I have some shocking news: I have learned that staff and laity view things differently in a church. If you’ve spent much time in any church, you’ve witnessed conflict. Where does it come from? What are its causes? In James 4:1-2, he says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something, but don’t get it.” Even when a goal is noble, how it is obtained can lead to trouble. Let me illustrate what I’m talking about.
After spending time seeking God’s will, a pastor concludes a new vision is in order for his church. The pastor sees a more effective way to reach people in his community while at the same time strengthening his church. He shares this vision with his staff. They become excited about the possibilities for a greater impact, and get on board with this new direction. In short order, a well-done multi-media explanation is presented to the church during worship. The video explains the new vision, as well as the significant sacrifice that will be required of the church to make it happen. The pastor follows the video with a sermon about reaching the lost and making disciples. When the vote is taken Wednesday night to “affirm” the endeavor, there is no dissent, but neither is there much excitement.
Two years later, giving has not increased but expenses certainly have. Attendance is down. The church is not meeting budget. The impact on the community has not been realized. Few church members volunteer to be involved, and the staff is carrying an extra load trying to make this endeavor happen. Squabbles have broken out all over the church. Even the staff is fighting now. The pastor sits in his office and prays, “God, what is going on?”
Sound familiar? I’ll bet all you have to do is insert your particular “endeavor” and you have a story about a church that could fit this pattern. If not, you are blessed indeed. So what went wrong, and how do the different church players view it?
What is the pastor's view? Maybe his assessment is that the church members just aren’t serious enough disciples -- that they don’t understand that God expects a commitment out of us. He may believe that this church is no different than so many others and that it has grown cold, complacent, and contentious. The pastor wonders if he should entertain that inquiry from a search committee after all.
What is the view from the pew? What are the church members thinking? Undoubtedly, some of them will cringe and withdraw anytime they hear the words “sacrifice”. Others will say, “OK, I’m good if that’s what the pastor thinks is best” knowing they will never be involved anyway. Mature believers want to listen to the pastor, but they want more to hear from God – individually and corporately. They know that pastors can sometimes be wrong. Serious disciples will follow their church's leadership, but not at the expense of silence from the Spirit.
There is a big difference between leading and just getting your way. Leadership brings people with you. Leadership waits when the congregation is not ready. Leadership reassesses when mistaken. Leadership persuades by the weight of God’s Word and through earned trust. So, am I saying it’s always the pastor’s fault when things go wrong? No – absolutely not. But what I am saying is that the pastor and staff can save themselves a world of trouble by honestly dealing with people’s concerns before embarking on big endeavors.
Church leadership is often a messy business. There are always contentious people who will pick at any decision, but a pastor doesn't have to go it alone. Mature believers will swat down the trouble-makers for the pastor when they see his humility and trust his heart. My point is this: it does a pastor no good to wrangle an approval if the people aren’t with him. It just creates resentment and guarantees conflict down the road. Even a pastor's supporters have a hard time defending a good thing handled the wrong way. If God is in an endeavor, the people will get on board. It's true for small churches and large churches alike.
What is a big decision that warrants the church’s involvement? Where should the pastor have freedom? How should a layman go about seeking what he wants to see in the church? I’ll explore these questions in subsequent posts.