I remember sitting in Pastoral Theology class at 20 years old. Our topic was church conflict: how to deal with difficult parishioners. Our prof told us a story of a young pastor in a rural community. One of his congregation members would call him every morning at 7:30 to make sure he was up. She didn’t want their young pastor to be lazy. This happened for 3 years until he finally quit.
I sat at the edge of my seat: This is an obvious example of a congregation member with unhealthy boundaries. How should we pastor through this? How did he disciple this woman? What should I do if this happens to me?
Everyone just laughed at the example and the prof moved on. There was no advice on how to deal with this. We were essentially taught that you take the abuse to keep the peace. If you want to have long term ministry, you will have to learn to absorb or ignore poor behaviour from those in your congregation who treat you, and each other, badly.
No wonder pastors don’t last.
Michael dug into this topic deeper in his book “They Said You Were Safe”. He focussed on spiritual abuse and control in a leadership context, but the same principles apply. There was a time when church staff allowed unhealthy spiritual environments to flourish around them in order to, honestly, keep their jobs. These environments hurt pastors, their families, and kept churches from living out their divine purposes.
In his book, Michael proposes some strategies to keep young leaders from leaving. But maybe, just maybe, leaving isn’t always a bad thing.
There is a video circulating amongst our pastor friends. Its an online church service from Abbotsford Pentecostal Assembly (APA). It starts off normal enough – announcement loop, worship. And then, one by one, the entire pastoral team resigns.
They are fairly clear why they are resigning. They were hired to revitalize an aging and plateaued congregation. They came in with fresh vision and new strategies, and “key stake holders” have created such resistance that the staff have quit trying to create change. They are walking away rather than fighting.
You need to understand that this is completely against the script. Pastors leave, but they are supposed to keep the reasons vague. They are “called elsewhere”. They are just following the Holy Spirit in a great new adventure… we’ve all heard it. What makes the situation at APA so unique is that they are lifting up the rock and letting everyone see the ugly.
Things are changing. A new generation of leaders are demanding transparency and health in the congregations they lead. And they are willing to put their money where their mouths are. This is both amazing, and scary.
Jesus help and guide us as we shed old wine skins.
Click here for Abbotsford Pentecostal Assembly video