I just finished a book written by a college roommate of mine, Rev. Henry Wildeboer, entitled When God Shows Up: A Pastor’s Journey. It is the story of his life, beginning from his immigrant days as a child in Alberta. The bulk of the book, however, is about his ministry, and in particular, a church conflict that took place during the turbulent 70s and 80s, when the charismatic movement affected many established churches. It is a story of excited believers and disappointed ones, of emotional agony and painful misunderstanding, of people trying to maneuver around the church order to make it work so that their side would win. Almost everyone who has read this book, myself included, has said that it is difficult to put the book down.
The dynamics explored in this first-person account are far too complex to summarize here, but the questions it raises brought to mind a church where the direction in which the church was being led resulted in a sizable number of families leaving for other churches because they felt their needs were no longer being met.
Questions like these surfaced in my mind as I read this book:
- What is the best way to resolve a conflict when one group wants the local congregation to go in one direction and another group wants to go in another?
- Should the pastor steer the members in one direction or the other, or should he/she try to be an impartial referee? What is the essence of positive church leadership?
- What if the pastor himself/herself is at the center of the debate?
- Do the rules of church order, especially as they involve classis, truly help resolve an issue by calming emotions and insisting that things be done “decently and in order”?
- Is there a time when the best way to resolve an issue is a church split, where one group leaves, either to join a church more to their liking or even to start a different worshiping center? Or are there better ways to resolve a fractious issue?
Well, I could go on with more questions, but these are enough to stimulate your thinking about churches you may have been a part of or heard about. Any thoughts?