Up until very recently, I was in pastoral ministry. I pastored a micro-church in the Ottawa Valley. (For the unfamiliar micro churches are essentially the opposite of mega churches. Definitions vary, but generally, churches that have 50 or fewer in weekly attendance can be considered micro.) It was an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Some of it was great, some of it was…not. Now, however, at the end of my time there, I wanted to take some time and share some thoughts on the experience.
These next two posts are where things can get…messy. I’ll attempt to do my best to talk about what I learned without getting into too many specifics. Not because of shame, guilt, or anything else really, but rather because some things don’t belong on the Internet.
Ask any first year Bible College or Seminary student what the biggest struggle churches face and they’ll either say something out of an ivory tower a textbook, or they’ll say: “church politics.” It’s the dirtiest of church words, the elephant in every leadership board’s closet, and my next topic.
I learned a lot about church politics during my time in ministry, I’d like to share some things with you, so that if you’re a church member, you will learn how to be a healthy part of your church, and if you’re a pastor, you can avoid some of my mistakes.
- It’s a necessary evil: Nobody likes church politics except those who seek to play the political game in order to gain power. Not every church has its own Francis Underwood, but many churches have people who will use their position and influence within churches to get what they want. That’s the evil part. Church politics is also necessary because just about every church has people who are in those positions of power and influence for one reason or another and they may not even be a part of the leadership. The wise old man whose opinion everyone listens to and respects, or the elderly lady who prayerfully maintains the prayer list and knows everyone’s birthday. These are the types of people who whether they know it or not, whether they want it or not, hold sway over the life of the church. Pastors need to know these people well, not to manipulate them but rather to understand the heartbeat of the church itself. Members who are these people need to know how to use their influence not for their own gain, rather for the advancement of the mission, and the Glory of God.
- Not everyone is out to get you: It may feel like that at times, especially if you’re young, and pastoring your first church. But, it’s true; not everyone is out to get you. In fact, I’d strongly suggest that most of the people within your church are supporting you, and either don’t know how to express that to you, or support you even though they may disagree with some (or many) of the things you’re saying. Not everyone is out to get you. But…
- Watch your back: There may be a couple people that ARE trying to get you. There’s a reason Jesus told his followers in Matthew 10:16 to be as shrewd or as wise as snakes. It’s good to be aware of the people within your church who are trying to cause you headaches. It’s good to know because when it happens, you’re not surprised, you see it coming, and you don’t react out of emotion, but rather wisdom. However…
- Leave your guard down: There’s a second bit to that verse in Matthew isn’t there? Our Lord tells us to be wise as snakes but innocent as doves. Doves don’t have venomous fangs to defend themselves with, in fact, doves are pretty easy prey if you think about it. Pastors, remember, we follow a God who when surrounded by enemies, willingly laid down his life so that others might live. I’m not saying “become a spineless doormat.” I am saying: know which hills are yours to die on. Know when to engage and when to disengage. Take more shots than you give. Let yourself be wronged and then pray for them who wronged you. Justice is not your job.
Some of these lessons I learned early on, some, not so much. But they’re all important ones to learn. My hope is that if you are a pastor, or aspiring to pastoral ministry, these are lessons you will learn and take into your churches as you serve them, and if you are a church member, that you will gain a bit of insight into the life of your pastor from these lessons as you learn to serve him.
Next Week: The pain of leaving.