and then we’ll start talking it through. But engaging difficult cases there in the picture, we have two roads. We’ve got a Y in the path, and one is maybe more taken than the other.

And perhaps I’d like to maybe suggest the two paths are one, fixing the issue, which is really what the sister wanted last night, right? And so basically let’s bring this to solution, to conclusion. And then there is this other issue, this other route of accepting the issue. And I think even on the previous slide about recognizing broken realities and those types of things, we have how do we help a person accept an issue?

So let’s start first there at that fixing the issue, Brother Ron, talking about where a person is at, when you engage a person, you are evaluating, Okay, where is this person at and why does that matter in this process? Yeah. So if it’s okay, I wanna talk a little bit about that, assessing the stages of change.

Cuz I don’t think you can talk about this without going there. So that means asking those questions and I think this is self-evident enough, I don’t need spend a lot of time on it, but we assume that people come to us at red, at action why else would they be talking to us?

But that’s not accurate. People wanna talk about the fact that they’re thinking about maybe this should happen, but they’re not sure. And people wanna talk about, they’re thinking about, well what would they do if they wanted to, You know, what would that look like? And they might be talking about, I’m ready to take some steps.

What are those first steps? How do I get in the right place to take those? Then they would talk about what to do and we, I think most of us are prone to go right to action and to assume that when somebody comes to us, they’re ready to go to action. Why else would they be coming? It kind of makes inherent sense, except it doesn’t make any sense at all.

Most of us start talking to somebody well before that, whether that’s a person in official capacity like a minister or minister’s wife or elder, whatever, or just as a friend. But we often are talking to people about, I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem right. This seems like maybe somebody should do something about this.

Would you accept this? You know, that pre contemplation has to be gone through. Ron, even with this would provide some information for the sister I spoke with last night because she described her daughter, in fact, that’s the rub. Her mom’s got an action plan on how they’re gonna live out Covid 19 and to the 20 year old, she’s way up there in the contemplation precontemplation stage and we’ve got major friction in a major miss of those two. I think it’s also important as we look at this to know this is helpful for somebody in terms of planning out their own action. It’s helpful for the counselor or mentor, or minister, whoever it is.

But it’s also helpful in recognizing that some people are either afraid, lack the skills, or just don’t have the energy to go beyond pre contemplation and contemplation. That may be where they always are. They maybe can’t see anything different that maybe their life experience of has had too many failures in it.

Maybe they just don’t see themselves with the skills to do it, and we shouldn’t reject those. And, we can do this now at a different time, but we at some point need to talk about, So what do you do with those people? Ones who, it’s a continuum, but it’s not a continuum everybody follows. It’s just as a continuum in terms of understanding where they’re at and what the next steps would be. So I think, but even as you say that too, Ron, I can see myself being down here with a pre contemplation person who’s up here, and this is where my love runs dry, and I’m not healthy and a healthy relationship with them.

So this really mingles well with my expectations that we mentioned before. If I have a shift in expectation, it allows me to walk with that person with a new grace, I guess. So I think that hits on a point, Matt, that can be helpful to all of us. Up until now, when we talk about getting your own attitude in the right place and having the right mindset, that can sound kind of like not doing anything.

So you haven’t offered anything to the other person, right? You’ve just figured out if you need respite or if you have the skills or if you have a right attitude toward it. This is a way to see that you are doing something. And the first piece of that is knowing where you are on this, what your assumptions are, knowing where the other person is.

And so the first action point is getting to the same place. It does not work to be on, well, doesn’t matter, even if it’s reversed. And you as the mentor are on pre contemplation and you wanna talk ’em through all the things they should consider, but they in fact are all the way into the action plan and just looking for a good maintenance.

So that isn’t usually what happens. Usually it’s the other way around it. You’re ready to get ’em through the action plan and into maintenance. But either way, first step and it is an action, it is not self-examination anymore. It’s an action to get in the same place or at the very least, to be transparent and acknowledge between the two of you that you’re not at the same place.

And if you can’t get at the same place, or at least within one degree of each other, You’re probably not gonna be effective with each other. You can’t be that far apart. You can be pushing toward contemplation if they’re in pre and you can be pushing toward preparation and sometimes they need nudging along, but you can’t be two, three steps further down.

So probably every situation you mentioned fits on here in some way. And using this is a way to think about this is kind of beyond, do I have the skills? It’s beyond is my attitude right? Those are all important. But now you’re at this place of you’re actually dealing with this situation. Are we lined up?

You know what, something, as you mentioned that disagreement, we might have one with another person. Disagreement is difficult, making for a hard case. But there is some solace in understanding the disagreement. And I think that’s what you brought out here. This helps us understand the disagreement and when both parties understand the disagreement, hey, that’s a step forward even if we’re not at the same place. And, I think there’s some life to that. I actually, Matt, I would say that takes us back to the previous scrutiny. You talk about loving as Jesus loved, He recognized where people were, acknowledged that, and he didn’t necessarily accept it. You know, when you talk about it, it’s not accepting it, but it’s accepting that person can choose to be there.

You know, that is not your role. I mean, even Christ takes that as his role to move somebody away from where they were. And it’s, this is really hard when you’re dealing with things like a husband or wife who wants to leave their spouse or somebody whose faith is falling apart and they’re ready to walk away from God or their going into a very different understanding of theology.

Those are hard, but even those people need us to understand where they are and we can do that. We can acknowledge where they are without accepting it. We don’t have to say it’s a good idea. But they will feel loved if you will at least listen to where they are and why they’re struggling with that.

I think that’s very helpful. I love the practicality of it. Let’s, you really mentioned, elevate already. I think you very well articulated earlier on the need to move a person perhaps while you’re still in a healthy place and bring other people with a skillset to help a person.

So we’ve kind of highlighted those as fixing the issue. That’s some tips to help if this is a fixer. And sometimes we do have fixes out there that we need to somewhat find. But I want you to now speak to this one down here, Brother Ron because there’s, I think, a great deal of hope in knowing that there’s another fork in the road, and this one is accepting the issue coming out of this mindset that we live in a broken world.

So, would you speak a little bit to the perspective there what shifts in focus could be helpful in these hard cases? Yeah, so if I missed some pieces, bring me back their map, but in some ways, I think they repeat where we started. So that focus, I’d mentioned to you earlier, I’m not gonna quote somebody cuz again, I don’t wanna put them on the spot, but somebody from 12 years ago sent me an email today and one I don’t remember a single thing I told the couple about their daughter, not anything, but she does. And one that she mentioned was this question of if you take her to the altar, are you willing to leave her there? You, if you present this case to God or put it before Christ, are you willing to let it there with him? And that resonated.

And I think that’s what this fork is. You don’t decide which way it goes, you acknowledge which way it’s going. And if you can influence it one way, that’s a good thing. But at some point you have to let go. And it may not be the right road. It may not be the road most traveled, but you’ve come to the fork and there’s a place that you have to release.

So I think that shift at that point is I’ve given the skills, told the truth. You know, sometimes parents most often say this, but sometimes others about, well, they need to know where I stand. And, my thought to that is always you think there’s any confusion about where you stand. I think they know exactly where you stand.

You don’t need to tell ’em another time. What you’re doing is living out your own frustration because they haven’t agreed with you. And the fact is they have told you one way or another, I’m not going that way, or I can’t, or I don’t know how. And can you release it at that point? And that may mean the road that is gonna be bumpier have more risk to it, but you don’t determine that in another person.

So I think that’s a shift. A shift toward acceptance. And that’s hard. It hurts to see somebody make choices that sometimes we just don’t care for them. The choices. It means they’re gonna live far away or maybe worship in a different place, and that’s hurtful. Sometimes we can see the disaster coming, but even then you can’t force someone onto the right road.

So that shift in focus has to be how do I maintain the relationship into the future. So whether as parents, that’s made more important. But even I think as ministers and elders, if somebody’s going into a sinful relationship or leaving their faith or leaving church, isn’t our goal still to be as accessible to them as possible?

And that’s a shift in focus. It’s recognizing I’m no longer influencing where this is going, but I can continue to influence the relationship. I can continue to focus on showing respect, even respect of their right to choose something different than I think they should. That maintains a relationship that they can come back to.

Does that happen? Probably not often, but it does. It does sometimes. We’ve all seen some of those where late in life, even end of life, where because they remembered respect, they remembered kindness, they remembered even our acceptance of autonomy. Because they remember that they felt safe to come back.

Yeah. And, really what has spoken to me here tonight through this dialogue is, what of the attributes of Jesus, can I right now can I be, and if that’s simply presence, then what a powerful message that God is present. And notice that that doesn’t require a fixing of the issue, but simply, kind of a cradling or carrying the issue. The verse there in second Corinthians 12 that’s on the screen. Jesus says, My grace is sufficient for thee for my strength is made perfect in weakness. And we all know this comes right outta the text where Paul is complaining about a thorn. And so there was an accepting that Paul had as much as he wanted a fixing.

There was an accepting, the answer was an accepting, not a fixing. And I realize we’re talking about a vast variety of hard cases here, and so does this verse fit the hard case you’re thinking about? Maybe not, but it does in so many of the hard cases where fixing is not probably gonna happen this side of heaven.

Is that a fair enough statement? Yeah, and I think it’s a good place to introduce, even though this is more of a mental health concept, but I think it fits in Christianity. There’s those situations where we end up with case management. And what we mean by that from a counseling perspective is there’s probably no more change gonna happen, but this person belongs to us still.

And, this may be somebody with a more severe mental illness or somebody with just a lot of confusion about what they believe or somebody that’s just hurt a lot of people and there’s just not healing gonna happen. What do you do with ’em? And in case management thinking that way allows you to assign people who will continue to stay engaged, but not for the purpose of change.

They’ll stay engaged for the purpose of showing love, and I think it’s a little different than releasing the person who’s going their own way. And it’s more about the person who’s staying than going to be here and do you or does your family, or does the church reject that person because they didn’t find a good answer or didn’t comply with what they should have done.

And a church needs to do case management, there are those people that just need a couple people wrapped around them, not with a sense of hopefulness, just with a sense of love and caring about who they are. That’s that community piece that’s beyond the change agent part of that. I think there’s a great deal of hope that it comes on this discussion with that, Ron, because number one, community is what church is and to realize that part of the answer in our difficult cases does lie in the church community.

But I wonder if people would be empowered and feel more apt to step into these cases if they knew that it wasn’t a fix necessarily as you spoke, right? It’s not necessarily a fix, but can you come around a person? Cuz I think all of us immediately default to, oh my, you want me to step into this situation, I can’t fix it.

But that’s not the ask. And I think there’s some hope there. I think it’s very powerful if we can do that for each other. And sometimes that means the elder or somebody else giving permission. I’m not expecting more. This person just needs to remain loved within our congregation. Sometimes it’s someone else, you know, who sees it.

But the giving permission and not seeing that as failure, it is one of the successes. Yeah. If that person continues to remain in the community and knows this community cares. There again, I think that’s one I can mention and I can do names of course, but there’s a lady, she has circled back into the Washington Church repeatedly over the past 25 years.

And, sometimes we’re confused about why. But it’s her safe place. When everything else is failing, she’ll circle back there and you ask why. Nobody’s been successful in getting her to do anything the way we see it needed to be done. But she knows that she’s loved. And so it’s an okay place to come back and defining that as success that that person feels cared for in that community in spite of any failures or lack of compliance. That is another level of success or a different type of success. That’s excellent. And, just for the sake of time, because I do want to guard our time for possible questions. So, Arlan, we’re gonna look to you. I’m just gonna make a comment on the last one there.

Brother Ron, we’ve discussed it, but this concept of lament, we have an opportunity with people to just cry, to lament like David lamented in the Psalms, to cry out and say, Why is it this way? I don’t know. But we turn our lament towards God and in a faith statement that says, God, here’s our complaint.

We wish it was different, but we will trust You in spite of it. And I think there’s a great deal of hope that’s like, Okay, I can do that with an individual and that’s on this route of accepting, but Arlan, let’s turn now to some of the questions that you perhaps come through and just leave it right here, Matt, on this slide, if you will.

We have about 10 minutes left or so, and there’s a couple questions that when people registered, they submitted and we tried to correlate all those together. And I’m gonna ask you a few of those. But if you have a question in your mind as you’re listening and watching tonight, and if you wanna ask it, there’ll be chances to do that here in just a few minutes.

So get ready to turn your mic on. If you’re brave enough and are willing, you can turn your webcam on, that’s fine. And we can ask some questions here, but, first off, just two statements. The stages of change is a really big concept and we have actually recorded a whole webinar on that topic.

It’s on our website in the webinar archive. You can find a whole webinar on that topic where we go into more detail. And this last piece about lament, Matt, I think is a really powerful piece of just the listening and helping individuals process through emotions and that it’s okay to process through emotions and identify them and feel understood within them.

Ron, a couple of the questions kind of went that direction and they went that direction in the form of boundaries. Like what is the appropriate level to have boundaries in some of these difficult cases. How do you maybe back out of a case gracefully that is you’re starting to resent the person and you’re catching yourself there. How do you dial it down? What are ways that you have seen where the person can still feel heard and valued and yet you’re able to dial back the involvement just a little bit. Any tips to share? Well, it’s easier to say what not to do than what to do.

So the what not? Go for it. Yeah. Don’t spill your frustration on them and call them out and accused and the kinds of things we’re inclined to do at that point, because you’ve wasted my time. You don’t care. You haven’t taken any steps. When really the problem there is how we went into it. We went in expecting them to do that, and then when they didn’t, we get angry.

So just noticing that. But I think the importance is defining the roles at the beginning, the boundaries come from the roles that you define. And, we can’t say that there are people who, whose boundaries are such that you’re welcome to come to my house. You’re welcome to live with me.

You’re welcome to join our friendship group. Those are not necessarily wrong if you mean it, if as you look down the road you can see that that’s sustainable and that’s who you are. So a lot of those boundary things have to do with you being honest with how much privacy do you need? How much time do you have, how many assets are you willing to commit to it?

And I think when you get in further than you should, it’s not cuz you’re in the wrong place it’s, you’re in the wrong place for what you can handle. And, Arlan, I think at that point you might need to ask counsel of someone else. And because your perspective’s starting to get warped now once you start becoming angry at that person or resenting them, you’re no longer thinking clear.

And you might need someone else to help think through either what should the boundaries be, but also how to put those in place. The wrong thing to do is decide, I’m putting up a fence because I’ve had it. If you’ve allowed them over the fence, then it’s your job, not theirs. It’s your job to mend the fence in a way that’s respectful.

And I know when we talked about this earlier, it seems like ages ago and just brainstormed the topic. There was also, so if you just use like a percentage, cuz I think a couple questions came into this idea of what if you have a really, we’ll call ’em a needy individual, that’s monopolizing a lot of your time.

And let’s just say they’re using 70, 80% of your time, you can still dial back to 30%, 20% and offer a great service. That’s a good point. Right? Without going all the way down to zero. Right. Or dropping them completely. And so speak to that Ron, if there’s any other thoughts to share with that?

Well, at least in most cases, Arlan, I think when that happens, you better tell the person, because they’re going to notice if all of a sudden you only answer every fourth call and you were answering every call, then you just rejected them. If you explain that I love you, I care what happens, there’s other things that have changed my life and I’m gonna have to make some adjustments, but here’s what I want to still do for you and here’s how I’ll handle those other times. They’re still not gonna like it. I mean, who likes to be rejected? But they’ll understand where it’s coming from. I think we have a tendency, we don’t like this situation we got ourselves in. We went out and we resort to passive aggressive to get there. And then we tell ourselves it’s okay, I’m just putting boundaries in place.

Well, that’s not true. If you were talking to that person for an hour, three nights a week, and now you scaled it back to 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon and you didn’t tell ’em why, you didn’t tell ’em what was changing. So you gotta do the difficult, the painful open and sharing and making sure to help them focus on, but we will still do this and knowing they may not like it, they might dump you. We have a tendency as people, if we sense that somebody’s dumping us, we try to get one step ahead and dump them first. That’s how we function. So recognize that that may occur, you may get rejected back, but if you were kind and appropriate in how you did it, you’ve left the door open for them to come back and the person just for their own dignity, might have had to leave that way.

We’ve all done that. We all can remember some time with it. Well, there, I told them, and they’re not gonna make me do that. And we walk away feeling kind of justified, even if a month later we know just how badly we handled it. And then I think that goes back to, if our stock and our value is in that fixing of that relationship, then that can be a blow.

Right. But if we’ve done the preparation work ahead of time and we realize our value is in deeper things than just that, we can weather that. Exactly. One other piece with that too, that I know we get asked a lot. Let’s say you have a situation with a couple and you sense that you’re being pulled into that game of he versus her and you’re kind of getting one sided each side’s trying to get you on their side, so to speak.

How do you navigate getting caught in the middle of what can be a difficult situation there? Probably of all the questions I’d rather avoid tonight, that would be the one. No, we can go on. No, that’s not my point. My point is that there may be no answer to that cuz when two people are in conflict, they both desperately need you to agree with them and they need you to do that for the wrong reasons.

They need you to do that so they can use it against the other person. So I think you have to speak into it and it’s very possible they will both reject you because you are not that helpful if they’re in that much conflict. You are not helpful to them individually if you won’t get on their side so they can’t use you as an arrow to throw at the other person. But you still have to speak truth into it and say, I cannot be useful if I take sides. Now it’s a little hard when they’re, when the sides are unbalanced and you in fact need to carefully side more with, wanna give them support. You shouldn’t avoid that completely.

You have to do that really carefully. But you know, there’s times when one of the people, particularly in a marriage where one’s being abused or badly mistreated, you can’t avoid taking sides there. You need to stand gently for truth, for safety, for integrity.

Yeah. That’s good counsel. And those are difficult situations that usually involve elevation pretty quickly beyond what any of us should be expected to fix. One other comment in that, when you’re asked to take sides, that’s usually when somebody has let a conflict, a difficulty, get up to a stage five, if you will.

And so when the fire’s blazing, they’re like, by the way, would you be willing to help us here? Well, we could have been effective back at two maybe where we could look at this, but when there’s enough damage that’s been done. So you have to be careful how you call somebody out in that, but for your own perspective, for your own, Did I fail or not?

You have to be honest about, you know, they called me in as the roof was collapsing. No, we didn’t save the house. That was too late for that. Good reality check right there. If anyone has a question, there’s just a few minutes left. I wanna be mindful of time on this evening, but if anyone has a question I’d like to ask. I haven’t seen any chats come through.

But I’m gonna ask one more question, but I also just pause here for just a second if anybody has anything they’d like to direct to any of us,

Let me shift it then. Just a second. Because this has come up and one of the questions was obviously in the midst of the world we live in right now at this time is the pandemic and Covid and Coronavirus and many very unusual circumstances going on shelter in place, church happening virtually, all those kind of things.

And there will undoubtedly be some difficult cases, some hard cases that emerge from this. Are there things that we should be thinking about or approaching as a church, church leadership at this point? It’s a little bit of a hard question cuz it’s an evolving situation and it changes, frankly, daily, if not for sure, weekly.

But just any thoughts as we apply some of the things we talked about tonight, maybe into the current context of today.

Just a couple comments. I wish that everybody could have been there Saturday. We had an elder deacon regional meeting, an Illinois Regional Meeting. And so, at one point we went around, I don’t remember if every brother spoke, I don’t think so, but just about what things they were looking for, what kind of needs they saw in different creative ways of reaching out to those.

So I think the thing most of all that stuck in my head was that it was the result of leadership purposely, intentionally thinking about what has changed, what needs exist that are no longer being met, and is there some way to do that and, you know, creative things. I don’t think it was there, I think it was a different place.

Somebody mentioned about a middle-aged single sister in the church who offered to call up and do story time with families that needed a break. And I remember sitting around the radio as a kid on Saturday mornings, I can’t remember what their program was, but we all got there on time. It’s sort of like Whit’s End was to our kids.

Yeah. Or is that the name of it? Whatever the name of that. You know, the program we’re talking about and how much they would look forward to whoever that lady from churches who would call and read them a story. So where did it come from? But the point isn’t that somebody likes to read. The point is somebody was thinking about, I bet that mom could use a break.

And if I could read to those kids for 20 minutes and get them away from squabbling at each other, that would be a really nice thing. It wasn’t about entertainment, it was about assessing needs. I think our church has done an absolutely incredible job thinking about how to keep church happening and bringing it to the homes really. So I’m talking too long here, I wanna let go.

But one of the cool things I thought for a small church is a brother who shared, they did Go to Meetings, but they left everybody live. Not their mics, but whoever was having the sermon could see all 50 families that were attending. We can’t do that in Washington. You can’t any of your churches either.

But it was creative thinking about that brother felt like he was talking to them cuz he could see their faces. We have to talk to that silly microphone camera out there that we don’t know who’s looking into. That’s a little more challenging. But it’s thinking about what needs are no longer being met.

That there is some way to speak into, and there’s lots of different ways to respond, but thinking about what those are, who’s the lonely, which families likely to have more stress? Who has greater needs? So identifying the shift, or thinking about what has shifted, And, a big shift has been just interaction and communication and church lunch hour, right?

And what happens in those settings. And then trying to find a way to recreate that, whether it’s virtually through technology or, telephones still work, right? Phone calls are still really valuable. But I think the other piece too, from what I’m hearing tonight is to think marathon with that and not necessarily sprint, right?

Part of the preparation is to walk it in a sustainable type way. Because ultimately we are just stepping into the Lord’s work, right? And it is the Lord that sustains all of us. And we are trying to create opportunities for individuals to feel sustained through relationship by pointing them to him who does that.

I think being careful not to become Job at the wrong time of his life also. So we all have the same questions. How long, how bad will it be? Will somebody I know die? Why is it happening? Is it gonna recur again next year? And you know, that’s kind of like, why curse the day and why’d you make me be born?

And that was the mistake to have this happen. Until God finally got fed up and said, Wait, do you understand who you’re talking to? And he didn’t answer the question then, but Joe realized who he was talking to and said, Oh, however you work this out is okay. And coming to an acceptance, not based on knowledge or understanding.

And I think that reflects a lot in where we’re with this. If you have to have knowledge and understanding, you’re in trouble. Cuz it’s not there. There isn’t an expert who knows it and there’s some non-experts who pretend they do. And that’s even more difficult. It doesn’t exist.

And I think we could talk a lot more about that topic and could go on. I know there’s some good resources out there. I know there’s podcasts that have been recorded. I know there’s churches that are doing special talks with a lot of good council that’s been shared out there. But what I heard was a sense of intentionality and being intentional about creating opportunities for individuals to talk together and to feel heard in some setting.

So they can process. There’s a lot of loss. There’s a lot of a type of grief that’s going on. Even if you don’t know anybody who is sick or who is dying, just the reality that is not happening now and the change that’s taken place there can lead towards a very serious form of grief that needs to be talked through and in settings like that.

Any other, thoughts? Just one question just came through. I’d like to take this now, maybe use this as the last question and then we’ll transition out. Just any good ideas for engaging 20 year olds that are not converted and don’t live at home with parents. Just any thoughts that kind of come to your mind?

How do you reach out to, that could be a difficult, age group there? So I have to give the question a little bit of our time. Why would you include that in difficult cases?

The only thing I would say is the same things still apply. What’s your role? What does God empower you with? What doesn’t he? What’s that person’s expectation or willingness with you? And do you accept those limits and work within those? And if you don’t, you’re gonna overpower that person or frustrate them or whatever it is.

If you accept those and function from within those limits, you won’t be as frustrated because if they reject you, they do. That might happen. But the person also won’t feel so much like you’re coming from a totally different place. If you think those stages of change, they’re probably a pre contemplation and you’re at action, they need to repent.

And they’re thinking about, I wonder, do you know if God exists? And you’ve gotta get on the same page, or at least acknowledge that you’re not on the same stage of change. It can be hard because those are people we desperately want to reach out to, and we feel we’re losing them. Well, and I think what you said earlier too, Ron or Matt, one of you, I think was valuable about the idea of just continuing to build relationship or kind of shift the goal to being just continuing relationship of some type.

That in time they can, I think you use the word circle back around perhaps, right? I mean, the Lord does his work and our opportunity is to build some relationship in the midst of that and continue to foster that. Any last thoughts from either of you before we have a closing comment and finish?

I don’t. I might share just real briefly, Arlan, I had a two hour conversation with an individual on Saturday, and he was a difficult case about six years ago. And I took a lot of responsibility. I had the wrong expectations and we had to separate. And, last Saturday he talked about the road that God has brought him on and the good place that he’s at today.

And, I had to just kind of smile at God’s wisdom, and to see this difficult case land at a really good place. And, I’m not a part of the success story and sometimes God has a way of doing that. So I just wanted to share that as a bit of hope. And I think I wanna leave us, just encourage each of us is what I heard that really stuck with me is what aspect of Jesus’ love or just of Jesus himself, what aspect of his character are we able to play in each of these situations?

And, honestly assess that and honestly pray through that and step into that. And then leave the work up to the Lord and he will work his work in his time and his way. Thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate having such a good crowd tonight and so many of you. Good to see your names and to look forward to when we can be back together in person at some point. And, in the meantime, God’s blessings and look forward to having you join us in our next couple webinars later in this year. You’ll see emails come out and they’re on the website as well. You can register for them. So take care and have a good night.

Dealing with Hard Cases

“And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,” 2 Timothy 2:24

In this webinar we considered situations ministers can get pulled into that are extremely difficult in nature. Sometime you might find yourself dealing with an issue which is unresolvable by nature or where expectations do not match reality or where individuals chronically monopolize our time and resources. Bro Ron Messner shared some tips how to love as Jesus loves by personally preparing for these difficult cases and then engaging them with love, grace, and truth.

Dealing with Hard Cases PPT handout