Conflict Prevention: Don't Do Dumb Stuff (Part 4) - Word&Way

Conflict Prevention: Don’t Do Dumb Stuff (Part 4)

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment of a six-part series on the prevention of church conflict. The author is Wade Paris, former pastor and retired director of missions. He also is a former Word&Way trustee.
Wade Paris

Wade Paris

Pastor Sauls had a problem deacon. He opposed everything the pastor suggested.

Pastor Sauls asked a colleague for advice. His colleague suggested they meet and talk about it. “Kindly confront him with several examples and see if you can discover some insight into what is going on inside him. Perhaps you can learn how to relate better.”
It was good advice because problem members often have inward conflicts that make them problematic.
Pastor Sauls departed acknowledging the good advice and promised to schedule a meeting. Instead, two days later in a public gathering, the pastor lost his cool with the man. In front of several members, the pastor “dressed him down.” He told the man he was the church’s worst problem and suggested he was demon-possessed. It was an act of utter frustration but really dumb.
That night the deacon, who had a history of heart problems, had a heart attack and died. The church felt the pastor was partly responsible for the death of a man they loved. Attendance declined, and the pastor soon left.
Pastor Sauls’ action, like that of the pastor who “took his church to the woodshed,” was dumb. Neither experience had to happen. The ministry can be frustrating, but the pastor should not contribute to it by doing dumb stuff.
Pastor Paul was prone to announce what the church was going to do before consulting with anyone. It was dumb. That tactic worked in his first small church, so he could not understand why it did not work in the big church.
As a pastor, one may think, “I am the pastor; I am supposed to lead. I should not have to consult with others before casting the vision.”
That sounds spiritual, but it assumes (1) that the pastor always knows what is best; and (2) divine insight the pastor may not always possess. And it is a little arrogant. People are much more inclined to be supportive when they are involved from the beginning.
The cliché is correct, “People are usually down on what they are not up on.”
Good shepherds lead sheep; they do not drive them. Pastor Paul had many good ideas that failed because he did not bring folk on board early. It was not smart. People respond better when asked than when told.
A common mistake pastors make is to take their problems to the pulpit. Of course, it is proper to address moral and sociological issues such as hunger, prejudice or poverty from the pulpit. But the behind-the-scenes problems of church work should be solved behind the scenes.
When a pastor is threatened, it is tempting to address the issues and/or people with sermons from the pulpit.
Pastor Bill felt the pastor selection committee had been unfair with him regarding his compensation. They had allowed him an amount for housing but failed to inform him that he would be unable to find a suitable house for that amount.
He assembled the committee and explained his dilemma. At this time, they refused to increase his compensation but suggested they might be able to do something later.
Feeling cheated, the pastor included several references to cheating church members and cheating church committees in his next few sermons. It was dumb and colored the remainder of his ministry there.
When the pastor uses the pulpit to fight with his members, he makes several mistakes. First, he takes an unfair advantage. His adversaries will not have the advantage of the pulpit, and parishioners will hear only the pastor’s side of the story, AKA the bully pulpit.
Second, taking the fight to the pulpit escalates the problem. The problem is moved from the sparring room to the arena for all to watch.
Third, the pulpit is for feeding the sheep. People come to worship wanting to be helped on their spiritual journey. They are struggling to know God and live for Him. The pastor should feed them, not try to win them to his cause. Seldom do you hear of a person becoming a Christian by means of a church fight.
Finally, fighting from the pulpit demeans the office of pastor. A pastor may gain respect by preaching powerfully against immorality, but there is little honor in preaching powerfully against the finance committee.

A parishioner said of her pastor, “I know he had his problems, but he never brought them to the pulpit.” It was a super compliment of the ministry skills of her pastor.

Before every ministry step, a pastor should ask himself, “Is this smart?”

The entire Conflict Prevention series: