I was dumbstruck when one of my early ministry leadership decisions faced opposition. The logic of moving a few pews around in order to accommodate more people in our growing church was a no-brainer decision, at least in the mind of a first-time pastor. I didn’t even bother to ask permission. I just moved the pews.
The good people of the Baptist church where I served as pastor were not nearly as enthused as I was. They were not necessarily against the decision — they would just like to have been included in making it. That is fair.
I did not lead well in that instance and learned a valuable lesson as a result. The church was gracious to me despite my youthful exuberance, and we moved forward together in a fruitful ministry.
There are times, however, when leaders will face real opposition to their leadership — not the kind described in the example above.
One biblical instance of leadership opposition is seen in Ezra 4. The people of God were moving ahead with plans to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Ezra 4:1 shows their forward progression is going to be short lived as the text reads, “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel;” and then verse 4 and 5 explain further, “Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellers against them, to frustrate their purpose …” The reader quickly understands that the temple will not be completed without facing this opposition head-on.
How should Christian leaders respond when there is genuine opposition to their leadership plans?
1. Pray for wisdom and guidance: When someone is against us, it is easy to become angry, frustrated and defensive. While those emotions are real and should be acknowledged, they will not likely yield the wisdom needed to navigate the enemy forces. We must pray and seek the Lord. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with my eye. When dealing with a foe, or several of them, we need wisdom and guidance from God.
2. Seek counsel from objective listeners: Sometimes we need the counsel and input of others. This is the time to call on two or three wise and level-headed friends to hear their input. Explain the situation as well as the opposition and hear what God says through them. Proverbs 24:6 reminds us, “For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, and in a multitude of counselors there is safety.” We need the counsel of others.
3. Gather your team to respond appropriately: Just as others were involved in developing your leadership vision and strategy, they should also help share the burden of facing the opposition. Schedule time to sit with them, pray together, share ideas and plan how you will respond to the opposition. This may prove to be a great strengthening time for your team.
4. Learn valuable lessons and depend on the Lord: Pastor Tony Evans has often used the football analogy to describe Christian ministry. He has referenced the fact that during a football game there are 11 players on offense on the field. They have a mission. They want to run the ball down the field and score. There are also 11 defensive players on the field who want to stop them from fulfilling their mission. They will do all they can to oppose the offensive strategy. Those in Christian leadership have a mission, the Great Commission. We also have an enemy who wants to block our efforts.
5. Trust God to fulfill His purposes in His time: After praying and seeking counsel and support from others, we must move forward as directed by the Lord. God will accomplish His work and He will use weak, frail and weary leaders just like us to do it.
As you seek to fulfill God’s plan for the ministry assignment He has entrusted to you, may you be surrounded by godly counsel, aware of His presence and guidance and given the grace needed to carry out His will. There will be a battle — but the Lord may also bring you to a great victory.