When the opportunity button breaks
You are absolutely correct. Threats can open a door to opportunity. So, put that sentiment on vellum and sell it down in the encouragement section of the nearest card shop. People who make threats aren't usually looking for the warm fuzzies of a prayer circle or the redemptive spirit willing to turn their ultimatum into something constructive. More often than not their poison cures in the caldrons of a bullies heart. They're trying to destroy something or someone. The opportunity they seek is for someone to be hurt.
In thirty-five years of pastoral ministry I've experienced or seen my share of threats. Some were personal, aimed at me, the pastor of four great congregations, a few involved other church leaders, and some were the object lessons from when I served as Director of Pastoral Ministries at the South Carolina Baptist Convention. The learning curve in each was challenging because threats usually ignite our own passions and inject another layer of steam into what is already a flammable situation. It was steep for me, fresh out of the business world, because in that environment, I usually would eat somebody's lunch if they came after me. So, soon in the pastoral learning process the lessons of dealing with threats were realized. Thirty five years later they have been moderated somewhat to include these strategic steps---
1. Listen attentively to the threat bearers issues, complaints, or critique.
None of us is above reproach. Therefore, the first step in any attack motif is to
simply listen. Jesus always listened to his critics and then responded to their
comments appropriately. Often, explosive situations can be defused by just
listening or perhaps stepping back for a moment.
2. Discern the motivation behind the threat.
Motivations are significant. In some instances the criticism or complaint is
reasonable and may be the occasion for constructive correction and learning.
If a destructive purpose is discerned and verified, truth may be applied and the
improper motive exposed. Only then can the threat be adequately addressed.
3. Never be bullied.
Bullies always look for the weak link. Jesus never allowed the Pharisaic legalists
to bully him or pervert the truth. He always countered their charges with
kingdom lessons and was firm in exposing their error. The humilitas of Christ
was total submission to the Father's will and plan and not a yielded spirit to
the mechanisms of those who sought to intimidate him. .
4. If there is merit to the complaint then deal with it.
Like it or not, we are prone to human error. We should accept correction and
receive heart-felt criticism with gratitude when it is merited. Usually I would
thank people for their concern, share what they said with my wife and a
trusted ministry colleague, pray through the issue, then get back with the
person who had offered it. In most cases there would be a reminder that
threats were not necessary to communicate disagreement.
5. Be sure truth is on the table.
If there is opportunity hidden inside of a threat is may be the teachable
moment. Many harsh and threatening actions could be averted by simply
following biblical instruction about dealing with differences. We know
Matthew 18:15-20 is a basic primer for restoring broken relationships. Then,
there are many "one another" passages that detail treatment of fellow
believers, as well as guidance about our relationships with critics, enemies,
Acts 4:29 is a portion of a prayer the followers of Christ prayed when they were under threat. The occasion wasn't a clash within the early church but was after Peter and John were released from jail for healing a man and teaching in the name of Jesus. Still, the prayer has been a blessed guide for times of stress when threats distracted me from mission. They prayed---
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to
speak your word with all boldness.
Acts 4:29, ESV
Of course, the real teachable moment in a threatening situation is what he teaches us. And, that lesson is to have the mind of Christ even when we are threatened and opposed.