A pastor I know once visited a church he’d served some years before. During the visit a member of that church had apologized for the way he’d acted while my colleague was his pastor. This man had generally seemed intent on making this pastor’s life miserable. He was sorry. My friend was impressed, until someone else in the church told him that this man was acting the same way towards their current pastor.
Some people are repeat offenders; so are some churches. That is an aspect of the article 17 situation we don’t always pay a lot of attention to. Some recent articles in the Christian Courier call on pastors to up their game, but pay less attention to the congregational expectations and dynamics that contribute to the conscious uncoupling of a pastoral relationship.
Some measures are in place. Classes can appoint an oversight committee to discern when a church is ready to call a new pastor, but the expectations for these committees are not always clear. Churches are encouraged to obtain the services of a specialized transitional minister, but these are not always available. Further, once an oversight committee and transitional minister have completed their service, there is little in place to ensure that a church follows through on the plan. A church visitor told me that when he asked a council how the work they had done with their transitional pastor had figured in their calling process, he got only blank looks. They did not know.
We could suggest beefing up the oversight committee process. We could suggest a Presbyterian approach and appoint something like a moderator to oversee a church’s calling process. We could give classical interim committees more authority to ensure that appropriate steps are taken before a church can issue a call. These, however, are all external solutions that would not necessarily address the congregational culture that contributes to repeat offenses.
I recently heard of a congregation where one member had figured prominently in the departure of at least two pastors. That member is now under a lifetime ban from positions of leadership. While that may sound severe, sometimes a church simply has to say “enough is enough.”
We had a summer student a few years ago, and when he left he sent a letter to council. In the letter he shared how, at different times, different members had come to ask him to preach on a topic or preach a certain way. He found this troubling as the members where often making contradictory requests. Council decided that members, if they had a pastoral concerns, they would approach their elder and the topic would be reviewed at the elders meeting with the pastor present.
I appreciate the concern expressed in Reg's solution which the council gave, but that solution does not fit with Scripture (Matthew 18) or Church Order (in CRC polity there is no such thing as an elders meeting with the pastor present. The closest thing we have is consistory which is made up of the elders and the pastor. The difference is that the pastor is a part of the consistory in equal standing to anyone else in the room.) I have also seen that remedy leading to elders making decisions behind a closed door based on a complaint they are told about, creating even more problems. I believe a better scenario would be if a person complained to an elder about the pastor's preaching, for that elder to arrange a meet of that person with the pastor with the elder there to help that person express the criticism without watering it down or abusing the pastor.
I would dare say there is high likelihood that those who make a pastor's life miserable are not alone; very possible their parent(s) and even grand parent(s) demonstrated a similar pattern in the history of the church. If this is the case, the congregation should own this and deal with it. Many years ago I consulted with a congregation that exposed this pattern. They knew this but felt helpless in dealing with this individual, who also did all what it took to railroad the consultancy process. My advice was simple & direct; deal with this sore and if you don't as a church you will never become what the rest would hope for. My time with the church seemed unfruitful as we never accomplished what we set out to do. It was a decade plus later that I bumped into a congregation member at Synod who sought me out to share that the church finally dealt with that sore. This small church finally got the guts to show this man the door; a really tough thing to do (or is it?). The report was the church had drastically changed for the better and they atribulted the consultancy process to reveal and help them see that. Go figure!!!
On a possible similar note, I believe that the "thorn in the flesh" that Paul speaks about is this very dynamic that Visser blogs about. Consider it!!!!!
That person may be permanently banned from leadership positions, but I doubt in a few years that such a ban will be remembered.
In my experience, one of the reasons it is so hard to modify a congregational culture or to carry through on any commitment is the rotating tenure of the office bearers. A well intentioned commitment, for example to improve pastor/congregation relations, may enjoy majority support in year one, but in year two, only two thirds remember the need or the urgency. In year three, only one third remembers and in year four, only the pastor remembers what the thinking was. Especially with Council officers changing every year, our churches have little institutional memory. And when the pastor leaves, that memory too is gone.
Over more years than I care to remember, I have participated in goal setting and long term planning with increasing skepticism as plan after plan has been forgotten or superseded. In my opinion, any planning effort, such as improving pastor/congregation relations or accepting recommendations from consultants, or even goals to increase the size of the fellowship, is a waste of time unless it is institutionalized into the structure of the church where a small standing committee has long term ownership and reports regularly to the then current Council.
Perhaps we need to look at a role such as Executive Director in each church to give some stability and institutional memory.
"In my opinion, any planning effort, such as improving pastor/congregation relations or accepting recommendations from consultants, or even goals to increase the size of the fellowship, is a waste of time unless it is institutionalized into the structure of the church where a small standing committee has long term ownership and reports regularly to the then current Council." Edward, I think you are right on this. I have connected with a number of churches wanting change that will last a decade plus. Part of the solution I believe is something like you are suggesting.
Another helpful piece is someone outside the congregation who the congregation gives permission to prod them every couple years. When the immediacy of the problem wheres off we all tend to let our focus drift.
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