Dear Ministry Health,The article seems to hit the nail right on the head re: my experience. All the “F” response relationships that I have from a split which occurred in my congregation count as one, do they not? Please say yes! Please tell me I’m not chronically paranoid! I don’t want to have to go through the “F” response experience all over again!
MH: Though I’m not a psychiatrist, I seriously doubt you are “chronically paranoid.” Maybe I should add another “F” response to the listing based on your experience: Flocking together. I believe projection dynamics can create a flocking momentum for a pro”F”ound explosion once the “F” response cycle is initiated.
It is a painful, virtually uncontrollable process. Many pastors have experienced unprecedented tears over the “F” response. “If only I could have…” may characterize the “F”rustrations of many pastors experiencing the “F” response. Unfortunately, it is “F”rustrating…to say the least!
How often should the pastor run to save every relationship when so many other Relationships (people seeking the Gospel) demand his attention. Or might we assume–like I sometimes do–that chronic “F” responders are unchristian. By their fruits shall we know them… It’s such a judgment call. My way of dealing w/it is incessant prayer to God. He always leads me one way or the other (isn’t that profound?).
You’ll notice I specifically avoided saying in the article that they were “unchristian.” Instead, I wrote, “To the extent that the Gospel is not central in our lives and ministries, the “F” response can take hold.”
The truth, I believe, is that a fear-full faith is an extremely weak faith. Though weak, a small measure of faith may well exist. Even a faith as small as a mustard seed is still saving faith. Lest we forget, we are simul iustus et peccator. That means we are simultaneously justified and sinners before God. The fruits of our lives demonstrate the reality of both every day.
Perhaps its when we deal with these fearful individuals who can cause so much hurt that we need to regain our focus by asking, “What Would Jesus Do?” Expanding on that idea, consider the following.
- * What did Isaiah and Micah do as they saw the “F” response working in the Northern
- Kingdom prior to the fall of Samaria?
- * What did Jeremiah et al do as they saw the “F” response working in the Southern Kingdom prior to the fall of Jerusalem?
- * What did others–Elijah, Noah, Paul et al–do when they saw the “F” response working?
They preached…even in the face of abuse, rejection, persecution and death. They experienced the fruits of the “F” response in every aspect of their lives…and deaths. Jeremiah’s apparent depression and palpitating heart merely scrape the surface of the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll the “F” response works in even the most gifted servants of God.
Though we must seek the lost sheep immersed in their well-rehearsed “F” response, we do have limits. Perhaps in these cases we must fall back on the basic reason for our ministry: to preach the Word.
To confront the “F” response, one must simply let the Gospel work. Let IT be the power of God unto salvation. After all, do we really have any other power to use??? The splits that you and others experience are virtually always marked by “F” responses. In congregations marked by series of splits and a virtually unending history of conflict, I believe that the “F” response was largely inevitable. If it was used against all your predecessors, it will also be used against you. Had you not stayed, the vicious “F” response cycle would have continued unabated long after you left..
It is common for pastors to struggle for long periods of times when the “F” response starts. In their painful introspection they will try to see if there was anything that they did to cause, incite, etc. it. This is all right and proper…to a degree.
Certainly no pastor is perfect. But pastors affected by the “F” response must recognize that after an honest examination of themselves (ouch!), they also must realize that the use of the “F” response may be the nature of their congregation’s dysfunctionality.
Especially in higher levels of conflict (e.g. Speed Lea’s Level IV) it is difficult to stop. The healthiest and best reconcilers from any denomination often can’t stop its working either…until the damage has been largely done. Perhaps that was part of Jesus’ frustration as He wept over Jerusalem.
The “F” response, once started, often has to play itself out to completion. As it does, the Christian pastor simply has to continue preaching God’s Word of Law and Gospel and trust God’s promise that it will have the return that God had planned for it.
God really knows what He’s doing when He places His servants in the churches and ministries that He does. He puts the most patient and talented of his servants–like you–in the most difficult, dysfunctional situations. It is going through splits in the middle-sized (and any-sized) churches which, I believe, most tests the integrity and strength of one’s Christian character.
You’ve been there… and survived. That’s no small feat! God has strengthened you through it. Now He is preparing to strengthen and renew you and your congregation through this painful experience. The joy you shall reap is likely just around the corner.
The “F” response will always be with us. After all, wasn’t that Adam and Eve’s…and Cain’s…and the post-crucifixion disciples’ instinctive response? Unfortunately, it is also part of our ministry experience. When it occurs, we must respond to the “F” response the way God did to those listed above…by continuing to preach the Word of God–both Law and Gospel–directed to God’s unconditional forgiveness, reconciliation, and gracious renewal.
As long as we evangelically invite them (insofar as possible) through a process of confession and absolution, at least there is the possibility of ministry to them if they can recognize the need to discontinue the “F” response. Again, the key to getting this to happen is to get them into the freedom and fearless joy of the Gospel. This, of course, is ultimately the Holy Spirit’s work. We simply preach the Word.