In a magazine for pastors [Pulpit Helps, August 1997] one fellow had written one of those “you know you’re in trouble when …” types of lists. This one is, of course, addressed to preachers and is called “So Long, Pastor You Know It’s Over When…”
- You return from vacation to find the visiting preacher’s name on your mailbox.
- Your church is about to split, and neither group wants you.
- Shut-ins pull the window shades and pretend they aren’t home when you come for a visit.
- Your mom moves her membership to another church.
- You’re told God is calling you to the mission field — now.
- You’re cast as the donkey in the Christmas cantata.
- Your wife moves her membership to another church.
- The trustees have been marching around your house the last six days praying and carrying lanterns.
- Your secretary starts sending out your résumé.
- The congregation forces the members of the pulpit committee to wear sackcloth and make a public confession and repentance.
- Church members started referring to you in the past tense.
- You show up at the church on Monday morning to discover the locks have been changed.
- As a person who now works with many churches, I get to see far too many explosions. What happens when a church calls a pastor to serve as their new Shepherd, but he is the wrong man at that point in the congregation’s history? Here is a scenario that you may be able to identify with.
Why Do Things Blow Up?
Congregations who are facing a crossroad in their ministry need to be cautious. Leaders usually are gifted with the ability to see things others don’t yet. While that is a huge blessing it can also create the elements for the pending explosion.
- Leaders see that the congregation needs to change the status quo, but for the people in the pew, the status quo brings comfort and safety.
- Leaders see that the congregation needs a new leader with a fresh vision, but people who fund the ministry want a clone of the pastor who just retired unless they hated the previous guy then they want someone just the opposite of him.
- Leaders want to make huge change quickly, the regular attendees, who may have no idea what is really happening in the church, in response view change in this manner, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!”
Avoid the Explosion.
The warning for leaders in a pastoral vacancy is to clearly assess how open the congregation is changing. Before you decide if the church is ready for a major change in direction, consider this:
Where are the majority of your members on the “openness to change scale”? To make a huge shift in direction without understanding where the majority of their members are can be dangerous. So the results could look like this: the leadership calls a phenomenal man of God. The leaders cheer him on, empower him, and encourage him to go full throttle making radical changes all the while, not realizing that the very changes they are seeking are too far ahead of the majority of the population. So, at some point, you reach a critical mass and then the explosion.
When push comes to shove, the leadership tends to take the road of least resistance. When they begin to field calls from disgruntled and angry members who blame them for the disaster that ensued, the leaders abandon the change they were seeking. The pastor who was called to lead this change is now looking for a call wondering what happened. Right idea, but moving too quickly, a ministry is laid waste, shrapnel is all-around.
You can minimize this by clearly reading the congregation. Pray for discernment in the call process that God sends a man with the heart to build a relationship in the middle of change. Finally, remember all change is hard, so be compassionate.
On deck tomorrow the next in a series of blogs on Generation Z. This one is discussing how to communicate with a generation of teens that grew up able to send a text before they could write the alphabet.