Monday, March 27, 2017

Tips for a Church in Transition - #2 Be Ready for Conflict to Surface

Church conflict.  It's something every pastor and congregational leader experiences and should know how to handle.  Unfortunately, most church authorities avoid or ignore it.

During leadership transitions conflict surfaces.  Sometimes it's subtle; other times it's explosive.  It can happen in an all-of-a-sudden explosion; or it can ooze out slowly after years of bubbling beneath the surface.  Regardless of how it surfaces, it's important to know some of issues that can lead to congregational conflict.  Here are some hot-button transitional tensions that Terry Foland addresses in his chapter entitled, 'Understanding Conflict and Power' in the book Temporary Shepherds.
  • Church Identity
    • Defining church values and identity impassion people.  Who are we as a church? What's our place in the world?  When there's disagreement in this area, expect people to push back.  Fear of the church losing status in the community or concerns about the future identity and philosophy of ministry all add to rising tensions when there's disagreement.
  • Who Is In Charge?
    • This may be a struggle between clergy and laity or between formal and informal leaders in the church.  Individuals may feel they have a 'right' to know inside information and have a voice in church governance issues.  When things are healthy this could mean increased involvement and investment, but if trust is low then congregants could run interference in appropriate, orderly processes. 
  • What Do We Believe?
    • The fight may be about how the Bible is interpreted, questionable doctrines, or the curriculum used with the children and youth.  What one individual or group wants or needs may be at odds with what other individuals or groups feel they want or need in the church.  When one person or group pushes their theological agenda beyond the norm then the church will experience conflict.
  • How Do We Worship?
    • Adopting new musical preferences in the congregation creates tension.  That tension has a name: worship wars.  The issue may be the type of instruments used or the kinds of songs the church sings--preferring either traditional or contemporary forms of worship.  Any way this is sliced, it creates conflict.
  • Role Expectation of Leaders
    • How do clergy and staff spend their time in ministry?  Should the pastor act as leader or manager?  Where staff spend their time and resources and who determines their priorities are both possible areas where fights could emerge.
  • Limited Resources
    • When there is a reduction in resources (a reality in a church in transition) then conflict can arise about where the limited resources should be allocated.  Expect people to fight to fund their priorities when resources are limited.
  • Focus Inward or Focus Outward?
    • Should the church focus primarily on nurturing and caring for their own members primarily or focus on serving and reaching out to their community?  Any attempt to change this focus from what the church has been doing will result in tension.
  • Malfeasance or Misconduct by Clergy
    • If a pastor is accused of immoral, unethical, or illegal behaviour, some people will believe the accusations while others will deny them and defend the pastor.  This can create significant tension and conflict in the congregation.
So, if your church is in a season of pastoral transition, you will likely be facing some or all of these tensions.  The best way through the conflict is by hiring a trained transitional pastor.  He or she will help your church address these issues without blowing it up.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tips for a Church in Transition - #1 Increase Communication

A pastoral transition, no matter how smooth, leaves a huge communication gap.  That gap needs a bridge.  Increased communication functions as a bridge for a church in transition.  So, make sure your church is building bridges across the gap with regular updates during the transition.

Roger Nicholson paints a clear picture of the need for open communication in his book, Temporary Shepherds.  He writes:

Efficient and effective communication is a major concern of every congregation, and never more so when a vacancy occurs in the pastoral office.  Interim congregations often discover that their communication system is very inadequate, resulting in poor decision-making processes and in misunderstandings.  A strong congregation is one in which all information is freely shared and all members are fully informed and aware of church matters.  Power struggles result when information is withheld as a means of controlling the organization.  The interim time is a crucial opportunity for a congregation to examine its practices and ensure that an open system of communication and decision making is in place at the start of a new pastorate. (p. 22)

So, if you want to avoid power struggles and misunderstandings, here are a few suggestions:
  1. If you're a transition pastor, give a few brief updates before preaching.  Keep it punchy and concise.  "I have some important things to tell you about this time of transition and I also want to hear from you.  I'd like to invite you to a town hall meeting in the blue room on such and such date and time", or "The search committee has been formed and here's who they are... let's pray for them".  That sort of messaging gives everyone a chance to hear what's going on in the congregation.  If you're church doesn't have a transition pastor, appoint someone to do this on a consistent basis until a consistent pastor (transitional or permanent) is hired.  
  2. Update the church website, social media, and weekly printed bulletin with the same information being presented during the Sunday morning update.  Make sure the messaging is consistent.  Where there's a discrepancy, over communicate to correct the faulty message.
  3. Call a town hall meeting and invite the whole congregation to attend.  Have a potluck.  Or not.  Arrange tables and ask good questions that allow people to engage in conversation about the church with those around their tables.  Share plenty of information.  Then, open the floor for questions and remember to take time to pray.
Remember, transitions are typically times when communication decreases.  Decreased communication raises congregational anxiety, so make sure you take steps to increase dialogue.  It's far better to over communicate than under communicate, especially during times of change.  Augment the messaging and I'll guarantee one thing: your congregation will thank you!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Learning to be well-differentiated

A couple of weeks ago I talked about Christ-centred differentiation in a sermon.  It's a hard but crucial concept to understand.  In fact, it's one of the most important concepts I've ever learned.  And no one does a better job of describing it than Edwin Friedman.  Here's how he defines it:

Differentiation means the capacity of a family member to define his or her own life's goals and values apart from surrounding togetherness pressures, to say "I" when others are demanding "you" and "we".  It includes the capacity to maintain a (relatively) non-anxious presence in the midst of anxious systems, to take maximum responsibility for one's own destiny and emotional being.  It can be measured somewhat by the breadth of one's repertoire of responses when confronted with crisis.  The concept should not be confused with autonomy or narcissism, however.  Differentiation means the capacity to be an "I" while remaining connected.
(E. Friedman, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, p. 27)

When a family member/staff member/board member/church member loses the capacity to be differentiated they (consciously or unconsciously) operate to force the whole family closer.  Individual ideas, opinions, and perspectives that do not align with their way of seeing the world will result in sabotage.

Friedman succinctly spells out they way well-differentiated and not-so-differentiated people may respond in the church to define themselves or subvert the leader.  He writes:

All we have to do is give a talk in which we carefully differentiate ourselves--define clearly what we believe and where we stand on issues, in a way that is totally devoid of "should" and "musts."  The response from the congregational family, no matter what the faith, will always range along the following spectrum.  Those who function emotionally toward the "better differentiated" end will respond by defining themselves: "Father, I agree"; "I disagree"; "I believe"; etc.; or, "Ms. Jones, I like what you said, though I am not sure I can agree with you on..."  Those at the "less well-differentiated" end will respond not by defining themselves but by continuing to define their clergyman or clergywoman: "Father, how can you say that when..."; "Ms. Smith, how do you reconcile this with what you said the other day when you..."; "Rabbi, sometimes I wonder if you are even Jewish."  (E. Friedman, Generation to Generation, p. 30)    

It's tough to maintain an "I" posture when you're confronted with "we" language.  I've sat through many meetings: board, staff, or otherwise and watched how difficult it is for an "I" to stand against the "we".  However, this is exactly what is needed.  This defining action is precisely what separates the best leaders from ones that maintain the status quo.

Be warned!  An attack (sometimes overt, sometimes covert) is lurking at the door of every leader that decides to be an "I" in a family or group that is bent on being "we".  Poorly differentiated leaders act to sabotage well-differentiated leaders:
"We" think "you" should (or must)...
It's the ultimate power play and it's often the moment when the "I" crumbles.

I've crumbled quite a bit in the past few years as a church leader.  I'm not proud of it but I also know God is working my weakness into His strength.  My "I" is stronger now that it has been in a long time.  I give huge credit to three people: my amazing and brilliantly well-differentiated wife, my wise and caring spiritual director, and a cussing prophet who's best friend is a horse.

To all those seeking to live well-differentiated lives, here's some biblical encouragement:

"In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matt. 5:48)  
Related Posts with Thumbnails