I imagine that people in other professions also experience “no-win” situations. It just so happens that, having been a pastor for many years, and working with many of them now in coaching and consulting relationships, I’m tuned in to the dilemmas in which the leaders of churches sometimes find themselves. Such as:
- A beloved staff member or lay leader has had a moral or ethical failure which most people in the church are not aware of.
- A beloved staff member or lay leader is vehemently opposing the pastor, or leaving the church in anger, and letting people know about his/her complaints.
- Controversy is swirling around a particularly sticky, marriage, divorce, remarriage, or moral issue and one or more of the individuals involved in the situation has relatives or dear friends in the congregation.
- Your congregation has what would otherwise be, a clear-cut church discipline situation, but in this case, the individual in need of loving correction is “well-heeled” or “well-connected.”
- Missionaries of the church who have relatives or good friends in the church are embroiled in a doctrinal, ethical or moral issue.
I don’t have all the answers, but I think I can offer some help.
- I know that I say this in many posts that I write but I’ll say it again: Pray like crazy!
Some of you are thinking that this goes without saying, but, in truth, there are pastors out there (and I mean evangelical pastors) who will try everything else first.
I keep saying this also, but we’ve no reason to believe that the Holy Spirit – who led the Church and the churches very personally in the first century – has stopped leading churches. Yes, He wrote a book and it’s wonderful, but the Author of the book continues to guide the people who love the book, and that’s wonderful too.
He can and will lead you, step by step, through the dark valley that you’ve just found yourself in (Psalm 23:4). This sounds ominous at the beginning, or even in the middle, of that dark valley, but if you pray desperately and “follow hard,” you will rejoice in this great truth at the other end of that dark valley.
- Don’t disobey Scripture, don’t violate your conscience, and make sure your church knows about your convictions.
Psalm 37:5,6 is still a great command: “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”
Romans 14:22b-23 is still a great guide: “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
No reasonable, Bible-believing church would ask you to ignore these convictions. Like the young trainee Daniel, you may, at some point, have to appeal to your employers, asking them to accommodate your concerns. Maybe somebody else can perform that wedding. Maybe you’re trying to lead the wrong church.
Nobody ever regrets following the dictates of their conscience.
- Listen to and learn from veteran pastors who want to tell you about the “no-win” situations they’ve faced.
Don’t tell yourself: “That will never happen to me.” It probably will. It’s just a matter of time.
There are several versions of the quotable quote that says, “No battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy.” Plan for an aggressive, gate-crashing (Matthew 16:18), disciple-making ministry, but while you’re at it, plan also for the attacks of the enemy.
In fact, the more serious you are about taking ground for the Savior of the world, the more you should anticipate the enemy’s attacks.
- Do everything you can to grow a united team of leaders who love and trust each other.
There are resources on this web site for building a strong, united church leadership team. If you want to dig deeper, we (in the English-speaking world) are blessed with a growing body of books and workbooks on the subject of building effective church leadership teams.
Pastor: Don’t excuse yourself out of a blessing! It is not that difficult to latch unto some of these resources and get to work at training or re-training great church board members.
- While anticipating future challenges (without pessimism or cynicism), work hard – with a united team of leaders – at creating guiding principles and policies that will help you face future “no-win” challenges.
No, you can’t anticipate everything, but you can pretty much count on having to deal with at least some of the difficulties I addressed in the bullet points above. Come up with a “plan A” and maybe even a “plan B” for how you’re going to face these situations when they arise.
Your policies must be consistent with your interpretation of Scripture and your denominational distinctives, as well as your own congregation’s polity, values and culture. Don’t pretend that your policies are perfect – write them in pencil, don’t carve them in stone – but don’t let the admission that they may eventually need revision keep you from writing them at all.
Policies keep us consistent (or at least, more consistent) and they protect us from accusations of favoritism and fickleness.
Next Week: More suggestions for surviving our “no-win” situations.