The 13 red flags below provide training material for equipping Church leaders and members in discerning the presence of antagonistic people.
This material is from the book, “Antagonists in the Church” by Kenneth C. Haugk. He suggests that the presence of one or more red flags does not guarantee that you are dealing with an antagonist. But it will give you fair warning to exercise caution.
- THE PREVIOUS TRACK RECORD FLAG – Some antagonists will wave a red flag announcing: “See how antagonistically I behaved before!” They could have played the role of antagonist earlier in the present congregation, or they might have done so in another congregation. Do not ignore this clear flag or say, “It won’t happen to me.” The data indicates that those with antagonistic track records tend not to reform.
- THE PARALLEL TRACK RECORD FLAG – Individuals who behave antagonistically in other arenas of life are prime candidates to become active antagonists in the church. These persons may not now behave antagonistically in the church, but do behave this way in one or more other organizations, such as the local school system, the workplace, or in a social club. He or she may even gloat about these antagonistic behaviors. In so doing, the individual conspicuously waves a red flag before you.”
- THE NAMELESS OTHERS FLAG – All leaders, whatever their position, receive criticism from time to time. Sometimes the criticism is valid, helpful, and legitimate. When someone offers you a word of criticism, however, and adds, “There are X number of other people who feel the same way,” chances are excellent that you are talking with an antagonist. These “others” may be phantoms of the antagonist’s imagination, invented to validate his or her own feelings and to threaten you. Or they may be followers of the antagonist. Whether they exist or not is immaterial, because individuals who are not antagonistic don’t need to talk about “all the others” who feel the same way; they simply express their own thoughts and feelings.” “The litmus test to determine whether someone is or is not an antagonists in this situation is to respond casually, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Who are these other people?” If the person lists a few names, you are probably not faced with an antagonist. An antagonist is more likely to answer, “They came to me in the strictest of confidence.”
- THE PRESSER-DOWNER FLAG – “Beware of those who denounce your predecessor (in whatever position you hold) and praise you at the same time. They might say something like, “You’re my kind of leader, a person I can relate to — not like the others.” In certain ways, everyone enjoys hearing words like these. Both pastors and lay leaders can be seduced by such compliments, but a person criticizing others and simultaneously flattering you carries a flag of blazing scarlet. Someday you may be a former leader, and those who build up a new leader will do so at your expense.”
- THE INSTANT BUDDY FLAG – “Be cautious with those who relate to you in an overly friendly fashion as soon as you move to a new congregation or immediately after they transfer into your congregation.”
- THE GUSHING PRAISE FLAG – “Those who lavish effusive, gushing praise on you now will often be equally generous with their criticism later. What causes this shift? One possibility may be unrealistic expectations. To be human is to have faults. You cannot sustain the level of perfection that antagonists expect. It is also possible that they become jealous of the image they have built up for you and consequently seek to destroy it by bringing you down to size. In any case, beware of someone who heaps excessive praise on you. This person is waving a red flag.”
- THE “I GOTCHA” FLAG – “Beware of those who try to catch you in error — for example, those who ask you questions when you know they already know the answers.”
- THE CHURCH HOPPER FLAG – “Beware of those who consistently move from congregation to congregation. I am not referring to people who move frequently because their occupations require them to do so. Antagonists change congregations because they are dissatisfied with the church staff, the lay leadership, or the outcome of a decision in the previous church. Indeed, they often confide that they have been dissatisfied with almost every pastor or lay leader with whom they were previously associated. At the same time, church hoppers will build you up. ‘Finally,’ they exclaim, ‘I have found the leader for me!'”
- THE FLASHING $$ FLAG – “Anyone who conspicuously uses money has better than average potential to become an antagonist. Churches are ideal places for them to demonstrate this characteristic. An antagonist is likely to make a spectacular contribution, visible to all, to fund a special program … Face it: it is wonderful to receive donations, especially when the need is great — as is often the case. But be careful not to sell out for money. The long-term costs are too great!”
- THE NOTE TAKER FLAG – “Be wary of those who take notes at inappropriate times — such as during a coffee-hour conversation — when an off-the-cuff opinion is expressed on a sensitive issue. Inappropriate note takers are often budding antagonists.”
- THE KENTRON FLAG – “The kentron flag describes someone who uses sharp, cutting language such as sarcasm or a barbed comment disguised as a joke. An individual who consistently resorts to these tactics is a viable candidate for the position of antagonist.”
- THE PEST FLAG – “A ‘pest’ may be an insatiable questioner, a persistent suggester, or an incessant caller. This is a less significant red flag; many pesky persons are not antagonists but simply well-intentioned individuals who end up being nuisances. Occasionally, however, such behavior may be the tip of the iceberg — a fairly innocent behavior that results from antagonistic personality. People who first appear to be simply pests may later prove to be thorough going antagonists.”
- THE CAUSE FLAG – “… there appears to be a correlation between individuals who promote causes and those who behave antagonistically. Antagonists are individuals who, on the basis of non-substantive evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or performance of others. These attacks are selfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed against those in a leadership capacity” (Haugk).
Ask yourself the following questions about the individual of concern
- Is his or her behavior disruptive?
- Is the attack irrational?
- Does the person go out of the way to initiate trouble?
- Are the person’s demands insatiable?
- Are the concerns upon which he or she bases the attack minimal or fabricated?
- Does the person avoid causes that involve personal risk, suffering, or sacrifice?
- Does the person’s motivation appear selfish?
If the answers to several of these questions are in the affirmative, it’s enough to suggest that you are dealing with an antagonist. Even if the answers to a few are no, you need to take a closer look.