A significant issue that the contemporary church experiences today is a passive aggressive tendency in dealing with conflict. The NYU Medical Center defines a passive aggressive individual as someone who “may appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behaves negatively and passively resists.” Passive aggressive people are generally unreasonable, are difficult to correct because they rarely express their hostility directly, and they repeat their behavior over time.
Unfortunately, this behavior has found its way into the church. Rather than believers sitting down together to reconcile differences honestly, calmly, and biblically, they often act out in ways to get noticed or to make a statement. We should not be surprised at this; it reflects the practice of our culture where overt confrontation and any expression of hostility are discouraged. Coupled with today’s politically correct environment, people do not, and often cannot, express their hurts and frustrations. Our schools and workplaces are programming people to address their problems institutionally, rather than personally, through processes rather than in person. Often resolution never occurs. Their anger is pent up and eventually comes out. Sadly, this has led to violence in the workplace and in the school yard, and even the church. In fact, since 1999, 427 people have been killed by deadly force while participating in a place of worship; and more people have been killed in Southern Baptist churches than in any other denomination.
Thankfully, not every disagreement will end in violence, but the vast majority of violent acts begin as a simple unresolved disagreement. If you think this is unique to our day and time, think again. James, the half-brother of Jesus, explained the source of this conflict to the recipients of his letter, What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1-2). He mentions quarrels, conflicts, war, and even murder! These occur because of lust, which is selfish, sinful desire that leads to revolt (cf. Galatians 5:17). I am glad that violent acts are rare in churches, but I am disappointed to see passive aggressive activities in the life of believers who should know better.
Passive aggressive behavior directed toward those in ministry seems to be on the rise as well. Yesterday I received a telephone call from a pastor friend. During the course of our conversation he shared about a woman in his church who obviously is upset with him. Every week, as he rises to preach, she picks up her personal effects and walks down from the choir loft and leaves the services to go home, in broad view of everyone. I doubt there is a pastor alive who has not experienced the protesting “walk out” after Sunday School. However, his story is an excellent example of a conflict that will escalate into conflict or result in persons leaving the church, unless reconciliation occurs. Her actions may seem harmless and insignificant, but her witness is adversely affected by her actions. Particularly troubling is the attitude toward her pastor, her spiritual authority.
Jude, the other half-brother of Jesus, confronts false teachers in the church who were guilty of several indiscretions, one of which was they were impeding the ministry of the church by their rejection of spiritual authority (Jude 8). Their personal experiences and their own vision for the church overrode the authority of God’s revelation. These rebellious people were grumbling fault-finders and arrogant people-flatterers, seeking their own advantage (Jude 16).
Paul reminds the Romans that, “…whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (Romans 13:2).
Believers must recognize that if we reject God’s authority, then God will reject us. Allow the Lord Jesus Himself to have the final word on spiritual authority,“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (John 13:20).
If the church is to move past its passive aggressive behavior, this hindrance to the furtherance of the gospel, then we must put an end to our selfish behavior, reject our cultural programming, and sit down and have a constructive conversation. I think that if believers would lock themselves in a room, talk to each other, pray with each other, demonstrate love toward each other, and allow the Holy Spirit to correct our errant hearts, then we will see a stop to this petty, passive aggressive behavior in the church. Perhaps, this “Lock and Talk” model would produce some real positive change.
Dr. Terry Rials has been in Christian Ministry for twenty-six years, the last twenty-three as the Senior Pastor of the Crestview Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University (B.A., Applied Ministries), Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (M.Div.BL), and earned his doctorate (D.Min.) from Midwestern Baptist Theological in Church Revitalization. His dissertation project involved training associational pastors in the principles of revival and revitalization by equipping them to begin a revitalization project in their churches. Dr. Rials has studied abroad in Israel, Egypt, and at Oxford University in England. He regularly teaches New Testament courses and Biblical Hermeneutics for Oklahoma Baptist University at its Oklahoma City campus. Dr. Rials serves as the Church Revitalization Team Leader for Capital Baptist Association in Oklahoma City and is active in leading church revitalization efforts in Oklahoma and nationally. He is a frequent conference speaker and teacher. He is married to Kay, and their son Hunter is a student at Oklahoma Baptist University, preparing for a career in medicine.
 Preston Ni, Psychology Today, “How to Spot and Deal With Passive-Aggressive People: 8 Keys to Surviving Passive-Aggressives at Home and at Work,” January 5, 2014.
 David Roach, SBC Life: Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention, “Protecting Your Church Against Violence,” March 2013 issue