Minister’s Wonk

Rogue Waves on the Ministry Seas

Conflict occurs inevitably and sometimes without warning or cause.  People nurse grudges, harbor divergent expectations, and consider the pastor like they consider a sales person.  The combined force of faulty thinking and difficult decisions often generates a perfect storm for conflict.  No pastor should anticipate a conflict free ministry.  Anticipating conflict can be somewhat like predicting a rogue wave, however.  Neither experience nor obvious circumstances can predict unequivocally the swell of conflict.  Several circumstances seem to generate trouble for a minister:

  1. Divergent currents produce trouble.  Numerous committees, week previous leadership, deaconism, or age can indicate a church structure ripe for conflict.  Some churches and ministries exist like chessboards in a state of stalemate.  Each side waits for the presence of new leadership to tip the balance of power in their favor.  Unknowingly a minister may make changes that favor one side over the other, and war erupts between parties the pastor knew little about.  He needs to ask himself in the early days of ministry who in the congregation are the powerful people and if they cooperate or segregate.
  2. Strong currents combined with turbulent external conditions produce trouble.  Times of local upheaval, racial tensions, social movement, and fads mix with internal pressure to produce trouble.  Churches with minimal but strong internal control, strong and long-term prior leadership, and relatively few other leadership structures precipitate problems generated by external forces.  A minister may experience the pressure to produce a certain product in his sermons, certain numbers from his efforts, or a particular ethos in the congregation.  The congregation may believe that to reach certain people requires moving or changing in ways Scripture will not accommodate.  The internal pressure for change to fit a style and the external fad or pressure can produce a sudden destructive wave that attempts to sink a minister’s ministry.
  3. Distant storms produce trouble.  Good balance of pastoral and congregational leadership, fair to good prior pastoral leadership experience, and new plant or broad consensus among the congregation and leadership can still face the effect of distant trouble.  Everyone from former ministers, T.V. preachers, books, and past members incite trouble for a congregation.  This is one reason to periodically purge membership records to keep control of a congregation in the hands of those attending.  A former pastor can talk derisively about the present pastor and decisions he makes.  A former member can post poor reviews on websites and spread false reports about his experience at the church.  Conflict in other Baptist churches or local congregations can produce a local atmosphere of distrust and an influx of new (but embittered) members.

In all these circumstances it becomes increasingly important that the pastor remain humble.  Until 30 years ago rogue waves were considered tall tales told by inept or drunk sailors.  Modern proof revealed the truth about rogue waves and exonerated the sailors.  Ministry leaders and pastors treat church problems in much the same way because they do not want to incur blame for situations they could not control.  They often remain silent about the trouble they experience in their congregation.  The secrecy about pastoral issues causes isolation.  Pride drives the personal shame many pastors feel.  Career movement drives silence for fear that one’s performance in one place will limit options when moving to another.

Three key truths inform how a pastor ought to respond to the rogue opposition he experiences.

  1. Most problems existed before the minister arrived and began work.  His presence did not produce the trouble unless there is a legitimate cause for accusation against the pastor.  A minister, at best, can anticipate where possible trouble may exist but he cannot expect himself to see all possible threats.  Likewise, his wife cannot anticipate the source of these conflicts and needs to remain alert and on her husband’s side.
  2. External changes and internal reactions from powerful people take years to overcome rather than minutes.  A minister need not feel ashamed if he cannot practice church discipline in early days of his ministry or perfectly every time the occasion arises.  Local community events and racial transitions combined with racism or prejudice take a period of time to defeat.  Make a plan and preach/teach through it.  Avoid sudden provocation or quick reaction.  Let your ministry be defined by longsuffering and stable endurance.  Wives should support and encourage their husband by tending to his ambition with affirmation.  At times he will need to beat his chest and at others be incredibly frustrated.  He may need a time to breathe or to be assured you still think he can endure.
  3. People will lie about you and say evil things about you.  Give them nothing of substance to lie about. All leadership changes bring some trouble.  When a rogue former member, pastor or opinion gains popularity within the congregation it can strike with great force and subtle surprise.  People cloak their talk about their spiritual leaders.  He often hears last the derisive comments made about him.  The wife need not be the source of rebuttal.  Most of the allegations cannot and should not be answered.

All these situations challenge a minister to defend himself.  Ministry in America superimposes a business toughness on pastors that does not exist in Scripture.  Num. 12 records Moses’ struggle with Miriam and Aaron.

Numbers 12

  1. The context of their complaint.
    1. Aaron and Miriam bring the complaint
    2. The quail provided to the complaining people
    3. Moses took a Cushite woman as his wife but this is the pretense and excuse to question his leadership
  2. The cause of their complaint
    1. Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?
    2. Is Moses the only holy person
    3. The situation was fairly bad since many died from disobedience
  3. God’s Judgment of the Complaint
    1. God hears the charge against his leader
    2. God calls all three to stand in judgment
    3. God validates the leaders authority
    4. God disciplines the opposition to his leader
  4. The Resolution of the complaint
    1. Moses refuses to defend himself
    2. Moses is validated by God
    3. Moses intercedes at their call for repentance
  5. Two lessons in focus
    1. The minister receives derivative authority in order to lead God’s people
    2. Humility is the only protection the minister has from becoming bloated by his power.

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