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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Conflict? Ask Ken: Runaway Congregational Conflict and Why We Should Solve It (Part 3)

Conflict_1(Continuing from last week’s article, Part 2)


Making the Transition

Changing expectations is the first of two major steps that will help churches to better deal with conflict.  The second has to do with the way conflict is viewed once it has emerged.

Question: when does one draw the line between a healthy difference of opinion and destructive arguing? Answer: when people become “antagonists.”  The etymology of the word “to antagonize” comes from Greek, meaning “to struggle against” (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker). Hence, when someone starts directing energy away from a given problem and begins to struggle against another person, the line demarcating destructive conflict has been crossed.

The Need to Erect a Wall in Our Minds
When people begin to undermine the other, it does not bode well for the future of that relationship or for the social setting in which it occurs.  The original issue is no longer the real issue. The problem is now identified as a person.  He is / she is / they are the problem.   In a highly inter-relational setting such as a church, sides begin to form. If the dispute does not get resolved, people begin talking less constructively to each other and more negatively about each other with those in their own circle.  Each faction views the other with growing suspicion and ignores what they have in common.  Thoughts become increasingly judgmental and condemning.  Questions of the other's character, competency, credibility, or spirituality are raised.  Emotions affect reasoning. Exaggeration, false assumptions, and other distortions in perception increasingly occur. Parties belittle each other. Action begets counteraction and the conflict escalates. The nasty spirit that surfaces may be as ugly as any found in a secular setting.  Why?

“For one thing, parties' core identities are at risk in church conflicts.  Spiritual commitments and faith understandings are highly inflammable because they are central to ones' psychological identity….  When church folk feel that their worldview or personal integrity is being questioned or condemned, they often become emotionally violent or violating” (Halverstadt).

It goes without saying that this escalating cycle of conflict must not be allowed to occur. Rather, (1) a wall must be established in each person's mind prior to the point of personal attack, and (2) a concerted effort must be made to bring back parties who have scaled that wall.  These two objectives are foundational and must be met if churches are to effectively resolve conflict.  Indeed, these are not just good ideas.  They are rooted in Biblical theology and must be clearly enunciated to churchgoers on a regular basis.

The Theological Foundation
Volkan has observed that people in battle have “the tendency to portray one's own tribe or ethnic group as human while describing other groups as subhuman.” An illustration of this concept occurred on an individual level when a U.S. government official made the following statement about another elected official with whom he was in conflict. Speaking to an intervening third party the first man said, “Let's get this straight. We're dealing with a subhuman species here - this is not a human being we're dealing with” (Wilmot & Hocker). Such labeling, however, does nothing to manage the conflict.  It only creates a more entrenched enemy. Lewis Smedes, who noted this tendency to negatively portray an adversary, put it this way,

“We shrink him to the size of what he did to us; he becomes the wrong he did.  If he has done something truly horrible, we say things like, `He is no more than an animal.'  Or, `He is nothing but a cheat.'  Our `no more thans' and our `nothing buts' knock the humanity out of our enemy.  He is no longer a fragile spirit living on the fringes of extinction.  He is no longer a confusing mixture of good and evil.  He is only, he is totally, the sinner who did us wrong.”

Such a direct attack on another person is very common in the midst of interpersonal strife. Nevertheless, it cannot be allowed to stand, especially in the church.  It flies directly in the face of the Judeo-Christian worldview that holds there is no essential difference between any of us.  The Scriptures teach that God “made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth,” Acts 17:26 (NKJV).

Though some might like to think that others are intrinsically second-rate, this is patently false.  The Scriptures couldn't be more explicit regarding our moral deficiencies, “for there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:22-23 (NIV).  Soviet dissident and Pulitzer Prize winner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who became a Christian while in a Russian gulag, later wrote with great insight,

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

A dramatic illustration of this comes from a surprising source, the television program, “60 Minutes,” and the segment entitled, “The Devil is a Gentleman.”  The story is about Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust.  Mike Wallace posed this question near the beginning of the piece, “How is it possible, you ask yourself, for a man to act as Eichmann acted, do as Eichmann did?  Was he a monster?  A madman?  Or was he perhaps something even more terrifying: was he normal?”

A riveting answer came during Mike Wallace's interview with Yahiel Dinur, a concentration camp survivor.  He was called to testify against Adolf Eichmann at the Nuremberg trials in 1961, some 18 years after the Nazi personally sent him to Auschwitz.   Wallace observed that the sight of Eichmann by Dinur at the trial, “unleashed a shattering, disabling response.”  A film clip of the trial was replayed on the broadcast.  Dinur walked into the courtroom.  Upon seeing Eichmann, Dinur was overtaken by emotion and fainted.
Wallace remarked, “Why did Yahiel Dinur collapse?  He says it was the realization that the Eichmann who stood before him at the trial was not the godlike army officer who had sent millions to their death.  This Eichmann, he said, was an ordinary man, an unremarkable man.  And if this Eichmann was so ordinary, so human, says Dinur, then he realized that what Eichmann had done, any man could be capable of doing - even Yahiel Dinur.”  Dinur asserted, “I saw I am capable to do this.  I am capable exactly like he.”

Of course, countless thousands were involved in Germany's campaign of annihilation.  Eerily, the conclusion is the same.  “It was not crazed lunatics who created and managed the Holocaust, but highly rational and otherwise quite normal bureaucrats” (Ritzer).  As 60 Minute correspondent Morley Safer reminded viewers in a different Holocaust story, “evil can have a very ordinary face.”  This is because there is a line dividing good and evil in every human heart.

Elaborating on his metaphor of the “line,” Solzhenitsyn added,

“During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish.  One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being.  At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood.”

This is akin to what William James stated over 100 years ago.  James observed that a man “has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares.  He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups” (Lemert).  It underscores the fact that how we act or the “face” we put on changes in the various circumstances we encounter.  The truth is our totality of personhood is more than words we speak or any given act we engage in.

Keeping The Proper Perspective
Yet in the midst of interpersonal conflict, we tend to stereotype our adversaries by their worst behavior. We tend to inaccurately characterize others by deriving from one or more callous acts an all-encompassing negative view of that person.  The remarks of one of the great Christian thinkers of the 20th century, C. S. Lewis, are relevant here. Commenting on the dictum, “hate the sin but not the sinner,” he stated,

“I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.  For a long time I used to think, this is a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man?  But years later it occurred to me that there is one man to whom I had been doing this all my life - namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself.  There had never been the slightest difficulty about it.”

There's probably not a psychologically healthy person on the planet who can't identify with these words.  In essence, we all have established in our minds a wall that separates who we are and what we do. Why?  Because who we consider ourselves to be and what we do at a given moment in time are not necessarily the same.  Consequently, to accord anything less to others is to engage in hypocrisy. 

Therefore, when we attack another's personhood, not only do our all-inclusive assessments of negativity invariably miss the mark, but they also make conflict more intractable.  One person's reductionist view of the other disputant will inevitably be rejected by the one who is being attacked.

For Discussion:  What are your thoughts or comments to the above presentation.  Do you agree or disagree, and why?



Unique_help_1  © 2005 Kenneth C. Newberger
Ken Newberger, an experienced church conflict resolution and development specialist, earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, has ten years senior pastoral experience, and is in the dissertation phase for his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Nova Southeastern University, one of only two accredited doctoral programs of its kind in the United States. If your church needs help resolving conflict, if you need individual coaching, or if you would like to develop a communicatively healthy church,  please visit Ken's website  at www.ResolveChurchConflict.com  or call 301-253-8877.

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June 30, 2005 in Church Conflict | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Double Your Church Attendance... Guaranteed!

Churchattendance I ran across an interesting site this morning... and I'm not going to even give you the URL.  It is for a book simply entitled "Double Your Church Attendance".  And it even comes with a guarantee:

"Remember - there is absolutely NO RISK if you order this guide now! Your complete satisfaction is guaranteed! Order this fantastic church growth manual, review it, use it yourself to increase your church attendance and membership - and then, if you still don't believe it's worth every penney at this ridiculously low price (my gift to you) then just return the book for a full refund of your purchase price.  It's that simple.  Click here to order now! "

(I actually thought the guarantee was kind of funny... it's not a money back "if your church doesn't double in attendance"; only if "you don't believe it's worth every penney (notice the misspelling) at this ridiculously low price).

Is it just me, or does this sound a little silly?  Just for fun, I'm guessing at some of the chapter titles:

Chapter One:  Everyone invite a friend
Chapter Two:  Free food for all!
Chapter Three:  Implement the "10 minute sermon"
Chapter Four:  Add a "Bring Your Pet to Church with You" Venue
Chapter Five:  Consider the Merge (with a church at least as big as you)
Chaptier Six:  Keys to Hiring Rick Warren as Your Next Pastor

I really mean no offense to the person who actually wrote the book; but while I've never been a senior pastor (I have served on staff as a worship guy)... it seems to me that doubling your church always ain't all that easy.  And my guess is that if someone actually perfected a model that would do that, it would probably be outselling A Purpose-Driven Life right now.  It reminds me of a character made famous by famous radio man Gary Burbank (of WLW IN Cincinnati).  He has a character simply named "The big fat balding guy with a stubby cigar in his mouth and his pants half-zipped" whose signature line is... "And this time... I'm being honest with chu..."

Just some mid-morning ramblings for the day.  Hey... anyone have any other chapter titles for this book?  Maybe we could write our own!  :)

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June 30, 2005 in Church Growth | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Creative Tension: Repelling the Monster

Tension If you're a part of a growing and innovative church, there's no doubt that you'll soon find yourself with more tension and stress than you care to deal with.  Things like finding enough room for people to sit; creativity addressing quality issues; or keeping track of all the children and keeping them safe.  Growth and striving to do the best you can often brings tension.  Pastor Ed Young, Jr. recently had a piece in Leadership Journal that discusses three major areas of tension that you'll probably encounter sooner or later, and some practical advice on how to deal with those areas:

1. Excellence vs. Expense
One common belief is that creativity means spending more money. But that's a fallacy.  In today's technology-crazed world, it's tempting to keep buying the hottest equipment. But does that purchase serve a higher purpose, helping reach people more effectively, or is it just a cool toy for your team to play with? You don't have to buy high-end gear to be cutting edge. Yes, you may have to spend some money for technology. But you can be creative without being a large, wealthy church....Technology is either a tool or a tail. It has incredible potential as a tool to communicate aspects of God's Kingdom. But it also has the disastrous potential to be the tail that wags the dog. A dog that quickly turns into a pit bull!

2. Spontaneity vs. Structure
Seeking creative excellence can lead to one of two extremes.

On one end is the keep-it-real crowd that tries so hard to be spontaneous, unstructured, and free-flowing that it can segue into laziness. Under the umbrella of "authenticity," it's easy to forget that hard work and strategic planning are important to creative communication....On the other end of the spectrum, some people are tempted to over-script every area of the service. They are so regimented and production-crazed that they don't allow for any freedom. They're so structured that even the audience's applause is timed into the service script!

Herein lies the tension. In order to connect with people, we've got to find the sweet spot that incorporates passion, personality, and performance. Plan what you want to say, how you are going to say it, and where you want to lead your audience. But then be flexible enough to make changes if it's not working.

3. Consistency vs. Change
Criticism inevitably surfaces in the presence of creativity. Don't let it discourage you. If you cower from criticism, you will never have a church marked by creativity. Sometimes that criticism comes from unexpected sources...One of the realities of leading with creativity is that some will not like the innovations. It's especially hard when those innovations don't suit the founders or charter members, or those who came to Christ a few years earlier...The constant question of people who attend a creatively focused church should be, "What are they going to do next?"

Creativity produces tension. Don't let these tensions deter you from creatively communicating the word of God. A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission demands great creativity.

You can read the entire article here.  What do you think?  Do you struggle with these three areas of tension?

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June 30, 2005 in Leadership Issues | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Guest Bloggers Wanted: Inquire Within

Typewriter I'm looking for a few guest bloggers that would like to help take some of the load off of keeping up the MMIBlog.com site during some times of my vacation, travel, laziness, writer's block, etc.  If you have something you'd like to share that you think is of importance or interest to pastors and/or church staff members, please take a moment to email me and let me know you'd like to help contribute.  (Even if you have you're own blog, I'd love to have you 'guest blog' here!)  It could be a one-time thing, or a series of posts on something you're interested in or specialize in.  If you're interested, please let me know more about you and what you'd like to write about.

And for all you readers (yeah, you... who's reading this right now!)... what would you like to read about here at the MMIBlog?  Is there something that interests you that you'd like to hear more about?  Something you'd like to discuss?  If so, please leave your blog ideas in the comments section of this post.

We've added alot of content this week so far... before you leave, please check out all the new topics, threads, and discussions.  :)

Thanks, everyone!


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June 30, 2005 in Blog Housekeeping | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

When Loving You Is Killing Me: Thoughts On Pastoring The Small Church (Part 2)

Smallchurch_3 Yesterday, we looked at part one of Pastor David Hansen's story.  Today we'll hear (as Paul Harvey would say), 'the rest of the story'.  David writes:

I became bitter, and occasionally angry. (Once when the length of a service was criticized in a humiliating deacon's meeting- I went 10 minutes past noon- I ended the service the next week after 40 minutes.) I fought, and lost. Tried and lost. Prayed and heard nothing. I talked to my fellow pastors endlessly. They just looked at me and bought me lunch. They had heard it from this church before and were going through it at their own.

I wanted this pastorate to be everything I ever dreamed my church would be. Instead, I was frozen out by one family, and as soon as my failure became apparent, the rest of the church looked on with a familiar shrug.

(I want to say a huge thanks to all the good people who stood with me in those years. You were precious friends, and I am sorry that I couldn't be the pastor you needed.)

A major church debacle over ball caps? You better believe it. THAT is the reality thousands and thousands of pastors live in, and it is horrible way to live. My marriage was brutalized in these years. My parenting was deeply affected. It was in this time that I failed to finish my doctorate. I gained weight. I wound up catatonic in a corner at one point. I spent a week in the hospital with my heart arrhythmia.

Thousands of pastors are going through this. Thousands.

This story comes to you from Michael Spencer's Blog.  Michael makes these comments:

Hansen says something wonderful in this essay. He says that you must decide if the church is a church, or a collection of individuals. It is, of course, always both.

Individuals and their needs, quirks, and demands dominated my life as a small church pastor. We were 30 minutes outside Louisville. I spent half of each week visiting in the city's many different hospitals. Such pastoral care was expected, but because the dominant family opposed me, it bought me none of the credit one hopes will accrue from faithful pastoral care.

Disgruntled members were the recipients of much of my time. One family was unhappy that we included some worship choruses, rather than all hymns. I visited them several times, to only be told that if we did not do what they wanted, they would leave. Why didn't I just smile and say, "OK. Leave. Sorry to see you go, but I'm not changing for you." Instead I begged, pleaded, negotiated and bribed. I wanted them to stay. I wanted to prevail on their sense of what was best for the congregation, and not to simply assert personal preferences. I wanted to believe that the church would prevail over this collection of individuals. I was wrong in that instance. It was a waste of time.

I counseled anyone with even a distant or past connection to the church, spending hours and hours with people who would never darkened the door of a worship service. I tried to start neighborhood Bible Studies, and spent hours knocking on doors alone. When I found a receptive family and they came to church, they were ignored. When our youth minister proved incompetent, I tried to fill the bill, and nearly got fired. I worked with members to start a clothes closet and a ministry to alcoholics. Some leaders supported these things, but the key players simply looked past these things, and waited for me to wear down.

It was a collection of individuals and families; a collection of preferences, traditions and political realities. My vision of being a church was the tie, and that tie was fraying, or was being cut. I kept looking for the church to show up. I kept hearing about it. I kept dreaming of it. But it never showed up for me. After four years, I left.

The church is on its third pastor since I left 13 years ago. You do the math. God has blessed in many ways, and I rejoice in much good that has been done. My failures and mistakes were overwhelming. I was an immature and troubled person. Still, it seems that few pastors can stay for more than four years at many small churches such as this one.

I understand young men who want to skip all of this and start from scratch. I can see the allure of training all the leaders yourself; of attracting people to a vision that is foundational to the existence of the church. Fighting over ball caps and hymnals and whether women can lead singing is a terrible way to spend your short life. Spending your days laying aside the work of growing the church or studying for preaching in order to keep dozens of disgruntled and demanding people happy seems foolish. Is this the church? Or something else?

Some of my readers condemn me for my sympathy with the emergent church. I understand the problems and concerns you have with many emergent writers, and I am opposed to churches that are so generationally specific they would have no idea what to do with a senior adult. Still, I believe we need thousands of new churches. It breaks my heart to know that there are so many pastors living out there lives in small churches that are nothing more than "family chapels." Gatherings of family and cultural loyalty where the question of ball caps in church becomes a major division and an ugly testimony to the disunity of Christians.

Still, another part of me wants to love these churches. Many times, I wish that I could go back and try again. I still dream of seeing the small church becoming the church of Jesus, and not just a building where a few families gather a few hours a month. I sometimes long to preach the word and do pastoral labor among such people, and to plead with them to refresh their weariness and pettiness in the springs of living water.

The small church has probably killed more than a few ministers. Its antics and fights have discredited the name of Christ. Yet, it is the small church that nurtures and cares for most of the Christians in our culture. Should it die, or fade away in the shadow of the megachurch, Christianity in America would be greatly weakened. There are small churches everywhere that are wonderful witnesses to Christ and caring bodies of believers loving one another in Jesus name. These churches need pastors and elders. They need someone to lead and to love them.

I may find one again someday, and as an older, more prudent, mature person, I may succeed where previously I failed. Christ's church will never fail, and I hope in him. May churches new and old reflect the glory of the Gospel in the face of Jesus, and not the petty feuds and power plays that dominate so many churches.

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June 30, 2005 in Senior Pastors | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

A Good Blog Post Gone Bad

Boxingglove We've had a lot of discussions about blogging here and how even good discussions can go bad.  Terry Storch had a great example of this yesterday when an 'anonymous' person decided to set everyone straight by quoting scripture.

Controversy, it seems, can come out of anywhere; especially on a blog.   I can say something is red; and someone most certainly (on my blog anyway) will say it was blue.

If you haven't already, please check out our blogging maturity and etiquette post.  I hate to even think about having rules here, but it's necessary.  I think I might have to add the "no anonymous posts" rule to the list. 

I want to post again on this subject sometime soon, maybe tomorrow (well, today I guess) if I can find the time.  Blogs are a great tool; but we have to somehow find a way to take the lowest common denominator out of the mix.  (By LCD, I mean the insulting post, the anonymous post, and the angry post).

As a blog owner, you sometimes feel like Rodney Dangerfield... you just don't get no respect.  :)

Hang in there Terry... there's light at the end of this tunnel! (somewhere!)


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June 30, 2005 in Blogging How-Tos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Got Parking?

Parking_1 For growing churches, parking quickly becomes a number one issue.  My church, for instance, just bought a home right next to the church so that we could remove it to provide more parking.  Bill Couchenour, the President of Cogun Builders has a book out called "Churches...Before You Build" that addresses many of the 'rules of thumb' that churches should look at when building a new facility.  We'll share some insights from time to time here at the blog since many of you have either gone through building projects; or will do so soon.  Here, for example is some practical advise about "parking":

1.  You should plan on one parking space for every 2 to 2.5 people in attendance on site at one time.

2.  You can fit about 100-110 parking spaces per acre that are used for parking only.  (This assumes efficient layout with parking on both sides of driving lanes and allowing for landscaping and general access.)

3.  The standard parking space should be 9 feet by 18 feet.  (For handicapped spaces: 8 feet by 18 feet with 5-foot access isle.  This requirements vary by local codes)

4.  You should have roughly 1:25 ratio between regular parking spaces and handicapped spaces.  (For example, if you have 25 total parking spaces, 1 should be earmarked as handicapped).

5. 90 degree parking on both sides of two-way driving lanes is generally the most efficient layout for parking.

Hope some of you find this interesting and useful.  For more information, you can contact Cogun at their website;  or you can order a copy of the book "Churches...Before You Build" by going here.

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June 29, 2005 in Church Construction | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack



Apple has just released iTunes 4.9; which now includes support for PODcasting.  I just downloaded my free copy and am testing it out.

Is anyone out there doing anything with podcasting in your ministry yet?  If so, please share what you're doing, and how to subscribe to your podcasts.  Also, for those of you who are much more ahead of the podcasting curve than I am:  What are some of the podcasts that you subscribe to? 

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June 29, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

4 Ways Blogging Can Help Your Church

Blog Today, I'm starting a new category here at the MMIBlog.com website called "Blogging How-To's".  In this first installment, we'll look at Ken Gosnell's four tips on how blogging can help your church.  Have you considered adding a blog for your church?  It's a great idea!  Here's why...

1. Blogging will bring churches closer together as it closes a communication gap
One of the fundamental issues in church life is communicating the vision. Often the vision gets lost for more pressing issues. However, blogs will help the church family stay in constant communication. We will be able to share ideas and thoughts in a timely way and wait for others to respond.

2. Blogging will help to develop sermons and classes
Now, a preacher will be able to post a sermon idea at the beginning of the week and have the congregation respond so that when he delivers the sermon he will have brought many along for the ride. They will be actively engaged in the process and be able to share ideas and thoughts. Soon a preacher that does not blog with his congregation will be out of touch and behind the pack. Just note: blogging will change how preaching is done!

3. Blogging will break down barriers and remove masks
People experience significant freedom to communicate when blogging. This venue allows people time to think about their ideas and how they want to communicate them. In face-to-face communication, many people feel threatened and stifled.

4. Blogging will help the church to engage the culture.
Stephan Baker and Heather Green in the Business Week article say,

Blogs are different. They evolve with every posting, each one tied to a moment. So if a company (or church) can track millions of blogs simultaneously, it gets a heat map of what a growing part of the world is thinking, about, minute by minute. E-mail has carried on billions of conversations over the past decade. But those exchanges were private. Most blogs are open to the world. As the bloggers read each others comments, and link from one page to the next, they create a global conversation. (p. 62-63)

We have the world at our fingertips and we can do a whole new kind of evangelism.

It is a whole new world out there in the 'blogosphere'.  I'm hoping to get some time to write in this new category some of how this blog is reaching people I never even intended to.  It's a great way to connect and reach out to people, even in your own church.

Have you considered having either a personal blog or a blog for your church?  If you have, and you don't know where to start, please ask your questions here.  I'll try to do my best to find good answers to share; and maybe we can all start on the same page:  influencing others for Christ with 'blogs'  (who woulda ever figured?)  Please share your questions or blogging experience now!  :)

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June 29, 2005 in Blogging How-Tos | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

When Loving You Is Killing Me: Thoughts On Pastoring The Small Church

Smallchurch_2 Are you a small church pastor that struggles with both the best and the worst the small church has to offer?  I recently found the heart-felt story of Pastor David Hansen, and his experience with his first small church pastorate.  I think it echos stories I've heard many times over the years... and stories that I've witnessed first-hand many times as well.  Here's part one of David's story...

I remember what it was like to be a small church pastor and to be optimistic. To come in and look at your congregation and feel love and hope for the future. For me, after years as a youth minister, it was wonderful. I was never happier as a minister than those first few weeks as Pastor Michael Spencer.

And then....I was taken for a ride in a truck. Mr. So and So, (not his real name) says, "Now you know I give more money than anyone else in the church don't you?" The shine was off of Mikey's new toy. (Actual true story.)

It didn't take long to discover that I was pastoring a network of extended families, and if I were going to do anything here, I was going to have to memorize a map that was never printed; a map of who mattered, who had power, who called the shots, and whose blessing would determine my support.

I quickly found out that one Sunday School class and one teacher ran the church. I discovered that one dominant family had determined the success of every pastor for years. I found out that everyone in the church had either made peace with this, or was ready for me to lead the charge to dislodge the dominant family, and if we lost, well.....I'd leave and they would try again.

I am naturally fearful. I am also very stubborn. This situation provided me with four years to preach my heart out, work around the edges, appeal to everyone to follow my leadership, and try a dozen new things that the dominant family ignored.

In other words, for four years I worked like so many small church pastors: I tried to be a good and faithful pastor without playing politics. I did all I could to be a good pastor to this family, including seeing them through the death of a major family member. Nothing mattered. I never received a dinner invitation. I never got a basket of peaches. My every decision was wrong. All my projects were ignored. They supported the church, and tolerated me. Things got colder by the week. My future was eroded and undercut at every point.

At one point, late in the game, we had an evangelist come to preach. A real fiery, bulldog of a guy. He follows me around for a couple of days, and smells out the church. We're in the study, and he looks at me with a look that I can only describe as contempt. "Why don't you tell _________________ that you're the pastor, and he can either support you or leave? Stand up to this bunch."

So easy to say. So many young pastors go that route, and get their luggage early. I was trying to be a lover and smart guy, not a fighter. I would buy my own luggage, and not much later than if I'd drawn a line in the sand.

I became bitter, and occasionally angry. (Once when the length of a service was criticized in a humiliating deacon's meeting- I went 10 minutes past noon- I ended the service the next week after 40 minutes.) I fought, and lost. Tried and lost. Prayed and heard nothing. I talked to my fellow pastors endlessly. They just looked at me and bought me lunch. They had heard it from this church before and were going through it at their own.

Anyone face a similiar scenario?  (Maybe you're in this story right now).  How did it work out?  How did you handle the situation?

Tomorrow, we'll look at part 2 of David's story.

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June 29, 2005 in Senior Pastors | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack