confessions of a failed church planter: contrary spirits (3/3)

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Friday, September 20th, 2013

eikon church

confessions of a failed church planter: contrary spirits (3/3)

this post is the 3rd installment of a 3-part series that explores some of the reasons behind the closing of eikon church 1 year ago. you can find the first post here and the second post here.

one additional note is particularly necessary on this post. as i stated at the end of yesterday’s post, for the first time in the 5+ years of this blog, i’m nervous about posting this. this post is what delayed me sharing about the reasons for eikon’s close for so long. i wanted to make sure i carefully crafted my words and conveyed the spirit of which they’re intended. i’ve never had any anger or blame pointed toward anyone and i want to make crystal clear that this post isn’t taken that way. i fear there could be hurt feelings, but my intent is to point the finger at myself and my leadership—not anyone else. i ask that you read with that spirit of self-critique in mind.

reason 4: contrary spirits

the church is full of ridiculous and cheesy code language. one i’ve heard since i was a small child in rural baptist churches is “contrary spirits”. in short, it just means problem people within the church. people who gripe. people who meddle. people who undermine the leadership. people who stir up trouble. they’re contrary spirits.

so, i use that as a title not because i actually use the phrase, but just a way to be tongue-in-cheek in the context of a very serious post.

the fact is that despite being warned prior to starting the church by people far more wise than me and hearing about it for years, i was very ill-prepared for some of the—to use a politically correct phrase—challenging interpersonal dynamics that presented themselves throughout the course of eikon’s life.

all in all, we had a particularly gracious and cooperative and humble and self-sacrificing group of people at eikon. i’m incredibly thankful for that. but, like with any church or group of people, there were a few people along the way that were, in fact, contrary spirits. and when those folks did contrary, boy did they do contrary. 🙂

i’m obviously not going to name names or give very specific circumstances, but i hope to communicate the general circumstances to help those in similar situations as myself.

one person that stands out had some previous negative church experiences and sought out eikon because they were looking for something different. with each time we would meet and talk about the possibility of this person coming on board and helping out in a leadership role, more and more serious red flags began to pop up. i never talked to this person about the red flags (i’ll get to why i never that in a little bit) and they began to have some leadership roles within the church. very quickly, those red flags turned into realities and we spent quite a bit of time cleaning up from some of this person’s ill fit and the subsequent negativity that spread to others.

with another person later in the life of the church, it was more about the person’s judgmental and polarizing personality. again, sparing any very specific details, this was a person with very little self awareness and, to this day, i believe this person never truly knew how they were perceived. ignorance might be bliss for the person who lacks self awareness, but the ripple effects of this person’s personality caused tremendous damage within the church—especially to me.

on 3 different occasions involving 3 totally unconnected/unrelated people, this particular person was cited as a reason that they couldn’t partner or work with or even attend our church. to quote one person, “as long as _____________ is a part of your church, our organization is unwilling to work alongside you.” ouch. that was a low moment.

so, what was my response to those scenarios?


well, actually, my response was apologizing to a lot of people. and personal stress. and quite a bit of unhealthy anger and frustration.

but i never once spoke a word to the people who were actually causing problems.

you see, i wasn’t a leader. i was scared. i was unsure of what to say to them. i was nervous about being rejected.

in fairness (not that it makes it any better), the primary reason i never confronted them about their behavior was because i was always so afraid of violating my desire for flattened leadership that i couldn’t bear the thought of coming across as a dictator or a disciplinarian. these people generally had negative church experiences in the past and i was so fearful of creating another one for them.

but you know what i did by not confronting them? i made it bad and uncomfortable for everyone else. i created barriers for entry for other people and organizations. i created a long, intense frustration for myself and some of the other leadership. that kind of stress and frustration wears on you like a canyon being worn away by the elements.

plain and simple, it was poor leadership on my part and we paid a dear price for it.

if you’re leading/planning on leading a church or organization and you encounter a “contrary spirit”, stop what you’re doing and make a game plan for talking very openly and honestly with that person. don’t let it fester. it’s not worth it. prepare yourself for what will likely be a difficult and awkward and uncomfortable discussion—one that will likely make you look like the bad guy.

so, that brings this little series to an end—almost.

after posting the 1st installment of this series, our original co-pastor, john hardin, shared the link on facebook and offered some warm reflections about the church, stating that he was proud of what we accomplished. and you know what, he’s right and i absolutely agree. i regret not beginning this series with similar notes of positivity.

so, possibly monday, i plan to write a post that talks about how proud i am of what we were able to pull off with our strange little faith community. despite its end, eikon was an experiment that touched a lot of lives and for that, i hold my head high long after its death.