I recently attended a conference for church consultants.
The theme of the conference was how to turn around a church, especially one that’s sick or dying.
We heard presentations from top consultants like Aubrey Malphurs, Paul Borden, and Gary McIntosh. Gary introduced me to Carl George, a legend in the field.
Some presentations dealt with the recommendations that a consultant might make to turn a church around, especially if the previous pastor left under less than optimal circumstances.
During my time at the conference, I never heard anyone discuss what to do with those Christians who were still in pain after their pastor left.
Here’s a common scenario:
A pastor and the governing board aren’t getting along. The pastor wants to reach out more into the community and win people to Christ, while the board prefers to focus on building up Christians inside the church.
While a few people in the church are aware of the problem, most can’t tell there’s anything wrong at the top.
Until one day, the low-level conflict explodes into the congregation as a whole. Some people start accusing the pastor of various misdeeds. Rumors abound. Groups huddle together on Sundays. People begin taking sides.
And suddenly many of the people in this nice, loving church begin to demonize each another.
The pastor becomes so demoralized and battered that he can’t manage the conflict effectively. He feels rejected and plunges into depression. Some call for his resignation. Others mount a campaign to get rid of him.
His sin? He let the conflict happen – and he hasn’t yet fixed it.
While some people relish this kind of in-fighting, most believers lack the stomach for it. Some flee the church for good. Others stay at home and wait for more peaceful times. Some organize and press the pastor for his resignation and begin dreaming of taking over the church when he finally leaves.
Over on the sidelines, there’s a contingent of the church who are shocked by what’s happening. Everything they see and hear brings them pain. They love their pastor. They love the board and the staff. They have many friends in the church, and now they see Christians acting unchristian.
It grieves them. They’re confused, hurt, repulsed, demoralized, paralyzed.
These people watch their pastor resign. They watch some people rejoice at his departure. They watch as the church hires a transitional pastor and puts together a search team for a new pastor.
And all the while, nobody ever told them what the conflict was about or why their pastor left.
But they watch from the shadows because they don’t want to say or do anything that will make matters worse. Let’s call them Shadow Christians.
They just hope that when the transitional pastor comes, he will address their pain.
And they hope that someday, they’ll be able to express their sorrow to opinion-makers inside the church as well.
The interim pastor comes, and he preaches on unity, but he never addresses the concerns of the Shadow Christians, either through his messages or on an individual basis.
Then the transitional pastor leaves, and the new pastor is hired. Once again, the Shadow Christians hope that their new pastor will address their pain, but he assumes that the transitional pastor did all that, and besides, he’s eager to lead the church into winning new people for Christ.
So the Shadow Christians feel marginalized.
They lose their motivation for serving. They start finding reasons to miss a Sunday here or there.
And no one seems to notice.
Mind you, these people aren’t troublemakers. They’re the quiet, faithful people who built the church.
They prayed for the pastor, board, and staff every day. They discovered their spiritual gifts and used them excitedly. They gave sacrificially to the building campaign.
But now … they’re relegated to the shadows.
And because they’ve become hidden, they decide to slip away and see if anybody misses them.
And no one does.
So they leave … for good … still in pain.
Maybe, they hope, I will receive healing at my next church.
But they’re not eager to serve, or give, or even attend regularly … because they still hurt so bad.
And here’s the sad part … if someone had noticed them, and sat down with them, and listened to them, and cared about them, they might have experienced healing, and stayed in their church, and continued to be a blessing to others.
But rather than make waves, they slipped quietly out the back door … for the last time.
And by the time anyone noticed, they were long gone.