03 February 2011

books review: antagonists and stones

Those who know me are familiar with some of the struggles in ministry we have been working through over the past year. It is sad and difficult that the work of the church must go through such battles, but it is a reality found in our world. There has never been a time in history when the people of God have been able to do this thing called church without some sort of conflict from within.

Still, I find myself longing for a time when I could "simply" preach and serve without the internal warring of a congregation. Maybe someday.

In the last few weeks there have been two books that have crossed my path, which I thought might be good to note here. They have been a source of help for me in trying to maintain balance, direction and purpose in the throws of a challenging ministry time.

The first came via recommendation to "those who struggle with conflict in churches" that I heard at our denomination's annual conference. Kenneth C. Haugk, Antagonists in the Church (Augsburg, 1988). For those who are struggling with (or suspect they are struggling with) antagonistic people in their congregation, this is a valuable tool in identifying and approaching the situation. Haugk does well in describing antagonists - I could immediately recall people and situations from a broad spectrum of my own church history.

While being firm in his understanding and approach to such situations, he never fails to keep the flag of caution close. In other words, not everyone you encounter is an antagonist, but those who are should be dealt with swiftly and surely. One of the strengths of the book is Haugk's ability to explore the psychological and spiritual conditions that typically lie beneath the words and actions of antagonists in the church.

The second book I discovered "randomly" as I walked through a not-so-good-used-bookstore near my house. There was almost nothing that interested me, and then this book sat at the edge of one of the tables. Blaine Allen, When People Throw Stones (Kregel, 2005). The subtitle of the book captures it well: "A Leader's Guide to Fielding Personal Criticism." Although most of the principles here could be more universal in application, Allen focuses primarily on the work of the church.

Pastors who are dealing with personal attacks are looking for someone who cares, yes, but they are more interested in finding someone who understands. The opening chapters of Allen's book show that he understands - he has been there - and establishes an atmosphere of meaningful support for the beleaguered pastor. There is much helpful information here, including guidelines for when to blow off an attack and when/how to respond to personal criticism.

Every pastor and church leader should read at least one book like these, in order to navigate through tough times in ministry. My only regret here is not having adequately covered this material before I needed it, so that I could have been more prepared for the rough waters. But it is difficult for us to see the fruit of such labor until we know the season will come for it to bear.

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