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In a sign that at least some things are getting back to normal, pastors have begun reporting increasing complaints among members. It seems that for some churches the grace period offered to ministry leaders in the months, weeks, or days (?!) after the initial shut-down is coming to a close. 

Now, at a moment when some of them have never felt wearier in their calling, ministry leaders have the privilege of fielding more annoyed emails and angry phone calls than ever. (On the bright side, most churches canceled coffee time after service, so that’s at least one place you won’t get cornered right now!)

“Dealing with complaints is the reason I got into ministry,” said no ministry leader ever. 

Yet, wise leaders understand that complaints are often values statements in disguise. Complaining just happens to be the (admittedly dysfunctional) way some people are accustomed to stating what they value. 

When a member complains that we’re still not meeting in person, part of what they may also be saying is, “I value the togetherness of our community.” When a member complains that we’re already meeting in person, part of what they may also be saying is, “I value the physical health of my brothers and sisters in Christ.” 

Polarity mapping is a strategic tool that can help leadership teams dig beneath complaints to elevate the values trying to be seen and heard under that layer of dysfunctional grumbles. It can also help members name their complaints in more helpful values language. 

In this video, Al Postma of Pastor Church Resources talks to Dirk vanEyk, Lead Pastor of Encounter Church (Kentwood, MI) and KC Vande Streek, Pastor of Faith Community Church (Wyckoff, NJ) about how Polarity Mapping could help them make sense of some of the challenges that have surfaced in light of COVID-19. 

In particular, vanEyk and Vande Streek reflect on how innovation and tradition, two poles often in tension for churches, are actually helping to clarify one another in this COVID environment.  

Children’s Ministry: A Classroom or a Community?

Encounter Church, like most churches, has struggled to maintain meaningful children’s ministry without being able to meet in person. Some may be tempted to complain that the children can’t meet, but wise leaders at Encounter detected that underneath such complaints is a sense that what families value is not just classroom content (some of which could be delivered online) but meaningful community. So at Encounter, resourceful children’s ministry leaders have taken the initiative to hand-deliver meaningful gifts to the children and families associated with their church as a way to stay connected and encourage children in their faith. While classroom time is not possible in the same way due to gathering restrictions, it turns out that meaningful community is still possible. Sometimes a complaint can help clarify a value which can be expressed in previously unexpected ways. 

Sunday Morning: The Destination or the Launch Pad?

Faith Community Church, just outside New York City, serves one of the hardest hit regions in the world. Though in-person Sunday morning worship services have been suspended for months, the shift in resources and energy has helped clarify for the church’s leadership that church was never merely about worshipping together once or twice a week. Rather, church is a worshipping AND serving community. And while worshipping together is very challenging right now, serving our community, through selfless action and putting others first, is both biblically-warranted and epidemiologist-recommended. The leaders at Faith Community are thinking in new ways about how to love their neighbors. The absence of one tradition (gathering together on Sunday mornings) helped clarify the importance of new innovations (in mission to the community). 

To hear more on the challenges and opportunities of ministry during COVID-19, check out the video below.  

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