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Archive for November, 2011

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.

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I shared a meal recently with a widely-respected Christian leader.

He told me why he eventually quit supervising pastors for a living.

In his view, too many pastors are stupid, and “you can’t fix stupid.”

To my knowledge, there aren’t any studies out there as to how many pastors are wise and how many aren’t.  My guess is that the vast majority of pastors are spiritually mature and possess great wisdom.

But my friend’s comments made me wonder:

What are the qualities of a stupid pastor?

First, stupid pastors think they know it all.

They come into a church with the attitude: “I know everything about the Bible and the gospel and church growth, so I don’t need to learn anything from anyone in this church.”

They don’t want to learn about a church’s uniqueness, or its past, or its community, or its people.

In fact, they purposely choose to ignore all of that.

They could learn from Christian authors, or neighborhood studies, or ministry mentors, or church consultants, but they don’t need anyone else’s help.  They already know what to do … and then proceed to show that they know nothing at all.

That’s stupid.

Second, stupid pastors do ministry by themselves.

They don’t believe that anyone in the church can do ministry better than they can.

They teach better than anyone.  They lead better.  They pastor better.  They cook better, they watch nursery kids better, they work with youth better.  Their motto is: “Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you.”

Because they think they’re superior to others, they gradually come to control everything in the church.

In the process, they devalue the biblical role of spiritual gifts and act like they’re the entire church body … or at least, its head.

That’s stupid.

Third, stupid pastors are insensitive.

They say the wrong thing to the wrong party at the wrong time – but they think they’re being authoritative or clever or witty when they’re really being obnoxious.

And the problem is … they have no idea how they come across … and they don’t care.

Rather than building bridges between people, they construct walls … and they’re surprised when those they’ve offended leave the church.

That’s stupid.

Fourth, stupid pastors surround themselves with equally stupid people.

Here is what I read from Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 in The Message this morning:

Here’s a piece of bad business I’ve seen on this earth,

An error that can be blamed on whoever is in charge:

Immaturity is given a place of prominence,

While maturity is made to take a back seat.

I’ve seen unproven upstarts riding in style,

While experienced veterans are put out to pasture.

It’s one thing for a pastor to choose his own ministry team.  It’s another for him to ignore the wisdom of spiritually mature individuals because he’d prefer to serve with hangers-on who need him to feel valuable.

That’s stupid.

Fifth, stupid pastors attempt to superimpose a model onto their current church.

A wise pastor comes to a church, and studies its history, and its leadership, and its community.

He solicits ideas about a church’s future from its people and leaders.

But too many pastors come to a church, ignore its uniqueness, put their head down, and try to turn that church into another church they know about.

A pastor may as well try turning his wife into a former girlfriend.  Ain’t gonna work.

It’s good to have church models, but a pastor needs to spend a long time studying his current church before he knows which model might work best.

But too many pastors think they know best … and try and turn First Church into North Point West or Saddleback North.

That’s stupid.

I’m just getting warmed up, but I’d like to hear from you.

What do you think stupid pastors are like?

And what should churches do with them?

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

 

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It’s quiz time.  What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say …

Moses?

Maybe the term “leader,” or the ten plagues, or the Ten Commandments.

Shakespeare?

Possibly “playwright,” or Hamlet, or Stratford, or even the new film Anonymous.

Barry Bonds?

How about Giants, or 73, or 762, or steroids?

Richard Nixon?

Watergate.

My wife and I visited the Richard Nixon Library and Museum last weekend in Yorba Linda, California.  The place was packed.

Entrance to Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Nixon is the only native Californian to be elected President.  For that reason, I heard his name a lot growing up.

He was a Congressman and Senator from California and then Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower for eight years.  Then he ran for President against John Kennedy in 1960 and barely lost.  When he ran for Governor of California two years later and lost (to current Governor Jerry Brown’s father Pat), most people wrote Nixon’s political obituary.

I remember sitting in the living room of my grandparents’ house in Whittier – where Nixon lived and went to college – in 1968.  My grandfather said, “God help this country if Nixon isn’t elected President.”

Later that year, Nixon held a rally at the Anaheim Convention Center, just a couple miles from my house.  My friend Steve invited me to come and sing in a youth choir, which I did.  We followed a woman all through the Convention Center, certain it was Pat Nixon.  (It wasn’t.)  We later sang, “Nixon’s the One” with everyone else.

This time, Nixon barely won the election, and easily defeated George McGovern for President in 1972.

The left hated Nixon, as did the press, but a lot of significant events occurred during his Presidency, such as the first men landing on the moon …

Apollo 11 Space Suit

and Nixon’s visit to China after more than two decades of world isolation …

Statues of Nixon and Chou-en-Lai

and, of course, Watergate … the third-rate burglary of the Democratic National Headquarters located in the Watergate complex in Washington, DC.

I’m old enough to remember the Watergate hearings featuring John Dean and all the revelations of a secret taping system in the Oval Office … and the shock many of us experienced reading transcripts from those tapes … because our President, who was raised a Quaker, swore profusely on them.

The Nixon Museum has an entire section devoted to Watergate – and nothing is covered up.

And then on August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned the Presidency and flew away on this helicopter:

US Navy Helicopter used during Nixon Presidency

Nearly four years later, I got Nixon’s autograph on a 3×5 card after an Angels-Brewers game at Anaheim Stadium.  Nixon lived down the coast in San Clemente and was a frequent guest of Angel owner Gene Autry.  There were only four of us around him that night, and the Secret Service allowed us to approach the former President because he liked the attention.

When Nixon was finally laid to rest, I remember watching his funeral on television, with Billy Graham presiding.

President Nixon's Gravesite

Why am I writing about Nixon?

Because for many people, he’s remembered for only one thing: the way he left office.

How fair is that?

Nixon was also a multi-instrumentalist, and a brilliant student, and a devoted husband and father, and an expert in foreign affairs, and the author of many books, and a huge sports fan, and a lover of model trains, as we saw when we initially entered the museum:

Model Trains in Nixon Museum

He also appeared on the cover of Time more than anyone else in history: 54 times.

I’m not a big fan of former President Bill Clinton, but I thought that what he said at Nixon’s funeral was the most profound thing I saw all day at the library.  His words are etched above one of the entrances:

Quote from former President Clinton above entrance

He said: “May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.”

Amen.

We’ve all messed up in our lives.

Some of us have nagging habits we’ve never quite been able to shake.

Some of us have done some really stupid things that few people ever found out about.  (While walking around my college recently, I remembered opening emergency doors three separate times during my freshman year.  In each case, I quickly walked away so I wouldn’t get caught.  Thankfully, I’ve never opened one since.)

Some of us finally conquered a temptation as we got older, only to meet an even greater temptation soon afterwards.

If we’re going to remember Nixon only for Watergate, then maybe we should only be remembered for failing a class, or a divorce, or a temper tantrum, or overspending, or committing a crime … but aren’t our lives much more than our mistakes?

Besides, the whole world hasn’t been watching and recording every detail of our lives.

The gospel of Jesus Christ promises that those who repent of their sin and receive Christ are granted complete and lasting forgiveness by God’s grace.  The hope of every believer is that when we stand before God someday, He will not see our sin but Christ living in us.  We want the Lord to evaluate the totality of our lives rather than just focusing on our failures.

When people someday walk through the museum of your life – which may be done either through a written obituary or a memorial service – how do you want them to evaluate you?

That’s how the Lord wants us to evaluate others.

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I have a little Thanksgiving project for you.

Think about all the people and things in life that you love the most: your spouse, friends, TV shows, books – you get the idea.

How were you first introduced to them?

While driving across the desert several days ago, it struck me how indebted I am to others for most of “my favorite things.”

For example, I am grateful to:

*my father for introducing me to Jesus, baseball cards, the Three Stooges, Christian books, the Dodgers and Lakers, and teaching me how to play sports.

*my mother for encouraging me to use the library, love Charlie Brown, enjoy The Good Twins – and for letting me stay home from Sunday night church to watch The Wizard of Oz.

*my brother John for making me a better player by playing baseball (with a tennis ball) in the backyard for years.

*my friend Lee who introduced me to comic books (at an early age), encyclopedias, and serious chess.  (We played 98 games one summer.  I won 49, he won 46, with three stalemates.)

*my grandmother, who gave an 8-year-old boy his first transistor radio, allowing him to hear Surfin’ USA and Puff the Magic Dragon for the first time.

*my friend Steve for deepening my love for sports, and whose burning desire to compete – making me a better player – resulted in our winning the “Top Jock” awards our senior year in high school.

*Mr. Remmel, my teacher in fifth and sixth grades, for introducing me to the soundtracks of The Music Man, West Side Story, and My Fair Lady, along with Peter, Paul, and Mary.

*my friend Ken for teaching me to play table tennis in his backyard and for inviting me to his church, where I later met my wife.

*my friends Kevin and Steve, who introduced me to baseball autographs when they acquired the signatures of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim in the spring of 1967.  (Several of us duplicated their experience – and their results – the following day.)

*my friend Dennis, who introduced me to the original Hawaii Five-O and playing one-on-one in the driveway.

*my friend Edmon who introduced me to The Beatles (on a camping trip) and Simon & Garfunkel (while playing chess at his house).

*my youth pastors John and Darryl, who introduced me to a serious study of Scripture while patiently answering my questions.

*my friend Dave, who introduced me to Bob Dylan, Johnny Carson, Breakfast Jacks, and humor in the sacred halls of our seminary.

*my father-in-law Earl, who introduced me to the wonders of acquiring a scholarly library – and allowed me to pursue his alluring daughter.

*my friend Tom, who showed me the latest Christian books and records at the Bible bookstore he ran, invited me to meet John Wooden, took me to see Star Wars, and introduced me to backpacking (in Glacier National Park).

*my son Ryan, who encouraged me to master Super Mario Brothers 3, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, the Gin Blossoms, and the wonders of the Android.

*my wise and witty daughter Sarah, who introduced me to Napoleon Dynamite, the singalong versions of The Sound of Music and Les Miserables (she knows all the words), What About Bob?, The Office (on Christmas Day) and the importance of family heritage.

*my wife Kim, who showed me how to think big, go to plays and movies, travel overseas – and gave me a book on U2 (Walk On by Steve Stockman) that made me a lifelong fan.

*my friend Craig, who introduced me to Christian artists like Kim Hill, Susan Ashton, Iona, Margaret Becker, and Steven Curtis Chapman.

*my friends Russ and Ray, who showed me that a pastor and a former board chairman can be friends for life.

*Rick Steves, who introduced me to budgetary travel in Europe, thus broadening my thinking about the world – and causing me to constantly daydream.

*Dr. Archibald Hart, who introduced me to a wise integration of Scripture and psychology – as well as Mr. Bean.

*my friend Kimberley, who loaned me a DVD copy of Midsomer Murders, a British mystery show that allows my mind to travel back to England periodically.

I stumbled upon many other favorites myself, I guess, including the San Francisco Giants and 49ers, Van Morrison, the iPod and iTunes, Bach, Sherlock Holmes, 24, London, and Mozart, to name just a few.

How much poorer would my life be without all the wonderful people I’ve mentioned?  I thank God for each and every one of them.  Their willingness to share their passions and experiences with me have largely made me the person I am today.

It didn’t take long to compile this list.  How about compiling one of your own?

If you send it to me, I promise to read it.

Happy Thanksgiving 2011!

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Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book on church conflict:

What are the signals that conflict may erupt in a church?

Christian leaders wish they could detect the early warning signs that conflict is ready to break out, but precursors to organizational conflict are not easy to identify with accuracy.  However, some church consultants believe that the initial indicator that antagonism may be brewing is the surfacing of complaints.  While every church has its share of unhappy adherents, a larger than normal quantity of complaints to and about its leaders may provide early warning signs.

The Bible contains many accounts of people murmuring against authority.  The Israelites grumbled about Moses and Aaron in the desert (Exodus 16:6-8).  The Pharisees and scribes complained that Jesus received tax collectors and sinners (Luke 15:2).  False teachers in the early Church were called “grumblers and faultfinders” (Jude 16).  People often resort to griping when they feel they cannot control their circumstances.

Sometimes frustrated individuals complain anonymously, which is never healthy for an organization because such protests cannot be weighed or answered.  People who carry grievances need to be willing to be quoted with their name attached, but it is even better to help the person share any concerns with those who can act upon them.  Most church leaders refuse to even read anonymous notes, although they sometimes make valid points.

Peter Steinke observes that anxiety is similar to a bodily virus in that it needs a host cell to replicate itself.  All forms of murmuring require the reinforcement of a host cell or cells to spread.  Four viruses, in particular, can turn a congregation into a “hot zone”: “The viruses are secrets (gossiping, whispering), accusations (blaming, faultfinding), lies (deceiving), and triangulation (shifting burdens elsewhere).”  The complaints can be about anything: the pastor’s sermons, the upkeep of the church property, the children of a staff member, or the music in a worship service.

Some people nitpick so often that others identify them as complainers who use whining as their primary way of relating to others.  Complainers expect that their grievances will be made right.  They can even put a church’s leaders on the defensive and make them feel guilty.  If a pastor or board can identify whether the flow of complaints are normal or abnormal, they can respond appropriately to address discomfort in the congregation.  However, often it is difficult to assess matters accurately.

A second signal that conflict may be beginning is reduced participation on the part of attendees.  Faithful individuals suddenly stop attending worship services on a regular basis.  People who enjoy serving God abruptly pull back from their ministry commitments.  Believers who have donated to the church cheerfully suddenly withhold their financial giving.  When this occurs among a handful of individuals, it is not cause for alarm, but a decline in overall attendance can be a foreboding sign.  Shelley and Robert Moeller believe that “some dropping out, however, is premature.  Some members don’t challenge the system enough to give it a chance to respond better to their needs.  Sometimes they drop out because they feel helpless to change or challenge the system.”  Richardson calls this behavior “emotional distancing.”  Frustrated believers may take this stance when they do not know what else to do, while other times they use withdrawal as the ultimate trump card in a power struggle and threaten to leave the church if they are unable to have their way.

A further signal that conflict could be building in a church is the formation of coalitions.  Individuals who have complaints against a church’s top leaders often find one another and band together.  Sometimes a coalition revolves around a cause, while other times people join such a group merely because their friends do.  While pastors become accustomed to complaints and do not lose much sleep over the reduced participation of a few people, the formation of coalitions alarms them because such groups easily can become divisive on a larger scale.  When a few random complainers pool their gripes, the result can be both toxic and explosive to a church family.  The great majority of the time, groups meet in secret to build a case, usually against the pastor.

Certainly Paul the apostle was familiar with the concept of coalitions when he chided the congregation at Corinth for the splitting of their church into various factions: “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’”

Finally, when anxiety in a congregation is high, conflict will be high as well.  It is the job of church leaders to do all they can to reduce anxiety, which in turn should reduce the level of conflict.  Leaders do this through their own calm presence and by communicating honestly and often with the congregation.  But if the pastor is wounded and the board is plotting behind-the-scenes, neither party is likely to speak to the congregation, resulting in the problem only growing worse.

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It’s rained here in the Phoenix area the past couple of days, so I’ve been thinking about the differences between living in Arizona and living in California.

I’ve lived in Arizona for a total of 3 years and 3 months, while I’ve lived in the Golden State the rest of my life (years and months unmentioned).

Here are five differences I’ve noticed:

First, what about things to do?

I grew up in Anaheim, just two miles from Disneyland (or Dismalland, as some of us used to call it), and I never got tired of going there.  Knott’s Berry Farm was so close to my house that my family used to go there once every two weeks during the summer – back when it was free and you could spot Walter Knott walking around.

Birdcage Theatre @ Knott's Berry Farm

In addition, we Southern Californians enjoyed going to Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear, Ports o’Call, Griffith Park (and Observatory), Dodger Stadium, Anaheim Stadium … and all the beach communities, to name just a few fun pastimes.

California Coast south of Irish Beach

How about Arizona?  There’s kind of a zoo … and the movies are cheaper ($5 or $6) … and there are millions of places to eat … and you can hike up the peaks … and drive 100 miles to Sedona … and two hours to Flagstaff … but that’s about it.  Oh, wait, I forgot the Grand Canyon … it’s pretty good.

Red Rocks in Sedona, Arizona

Last summer, I was really down one day, so I drove to Cave Creek.  I heard it was cool.  But when I got there, it looked like the backside of the moon.  I went from down to suicidal in about twenty minutes.

California wins hands-down.

Second, what about the weather?

California does have its share of hot weather.  There’s Death Valley, and Hemet, and Needles, and Blythe, and Palm Springs, and Redding … but most people live near the coast, where warm days are moderated by cool ocean breezes.

Phoenix?  It’s the final stop before hell.  The weather is cool right now … until spring training starts in February … then it magically hits 90 degrees.

Dodgers-White Sox Spring Training Game, Glendale, Arizona

One night this past summer, the power went out at 11:30 pm.  It was so hot at 2:30 am that we collected the dogs and drove around town for 30 minutes just so we could have some air conditioning.

I miss California’s weather … and actually seeing a pool of water somewhere besides the bathtub.

Third, what about politics?

This is a tough one.  When I grew up, California was a pretty conservative state, electing Ronald Reagan, George Deukmeijan, and Pete Wilson to be governor … but it’s become the purveyor of illogic and screwy ideas.

Thank God that’s not true of Arizona.

While Arizona is largely a conservative state (think Barry Goldwater), people like their guns here, too.  My wife stood in line at a local pharmacy last week and left when she noticed the guy in front of her had a gun sticking out of his pocket.  There’s a gun store next to a place I used to get my hair cut.  (If you didn’t like the way your hair was cut, you could just walk next door …)

Of course, Arizona has Sheriff Joe … he must be worth, what, any 40 California politicians?

Call it a tie.

Fourth, what about sports teams?

Let’s see.  Southern California has the Lakers, UCLA and USC, the Giants (yay!), the A’s, the Warriors, the Raiders, the 49ers (7-1?), Stanford, Cal … and on and on …

Golden State Warriors Game

Arizona has the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals (play nearby, but they’re 2-6), the Suns, ASU and U of A.  Oh, and the Coyotes.

The Lakers have 15 or so championships.  The Giants won the World Series last year.  The 49ers have five Super Bowl victories.

While the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl a couple years ago, and the Suns have made the NBA Finals several times, only the Diamondbacks have brought back a championship.

The Panda's Portrait at Chase Field

California wins.  It’s no contest.

Fifth, what about scenery? 

California has Highway 1, the ocean, the San Francisco Bay, the ocean, the San Gabriel and San Jacinto Mountains, the ocean, lots of bleak desert, the ocean, hills galore, the ocean, and rivers and lakes and streams.

Pismo Beach, California

Arizona has … it has … lots of desert … and also … hmm … there’s a lake somewhere around here … and there are mountains near Flagstaff, and more desert, and plenty of weird-looking hills, and tons of swimming pools, and lots of flat land … and even more desert.

Sunrise in Arizona Desert

My wife and I took a drive to Paradise Valley yesterday.  The homes looked cool, but you couldn’t pay me to live there.  Too much desert.

Our kids don’t want to visit us … because there’s too much desert.

Arizona loses again.

Arizona does have its charms.  I have lots of family here, so that’s great, and there are lots of churches here – some of them HUGE, and that’s good, too.  And we obtained both of our dogs – Norman and Tito – here as well.

Norman and Tito Bandito

I welcome a spirited discussion comparing the two states.  Go at it!

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I’ve seen it all my life.

Maybe you have, too.

Something ominous happens at work … or inside your family … or at church … but nobody is willing to talk about it openly.

Somebody lost their job … or went to jail … or is no longer attending your church … but everything is hush hush.

Is that wise?

The reason I bring this up is because most church leaders that I know are great at covering up stuff.

Let me explain.

Imagine that some individuals inside a church of 300 attendees band together to change the music during worship.  They don’t like guitars and drums and want the church to use the piano and organ instead.

So they begin making demands of the pastor and governing board, threatening to leave the church – and take their offerings with them – unless the pastor capitulates in their favor.

While there are pastors who would cave in at this point, let’s pretend that the pastor of this church refuses to meet the group’s demands.

So the group – composed of 35 people – all leaves the church together and forms another church at the local high school cafeteria (where they can’t have a piano or organ, but that’s another story).

What should the pastor and governing board tell the congregation about what happened?

Here are some options:

(a) Pretend those people never existed and refuse to talk about them again.

(b) Talk about them only inside the confines of staff and board meetings.

(c) Only talk about them if church attendees ask about them.

(d) Tell the whole church during Sunday worship … or in an all-church letter … or in a public meeting.

Which option above would you prefer?

The vast number of leaders I have known would opt for option “a,” including taking their names off the membership roster, church directory, and newsletter list as soon as possible.

Option “b” is a given.  Only certain churches would opt for option “c.”

And few if any churches would opt for option “d.”

However, congregational consultant Peter Steinke has a different take on this matter in his insightful book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times:

“A conflict-free congregation is incongruent not only with reality but even more with biblical theology.  Jesus upset many people emotionally.  The life of Jesus takes place against a backdrop of suspicion, opposition, and crucifixion.  The Christian story is underlined with conflict.  Early on, we encounter the emotional reactivity of the religious leaders, who see Jesus as a threat to their authority and belief system.  Eventually the tension between the roaming preacher and the established religious order comes to a dramatic point.  Tension leads to crucifixion.”

Most of us would agree with those seven sentences.

Steinke continues:

“The church has had divisions from its inception.  No doubt, it has fought senseless battles, squandered its resources on frivolous issues, sent negative signals to society, shattered its unity, and forfeited chances to share its goodwill.  Some churches work through the reactive period and emerge stronger.  Others shuffle from crisis to crisis.  What makes the difference in outcomes?”

(By the way, don’t you just love Steinke’s writing?  He’s good.)

And then he says this:

“Nowhere in the Bible is tranquility preferred to truth or harmony to justice.  Certainly reconciliation is the goal of the gospel, yet seldom is reconciliation an immediate result.  If people believe the Holy Spirit is directing the congregation into the truth, wouldn’t this alone encourage Christians who have differing notions to grapple with issues respectfully, lovingly, and responsively?”

Hmm.  Do you agree with the author at this point?

Then how about this question:

“If potent issues are avoided because they might divide the community, what type of witness is the congregation to the pursuit of truth?”

Using the group of 35 people I mentioned earlier as an example, should the pastor and leaders tell the congregation anything about their departure?

Here is one final statement from Steinke:

“In the early stages of a conflict, it is almost impossible to over-inform.  As much information as possible is needed.  Providing information tends to minimize the need for people to create information for themselves through gossip and embellishments of what they have heard from rumor.  By communicating forthrightly, leaders also treat the members as mature adults who can handle whatever information is shared, not as children who need to be protected from bad news.”

I do not pretend to have the final answer concerning this dilemma, but more and more, I lean toward truth over tranquility.

Someone recently told me about a controversy that surfaced in his church.  Within one week, half the people had left.

This stuff happens, and because pastors know how emotionally reactive some people are whenever they share potentially volatile information, most pastors choose not to mention such issues in public.

Where do you stand on this issue?

For example, if a staff pastor suddenly vanished from your church, do you want the leaders to tell the congregation why?  Or do you think such an announcement would be divisive?

Truth or tranquility?

Your call.

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