If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, Identifying “Sucker-Punch Church Members”, it will help to read it first.
1. Pray for them.
These people are a distraction. They are annoying. Their nonsense can sometimes cost you sleep. In some churches, they have managed to creep into leadership roles that make them quite paralyzing to the rest of your church family.
But here’s the thing: they are not your enemy.
To be sure, you have to employ strong and skilled pastoral leadership to free the church and your own ability to lead from their grip, but the wisdom to do this comes from God (James 1:5). So spend more time talking to God about them than you spend talking about them. His wisdom can not only empower you toward the right course of action, but it can also change their hearts.
2. Be taught by them.
This principle should be applied at two levels. First, because of the highly emotional nature of what we do, many pastors struggle to separate issues from the people involved. When we fail to make that distinction, we also fail to learn and grow. And our own growth is stunted because, in the effort to shield ourselves from the constant criticism of a professional nay-sayer, we lose the ability to critically assess the issues they raise. And sometimes, those issues are legitimate.
Just because someone is annoying, or is always approaching an issue in the wrong way doesn’t make the issue they raise illegitimate. So as pastors, our responsibility is to wisely discern between the valid areas in which we or our church might need improvement, and the mosquito-type blood sucker who is always bringing it up. Helpful truth can be found everywhere, even from the mouths of unhelpful people. Let’s learn from them.
3. Love them.
Even sucker-punch members are, from time to time, going to need their pastor. And when they do, we should respond and love them just like any other member of our church family. For one thing, its truly amazing how hearts formerly hardened begin to soften up at a graveside service, or in the ICU. But the call to love our people should have more than a utilitarian goal at the end. Whether or not that softening occurs, we continue to love, because it’s the right thing to do.
4. Challenge them.
The best way to do this is to stay on track, and don’t budge for them. Sooner or later, they will get the message and either fall in line with the rest of their church family, or they will leave and take their dysfunction to another church. Because we are called to love, we should pray constantly for the former rather than the latter—for their sake, the sake of our church, and mostly for the sake of the next church they invade if they leave yours. Stay positive, and keep the congregation’s eye on the prize rather than on the people trying to pull the emergency brake. If you lead well, eventually the rest of the body can tell the difference between the road to their preferred future and the dead-end proffered by sucker-punch members—even the loud ones.
And in the process, develop a culture that rewards the right kind of behavior. Don’t give leadership positions to people who aren’t “all in” with regard to the whole church! Sucker-punch members will eventually get the message, and combined with the aforementioned prayer and love, some of them will actually come around!
Identifying and dealing effectively with the sucker-punch church member is an essential skill every pastor needs to develop. Without that skill, the danger of mission-drift, ultimate irrelevance, and a culture of people-pleasing is exponentially higher. So pray for them, love them, learn from them, challenge them—and then lead, whether or not they decide to follow.