Minorities – They Are Alive And Well In The Church!

As we all know, well-organised minorities and interest groups are part of our community’s landscape. These are committed people passionately addressing their chosen agendas and often being very effective in the process.  And, they work hard to make their point.

Some minority groups are a blessing in the congregation

  • Minorities in our churches can be a wonderful stimulus for the whole congregation.
  • Every church needs the creative characters who are committed to enriching the ministry of the church. They do all they can to work constructively and helpfully. God bless them.
  • How many significant ministries have been initiated in the first instance by a few keen people? They have seen a gap in the life and service of the congregation and have made the effort to do something about it.
  • Many churches today are wonderfully effective through a few self-starters kicking off an outreach to singles, or families, or couples, or young people. You name it. It’s a long list.
  • And this good-hearted minority often become a mainstream service group in and through the church.

But not all minority groups are a blessing

  • Unfortunately, there are other minority groups who fall well short of being a blessing.
  • At first glance it seems their intent is to unsettle the pastor, lay leadership and the congregation generally.
  • They create a climate of unrest and distrust which frustrates effective ministry and distracts the church from being the church.
  • Energy and time is spent in trying to sort out matters which have usually been inflamed to the point where, in some cases, the long term ministry of both pastor and church is jeopardised.
  • Regrettably the wider community all too easily becomes aware that the Christians are slugging it out again. Who would ever wish to join them? I have enough problems of my own, thank you very much.

Why do these unhelpful minorities surface?

  • These unhelpful minorities in the church arise for a variety of reasons. Usually someone in the congregation is unhappy about something.
  • The original cause may not actually be known. In some situations it may be traceable back to a time of conflict which could go back twenty or more. These oId battle scars remain unhealed. But the heat is generated around some more recent issue.
  • Sometimes it could be a worthwhile cause which turned sour for some reason.
  • There are some common denominators:
  1. Surprisingly, unhelpful minority groups usually start out with the worthiest of motives. Often they feel that their concerns are not being taken seriously by the leadership, or that they have been brushed aside, or simply not listened to. The more extreme behaviours arise in an effort to be heard and to make changes.
  2. The wise pastor will give caring attention early. However, if things turn bad, the pastor or a prominent lay leader often ends up being the target. Occasionally it may be the whole leadership group.
  3. Disquiet first appears on the grape vine. Often those who are aggrieved do not take the trouble to follow the biblical directive to talk matters over with the person concerned. They may not think it is worth the effort if previous attempts to make a point have achieved nothing. This failure to confront proves to be very costly in the long run.
  4. There may be doctrinal concerns. These occur especially where there are those who come from other traditions with differing understandings of church, ministry and leadership. These concerns can be held dogmatically where there is no genuine room for conversation or the holding of alternative viewpoints.

The unhelpful minority group at work

  • Those who drive the disenchanted minority are usually powerful people with personalities who demand to be noticed.
  • They are eminently plausible and claim to have the wellbeing of the whole church on their hearts. This is rarely the case. Rather they become intent on dislodging the pastor (for good reason, of course) although this is never spelt out.
  • Sadly the Bible is the preferred weapon. Armed with a swag of useful texts, the case is mounted.
  • With this there is to be found a monochrome theology which is well packaged and without leaks. Certainly there is no room or necessity for gray areas (which makes exploratory discussion mostly pointless).
  • Politically the unhappy minority can be genuinely streetwise. They know how to prey upon the fears and uncertainties of others. They are adept at seizing on comments or situations which “demonstrate” the worth of their concern.

The leadership responds

  • Generally leadership groups tend to crumble in the face of sustained pressure.
  • A really effective minority will have managed over a period of time to appoint at least one of their number to the leadership team.
  • This means that it will be very tricky for the team to take a strong stand. A unanimous stance will be near to impossible.
  • And, just to make life really difficult, it is highly likely that the leaders may even come to think that the group may be right since there is usually just enough apparent truth in the complaints to make them uneasy.

It can be tough to confront

  • Few pastors or leaders have the thickness of skin to tell people graciously and firmly when to back off.
  • This risk of failing to confront issues directly may be a sign of insecurity or just plain nervousness on the pastor’s part.
  • But the failure to confront too easily leads to a division in the fellowship which may then become irreconcilable. Even Solomon would be pushing it to unravel some church disputes.
  • The pastor can be in the most vulnerable position. Even resignation may well be less painful than having to deal with an ongoing spiritual and/or political pincer movement where good will and grace give way to long-term gossip and grudges.
  • If there has been a failure to listen, the pain is the greater as the pastor may not have really comprehended the reasons for the difficulties arising in the first place.

Some other outcomes

There are then other problems which disenchanted minority groups generate:

  • The most obvious is the refusal to support the work of the church prayerfully and financially.
  • It does not seem to be a problem to press on passionately with the cause and claim the right to speak at special church meetings even when giving has ceased and there is no useful ministry being exercised.
  • Critics are usually to be found in the armchairs with little or no stake in the ministry. Indeed, their non-involvement may be the result of leaders getting the message across that they are not to be involved.

So what are some ways to cope with these minorities?

Some suggestions:

Check out the presenting cause.

  • There may be something which you can learn and it may be a help.
  • Do not ignore the concerns of the those who are usually supportive of you. It may not be expressed in the right way but that is no excuse for not paying attention.
  • Try not to react personally. If you need to change in some way, ask Christ for the grace, wisdom and humility to achieve this. Always be ready to acknowledge your own mistakes.

Keep in mind that the presenting cause may not be the real cause.

  • Finding the underlying concerns can prove very difficult, especially if there are personality issues clouding the matter.
  • But try and seek the help of others you trust. Too often we attribute the worst motives possible to those with whom we disagree. In this situation it is no wonder that others may see us as having horns of heresy coming out of our foreheads. Perceptive friends will keep us from over reaction.

Don’t run away and hide.

  • Talk to the people who are supposed to be having trouble with you. You may make a new friend or deepen a friendship.
  • If you get nowhere, you have at least tried. Leave the way open for conversation.
  • And never go for the jugular vein! This is not exactly Christlike, removes any safe middle ground and makes a dignified compromise almost impossible.
  • Try not to lose the plot by getting involved in the fray too much. Press on with the big dream. Try not to let the ministry of the church lose momentum.
  • There are probably many in the church who do not know what is going on in detail and they could not care all that much if they did. But most will be looking to you to keep your cool.

Reconciliation is the ideal (and biblical solution)

  • But reconciliation may prove to be the impossible dream. There will be those who may leave the church and that will hurt. With some departures it will seem a blessed deliverance.
  • Remember that there is a small battalion of God’s awkward squad who have been fighting with pastors and leaders all their lives and you are simply the latest in the line.
  • Work prayerfully and diligently with your leaders to sort matters out before someone has the bright idea of drafting petitions or wanting a special church meeting to “fix” the problem once and for all.
  • Such a meeting will probably turn the issue into an unwanted donnybrook. There are few winners once the exercise of collecting signatures has taken place. Like a bad marriage the damage will have already gone deep and only a special act of grace will heal the hurts.  

Nurture your own spiritual life.

  • Avoid letting the fray rob you of your own devotional exercise. Order your day to accommodate quiet moments for reflection, prayer and Bible reading. Sadly, it is all to common for pastors and leaders to allow painful times in the church to decimate the maintenance of their own personal and collective connection with the Lord of the Church.
  • Find a soul mate to whom you have given the freedom both to encourage and challenge you. There is the real danger of becoming so embroiled in the issue that you may actually lose objectivity and perspective. You need someone to be your anchor.

What happens if you leave the church under a cloud?

  • Do your very best to learn what really took place. It is crucial to understand the dynamics of what will now be a very damaging personal journey. To grasp the plot is also to recognise how best to deal with a similar challenge in the days ahead (but hoping that this does not occur, of course).
  • Do not rely on your own assessment of the situation. You will be fragile for a while and probably angry as well. When the system has had time to cool off, seek the comment of those whom you trust. They may have some additional angles for you. Listen to them even if it is painful.


  • Minorities will continue to be a fact of church life. Many will be truly stimulating, creative and helpful. Encourage them and support their cause. There is much to gain and little if anything to lose.
  • But not all minorities will be a blessing. Far from it. Some may easily fracture the life of a congregation without any seeming good reason. Their issues may seem to be trivial to you but they will be otherwise for them.
  • The need to listen carefully is crucial. Accept the care of others for you and believe that the ordinary church participant will generally want to see the cause of Christ furthered in the best way.

And endless criticism is not the best way. It is also wise to remember that the Lord whom we serve was not without His critics and often looked for teachable moments when He was in conversation with them. The way of the cross is the way of both joy and pain. 

Rev John Simpson