Posts Tagged ‘emotional reactivity in churches’

You’re in the fast lane on the freeway.

A car going 25 mph faster than you’re going crosses four lanes and cuts in front of you, forcing you to brake suddenly.

You’re rightfully furious.

How should you handle things?

You’re walking around at home without shoes.

You accidentally stub your toe on an immovable bookcase.

You’re in mortal pain.

How should you handle things?

You’re sitting in a worship service waiting for the pastor to begin preaching.

The pastor announces that a staff member … a close friend of yours … has resigned.

You’re positive she was forced out … and you’re angry.

How should you handle things?

The typical way we humans handle anxiety is to react emotionally.

We swear at the driver who cut us off.

We scream when we stub our toe.

We blurt out, “Noooooooo!” when our friend resigns.

We react automatically … instinctively … reflexively … and immediately.

And often … mindlessly.

God has wired us for self-preservation, so when we feel threatened, or sense that an injustice has been done, we act naturally … and sometimes foolishly.

Several weeks ago, an 18-year-old young man was shot and killed by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri.

Many local residents reacted by protesting and marching … but some … including members of the press … pronounced the policeman guilty even though they have no idea what really happened.

The American justice system does not permit citizens to take justice into their own hands, and for good reason.  Better to let a grand jury hear the evidence and return with a possible indictment several months later.


Because when we’re emotionally reactive, we can’t think straight.  We’re focused on the way we and others feel.  We’re not thinking process … we’re thinking relief.

And reactivity usually leads to greater reactivity … and that’s how wars start.

Several weeks ago, I attended a training session for Bridgebuilder, a church conflict intervention process designed by Dr. Peter Steinke.

During the course of the training, Dr. Steinke made two observations that especially intrigued me.

Observation #1: Steinke said that when a pastor is doing something that bothers or upsets church decision makers, the pastor needs to be confronted and given time to make changes.

(This does not refer to heresy, sexual immorality, or a felony).

How much time?

Steinke says the pastor should be given 12 to 15 months to make changes, and if he hasn’t made them by then, he should be asked to resign.

But in evangelical circles, pastors are often fired outright or asked for their resignation without any kind of formal confrontation and without any corrective process.

Why does this occur so often?

Because the governing leaders … sometimes in collaboration with staff members and/or a faction … can’t tolerate their anxiety.

So they resort to emotional reactivity, and then they’re shocked when the pastor protests his dismissal, or the pastor’s supporters become angry and leave the church en masse.

And when this happens, those same leaders often resort to lying to cover up their mistakes … and to scapegoat the departing pastor.

If the governing leaders of your church want to blow it to smithereens, then force out the pastor without speaking to him directly and without using any kind of deliberate process.

It’s guaranteed: the emotional reactivity of the governing leaders will lead to emotional reactivity in others … and negatively impact your church for years.

Observation #2: Steinke says that when a church is in conflict, he recommends that they engage in a 2-4 month process to work through the issues … which is what Bridgebuilder is all about.

Rather than making instant decisions that will harm many people, it’s crucial that God’s people take time to move from emotional reactivity to rational reflection … as hard as that process may be.

Seventeen years ago, I was pastoring a fantastic church.  Over the previous five years, we had experienced virtually no internal conflict.  If people didn’t like something, they just left.

But we eventually had to move our Sunday service from one location to another five miles away, and in the process, we lost 1/3 of our congregation … and their donations … overnight.

The stress started taking its toll on several leaders who were involved with finances.  A key couple left the church, and soon after, another key couple stayed home one Sunday, which they didn’t normally do.

The uncertainty of our situation made me extremely anxious.  Was our congregation about to unravel?

I confided in a wise Christian leader, and he told me, “Jim, it’s too soon to know what’s going to happen.  You need to let this play out.”

He was right.  The more anxiety I demonstrated, the more anxious I made everybody else.

If you’re experiencing conflict in your church … your workplace … or your home … there are two ways you can manage matters.

You can react instinctively … move quickly … and try and find instant relief.

Or you can respond wisely … devise a deliberate process … and work the process until most people agree upon solutions.

The arrest … trials … passion … and crucifixion of Jesus took less than a total of ten hours.  Those who executed Jesus have been castigated and pilloried for twenty centuries.

If the Jewish and Roman authorities had taken more time, would they be viewed any differently by history?

Think about it.











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