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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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Pastoring the Powerful
Rev. John Simpson, General Superintendent,
Baptist Union of Victoria, Australia
It seems that there is no shortage of powerful people in our
churches. In response to an earlier Ministry Perspective, many pastors disclosed
their own struggles with those described as "TMs" (Trouble Makers). Some even
wondered if the paper had been written with specific people in their congregation in
mind. Since it appeared that a nerve had been touched, a special in-service event
for pastors was convened to consider how pastoral care could be offered to these powerful people in the church.
Are TMs a Recent Phenomenon?
Are difficult people a recent addition to the life of the community of faith? Hardly! Go no further than the motley crew which Jesus called to service. After three years of teamwork and affirmations of love and loyalty, Peter cracked under pressure and denied any knowledge of His Lord. Judas let loose destructive forces which led to the death of Jesus while Thomas, acting like a forerunner of the forensic science brigade, demanded tangible proof of the apparently empty tomb.
Before all this Mrs Zebedee tried to book special seats for her boys in the new Kingdom and there was the celebrated in-house argument about who was the greatest. If Jesus had to deal with such unbridled humanity, we will not be spared the same turmoil.
The early church soon discovered the reality of TMs:
* Ananias and Sapphira fudged the figures on their land deal,
* The Greek and Hebrew widows scrapped over inequities in the distribution of food,
* Simon the Sorcerer pulled out his wallet to buy up the Holy Spirit,
* Paul was distressed by competing groups,
* Diotrophes turned the church into his own exclusive club.
What Produces a Climate of Tension?
There are many variables in the life of a congregation which will lead to tension, unsettlement and the activity of powerful people. A sampling:
Concern about biblical correctness in the life of the church may lead to the emergence of the powerfully dogmatic. Sometimes unhappiness arises because an aspect of church life is perceived to be contrary to the teaching of the Bible. It could be anything from worship to the conduct of the youth group and everything else in between. The problem has to do with the way in which differing views are accommodated. If there is a digging in on a position, this will lead to conflict especially if the Bible is then used as a weapon. Sincere concerns can so easily lead to a tough dogmatism which lacks Christian grace and charity. Such powerfully held opinions are ultimately counter productive.
Poor communication systems within the congregation will lead to the emergence of the powerfully disenchanted. Not all churches enjoy good communication networks. If there is a sense of information being withheld, or of some people being "in" on what is happening and others feeling very "out," there will be trouble. The sad truth is that, with the exception of confidential pastoral issues, there is no reason why members should be denied ongoing details on most aspects of church life. The suspicion of being left in the dark is one which will give a rallying point for those who might otherwise be helpful and constructive.
Surface relationships based on function will lead to devalued people at war with the world. Too often we are guilty of relating to our people on the basis of what they contribute to the church rather than who they are. We confuse function with relationship and pay a high price for so doing. When our people feel that they are only sought after when there is a job needing to be done, we are missing the beauty and the wonder of really enjoying them as people in their own right. If we place programs or tasks ahead of loving care and interest, we should not wonder at the lack of co-operation and support of those who will come across to us as difficult.
Without the confidence of our people, there will be those who will have reasonable doubt about all that we do. There is no substitute for trust between pastor and congregation. It does not matter how educated, or articulate, or skilled, or gifted a pastor may be, if there is minimal congregational confidence it will be a hard road. It takes time to build mutual understanding and acceptance but it is worth the effort. TMs may have a case if there is reason to believe that the pastor is not worthy of the trust of the church. If a pastor does not recognise this, the seeds of total breakdown are already present.
Too much change too fast will bring stress and unhappiness which may even put usually helpful people off side. The effective management of change relies on learning how to find a pace which does not leave too many wondering what may happen next. A commitment to learn, acknowledge mistakes and adjust the speed will be beneficial. But a failure to see this will lead to increasing anxiety and angst which, if not attended to, will see change collapsing in a heap. Usually helpful people will react strongly if concerns which they believe are justified are being ignored.
The Pastor and Self Awareness
A pastor will do well to reflect on the reasons why certain kinds of people become irritating. It is all to easy to blame others for trouble which descends on the church. The simple fact is that we all have panic buttons which can be unerringly pressed by those who drive us to distraction. We need to ponder our own reactions and be very careful that we are not contributing to the problems.
A person may seem to be a classic TM for us simply because they have the knack of getting under our skin. It may not be their fault. There are such things as personality clashes; blaming our TMs for all that goes wrong shows a lack of maturity, personal insight and grace.
Problem People: There are a Variety
Wayne Oates describes five varieties of powerful people:
* The Circumferential or Back Biter who communicates behind the scenes but never directly with the person who is the subject of their criticism.
* The Authoritarian Power Ridden who can only function when firmly in charge. They want to do it their way.
* The Competitive Divider of the Congregation who enjoys bringing division and party spirit.
* The Clinging Vine Dependant who rules the diary by their constant pleas for help
* The Star Performer who places themselves firmly in the spotlight attracting attention to themselves.
There are others who could be added to the list:
* The Proprietor who has made a significant contribution to the church, sometimes through the gift of the organ, the communion table or a large financial donation, and who thereby claims influence over the church. They are more likely to be found in older churches where they may hunt in packs.
* The Disturbed Person who has real needs which can only be addressed by an adequately trained counsellor. Their fights with the pastor and the church represent the outworking of unhealed scars of long ago.
* The TM who sets out intentionally to destabilise the church. These are the "white anters," the politicians.
* The leader who is ungifted for their role but who rigorously claims the franchise and actively works to keep others (who are more suitably gifted) at bay.
* The baggage carrier from another denominational setting who arrives spiritually wide eyed and bushy tailed with a very different view of leadership, ministry and the role of the congregation. A collision awaits the pastor who is unprepared.
Circumstances which Encourage the Powerful--
Some situations produce a climate ideal for the powerful to flourish:
Some Basic Underlying Assumptions
In case any pastor is longing for the perfect church, keep in mind the following:
Caring for Powerful--Some Suggestions:
One Final Thought
How do you really see your ministry? As spiritual turf to be preserved from intruders? The pastor who worries about others crowding in on them needs a fresh view of what they are about. Ministry is a gift. It is not something which we have worked up for ourselves.
The Lord has entrusted to us a small part of His Kingdom strategy. It is our task to serve faithfully and set our brothers and sisters in Christ free to serve Him well too. Yes, it may demand that we make room for them to find their feet and ensure that they receive affirmations which we might otherwise think should be for us. We have not been called to the front row or mid stage to be applauded. We have been called to serve.
The pastor who is at home doing what they feel is right for their Lord will meet fewer powerful people. They will be the ones who have the best chance of getting alongside problem people and winning their support and confidence. It also puts the focus on stature rather than status.
If we are hung up about position, hierarchy or calling the shots, we have lost the plot. We are not here to throw our weight around. The secret was recorded a long time ago: in quietness and trust is your strength. This is the kind of living and serving which gives the mountains a hurry up.
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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:08 PM