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Church Antagonists

Can’t Live With Them, Can Live Without Them

By Kenneth C. Haugk

Over 1,000 people had crowded into the sanctuary of a California church to celebrate Pastor Smith’s installation. He had successfully served a congregation in Oklahoma for 15 years and was looking forward to the opportunities and challenges of his new pastorate.

Early in his ministry in Oklahoma, Pastor Smith had weathered a vicious attack from an antagonist. Fortunately, the situation had been handled with a limited amount of damage, the antagonist had left the congregation, and the congregation had thrived during the remainder of his years there.

Life is good, the pastor thought as he entered the fellowship hall for a reception after the service. He gazed over the crowd gathered for the festivities. That’s when he saw them. The Oklahoma antagonist and his wife had traveled 1,500 miles to attend the installation and sow discrediting rumors about him.

Antagonism is a painful reality in many congregations. It leaves in its wake broken lives and people who are hurt, discouraged, and apathetic toward their new life in Christ. Words can hardly express the tragedy of antagonism in the church. A broken world ought to be able to echo the words of Tertullian, “See how they love one another.” Instead, the scenes played out in public lead people to say, “They fight more than the rest of us put together.”

Many church members — even pastors — find it hard to believe there are people in their congregation who wantonly, selfishly, and destructively attack others. These attacks can mean repeated disruption of boards, committees, even the ministry of the entire congregation.

We must not confuse antagonism with mere criticism or healthy conflict. People sometimes used the word antagonists to describe those on different sides in an argument. For healthy conflict the church would do well to adopt the terminology of the British Parliament, calling those with differing opinions the honorable opposition. This is not the intended use of antagonism in this article. Antagonism is unhealthy conflict, and antagonists are not honorable people.

If you already have someone in mind you think might qualify as an antagonist, ask yourself:

  1. Is this person’s behavior divisive?
  2. Is the attack irrational?
  3. Does the person go out of the way to initiate trouble?
  4. Are the person’s demands insatiable?
  5. Are the concerns upon which he bases the attack minimal or fabricated?
  6. Does the person avoid causes that involve personal risk, suffering, or sacrifice?
  7. Does his motivation appear selfish?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, you have enough evidence to suggest you have an antagonist on your hands, and you need to take a closer look.

Who Are Antagonists?

Antagonists are not just misguided and misunderstood people. They are out to hurt others, and they do. Sooner or later most individuals and congregations encounter antagonists. In addition to churches, they turn up at school board meetings and in health-care settings. You find them among parents at Little League games or band booster associations. They disrupt neighborhood associations, fraternities and sororities, as well as volunteer organizations. In short, they can be anywhere.

Antagonists, although few in number, have the potential for disproportionately disrupting or destroying the ministry of any congregation, as well as the peace of mind and well-being of everyone in the congregation.

The word antagonists is defined and used throughout this article in this way: Antagonists are individuals who, on the basis of nonsubstantive evidence, go out of their wayto make insatiable demands,usually attacking the person or performance of others. These attacks areselfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed against those in leadership.

Some key phrases in this definition deserve closer attention.

Nonsubstantive evidence

The arguments that antagonists present are typically founded on little — or grossly misrepresented — evidence. They tend to quibble over trifles, providing strong proof of irrelevant points, or exaggerate the positions of their opponents. A favorite tactic is to make an assertion that cannot be disproved and then claim that the inability to disprove it makes it true.

Go out of their way

Antagonists initiate trouble; they do not wait for trouble to come along. This often goes hand-in-hand with hypersensitivity on their part. They tend to take every word and action as a personal attack and respond aggressively. For example, their response to something seemingly as minor as your being preoccupied and passing them in the hallway without speaking could result in an attack. Antagonists would rather cause trouble than give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

Insatiable demands

Antagonists are never satisfied. No amount of appeasement on your part or the congregation as a whole will suffice. Instead of calming antagonists, attempts to placate them only encourage them to make more demands. Many antagonists fight until there is nothing left but rubble. Sometimes even that doesn’t stop them.

Attacking

Harsh as the word attacking is, it accurately applies to antagonists. Although they may present some valid points, antagonists generally don’t offer constructive criticism. Their implicit goal is control, no matter what it costs others.

Selfish in nature

The attacks of antagonists are self-serving. They often seize on a slogan or pick some side of a valid issue and pretend that is what they are fighting for. It rarely is. An antagonist will quickly drop a particular slogan or issue once it no longer serves his ambitions.

Tearing down rather than building up

When people are at odds with each other, it is the result of an antagonist’s actions. Instead of pulling God’s people together, an antagonist divides them. Show me a divided and strife-torn congregation, and I will show you a congregation that has one or more antagonists in its midst.

At times most of us are selfish or headstrong. Without excusing such behavior, we can be sure that occasional surly behavior does not make an antagonist. What separates us from antagonists is the ferociousness of the attacks and the insatiable or tenacious quality that drags out problems interminably.

Why Does Antagonism Happen In Congregations?

Antagonists surface in congregations because of their own natures, the support they receive from others, and the structure of congregations.

The nature of antagonists

Antagonists exist in the church because they exist everywhere. If they were not antagonistic in your congregation, they would be antagonistic at another church, at work, at the PTA, or any place they frequent. They are antagonistic by nature. Antagonism is part of their psychological makeup; it’s part of their personality. (See sidebar Types of Antagonists.)

Support from others

Antagonists tend to attract followers because most people have a tendency to follow powerful leaders. But those who actively support antagonists allow this tendency to blind them. The assistance of these followers accounts in part for the escalation of antagonistic conflict in congregations from teapot tempests to the level of devastating typhoons.

The structure of congregations

For too long, antagonists have operated successfully in congregations. They find that their risks in a congregation are relatively small with few repercussions because people don’t believe they have the right to stop them. Many Christians believe they are to love one another at all costs, to live peaceably with each other, and not to confront another Christian.

Because congregations are often relatively small, antagonists also find them ideal places to gain the attention they crave. In the small and friendly fishbowl of a congregation, antagonists more easily fill their need for attention — the need to be a big fish.

Antagonists often flourish in congregations because church is where issues are openly prayed about, preached about, studied, and discussed. Tensions over doctrinal points and practical issues can be healthy and will be part of church life until Christ returns. However, when an antagonist takes hold of such issues, the result is often destructive and divisive.

Since we are all human, won’t there always be conflict in congregations? The simple answer is yes. On a values scale, conflict is neutral. It can be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, creative or destructive. Antagonism makes up only a small percentage of the wide range of conflict that exists in congregations. But recent literature in the area of conflict resolution recognizes that there are individuals who initiate and thrive on unhealthy conflict, persons who have no desire whatsoever to see conflict resolved. These are true antagonists.

What Does The Bible Say About Antagonists?

Antagonists are not a new phenomenon, a development in the church of the last few decades. The Bible speaks straightforwardly about their existence and motivations, their effects, and the necessary treatment.

Causes of antagonism

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

The spiritual forces that stand in rebellion against God and God’s claim on people lie behind — indeed, precipitate — the behavior of antagonists. Antagonists play into the hands of forces that are intent on destroying the healing and caring mission of the church. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) ought to characterize the life of a Christian community. But antagonists sow seeds of bitterness, anger, and hatred. The tragedy is that not only are the antagonists in the grip of evil forces, they also enjoy it. Because an antagonist refuses to participate in church life as a repentant and forgiven sinner but insists on the way of hatred and strife, his presence means trouble for a congregation.

Effects of antagonism on the church

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

When arguing and antagonism wrack a congregation, its witness to the God of love is destroyed. Antagonists choose not to live out the love of Christ. Strife is introduced in love’s place, and with strife goes jealousy and anger. The primary effect of antagonism on God’s people is destruction. Visible expressions of the unconditional love of Christ are among the first casualties of active antagonism. Antagonism destroys the unique, loving witness of Christians and the vitality of the congregation, calling forth God’s anger.

Treatment for antagonism

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17).

This is always the first step toward dealing with antagonism: watch out for it, be aware of it. The apostle Paul did not leave to his readers’ imaginations whom they were to watch. They were to watch for those who created dissension and caused divisions.

The Bible speaks definitively about the final treatment for those who persist in causing division and heartache in the church: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10,11).

Dismissing someone should not be done lightly. But the wordshave nothing to do with him are a clear-cut response to an individual who persists in divisiveness after the first and second warnings. Paul told Titus not to engage in extensive attempts to smooth things over with the troublemaker; he was simply to avoid having anything to do with that person.

The apostolic guideline is clear: When confronted with an antagonist, face the probability that change simply will not occur. He is “self-condemned.” Stay away from that person.

How Can I Recognize An Antagonist?

Most antagonists will come at you proudly waving red flags. Chapter 8 in my book, Antagonists in the Church: How To Identify and Deal With Destructive Conflict, describes 20 red flags that announce the presence of an antagonist. Even one of these red flags should signal the pastor to be alert. Here are a few of the most significant red flags.

Previous track record flag

Some antagonists will wave a red flag announcing: “See how antagonistically I behaved before.” If you discover that person in your congregation has attacked one or more pastors or other people in the past, watch out. It is sometimes tempting to think you will be immune to attack because you try to be a good pastor. This is dangerous thinking. Antagonists do not exempt good pastors from their attacks.

Parallel track record flag

Individuals who behave antagonistically in other arenas — civic gatherings or the workplace — are prime candidates for becoming active antagonists in the church. They may even gloat about their antagonistic behaviors. You might expect these people to keep quiet about their involvement in destructive conflict, but they often do not. Because of their grandiose natures, they are often convinced that no one could possibly disagree with them.

“Nameless others” flag

Be alert if someone criticizes you and couples the criticism with “and others agree with me about this.” Those who are not antagonists don’t need to talk about others who feel the same way; they simply express their own thoughts and feelings. To test it out, ask who the others are. If the person lists a few names, you probably are not facing an antagonist. On the other hand, an antagonist is more likely to answer: “I can’t tell you. They came to me in the strictest of confidence.”

Predecessor-downer flag

Steer clear of the person who cozies up to you with inside information about how worthless or ineffectual your predecessor was. If he flatters you while criticizing your predecessor, be wary. He is waving a scarlet flag.

Church-hopper flag

Keep an eye on someone who consistently moves from one congregation to another. Any reasonable person tries out several churches before settling on one. But someone who moves from church to church — and never has anything good to say about other congregations — is not looking for the church that best matches his beliefs and practices. Watch out.

Flashing $$$ flag

Anyone who conspicuously uses money to draw attention to himself has a better-than-average chance of being an antagonist. Churches are ideal places for antagonists to demonstrate this characteristic. An antagonist is likely to make a special contribution to a particular program, and he will be sure his contribution is visible to all. As a church leader, you might be tempted to disregard the flashing $$$ flag. The need is always great. But be careful not to sell out for money. The long-term costs are too great.

Avoid making snap judgments about people, but remember that for the sake of the congregation and God’s mission and ministry, discernment is necessary. People who wave these red flags merit close scrutiny. After some consideration, you may relax, or you may decide to pay closer attention.

What Are The Warning Signs Of An Imminent Attack?

Just as antagonists reveal themselves by their red flags, they also exhibit warning signs that telegraph their intentions to begin an attack.

Early warning signs

By being alert to the early signals of an antagonist’s attack, you can minimize potential damage by dealing effectively with the person before major problems erupt.

A chill in the relationship. When a person who has been exhibiting red flags changes his manner of relating to you, beware. An icy coldness or blatant rudeness, especially in group situations, is often an initial sign of an antagonistic attack.

Honeyed concerns. As an antagonist begins activity, he might pay you a visit or send you a letter of concern. Consider the visit or letter as only the opening volley. More will follow — how much more depends on your response to these initial moves.

Nettlesome questions. A red flag might begin by asking a number of picky questions, checking out details like, “Where do we buy our computer paper?” or “How many times did the board meet last year?” You may find yourself feeling nettled as the antagonist becomes a constant fly-in-the-ointment, often checking out things that aren’t any of his business.

Mobilizing forces and pot-stirring. To wage an effective campaign, an antagonist must gather support and create discord, conflict, and doubt. He might try any number of approaches to accomplish this end. The behavior could be as innocuous as whispering to others during a committee meeting. The antagonist might also call unofficial meetings, usually not held at the church. He might flood the congregation with rumors, destructive, insinuating gossip strategically directed against key people. As a result, others could indeed become critical, swept along in the antagonist’s wake. The force of numbers may give you pause: Could something be wrong with me or my leadership? Ask yourself that question, but don’t be overly introspective if the source of the confusion is someone who has been waving a number of red flags.

Resistance. You might detect growing resistance from a red-flag person — openly ridiculing the leadership of the congregation, defying your authority as pastor or lay leader, blocking the approval of certain matters that ordinarily glide through the governing machinery with ease. An antagonist may also exhibit passive resistance, such as withdrawing from an activity while making a public issue of it — emphasizing that his nonparticipation is connected with the concerns he is expressing about the church.

Later warning signs

Antagonists are not stamped from the same mold. Nevertheless, from the diversity of their behaviors certain patterns emerge. A partial list follows, describing typical behaviors of antagonists when their attacks are well under way. If you encounter an active antagonist, you will witness at least some of these characteristic behaviors.

Sloganeering. Antagonists often use one or more emotionally laden slogans to spread troublesome dissension. For example, “Pastor John is a good man, but just not right for this congregation.”

Accusing. When an antagonist’s concerns are no longer sugarcoated, you might hear: “You are never (or always) in the office.” Or, “You are too old (or too young) to adequately meet the needs of this congregation.”

Spying. In more or less obvious ways, an antagonist may begin to spy on you. He might telephone to where you are or even follow you. Antagonists sometimes tape-record their phone conversations. A wise rule is: Be as noncommittal as possible when talking on the telephone with a red-flag person.

Distorting. Antagonists frequently distort reports of incidents, leaving grains of truth to maintain credibility. For example, if one of the deacons becomes slightly vexed during the course of a meeting, an antagonist might comment to someone: “Did you see how John blew up. Such a lack of control cast a cloud over the entire meeting. How was a person like that ever elected?”

Misquoting Scripture. Antagonists frequently misquote the Bible to prove their campaigns or behaviors are legitimate. By excising passages from their contexts, imparting their own idiosyncratic meanings to words, or using various other methods, they appeal to a congregation’s loyalty to Scripture, falsely equating their causes with the Bible itself.

Smirking. An antagonist might wear an inappropriate smile or a cocky grin when he encounters the person under attack. Such a smirk says, “I’ve got you on the run.” It is infuriating, but will gratify the antagonist only if you allow its effect to be perceived. Smirks and other mean-spirited facial expressions may take place in meetings, too.

Pestering. Antagonists sometimes pester church leaders by constantly calling on the phone or by hanging around after a service or a meeting, saying, “I’djust like a brief word with you.” Their constant pestering substantiates the tenacious character of an antagonist.

Copiously communicating. Antagonists frequently barrage leaders with e-mails, memos, or even letters. Acknowledge these at first — perhaps with a very brief phone call or by sending a response such as this:

Dear _______,

Thank you for your concern. I appreciate responsible feedback.

(Signed or initialed)

One of the most counterproductive courses of action is to respond at length in a long letter refuting the antagonist’s accusations point by point. That only adds fuel to the antagonist’s fire rather than quenching it.

Here is a fundamental assumption about antagonists that you need to apply as a guiding principle in dealing with them: Normal ways of dealing with conflict and criticism not only do not work with antagonists but make things worse. Once you make this adjustment in your thinking, much of the battle is won.

Sources of information

Knowledge about the warning signs is helpful, but you may still be wondering how you can gather the information you need to tell whether or not an attack is about to begin.

Keep your eyes and ears open. Be aware of what is happening around you. If you know the 20 red flags of an antagonist and can recognize when someone is waving one or more flags, you have a major advantage.

Pay attention to the observations of trusted church members. When people you trust and respect make assertions about those whom you might have already recognized as red-flag wavers, you would be well-advised to consider what they say.

Ask questions. Take care how you do this. You need to be extremely sensitive to the time, place, occasion, and recipient of your questions. A trusted board member who has served faithfully for many years may have observed something. Ask, but be discreet and caring.

Trust your sixth sense. Sometimes you may sense that something is wrong — a vague uneasiness that a certain individual cannot be trusted. Don’t become overly suspicious, but at the same time grant your sixth sense a fair hearing.

Whatever you do, keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t close your eyes and hope that what you don’t like will go away. It won’t.

What Is The Best Way To Deal With An Antagonist?

In the face of Christ’s commands to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, pastors and lay leaders are sometimes confused and baffled as they have tried to deal effectively with antagonists. Pastors are often torn between wanting to minister to the antagonists out of vulnerable love or attacking that person with the full force of law and judgment. Pastors begin to feel ineffective and defenseless. They may even begin to feel that almost everyone in the congregation is against them and that their ministry has been compromised.

Even beyond the harm done to the pastor, an antagonist’s attack is very destructive to the whole congregation. The church’s lay leadership often spends many wasted hours in attending meetings, writing letters, making phone calls, or preparing documents — all to deal with one person or a group of people stirred up by that person. Occasionally, the vindictive spirit is allowed to fester until it pervades the congregation. People become hurt, indignant, and apathetic. Some stop contributing money to the church, thinking that they want their contributions used for doing ministry, not just fighting. Others end up transferring their membership. The conflict has gone on so long they no longer feel their spiritual needs are being met at the church.

To avoid the damage an antagonist can generate in your congregation, it is important to act quickly when you see antagonistic activity begin.

Nipping the problem

When antagonists attack, they usually want power and authority — your power and authority. Your response needs to show that this authority is indeed still yours, and you do not plan to give it up.

As the attack broadens, an antagonist may begin to publicly call you names and make senseless charges, trying to make you fight back. The greatest show of your power is to avoid falling into such a trap. Do not immediately return the attack; do not wonder aloud how anyone could say such stupid things; do not do anything. In this way, you will show you are above such tactics and you do not think such accusations worthy of response. Open confrontations are not desirable. An emotional public scene lessens your authority and gives credence to the antagonist. Power is shown by calm, controlled action, working through committees and other established channels.

While refusing to respond to an antagonist’s irrational attacks can effectively remove credence from those attacks, the time may come when, by actively using your authority, you can nip the problem. For instance, if an antagonist is using a biblical passage inaccurately as the basis for criticizing you, use your authority to say, “That is not a correct interpretation of that passage.” Do not argue about the interpretation. Rather, if necessary repeat again that it is an incorrect interpretation and, in as few words as possible, give the correct interpretation.

Pastors may want to prevent the antagonist from achieving any positions of power in the congregation. If the antagonist already has a position of power and threatens to quit, accept his resignation. It is best not to let the fox keep watch over the chicken coop.

Sometimes antagonists become so angry their attacks continue with increased vehemence. This is time to deal with them quickly and effectively.

Dealing effectively with antagonists

With the turmoil and confusion an antagonist produces, it is tempting for a pastor to begin to believe he is the sole cause of the problem. Remember, the reason an antagonist is attacking you and your ministry is usually not your fault; the reasons lie deep within the antagonist. You are just the recipient of his anger and hostility.

Educate your church leadership about antagonists so they can help you deal with the problem. The church is under attack, not just you. When the pastor and church leadership work together, they can form an effective defense against the antagonist. Antagonists can only be successful if there are people who believe and support them. Forming a phalanx with the congregation’s leadership can help eliminate any support for the antagonist.

Your public image — the way your congregation sees you while under attack — should be one of business as usual. In your dealings in the congregation, be consistent, responsible, and self-controlled. Don’t politic. Don’t use your pastoral visits as an opportunity to convince people of the rightness of your cause. That will only cause confusion and resentment.

Neither should you use your public communications as media for bringing up the problem with the antagonist. Sermons are for proclaiming the gospel and building up the body of Christ, not for defending oneself or for subtly reprimanding someone. Church bulletins, newsletters, and other communications should not reflect any anxiety nor be used to obliquely refer to the problem. If you begin to speak about the controversy with any degree of concern, you are admitting weakness to your attackers as well as dragging your congregation through the gutter.

Avoiding the compassion trap is also vital for a pastor under attack. Many pastors thrive on the acceptance and gratitude they receive from those to whom they minister. They see themselves as all-giving servants of their people. They may feel guilty if they must be confrontive and hard. Combined with this is the fact church members often expect their pastors to be superhumanly compassionate and willing to suffer. All of these factors may cause pastors to be compassionate with an antagonist rather than challenging his destructive behaviors. Church members may even try to convince their pastor to apologize to the antagonist in an effort to make peace. However, this kind of compassion almost never works with antagonists. They will often take this as a sign of weakness and redouble their attacks. When you are asked to step into the compassion trap, simply refuse by saying, “It will not work.”

The time may come when all efforts to control the activity of an antagonist are to no avail. The antagonist’s attack continues, and the church is being split by his efforts. In this situation, there are two more options: the pastor may resign or the antagonist may be removed.

If the pastor resigns, the problem has not been solved. The congregation not only loses a good, experienced pastor, but the antagonist will still be present, ready to attack the next pastor who comes, as well as the next, and on and on. (See sidebar When Leaving Is Necessary.)

Sometimes an antagonist’s attack reaches the point where a decision has to be made between excluding that person from the church or having very little church left. The antagonist’s behavior has to be such that the church bylaws mandate removal. The extreme measure of removing the antagonist is a last resort, a step that must be approached with fear and trembling — and much prayer. This is a hard step to take, but it is sometimes necessary to ensure the stability of the congregation.

Preventing Antagonism

A single antagonist in a congregation can so affect the pastor and church leaders that they expend what seems to be 90 percent of their time and energy dealing with that person and the havoc he raises. Prevention is the best cure. The two primary avenues of prevention are creating an antiantagonist environment and educating church leadership about antagonism.

Create an antiantagonist environment

When effective policies and procedures are in place for church administration, an antagonist has less chance of wreaking havoc in a congregation. Several measures can go a long way toward creating this environment.

Follow established policies. Everyone should follow established congregational policies and procedures. Leaders must never practice or tolerate corner-cutting because these procedures are safeguards against antagonists.

Establish functional feedback channels. Establish and use clear channels of communication. Two-way, open communication between church leaders and members is vital. To facilitate this, leaders must clearly explain to the congregation appropriate channels of communication — and reiterate them frequently. When clearly spelled-out means of response are available, an antagonist who blatantly disregards them is more easily detected and exposed.

Create job descriptions. Clear job descriptions create an unfavorable environment for antagonists. Pastors, elders, deacons, church board chairpersons, and others in positions of authority need to clearly understand their jobs and their relationships with other leaders. Church members need to be apprised of this as well. The risks of encouraging unhealthy conflict will then diminish.

Establish a broad base of responsibility. A strong, broad base of authority in matters of administration and program can do much to thwart antagonistic attacks. When a single individual holds power in a congregation, a one-on-one struggle (usually antagonist versus pastor) often results. When an antagonist realizes that power is carefully distributed among a group of people, then he will think twice before instigating trouble.

Discipline as necessary. Functional disciplinary measures are also essential to maintaining an antiantagonist environment. Congregations in which discipline is minimal or absent tend to encourage antagonists. The crucial factor is this: Whatever your denomination or congregational procedures are about discipline, follow them.

Establish a united front. Church staff and lay leaders must maintain a united front with no room for backbiting or unhealthy friction. An antagonist will discover unhealthy conflict among leaders and use it. A united front does not mean agreement on all things but, instead, the mutual respect and support of others in their roles.

Educate church leadership about antagonism

Education equips people to do what must be done, no matter how uncomfortable the task — and few tasks are more uncomfortable than dealing with antagonists. Education about antagonists falls into two categories: general and specific.

General education. Prevention is the first purpose of general education. The goal of general education is to communicate an understanding of the dynamics of antagonism and ways to handle it effectively. Include as many church staff and lay leaders as possible in the process. When church leaders are cognizant of antagonists’ ploys, they are better equipped to lead. The second purpose is to provide a foundation for specific education when or if it becomes necessary.

Specific education. This educates leaders about specific individuals who are beginning to behave antagonistically. You are not talking about the subject of antagonism; you are talking about specific people. Specific education differs from general education with respect to audience. Specific education is only for leaders who bear legitimate responsibility for the problem. If your congregation assigns a separate committee or board to handle disciplinary issues, members of that board, along with those directly involved in the attack, might be the ones to receive specific education.

The purpose of specific education is twofold: First, leaders are enabled to assess accurately the particular situation. Second, specific education paves the way for planning strategies to solve the problem, ultimately permitting the appropriate leaders to deal with the situation.

Conclusion

Whose problem is antagonism? It’s everyone’sproblem. In the ark of salvation, that is the church, no one can afford to say, “Your end of the boat is sinking.” An attitude that “We are all in this together” provides an immensely powerful, effective antidote to the disruptive poison of antagonism.

A congregation is uniquely structured to undertake this obligation because a church is a Body — Christ’s body — and is considerably more than the sum of its parts. It resembles an organism more than an organization, pulsing with the very life of Jesus flowing through its members by means of the Holy Spirit.

Antagonism is like a virulent disease in the body. A body cannot regard attack on a single part as an inconsequential threat requiring no response by other parts. Antagonism poses a threat not only to an isolated organ but to the entire organism which suffers until the disease is overcome. The whole body must work to overcome it.

Overcoming antagonism is not a hopeless cause. Learning skills for dealing with antagonists and methods for preventing their attacks is a source of hope. Most important, the church is the Lord’s. He has called it into being, and He will not fail it. This is hope beyond measure.

Kenneth C. Haugk, Ph.D., a pastor and clinical psychologist, is founder and executive director of Stephen Ministries, St. Louis, Missouri. He has authored numerous books and resources on Christian caregiving, grief, assertiveness, church and business antagonism, inactive member ministry, spiritual gifts discovery, and leadership. For more information on these items and other ministry resources, log on to www.stephenministries.org, or call 314-428-2600.

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