Who are these people and how do you identify them? Pastors and their families are aware of the woes of these friends turned into foes. Thankfully, there are exceptions to these familiar patterns, but it’s good to be aware of potential biting sheep.
1. Members of the Pastor Search Committee: Reasons for the biting can include expectations not met, disappointment with their choice, or a bad day. The pastor will never know why, but there will always be someone on the Search Committee who will turn into an ardent antagonist.
2. Your First Friend at Church: This could be the first person who met you at the airport, invited you to their home, or took you out to dinner. The many strings attached aren’t evident in the initial stages of the new friendship. The unspoken words of this transaction seem to be, “We’ll become best friends and you’ll do what I want…or I’ll be forced to hurt you!”
3. “Wounded Wayne” or “Hurt Hannah”: These persons have one unique characteristic of their own—they conform to the pattern of the chronic abuser. They will attack, get “hurt,” then back off and declare themselves the injured party. This cycle is repeated several times: attack, retreat, feign remorse, and then become the sufferer in acute need of an apology. The pastor always loses this battle.
4. “Nervous Niles”: He thinks that nothing worse can happen in a church than a member leaving the congregation, no matter how obstructionist, vile in their manner, or destructive with their tongue they may be. Somehow if you were a “real” pastor, you’d know how to make every member in the church love you.
5. The We’ve-Always-Done-It-This-Wayers: This is self-explanatory. Every pastor gets this. They want change, they’ve called you to create change, and when you do, you’re the disturbance in the church that has to go.
6. The Head Shakers: A strange phenomenon occurs when a pastor is preaching or teaching. The Head Shakers (usually the resident theologians of the church) vigorously shake their heads in disagreement of every point the pastor makes. This is the beginning of a long theological siege. The Head Shakers always know better.
7. The Finance Team: Perhaps you’ve heard of the church treasurer’s prayer? Lord, if you’ll keep the pastor humble, we promise to keep him poor. Most pastors will get this joke! It’s a well-known fact that the majority of pastors don’t make much money, and many aren’t in a position to retire when their peers do. Moreover, churches often don’t like to spend money on their pastors. For some members, the thought of money going toward pastors or their families is seen as being financially irresponsible, and thus raises in pay are deeply resented. More than one church conflict has been triggered by concerns about the pastor being paid too much.
8. The Church Peach: Dearly beloved of all, this living saint accumulates power by their sheer presence and “good works.” Since no one in the church has ever seen an ounce of sin manifested in this person, it becomes a near impossibility to persuade others of the very dark side they may have experienced.
9. “Prayerful Patty”: “The Lord laid it on my heart…” “God told me…” “The Holy Spirit showed me…” These “nice” persons play the game with such take-no-prisoners determination that to question the validity of their claim is to bring down upon oneself the very wrath of God. Don’t do what Patty says, and you will pay.
Bonus:The people no one wants to mention. The challenge for church leaders is not unhealthy people in the pews of the church; it’s sick or dysfunctional people in leadership. People diagnosed with psychiatric disorders are routinely chosen as church leaders. For this reason, there is a host of unstable, disordered, and dangerous people running our churches. This produces predictable antagonists for the pastor.
What have been the tell-tale signs of your antagonist?
Read more in the second edition of These Sheep Bite: A Fearless Guide to Church Leadership. Coming soon!