A “sucker punch” is an unexpected, violent, and unfair approach to confrontation. It always comes without warning, and is always followed by the quick departure of the perpetrator, who was never really interested in resolving the conflict, or even winning a fight. They just wanted to land a blow.
Spiritually, pastors often have to endure another type of “sucker-punch” perpetrator. I’m not talking about the occasional constructive criticism, or a word spoken respectfully that can help a pastor correct a flaw. I’m talking about that church member whose modus operandi it is to constantly hurl criticism. Often, it comes at unexpected, yet highly strategic times in the life of a church. “Sucker-punch church members” can cause a lot of damage. How can you spot them?
1. Their criticism always outweighs workable solutions.
I am very grateful that there are people in our church who check me—both on our staff and among our dedicated volunteers. I’m far from perfect, and when I may be going down the wrong road, I want people to let me know. After all, I love the church I pastor, and if I go wrong, they go wrong!
But there is a difference between a church member who approaches you with an alternative plan, and a sucker-punch member who simply and incessantly speaks of how horrible things are. If they are always complaining but never contributing to a solution, you probably have a sucker-punch church member.
2. Their church commitment is either non-existent, or “siloed.”
Nothing is quite so encouraging to a pastor as a church member who never shows up to worship with God’s people, but loves to criticize the church.
Yes, that was sarcasm.
When someone is always sending you emails, or running the down congregation and its leadership—while barely engaged in the community they criticize—you have a sucker-punch church member. Frankly, he or she shouldn’t be kept on the membership roll any longer.
Closely connected to this is the “siloed” member who is highly committed to their own ministry within the church, but demonstrates little to no commitment to the church as a whole. This person has forgotten that the church doesn’t revolve around his/her preferences or ministry. When their disconnected ministry doesn’t get the attention, money, or volunteers they think it should get, they lock, load and fire. This too, is a sucker-punch church member.
3. They bring distraction rather than true focus.
When leadership meetings are always augmented with “how will we get this past Mr. Jones so he doesn’t cause a stink,” you have a sucker-punch church member who is a distraction.
I had a ministry mentor who once said: “Most local churches are about three funerals away from revival.” If that sounds cold, remember that in most churches it only takes two or three loud individuals allowed to distract the whole church from where God wants her to go. When deliberations about the future, business meetings, and other strategic times are constantly interrupted and co-opted by the same people, those people can be safely labeled “sucker-punch church members.”
4. They have little or no respect for pastoral leadership.
In a phrase, sucker-punch members are “know-it-alls.” If the pastors and staff aren’t moving in a direction they believe is best, then, in their minds, the church is simply moving in the wrong direction! These are people who will follow their pastor—just so long as every decision he makes is a decision they would make. But, when he turns a corner they don’t like, there they are—locked and loaded. This too, is a characteristic of a sucker-punch church member.
So how should pastors react to these individuals? That’s the subject of my next post.