Theresa Harvard Johnson

Copyright 2016 Theresa Harvard Johnson

Opportunism is a raging problem impacting the congregation in this hour. While it is a well-known phenomenon - even expected and accepted – in the corporate arena and market place, it often takes individuals and congregations by surprise. The behavior can be so subtle and disarming that it goes unidentified by some believers until long after earned and legitimate opportunities and relationships have been lost.

In using the phrase “earned opportunities,” I am referring to those open doors that a person has legitimately been presented or that they have earned the authority or been given the permission to walk through.

Opportunism is defined as “the conscious policy and practice of taking advantage of circumstances – with little regard for principles, or with what the consequences are for others. Opportunistic actions are expedient actions guided primarily by self-interested motives. The term can be applied to individual humans and living organisms, groups, organizations, styles, behaviours, and trends.”[1]

And, a person who operates in opportunism is called an opportunist. They live in a place of complete self-service which contradicts God’s desire for us to have pure motives, genuine love for one another, and place the interests of others in as a significant place as our own interests.

Opportunists do not understand the kind of love God requires (Matthew 22:37-40 ).

Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from factional motives [through contentiousness, strife, selfishness, or for unworthy ends] or prompted by conceit and empty arrogance. Instead, in the true spirit of humility (lowliness of mind) let each regard the others as better than and superior to himself [thinking more highly of one another than you do of yourselves]. Let each of you esteem and look upon and be concerned for not [merely] his own interests, but also each for the interests of others.”

One person wrote this: “Opportunists don’t see people, they see opportunities.”[2]

As believers, we must do whatever is necessary to grasp this truth if we desire to understand the evil nature of men associated with opportunistic behavior. Despite how religion twists it, we are not looking at “spirits and devils here.” Rather, we are dealing with the flesh of men and the condition of their heart. Let’s establish some clear and straight forward truths here:

  1. When talking about opportunistic people, I am not discussing ordinary people who are looking for opportunities to advance themselves, their ministries or their initiatives through normal and expected means. In this sense, we are all seeking earnest opportunities to grow and advance in a healthy, non-threatening fashion. Most people I have encountered in ministry are not seeking to overtly abuse, manipulate, mistreat or mislead anyone. They are genuinely looking for breaks to be better and to do better in every area of their lives. I am not addressing people in this category. They are not opportunists.
  1. When speaking of “opportunists” as defined here, I am addressing people who see “an opportunity to take advantage of a person or a situation and then does so”[3] without any regard to the impact it will have on them or the situation around them. This kind of opportunistic behavior is referred to as “predatory,”[4] the act of preying on other people.

Some examples of what this might look like in some ministry settings include:

  • A pastor appoints a rising leader in the church to oversee a home group or a bible study. Unknown to the pastor, this leader who is trusted by the pastor begins wooing the people in the bible study group away from the church focus to their own unique initiative and interests. At the same time, this leader is also covertly establishing himself in a self-appointed role as pastor over this group. Eight months later, he informs the pastor that he is starting his own church… guess what – it’s with the people he was sent to oversee through a home group.
  • A prophetic artist mentoring group meets regularly at a local copy shop. One day a new artist comes to town and shows interest in joining as a mentee on the team. While still attending this mentoring group, the new artist begins calling all the members on the team (unknown to the mentor) inviting them to a brand new mentoring group and artist’s initiatives – offering them favors, complementing their art, and performing other “favors” to draw them into their initiative. And get this, they begin mentoring them without any regard for the other group, mentor or initiative.
  • A person on a praise and worship team observes that the worship team leader is often at odds with another member of the team. One day, they witness an intense disagreement and decides to take their observation to the pastor “out of concern” for the team dynamics. In the course of the conversation, that team member indicates how they would have handled the situation and offers their assistance as a mediator within the group – using the situation for their own personal advantage.

While there are numerous examples inside and outside of the congregation that can be used here, it is important to note that the “motives” of the antagonist in each of these scenarios is self-serving… although they initially presented themselves as helpful. What they seemed to receive at the end was actually what they wanted from the very beginning.

One author said this about opportunists, and I believe it is a good statement to end this article on: “The opportunist does not love, they possess and once an opportunist does a “favor” for you, you will forever be in their debt and they will “milk” and/or siphon every bit of that favor from you, practically to the point of inequity because their time and their agenda is more important to them than treating people with mutual respect. These people are often very charismatic and use their charisma to manipulate and misuse other people as they do not see people but they reduce people to nothing more than opportunities to meet their own personal needs…”[5]

Part II of IV: Types of Opportunists


[1] Wikipedia, “Opportunistic,” accessed November 30, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opportunism

[2] Midrash Monthly Magazine, “Opportunists: The enemy who looks like your friend,” Dec. 4, 2011, accessed November 30, 2016, https://midrashmonthly.wordpress.com/tag/opportunist/

[3] Cohen, Dr. Steven M. “Predatory and Clueless Behavior: There is a Difference,” Psychology Today (Sept. 7, 2012), accessed November 30, 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/worked-work/201209/predatory-and-clueless-behavior-there-is-difference

[4] Ibid.

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