Support and Resources For Pastors and
Christian Ministry Professionals
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
| Consulting/Seminars | MH Website Overview | Ministry Resources | MH Archives | MH Dissertations |
A Recipe For Antagonism
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
How does antagonism start in a congregation?
Perhaps there are many explanations. Here one possible recipe. Once pastors know the recipe for creating and enabling an antagonistic environment, perhaps pastors may gain insight on how it started, what perpetuates it, and how to curb it's effect in a congregation.
- The unhealthy expectation the everything depends on the pastor. After all it's "his" church! So let him do it!
- The pastor is required to be present at every single meeting sponsored by the church.
- Pastor is the only one in the church who can pray out loud in groups.
- The pastor invests too much time to the church at great sacrifice to his wife, children, and himself.
- The pastor is making the biggest financial sacrifice in the church and his offerings are large enough to make an impact on the ministry.
- The pastor financially underwrites the church's operation by personally paying the church's bills, paying for supplies, needs, and other seen or unseen operational expenses.
- The pastor takes on himself or his family taking care of the maintenance and repair of the church (e.g. cleaning, mowing lawn, shoveling snow, cleaning the kitchen, maintaining the altar, et al).
- The pastor's wife runs the women's ministry, directs the choir, plays the organ, and/or is the most prominent energetic leader in the congregation who leads Bible Studies and has immersed her entire being into church life.
- The pastor is the "watchdog" (e.g. "hands-on executive") who watches over everyone's shoulders and makes sure no one else makes mistakes.
- The pastor is chief triangulator. He not only puts out his own fire, but he puts out other peoples' fires, too.
- The pastor is the one designated to confront people for things other people are bothered by (but are too afraid to do it themselves).
- The pastor is the one on whom all the tasks and responsibilities for outreach, stewardship, education, and every aspect of the church is exclusively placed.
- The pastor is called upon (or imposes in such a way as) to make decisions which don't need to be made by "The Pastor" (e.g. those items dealing with structure, maintenance, and aesthetic preferences).
- The pastor is the one everyone looks to make decisions for them because they are afraid of making a "wrong" decision.
- The pastor is only one who can recruit people, organize programs, and see that every program is functioning perfectly....
- And oh, so many, many more examples!
The recipe having been followed, the church will have even greater anxiety as two competing factions fight and exchange power plays and other subversive maneuvers.
To make matters worse, this anxious environment tends to cause pastors and parishioners to hurl a barrage of anxiety-based behaviors--anger, triangulation, distrust, disrespect, rejection and even various forms of abuse.
When congregational anxiety is compounded by parishioners own anxieties of their own personal lives (e.g. ACOA/ACDF, divorce, family unrest, job stress, illness, etc.), manifested anxiety-based behaviors may assume uncontrollable levels and many continue for weeks, months...or longer.
When this occurs, there is almost nothing that can stop the outpouring of anxiety. Mediation techniques, pastoral care, etc. should, of course, be tried. Unfortunately, they are usually not effective until the anxiety has burned itself out and left a significant and heart-breaking amount of "fire" damage.
Reflections For Dealing With Antagonism
- Certainly not all types of antagonism start as described in the "Recipe For Antagonism." Some people just bring antagonism with them when they joined the church. It is, as John Maxwell might say, "their spiritual gift." They were antagonists in their previous church, they'll be antagonists in their present church, and they'll be antagonists in their future church.
- The one most important thing to remember about antagonists this:: they're consistent. The attacks and subversion they work in the church and direct at pastors is not done only in the church, they do it in every environment in which they live--home, work, clubs, organizations, etc.
- The way they treat pastors is they way they treat any professional or authority figure--doctors, judges, politicians, presidents, etc. So don't take their attacks personally. It' their problem. They have deep, unresolved personal issues. They are obsessed and controlled by them. Sadly, they don't know how to do anything else.
Antagonism Can Be Deeply-Rooted
- The antagonistic environment in your church may not be your doing. It may have entered in response to your predecessors' too permeable or too rigid boundaries, or that of other tenured staff, etc.
- In each case, a common culprit to creating and feeding the antagonistic environment was probably this: repeated boundary violations. These occurred--unchecked--and were allowed to perpetuate in the organization. If they were confronted, were confronted ineffectively.
- The longer the antagonism perpetuated, the more "practice" the antagonists got and the larger their support base became as the anxiety grew unattended.. When other parishioners refused to protect their boundaries and stand up to counter their intimidating tactics, the antagonists simply took more and more control. The better they got, the harder it was to get rid of them.
Dealing With Your Antagonists
Here's some suggestions to those who are "blessed" with a congregation of antagonists.
1) Don't resort to public, aggressive measures. Antagonists are astute at both public relations and avoidance techniques. Any direct "targeting" measures will make the antagonists "victims." Unfortunately, everybody loves to help a victim--especially in the church!
2) Find a trusted confidant outside the church. Hopefully there is one within the denominational structure. Don't be afraid to seek their counsel and support. Whoever it is has to be absolutely trustworthy. Choose this person carefully. Betrayal by a confidant is a very, very painful and damaging process to yourself...and possibly the church.
3) Focus your ministry to the "silent majority." Don't give preferential time to antagonists. They're just manipulating you anyway. What they want is to get you to violate your boundaries for their every beckoning wish. When you do, it's just telling them you're willing to sacrifice your boundaries to perpetuate theirs. Know your appropriate boundaries and respect and observe them.
4) Recognize that the longer the antagonists have been influential and the greater their level of control, the greater the price you and your leaders will pay to confront them. In congregations which have had multiple splits at the hands of the same group of antagonists, those churches may need to experience severe storms of conflict to silence the antagonists.
5) Examine and maintain proper scriptural boundaries. Sometimes antagonists will stay in the background if pastors don't provoke anxiety by over or under-step their appropriate scriptural boundaries. In difficult churches, restoring the Office of the Ministry's appropriate boundaries may cause great anxiety. Expect it.
Teach, model and maintain effective scriptural boundaries for yourself--and gently instruct, teach and encourage others to consistently maintain their healthy boundaries--the anxieties which help antagonism to flourish will slowly grow quiet.
As you examine your boundaries, consider Townsend and Cloud's book entitled, Boundaries is an excellent discussion of Christian boundaries. The Ministry Health Web Site also has numerous articles relating to boundaries.
Walther's classic, Church and Ministry (Concordia Publishing House) is an excellent discussion of scriptural boundaries for the Ministerial Office with respect to the Church. It is also recommended to consult with trusted denominational leadership, mature effective Christian pastors, or Christian Counselors to ensure that your perception of appropriate boundaries is, indeed, appropriate and helpful.
6) Expect to have your boundaries tested. Sooner or later antagonists will test them. When they do, don't over-react or under-react. Simply maintain a courteous, but appropriately professional pastoral demeanor. Remember: the best preparation for boundary violation is to continually re-assess and maintain appropriate boundaries.
7) Treat antagonists professionally and with consistent predictable sense of being in control of your boundaries. Don't fall for their offers of "friendship." Jesus was betrayed by a kiss. You don't need to be betrayed with a kiss, too!
8) Don't cave in to antagonists and give them everything they want. After all, what they really want is power. More specifically, they want power over you. No one else but you can give that to them. Outbursts of anger or aggression towards them or backing off and getting out of their way are just some of the ways you give them power. Teach compromise.
9) Listen genuinely to their issues and interests for the almost always present "grains of truth" and opportunities for appropriate mediated agreements. When necessary, give them opportunity to express a voice. Nothing relieves anxiety like knowing you've been heard!
10) Be consistent. Inconsistency just evokes greater anxiety. Above all, hold high the Lord's ministry and His will--not theirs--for His church. Give them what they really need, namely, a caring, competent, trusted, professional Christian ministry.
11) Seek the counsel of your most trusted leaders and congregational pillars. Some of these leaders may have insights on dealing with antagonists that you don't have. Some have been around for years, other leaders have seen what has worked and what doesn't. When in doubt, listen twice before speaking once. And remember that famous saying, "I regret my speaking more than my silences."
12) Trust Jesus to build His church. Jesus' power overcame the ultimate antagonist, Satan! By His power, over thousands of years the Christian church has survived much worst antagonism than what is in your church. God's Word won't return void. Be patient, deal with the issues, keep trusting, and never loose your joyful confidence as you await congregational renewal.
Note: For more information and suggestions on Boundaries and Antagonists, see the Ministry Health articles Pastoring the Powerful, The Antagonists' Greatest Weapon, Healthy Boundaries And Codependent Extremes, and other related articles at http://ministryhealth.net
Thomas F. Fischer
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
Articles 200-249 Articles 250-299 Articles 300-349 Articles 350-399
Main Site: http://ministryhealth.net/
FrontPage and Microsoft Internet Explorer are registered trademarks of
This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:20 PM