Saturday, 10 October 2015

How Churches become entrenched: Two Insecure Pastors

What usually happens

Pastor McKinley reflects carefully on what the Robinsons are saying.  Inwardly, he is pleased, delighted in fact.  He needs families like this in his congregation.  Everything they have said confirms what he has believed all along.  He has a good few like them in his flock.  They all have similar stories.  It simply proves what his elders and he have suspected about Living Springs and churches like it all along.  False apostles.  False teachers.  False prophets.  He is going to warn his people once again about the dangers of so-called Charismatic churches.

Meanwhile, across town...

Sharon: Well Steve.  What do you think?  That's the third person in the last year who has left Ebenezer, considering coming here.  What's going on?  They all say the same sort of things.  Won't that church ever learn?  
Steve: I agree, Sharon.  Really do.  But I feel uneasy about something.
Sharon:  Uneasy?  What about?
Steve:  Not sure.  Ermmm.  I think it's this.  We haven't seen the Robinsons for a few weeks now have we?
Sharon:  No.  I miss Marie.  And their kids are lovely.  Have they started to go somewhere else do you think?
Steve:  Yep.  I saw Peter in town a couple of days ago talking to one of the families who go to Ebenezer.  Those Irish people who came to our church for a while.  I think they may have joined them at the Tabernacle.
Sharon:  Oh.  If that's the case, I'd feel a little hurt.  Have they ever said to you they were unhappy with us?
Steve:  No, not a thing.  Don't they think they can talk to us?  I always thought I was approachable at least.
Sharon:  So what are you saying, Steve?  Maybe you and Billy McKinley ought to talk to each other as well...
Steve:  I just can't, Sharon.  In all honesty, I find him a bit intimidating...

And so, our two churches stay in their trenches.  Each believes the other church to be in serious error.  Is there a better way?  Can these pastors be a little more grown up?

I have some ideas, see what you think.

Alternative Approaches

1.  Do not permit any transfer growth.  Simply tell people who want to transfer to your church from another in the same town to go back.  I know of one pastor who took precisely this approach and his church did not seem to suffer for it.  They grew.  I just wonder if that approach is a bit of a blunt instrument, an over-reaction, tarring everyone with the same brush.

2.  Check that they have talked.  Tell people who want to move to your church to make sure they have talked their issues through with their previous pastors.

So Pastor McKinley will say, 'You'd be more than welcome to join us, Mr Robinson.  But I must insist that you do one thing.  All the concerns you have mentioned to me, you must raise them with Pastor Brightside.  Have you had this conversation with him?  Have you given them a full opportunity to sort themselves out?  It's only fair.  If you haven't talked through these things with him, especially the issue around the worship band and the man on benefits, then I can't really allow you to come into membership here.'

3.  Pull Ranks.  Tell people that the leader of the other church is a good friend of yours.  It has to be the truth of course!  But if people are moving with for the wrong reasons, perhaps with a critical spirit or because they were confronted about sin in their lives that they don't want to deal with, it puts them on the defensive.  The shepherds in a town or city need to be more grown up than the sheep and, as far as they are able, co-operate and work as a team, even if they disagree over some significant things.

So in this scenario, Steve Brightside would say to 'Oh yes, I talk to Bill McKinley every now and again.  How is his eldest son doing on his Law degree?  Was his wife's operation successful?'

The only problem with this approach would be if one church was doing something seriously wrong.  To know about an issue and not to mention it out of fear or a misplaced desire for unity can result in serious damage to some individuals and the honour due to the Lord.

4.  Get in touch.  In this instance, the Pastors - whoever wants to make the first move - meet each other or speak on the phone about the families in question.  Leaders need to be more mature than their followers.  Perhaps frank discussions should take place where there are deep disagreements and where misunderstandings might have taken place.  Where someone has clear convictions, states them, states his principles but shows grace and integrity, I can have a good relationship with that person, even if I disagree with some of what he believes.

The phone rings.

Pastor M: McKinley Household
Steve (Breathing quite heavily): Is that Pastor McKinley from Ebenezer Church?
Pastor M: It is.  Can I help you?  Who am I speaking to?
Steve: Nice to speak to you, Pastor.  My name is Steve Brightside.  I'm the Pastor of Living Springs Church.  Er, I wondered if we could chat about a few things?
Pastor M (Pausing a little): Oh, er, good evening!  (At this point, a hundred thoughts go through his mind.  How do I relate to this guy?).  Call me Bill!  How are things, Steve?  What can I do for you?
Steve: Well, I've noticed quite a few of people have left us to join your church, and we've recently had a couple of your families joining us.  It doesn't seem right to me to just keep letting this happen without at least touching base with each other.  What do you think?  Can we discuss some of these people, Bill?
Pastor M: Hmmm.  Aye, I think you're right Steve.  But it's better to talk face to face than on the phone, what do you think?
Steve: Agreed!  Should we go somewhere for coffee?  They're on me!!
Pastor M:  Well, why not come to our place?  Bring your wife too, Sharon is it?  My wife will keep her company...

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