- How does one most effectively counter antagonists?
- Perhaps the first step is to recognize their strategy. Effective, repeatedly-successful, and deeply entrenched antagonists often have the edge on pastors.
- Why Are They So Effective?
- Perhaps one of the most obvious reasons for this is a comparison of their tenure. How many times do pastors find themselves locking heels with antagonists who have ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty or more years of experience antagonizing?
- Another reason for their effectiveness is their ability to skillfully incite, manage and manipulate anxiety so as to magnetize anxious energies to their advantage.
- Closely related to this ability to manage anxiety to their advantage is their ability to form “unusual” alliances with unlikely followers. Over time many of these same followers will learn that their anxieties are soothed by antagonist’s ploys.Unfortunately, the bewilderment of “how can so-and-so be so stupid?” is not answered through rational inquiry. Instead, the intense bewilderment points to a more simple explanation.
- Their effectiveness is also enhanced by their lifestyle of antagonism inside and outside the church. People, over the long haul, tend to be consistent. As teh writer of Proverbs said, “A leopard can’t change its spots.” Neither can antagonists. If “practice makes perfect,” antagonists practice their “art” at every opportunity possible.
- If they are disrupting the church, they may just be practicing for another organization to which they belong. Or vice-versa. As they perfect their art, they become experts at disrupting every other area of their individual, family, work, and social life.
- If you think you or your church is the only target antagonists have, think again. Other organizations in which they belong likely experience that same old stuff from them in their organizations as the churches in which they belong.They just don’t know where to stop.
- The Name of The Game
- The name of the antagonists game is “Fear and Anxiety.” Once one recognizes that antagonists target emotive aspects, one gains a different perspective as to how to deal with them. Since emotions are closely related to intimacy, the way to incite emotive responses is to threaten core aspects of intimacy.
- These aspects are all closely related to Eriksonian stages of development as well as Maslowian needs. These include trust, familiarity, approval, security, bonding, unconditional love, independence, autonomomy, safety, belongingness, etc. Threaten any one or more of the above and watch those emotive responses energize all kinds of responses…of the “Fear and Anxiety” kind.
- Nothing New!
- Of course, the provoke fear and anxiety strategy is nothing new. It’s the original antagonistic ploy in Genesis three. As the Serpent’s words, “Did God really say…” aroused anxious and fearful sense of distrust and rebellion against God, so the words, “Did the Pastor really say” not surprinsly incites the same response thousands of years later.
- On a deeper level, this demonstrates the relationship of antagonism and original sin. More importantly it points to the spiritual dangers of satanic intrumentality. In the Garden, Satan used a serpent. In our churches, he can use people–even well meaning Christians–to be his instruments.
- Who’s Susceptible To Instrumentality?
- Actually every one is a potential antagonist. This includes parishioner, pastor, overseers, and ministry specialists of all kinds. That is why the Scriptures read, “Take heed lest ye fall!” As Scott Peck points out, the most dangerous antagonists are those who think they are the most spiritual. These people, living in denial, are what Peck calls, “People of the Lie.”
If anyone is susceptible, are there warning signs?
- Yes there are. The signs are anything that indicates that an individual is facing great fear or uncontrolled anxiety. The trick is to be able to perceive and act on them.
- Those with abused backgrounds, dysfunctional upbringing, or from alcoholic homes often carry with them enormously unbelievable amounts of unresolved, unshared grief and anxiety. Though they appear to have it “all together” or appear to be nice, cooperative, relatively quiet non-involved people, the facade often masks extraordinary loneliness, anger, repression, denial and existential pain.
- Making every effort and expelling great energies to maintain their facade and mask their pain, often all it takes is just the slightest tilt of anxiety levels or the anticipation of a potential fear-inducing threat and their vulnerabilities are set off.
- Fear and anxiety largely triggered Peter’s denial. If it could happen to even the most well-meaning leader of Jesus’ disciples, it can happen to anybody.
- Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale
- Though it has been widely-used in church circles to indicate receptivity to the Gospel, the Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale has another use. It gives potential indicators of fear and anxiety factors which can result in antagonism..
The Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale
|Death of a Spouse
|Death of close family member
||Personal injury or illness
||Fired at work
|Change in health of family member
||Gain of a new family member
||Change in financial status
|Death of a close friend
||Change to different line of work
|Change in number of arguments with spouse
||Mortgage over $10,000
|Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
||Change in responsibilities at work
|Son or daughter leaving home
||Trouble with in-laws
|Outstanding personal achievement
||Spouse begins or stops work
|Begin or end school
||Change in living conditions
|Revision of personal habits
||Trouble with boss
|Change in work hours or conditions
||Change in residence
|Change in schools
||Change in recreation
|Change in church activities
||Change in social activities
|Mortgage or loan less than $10,000
||Change in sleeping habits
|Change in number of family get-togethers
||Change in eating habits
|Minor violation of the law
- Whether it be death, divorce, loss of job, adolescent rebellion, family problems or any one or combination of items identified on this scale, all have one thing in common. They evoke fear and anxiety.
- When fear and anxiety are incited, all kinds of things start happening. Intimacy patterns are disrupted. Alliances and trusts are doubted. Anxious individuals fearfully run away from what they had perceived to be “safe”–but find “unsafe”–and flee to escape the anxiety by either…
1) escaping into isolation, or
- 2) fusing with other like-anxious types.
- When one individual becomes anxious and/or fearful the greater danger is that this anxiety can set off a chain reaction. Once it starts, the only way to stop it is to try to alleviate anxiety. This can be done by…
- 1) intervention
- 2) allowing time
- 3) giving people a voice
- 4) publicly dealing with issues.
- 5) Allow their participation in the solution.
- 6) Giving pastoral support and attention
- 7) Prayer…
- and many other means.
- The Control Issue
- Of course, the issue is control. Something that I have noticed in my personal counseling is that high-fear and high-anxiety-level individuals tend to be controlling. They control their environment either by escaping it or by overcoming it. Either way, the result is the same.
- They strive to be in control of the forces of fear and anxiety. They strive to maintain control of relationship. They strive to maintain total control of the tasks. Their striving–and need–for control seeks to exceed not merely that of the pastor and leadership, but of God Himself. It is here that they take their furthest step away from the unconditional promise of non-abandonment which grace gives.
- It is this sort of compulsive control that “Twelve Step” processes address in their first few steps. “Admit you are powerless….submit to a higher power…” are strategies to transfer the control of fear and anxiety from themselves to God. The major challenge for Christian ministry in this area, then, is to use God’s Word and congregational ministry to help lead, direct, support and urge this transformation.
Strategies For Countering Antagonist
- The truth is that effectively countering antagonists is more of an art than a science. Countering them is more of a process–sometimes hit and miss–which may or may not work. Indeed, even the most skillful mediators, pastors and Christian leaders can be overtaken by antagonists.
- 1) Preach “Fear Not”‘s
- Yes, there is a risk in preaching on that which is the source and seat of the anxiety. Yet “Fear Not” is the main result of the gospel of grace and forgiveness. There are virtually hundreds of Scriptural references dealing with “Fear not.” Certainly if Scripture places that much emphasis on this dynamic, it becomes us to reflect the urgency of this message in Christian ministries of every kind.
- 2) Avoid Legalistic Moralism.
- Merely preaching a sermon which lists what things to do to improve one’s life does not necessarily transform individuals. Indeed, such perfect standards and directives can actually feed on individual and group anxieties. When the standards are “met,” anxiety and fear are reinforced as they feed on “what if I fail? Or “Was it good enough?” sorts of questions.
- 3) Preach Sweeter Gospel.
- Whenever people approach the Risen Christ they approach it with fear and anxiety until they hear the words, “Fear not. He is not here. He is risen!” (Matthew 28: ??) Isn’t that where fear and anxiety is really taken away? It worked for Mary, Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary.” It worked for Peter, too. What’s holding you back?
- 4) Preach “Twelve Steps” Processes
- This does not mean that you continue to go through teh 12 steps four times a year, and take off only for Christmas, Palm Sunday, Easter, and your one Sunday off per year. But it does mean that anxious and fearful ones in the congregation can be helped with regular doses of “Twelve Step” concepts. These concepts include contentment, letting go, powerlessness, repentance, confession, renewal, etc. Once one recognizes these concepts as being spiritual keys for healthy, non-anxious functioning,
5) Develop A Consistently Non-Anxious Leadership Style
- Some pastors wonder why they have so many antagonists. Sometimes its because a pastor’s leadership style incites anxiety and fear. Reactivity, reclusiveness, detachment, lack of vision and goals, poor communication, and a general lack of pastoral concern for people are just some things pastors do which incite fear and anxiety.
- Extremes of legalism or license, unpredictability, workaholism, impatience, judgmentalism, lack of self-differentiation, setting extremely/impossibly high standards and goals, impatience, and other leadership behaviors can do the same. Given the large number of clergy resignations, one wonders how many of them were due to the pastor’s conscious or unconscious inciting of fear and anxiety responses.
6) Develop A Vision For a Non-Anxious Church
- Churches ought never be totally anxiety free. There are good anxieties for churches. Some of these relate to the anxiety of knowing that sinners will go to hell eternally unless members respond to this need.
- Whatever things the healthy church must be anxious for, the key word is “respond.” Responding is a planned way to manage fear, anxiety and uncertainty. It necessitates careful consideration, timely intervention, and communication to affected parties. “React” on the other hand is rooted in anxiety and incites it, too.
- Certainly unexpected things do occur. But leadership which continues to cultivate a non-anxious vision for God’s church recognizes there are no such things as “surprises.” There are just “unforeseen opportunities.
- “Surprises” aren’t always pleasant mostly because they are considered random, threatening phenomena. “Unforeseen opportunities,” on the other hand, are recognized for what they are: special situations which God has allowed in a given ministry to direct, shape, and propel its direction.
- Surprises can be scary. But isn’t there a comfort in knowing that when “unforeseen opportunities” arise that it’s a sign of God’s working in that ministry? If only we could learn not to be so reactive to God’s “unforeseen opportunities!”
7) Recognize Pastoral Care Situations
- One of the greatest examples of clergy malpractice is mis-labeling individuals as antagonists…before, during and after their action of antagonism. Letting go of the hurt they cause can be extremely difficult. Restoring them to leadership is even more risky. Though it must be done with loving discernment and pastoral encouragement, it is what Jesus did to Peter. There is virtually no one from whom we ought to withhold the Gospel, regardless of the antagonism.
- One congregation had a long-term leader who served the church faithfully and vigorously over the years. When the corporation for which his wife worked threatened downsizing and massive lay-offs in successive periods of three months, and his own business was not meeting his financial expectations and needs, this congregational pillar–in terms of both involvement, pastoral support, and financial giving–this trusted individual and his family became anxious.
- This anxiety was intensified by a seasonal financial shortfall in the church’s receipts. Personal anxieties and fears smoldered and festered. He shared his anxieties with others. Because of his influence, others’ did the “Christian” thing: they empathized and showed they cared by sharing his anxiety.
- The result was that all this “caring” started a fear-anxiety holocaust unprecedented in that congregation resulting in 2/3 loss of membership. Seeing this, the long-term leader suffering greater anxiety did the only thing he could do to reduce anxiety and gain control. He left the church. Unfortunately, the toughest lessons of the devastating affects of fear and anxiety are among life’s most painful.
- Build On A Fear-Less Foundation
- Whatever one does to counter antagonism, the most important thing is to build on the only real Foundation which can endure, namely Jesus Christ. He, after all, the cornerstone of our faith. Why? Because His love casts out all fear.
- Perhaps that’s the greatest tool Christians have to minister to fear: show unconditional love, loving others as Christ has loved us. Why not “show off them Gospel-tools” today to “fix the fear” in your ministry!
- Thomas F. Fischer