Wednesday, December 6, 2000

Conflicts in the Church

Beware the Wolves

No one told me this in seminary – or if they did I didn’t listen.   There are wolves in the church waiting to devour pastors, youth directors and music ministers.  I should have known! After all I’d read the Bible and Jesus clearly warned me about these people when he said “If people hated me, guess what, they’ll hate you too. And if they killed me, be ready, they’ll kill you too.”

Conflict will always exist in work places, families, neighborhoods and even churches. But I’m not talking about healthy conflicts here. I’m talking about problems caused by pathological antagonists – what several Christian writers have termed “Clergy Killers.”

Guy Greenfield writes that clergy killers are not a way to “label the person who happens to disagree with a minister.” No, “this term identifies persons who have a very mean-spirited disposition toward ministers and intentionally target ministers for termination.”

No -- can't be! There can't be mean spirited people in the church.

Think again.

This is a hard truth but you can believe it. Some of the people that you will deal with in ministry will do everything in their power to bring the minister down. Not the ministry. The Minister.

These people are affectionately called clergy killers.  But it is not just the clergy they kill.  They also attack other church staff members, killing their spirits, and eventually killing the church as well.

These antagonists in the church will get rid of one minister, then the next, then the next, until there are no members left in the church! They will kill the church slowly by quickly killing one ministry after another.

According to Guy Greenfield’s The Wounded Minister there are six characteristics that all clergy killers have. These traits are anti-Christ. Jesus would not employ these tactics yet sometimes his followers do.

1. The arguments of a pathological antagonist are usually founded on little or terribly misrepresented evidence.
The misrepresented evidence comes on all shapes and sizes. Quarreling over irrelevant points, exaggerating one’s position (usually followed with statements like, “People are talking about…” “They feel like your headed in the wrong direction” “Everyone wants to change our worship style”), and making accusations that cannot be proven or refuted. Greenfield even goes on to say that he “would add another fallacy- outright lying or falsification. An antagonist will take certain facts and so twist then that they are blatently false when presented.” Usually though the antangonist will use a combination of all of these tactics. I’ve seen them and you’ve seen them.

The bottom line is that clergy abusers will lie, cheat, and steal to remain in power, intimidate, or exercise control over their ministers.

2. The pathological antagonist will initiate trouble.
They will write letters, often leaving them as anonymous notes. They will become human phone trees. They drop hints that the pastor or someone on the church staff offended them. They will stir up trouble, and as soon as everyone thinks things are calming down, another letter appears, or another phone call is made to the Pastor-Parish Committee or the Personnel Committee.

3. The pathological antagonist is never satisfied. Clergy killers will never be satisfied ever. Greenfield writes, “No amount of accommodation on the minister’s part will ever suffice.” Often the antagonist will lay down the ultimatum, “It’s my family or the minister.” Or “If we don’t change the worship style, I’m leaving and so will many other families.” Or “If we don’t fire the youth director and get someone with more experience, I’m out of here.” The minister is shown the door. This cycle of abuse continues because the church body routinely follows Chamberlain’s example of appeasement. Chamberlain was the Prime Minister of England who refused to stand up against Hitler. He thought the best way to deal with the Nazis was to sign the Munich Pact with the Axis Powers. He chose appeasement. This decision to appease the Nazis empowered them. Greenfield puts it this way, When the good, prayerful, dedicated, loving lay leaders are afraid of conflict in the church and have no stomach for challenging those who are using secular political methods to run the church, they will choose a philosophy of appeasement rather that reasonable confrontation. Evil will then take advantage of what appears to be an open door to take over and control the church.

Church leaders need to become Churchills, not Chamberlains. Stand up to those who cannot be appeased and tell them, “No.”

4. The pathological antagonist will lead a campaign of attack on the minister.
This antagonist’s goal is often to control the church. He or she may have position and money but what is desired is power. Those who are powerless in their own lives can often satisfy this longing in the church. Their job is in danger, or they have been recently unemployed. Their marriage is in a fragile state. Their children have rebelled, or simply graduated and left home. The person finds he or she has no power over other things in life, so this desire for power focuses as an attack on the leadership of the church staff.

5. The attacking behavior of the pathological antagonist is selfish in nature but is wrapped in a shroud of altruism.
Greenfield says that pathological antagonists will often “seize on some spiritual goal or objective, such as the good of the church and its work in the community, and pretend that this is what he is fighting for. The person is rarely interested in authentic spiritual goals. If one rationale no longer works to his advantage, he will devise another. His stated reasons for opposition are a ruse for his own hidden agenda. That he really wants is power, control, status, and authority.”

6. The attacks are for destruction rather than construction.
When men and women choose destruction over construction no side wins. The church staff member is often crushed under the weight of angry letters, malicious gossip, and loneliness. The collateral damage includes the minister’s family, the congregation and sometime the community.


1. Learn to defend your pastor and church staff from unwarranted and vicious attacks by church leaders (either official or unofficial leaders). Methodist minister Raymond Rooney says, “It would go a long way towards deterring those who would derail a godly minister and church if people would learn to speak up and defend their church’s staff leadership in the presence of those who seek to undermine and tear it down. Do not expect godly leadership if you are not going to stand up for it.”

Aim for identifying, electing and empowering as leaders only those who have a servant’s heart and mentality. Be careful of those who seek leadership positions to become “agents of change,” or to fix what they perceive to be problems in the church. Beware of hidden agendas.

2. Find ways to demonstrate the church’s appreciation for its staff.
Make these demonstrations of appreciation visible and vocal. “Clergy killers” will think twice about undermining the pastor’s work or integrity if they see a lot of visible support for him or her. The same is true with youth directors, musicians, etc. Why? Rooney says such public demonstrations work because pathological antagonists are cowards at heart. That is why they hold secret meetings and spread lies behind the scenes. Nothing speaks louder to them than a well planned Pastor and Church Staff Appreciation Sunday (usually held on the second Sunday of October, although all of October is often considered Pastor and Church Staff Appreciation Month). Hebrews 13:7 says “Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the Word of God. Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you, as well as their truthfulness.” (The Message)

3. The church should recognize that dealing with the antagonist in the church is the responsibility for all church leaders and members. It is not just the concern of the pastor. Rediger, in his book, Clergy Killers, says that as long as congregations see the problems generated by disordered persons as the pastor’s concern, the clergy will continue to be victimized. Congregations are often too willing to blame the clergy. The end result is the loss of one pastor in an intense conflict, the arrival of the next pastor who will also soon leave the parish in an intense conflict. Membership declines and church leaders wonder why they are unable to secure stable pastoral leadership.

4. Recognize that antagonism is caused by evil and sinful human nature.
Stephen Haugk suggests this (and the following remaining steps) in his book, The Antagonist in the Church. We are taught in Ephesians 6:12 “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.” (NIV) Romans 7:18 says, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (NIV)

5. Face up to the antagonist. Confront the person. Titus 3:10-11 “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (NIV) Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

6. Recognize that most antagonists will not change.
It is unfortunate, but true. In those cases, ignore them, have little to do with them, and forgive them. Paul says in II Timothy 2:16-17, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.” In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness and the antagonist: "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (NIV)

For further study
Frontline Fellowship's "Dealing with Pathological Antagonists" found at

Raymond Rooney's article, "For Clergy Under Attack"

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rev. Pittendreigh, FYI - these two links no longer work.
    Frontline Fellowship's "Dealing with Pathological Antagonists" found at

    Raymond Rooney's article, "For Clergy Under Attack"