John Markum

Difficult People

Everyone I know has at least one person in their life that causes them an extra amount of stress, frustration, and even discouragement. Let’s face it… some people are just difficult. And chances are that you have a few in your life who are especially high maintenance. Let’s choose to refer to them as EGR’s (Extra Grace Required)! So what do we do about the difficult people in our lives?

Well first of all, let’s be honest about one thing. The term difficult people is redundant. For every EGR in your life, you are likely to be the same for someone else. Because we all come to the table with our own set of difficulties, pasts, weaknesses, and desires. Any time you get a mix of several people in one place (like church) with all of these factors in mind, there brews a concoction for stress, arguing, cliches, outcasts, and hurt feelings.

You see this early on in the school system with kids who never eat at that table because “we don’t talk to them.” And that mentality carries all the way from junior high straight to adulthood. I’ve even heard people use it as an excuse for not going to church: “I’m not going to some church with all of these people who are so [fill in the blank]!”

Complaining about difficult people at church is much like complaining about all of the sick people in the hospital. If you don’t like them there, where would you suggest they go? So I have put together what I feel are a few key thoughts for dealing with the difficult people in your life.

  • Remember that they are on a process of growing to be like Christ. Some grow differently than others, and some have different issues. Help them through it (Galatians 6:1-3) .
  • Deal with your own rough edges. If you are the one having most of the conflicts with people, realize that the common denominator might be you. Be humble enough to realize that there could be places where you need to grow. In other words, stop thinking of people who need to read this blog, and apply some of this to yourself first (Romans 2:1-4)!
  • Seek peace. Scripture encourages us repeatedly to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), to accept an offense in order to attain peace (Colossians 3:13), and to do all we can short of sin to live peaceably with all people (Romans 12:16-18). Forgive when needed. Ask forgiveness when needed.
  • Choose your inner circle wisely. Just because they are part of your church family does not mean you have to be BFF’s (“Best Friends Forever” to those my generation or older). Stay closest to the people who lift you up and make you more like Christ (Proverbs 13:20), while not ignoring the others.
  • Don’t gossip. Just because you prefer some people less than others, does not give you permission to trash them to other people (Proverbs 18:6-7). In fact, do the opposite. Speak life about that person (Proverbs 18:20-21). Don’t be fake! But choose to build others up rather than tear them down. And don’t stress yourself over what others may or may not be saying about you. The truth always comes out, and the person talking smack always ends up looking much worse in the end.

God uses difficult people in our lives to grow us to be more like Him and to help others be more like Him also. Be gracious to them, even as God has been gracious to you. Remember: People are not our standard, Jesus is. Let’s focus on Him together.



3 Leadership Principles I Wish I Could Ignore

Three simple principles have been bugging me lately in regards to being a church leader. Frankly, I wish these three principles were not true. I would like to find some savvy book from another more successful church leader or business person that will coddle my anxiety and tell me I’m wrong about this. Unfortunately, nearly all of my research and experience (not to mention what the Bible teaches) has lead to be even more sure of the following three points:

  1. Nothing grows without change.
  2. All change is painful.
  3. The greater the change, the greater the pain.

Everything that grows changes. If it doesn’t, it becomes stationary and stagnant. And dies. Of course, not all change is good change. Something changing could mean that it is dying. Your heart rate going down, for instance, would be an example of bad change. But when drastic change becomes necessary for survival, we must choose to embrace the pain of change or lose ground:

  • A cancer patient accepts the chemo, or suffers the onslaught of the disease.
  • A businessman adjusts his product and services, or loses his marketability.
  • A married couple seeks counseling, or goes through the bitter agony of divorce.
  • A church shifts from doing ministry “like it’s always been”, or fails to reach a changing world.

I see these principles taking place in every single church I’ve ever known. Churches who have embraced change stay relevant to a shifting culture, but do so with great care and pain. Good people who have always been there still walk away. Internal and external pressures arise. And yet the church grows in number and closer to God at the same time. Marriages are healed. Families restored. People far from God awakened with life in Christ. The church becomes more equipped to reach their full potential in Christ. And they realize that no change they make will ever be the silver bullet. They will always be faced with new opportunities and challenges.

Other churches go to the extreme of imitating the world. Their change is usually a bad change, and they suffer the consequences of compromise. Sure, more people may come, but not usually. Because even the world is looking for something different than the world. And when they do get more people, they simply have a crowd, not a church. It almost never lasts.

Yet others still refusing to accept change have clung to a preference of what church used to be. They produce no new ideas. They focus on preserving their church rather than change their world. Gradually, many fall into complete irrelevance. Their baptismal waters are as stagnant as their vision.

I’ve made an observation that I wish I could ignore. Every season of growth in our church is marked by a season of personal pain for me. When I pray for God to expand our influence, to bring us more people far from God, to see more lives changed by the Gospel, I do so realizing that such a prayer will cost me. Because as much as I would like, I cannot avoid the pain of change. And neither can you.

And yet we should still ask God for it. Because it requires faith to step out into the pain of change. And God has already promised His grace to sustain us through it.

While growth only comes with pain, we get to see God move in new, incredible ways. God is bigger than my comfort zone. And He’s bigger than our greatest obstacles. And He’s bigger than the pain of change.

2 Timothy 2:3 “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”



Of Heaven and Hell

It seems as if there are times in everyone’s life that are marked with concentrated periods of stress, trouble, and tough times. It always seems to come in waves:

  • First you fight with your spouse over finances and the lack of time you’ve spent together.
  • You get to work and find out that your hours are getting cut in half.
  • Because you’ve been moved from full-time to part-time you realize you now lose your company-paid benefits as well.
  • On the way home the car starts overheating.
  • You check the mail on your way in to see the familiar stack of bills, that seem to be constantly rising.
  • You share all of this info with your spouse who starts to cry.
  • She then tells you all of the problems in her day: house, kids, depleted savings account, etc…
  • A family member called her because her mother (5 states away) is in critical care at the hospital.
  • To top it off, she suspects that she’s also pregnant.

Sound familiar? This story is not entirely hypothetical. More than likely, you have your own lyrics to the same song. There’s an entire message I could preach here about God’s grace through life’s difficulties, and His faithfulness to see us through. Or I could talk about the fact that God is not putting us through the fires of life to burn us, but to forge our faith and promote us to another level of His blessings. All of that would be true.

Instead I want to share a story and a simple thought that I got once from an amazing man, pastor, father, and mentor in my life from years back when I was in high school. His name is Norwood Tadlock. I went to school with all three of his kids. I knew him as my Bible teacher at my Christian high school. His wife passed away while I was still a teenager. Making similar observations as I have above, he once pointed out to me:

For those of us who know Christ, this is as close as we will ever get to Hell.

That’s a relief. The Bible even tells us that compared to Heaven, our present sufferings are but “a light affliction that is working for us a far greater weight in glory!” God is not minimizing our pain. He is simply encouraging us that one day, all of this will seem very small in comparison to Heaven. But “brother Tadlock” didn’t stop there. He quickly made the opposite observation:

For those who do not know Christ, this is as close as they will ever get to Heaven.

Frightening. And not what God wants for them, either. These thoughts coming on the back of a week full of natural disasters, false prophets, hurting people within my church, hurting people outside of church, and trying to pastor others through this messy thing called life, make me think 2 things:

1)   Heaven must be unimaginably amazing. I want everyone to go there.

2)   Hell must be unimaginably terrible. I don’t want anyone to go there – not even my worst enemy.

Let’s stop trying to guess at the day that Jesus is coming for us since He said that “no one knows the day, nor the hour of the coming of the Son of man,” and let’s get passionate about seeing people far from God awakened with life in Christ. We have a world to change. Let’s “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” and make a difference.



The phrase no pain, no gain has been a mantra for athletes and fitness junkies for years. And what they understand about physical pain needs to be broadened to a much more general use in all of our lives. Pain hurts. That's the whole problem. No one enjoys it, and if someone does, we rightfully

The Premium of Pain