Remember Uncle Screwtape’s lengthy and insightful advice to his nephew Wormwood in the “Screwtape Letters,” published in 1942, by C.S. Lewis?
Senior demon Uncle Screwtape advises junior demon Nephew Wormwood on how to turn “the patient” (a Christian person) toward their “Father below” (Satan).
Always the insightful author, Lewis cuts through much Christian mythology using this clever and playful approach, disarming many of our defenses.
Were Uncle Screwtape advising us, disciples in congregations, rather than Nephew Wormwood regarding our congregation’s revitalization effort, he may encourage us with these seven strategies.
Remember, his goal is to derail congregational progress toward fulfilling our callings and being robust churches together.
1. Relate to your church from a position of fear and anxiety.
The other side says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Well, we are fond of saying, “Fear is the key to nearly everything.”
Fear is so contagious. When you spew fear in your congregation, you will help your church become a hesitant, overly cautious, anxious and defensive bunch, exactly at the time it needs to practice faith, courage, generosity and boldness to revitalize.
Spew your fear and anxiety randomly, to anyone who will give you the time of day. You will demoralize some, alienate others and frustrate those who are working for renewal.
Use any issue you can (social issues, Muslim growth in the U.S., anger toward millennials, demise of church culture and so on) to sow fear.
“Be afraid; be very, very afraid.” Make this statement your mantra, repeating it as often as possible. This will distract people from God’s power, focusing them on the giants in the land.
Before you know it, your church’s revitalization effort will become paralyzed. This is what large doses of fear do – paralyze progress, so generously share your fear.
2. Embrace and internalize, deep in your soul, the delusion that church is all about you.
Your preferences, your convenience, your happiness and contentment – try to maintain the view that the church’s purpose is to cater to you.
When worship leaders and teachers surface the idea that the church is one of God’s instruments meant to transform the world, including your self-centeredness, do not listen. Do not believe that stuff.
Think of yourself as a consumer; you are there to get, not to give or be changed toward Christ-likeness. Clutch your consumer identity as vigorously as you can.
It’s amazing how effective this strategy has been in North America, resulting in a steady stream of church shoppers.
We are pleasantly surprised by this all the time, given how clear Jesus was in his call to discipleship.
3. Periodically, but consistently, threaten to leave.
Remember, we are a transient culture, with high mobility living. Combine the consumer mindset with a hyper-individualism, and you are ready to leave your church at the drop of a hat. You can find another one down the street.
When you threaten to leave, you will raise anxiety among lay and called leadership. Maybe this will remind them to cater to you, rather than work for revitalization of spirit focused on God’s mission in the world.
Caution: Don’t use this strategy too much or after a while they won’t take you seriously. Be smart and strategic, dropping hints about leaving at just the right time – when they are ready to take a leap of faith.
You will put them back in their place because you know their fear of losing anyone is far greater than their desire to make mission-congruent progress.
4. Believe and act as if funding (money) is your congregation’s top concern.
Many well-funded churches have closed their doors; very few spiritually vitalized congregations have closed their doors.
To derail your church’s vitalization, become the voice of the broken record; loudly, consistently and insistently remind people the church doesn’t have enough money to do whatever is being proposed.
Often, you will succeed in dampening enthusiasm, dispiriting others and quaffing any real attention to the Spirit’s movement.
As you know, anxiety around money is powerful, especially for the generations who endured the Great Depression and now the Recent Recession (nearly all of us).
5. Rather than speak directly to the pastor, church staff and lay leaders when you have a concern, criticize them informally using the church grapevine.
We understand that direct communication actually resolves binds and concerns; avoid this practice at all costs. Instead, sow seeds of suspicion and doubt while ramping up rumors.
The church grapevine grows quickly, so this strategy will take little effort. Small comments, placed strategically in timing and place, will quickly grow into full-blown attacks, especially when the congregation is already on edge due to the revitalization work underway.
You will successfully undermine the work of congregational leaders, ultimately contributing to derailment of that silly revitalization effort.
6. When the leadership and congregation make decisions, continue to lobby and politic for a different point of view or approach.
Never quit! Keep pursuing your agenda, even though decisions have been made using the appropriate processes.
Pretend like appropriate church process does not have a place among you. Act like collective discernment is not a real thing, pretending the church has no decision-making processes in place.
This will contribute to dissension, helping undermine trust in leadership and church decisions.
Never give up! Trust me; this strategy has been effective in so many congregations already. Executed faithfully, it will work for you too.
7. Cultivate an overall perspective of negativity.
This is your fallback position. Some congregations are able to cut through the previous recommended strategies, but this one is subtly powerful. It seems so simple, yet it is really effective.
When you don’t know how else to intervene, use this phrase, “Yes, but.” Constantly point out how any idea or initiative raised for revitalizing your church has a downside, a really big downside. Exaggerate the risks as much as possible. Don’t hold back.
Rampantly spew negativity. You may be able to poison the well. Your toxicity is powerful so don’t underestimate its corrosive effects.
Follow these seven recommendations, and your congregation’s vitalization effort will crumble into the abyss. And, isn’t that what we want?
Thank you again, C.S. Lewis, for this literary device. May we transgress every one of Screwtape’s strong recommendations for derailing our congregations’ vitalization effort.