I was a big comic book reader. In many of the comics I read I would see an ad for Tony Atlas body building, like this.
In my view, the guy/girl usually getting sand kicked in their face, in the church, is the youth pastor. The “bully” could be anyone, the pastor, a board member, a parent or even a student. In the comics, the wimpy beach dweller has had enough and is going to do something about it, enter Tony Atlas, body builder extraordinaire.
Youth Pastors get beat up, spiritually, a lot, mostly by themselves; but there are others, who stop by and take their turn kicking their share of sand at the youth worker. So, not only does the youth worker need to learn to defend themselves against the spiritual attacks of others but they have to fend off their own attacks from within.
So, step into my dojo and I’ll show you a few of my self defense moves I’ve used when I’ve felt like I was confronted with unjustified drama or my soul was being attacked by verbal /emotional abuse.
When someone is pushing my buttons, I tell myself, “This is nothing new. I’ve been through this” This triggers my confidence in my abilities, my training and my calling. If you know you’re within your calling and you have not overstepped established boundaries, you can have confidence.
Confidence is not arrogance. Confidence is a belief that you are capable. God has brought you to this place in life by grace. Your confidence is ultimately in Him. He lifts up and He pulls down.
I love this quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Confidence… thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them it (confidence) cannot live.Franklin D. Roosevelt
It’s hard to have confidence if you’re acting shady.
Confidence doesn’t get rid of the pit in you stomach when conflict comes but it does make it bearable and it will get you through.
When I think of boldness, especially in light of conflict, I think of the lepers in 2 Kings,
Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate, and they said to one another, “Why just sit here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us go into the city,’ we will die there from the famine in the city; but if we sit here, we will also die. So come now, let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they let us live, we will live; if they kill us, we will die.”
In other words, “What have we got to lose?” Just a few verse later, the story reveals that God used the lepers bold move to scare away the Arameans. God made their footsteps to sound like an army. God is in the middle of our conflicts.
You can be bold, respectfully. You can say,
“I’m sorry, but we’re not going to have this conversation if you’re going to use demeaning language.”
“I’m sorry, but I won’t let you speak to me this way”
“I’m sorry, I feel like we should have a mediator for this conversation.”
Now, will there be times when letting a person blow off steam at you be to your advantage? Absolutely. But, if you’re being berated, disrespected, etc, it’s time to boldly call a time out.
Boldness, done respectfully, earns you respect. If not from others, at least you earn some respect for yourself.
Admitting you’re wrong, without excuse, short circuits an angry person. The angry person is expected a fight, but when I come out with, “You’re right, it was entirely my fault, I’m sorry.” Defending yourself, for indefensible things, or shifting blame when the blame should be yours, only makes the person who is angry with you more entrenched.
Own your mistakes early and often. Humility counters anger, like the scripture says,
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
Regardless of how many students you have coming, length of time you’ve been at the church or how much experience you have, humility is the trademark of every good leader. Lay down your rights and take up humility as a defense against pride.
Kindness, in the face of conflict, is a secret weapon. Being kind in the face of malice creates a contrast. Am I asking you to fake kindness, no. Grace is a kindness. Give to people what they do not deserve.
This verse haunted me for a long time,
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. – Luke 6:35
I struggled with this until I realized I was the ungrateful and evil one.
If the heat is undeserved, then the kindness you show is the Christ-like response. If the heat you’re getting is deserved than they are showing you a kindness by keeping you accountable. Thank them for their kindness.
There are many people, who I’ve been in conflict with, who I felt real sympathy for. There lives, their families, their souls were in such chaos that empathy was the response they needed and I needed to offer. Sometimes I failed miserably because of my own sinful flesh.
I truly felt sorry for some of the people who took offense at me for the small and petty things. “What kind of lives do they have that they focus on such small issues?” Once again, if their behavior is justified, then it is not a small issue and should not be diminished, but if unjustified, then feel bad for them that their lives are consumed with inconsequential things.
If you can put yourself in your detractors shoes, even for a minute, you can defeat your own knee jerk reactions.
I remember being fired from a church because I dismantled (but put back together) the church stage for a community wide concert. It was amazing! Not the getting fired, the concert. No regrets there, but now I had to go home and tell my wife. That was hard. I remember praying, “And God I forgive them for doing this to us”. I was emotionally raw so I don’t think I was capable of forgiving them yet, but I forgave by faith.
Jesus said, in the parable of the unforgiving servant,
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Mathew 18:35
Saying the words, “I forgive you” is a start until you can get there emotionally.
Harboring bitterness only limits your capacity to defend yourself from any future aggression. The person who attacked you verbally or maligned your character may never seek your forgiveness. They may leave the church before it’s resolved. You can still forgive them and put down the negative impact they had on you and you never even have to tell them.
American author, professor Gloria Jean Watkins once said,
For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?Gloria Jean Watkins
Spiritual self defense is about protecting ones self long enough to see the redemption of those who would try to hurt you.
My advice, get into your prayer dojo and start practicing these moves now, in the Spirit, so when an actual event happens, your attackers won’t know what hit them.