A church says they want a pastor who can “reach new people.” They want to address “changes in the community.” They are open to being a different kind of church.
If they are very fortunate and have been paying attention to the Spirit, they call a pastor who – possibly – doesn’t look like the dominant demographic in the congregation. They successfully identify a leader who will move them forward from their stuckness. They choose what is brave and faithful over what they’ve always done. Jesus dances.
And then something excruciating happens. The church administrator who’s a longtime employee (and maybe a church member) starts to withhold information from the pastor – like who’s in the hospital. Or the church musician who’s been on staff for a decade or so starts badmouthing the pastor who suggests new things. Or the preschool director who’s been part their historic preschool becomes jealous of the new pastor’s relationship with preschool parents.
And in the throes of these little conflicts, the church leaders choose to back the administrator or the organist or the preschool director because 1) they don’t like conflict and/or 2) they don’t want to upset the congregation who have grown accustomed to the longtime staffers.
So, do we want a pastor who can “reach new people” or not? Do we want to address “changes in the community” or was that merely what we were supposed to say? Are we open to being a different kind of church but in our heart of hearts, we can’t let go of Comfortable Church?
This happens every day in the institutional Church. Congregations sabotage themselves and the blame will go to the new pastors themselves or to the Presbytery (or other church judicatory) or the pastor search community. In truth, we are to be blamed for not being brave – even in the perfect time for bravery and fresh ideas: after a pandemic.
Too many of our churches are stuck in the myth of Sisyphus and we’ll never get that rock to the top of the mountain. Because we don’t really want to get there. (And we deserve to close sooner than later.)
That is not the only kind of sabotage that can happen. Sometimes it is the pastor that is trying to make a mark and comes in all guns firing without any consideration of the staff and the bonds of the congregation. I was in leadership during one of these situations, and the Presbytery was so entrenched in supporting the clergy, that they were dismissive of the elders, deacons, and conversations that were had with the congregation. About 25 families left the congregation and it was not the search committee or the church leadership that was stonewalling, it was the pastor and the Presbytery. I hope the the Presbytery is enjoying that mortgage note they are having to guarantee because of it.
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Thanks for this. You are right. Presbyteries and pastors can also be partners in the demise of a church. For sure. And all parties need to tell the truth when seeking a new pastor/call. Good questions for Search Committees: tell us about a time you helped grow a church and why did you do it?
This does happen, but it’s far less common than the epidemic in our congregations today that Jan describes. And many more pastors are accused of such things than are actually guilty of them—exactly because of what Jan describes. Neither the occasional egotistical and insensitive bulldozer in the pulpit nor the occasional willfully blind COM that protects such a pastor explains the state of the church in America today.
Lord, in your mercy ….
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