I have been working in the field of church revitalization and renewal for almost twenty years now and I wanted to share in this edition of the Church Revitalizer blog about some of the nasty things which happen to the leader of a church’s renewal effort. Wise Church Revitalizers, while not liking some of the things which will come their way, should be ready for some of the big ones which often precede the turnaround of a plateaued church. It was John Maxwell, which taught me some thirty years ago a great principle of leadership and it is never more important to remember than as one who is working in the realm of church revitalization and renewal. John told many of us way back then:
“People will let you down, but Jesus Christ will never let you down!”
I have reflected upon this wise statement many times while in the midst of the challenge of the moment. The reality is that there are some nasty things that are thrown at leaders of renewal as they seek to turnaround a church.
For every Church Revitalizer which is part of our monthly Virtual Coaching Network, I spend time discussing the following challenges in revitalization and renewal in an attempt to assist them in a smoother transition when they encounter these trials. This is the second in a series of blogs focused around “The Nasty Punches That Come Your Way in Church Revitalization and Renewal!”
15. The reason we have antagonists in the church is that they are in the world.
My dear friend, Rodney Harrison says, “The problems with antagonists within the church is that they leave in their wake broken lives, broken dreams, and discouraged, apathetic people. Such an environment does not promote church health nor vitality.”
Kenneth Haugk in his book on Antagonists in the Church defines them as follows: “Antagonists are individuals who on the basis on non-substantive evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, unusually attacking the person or performance of others. These attacks are selfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed against those in a leadership capacity.”
Here are some signs of the antagonist behavior in a church:
· Has a previous track record of antagonistic behavior in the present church.
· The Parallel Track Record which is a track record of bad behavior outside of the church.
· The Nameless Other Flag “there are lots who feel like me”, “Everyone feels you should resign.”
· The Predecessor-downer is one who denounces your predecessor and builds you up syndrome.
· The Instant Buddy is one who first takes you to dinner and visits your office.
· The Gusher of Praise, is one that usually includes a phrase such as: “however, but, also…”
· Asking “I gotcha” questions: “Well then, what version of the Bible does the denomination use?”
· Overly smooth and charming- be aware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
· The Church Hopper: “Finally, I found a church (or pastor) I can believe in.”
· Lies often and known for little lies which are common with him or her.
· Utilizes aggressive methodologies which are extreme, unethical, and combative all as a means to get their voice heard.
· The Flashing $$$ sign- Is a rich antagonists love this one who wants his way through money for a cause.
· The Note Taker: is one who takes notes during visits, coffee-hour or inappropriate times.
· The Portfolio: These will come to you with “proof positive” of wrong-doings that shows evidence of a long-standing plan.
· Cutting Comments: Saying things at times or places to cause great pain.
· The Different Drummer: Always seeking to start new policies, change things or do it their own way.
· The Pest: Always calling. Take note: If they are always calling you, they are calling others!
· The Cause: Calvinism, Home Schooling, Food Pantry, KJV only…
· The School of Hard Knocks: Little formal education, but have gone through many struggles. Tend to brag about “the school”
· The Poor Loser: When the church votes differently, the antagonists will get mad and often get even.
16. It would seem that some people must either leave the church or die before true peace can be restored and growth can be revived.
A settled, serene, secure atmosphere may be the most attractive asset of a group that is poised for enlargement. Visitors, both churched and unchurched, will be drawn into the calm, controlled environment of the parish at peace. As the people of God resolve their disputes, we can then direct our energies toward the twin necessities of discipleship and evangelism. The number one reason for the deterioration in discipleship ministries just might be the intensification of conflict in the church. We have learned to avoid contention by limiting our contact with each other. A sarcastic, skeptical world is waiting for the true church to resolve its own battles before it is willing to hear the gospel.
17. Recapture the ground you’ve already traveled.
Remember, celebrate and own your defining moments. Always lead from your highest point. Use your greatest accomplishments as a catalyst to the next challenge. That said, it is now time to let go of the celebration and get busy with forging a new future. Often you will discover that it takes significant time to make changes. At times you must retake the ground you have already traveled and that always slows things down. You must do it anyway and many young leaders are just not that experienced in knowing when and how to retake the ground you have already traveled (and thought that you won). A primary reason for this is that resistance is always ready and willing to raise its ugly head. One thing I have learned as a church revitalizer, pastor, and missionary is that irrational resistance to change never fully dissipates. What those facing change for the first time misunderstand is that even if you are successful in the early days of transformation you often do not win over the self-focused individual that senses this might be assaulting their own turf. John Kotter reminds us well that, “whenever you let up before the job (of change) is done, critical momentum can be lost and regression may follow.”  Momentum is the revitalizer’s best friend in making change. Do everything you can to keep it from stalling.
 John P. Kotter, Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press, 1996. pg.133.