Pillow Controversy

Now that I’m in a new position, it’s just a matter of time before I tick somebody off.

For example: my church tradition doesn’t have individual bishops.  Instead The Presbytery is a corporate bishop comprised of an equal number of ruling elders and pastors who make the decisions a bishop would make in other denominations.  In other words, I’m not a bishop.  And although The Presbytery has rules, sometimes those rules are guidelines and sometimes those rules are commandments. And there are consequences for not adhering to them.

So . . . do you agree with this pillow?

My colleague and friend Landon Whitsitt offered this wisdom at an executive training session a couple years ago and I thought it belonged on a pillow.

There is another perspective in Church World though.  Some of my colleagues believe that it’s the Presbytery/Bishop’s job to keep a church from doing something they’ll regret – like installing a toilet in the kitchen.

Congregations make decisions every day that determine their future.  For example, I would consider these to be bad decisions akin to putting a toilet in the kitchen:

  • Not hiring a trained transitional pastor between the former and future pastor. There are exceptions but they would be rare.
  • Saving the church endowment for a rainy day when the roof is literally leaking.
  • Calling Pulpit Candy (i.e. the person you imagine is your dream pastor: good hair, radio voice, young family) instead of the pastor you actually need to thrive in the 21st Century.
  • Focusing inward with no beneficial impact in the neighborhood around you.
  • Confusing being a good church member with being a disciple of Jesus.  They are two very different things.

But if you absolutely want to make choices that people who study these things for a living know to be unwise and you are going to be all up in arms if you don’t get your way, I am somewhat likely to let you get your way.  And I’ll try not to say “I told you so” when things go awry because God can redeem even our worst mistakes.  See Genesis 50.  [Note:  some mistakes eventually result in closing a church, but even church closures lead to resurrection.]

Church leaders: what’s your wisdom?  Do we let congregations make mistakes?  Or do we make them angry  – perhaps for generations – when we adamantly refuse to let them put a toilet in the kitchen?

The fundamental question boils down to this: Do our congregations trust us when we say that we want them to thrive and grow?  Do they trust us enough to accept our leadership and make (what we pray will be) healthy choices?

Image of one of my favorite pillows with thanks to LW.

4 responses to “Pillow Controversy

  1. I pray that every struggling congregation would get your kind of wisdom before it’s too late. I’m not sure that’s always the case. And I’m aware that good wisdom is not always heard, in any case.
    In some ways, I’d rather see churches that are intent to die move to the end more quickly, so that whatever will come next doesn’t have to wait so long. Sometimes it can be a big drain on the energy of churches around them, trying to help people who don’t want help.


  2. I’ve often thought that we’d be well off if every presbytery had a bishop for about one week a year, to accomplish some of the things that the ‘corporate bishop’ just cannot seem to achieve. (“You’re closing; you two are merging; you need to serve somewhere else;” etc.) It’s a beautiful dream, provided that said bishop agrees with me and supports all of my initiatives. When I imagine the nightmare that a bishop of another mindset could impose on a presbytery, I regain my appreciation for the complex, deliberate work of the corporate bishop.


  3. Jan, I think this is my Pretty solid advice for execs, a COM, or even Presbyteries at large, but I wonder about it as a Pastor. I believe good pastors who see the writing on the wall understand there isn’t time to let churches make that mistake. So instead they’re steering things so that bad decision doesn’t ever come up. Maybe they/we are too close to the situation and don’t want to have to live with the bad decision. I get what you’re saying.


  4. Bruce MacLeod

    As an intentional (and trained) interim of nearly 17 years, I offer whatever opinions and insights I have. It’s up to the congregation to discern whether to accept it, talk about it, perhaps adapt their response, or ignore it. I believe that their response is part of the discernment process as to what God calls them to be and do. If it’s the last of these, then it may be that their congregation is coming to the end of its life. I won’t fight them on that. As people of faith, we do well to trust that both life and death lie within God’s care. To David Parker’s point, I don’t have to live with the consequences of their decision, which frees me to approach it that way.


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