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Posts Tagged ‘confidentiality and church conflict’

How much do you like to play chess?

One summer, between eighth and ninth grades, I played 97 games of chess with an older friend.  As I recall, I won 49, he won 45, and there were three stalemates.

Since he was in the high school chess club and knew all my tricks, I had to prepare myself for long games, which meant that I had to learn how to set up a defense to protect my key pieces, especially the King and Queen.

In the same way, a church needs to learn how to protect their pastor(s) from attack, and to prepare a long-term defense plan.

In my last article, I mentioned five ways that church leaders can protect their church from the inevitability of internal conflicts.  (You can access that article by clicking on the green link above and to the left of the title.)

Let me share the last five ways with you:

HOW CAN YOU STRENGTHEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM OF YOUR CHURCH?

Sixth, create a special document that specifies how to handle conflicts with the pastor (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Tim. 5:19-21).

Most churches lack this document.  If your church decides to create a Conflict Resolution Group, this could be among their first assignments.

It should be biblically-based, conform to labor law, be consistent with the church’s governing documents, and aim to treat the pastor fairly and justly.

If an individual, a leader, or a group in the church makes accusations against a pastor, the governing board should determine the severity of the charges:

*Forgive citations: these are petty, personal issues people have with the pastor (Prov. 19:11; Matt. 23:23-24).  The board should say, “This is such a silly charge that you either need to forgive the pastor, pray for him, or let this go.  We won’t pursue this any more.”  The great majority of accusations against a pastor fall into this “citation” category.

*Confront misdemeanors: this is where the pastor hurt or offended someone personally or where he committed a minor offense while carrying out his ministry (Luke 17:3-4).  The proper way to deal with a minor offense is to speak with the pastor directly about it.

*Investigate felonies: this involves serious charges against the pastor, especially involving heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior (Deut. 19:15-21).

If the pastor is accused of a felony, the board should do an investigation and (a) gather evidence; (b) meet with witnesses; and (c) decide if the charges are legitimate or illegitimate.

If they are illegitimate, the accusers should ask the pastor for forgiveness or leave the church, and the board should insist on this.  If the pastor’s accusers don’t admit they’re wrong, they’ll just create more charges down the road.

If they appear to be legitimate, the board should set up a meeting between the accusers and the pastor.  The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

Once this meeting is held, the board must decide the future of the pastor and his accusers in the congregation. Aim for restoration first (Gal. 6:1), removal last.

Seventh, remind leaders that conflict is likely to break out at certain predictable times:

Much of the time in church life, the pastor and staff know that conflict will surface at specific times.  For example:

*When the pastor/leaders are initiating change.  This is because church leaders have taken a long time to study the changes but they haven’t allowed enough time for people to share feedback and adjust to the changes themselves.

*Easter/Christmas seasons.  This is primarily because everyone wants their church to look good on the major Christian holidays and this causes people to become highly anxious.  It’s also because people bring their own personal stress over the holiday to church.

*Budget time.  This is because the annual church budget determines a church’s values and priorities (“Oh no, the youth ministry budget got slashed while the pastor’s slush fund was doubled”) and because people become anxious about the church’s ability to reach their targeted income.

*When changing the worship service.  Despite the fact that the New Testament never mentions even one Sunday morning worship service … and therefore, churches are free in the Lord to plan their own … some people will react negatively and emotionally to any change that they and their friends do not like.

*The addition of a new generation.  How many churches have made specific plans to reach Millennials?  What is your church doing to reach them?  Just think about the changes you’d have to make … and envision the conflict those changes would provoke.

*The addition or removal of staff.  “Why did we hire him?  I don’t like the guy.”  “Why did they let Pastor Brian go?  He was always very nice to me.”  Those statements alone speak volumes as to how churchgoers view staff members.  While I loved adding new staff, I hated letting anybody go because most of the fallout would be directed at me as pastor.

*When the church is shrinking.  This is because people don’t want to invest their time, energy, and money in a sinking ship … and because some will pin the blame for decline on one person: the lead pastor.

*When the church is growing.  This may sound surprising, but many pastors are ousted because they were too successful.  Many churchgoers … especially long-time leaders … would rather be large fish in a small pond than smaller fish in a larger pond.  And when they discover that some of their power is to be shared or taken away by new people, they often rebel.

Eight, practice openness about official church matters while maintaining confidentiality concerning the issues in people’s lives (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-9; 6:12-19).

During a major conflict, church leaders usually stay tight-lipped and say little or nothing to churchgoers about what’s happening.

But I believe that leaders should share as much as they can, not as little as possible, because as the saying goes, you are as sick as your secrets.

*Your church should have at least one congregational/business meeting annually.  The purpose of this meeting is for the church to vote on new board members and next year’s budget.

*Your congregation should also schedule periodic informational meetings (like a town hall meeting) where the pastor and church leaders can provide updates and receive feedback without the pressure of any voting.  Two meetings a year sounds reasonable.

*The pastor, staff, and board should be transparent with church members about everything that involves the church as an institution: attendance, weekly giving, the budget, and policies. Membership has its privileges.

*Everyone in the church should know how to contact the key leaders.  Their pictures should be on a wall someplace, and their email addresses should be published.

*The church board should report to the congregation in some fashion as often as the lead pastor has to report to the board.  You can’t have an accountable pastor and an unaccountable board.  It’s a scenario for disaster.

I learned this adage for church leaders from Dr. Archibald Hart: “We don’t have secrets, we do keep confidences.”

Ninth, practice periodic “conflict drills.”

My wife and I run a preschool in our home, and once a month, we have to do a fire drill.  (In fact, we just did one within the past hour!)  When the alarm sounds, the children must exit through the front door … even if they have one shoe on and one shoe off … and walk to the fire hydrant along the rim of our cul-de-sac as a meeting place.

In the same way, a pastor and a governing board should run one or two “conflict drills” every year … unannounced … so both parties can evaluate how they handle conflict.

Here’s an example:

*A board member hears that several church leaders are openly complaining about the pastor.

*The board member contacts the complainer and says: “If you are upset about policy matters, please speak with anyone who made the policy (usually board members). If you are upset with the pastor personally, please speak with him directly, pray for him, or let it go.  Otherwise, we’re not going to entertain your complaints.”

*The board determines the severity of the complaint (citation, misdemeanor, felony) and acts accordingly.

*Consult with the Conflict Resolution Group and make sure that the ten principles and the governing documents are followed.

*The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

*The pastor/board contacts (a) a church consultant; (b) a conflict manager; (c) a Christian mediator; (d) a denominational executive for counsel.

*The board makes a decision and announces it to the appropriate parties.

Create your own steps if you’d prefer, but I believe that periodic conflict drills can be a lifesaver for a congregation.

Tenth, implement these five biblical principles for preventing church conflict:

*Talk directly to those you’re upset with rather than telling others about them (Prov. 11:13; 16:28; 18:8; 20:19; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:13; James 4:11-12; 3 John 9-10).

*Share your frustrations with the appropriate spiritual leader rather than complaining indiscriminately (Num. 14:1-4; Luke 15:1-2; Phil. 2:14; Jude 16).

*Refuse to allow people to drag you into a dispute between two parties (called “triangulation”) (Luke12:13-14; 22:1-6).

*Deal with offenses as they arise rather than collecting them and dumping them on someone (called “gunnysacking”) all at once (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 13:5; Eph. 4:26-27).

*Report those who attack and conspire against church leaders (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10-11).

Since implementing any or all of these ten immune system strengtheners is a lot of work, a pastor would be well-served to implement one or two of them every year.

If the pastor doesn’t initiate ideas like these, when a major conflict surfaces – especially if the pastor is attacked – the law of the jungle is likely to take effect.

Depending upon the level of emotion involved, people may choose sides … define enemies … ignore Scripture … and do anything and everything to remove their pastor from office.

In the process, the church will be destroyed for the foreseeable future, and can only survive intact if there’s a resurrection years later.  Not pretty.

Which of my suggestions resonate with you?

 

 

 

 

 

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