Leadership: When You Have ‘Issues’ at Church
If you have been a church leader for any length of time, you’ve no doubt gotten your feet wet in dealing with a myriad of issues in your local fellowship; complaints, concerns, differences of opinions relating to goals and visions for your fellowship, etc. The list of possibilities is endless when dealing with people, and in my experience, it’s rarely boring.
Ideally, we’d all love to have ‘issues’ resolved amicably and with a generous Christian spirit, honoring each other as more important than ourselves while examining whatever it is that is being discussed. Romans 12:10.
That’s the ideal, but it’s often not the reality. The reality of being a church leader is that each week can bring unexpected surprises.
When there is a slowly growing ‘issue’ with a member (s) of the church, whether over a doctrinal position that is being taught, or the nursery’s new facelift, or the sanctuary’s proposed carpet change, pastoral authority – whatever the issue, there are ways to resolve them without causing a stink that could possibly end up causing a division within the fellowship.
Members of a local church can, and have, left a fellowship over the silliest of reasons. Others leave over serious sin-problems. But before they leave, they almost always want to get their two-cents in toward the Pastor. After all, he’s the guy who they see as ultimately responsible.
As the church leader, here’s a few things to keep in mind when dealing with internal church problems and the people who bring them:
You may be a ‘hands-on’ kind of guy, but contrary to what some may have led you to believe, you are not Superman. You’re primary duty before God and His people is to submerge yourself in study and preparation in proclaiming His Word – not expending every ounce of physical, mental and emotional energy putting out every fire within the fellowship. This is not to say you shouldn’t be involved at all, but pick your priorities for involvement. Delegate to others what can be delegated safely whenever possible. If you don’t, you can quickly become distracted from your primary role as under-shepherd, and maybe worse, burned out over time. Just…plain…exhausted.
2. Keep it out of your next sermon.
Nothing can flame the fuel of a warm issue into a flaming inferno like taking what a member said in confidence and using that in your next sermon. Don’t do that. Especially if it is a genuine concern of theirs or a complaint of some kind. The pulpit or podium is not the place for ‘stickin-it’ to anybody. It is a place to proclaim God’s precepts and principles for godly living, not for being opportunistic at someone else’s expense. I know, it’s tempting, but run from it. If you don’t you may end up not only stirring the pot with that individual, but offending many others with your action.
3. Weigh the voice
If this issue comes from a church member who rarely, if ever, participates in church activity, ministry or outreach, it’s likely to be a non-issue and more of a personal control thing. If it’s from a person who has the track-record of truly desiring ministry within the fellowship and is desirous of spreading the Gospel in outreach, take the time to flesh out the details. It’s worth it. But don’t be man-handled by those who generally have little interest in being the Church.
4. Grow thicker skin.
A church leader, it’s been said, needs to have a soft heart and the skin of a Rhino. I find that to be true. Regardless of the issue, unless someone is personally attacking your character – and even if they are – remember your role, brother. Don’t get defensive and lash out. It’s hard, I know, but I’ve often found that when irate or overly-enthusiastic people take pot-shots or are offensive in their communications, they will often take time later on to reflect on how and what they’ve said and many of them, not all, will later apologize. When they do, you’ll be glad you held your tongue with a smile.
5. Be the authority that you are.
God has called you as an under-shepherd, the Pastor-Teacher. It is a delegated authority with great responsibility and eternal consequences. In that light, be careful to never allow the tail to wag the dog here. Again, weigh the voice of the one who brings you any issue to deal with. Weigh the issue itself. Be discerning. If there is any attempt to manipulate you or back you into a corner, it’s time to be who and what you are: God’s man, with loving authority. As church leaders, we cannot afford to be manipulated into going against our consciences before God and His clearly communicated Word. Take a stand when necessary; and when you do, don’t flinch. I can think of nothing more sad than watching a Pastor being manipulated by members out of fear of losing his ‘job’. If the issue is a small one, and compromise is a viable option, seek peace with everyone if at all possible.
At the end of the day, brethren, we answer to God for our care of His people. There will be issue after issue in our ministries, and we need to be so soaked in God’s Word that we are knowledgeable enough to know what He would have us do and discerning enough how to put it into practice.
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