September 21, 2020

Case Study: What’s a Parishioner to Do?


Today, I present a case study for your discussion. Here is the situation:

You are a member of a small to medium-sized mainline Protestant church, and have been active and involved, particularly in one certain ministry of the congregation. That ministry and its leader (who has led it for many years as a part-time paid position) was one of the main reasons you joined the church and has been a primary way you have participated in the congregation. The ministry leader herself has been a big part of the public face and personality of the church, and the work she directs, which is visible and has given the church much of its identity, has been effective in getting people involved and helping them grow.

The pastor has been very supportive of this ministry and its leader over the years. He has participated in it, publicly praised it, has often given creative license to those involved, and advocated for it with the church board.

As with all ministries, it has not been completely smooth sailing. At one point, for example, budget cuts affected the ministry leader’s salary and led to some diminishing of her position. But the biggest source of ongoing irritation has had to do with the fact that this particular ministry and the pastor’s responsibilities overlap to some extent. This has meant that the pastor has often stepped in unawares, made unannounced changes, altered strategies and plans without notice, and made unilateral decisions that affected the ministry, its leader, and everyone who has been involved (a good number of people in the congregation).

The ministry leader finally reached a point where this became unbearable, and she resigned, which was a surprise to everyone working in the ministry. She and her family will leave the church, because there are other opportunities out there for her to fulfill her calling and they have personal reasons for going elsewhere. There was no big “blow up” with the pastor, no one single issue or big problem that caused this. However, the leader felt that she had reached a point where she wasn’t really “leading” the ministry anymore and that things were unlikely to change, given the pastor’s propensity for micromanagement and unpredictability.

pewsAs an active participant in this ministry, what will you do?

You know about the problems. You may not have been in the “inner circle” all the time, but the broad parameters of the situation have been general knowledge, and you agree with the ministry leader’s perspective on this. People joke and kid all the time about the pastor’s tendencies to “keep people on their toes” with constant changes and surprises.

But you also like the pastor and have benefited from his ministry. You want to be a loyal member of the congregation. Yet it grieves you to know that this ministry, which has served as your main area of participation, will be changed dramatically. You struggle with knowing that the personality of the church will be altered, and not by natural change, but because of what you see as an unnecessary departure of a key person. You wonder if such changes have the potential to cause serious damage to the church and threaten its health and well being.

As for “solutions” or a way forward, you don’t want to gossip about this with others, knowing that would be unhealthy and unhelpful. You wonder if it’s your place to talk with the pastor and you don’t really know if you understand enough about the details of the situation to even comment about it. You certainly don’t want to lay blame. You also wonder what good it will do. The leader has left, and change has already come.

You are hurt, confused, angry, and grieving. You are also trying to keep a level head and manage your emotions. And you are trying to understand what this means for you and your future with the congregation.

What will you do?


  1. Go with the flow for awhile and try to find a new place to fit in. Don’t gossip. Reassess after a year or two.

    I mean, it’s church and it’s not a moral failing or a particular evil. So there’s no rush. See if things pan out. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But only time will tell.

    In the meantime, work where you can, inside and/or outside the church.

  2. Is this based on a real life situation? If so, in a week, could you let us know what happened in that situation? (Generally, w/names changed etc)

    • It is, though several details have been altered, and it will take more than a week to play out. We’ll see how things go and if it turns out to be appropriate to share more along the way.

  3. What is the governing polity of the church? As a concerned member I would seek out the appropriate elder/board member/administrator, or even the pastor himself, and ask for a review of staff policy when it comes to job descriptions. Who writes them? Is there room for change? What can be done to foster unity and accountability without the unhealthy overlap?

  4. I think honesty would be the best policy…and discuss it with the pastor.

    • An excellent overriding principle behind all the others. For me, of even higher priority would be intensive prayer before doing anything else, intended to get particular direction for a particular situation, and to send blessing to all concerned.

      Steve, I don’t recall ever before heartily agreeing with something you said. Excuse me, I’ve got to go mark this on my calendar.

    • Exactly. From the parishioner’s point of view it sounds like a Matthew 18 scenario, and she should talk to her pastor before deciding anything.

      From the ministry leaders perspective, it sounds like the old “what do you need me for?” scenario. She should also talk with the pastor. Perhaps she did, and that was why she left. Matthew 18 turns into Acts 15, and Paul and Barnabas split up.

  5. Been there. This is nothing new.

    As kind as everyone is trying to appear, the cold hard fact is both pastor and ministry leader have taken possession of this particular ministry. The pastor ostensibly set the minister in charge, but stepped in whenever he chose, and unilaterally ran it his way. The ministry leader resigned because she finally realized she wasn’t really in charge, and couldn’t run it her way. He didn’t submit to her better judgment; she didn’t submit to his supervisory role; neither of them are submitting to one another. Nor Christ, whose ministry this really is.

    In my experience when this sort of thing has happened, there was a bit more backbiting from the disgruntled ex-leader. Publicly, they’d support the pastor. Privately, they’d share “the real story” with anyone who’d listen, naively thinking it wouldn’t get back to the pastor, and of course it would. Finally the ex-leader would quietly fade to another church, having proven they can no longer be trusted at this one. Hope that doesn’t happen in this case, but it’s usually what I’ve seen.

    Micromanagers are a pet peeve of mine: This may be a Kingdom, but the pastor isn’t king. So I’ll admit my bias is gonna swing more toward the ex-leader than the pastor. But regardless, the church board needs to step in. In writing, possibly in the bylaws, they need to outline the ministry’s duties and goals, and everyone’s job descriptions. They must do so with all official church ministries. (The pastor can do as he like with all his unofficial, personal activities.) These aren’t the pastor’s personal fiefdoms. They’re Christ’s.

    If the pastor feels this is a power grab… well, he’s right. It is. But one he should submit to. Separation of powers may slow things down, but it also prevents tyranny. And he’s no tyrant, right?

  6. I’ve experienced this very thing first hand a number of times, and witnessed it with friends and family several more.

    The pastor is a micromanaging busybody and needs to be called out by everybody who can call him out. But there is a deeper problem. Being a micromanaging busybody is all but expected from a pastor in American church culture. We have been taught “that’s the way it is”, that the pastor is “Da Man”, and don’t pause to consider what’s at stake, so we most often blame the one who is trampled.

    I have responded to such situations in a variety of ways, and only once has my response caused a positive result, and it was with a former ministry leader I served under, several years after I left that church. Of course, wisdom will bring about unique solutions to each situation.

    Because of my previous experiences and those many others that I’ve read about, I have resigned myself to never serving in a “church ministry” such as the one described in the story again, and will be happy as a spiritual entrepreneur. I have rarely ever been treated in such a way by an employer at a job I’ve held, but why it continually happens in church is a puzzling oddity.

  7. Christiane says

    well, if the Church were like a ‘family’,
    then the problem would be one of un-clarified ‘boundaries’, leading to confusion and ultimately harming relationships among the members

    here you have ANOTHER problem, in that the minister (lead pastor) holds a position of ‘authority’ over the individual with the grievance,
    so it gets ‘tricky’ about ‘confronting’ the issue

    I suppose the pastor KNOWS he has caused hard-feelings, but did it anyway? Or is that and ASSUMPTION ???
    The honest answer to this gives direction to ‘what happens next’ . . .

    if the pastor is NOT aware . . . then there is hope for a resolution of the difficulty

    if the pastor not only IS aware, but has made it a pattern to openly challenge those in the congregation by interjecting his control into their areas of supervision repeatedly, then you got a bigger problem . . . a much bigger problem . . . this begs the question ‘Why?’ is he doing this? Is it possible to confront him in a way that is constructive with a goal of amending any wrongs done to this pastor that might have made him act ‘defensively’ in his own eyes, and ‘aggressively’ in the eyes of those affected? Misunderstanding and mis-reading others leads to a lot of difficulties that might be sorted out among people of good will, given a chance to do it.

    some thoughts . . . .

  8. I would likely over a few months quietly leave the old church and follow the ministry leader to her new church, if this is practical. If the ministry leader left town and I couldn’t go to her church, I might still leave the old church. I might want to see how things pan out at the old church but it is unlikely I would feel comfortable there any more. My way of coping with normal conflicts like this is to force myself to become as emotionally detached as possible even while picking sides, when I have to pick sides. Most likely there is nothing I could do or say to change the situation.

    The key to the problem is that the roles were not clearly defined between the pastor and the ministry leader. So things were pretty much set up for failure from the start. Unless the two had an unusually good working relationship, it was inevitable that one issue after the other would add up to a breaking point. The pastor does seem like a micro manager and the church board/elders seem weak and ineffective. The only way the church could be run well with a micro managing pastor is if the board/elders were strong and if the roles and boundaries were very clearly defined. Roles should be defined well even if no one is a micro manager. With a micro managing leader, well-defined roles are even more necessary. Unbalanced organizations like this almost never change. It’s their culture. I’m a survivor and not an idealist so I would likely not say anything and just move on. Maybe that makes me part of the problem.

  9. I think going to the lead pastor would be a first step to get the full picture of the situation. Otherwise you may be stirring the pot unnecessary.

    • You will get a biased perspective if you only go to the lead pastor. Just like you would get a biased perspective if you went only to the ministry leader. The best scenario would be to have both of them together, along with the elder board (if the elder board has a say) to have a discussion about the challenges. It would also be good to hear from other people who work with the ministry leader.

      I also agree with others that the way to avoid such problems is to have policies and procedures set up ahead of time that will help keep everyone in their own realm of responsibility. How this works depends greatly on the leadership structure in the church. If you have a “lead pastor/elder” scenario, the lead pastor often feels free to do as he pleases.

  10. Would going to another church to follow the ministry leader be the consumerist “shopping” iMonk (rightly) talks about a lot? I prefer the parish model and the idea of sticking with a church for geographical reasons, rather than moving around because of a grievance. However, I wonder how long the pastor will be at the church — if he’s there for decades, then there would be more reason for disgruntled congregants to move.

    I’m sympathetic to the church-goer in this story, but I also have to ask: what is essential at a church? The pastor provides baptism, communion, and whatever sacraments that church recognizes, as well as scriptural exposition. The minister provides music or Sunday School, I assume — non-essential aspects. Is it right to leave because of non-essentials?

    I have to say I don’t like micro-managers myself, but I think I would stay unless there was a larger dysfunction.

    • I also like the parish model and am used to “change”. Sometimes people take their toys and go home, sometimes justified, sometimes not. Our last pastor was really bad in communicating with adults yet he was a gem for my CCD program because he was always engaged, and he taught in the classroom. You take the good with the bad. People come and go and because of this sometimes their is a clash in style or personalities or sometimes the lack of communication leads to unfair perceptions.

      In this particular case I wonder if this ministry leader communicated with the pastor that she was feeling squeezed out? I wonder if the pastor was micro-managing without really realizing it or felt the minimums were not being attained. Was there attitude because the ministry leader’s salary was cut? In my particular church the only ministry that is paid for is music ministry and CCD director, the rest are volunteers. And lastly, if people are jumping churches because a particular leader is upset then their must be a lot of movement in congregations out there. But then that’s what happens when people put their focus on leaders instead of worship.

  11. Adam Tauno Williams says

    I would probably continue at the current church, but with a diminished level of programmatic involvement.

    I agree with what Jacob C said: ” key to the problem is that the roles were not clearly defined between the pastor and the ministry leader”. It is the issue that the church is not an organization, it is just play acting at being an organization. But this seems pandemic, I would not expect to find a church where this wasn’t true or where “The pastor does seem like a micro manager and the church board/elders seem weak and ineffective”. As that describes nearly every pastor and board I’ve encountered.

    As Jacob C said: “Unbalanced organizations like this almost never change. It’s their culture. ” +1,000 By not being institutional they have chosen the most effective strategy for insulating themselves from change.

    If I am otherwise happy with the community of the church I would stay.

    This in some ways describes what happened. Except I eventually jumped ship from Protestantism to a more mature church structure. Many of the same things can occur of course, but the greater definition of roles does seem to prove organizational behavior memes; and I am just not interested in territorial or domain related squabbles, they’re adults for crying out loud, have a meeting, be angry, scream at each other, and figure it the @&&$^@& out. Someone should have put the pastor and the ministry leader in a room and padlocked the door, come back in day.

  12. There are two sides to every story. I think one thing to do would be to find another church member you respect who maybe isn’t as attached to the leaving minister as you are to get his/her perspective on the situation. The pastor seems to be getting a lot of the blame (as usual). It may be his fault, but it also may be a lack of maturity on the part of the leaving minister. Be sure to get both sides before doing anything.
    Also, though I have too many theological disagreements with Roman Catholics to join them, I do think this is one area where they have us Protestants beat. It seems that in at least American Protestantism, if something happens in a church we don’t like, we just jump ship for a “better” church. And this is true of layman and clergy alike. What is a church anyway? Is it just a group of people we use for our own spiritual gratification, and then leave when we are no longer being gratified? Or are we truly brothers and sisters in Christ who need to learn to love one another, forgive one another, put up with one another’s stupidity, bear one another’s burdens, to look out for other’s interests and not only our own, and consider others as more significant than ourselves? The proliferation of churches has given us American Protestants an easy out so we don’t have to do these things.
    As for leaving to follow a minister, I would be concerned that this would be an example of putting our faith in someone other than Christ. What happens if through a moral failure or loss of faith this minister falls out of ministry altogether? Will the follower also fall out of church altogether?

  13. I would look at it as a door closing and another one opening. A season in my life that is closing but not for bad reasons. The Holy Spirit takes into account personalities and all things can be used for good. Even if there are hard feelings both pastor and the leaving person have benefited in some way from it. Sometimes it isn’t so wonderful in the way it feels. As for me I would stick it out awhile longer but with one eye open to maybe being called to go somewhere else. Having just spent 6 wonderful years in a charismatic church being run mostly by one family and micromanage by hand picked people who would not rock the boat. Still all in all it has been one of the best experiences in my life. Lately I have been wondering if I shouldn’t go back to my roots of being a Methodist or even EO has got me interested. Those that have been dear to me always will be and they haven’t left the family of Christ. Having shake ups where one must leave might be difficult but maybe what they have is in need somewhere else, at least this is the way I look at it.

  14. This is what happens in a man made “organization” . It is a “people problem” that is exacerbated by the fact that the ministry leader’s position is a paid one. This is not “church”, this is a job! The chief executive just happens to have the title of “pastor”. It is his JOB, and not necessarily his “gifting”, maybe not even his passion.

    I am a cynic in these type of situations, so I’ll wager that the congregant’s opinion of the pastor will be damaged to the point that the benefits she receives from his “ministry” will be diminished, leading to her leaving the organization. She should do it with a minimum of fuss, maybe have lunch with a few friends and say goodbye AFTER speaking to the pastor. Yes, she NEEDS to speak to the pastor, for the good of BOTH parties! He won’t change the way he does things but maybe, just MAYBE, he will be a little more aware of the effects his actions take.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      We agree, i think, that generally having the Pastor also as the Executive is a bad idea. Organizations – although I prefer the term Institutions – only work when they are organized. This requires an Executive. But having your Teacher/Preacher/Speaker as the Executive – there are just essential human problems with that – above and beyond that these are rarely overlapping skill sets. A good Pastor and an effective Executive rarely dwell within the same skin. I think we make a serious error when we over spiritualize things to the point where we cannot respect these basic human truths.

      • The apostle Paul lists administration as one of the spiritual gifts. 1 Cor 12:27
        It is separate from the gift of teaching.
        Perhaps the pastor and/or the lay minister may have been saddled with an administrative responsibility for which they were not gifted.
        God ministers his gifts through people, not through institutions. The institutions exist only to facilitate the gifts of the people. At yet, institutions tend to outlive the people and the purpose for which they were created, with no “sunset” date.
        This situation is an excellent opportunity to reassess the ministry as a whole, making sure it is aligned with the people still in it, rather than vice versa.

        I had been involved in a situation like this in the past. I had intended to stay with the church if they had dealt openly with it. But instead, the church leadership turned it into a power play cloaked under concepts of “unity” and “having the mind of Christ”, rather than to believe it was possible for 2 well-intentioned people to simply see things differently. These were early signs of dysfunctional leadership, and I moved on. Sure enough it happened repeatedly at that same institution, but with different ministries being affected.

  15. We are looking at this as if the best solution is for the ministry leader to stay at the church leading her ministry.

    Maybe God is doing something else here. I have seen more than once that situations like this, which look negative at the time, result in spiritual growth for both parties. Perhaps the ministry leader is growing and needs to be exposed to other opportunities.

    Yes, I’d talk to the pastor about it. And I’d talk to the ministry leader too. But absent clear sin or heresy, I would just pray for them. God knows what He’s doing better than I do.

    • Right on. Hopefully the pastor will learn to be a better manager, a new staff member will come on board with a different personality and emphasis that the congregation will be blessed by, and the former staff member will go on to another church and bless the congregation there. I’ve seen it happen.

  16. I’ve seen this happen as well and what seems to me to be partly the cause is that pastors do not know and are not taught how to be managers. Caring for an employee is different from caring for a congregant and many pastors just don’t know how to do the first.

    Perhaps denominational organizations offering continuing ed directed towards “managing your church’s small staff” “managing your church’s huge staff,” etc. would be a good way to help pastors in this regard.

    • … and maybe we are making this all too hard. Church is not a business, at least at the local level. Some who fall into paid positions tend to make it a career instead of what it is… a vocation. Case in point, I am a part time CCD director – I do not do it for the money but as a vocation. I do get paid, but it is the minimum for this position and I have let them know I will never accept a raise. Contrast that to other CCD directors who grow their “job” to be as big as they can get it for money and status. I have seen this happen with Music ministers too. And don’t get me started with the staff at the Diocese level – it is not Godly there, it is cut throat for the next position, exactly what I see in my secular job which is my main income.

      Communication is the focal point when people’s area of influence overlap. Sometimes you lead something until it does not feel right anymore. You discern and discuss and if it is time to end or move on…that’s OK! There does not need to be drama!

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Every church I attended could have benefited greatly from someone doing it as a “job”. If my that we mean as a Professional, with all the trappings of a professional – reviews, audits, conflict of interest guidelines, code of conducts.

        Church is indeed not a business, but it has business to do, and it is on the whole done poorly.

        • Understood Adam…but unfortunately it also includes the “creation of extra work” for the appearances of gaining importance and such… all the trappings of the secular world. Try dealing at the Diocese level where employees are removed from the front lines and you will see what I mean. Kind of like a project manager driven by the process instead of driven by the business (in the IT/Engineering world)….

          • I totally understand what you’re saying Radagast: the creation of extra work and the self-promotion that comes along with that. But at the same time, many church educators and musicians and administrative staff do make it their full time work, either because they feel called or because the church needs someone to work full time in that job. And many times, they give everything they can and more besides but the church doesn’t always respond in kind. Sometimes, it’s because the church can’t but that’s when people start to feel taken for granted if things aren’t discussed explicitly.

            In general, church staff (not pastors) have a tough line to walk, as they are part of the congregation, have many friends there, worship there, but also work there. There’s nothing the matter with either but they don’t always work together easily.

          • My admittedly limited experience in the last 20 years, with my wife, who for much of that time has been a part-time choir director/organist/pianist in mainline churches, is that mainline churches do not treat musicians very well. They don’t pay them well, they don’t offer them much in the way of benefits,they don’t respect them as skilled professionals, and they take their hard work for granted. My experience has also been that the number of hours that part-time mainline church musician’s salary is based on is only half the hours that are actually worked, maybe even less. This in church’s where social justice theology is central to the senior pastor’s, and the denomination’s, concerns.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            The process is the business.

          • You’re right Robert. Too often churches put pastors first and the rest of the staff somewhere behind the youth group and Sunday school kids. Calling a pastor involves sacrifice on a congregation’s behalf but so does hiring non-pastoral staff.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > pastors do not know and are not taught how to be managers

      Because, perhaps, Pastors are not managers? But we want to pretend that church doesn’t need managing – it is *SPIRITUAL*(TM). So the Pastor ends up being a defacto manager – but a generally crappy one – expected to do a job for which he is not qualified and often a role that will not even be officially recognized.

      • Yup, parishioners are often shocked when things don’t work out between pastors and employees because both are such wonderful Christians. And it’s often true that they are both genuinely Christ-like but being a pastor-manager is more than having a Christ-like attitude. It’s necessary but there are ways of supervising people that also need to be studied and learned besides Greek, pastoral care, and all the rest.

  17. Gordon MacDonald’s book, “Who Stole My Church” opened my eyes to the reality of WHO the church really belongs to – not the pastor, not the elders or board of trustees and not the congregation. Until we embrace the reality that the CHURCH belongs to Jesus and we a members of HIS body, we should most certainly expect situations like these to flourish and eventually destroy ministry. There is but one HEAD of the Church. We are called to be united, not divided and yet what have we done over the centuries? Power, politics and plunder are ruling in our midst today. May this cause us to long for the righteous reign of our coming King.

    So what would I do if I found myself in this situation? First I would ask the LORD for HIS wisdom and to give me discernment to recognize if the word ICHABOD (1 Samuel 4:21–22) is written above the church door. Choose what will glorify Jesus and trust Him with the outcome.

  18. I’m not sure pastors realize how much their management style affects their church and their congregation. Passive/aggresive pastors tend to breed passive/aggressive staffs and congregations. Humble and willing servant pastors tend to breed humble and willing servant staffs and congregations. I’ve seen both types of pastors at my church, and the difference in staff and congregational “attitude” is amazing. When people see pastors doing passive/aggressive stuff, they tend to do it, too. When they see their leader serving with humility and willingness, they tend to follow along.

    The question then becomes, does a person jump ship when they don’t like the current management style of their pastor? Unfortunately, when we do that, we’re going along with the notion that churches are like fast food joints, and when the quality of one of them begins going down, we can just jump to the next one.

    If the gospel is being preached and there’s no signs of any abuse, I’d say stick it out. Leaders come and go. Stay there for the people and the community, and try to be a HEALTHY influence amongst the unhealthy management style. This was a path my wife and I chose during a similar “regime” at our church, and staying through the bad enabled us to be a part of God’s “good” when it came.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      A church is a community – the “managment style” is the tenor of the community. Ideally a Pastor will not be permitted to have a management style – his denomination/sect will inform him of what The Style is, and train him accordingly. If they won’t own that role then the poor lay people have no real recourse but to jump back and forth as the style changes with the wind.

  19. CM, I’m wondering if on top of anything else, this might not be a case of the introvert/extrovert divide. If so, there exists the possibility for chipping away at it, if the pastor is open to learning and the right teaching was presented in the right spirit. Probably wouldn’t solve the present difficulty but might soften the future for other introverts.

  20. Based on the details in the post, my response would be to do nothing. Here is why:

    This ship has sailed: Problems have clearly been developing between the ministry leader and the pastor for some time. They do not work well together. Or they have longstanding disagreements about how that program should be run. Or they have turf issues. Or there are residual bad feelings over the salary cut, which may itself have been a symptom of a deteriorating situation. Whatever the root problem, my attempted intervention is not going to change this dynamic.

    This is not my ship: It seems that I am not on staff, and I am not on any governing board or council. I am also apparently not in a position of sufficient closeness or trust to either the pastor of the ministry leader know already what the details of the situation are. So I neither have the power to intervene, nor would I be the correct person to take anyone aside to demand an account for/fix/confront people over any issues. I am one of maybe 100 people, any or all of whom can decide the situation concerns them. Nobody needs 100 separate people trying to manage an interpersonal conflict.

    I’m committed to a community: If I left the current church, it seems that I would be moving to follow a single person. But I don’t attend church for a single person. Presumably I attend the current church because of denomination / theology, and location. Presumably, I’m embedded in the current community. What is more, the ministry leader is going to be selecting a church based on idiosyncratic criteria: Where can she exercise her talents? My broad criteria is: ELCA or Episcopalian, serving my city. It would be quite strange for me to follow a leader into a different tradition, or from the city center to the suburbs. The only way I could imagine moving would be if the ministry leader went to a church in the same tradition, in the city, and if there were other factors already moving me to reconsider my membership.

    The pastor and ministry leader have already taken steps to minimize damage to the community: The ministry leader is leaving quietly. From where I sit in the pews, I don’t know the bloody details of exactly what happened. So the drama is contained. Why spoil this?

    I don’t want to harm anyone or pull support from anyone without cause: It seems I support and appreciate both the pastor and the ministry leader. Leaving the church is a public critique of the pastor, especially if I’m chasing the departing ministry leader. I’d like to avoid it. Likewise, I would like support the beloved ministry leader. So, I would try to find some way to do both at once. Is there any reason I can’t stay at the same church, but participate in the ministry leader’s new program?

    • Joseph (the original) says

      …not my circus…

      …not my monkeys!


      • Ha! 🙂

        In all seriousness, it’s not I’d be indifferent. In real life, I’m on the committee that would be involved if a situation like this occurred at my church.

        It’s just that I would want any action I took to be constructive, and not fuel the conflagration.

  21. Joseph (the original) says

    I don’t see this as a ‘spiritual’ issue at all. so, those commenters that indicated they would approach the situation ‘prayerfully’ is not going to do anybody much good…

    the situation appears to be purely human, as in personality conflict and nothing more. posturing. iron-sharpening-iron in such a small, compact social arena. it’s bound to happen. could be too many shepherds herding the sheep, or individual motivations not in sync. really, the situation is tiresome to me. usually a good sign that the compatibility factor for those in ‘leadership’ will be a point of friction that will not be resolved, or reconciled, soon…

    like a married couple in need of serious marriage counseling, but only if both partners are willing to stick it out and make individual concessions for the ‘greater good’, e.g. the communal faithful and the desire to see the issues addressed honestly, respectfully and patiently…

    how hopeful would I be? not very. there is no idealistic expectation on my part. heck, there are Christian marriages that end up in divorce for less, so no, I wouldn’t be holding my breath expecting a happy-clappy testimony time outcome…


    if this area of disagreement is sufficient to cause real division and the exodus of the ministry leader, then I would think neither of them worthy of my continued loyalty(?) or whatever it is that was keeping me there as a congregate/attendee. hmmm…

    Lord…have mercy… 🙁

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > I don’t see this as a ‘spiritual’ issue at all.


      > so, those commenters that indicated they would approach the
      > situation ‘prayerfully’ is not going to do anybody much good…


      > the situation appears to be purely human,

      Agree, and a situation that can be prevented using boring old human means, first by recognizing you are dealing with humans.

  22. OldProphet says

    Wow, CM. This topic is truly my hot button, not to mention the cause of lots of heartbreak and pain. As a ministry leader in several churches the minute I hear the phrase, “WE’RE FAMILY” then I start humming that song, “hit the road jack, and don’ you come back no more, no more, no more…. “

  23. I appreciate all the viewpoints expressed here, though I must admit, I can’t understand those who fuss that praying won’t be helpful. Did I misunderstand, or do you really think that God does not concern himself with our interpersonal issues and/or will not help? Sometimes, in praying over a situation, God will indeed give one insight which is very helpful when and if one makes a contact with a pastor. Sometimes we get nothing, but we are always called to pray.

    An observation, from personal experience. I don’t know if it is a male/female difference or what, but many of us do not consider it to be gossip if we discuss with others in the congregation, issues that affect us. We get called out for trying to clarify whether whatever is bothering us is just a personal slight or something that would be better addressed through the boards or on the congregational level. Before I go off half-cocked, I want to run things by people I trust to clarify the issues and then decided if I need to talk to someone or not. I’m concerned from the sound of this, that the desire not to gossip may actually be inhibiting conversations that should be taking place.

    I have in the past followed ministry leaders and on other occasions have toughed out difficult pastors who seemed intent on destroying our church. Either can be appropriate and discernment can be enhanced if you have trusted advisors who know you and your personal strengths and weaknesses. It should be noted that changing congregations does not mean you are leaving the body of Christ. My friend is prone to leave in these situations, where I am prone to stay. Sometimes I may stay too long, and the expected longevity of a dysfuntional pastor is certainly one element in making the decision.

  24. Joseph (the original) says

    I can’t understand those who fuss that praying won’t be helpful. Did I misunderstand, or do you really think that God does not concern himself with our interpersonal issues and/or will not help? Sometimes, in praying over a situation, God will indeed give one insight which is very helpful when and if one makes a contact with a pastor. Sometimes we get nothing, but we are always called to pray.

    when it comes to prayer regarding the exercising of an individual’s will/choice, there will not be an overriding Veto from the Big Guy Himself. we, as human beings, are called to exercise our wills in accordance with His will, however, nobody is going to ‘fix’ the situation by praying. if, on the other hand, you decide to share your observation with both parties and encourage some form of mutual understanding, then that is worth more than all the prayers combined. sometimes we hope that praying actually removes the human element of any conflict. heck, if that kind of prayer really was effective, then most, if not all, human disagreements could be worked out in a peaceable manner.

    when egos get in the way, or perceived power is threatened, or one person’s ‘idea’ of what God’s will is regarding the operation and direction a supposed ‘ministry’ is to go, then, unfortunately, praying only helps the one doing the praying IMHO. i think it can be of some comfort, like those that truly believe their uber-spiritual intercession actually is doing some supra-natural ‘stuff’ in the heavenly realms. i think this is more of an issue regarding self-importance rather than spiritual warfare, but that is simply my $0.02 about that topic…

    prayer is often misappropriated, not because praying is ineffective, but because it is being utilized more as an excuse, vs. that awkward and sometimes painful, confrontation. sometimes i think most of the prayers i had prayed regarding the choices someone close to me had made were useless. they simply were not able to change that person’s mind, but it did help me air out my cares/concerns regardless of what i perceived as a lack of divine intervention, even when i was ‘praying’ about the right thing that person should do…

    when it comes to other people’s choices, God will not override their decisions simply because i am asking Him to. that makes for a very scary divine precedent that eventually would come back to haunt me in some way. in the scenario that is the topic of this post, it would simply take human intervention that calls out the elephant in the sanctuary, ignores the side issues of spiritual authority, or God’s direction/will, or the importance of whatever ministry is in question, and deal with the personality conflicts that are getting in the way of workable/acceptable resolution. elevating the issue(s) to some spiritual plane above the humanity where the disagreement(s) reside, then yes, i would say that praying for a divine referee result is misguided…

    • So it’s pointless to pray for the peace of Jerusalem? Why then do the Psalms ask us to do so?

      That prayer is sometimes wrongly utilized is no argument against praying at all times, and in every situation. I think you’re theology of prayer is faulty due to the fact that you are thinking systematically about something that cannot be systematized.

      And I don’t think your suggestions about the way human will works are accurate.


      • Joseph (the original) says

        i’m not sure about how the peace of Jerusalem has worked its way into this consideration, but I suppose we can look at such a concept…

        do you consider the reference in the Psalms a command? a promise? this from David’s perspective (if he wrote it)?

        and then what of its destruction AD 70 Jesus Himself lamented???

        regarding my perspective on how human will works within theological considerations is just that; my perspective. you could pray harder for me to change my mind though, if you truly wish for me to attain, well, a more ‘accurate’ understanding. after all, isn’t God interested in right theology so we can instruct other less enlightened saints of how to choose what’s acceptable and what’s not???

        not sure what I was trying to systematize in your estimation. I figured I was simply making an observation from my own experience…

        • Of course each of us is entitled to make observations based on our own experience; what else do we have but what comes to us through experience? If I suggested otherwise, I misspoke and I apologize.

          I would not dream of praying for you to change your mind, because you may be correct, and I may need to learn something from you. I would also never dream of telling someone that approaching the above described “case study” “‘prayerfully’ is not going to do anybody much good,” because I don’t know what they would be praying for, and I don’t know if they would plan on taking other steps in tandem with prayer.

          You seem to assume that what is intended when people suggest praying about the scenario is that they simply want God to change somebody’s will. It could be that they are praying for wisdom, or courage to engage others in discussion, or discernment about whether it is something they should get involved in, or relief of the grief and disorientation they are feeling at the event that has unfolded. Why discourage them when you don’t know exactly what they are seeking in prayer?

          In addition, whether or not the psalmist is asking us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, or was asking someone else to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, or this is not a command but a promise, it seems to me that whenever we pray for peace, or the end to war, we are praying for hearts and minds to change. There is no other way for war to end and true peace to be established than for this to happen. It may be that the hearts and minds that God will change will be our own, my own, towards that goal; or it may be that war will continue until one side or the other is crushed. Of course the dialogue involved in peace talks is essential to finding peace; but in praying for one’s own wisdom in dialogue, one is also praying for hearts to be changed. Or perhaps this, too, is not much good in your opinion.

          What of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE? What of the calamities of every kind that have followed sincere and heartfelt prayers that they would not occur ever since that time? This objection applies equally to all those, and many of them had nothing to do with changing anybody’s heart. Unless, of course, you are actually denying the efficacy or meaningfulness of prayer in general, and not just in this case, but that is not what I took your words to mean.

  25. I seem stuck in mod today, so here goes attempt number three, in case you see this comment three times:
    I’ve lived this scenario from all sides except the pastor. I’ve been the volunteer, I’ve been the staffer, I’ve been the concerned lay person with enough family ties to the inner circle to know what was really happening, and the outsider looking in with minimal information. What to do depends on too many factors that you couldn’t possibly include in one blog article. Often times, when there aren’t viable alternatives in the local area, you have no choice but to stay put and make the best of a loosing situation.

    All pastors have personality quirks and shortcomings. We must learn to live with them (and they with ours), but the flip side is that they must learn to be accountable. I simply can not say anything nice about a pastor who will not be accountable. I’ve seem too many times the damage this does to the congregation, many close personal relationships, and the public witness of the church. Some flaws are unacceptable, and somebody who refuses to take the personal concerns of others seriously is most certainly one of them.

    Off hand, this sounds like something at least partly caused by a personality quirk in the pastor. A leader who periodically drives off key, influential, effective, and successful leaders under them is hell-bent on sinking the ship. I have more important things to do with my life than go down with it. I’d vote with my feet if that’s the only accountability option on the table. Most pastors I have seen do this (far too many) do not listen to anybody who tries to reason with them about it. If your pastor is the exception, praise God and DO take advantage of that. But I’ve seen one of two reactions from most of these situations: 1. The pastor listens calmly because he figures everything will settle down if he just lets you blow off steam, even if no change is made or wrong confessed. 2. The pastor simply doesn’t care about your concerns, he is 100% convinced he has done nothing wrong, would do it all over again the exact same way, and insists on operating in the same manner in the future.

    It sounds like there was some relational dysfunction in the leadership structure. This is completely normal, we’ll never find a church without it. How this dysfunction is handled, however, is a completely different ball game. There are healthy and destructive ways to approach it, and it appears this instance leans towards the latter. If it could be reasonably inferred that future tangles would be managed in a similar manner, I wouldn’t waste time sticking around to prove myself right if I didn’t have to. So I would definitely talk with the pastor, be honest about my concerns, see how he responds to it, in as humble, respectful, and caring manner as possible, in order to encourage him to show his cards. Finding out where he is at with the situation, the results, and the lessons learned or ignored, will make all the difference in the world.

    • Great insight, Miguel. Some of what you write resonates with me and fits with my earlier post about healthy/unhealthy leadership (passive/aggressive pastors in particular). It’s this guy, your #2:

      “2. The pastor simply doesn’t care about your concerns, he is 100% convinced he has done nothing wrong, would do it all over again the exact same way, and insists on operating in the same manner in the future.”

  26. I’ve never been stuck in mod like this before. I could swear this post hates me! 😛

  27. Take a step back. It’s a deeper problem;

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      Meh. No matter the theory or the language we choose to use, humans organize into role-defined patterns that almost always include a position of final authority. Having said that, I don’t see this particular example a “Christian” problem at all. I’ve seen this where I work.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Choosing to use Spiritual Speak to attempt to discuss Organizational Behavior issues does matter – it pretty much eliminates all hope the conversation will be productive. The language chosen is critical. Spiritual Speak is divisive, it makes a good guy and a bad guy, and defines banal issues in cosmic scope.

        You can say terribly helpful and precise things like “One that is envisioned in Scripture and rooted in the triune God” or you can inform people what the expectations are and have clear policies for resolving disagreement.

  28. David Cornwell says

    My first inclination would be to talk with the pastor, share your feelings, and hear what he/she has to say. Let the pastor know how important the particular ministry is to your participation in the church and the grief that the departure will cause you. If the pastor quickly becomes defensive, that will not be a good sign. Read body language as well as hear the words. I also think this should happen as quickly as possible. Don’t be apologetic when you talk with him/her, but also attempt not to sound offensive.

  29. “The New Testament doctrine of ministry rests therefore not on the clergy-laity distinction but on the twin and complimentary pillars of the priesthood of all believers and the gifts of the Spirit. Today, four centuries after the Reformation, the full im­plications of this Protestant affirmation have yet to be worked out. The clergy-laity dichotomy is a direct carry-over from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism and a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principal obstacles to the church effectively being God’s agent of the Kingdom today because it creates a false idea that only ‘holy men,’ namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity.
    —Howard Snyder”

    • Somebody should call the Mennonite Church USA and tell them they’re making a big mistake by going over to professional, seminary trained clergy. Formerly, pastors were congregational members nominated and voted for by the congregation, at which point, if elected, they did their pastoral work while continuing to hold a full time job outside the sanctuary.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        Having been a Mennonite in the past, I am pretty sure they are making the right decision. There are few train wrecks as glorious as untrained congregation members trying to pastor, let alone preach (shudders as the repressed memories begin to resurface).

        • I agree with you. I have as little hope for the future of Christianity being in untrained pastors as I do for it being in house churches, and for many of the same reasons. It’s easy to say: ““The New Testament doctrine of ministry rests therefore not on the clergy-laity distinction but on the twin and complimentary pillars of the priesthood of all believers and the gifts of the Spirit.” But it’s impossible to identify a surefire, dependable system for discerning the gifts of the Spirit, and thereby avoiding appointing a pastoral disaster.

  30. OldProphet says

    I basically agree with you Robert. I think it would do most pastors good if they did something good like working 10 hours a week working at a McDonalds to keep in touch with what most of us “lay people” put up with, I.e. Ungodly bosses, rude customers, etc. They could give their pay to the pool and keep in touch with the lives of their parishioners. It would give a different perspective Just sayin……

  31. Patrick Kyle says

    Maybe the right question to start with in this case (with CM being of the Lutheran persuasion like myself) is ‘Why are we going to church?’ Is it to hear God’s Word and receive the Sacraments, or is it to participate in some ‘ministry’?

    I spent 17 years sitting under one of the most brilliant preachers and theologians in America. I did everything in his congregation from warm a pew to being an Elder to being on the Board of Directors. This Pastor’s Sunday School lessons and Bible studies were often revelatory, at least for me. The Liturgy was stunning. Attending that church was a riveting experience for me every time I walked through the door.

    The we moved 55 miles away. We tried for a few months to make the trek back each Sunday, but with a growing family it was just too much.

    Eventually we found another church. The Pastor is solid. Most Sunday School lessons are of the ‘extemporaneous exhortation’ kind. Liturgy is decent, page 5 and 15, and the sermons are basic Law/Gospel expositions. Needless to say it’s just not the same. For a long time I was dissatisfied, until I realized God was teaching me about the parts of my faith that I had neglected in the high, heady days of my ever expanding Biblical and theological knowledge. Things like community, and a rich prayer life, settling down and being content with my vocation as a husband and father.

    Maybe you need to re frame the questions you are asking yourself and evaluate where you are and what God is trying to accomplish.

    No Pastor is perfect. My former Pastor, though brilliant, was really bad with people for many years early in his ministry, and drove away more than a few families. My present Pastor is wonderful with people, and a great man of prayer, but isn’t the scholar or the teacher that my former Pastor is. No church is perfect either.

    I view it like marriage, church is always a compromise and takes a lot of work and commitment. It isn’t always comfortable and happy either. But there is more there than meets the eye.