Issue #5: Six Ways to Deal with Church Antagonists
After my candidacy meeting, my wife said, “Helen seems really nice.” I thought so, too. Boy, were we wrong! Turns out, Helen was probably the meanest, most bitter woman I ever met in my life. She loved power and opposed almost everything I did. Once before a church service, she demanded to use the microphone to announce, “An executive decision has been made to support a new foreign missionary.” I was actually pleased to support this new partner. But for her, it was a power move. A flex of her and her husband’s (the lead elder) dominance. Helen was the quintessential church antagonist.
Pastors and church leaders know all too well what I am talking about. We’ve all had our Helens. The question is, how do we deal with them in a way honors the Lord, safeguards the church and helps the antagonist?
6 Ways to Deal with Church Antagonists
- Pray for them. You’re human, which means you probably have a level of anger towards your antagonist. That’s okay. Be angry and do not sin (Eph. 4:26). But be sure to pray for the person (Matthew 5:44). Not only does Jesus command that we pray for those who oppose us, a couple positive things may take place. 1) Your heart will change towards the person. It’s hard to hate someone you’re praying for. 2) They might change for the good.
- Love them. The old saying is true, kill them with kindness. Each week before service, I would approach Helen. She always sat with her husband, but he was usually busy doing something before service, and she was usually alone. Not many people talked to her. That’s lonely and sad. So, I was intentional to speak with her before every service. I tried to make her laugh and say kind words to her. Over time this softened her a bit and made my life a lot easier.
- Be patient. You will be tempted to retaliate, but don’t. Never act out of emotion. However you approach your antagonist, make sure it is bathed in prayer and godly counsel. Play the long game. Don’t try to fix the situation over night. Give the Lord time to change the person, and give the Lord time to change you. Remember, that thorn in your flesh is there for a reason (2nd Cor. 12:7). And His grace is sufficient.
- Read Psalm 37. “Fret not yourself because of evil doers…for they will soon fade like the grass…trust in the Lord and do good…commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and he will act….Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off…in just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place he will not be there.” This Psalm saved my ministry and gave me strength and hope to press on.
- Take away the antagonists influence and power. Helen sat on the church board (with her husband, btw). She was in charge of the mission’s work and gave a 20 minute report before service once a month. She also taught a Sunday School class. But because of her ungodly attitude and actions, I slowly took all that away from her. In the end, she no influence and her murmuring fell on deaf ears.
- Confront your antagonists. Nip sin in the bud. On numerous occasions, I confronted Helen and her husband. For years, they were permitted to spread anger, hurt and slander. But I could not stand for it anymore. I would sit down with her and her husband and reason with them about their actions. I tried to be gracious, but I was also clear and firm. Their actions cannot be tolerated. They are hurting the church and dishonoring God.
Confronting your antagonists won’t be easy, but it is necessary and by God’s help, it can be done. Follow the above steps. Walk in wisdom and with patience. Gather godly people around you who see your dilemma, and then act with courage. Don’t be afraid. If your motives are pure, God is on your side. Not only that, you’re helping the antagonist. Nothing could be more damaging to their soul than to allow them to continue in unrepentant sin, especially against Christ’s church.