Those Who Undermine

Over coffee recently, a friend brought up the topic of those who undermine the work of leaders and the churches or organizations they lead. Previously, I had not given much thought to these individuals as a distinct category, though I had certainly met people who seemed to stand in the way of the progress of a church or ministry. His comments sparked my pondering on the subject.

For clarity’s sake, not everyone who opposes our vision or ministry practice, is undermining our work. Some just disagree with our priorities or our style of leadership. Those of us in leadership need to listen to these conscientious dissenters. Their voice in the room may be the difference between a good project and a great one. Some, however, do undermine the ministry of the church or organization. They stand in the way of the good work of others.

Whether you lead in a local church or a Christian ministry, you have likely met, or will meet in the future, those who undermine the mission. Please do not hear me saying that the leader is always right. Leaders do not always get it right and a group of wise counselors protects us from making bad, even damaging, decisions. But what about those who undermine wise and careful leadership?

Webster’s dictionary defines undermining this way: “To subvert or weaken insidiously or secretly.” Underminers are those who subvert or weaken the goals and objectives of those in leadership. And they do so secretly or insidiously so as not to be discovered. A dissenter will identify themselves and speak up to state their opinion. An underminer will work behind the scenes to stand in the way of progress and are a hinderance to the mission of a church or organization. Dissenters must be heard, but underminers must be addressed.

How can you discern between a dissenter and an underminer?

1. Underminers are dangerous: A dissenter may be in support of the direction of the church or organization, they just disagree with some of the details of the plan. An underminer, on the other hand, wants to stop the mission. They have an agenda that they believe needs to replace the one given by the designated leadership of the church or organization. They work against the mission with as much energy as others are working to accomplish it.

2. Underminers are disingenuous: I heard a description of gossip and flattery from Pastor Matt Smethurst that goes like this: “Gossip: saying behind their back what you’d never say to their face. Flattery: saying to their face what you’d never say behind their back.” Those who dissent are up front and vocal about their opposition. Those who undermine, however, are likely to be supportive in the planning meeting but work behind the scenes to block the work.

3. Underminers are destructive: Dissenters are able to disagree without being disagreeable. Underminers, on the other hand, will stop at nothing to impugn the motives and character of those with whom they disagree. Those who seek to undermine do damage to others and to the church or organization.

What can we do about those who undermine?

  • Pray for them: Ask God to change their heart.
  • Go to them: Privately at first and then with other godly leaders if needed.
  • Deal with them: Follow the guidelines laid out in Scripture about dealing with divisive people and address this one while leaving room for repentance and restoration.

Years ago, I was giving leadership to an agreed upon church project when I discovered there was a much-loved church member who was privately subverting our work. When I took him to lunch and asked him directly if he was doing what was reported, he said that he was. I asked him to step down from his leadership position in the church and he ended up leaving the congregation. The church moved forward in unity.

God wants His people to work together in unity for the mission He gives to us (Psalm 133). The Lord would also have us address those who hinder that missional unity. May the Lord give you increased wisdom, grace, and favor as you seek to lead in the place He has assigned you.

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