Friday, October 12, 2007

Long post on pastor bashing

This is long, maybe not fully applicable for us, but it is eye opening as it relates to pastors. And, I have lived through some of this, so it is real. So, I thought I would share with you.

This is from Eddie Hammett, from his upcoming book entitled Keeping People Over 60 While Reaching People Under 40. This is from chapter 1 --

The shifts occurring in our culture and in our churches seems to create, more often than not, a circumstance of pastor bashing. Blame is not spread around rather the focus is on the pastor/staff.

The Plight of the Pastor

"Pastor-bashing is my church’s focus" were the words from a sincere but deeply wounded coaching client. He was so hurt, angry, and tired that he needed a retreat, a compassionate listening ear, and encouragement in his coaching session. God did bless our coaching time, but his words and story continue to work in me.

His words have haunted me for days. I have had many faces and experiences rush to my mind that would likely fit into this "pastor-bashing" category. In a decade when most numbers associated with church—finances, membership, baptisms, new members, visitors, etc., are declining, pastor-bashing seems to be on the rise. While some pastors and staff and churches are having a fulfilling and fruitful relationship, many others are in the fierce tensions of pastor-bashing. Pastoring a church or serving on staff in a church of any size, in any setting, with any demographic is challenging at best these days. Most pastors and staff find themselves living in the pinch. They feel the pinch of finances, demographic challenges, philosophical and theological challenges, control issues in the church, community, and often the denomination or judicatory of which they are a part.

Permit me to share from my experiences of consulting with churches for over sixteen years, serving congregations for fifteen-plus years, coaching pastors and staff for five years, and serving in various church roles as a volunteer. I’ll explore these questions: How does pastor-bashing manifest itself? What does it mean? And what are some methods that might bring some resolution to pastor-bashing?

What Is Pastor-bashing?From my client’s perspective and my observations through the years, pastor-bashing can be characterized by at least these experiences:
• Accusations, and sometimes threats, that "the church is not growing because of you!"
• Spreading of rumors that question the pastor’s integrity, work habits, loyalty to church traditions or values, etc.
• Withholding of tithes, offerings, leadership, and participation because of personal disagreements between church members and pastor/staff.
• Accusations, uncalled-for personal references, or ridicule of pastor/staff’s family members and their participation or lack of participation in church activities.. Living in the fishbowl is a constant challenge for most pastors’ families.
• Isolation of the pastor/staff from friendships, loyalty, and the support of leadership.
• Tearing down of pastor/staff’s self-esteem, confidence, and sense of call or pastoral skills.

Sometimes physical threats even enter the picture. Believe it or not, I know directly of a church where three deacons visited the pastor and threatened him in the presence of his teenage son. They were "going to take him behind the barn and teach him a lesson." What do you think that teenage son learned about deacons and church that day? I had been working with this pastor and church to assess what would make them more effective in a rapidly growing community. The pastor was bringing in new members who were unlike the natives of the community, and that fueled the congregation’s anger. The pastor was growing the church and bringing in people, but these deacons did not like the people he was bringing in. The church leaders were afraid that the influx of new members would jeopardize their control, so they sabotaged the growth and bashed the pastor! Who would have ever thought it! Such illustrates living in the pinch of times. The pastor/staff is caught between at least two value systems, two worlds, two cultures, and two philosophies of church.

How could church leaders and congregations bash their pastor? What does this mean? Christians are supposed to be kind, courteous, forgiving, loving, self-controlled, patient, long-suffering, and the list of virtues from Galatians 5 continues. So how do we get into this tragic situation where no one really wins?

What Does Pastor-bashing Mean?
Seems to me that pastor-bashing has some patterns that are more often than not present and may suggest some meaning to this traumatic situation:
• Personal preferences create tensions. The pastor’s vision and preferences conflict with those in leadership or the pew.
• Spiritual warfare and immaturity emerge in people, families, and often the congregation at large.
• Past and future collide in ways that create tension. Often the congregation (sometimes the pastor) wants things to stay the way they are rather than face the demands and opportunities of the present and future.
• Control and leadership are challenged. So often the bashing is over control issues. Who will lead the church? Whose vision will drive the congregation’s decisions or programming?
• Incompetence and impatience collide. This can be seen on one or all sides involved. So often fear emerges before patience is cultivated, and stones begin to be thrown in efforts to protect "our way."
• Families take sides, and boundaries are set. Again, this can be on one or all sides of the issue. When such polarization occurs, the intensity increases, and the bashing becomes visible to a larger group, while in earlier phases bashing—and awareness of the bashing—is limited to a small number of leaders.
• Emotions escalate, and facts become blurred. So often emotions drive the dialogue and bashing and not the real facts. The emotions are often driven by perceptions, not necessarily the facts. People think such and such is true, or they "heard if from many people," but they never name the people.

Most pastors are living out a calling to "go into all the world" and a belief that Christ wants the world to know him and his love. The pastor believes that the church is on mission and is to grow in Spirit and in number. However, increasingly pastors and staff are finding that they are called by congregations who do not share this same value system. The members may mouth the words and loyalty to the Great Commission during the interview and negotiations. The reality becomes clear in time that their words mean: "only if the mission doesn’t inconvenience them, their church’s traditions, or the leadership base’s personal preferences." That is living in the pinch!"

Yup, it was long, yet, it is soooooooooo easy for a church to fall into destructive behaviors. My expectation for our church is that we always stay above the fray and the risk of not just pastor bashing, but of bashing one another. It's not biblical, it is sinful and destructive.

I'd be curious to know your thoughts.

Blessings,

Michael

2 comments:

  1. I think this can happen more frequently, though less dramatically, with regular members. How many souls could have been reached in this world if ideas weren't killed by committee or shot down with the explanations of "We've never done that before," the similar sounding "But this is the way we've always done it," or "That's not how we do things here"? (I think these are univeral problems for any organization, but are especially dangerous for churches.)
    I think a church of our size is blessed by many talents and gifts, but runs the danger of individuals feeling lost in the crowd. How do they get involved? And are they really needed if it seems that everything is already getting done? I know the answer to that second question is yes, but it can be a challenge to connect with others who have the same vision.

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  2. Hey Indywriter ~

    You are correct, it can happen in any organization. The leadership gets challenged and can be shot down. The major difference is the church is comprised of volunteers who are living out of their faith. Without the volunteers, the church would have died many years ago.

    Our church is blessed, more blessed than we may understand. In fact, as I write these words, I realize that we may take our church and one another for granted. As a church grows it becomes all too easy for people to become lost. That is part of the hope with the spiritual gift class. I believe there are people in there who would not be in most classes or weeknight programs. That is so great. Now we (I) must produce and help people discover where they can serve. I really believe the church needs everyone, it's just getting people plugged into the right ministries.

    My great desire is for me to connect with others who have a similar vision and want to get started on changing Alexandria and Northern Madison County for Christ. There are too many hurting people out there. So . . . that is why my hope is to equip and empower, so we can engage.

    Michael

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