Posts Tagged ‘churchgoers who cause conflict’

Thirty years ago, Marshall Shelley – then associate editor of Leadership Journal – published his classic work Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church.

Until that time, there were very few books on pastor-church conflict that really told the truth.  Shelley’s book weaved real-life encounters with “church dragons” along with timeless insights and broke new ground.

In one section, Shelley listed five kinds of dragons that ministers encounter: the busybody … the sniper … the bookkeeper … the merchant of muck … and the legalist.

Based on my experience … and the experiences of other pastors … I’d like to share my own list of five kinds of churchgoers who create conflict for pastors (although I could mention many more):

First, there’s the Backstage Passer.

Just as some fans are always trying to gain backstage passes to see their favorite band after a concert, so too some churchgoers are constantly trying to “go backstage” and gain inside information about their pastor and church.

These individuals want to know what last week’s attendance was … how it compared to last month/last year … whether or not donations have been meeting the budget … and all manner of statistical realities.

To gain this information, this person may assume a position of trust … try and get a key to the church office … make friends with the office manager … and hang around the church office … especially when nobody is around.

And if they’re able to gain office access, they’ll rifle through as much data as they can, and use that information as needed … leaking some of it to their friends and associates at opportune times.

And if a pastor comes under attack, this person will supply numerical evidence that the church isn’t growing … donations are shrinking … and the pastor needs to go.

For some reason, these individuals want to know everything that is going on at the church.  They especially thrive in smaller churches that need volunteers.  Sometimes the BP and the office manager even combine forces to get rid of the pastor.

Tip: When a pastor detects that he has a Backstage Passer on his hands, he needs to calmly but deliberately take steps to deny this person the very access they desire because that information is rarely used for good.

Second, there’s the Self-Taught Bible Teacher.

During my first pastorate in Silicon Valley, a deacon … I’ll call him Joe … viewed himself as an expert in biblical knowledge.

Whenever I taught … Sunday mornings/evenings, midweek Bible study … I saw the top of his head far more than his face.

What was Joe doing?  Immersing himself in his Scofield Bible.

Rather than listen to his pastor, he’d sit there and read Scofield’s notes on the passage I was discussing … then do cross-reference work throughout the sermon.

In his mind, Joe couldn’t learn anything from me … or anyone else, for that matter … because he was self-taught.

One Wednesday night, another deacon asked me this question: “Why do my prayers sometimes seem like they’re bouncing off the ceiling rather than reaching God?”

I had just been reading the Minor Prophets during my quiet time, and I mentioned that sometimes God hides His face from His people which, of course, He does.

But Joe became unglued.  His face turned red … the veins popped out of his neck … and he quoted Jeremiah 33:3 as if to say, “That ends the matter … and you’re wrong!”

I’d only been a pastor for a few months, and I was already dealing with a volatile board member.

After that night, I located my father’s old Scofield Bible and read all of his notes before I taught so I could preempt any more of Joe’s rantings.

Tip: Be careful about arguing with a STBT.  State your position … listen to theirs … thank them for speaking with you directly … and let God straighten them out.  But pastors need to realize that they are usually threats to the STBT.

Third, there’s the Denominational Loyalist.

I’ve been a big fan of Amazon.com for years.  In fact, I probably buy 90% of my personal items from them.  (Oh, how I wish I’d invested in their stock when they started … it went to almost $550 dollars a share today!)

Anyway, I order from Amazon because they serve me far better than the brick-and-mortar stores do … especially Walmart, where I often have to deal with grumpy checkers and long lines.

I am happy to participate in an organization that serves me well and offers something of value in return … but that has not been my experience with denominations.

The local district wants their pastors to do at least four things:

*show up to periodic meetings.

*donate generously to district coffers.

*publicize district events.

*sit on district committees.

I did everything I was asked by my district for 12 years.  I went to regional and national meetings … contributed financially … promoted events … sat on several committees … and attended 11 consecutive men’s retreats.

And in the end, I concluded that most of it was a colossal waste of time because district stuff diverted time and focus away from my real ministry … and never added anything substantial to our church.

In fact, our church was far better served by a particular Christian organization that provided us with materials … counsel … conferences … with an expertise at a much higher level than our district could ever provide.

But there were 8 people (out of 500) in my last ministry who were denominational loyalists.  Several had attended the denomination’s college … been involved in district events over the years … and wanted me to love the denomination as much as they did.

They didn’t hassle me to my face.  They criticized me behind my back.  And they felt I shouldn’t pastor the church unless I felt the same way about the denomination as they did.

Tip: If you’re in a denomination that provides valuable services to pastors and churches alike, then by all means, get involved.  But if you’re with a group that expects your loyalty, time, energy, and donations … and doesn’t provide anything of value in return … then why bother?  Which biblical command are you violating if you ignore them?

Fourth, there’s the Shadow Pastor.

This is the person who thinks they can lead the church better than their pastor can.

It could be an associate pastor … the board chairman … the church treasurer … or a layman without a formal leadership position.

But this person seizes power … intimidates others … and builds a following right underneath the pastor’s nose.

And when the pastor says or does something that the Shadow Pastor doesn’t like … they spring into action.

A while back, I was contacted by a pastor who was struggling with a female SP.  This woman headed up a committee in the church and had summoned the pastor to a meeting that night … only her committee had no jurisdiction over the pastor’s employment.

As I recall, she had run out several previous pastors, even though she lacked the authority to do so.

Most churches have at least one Shadow Pastor … sometimes more.  These people have convinced themselves … and others … that they know exactly what the church needs to thrive … but nothing can happen unless they are in charge … and unless the pastor becomes a figurehead.

These churchgoers cause more conflict that all the rest of the conflict causers combined.

Tip: The pastor needs to be the undisputed leader of the church.  If he surrenders that leadership to someone else, he needs to leave the church or the SP will make his life … and church … a living hell.  God didn’t call the Shadow Pastor to be the church’s leader … he called the current pastor.

Fifth, there’s the Rightist.

This is the person who insists there is only one way to do things at church … their way.

A pastor will find rightists inside the staff … board … finance team … seniors group … and other key parts of the church.

The rightist is far better at criticizing things than doing things well themselves.  In fact, they live to offer petty flak.

And they rarely … if ever … offer compliments or express appreciation.

If the rightist is in the business world … and many rightists are … they often assume that the way they do things at work is the way the church should do things as well.

Maybe yes … maybe no.

The rightist isn’t concerned about productivity, but methodology … and they’d rather do things their way and not get any results than watch the pastor do things his way and prosper.

If I could, I’d pack up all the rightists in the church and send them away to visit various megachurches over the next six weeks so they could see firsthand that there are many ways to do things in a congregation … not just theirs.

Tip: The rightist usually has attended just one or two churches over the course of his/her lifetime.  This person needs to be exposed to multiple ways of carrying out ministry so they can broaden their mindset.  If a pastor can identify the rightists … and send them out on church field trips (maybe during the summer) … maybe he can enjoy a few weeks of quiet when they’re gone!

What kind of churchgoers have you seen create conflict for pastors?

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