by Joseph MillerWhat to Do About Wolves
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16). "Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves" (Luke 10:3). "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:29).
The term "wolf" is used in the New Testament as a metaphor of cruel, greedy, plundering, destructive people who live as predators, forcefully attacking shepherds and sheep. Paul warned that after his death, persons claiming to be teachers would feed themselves instead of feeding the flock, even to the oppression and ruin of the church.
Christ Jesus sent His disciples out as sheep in the midst of wolves. He warned them that if they did the work of the ministry, wicked men and demons would oppose them. He admonished them to have the cunning of a serpent balanced with the simplicity of the dove.
Wolves should be kept outside the fold (the local church), but some do deceitfully make their way inside. The most dangerous enemy is the one inside the church. In one recent case, a member had offered his services to another disruptive member of the church saying, "Do you want me to help you get rid of the pastor? I succeeded before in my former church."
I wonder what the destroyed-sheep count is in the churches of the world. How about in your church?
Ways of Wolves
One species of wolf that preys on churches is the antagonist, a person who goes out of his way to make demands based on unsubstantiated evidence. He selfishly attacks people while tearing down others (usually leaders), to have control and to feed his selfish, carnal motives. Antagonism is not the same as healthy conflict or differing opinions that can strengthen the ministry of the local church, functioning as a diverse body in the context of love for one another. Antagonism is unhealthy and dishonorable.
These wolves seek to build themselves up by tearing others down. They are aggressive, rigid, and authoritarian, and they often exude paranoia through a persecution complex and antisocial behavior.
Hardcore antagonists do not change; they display their nature in any church or other place where they can make the opportunity. Other antagonists understand reason but refuse it. Weaker antagonists follow stronger ones as issue-oriented people who want the upper hand.
The Bible indicates that the antagonist's behavior is rooted in the world (1 John 4:1-6), in the world's mold (Rom. 12:2), in missing fruit (Gal. 5:22, 23), in missing love (John 13:35), and in carnality (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Paul's admonition in this context is to not let the babies have their own way (consider 1 Cor. 3:16, 17).
Everyone-including sheep-has the responsibility to recognize and deal with antagonists to preserve the body. The congregation must be protected to reduce pain and loss, and to gain positive results of a good testimony to the glory of Christ. The purpose of the church to make disciples must not be thwarted. The wolves' bad behavior must be recognized and controlled.
The church leaders must recognize the warning signs of the antagonist's pending attack. Does he (or she) have a previous track record in a former church or in other areas of life? Does he claim that many other unnamed people feel the same way? Is he extremely complimentary to your face while talking behind your back? Does he flash money? Does he ride a hobby horse?
Leadership must be trained to be in control. If a meeting with the antagonist is to take place, let him contact you. But you should choose the time and place. Decline his lunch offer. Meet in private, and listen much but speak little. Remember, the antagonist craves attention and control. Don't combat him publicly. He loves publicity.
Remember, the true antagonist is unlikely to change. Deal with him (Matt. 10:16); don't be ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11-14); confront privately, confront with witnesses, confront before the church, and evict if necessary (Matt. 18:15-17). If he responds favorably, forgive but don't forget (Matt. 18:21, 22). Most likely, he will remain an antagonist. While restoration is the primary goal of church discipline, avoid the factious (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10, 11).
Fending Off Attacks
"It is to a man's honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel" (Prov. 20:3); "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man" (Col. 4:6).
Be as wise as a serpent. Seek to avoid the dangers of ignoring the unchanging antagonist (even when he may be in remission) in hopes that he will go away. The shepherd and the flock could be destroyed. Avoid the snares and traps.
Be as harmless as the dove. Stay free of wicked cunning and craftiness, without rancor and wrath. Don't seek revenge, but by a meek, humble, inoffensive lifestyle endeavor to continue on course to grow your flock.
Listed below are helpful tools for dealing with antagonism and other conflicts in the church. Use these texts for personal and leadership training. The pastor and church leaders must work as a team to guard the flock of God.
Antagonists in the Church and Antag-onists in the Church Study Guide, by Kenneth C. Haug and R. Scott Perry, Augsburg Publishing House, MN, 1988.
Communication and Conflict Management in Churches and Christian Organizations, by Kenneth O. Gangel and Samuel L. Canine, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1992
The Prescriptions That Count, by Charles F. Scheide, Morris Publishing, Kearney, NE, 1997, or Dr. Charles F. Scheide, Sr. 2341 Mountain View Road, Hickory, NC 28602, phone 704.294.7777.
From E-TIPS, published by Discovering Life Ministries