It will not be news to pastors and former pastors to know that leading a congregation of God’s people is a daunting task. The very metaphor of the “body” as used in Scripture to describe the church is one filled with the serious and the humorous. A reading of 1 Corinthians 12:14-27 confirms this.
I recall hearing Evangelist Junior Hill refer to this passage. He said many want to be something they are not. Some may be a big toe, but they want to be an eye. He then said, “But remember, if you are a big toe and want to be an eye, all you will ever see is the end of a sock!” OK. But we laughed when we he said it! I guess it’s all in the way you tell the story.
Most pastors and other church leaders have to deal with various kinds of people. Some are really emotionally dysfunctional, but they are part of the body. I want to talk about one of the most difficult in this post and refer you to some resources.
There is a type of person that resorts to what is called by some “emotional blackmail”. I like that term. Let me acknowledge that I first saw that term in a book of the same title by Susan Forward, Ph.D. You need to know that Dr. Forward is a therapist, lecturer, and author. There is nothing in the book that would indicate that she is a person of Christian faith or evangelical faith. I simply do not know the answer to that question.
So why refer to this book? I find it very valuable is its description of a kind of person we as church leaders interact with on a fairly frequent basis. So the book is valuable for its descriptive purposes.
Prescription is to be found in the Word of God. It is unwise to use the wisdom of the world as prescriptive when the issue is a spiritual problem.
Dr. Forward describes emotional blackmail as a powerful form of manipulation in which some people in your life use fear, obligation, and guilt to manipulate you to do what they want. If you do not yield to their desires, they will threaten us. They know we value the relationship with them. They often know where we are vulnerable. They use these and other things to gain one thing – our compliance to their desires.
She summarizes these types of people as to their method. In chapter 2, she describes them as the punisher; the self-punisher; the sufferer; and the tantalizer. These are methods used to ultimately gain our compliance to the blackmailer’s wishes.
Some of these people are in the body of Christ, and some of them will call you this week, or meet you in some part of the local church building just before you step to the platform to begin the morning worship service. You last thought prior to entering worship is on that conversation. And it can be a huge tool of the devil to distract the man of God from the mission and message of God.
What do we do? Here are some suggestions.
First, our own heart must be prepared. Obviously we as leaders need to practice what we preach and have our own time with the Lord.
Second, we must not let our own character development slip or be arrested. A valuable resource to help with that is Jeff Iorg’s book, “The Character of Leadership”.
Third, Pray and immerse yourself in the unity passages and pastoral letters of the New Testament. Read Proverbs and take notes of the passages the Holy Spirit presses to your heart and mind as those that speak either as descriptive of the person or prescriptive of a biblical solution.
Fourth, reflect upon and/or know your own personality strengths and weaknesses. If your personality lends itself to being a people pleaser (not a compromiser, but one who values being well thought of to the extent you will do what others desire to gain their approval), you are very vulnerable to the person practicing emotional blackmail. If you are too aggressive this can be a potential explosion that will not cure the problem but will instead accomplish the desire of the Great Manipulator, Satan himself. Know who you are; know whose you are.
Fifth, bring around you trusted leadership of the congregation. Mentor them. Seek their wisdom. When issues come up, present to them a careful analysis of the issue (not the personality) and biblical solutions. Ask them to pray with you and ask them to share with you their thoughts. Sometimes, effective resolution means a change of procedures of how the church processes certain ministries. It may even be a change in constitution and by-laws. These need to be prayerfully thought through. The last thing you want is a “reaction”. Be proactive, always.
This will take longer but it will pay dividends in the future. Your credibility will be enhanced, and if you focus on the problem and not the person, the solution will be long-term and will forward the mission of God through the church. Sometimes a brother or sister can be restored. Sometimes, they themselves are not even aware of what they are doing. Correction can sometimes be achieved without destroying a brother or sister in Christ.
Sixth, act redemptively and with witnesses. Avoid at all costs situations of confrontation in which you do not have trusted church leadership by your side. Titus 3:10 is very specific in how to deal with those who are divisive. But you must have truth, love, and support of leadership. Make sure your own heart is redemptive and you are communicating that in word and body language.
Seventh, give God the glory and honor for resolution of the issue. Stay focused on the mission God has given.
These are some suggestions I have this a.m. Others of you may have experience in dealing with these kinds of situations. Comments?