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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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Seventeen Lessons In The Aftermath
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- 1) God Builds His Church. He Really Does!
- After severe conflicts and/or splits, the church which survives and thrives serves as a
living testimony or monument of God's faithfulness. No longer is it just a building. It's
a monument, a stone and mortar testament, that God has acted in a powerful, undeniable
manner to build His church through you and others.
- 2) God Is In Control--Not You.
- Whenever conflict ensues, things tend to get out of control. Some would think that the
greater the conflict, the greater the experience of a loss of control. It's not true. The
lesson of conflict is simply the lesson one should have learned in more peaceable times.
You are not in control. You never were, you aren't now, and you never will be. God is.
- Proverbs says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborer [i.e. pastor] builds
in vain." Congregational splits and conflict are simply God's way of wresting the
church away from the Pastor's strength and submitting it to His control. Yes, you have
to Let Go and let God. If you
can't do it willingly--or if you think you have already done it--let God put you to the
test. Conflict and dissension are that test. Those who "pass" always learn the
most important lesson: God is in control, not you.
- 3) God Really Is In Control.
- Through all the chaos, the unpredictability, and the anxiety, it's easy to doubt God.
It's easy to wonder if He really cares. As offerings drop precipiticiously, membership
losses dwindle with no end in sight, and the fires of conflict continue to burn
uncontrollably, you can feel so powerless.
- If you need proof that He is in control, consider this: It is in your overwhelming
awareness of powerlessness that God has brought you exactly to the point where He
wants you. Now that He has brought you to the point of attention, He will teach you the
greatest lesson of ministry: He is in Control. He really is! As Psalm 46 affirms,
"The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge!" He is with us!
He is our Refuge! He is in control!
- 4) You're Not As Strong As You Think You Are.
- Conflict, rejection, disapproval, disappointment, and feelings of failure do take their
toll. The human body and mind can take only so much before it reacts either by snapping
into an anxious mental state or by starting to wear down.
- The slow incremental wearing down which may be that which is most damaging to leaders in
conflict. Since there is no sharp demarcation of the onset of mental health and its
symptoms (e.g. depression, anxiety, obsessions, addictions, suicide, et al), some pastors
may feel "pushed to the edge" and unable to hold up physically, mentally and
- At such times appropriate medication and professional therapy are essential
interventions before pastors hit bottom (e.g. Paxil, Zoloft, et al)--and they will
hit bottom--thoroughly exhausted, devastated and virtually ruined. Most important,
however, is the recognition that every pastor has weaknesses.
- When pastors must deal with their self-perceived weakness, they must give
significant responsibilities to other leaders. They must challenge others to make a
difference in those areas not specifically related to the calling of the pastoral office
where, formerly, the pastor was making a difference.
- When pastors feel they are not as strong as they think they are, they must recognize
that this may be the way God is telling them they must lighten up, loosen up, and let go.
They are forced to look outside of themselves. They must broaden their leadership base.
They must delegate. They must let even ministry novices try, fail, and succeed. They must
- They must be willing to give credit to others. They must be willing to share--or, at
times, get out of--the limelight. Finally, they must be willing to enthusiastically and
publicly celebrate God's working in them in their respective ministries.
- 5) Even In Your Weakness, With God You Are Stronger Than You Think
- In your weakness, God will demonstrate His strength. But He can only do that, humanly
speaking, if we patiently wait, persevere and hold out hope. God will work through our
special calling to weakness to change, mold and shape us as we have need. Let go. No
matter how much time God uses or needs, let God work. Then, in seeing His work, you will
learn just how really, really powerful God is and how He can work that power in
6) Pastors Cannot Survive Splits Without Access To Competent Christian
- Seeking counsel is not a sign of weakness; it's a sign of strength. As faith is rooted
in confession and absolution, admission and healing, so pastors need a real confidant with
whom they can totally, absolutely and safely pour out their souls just like parishioners
- Congregational conflict can be especially distressing to the pastor's spouse,
family, supportive staff members and friends. Though these individuals and others may want
to give support, they have finite capacities. Recognize that and get key support
from a counseling professional and those ready, willing and fit to be part of the
necessary coping relationship network.
- 7) There Is A Lag Time Between The Congregation's Healing And Your Healing.
- The Pastor may be the first one to see trouble coming. When such is the case, the
pastor not only feels the pain first, but the pastor feels it alone. After the
conflict, the pastor may be the last to heal. Having directed so many energies to the
healing of the organization, the pastor may have not taken the necessary time in crisis to
- There may be a significant time of intense grief, rejection and disappointment before
the pastor feels back to his "normal" self. Sometimes that lag time may
last months or several years. Let it happen. You will heal. The healing will have, as its
greatest resolution, the realization that God used the crisis as a catalyst for your
spiritual growth and transformation. As the healing occurs, this awareness becomes a
profound source of confidence in God, in your calling, and in your Christian joy.
- 8) Once Burned, Twice Shy.
- The memories and impact of a split can have a lifelong impact. The experience of the
pain, the hurt and the intense feelings may remain vivid for a considerable time. The
memories can last forever.
- Even as pastors start to lead the congregation to rebuilding and renewal, they may feel
a sense of hesitancy not felt before. Such is an indication that the grief has
not yet reached resolution. After the grief, leaders may be tempted to hold back and be
less passionate in their ministry zeal.
- Avoid the temptation to shyness. Be prudent, but don't be overly cautious. Take risks,
but count the cost prior to exercising the risk. Pastors are change agents. Recall and resume this
essential basis of your calling as soon as possible.
- 9) The Lay Leaders Must Bear The Weight Of The Ministry.
- A pastor cannot do it himself. The fewer the number of leaders, the greater the
temptations for pastors to bear the whole load by themselves. Unfortunately, the very
second a pastor succumbs to this temptation, the pastor may 1) begin to sign his life away
to the control of others, and 2) introduce long-term instability in the congregation by
making it dependent on himself.
- Under most normal circumstances, if the members of the congregation are not committed
enough to carry out their respective ministry responsibilities, the pastor does the church
a great disservice by doing it for them. In so doing the pastor also does a great
disservice for the Ministerial Office in that place by reducing or expanding it far beyond
the appropriate Scriptural understanding and mandate for the ministerial office and that
of the laity.
- 10) Dysfunctional Churches Cannot Grasp A Healthy Ministry Vision.
- Perhaps there are two main reasons people persist in addictive behaviors. First, because
they cannot imagine themselves not being addicted. Second, because they lack the necessary
energy, vitality and interest in making the painful change away from addiction.
- In the same way, dysfunctional congregations can become addicted to low morale, low
self-esteem, indifference, anger and self-defeating behaviors. The greater the time and
intensity of these dysfunctional dynamics, the greater the difficulties one may experience
in trying to promote a healthy vision among them regardless of the skills and vision of
- In extremely dysfunctional churches (e.g. churches with history of serial pastoral
resignations, repeated and serial splits, etc.), conflict--albeit extreme--may be the only
way to break the addictive dysfunction. If such occurs, recognize that the pastor's role
in conflict is like that of a counselor. Use the pain of conflict as a means of directing
the congregation to healing.
- Throughout the conflict, redundantly restate God's purpose and vision for the church.
Utilize as many and varied resources and experiences as possible to uphold the healthy
vision. Use the services of denominational executives, guest preachers, hold workshops,
Bible studies, all directed for this purpose. Then, when the fire burns out, what will
remain is the beginning of a new "fire" of ministry based on the vision which
God has given through the conflict.
- (For more information on dysfunctional churches, see Ministry
Health's Articles, Five Types Of Congregational Dysfunction,
Characteristics Of Dysfunctional
Churches, and the The Dysfunctional Church Inventory.)
- 11) The Pastor's Appropriate Active Role Is In Word And Sacrament Ministry.
- The pastor is not the janitor, the secretary, the fix-it man, the errand runner, the
lawn-mower, snow-shoveler, greeter, musician, usher, and overall trustee responsible for
everything and everyone. God's plan for the church was for pastors to do the "work of
ministry." This does not mean that the pastor is aloof, uninvolved, or able to have
an "easy" ministry; nor does it mean that he must be a part of every decision
and working of the church.
- What it does mean is that the Pastor, more than anyone else, must be a living proof that
one can trust in the working of God through Word and Sacrament in His church. Whether it's
preaching, teaching, worship, small group ministry, prayers, or administration, people
need to see that their pastor really believes--and lives and leads by--an unshakable
conviction of the Gospel as the exclusive effective power of God to build His church.
- 12) God's Calling For You Is Not Yours To Decide.
- Often pastors may find themselves confused about their calling. Though they know they
are called, they may lack confidence regarding what specifics God desires of them in their
- But God knows. His plan for us may be that we, like Jeremiah, lay waste or destroy, tear
down or ruin, or build or plant. What may surprise us is that when we think we
are building, what has been built is torn down. Why? Because that was God's calling
for us. Whatever the specific ministry calling, often it's only from hindsight that we
gain the best perspective on what God had really called us to. Whatever it was, it was not
yours to decide. It was God's. That is why He allowed--and led--the results that occurred.
- Therefore, rejoice! Whatever the results, God's Word has accomplished that which He
determined and He did it through you. You may not have desired or decided that it should
have be done that way. But remember. God's calling is His to decide, not yours!
- 13) Pastoral Attachments May Be Fragile.
- Conflict disrupts relationships by inciting varieties of stress shifts. These shifts, as
indicated in Ministry Health
Article #81 How To Deal With
Dr. Jerkily-Mr. Hyde, can totally change the ways individuals and
confidants respond to pastors and vice-versa.
- Every individual in the church has various stress tolerances which vary from situation
to situation. Because of this, things may become very difficult when issues arise in which
pastoral confidants must choose between their lifetime church friends and their pastor.
- Things may also become difficult when trusted confidants in the past disagree with the
ministry direction after the split. They may also feel slighted by the pastor, especially
if they had expectations that their faithful support of the pastor in the past was a
guarantee that they would have special pastoral influence for the future.
- As pastors can never be sure of the ministry horizons that God may bring with new
leaders, pastoral attachments often carry with them a built-in fragility. Must
you depend on them? To a great extent, probably yes. But don't bet your bank, your
self-esteem, and your spiritual, emotional, and psychological well-being on them. If you
do, you may open yourself up to significant hurt.
- 14) Denominational Support Is There.
- Denominational staff are gifted, willing and able to provide necessary personal and
pastoral support according to their gifts. Some are able and willing to give encouragement
and guidance. Others are extraordinarily gifted reconcilers. These gifts are essential
bases of support and leadership in crisis.
- Though the search for a supportive, competent executive to help may be exhausting and
troubling, don't ever give up. Your ability to survive, humanly speaking, is
greatly curtailed if the conflict is experienced without their assistance, support,
prayers, insight and invaluable Christian support.
- The greatest joy of conflict is that when you find a denominational professional
to support, encourage and lead you through the trial, God will bless you with
numerous experiences. He may give you a mentor. He may give you a confidant. With their
insight, you may embark on the most significant learning experience of your life as you
see how God can powerfully work through these special servants.
- 15) You May Have Potential For Out-Of-Control Emotions.
- It doesn't matter how patient, caring, loving and full of the fruits of the Spirit you
are. Severe conflict inevitably uncovers the things which cut to the heart of the most
basic building blocks of our self-esteem. Rejection, disapproval, distrust, and
abandonment issues are just some of the Knives which
may affect and anger us in ways we never, ever, imagined. Other
issues relating to Adult Child
may also become overwhelming factors.
- "I can't understand it. I've never been angry like this before!" is a very
common, though not unexpected, tell-tale reaction of pastors experiencing congregational
crisis. Working through this anger and bringing it to resolution and releasing to the
forgiving grace of God is, for some, the absolute most difficult experience of their
lives. Yet, after this difficult work is completed, pastors will grow to an inestimably
profound sense of the "depths of the riches and knowledge of God."
- 16) Congregational Conflict Is The Greatest Opportunity For Congregational
- Perhaps the Chinese know it best. Conflict is not bad; it's an opportunity. Though
painful, conflict raises up leaders and human and spiritual resources not often seen in
- Pastors who are able to stay at the church through the entire conflict from ignition to
resolution to restoration will have witnessed the singularly remarkable life-changing
power of God's Word in others and themselves. In conflict, God raises up people that
pastors and others would never expect to become important leaders and supporters
of ministry. Be patient. Endure. Watch God's undeniable working in you and others and
don't underestimate whom God may use to lead the renewal!
17) Congregational Conflict May Change The Character And Quality Of Your
- Conflict, like all trials, may affect your spirituality. It may deepen your spirituality
or it may make it more shallow. Whatever your connection and relationship to God was,
conflict will test it. Conflict and intense ministry trauma can also set into motion an
unprecedented deep spiritual search for meaning. "What's it all for?" "Is
this all there is?" Such questioning is the undeniable indication that the spiritual
journey of transformation has begun. Let it happen...and watch God transform you and your
understanding of faith, grace and the ministry calling.
- The Most Important Lesson
- What's the most important lesson to learn from congregational splits?
- It's simply this. Regardless of what happens in ministry, God is there. Because He is
there you can celebrate that He is there guiding each individual event, moment, and
action. Though it may not always be evident during the crisis, in the aftermath His
presence and guidance in those events will be absolutely UNMISTAKABLE!!! The greater joy
is to see how God, after healing has begun, brings renewal and vision to the ministry in
ways that prior to the conflict were unimaginable.
- For those able to patiently wait and ride it out, the greatest reward is the unique,
spirit-transforming experience that results. "Grace will," affirms the hymn
verse, "bring you home."
- Don't Quit
- Crisis in your church may simply be God hitting a home run. Go ahead. Run the bases. All
of them. It's your calling.
- One of the biggest and most common mistakes is that pastors quit too quickly.
- Don't quit. That's not where the joy
is and it's not where the blessing is. It's certainly not where the fulfillment of His
promise is. Remember this: God has hit the ball out of the ballpark. He's already
hit the home run. Wouldn't it be stupid not to take advantage of the home run and not run
all the bases until completion?
- Is your ministry in crisis? It may appear that way to you, but not to God. The
ministry is really in renewal. God's already hit the home run. All you have to do is to
run the bases and celebrate the victory He's given. Once you see God's victory, you'll
anxiously await God's next major accomplishment: the grand slam! Wow! What opportunity for
- "Batter up!"
- Thomas F. Fischer
- * Hyperlinks refer to related Ministry Health Articles.
Articles are indexed at the Ministry Health
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:37 PM