Posts Tagged ‘staff rebellion’

I live about thirty miles from San Bernardino, California – the city where a husband and wife team committed horrendous atrocities last week.

Because our entire country is understandably anxious right now, the amount of conflict – reflected in public rhetoric – has also risen among us.

Whenever anxiety rises – whether it’s in a country, a workplace, a family, or a church – conflict inevitably escalates as a result.

There are times in every group when anxiety – and thus conflict – are predictable.

And when we know that anxiety is likely, we can create strategies to lessen the anxiety level – which will lessen any possible conflict as well.

Let me share with you four times that conflict is likely in a church – and I could have included many additional examples:

First, conflict is likely whenever guests are coming over.

My wife and I hosted a Thanksgiving meal at our house two weeks ago.  We had fifteen people show up, including our son and his family, our daughter, and my wife’s twin brother and his family.

Because my wife and I wanted everything to go perfectly, we engaged in meticulous preparation.  We created a menu, bought the food, determined seating, cleaned the house thoroughly, and let everyone know that we were having brunch (without turkey) at 10:30 that morning.

Not everything went optimally, though.  Because we have a preschool in our house – and because we don’t own a dining room table – our guests had to sit in small chairs at low tables.  And because many family members wanted to help cook the food, it was hard at times to move around the kitchen.

But everyone was in such a good mood that we easily overcame those temporary obstacles.

Churches have times during the year when they anticipate company as well, such as Easter Sunday, Mother’s Day, and Christmas Eve.

And because pastors and church leaders are aware that guests will be visiting on those days, they want to create the finest possible impression … but sometimes, people differ on what that looks like.

Many years ago, I pastored a church that was having a Christmas Eve service that started early in the evening.

Some key participants in that service weren’t able to leave work on time, so when they arrived for rehearsal, they were late … but they still wanted to go over their parts until they were satisfied.

When it was time to start the service, our guests were gathered outside the double doors to the auditorium because those involved in the service were still practicing inside.

Watching those guests fidget, I went to our programming director and said, “I don’t care if you’re ready or not, we’re opening these doors right now.”  Although he pushed back, I felt it was important to start at the time we had advertised.

Thank God, we worked things out later on, but I’ve learned that whenever a church is having a big service … or a large event … designed to make a positive impression on newcomers … conflict inevitably results.

Second, conflict is likely when there are changes in a pastor’s family.

I attended some seminars many years ago where the presenters made the following statement:

“For many people in a church, the pastor assumes the role of a father, and his wife assumes the role of a mother.”

And, we might add, some in the congregation see themselves as their children.

As long as the pastor and his wife seem healthy and happy, the congregation feels secure.

But if the pastor and his wife experience disconcerting change, it can affect the entire church family.

Many years ago, I had a friend who was the associate pastor at his church.  While he was there, the senior pastor had a heart attack and was hospitalized.

The church didn’t want to terminate their pastor in his hour of need, but the longer he was out of commission, the more anxious the congregation became.  As I recall, it was his third heart attack, and his recovery period stretched for months.

The church board wanted the associate pastor to provide leadership for the congregation, but he felt that if he did, he would be betraying his supervisor.

Over time, the congregation shrank to such an extent that they had to borrow money from the denomination just to pay their bills … and the entire incident created great anxiety and conflict.

A pastor is a part of three families: his family of origin … his current family … and his church family.

And any change in one family will provoke change in the other families.

So if the pastor gets sick … or his sister dies … or his son gets in trouble at school … or his wife has an operation … the changes in the pastor’s family will cause him weakness, or sorrow, or disappointment, or fear … and those changes in his life are bound to spill over into the congregation.

And when the pastor isn’t acting “normally,” that anxiety inevitably leads to conflict.

In fact, when changes hit the pastor and his family, it’s common for a staff member or a board member to sense that the pastor is now in a weakened position, and to save the church, they assign themselves the role of LEADER and start making decisions that the pastor would usually make … leading to even more conflict.

Third, conflict is likely when the pastor is away.

Whether the pastor goes on vacation … or takes a sabbatical … or is hospitalized … or engages in continuing education … when he’s not around for several weeks, it creates anxiety around the church, and conflict is usually the result.

I once worked for a pastor who took a trip around the world.  His trip took an entire month.  Less than a year later, he was unemployed.

While he was gone, the people who didn’t like him had the opportunity to meet, gripe, and organize without his knowledge.

Nine years ago, I took a much-needed sabbatical.  I was entitled to at least three months off, but because the church had never had a pastor take a sabbatical before, I limited my time away to six weeks.

I went to Europe with my daughter … my wife flew out and joined us … my daughter flew home … and my wife and I went to Moldova for a week of ministry there.

I remember going out to breakfast with the board chairman and another member, reviewing every single issue in writing that I could anticipate … but I couldn’t anticipate everything.

I had lined up all the speakers before I left, including an author and an expert on Islam, but he cancelled his talk while I was away, and church leaders had to create a Plan B.

Unfortunately, Plan B created conflict that ended up lasting for many months.

I didn’t have a cell phone that worked in Europe back then, and if I had one, church leaders could have contacted me and the whole conflict could have been averted.

But the longer a pastor is away, the greater the chance that disgruntled people will start opposing him behind his back.

My wife and I twice visited a church recently where the pastor was teaching Christian leaders in Europe.  At each service, a video clip was played of the pastor greeting the congregation and briefly describing his ministry overseas.

I thought to myself, “That’s really smart.  It seems like the pastor is looking at us … even though he can’t see us … and we can see him as well.  It’s a reminder that he’s the pastor and that he’ll soon return.”

If a pastor knows he can trust the church staff and church board, then he can go away for a few weeks without fear.  But if has any doubts at all … it’s better to take shorter trips.

Finally, conflict is likely when just one staff member rebels.

It’s my belief that when a pastor hires a staff member, that person needs to be 100% loyal to him, both in public and in private.

And if that staff member can no longer demonstrate loyalty, he or she should resign and leave the church.

A disgruntled staff member should not stay at the church … should not spread their discontent to other staff … should not meet with a board member and trash the pastor … and above all, should not lead a rebellion against the pastor.

But I’ve been hearing more and more stories of staff rebellion, and it troubles me greatly.

In some cases, a staff member will claim that the pastor hurt his/her feelings, so they are justified in resisting the pastor’s leadership.

In other cases, a staff member starts to believe that he/she is more competent than the pastor … a sure sign that staff member should find another position somewhere else.

But in still more cases, a staff member believes that he or she should become the pastor, so they use any and every means necessary to push out the pastor.

For the life of me, I can’t understand this thinking.

In such cases, I always go back to the story of Moses and Korah in Numbers 16.

Moses was a deeply flawed leader.  He was reluctant to serve … very old … prone to frustration … and wasn’t leading Israel anywhere productive.

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram – members of Moses’ staff – led a rebellion against him … and felt they had every right to do so.

But when the ground later opened up, Moses was the only leader still standing on solid ground.


And the same thing is true today.  Regardless of a pastor’s personality flaws or creeping age, if God has called that person to be the pastor, then staff members either need to follow him or resign.

But if a staff member resists the pastor’s leadership … or openly rebels against him … his/her actions will become known, and send the signal to others, “We don’t have to follow the pastor’s leadership anymore.  We can all rebel.”

And World War 3 will break out in that church.

Church leaders can write policy manuals that hope to cover every possible situation, but regardless of their detailed planning, some anxiety-provoking event will always surface in a congregation.

Long beforehand, the wise pastor will tell his people:

“Not everything will go perfectly in this church.  No matter how well we plan, we will occasionally experience bumps and glitches along the road.  But when those situations occur, let’s resolve together to stay calm, to talk things out, to confess our shortcomings, and to forgive each other.  If we do that, we’ll triumph regardless of the issue.”

While we can’t stop anxiety from invading a congregation, wise leaders acknowledge that anxiety … bringing the level of conflict down … which enables God’s people to create spiritual and rational decisions rather than emotional and drastic ones.

What is the anxiety level of your congregation these days?
















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