“I am greatly encouraged. In all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds.” The Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 7:4b
Last week I wrote about how pastors can survive those tough, “no-win” situations: crises in which they must make a decision that will invariably result in somebody being unhappy with them.
These dilemmas can be excruciatingly difficult, and every pastor faces them.
But they don’t have to defeat us. Experience has shown us how we ourselves and our churches can survive and thrive, right through them, with the help of our great God. Here are the points I made last week, followed by five more suggestions:
- Pray like crazy! (Like King Hezekiah in Isaiah thirty-seven.)
- Don’t disobey Scripture, don’t violate your conscience, and make sure your church knows about your convictions.
- Before you encounter your own, listen to and learn from veteran pastors who want to tell you about the “no-win” situations they’ve faced.
- Do everything you can to grow a united team of leaders who love and trust each other.
- While anticipating future challenges (without pessimism or cynicism), work hard – with that united team of leaders – at creating guiding principles and policies that will help you face future “no-win” challenges.
- Call in reinforcements.
Don’t let your pride get the best of you. Call on an older and wiser pastor or two sooner, rather than later. Ask them about what they think you should do and how they think you should do it.
Who do you have that you can call on? A denominational leader? A consultant? A mentor? A coach?
It’s possible that this person can come and help you, on site. Maybe this veteran outsider can enter the scene and bolster (or not!) the pastor’s proposals for church board action or ask the staff member or well-connected missionary to sever his ties to the church. Maybe a denominational leader or a mediator or a church consultant can be the one to tell the board that staff member so-and-so should get a fresh start in another ministry.
- Do everything as a united church leadership team.
- Don’t do anything until you can act in unity, no matter how much time and prayer and discussion it takes. The devil (and one or more of your church members) loves to divide and conquer.
- No leadership team member should separate himself from the team’s decisions: “I hear you, Fred! I wasn’t actually in favor of that either. Pastor Thorstad talked me into it!”
- Don’t apologize for the team unless the team has agreed to apologize. It’s pretty disconcerting to hear somebody else apologizing for your actions, for which you’re decidedly not sorry.
- Always act and speak with loving strength.
Don’t panic. Study and pray through Psalm 37 together. Don’t lash out or run off. Your church needs you to exhibit a calm, assertive, non-anxious presence. Respond like Andy Griffith or Jim Anderson (the father from “Father Knows Best”) or Ward Cleaver from “Leave It To Beaver.” I realize, of course, that those guys all had script writers (no wonder they were so wise!) but we have the Holy Spirit, don’t we?
- Don’t allow for rampaging elephants.
Of course I’m talking about elephants in the room. Everybody knows about them. Everybody’s thinking about them. Nobody’s talking about them. Elephants in the room will stomp all over your congregation if you let them.
Some things should be kept secret of course. But if the secret is “out” you have to address it carefully and honestly. You must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) but you don’t have to speak ALL the truth.
Some situations call for disciplinary action. Others simply demand honest attention at a members-only congregational meeting. I’ve seen congregations go from tense to relaxed and relieved, simply because their leaders got up front and graciously spoke the truth.
- Sometimes you shouldn’t take the blame.
Here’s when the leader should seriously consider not taking the blame:
- When doing so will absolve others of accountability/responsibility, keeping them from growing up spiritually and making vitally important changes in their lives.
- When taking the blame will undermine the good leadership of a good leader who should be followed for years to come.
- When a staff member or volunteer acts out of line and out of turn, violating clearly articulated policies or expectations.
- When a staff member or volunteer was placed into a ministry in good faith and subsequently violated the trust placed in him/her. In other words, did you do “due diligence”? If you did, it’s not your fault. You can’t know everything and reasonable people will not expect you to. A cunning con man, in fact, can fool everyone.
- As above, don’t apologize for the team if the team has not decided that it did wrong or made a mistake.
- When the mistake was made by the entire leadership team, acting in unity. I’m thinking about Laurel and Hardy and the French Foreign Legion. The call for volunteers went forth; everyone else in the line stepped back, making it look like our hapless heroes had stepped forward. In the real world, this happens to real pastors. Most recently, during the Covid epidemic, some church boards approved the pastor’s plan for responding to the crisis, and then abandoned the pastor when serious pushback ensued. Does pastoral leadership mean that the pastor always has to be the “fall guy”? I think not.
While I’m sure that my ten suggestions will never make “no-win” pastoral situations easy, my prayer is that God uses them to help you survive, thrive and glorify God as you follow His Spirit’s leadership through your greatest challenges.