When church people get to acting with a poor attitude, ugly things begin to happen. Wise pastors generally run for cover, sometimes jumping ship and head for new seas in other regions. Naïve Pastors sometimes never see it coming, determined to believe that people are really nice inside, just gotta give them a chance to show that loving heart (and pigs fly in random formation). Move over insurance agents, here come more second-career recruits into the market.
Granted, those fantasies of vindication may please wounded souls for a night or two, but reality eventually crashes into the cruel nightmare storming its way into your shattered career.
What can you do? Those fantasies are illegal, by the way. Don’t even need to express the details – we have been there and relished every sinew of those fantasies. But when reality demands our attention, what then? How do you fight back against self-righteous indignation?
The Pastoral role forbids violence, and even vengeful retaliation is held in suspicion and generally forbidden. Slander and lies are hurled against our character, and we sadly realize our congregation is watching. Our responses seem so limited. Being nice will only buy you time, but the inevitable destruction has already been launched. What can we do? How do “nice” pastors defend themselves against flagrant offenses?
Jesus warned us about this in very real terms. He made no pretense to explain discipleship as a rose garden. The way will get very hard sometimes. And when religious people are on the attack it’s the worse to patiently understand and persuade toward better behavior. Persecuting you gives them a religious buzz. Jesus gave us a glimpse of this bizarre mind that,
“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.” John 16:1-3
Hopefully, in modern America it will not get quite as far as literal martyrdom, but when your career and all your life time hopes come crashing down around you … what’s the difference? Our heart is shredded and life’s purpose is lost. You may, or may not, ever find your way back.
And the whole time their righteous laughter haunts you night and day. What did you do wrong? Probably nothing at all. In fact, it’s the significant success that sometimes draws the target for self-righteous wrath.
But back to this crucial question, is there nothing you can do in response to the hell-inspired torment besetting your church and ministry? Although the fantasies of Rambo revenge will need to be shelved, you do have options in responding to the offensive furor. But the responses require patience and mature timing. Your responses will show your heart all too quickly. The real issue at hand is not the antagonists who desire nothing more than harm and destruction. The stakes are greater. God will deal with the trouble makers, but for now you have a high calling of caring for the rest of the church, those who are at high risk in god’s kingdom. And make no mistake, Jesus has issues with them. The meek and mild Jesus suddenly turns into a form of Marlon Brando in the “Godfather” describing what they deserve,
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Does that reveal enough of the heart of our Lord to assure you that he feels your indignant pain as well, and probably to a far greater degree? You are not alone. Heaven is in your corner. You have good company.
Here’s a list of your Pastoral arsenal for “fighting the good fight.”
1) Expose. Although we are forbidden to retaliate in kind, we are still called to another duty in the fracas. Jesus calls us to turn the other check (Matthew 5:38-41), not to set us up for full physical harm, but to spare us the far greater temptation of falling prey to evil itself.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
The clearest biblical directive calls us to a different approach, but quite devastating within the Christian community,
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness,
but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11
Don’t let the bad behavior continue in its dark forms to continue to cause trouble. But do not strike it with your fist either. Instead, get the bad behavior out in the open. Inform the governing body of your church the precise details of what has happened and humbly seek cooperation to search for a right response of civility.
Now the footlight of accountability has switched to the joint leadership of the church, instead of you, where it belongs.
2) Firm and to the point. Too many words will rouse suspicion of a vindictive agenda. It’s time for your very best Joe Friday from Dragnet, “Just the facts Ma’am.”
“For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26
“Brevity is the soul of wit”
3) Keep control. Yet, never appearing to accuse and play the same game your accusers are playing. It may seem tricky at first, but with a little practice it will soon seem natural.
Here is how it works. When explaining incidents always look for places to inject what this group is supposed to be doing. You may state that the group reported to the Board last year that they would be meeting to discuss mission activity. Or the women’s group promised the Board in the spring that they would be studying the book of Mark from the Bible in their Tuesday evening meetings. Point out what the group set out to do in the first place and allow this to stand in stark contrast to the poor behavior they are now found to be doing. You need not state any accusation, leave your hearers to work out the inconsistency of original purpose with present activity. The observation of straying will be easily identified. Like a skilled attorney, clarify the current “hypocrisy” as an obvious divergence of their own original intentions.
Practice must be focused on making this observation seem matter of fact without the need to label them transgressors. Establishing the faulty procedures of your accusers will stick in the minds of those you are seeking to persuade. As Jesus himself has taught us,
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.
Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
4) Trivialize the maneuvers of your opponents whenever possible.
But again, with patience and care. You must not appear a bully as though you were jabbing back. Whenever an obvious accusation that is seen as trivial keeps rounding back into the mix – label is as juvenile, reckless or unnecessary. Local dialect or current comical clichés might shed significant light on how shallow some of these barbs truly are.
Ronald Reagan showed his mastery of humor in debating Jimmy Carter in the 1980. Carter would present his perspective on Medicare trying to knock Reagan back on the ropes, but then disarmed the whole assault with his classic, “well, there you go again.” He used the same strategy with Walter Mondale in 1984. The disarming humor was still as effective as before. People were not tired of hearing it. In fact they relished the response in the midst of a dry debate.
People did not need the factual details. The humor relaxed the edge and drew people to this more pleasing and less agonized position.
Humor is a noble weapon of debate. People are drawn to it as a shared insider privilege. The positive feelings will make them feel like they are the winners, superior and more fun to be around – especially the “side” they want to remain.
“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” Titus 2:7-8
5) Starve the attention. Antagonists are always looking for the carnal goals of Power and Control. When they have the spotlight their power comes alive. They can feel the adrenaline flowing through their system and the sensation of being the center of attention.
If a problem has arisen within your church or other social entity, you must address it. However, you must also recognize the paradox involved by addressing giving it too much attention. Merely allowing them the center of attention is fueling their inner drive. They must have their moment for justice to be recognized, but never allow them any more than that share.
A classic error is made when an enemy is nearly defeated and one last “shot” is lobbed their way. You may have soothed a cheap vindictive feeling, but much worse you have risked waking the cause, reviving them out of ICU and back into the adrenaline fix they were seeking in the first place.
6) Never, under no circumstance whatsoever gloat over a defeated enemy. If you have won the battle then quickly leave the playing field before the vanquished change their mind about going down in glory. Let your enemy fail whenever possible. As Sun Lao teaches, “never interrupt your enemy when they are making a mistake.”
Gloating will also break whatever providence our Lord may have been graciously bestowing.
Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.
7) Counter Accusations. When confronted by antagonists, Jesus never allowed them to take the higher ground. Like a complicated chess game his opponents would craft questions designed to trip him up with the consequences of their intended answer. Those next steps is what that crafted question is all about.
It’s like the old joke when someone asks a friend if he still beating his wife. What can he say? If he says “yes” he is caught, but if he says “no” then he is caught on that “still” innuendo. There is no good answer. One must seize the battle field and nullify the question by establishing his own truth, “I love my wife and have never beaten her.” Besides who said one must answer every question on “their” terms. It’s no law and not even Emily Post deems it necessary for good manners.
When your adversary poses a scenario, dismiss it and restate the situation. Never allow them to establish that first deadly chess move.
Play their game and you are guaranteed to lose. It’s like playing cards with someone who has control of all the cards in the deck and you only get to play with the few cards they decide to give you. Don’t do it.
See how Jesus handled his adversaries with indirect answers that reset the confrontation on his terms instead of theirs, turning the tables on them and winning the favor of the people as one who speaks with authority and correct control of situations.
Matthew 21 – 22 records the Controversies in the Temple Courts. Jesus has triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the religious authorities are quick to mount their disjointed counter attacks. Jesus, on the other hand, is remarkably consistent to never allow them to take advantage of the situation. Every time he turns the loaded moves back on his opponents which quickly disables their malicious plans.
Matthew 21:23-27, Jesus authority questioned
v23, “By what authority are you doing these things?”
v25, “John’s baptism—where did it come from? … heaven, or human origin?”
Matthew 21:28-32, Parable of two Sons
Matthew 21:33-46, Parable of the Tenants
Matthew 22:1-14, Parable of the Wedding Banquet
<notice how Jesus takes back the playing field, freely instructing his antagonists, even though he was never asked to elaborate!>
Matthew 22:15-22, Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar
v17, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
v19-21, Jesus … Show me the coin … Whose image is this? …
“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Matthew 22:23-33, Marriage at the Resurrection
v28, “whose wife will she be (at the resurrection)?”
v29, “Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
v31, “But about the resurrection of the dead — He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
< Again, Jesus takes the initiative to point out error and give the correct biblical teaching>
Matthew 22:34-40, The Greatest Commandment
v36, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
v37, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’”
<and he injects one more point, not asked for, but are they listening about how they ought to be treating Jesus?>
v39, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:41-45, Whose Son Is the Messiah?
<again Jesus takes the initiative. While they are in time out mode, he turns the tables to ask them a key question of this controversy>
v42, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
v42, “The son of David,” they replied.
<now they fail to avoid direct questions and suffer a stunning error in debate>
v43, He said to them, “How is it then that David … calls him ‘Lord’? (quote Psalm 110:1).
v46, “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Beware the danger. Turning tables on your opponents is a practiced skill. Covenant with a trusted colleague and hone this skill in each other so you both may benefit. Do it well and you will intimidate your opponents, but do it too abruptly without patience and you will look like a belligerent jerk. Practice, Plan, Practice and Practice!!!
Jesus uses shrew elements of debate, but it saves the day (week) and declares his superior stance of authority. It’s not beyond our reach to follow his example. A key element to observe is how he never follows the planned steps of their malicious attack. You must not play “their” game either. Rise above the situation and take the initiative whenever possible. Turn the tables and put the questions back to your accusers, disabling their destructive intentions. Save yourself and especially save your church.
In times of conflict saboteurs have always been used with a single goal to demoralize the enemy. It’s Psychological Operations (Psy Ops) warfare to unnerve your enemy and take away their will to fight before the battle has even begun. In the Battle of the Bulge during World War 2, German spies were sent before the offensive dressed in allied uniforms to change road signs and misdirect reinforcements in totally wrong directions. The mayhem gave the Nazi surge breakthrough time to blitz into and through the soft allied lines. Just a little more gasoline for the Panzer tanks and the war could have been seriously prolonged.
American tanks rolling into Baghdad in the first Gulf War used loud speakers to dare Hussein’s young insecure soldiers to step out from behind “women’s burquas” and fight like men. When they did those moments of bravado were very short lived facing Abram’s tanks.
In our modern era, saboteurs have evolved into full blown “terrorists.” It only takes two – three dozen men in strategic places (airliner cockpits) to destroy the world trade center, cripple the Pentagon (and nearly destroy the White House?), disabling the whole world to its knees. It only takes a few people in the right places to cause great devastation.
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
16 You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
17 A thousand will flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
Although the modern church is not beset by terrorists with literal bombs and guns, but the strategies run all too similar. Create fear and discouragement and beset your opponent to give up and flee before any battle has even begun. It takes a brave pastor with a stout backbone to withstand such assaults. But by digging in with firm resolve will cause the assault to cave in. In their heart of hearts, antagonists wield a cowardly spirit.
That’s why Paul the apostle calls upon faithful Pastors to “stand against” the noisy assaults of the enemy. Standing with a firm conviction will unnerve the enemy’s bluffs and deceptions. Add the wisdom of the Spirit and a force has been asserted to cause trembling in the enemy’s camp.
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
Simple Sabotage Field Manual by United States
Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
— Declassified documents, June 1944—
The OSS (“Office of Strategic Services) was the predecessor to what is today known as the CIA. During World War 2 they were masters of disrupting the work of the Third Reach, frustrating plans and forbidding their full production. American spies would sabotage the most lethal projects of the enemy at its most vulnerable points.
The “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” is an older document, declassified for public perusal. Most of the counsel deals with direct violent sabotage, but the final few pages deal with disrupting the regular functions of organizations, stalling, frustrating and grinding down the production into stalled dysfunctional institutions. What makes this manual so “scary” for our study is how many items reflect disparaging habits of our modern church administration. Personally it answers my own long held suspicions that it required specialized espionage to inhibit functional and effective planning strategies for effective service. Oh, the many marvelous plans and desires were demolished by the controlling micro-management of OSS ideals clouding the general Board.
Here’s the chapter instructing strategy to disrupt organization. See how many of these harmful tidbits have found their way into your Board procedures.
Chapter 11, General Interference with Organizations and Production
(a) Organizations and Conferences
(1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.
(b) Managers and Supervisors
(1) Demand written orders.
(2) “Misunderstand” orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.
(3) Do everything possible to delay the delivery of orders. Even though parts of an order may be ready beforehand, don’t deliver it until it is completely ready.
(4) Don’t order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted, so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.
(5) Order high-quality materials which are hard to get. If you don’t get them argue about it. Warn that inferior materials will mean inferior work.
(6) In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers of poor machines.
(7) Insist on perfect work in relatively un important products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.
(8) Make mistakes in routing so that parts and materials will be sent to the wrong place in the plant.
(9) When training new workers, give in complete or misleading instructions.
(10) To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
(11) Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
(12) Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.
(13) Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.
(14) Apply all regulations to the last letter.
(c) Office Workers
(1) Make mistakes in quantities of material when you are copying orders. Confuse similar names. Use wrong addresses.
(2) Prolong correspondence with government bureaus.
(3) Misfile essential documents.
(4) In making carbon copies, make one too few, so that an extra copying job will have to be done.
(5) Tell important callers the boss is busy or talking on another telephone.
(6) Hold up mail until the next collection.
(7) Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.