If it is not the most popular game at church, it certainly is near the top. It is called “Let’s You and Him Fight.” The rules are simple. Practically every church has a member who is strong-willed and outspoken. This member usually has an assertive personality. Over time this member has gained influence in the congregation and is used to getting his or her own way.
Enter the pastor. Not just any pastor will do for this game. To play, the pastor has to believe in shared ministry. That is, he has to believe that God calls and gives gifts to lay members of the church to lead and minister. The pastor has to believe that he is to help equip lay members for ministry and help guide them to places of service.
A part of shared ministry is shared leadership. To play “Let’s You and Him Fight,” the pastor has to believe that God can speak out of the group decision-making process just as clearly as God can speak to the pastor. After all, God spoke to the church at Antioch about setting aside Barnabas and Paul for ministry (Acts 13).
If the pastor practices a different style of leadership, churches often play a game called “My Way or the Highway,” but that is another story.
“Let’s You and Him Fight” can also be played with a family in the church. The family has to possess the traits of the individual member described above – strong-willed, outspoken, assertive and used to getting its own way.
With the key players in place, the rest of the congregation now performs a crucial function. They encourage the fight. This must be done subtly so key players do not realize they are being manipulated.
Here is how it works. Suppose the member and the pastor are at the same meeting. It could be a deacons meeting, a finance committee meeting or a building committee meeting. It could even be a church business meeting. The type of meeting does not matter. Anyway, a work group brings a report it believes is important for the church. The pastor, of course, has been a part of the work group and supports the recommendation.
The member usually opposes the recommendation. (For the game to work properly, the member should not be on the work group. If he or she is, only things approved by the member will ever get to the whole committee). Usually the member will voice objections many times during the meeting. His or her feelings will dominate. In deference to the member, the committee will take no action.
Now the game begins. After the committee meeting, others in the church privately talk to the pastor about their feelings. This can be done immediately after the meeting adjourns. It can be in the parking lot after others leave. A phone call is appropriate. Better yet, invite the pastor to lunch and then share your message.
Of course, the message must always be that you support the recommendation and do not understand why the vocal member opposes such an obvious benefit for the church. The pastor should be encouraged to talk with the member in question and see if he or she will change positions.
Now the pastor is trapped by his own values. He believes in consensus – group leadership. That means he must talk to the opposing member. He believes in group leadership. That means he must support what he believes the majority understands as the will of God in the matter.
The game has begun in earnest. The vocal member will rarely change his mind. That means others in the church must continually encourage the pastor to support the recommendation, to represent the majority, to stand up to the member and to lead. The message is “Let’s You and Him Fight.”
A single round of the game can go on for months. From the safety of the sidelines, the membership will see emotions become more intense, exchanges sharper. Keen observers will even see changes in the pastor – physical changes, emotional changes, spiritual changes. Changes in the member might be noticed. He might turn against the pastor and begin a movement to fire him.
In the game “Let’s You and Him Fight,” it is OK to fire the pastor. That just means another person will come to the church, and the game can start all over again.
One caution. A church must be careful about the kind of people it allows into its membership. As long as a church enjoys playing “Let’s You and Him Fight,” members will cower before the strong member’s voice in public settings. They will conclude there is widespread opposition to church plans when it is actually the voices of a handful speaking many times that are in opposition.
They will urge the pastor to “lead” but never speak publicly in support of the majority recommendation. They will always be concerned about the feelings, the offerings, the something-or-other of the member but demonstrate apathy toward the pastor’s well-being.
A church that enjoys playing “Let’s You and Him Fight” must never allow a fellow committee member to say, “Brother, I respect you but I disagree with you.” No one must ever point out the frequent sound of a few voices. No form of group accountability can be tolerated. For example, if the member is a deacon, the deacons must not hold the member accountable for his actions or words in their meetings or outside their meetings.
It is OK for the pastor to believe in shared ministry, but members of the church must not accept any notion of mutual responsibility or accountability. To do so would undermine the foundation of this popular game. “Let’s You and Him Fight” calls for all other members to act like observers, to sit back and watch the game unfold.
To act like they had responsibility for how the church acts and what the church does would make it impossible to play “Let’s You and Him Fight.”
Rev. Dr. Fred Andrea is Aiken’s First Baptist Church’s pastor.