Nobody Told Me There Would Be So Much Mediation

Many of us in professional ministry are saddened and disillusioned to discover that – while we thought we were going to be changing the world to the Glory of God – we are actually spending most of our time doing administration and building maintenance in a church building. Especially in smaller churches with little to no staff, the pastor is expected to do what administrative assistants, webmasters, janitors, and handymen/women do in larger churches. Light Beam

Many pastors leave professional ministry before the fifth anniversary of their ordination. More here. (It’s a an old article, but still true.)

Elizabeth Myer Boulton, in this post, expresses many of the truths about organizational dysfunction and toxicity, in spite what we in the church are supposed to know about the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and basic human decency. Conflict-management is not taught as consistently as Biblical Exegesis, Church History, and Theology in seminary, but I’m thinking that parish pastors need serious training in this field. Mediating between the choir and choir director, the preschool director and the parents, parents and nursery workers, two camps of members with stubborn differences on budget matters, generations, new members and long-standing members – these are all common conversations I’ve had as both a parish pastor and now a “middle judicatory staff member.”

I’m not sure what’s going on here – when church people (both clergy and parishioners) are unrecognizable as followers of Jesus, but my hunches include these:

  • People don’t get that bullying is the antithesis of following Christ.
  • People misunderstand whose church it is.
  • People with no power in the world wield assumed power in their congregation.
  • People have an erroneous understanding about the purpose of a church.
  • People have an erroneous understanding about the role of a pastor.
  • People gossip and send anonymous notes as if they never left junior high school.

Obviously all our issues involve being people and many of us are a mess.

By the time you read this today, I will once again have taken on the role of “invited denominational official” in hopes of mediating a church conflict. I do this a lot. For a person who grew up being fairly conflict-avoidant, I now appreciate and (sort of) love conflict. I am not afraid any more.

What I know for sure is that living and serving in community is hard. It takes maturity and commitment and honesty. Talking openly is a start. Speaking to each other as beloved children of God is essential.

Seminarians: my hope is that someone is telling you that there will be conflict and bullying and – yes – even darkness in your church. You will need tools to navigate it all and you will make a lot of mistakes. But this is God’s church and we are God’s people and love wins in the end.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5




4 responses to “Nobody Told Me There Would Be So Much Mediation

  1. Good points, but I might suggest that to say that people have “differing” understandings about the role of the pastor or the purpose of the church might be a more helpful way to put it. Certainly, there are differing understandings of these things, or we wouldn’t need to spend so much time hashing out new church mission statements on a regular basis. On another note, in my experience it has also been helpful to recognize that people become more passionate more quickly about conflict in the church than in other life venues. I think that may be because our roles in the church frequently become entangled with our understanding of our relationship with God, and that goes to a very deep place within the self.


  2. Lynn, with respect, if you’re suggesting that there is no such thing as an erroneous understanding of the role of the pastor, I must strongly disagree. While our call to ministry doesn’t have the character of a 30 page legal brief, there are some real essentials, some grey areas dependent upon gifts and sense of call/ need, and some things that are simply not. our. job.


  3. Thank you, wise friend. I find that the social dynamics of churches is not unlike the social dynamics of high school.
    At the suggestion of a pastor friend, I recently watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I found that so much of its truth about high school is the same truth about churches. I wonder why this is so. Is it because just like in high school, members of churches feel a kind of powerlessness as the “bullies” and the energetic kids get elevated into positions of power.
    You are correct that a lot of what we do is mediation, which at times is the ministry of reconciliation that Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians. However, it also seems that we need the flip side of mediation which is facilitation. Not only do we need to reconciled differences, but we need to facilitate collaboration, which is a way to empower people who feel on the outside.
    Just thinking of the human dynamics at play in these couple paragraphs exhausts me. Yet, this is the reality with are living in.


  4. I have been there done that. I would say the amount of energy a faith community puts into the work of serving outwardly is directly proportionate to the level of these inner conflicts. When you are working side by side for a task of loving the least of these, it puts everything in perspective and lessens conflict (though of course not completely). Instead when we are mostly involved in work that pertains to our own community and it’s needs…we lose a focus that is meant to be there, and we lapse into self introspection and all it’s dysfunctions. Whether one human or a group, the focus of giving outwardly is the healthy one, and the inner self focus always leads to dysfunction. Jesus words and actions seem pretty clear on which direction he focused.


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