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Posts Tagged ‘church staff triangles’

Remember your first job?

I worked for a butcher’s shop for $1.00 an hour … then washed dishes for three days at a restaurant (quitting because the hours were too late) … then washed vehicles for a few days … then worked for McDonald’s for two long years.

At 19, I was hired by the elders of my church to work with high school and college students for the summer.  At that end of that period, I was hired to work with those same students permanently.

I was a youth pastor in three churches … and later a teaching pastor and an associate pastor.

The sum total of my staff assignments was 10 1/2 years.

And I served another 25 years as a solo or senior pastor.

So I have a pretty good idea what it’s like to be a staff member as well as the lead pastor in a church.

As a youth pastor, I tried to do whatever my pastor asked me to do.

I didn’t pull any passive-aggressive stuff … agreeing to carry out the pastor’s wishes while later refusing to do so.

I wanted to please my pastor … and keep my job.

But as I’ve learned over the years, not all staff members have that attitude … which is why pastors and staffers clash far more than most churchgoers know.

In my previous article, I told the story of a youth pastor (let’s call him Frank) who wasn’t coming into his office at church to work.  Even though his pastor (let’s call him Rick) told him that he needed to clear time off with him first, Pastor Frank chose to ignore Pastor Rick’s directive.

After the pastor tried to clarify matters with Frank, Frank called a board member (let’s call him Joe) who had two kids in the youth group.  Frank told Joe that Pastor Rick had unfairly singled him out for correction and that he was so upset about Rick’s action that he was thinking about leaving the church.

Joe assured Frank that his kids loved him and that he would make sure Frank’s job was safe.

At the next board meeting, during his monthly report, the pastor informed the board of the latest incident with Frank.  Most board members asked a few questions but left staff management in his experienced hands.

But after the meeting, Joe called Frank to tell him that “the pastor is out to get you” and “my family won’t let that happen.”

Because Frank sensed total support from Joe, he felt he had cart blanche to act any way he wanted, even if he resisted the pastor’s supervision.

When Pastor Rick met with Frank every week, Rick could sense that Frank was no longer cooperative.  Rick didn’t know what was happening.

In actuality, the pastor had been “triangled” by the youth pastor.  Because Rick and Frank weren’t getting along, Frank sought out a third party to assume responsibility for their relationship … and Joe played his part just as Frank hoped.

So instead of the pastor supervising the youth pastor … with the board member as the pastor’s ally … now it’s the board member linking arms with the youth pastor against the pastor.

And now, my friends, you have the makings of a classic showdown.

Frank gradually pulls away from Rick altogether, missing staff meetings and avoiding conversations with the pastor.  Rick notices the change but doesn’t know what to do because he can sense not all board members are behind him.

After several months of this cold war, Rick schedules an appointment with Frank for lunch on Wednesday.

When the pastor arrives at the restaurant, he’s greeted by the youth pastor … and two board members, including Joe.

The pastor is now in a serious double bind.

On the one hand, he needs to regain control of his relationship with the youth pastor, even if he has to fire him.

But on the other hand, if Rick does dismiss Frank, those two board members … and their families … and other board members … and their families … and other students … and their families and friends … may all leave the church together.

They will claim that Pastor Rick mistreated Frank.

They might even insinuate that the pastor is mistreating other staff members.

They may even consider taking action against the pastor rather than let the youth pastor leave.

This is going to be a very difficult situation to resolve.

How can this showdown be resolved in a way that honors the Lord, respects all parties involved, and preserves church unity?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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