Every ministry leader needs to be a positive. They also need to know who the positives, negatives, and neutrals are both in official leadership and unofficial leadership in their ministry.
Positives are people who do gospel things in gospel ways for gospel reasons. They are trusting, supportive, and encouraging. They build bridges and mediate conflict. Positives bring organizational health, work for the good of the gospel over any single issue or cause, and are a blessing because they humbly want the gospel to win. Positives are prone to turn neutrals into positives, while they also work to neutralize negatives. In the Bible, positives are often referred to as shepherds.
Negatives are people who do ungospel things in ungospel ways for ungospel reasons. They are distrusting, unsupportive, discouraging, and contentious. They burn bridges, are wounded by bitterness from past hurts, and are often the center of criticism and conflict. Negatives bring organizational sickness, division, and trouble because they are proudly more interested in their cause winning than the gospel and the good of the whole. Negatives tend to draw other negatives toward themselves as factions, and they also prey on neutrals in order to increase their own power and control. In the Bible, negatives are often referred to as wolves.
Neutrals are followers who are easily influenced. They are prone to being unsure, confused, and fearful. Neutrals are often caught in the middle when there is conflict between positives and negatives. A neutral becomes a positive or negative depending upon who their friends are, whom they listen to, what information they have access to, which books they read, and which teachers they look up to. In the Bible, neutrals are often referred to as sheep.
Sadly, in most ministries, the negatives are the most vocal, most exhausting, and most distracting, as well as the least likely to contribute to growth and health. Though they are few, they are often loud and difficult, spreading—as Paul says—like gangrene through the church body (2 Tim. 2:17). Practically, this means that even a few negatives working together can become quite difficult. The Bible reveals that negatives often pair up like two barrels on a gun, as was the case with Jannes and Jambres opposing Moses, Sanballat and Tobiah opposing Nehemiah, and Hymenaeus and Alexander opposing Paul.
How to Stay Positive
For a ministry to remain positive, three things need to occur.
First, the senior leader and the other official and unofficial leaders who wield the most influence must be positives. Further, they must be continually exhorted to remain positives. This means that even when they deal with negative things, they do so in a positive way for the glory of God and the good of his people.
Second, the negatives must not be allowed into leadership. If they are in leadership, official or unofficial, they must be rebuked. Titus 3:10–11 describes this rebuke: "As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned." Too often negatives are tolerated for too long; the longer their sin is tolerated, the more toxic the ministry culture becomes. Therefore, unrepentant negatives need to be brought through formal church discipline after their negativity has been documented and addressed; this process may end with their removal from the ministry, if needed. Ministry leaders are often reticent to deal so forthrightly with negatives; however, the longer they are tolerated, the more neutrals they infect with their gangrene.
Third, the neutrals need to be lovingly and patiently informed that they are in fact neutrals and that they need to take responsibility to not give in to negatives. Additionally, neutrals cannot be allowed into ministry leadership because they are prone to be influenced rather than be influencers. Sadly, neutrals are often nominated for and voted in to ministry leadership because they tend to be nice people who are likeable because they are amiable and easily influenced. But they are prone to work toward consensus rather than lead and are therefore not helpful for moving a ministry forward into innovation and growth. Change is controversial and requires someone who is a strong positive to build consensus for change and who is also able to neutralize the negatives rather than being influenced by them.
Positives, Negatives, and Neutrals
This post by Mark Driscoll, preaching pastor at Mars Hill in Seattle, highlights one of my great flaws and great areas for growth in ministry. That is, I have--for all my thirty-plus years in ministry--had an unquestioned and unexamined assumption that all people (certainly all Christians) are, to use Driscoll's phrasing, "Positives." Seriously, that's how I've approached ministry and leadership all these years...and have paid a price for my naivete. I believe in the redemptive power of the Gospel, and I believe the Gospel "works." But for some odd reason, I have always tended to view people doing "ungospel" things as worthy of a hearing. I have even allowed such people in leadership, believing that they would stop being negative when they had a positive outlet for their energy. I am learning, however, that (to use the biblical types Driscoll quotes below, wolves and sheep alike make lousy shepherds.