The Motivations of Church Antagonists/Clergy-Killers
I am picking back up with a stream of thought that has been on my mind for several days now. Church trouble is a very difficult and stressful time in a church leader’s life, especially if he loves God and the church. In a previous blog entry, I spent some time dealing with the characteristics of “clergy-killers.” I realize that this post and the last one are a bit sharp in its content and bite especially for those who have not had to endure some of the things I am writing about. However, you keep coming back to this blog and in a future series, I intend on writing about the power of loving your church (for those who are pastors and/or staff ministers).
Some years ago a good friend of mine took a small church somewhere between North, South, East, and West and it almost caused him to walk away from the ministry. He was like most young preachers (in his 30’s) who are in their first church. He was starry-eyed and full of dreams until the force of evil confronted him. He was doing what any young man would have done in the situation. He worked a part-time job to help support his income and the rest of his time was consumed by the church. He prayed, preached, taught, and reached out to several who were lost and was beginning to have some success. The problem began to develop when he was praying one day and God placed something in his spirit to preach. So following the leading of the Spirit, he put a good message together and got up on a Sunday night and preached it.
Before the night was over a small band of antagonists (2 or 3) had gotten together and contacted the district officials and put a spin on things. Two days later, the young man was confronted and basically had his ministry emasculated. He was instructed to “sanitize” his messages and to tip-toe carefully around the power-brokers who had lodged the complaints. The message that he had preached was basically a very generic message about secret sin and the necessity of dealing with it. Nothing specific was mentioned in the message but the Word had enough power that it begin to ferret out some discrepancies in the lives of the antagonists.
For the next six months, these antagonists literally made life hell for my friend and his wife. Needless to say this young man did not land on his feet and it took quite a number of years for him to recover from this blow. When he was forced out, it appeared that this young man was the villain and that he was nothing more than a trouble-maker at large. This was the difficult part for him because he carried around this baggage for a long time. However, time marches on and waits for no one. A few years later, the cover was finally blown off of his detractors and much sin and immorality was uncovered.
It is the growing presence of incivility and abuse in the church that has become the greatest source of confusion, pain, and injustice for pastors. To dislike or criticize a pastor is not uncommon and might even be understandable. But abusing pastors mentally, spiritually, and physically is now a clergy nightmare come true. The growing abuse is also a significant commentary on the mental and spiritual health of the church, for how the church treats its leaders reveals even more about the church than about its leaders. Only a sick or dying church batters its pastors.
These antagonists are interested in disrupting the flowing of the Spirit in the Church. Their activities will destroy the liberty of worship, evangelism, and progress if they are left unchallenged. With this arrested growth and purpose, the Church finds herself sinking into spiritual oblivion or paralysis that often stays with it for years.
What motivates these ringleaders to oppose the spiritual authority that God has placed in their lives? There are a number of issues that lead these very misguided and perhaps people in their quest.
1. One of the motivating factors in their lives is anger. This anger can be stimulated by a variety of reasons. Hidden or secret sin produces much guilt and if this person can undertake a “righteous” cause to “fix” something in the church, they will chase it with reckless abandon. (This was the case with my friend whom I mentioned earlier in this post.)
When I was in nursing school, I ran across a term in one of the psychology classes that I had to take and it works readily to explain this process. It is called displacement and it is a psychological defense mechanism that frankly provides a smokescreen for the individual. Instead of dealing with the core root of the problem (hidden sin) the antagonist will go after another goal to relieve the mental anguish that their sin is creating for them.
This guilt drives their anger toward a spiritual authority figure in their life. More times than I would like to admit, I have observed situations that were exactly like this. Much anger and vitriol was spewed out as a smokescreen to cover the indiscretions in the antagonists’ life.
2. Another motivating factor in the life of the antagonist is an inability to let go of a past hurt/offense. The longer that this person holds on to the past, the more bitter that they become. This bitterness stilts their relationship with God and little spiritual growth occurs in their lives. Therefore, what spiritual growth that does occur is often stilted and they become spiritual pygmies.
Because their relationship with God is stunted, their activities within the church and with its leaders become very stilted. The hurts of the past consume them. Generally speaking it has to do with some unprofitable leader who has betrayed them in the past. Once this bitterness settles in then all leaders that they come into contact with are pushed into the mold of the one who hurt them in the past. Suddenly, God’s “mission” is for them to destroy every spiritual leader in their path.
Much patience and grace must be exercised on the part of the pastor who is working with this type of individual. However, at some point the person either has to deal with the hurt in a biblical fashion and “get over it” or they begin to backslide by degrees. Once this backward direction starts, the antagonist will look for every conceivable reason to find fault with the pastor and church leaders.
They will keep records of times when they were not spoken to in the halls (because of a simple mistake), when they showed up to work at the church alone (because no one was aware that they needed help), or why they were not asked to conclude a service with prayer (because the pastor sensed something amiss in their life), or why their family members were not visited when in the hospitals (probably because it was not known), as you can see the list could be endless.
3. A third motivating factor in the life of the antagonist is dealing with half-truth. A half-truth is a whole lie. One pastor related to me about having to deal with a firestorm in his church that was motivated by a small group who misquoted what the pastor had very clearly communicated. Frankly the pastor’s words had been used to their advantage to stir trouble among some very good people in that church. It took this pastor several months to recover these good people who had gotten caught up in the lies of the antagonist.
Two of the seven things that God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19) find their way into the troublemakers’ mode of operation. A lying tongue and sowing discord among the brothers are two things that God literally hates! This method of attack is bent on destruction and never construction.
The antagonist will generally resort to half-truths to attack a minister’s reputation, ability, or character. To the unsuspecting, honest members of the church, all of this “information” can create doubt in their minds which leads to further instability in the church. For those who are not in leadership, I am urging you to be very discerning about what you open your ears up to in this generation.
The words of the antagonist can often sound very sincere and even “spiritual” in tone and concept. However, the serpent was more subtle than any beast in the field and its words convinced Eve to give up her state of innocence. Their words can be smothered in piety and their actions can even cover what they are ultimately about.
I am for full accountability for every pastor (which I have much accountability in my life and ministry through Joe Patterson, my father-in-law, and Roger Lewis, my district superintendent). What I am totally opposed to (and by the way God is too) is the spirit of an Elymas or Simon the Sorcerer who both presented to the early Church in an attempt to control and conquer what God was doing.
4. Another thing that motivates the antagonist is control issues. They have an overwhelming desire to be “in charge” and little interest in really building the
How do these antagonists manage to hold their power over congregations? We shall use another blog to answer this particular question.