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Posts Tagged ‘confronting church antagonists’

Have you ever been in a church where someone always seems to be antagonistic?

During my first pastorate, there was a man on the church board who used to drive me insane.  I’ll call him Rudy.

Rudy had been a pastor for many years, but somewhere along the line, his marriage failed, and his denomination prevented him from pastoring again.

Rudy became a public school teacher and married a second time.  When I first met him … at a church board meeting … he was a bit scary.  He was large but short with a booming voice, and it didn’t take much for him to start ranting about something.

Sadly, a few months after I came to the church, Rudy’s second wife filed for divorce and stopped attending.  I went to the board and requested permission to ask Rudy to step down from the board, which they reluctantly granted.  But a few months later, the remaining board members insisted that Rudy be reinstated … mostly because he was their friend.  I didn’t agree with them, but my protests fell on deaf ears.

So Rudy returned … but he was often full of rage.

One night, I was teaching a midweek class about Christ’s resurrection, and I made a point that Rudy didn’t like.  He stood up, shouted into the air, walked to the door, and slammed it behind him, which stunned everybody … especially me.

Another time, our church held a “business meeting,” and Rudy began yelling across the room at someone who said something he didn’t like.  Later that week, I told him that he had to apologize to the entire church the following Sunday or he wasn’t going to be a board member anymore.  So he apologized … sort of.

When I preached, I always had to watch what I said or Rudy might angrily confront me.  One time in a sermon, I mentioned the death and resurrection of Christ but didn’t mention His burial.  After the service, Rudy jumped all over me for that “omission.”

Another time, I wrote a newsletter article that featured some quotations from a British theologian I admired.  Rudy called me at home and let me know he didn’t agree with me at all.

Along the way, Rudy married a third time, and he began teaching the seniors’ class at our church.  Before I knew it, class members began holding secret meetings and making demands to the church board about my future.  When the board stood by me, Rudy’s class left the church en masse and started a new church in a school … one mile from our church.

As Rudy’s pastor, I was constantly on edge whenever he was around.

Why do antagonists like Rudy act the way they do at church?  Let me share three quick possibilities:

First, some antagonists dream of being in church ministry … even as the pastor.

While Rudy had been a pastor, a divorce may be all it takes to end a ministerial career, and Rudy had two of them.  Before he led his class out of our church, he had been trying to return to ministry as a missionary … but no Christian organization could get past those two divorces.

Rudy retained much of the knowledge and skills necessary to pastor again, but he knew it would never occur.  I was in the position that he so desperately coveted.  His anger toward me was his way of saying, “I’m just as good as you are, and if circumstances were different, I’d be where you are.”

Second, some antagonists are desperately seeking significance.

When I first met Rudy, he was 61 years young.  One day, I visited his fourth grade class at school, and he was honored that I was there.  But several years later, he retired and had too much time on his hands.

Dealing with the Rudys in a church can be challenging for a pastor.  If you let Rudy into leadership, he might use his position to build a following and push you out.  But if you don’t let Rudy into leadership, he might push you out anyway.

A better approach for a pastor is to sit down with Rudy … listen to his story … ask him what his hopes and dreams are … and guide him toward those that are feasible.

But to ignore Rudy completely is to dig your own grave.

Finally, some antagonists are tolerated by their church family.             

When people act in an antagonistic fashion, it’s natural to blame them for the way they behave.

However, I believe that there is something inherent in church systems that creates and tolerates antagonistic behavior.

Yes, Rudy bears some responsibility for his overreactions, but God’s people also bear responsibility for allowing him to misbehave time and time again.

When Rudy slammed the door, someone should have confronted him right away.  When he stood up in the business meeting, I shouldn’t have been the one to insist he apologize.

All too often in our church families, the pastor has to confront and correct the misbehavior of leaders by default, and when he does, he leaves himself wide open for retribution, especially if he’s standing alone.

Christians are usually strong but are seldom tough.  When it comes to antagonistic behavior, a church’s leaders need to define what they will and will not tolerate … and we never did that with Rudy.

I wasn’t asked to speak at Rudy’s funeral … no surprise there … but I did attend.  In spite of his temper, I liked Rudy, and I’m sure I will see him someday in heaven, although I’m glad he won’t be able to yell at me anymore!

Because while churches often tolerate antagonism, heaven does not.

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Imagine that you own a business.  You have ten employees.

Because business hasn’t been going well recently, you have to lay off two workers.

Eight employees are loyal and work hard.  Two have conspired to attack you behind your back and don’t do much of anything.

Your decision is a no-brainer, right?

Now imagine that you’re a board member in a congregation of 200 adults

Ten individuals … meaning five percent of your congregation … have abused, slandered, and attacked your pastor to the point that he has resigned.

As a church leader, what are you going to do about it?

If you follow the New Testament, the decision is simple for you and your fellow board members:

Confront the troublemakers and give them a choice: either repent of your sin or leave the church.

Those who are truly spiritually-oriented will repent.  Those who aren’t will leave the church kicking and screaming … but if you mean business, they will leave.

But how often do board members confront those who pushed out their pastor?

Hardly ever.

Why not?

It could be because board members:

*don’t think the troublemakers did anything wrong.

*are afraid of the troublemakers.

*are friends with the troublemakers.

*are ignorant of the New Testament’s directives on divisive individuals.

*know the New Testament’s directives but choose to ignore them.

*leave the thankless task to an interim pastor.

*reason, “We need all the attendees, donors, and volunteers we can get … even if they are troublemakers.”

*are so exhausted after the pastor’s departure that they don’t even consider confronting anybody.

However … there is a price to be paid for failing to confront the troublemakers, and it’s a high price indeed:

Many of your church’s spiritual, healthy, and valuable people will leave.

Imagine these two scenarios:

Lisa had been away from church for years, but she came back to the Lord because of Pastor Bill.

She rarely missed his sermons … joined a small group … discovered her spiritual gifts and began serving in a ministry … and became a generous giver.

But every Sunday when she comes to church now, she sees five troublemakers sitting together, and she says to herself, “Those are the people who pushed out my pastor.”

If she confronts them, she’s liable to blow her top.  So she stays silent … and simmers … and assumes that nobody ever addressed the troublemakers.

Going to church eventually becomes such an unpleasant experience that she leaves the church for good.

Paul received emails from the troublemakers denouncing Pastor Bill on a regular basis.

At first, the notes made him feel important, but after a few weeks, they upset him and made him feel like a traitor, so he began deleting them without reading them.

But Paul knows the troublemakers were telling twisted lies about Pastor Bill, and he wonders why they seem to be immune from correction.

When it’s time for the church to vote on new board members, two troublemakers are nominated, and Paul feels sick inside.

How can he attend and support a church where the people who attacked and slandered his pastor have been placed into leadership?

So Paul slips out the back door … and never attends that church again.

Dr. Leith Anderson is one of America’s foremost pastors and thinkers.  I had the privilege of taking my last Doctor of Ministry course with him at Fuller Seminary.  In his book Leadership That Works, Anderson writes about the failure of church leaders to discipline church troublemakers:

“The result is that the church keeps the dissenters and loses the happy, healthy people to other churches.  Most healthy Christians have a time limit and a tolerance level for unchristian and unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.”

Do church leaders know that when they ignore divisive behavior they are alienating the very people they need to make their church productive?

If leaders don’t confront the troublemakers, the following things will happen:

*Church morale will plunge.

*Many of the pastor’s supporters will leave.

*Giving will take a dive.

*The church’s heart will be cut out.

*The troublemakers will stay around to cause trouble again.

*The church may never recover.

*God will withhold His blessing until the leaders do what is right.

It’s happening all over America:

When a group attacks their pastor, the troublemakers stay, and many solid Christian people leave.

Doesn’t sound like a good deal, does it?

Then why does it happen so often?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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