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The damage of congregations ‘firing’ pastors

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I am about to share a rather provocative blog piece. I share it because I think it is important for all congregations to know this reality of the other side of a difficult parting with a pastor. Ministers don’t readily talk about the pain of this if they have experienced it (I have), partly because it just sounds like complaining and sour grapes after the fact. In sharing this, I am not directly accusing Nobleford CRC of doing this or being a “clergy killer” (language used in the linked article), but I also cannot pretend that what is described in the article has nothing to do with what transpired here. It is simply something I believe you should know.

A pastor serves a congregation. Congregations are filled with people who each have their own list of things they expect a pastor to be like and a pastor to do. Those will not be the same for any two people. That means a LOT of expectations are placed on that one pastor. Yet we all agree that the Pastor’s main “boss” is God. Few would object to that, I think. Problem is, if there are 300 people in the congregation they tend to act like 200 bosses (because maybe 100 don’t care too much either way) of the pastor. They do that because they forget the principled statement we all agree to, and/or they believe they themselves are speaking ‘for’ God. When that process goes sideways, goes off the rails, we get the trainwrecks and pain the article speaks of. Being let go from a church is very very personal and very very public, in a way that does not apply to any other job, career or calling I can think of. It involves a person’s spiritual, emotional, psychological, personal self, really all of the person, and so is a shock and hardship at all levels. The article speaks of various aspects of this.

The start of a solution is for church leaders, especially Elders – as support and accountability for the pastor – to learn to ‘see’ how people try to inappropriately make themselves ‘the boss’ of the pastor (Elders sometimes do it too) in a way that displaces what God is calling the Pastor to do. Having seen how this works, they can then help work counter to that sin. Those who are heavily invested in having power over what the Pastor does as a leader have very very subtle and sneaky and nasty ways of disrupting things, so it is not easy to spot.

Anyway, here is the article: http://wp.me/P3etrg-fY

 

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Anxiety in the preservationist church system

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Warning. This is probably the most complex and longest posting to date, one which ties a number of things I have talked about before together. It will take some time to read and digest. Be prepared to invest that.

This posting is very important, particularly for anyone in leadership. In the blog posting I take some small matters related to practices or the way we do things like preaching, worship and Lord’s Supper and attempt to show how I see them as issues that arise because we’ve lost a principled Reformed way of shaping worship and have in fact fallen into simply keeping and maintaining what was done before. All of that to the detriment of making room for God to grow us spiritually, emotionally, and personally in relationship to him and each other. Here is the actual posting: http://wp.me/P3etrg-eb

TIC piece about why it is an advantage to be a church bully

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I came across this tongue-in-cheek (tic) article that touches on something related to my last post on challenging bad behaviour — or risking the relationship for the sake of the health of the group — but does it in a playful way. Bullying and abuse of any sort is not fun or funny, but sometimes humour can help us look at things differently. The original article takes the playful perspective of seeing what an advantage it can be to be a manipulating bully in a church. My source, if you want to look at the full piece for yourself, is: http://millennialpastor.net/2014/01/23/12-reasons-why-it-is-good-to-be-a-church-bully/

Here are his 12 reasons to be a church bully (edited  a bit by me):

Church bullies have a special advantage. Most church people have been taught to be nice and kind, to refrain from stirring the pot or rocking the boat. Church bullies know that often people will not stand up to them, and that they can get away with just about anything.

Church bullies are not good, but being a church bully is good business these days, and here’s why:

1. Being a bully is the easiest way to get what you want. Churches are groups where people usually have to work together, and work out how to live as a community. That means give and  take, compromise and collaboration. Bullying, however, means you can get anything and everything you want. You can bend people to your wills and desires without giving anything up in return. And as a bully, you don’t have to work with, consider or respect others.

2. Bullies can offer anonymous feedback. Churches are already pretty good at not requiring people to stand behind what they say.  Bullies can send anonymous information to leaders. They can give in-person feedback with the qualifier, “people are saying.” Bullies never have to own the criticisms, and so are free to criticize anything they want to.

3. Bullies often have gossip clubs. Bullies are often supported in a small group that likes to keep up on the latest church gossip. This kind of group can meet for coffee during the week or lunch on Sundays or any number of places. As a bully, you can find allies who are ready to support you, who will offer behind-the-scenes support to your behind-the-scenes bullying. It is always easier to bully when you can be confident you are supported by, or acting on behalf of a club.

4. People will worry that challenging bullies is unkind or unchristian. The vast majority of church members worry that their behaviour could be perceived as unkind or unchristian. You know, Jesus never stood up to anyone and never challenged bad behaviour. So as a bully you know most of the time you can be confident that other church members won’t stand up to you, lest they be thought of as creating conflict or being un-Christ like.

5. You can use your anxiety against others. Human beings don’t like anxiety, we don’t want to be worried or fearful if we can avoid it. Anxiety and fear are contagious. Use this your advantage. As a bully, if you can get others to take on your worries, your fears, your issues, your anxiety, most people (especially church people) will do almost anything to relieve you (and therefore themselves) of your fears. Use this to your advantage.

6. You can use the other’s anxiety against them. As human beings we have often been taught that we have two responses to anxiety – Fight or Flight.  Bullies know that this isn’t true. There are 3 – Fight, Flight or Freeze. The best bullies know that freeze is the most common response. If you can make others anxious, you know that their first response will be to do nothing. It is pretty easy to bully people when they don’t do anything or say anything to stop you.

7. You don’t have to be open or transparent. Bullies know this tactic well. It is much easier to bully from the shadows than in the open. Put out information that you can deny came from you. Ambush your victims when others aren’t around to catch you. Make life miserable for people in private, and be an angel in the open. Most people won’t even know that you are a bully. Hide in plain sight.

8. You can play the victim card when caught. So what do you do when someone actually calls you on your bullying? Why accuse them of being the bully, of course! Most people will get so worried that they are bullying you that they will forget all about the fact that you were bullying them first. You never want to defend your own actions, so make other people defend theirs – play the victim card. (this also amps up the anxiety, which causes more freezing)

9. The stakes are low for you but high for others. One of the great things about being a church bully is that the stakes are pretty low. What could happen to you? Churches will rarely kick you off the membership list. Pastors have jobs to keep, leaders have to tend to running the place. As a bully the worst that could happen is people get annoyed with you, but really that’s good for you (see point 6).

10. You don’t have to change. Change is hard. Growing up and being mature is really hard. Bullying means you can stay the same. You don’t have to accept new ideas or learn new things. You can just impose your will on others, make them do what you like, and complain if they don’t. Don’t change, be a bully instead.

11. The congregational system (read: family system) will often work to keep you in power. Great church bullies know that individuals might challenge them, but the system will most often work to maintain things as they are. They might be comfortable with knowing who you are and tolerating that, because at least you are predictable. You know instinctively that for the system it easier to maintain the norm, and to challenge you and send you packing is too radical a change. Feel confident that almost all of the group behaviour in a church is there to support your bullying.

12. You don’t have to care about anyone but yourself. This is the best part of being a bully of course. You can claim you are speaking for the wronged, the victimized, the silent majority or minority, but really it is all about you. That’s the whole reason you can bully in the first place, because your issues come first. Your needs, your wants, your feelings, your fears, your ideas. You are numero uno, and thinking about others only gets in the way of taking care of you. So put yourself first and you will be a great bully who gets a lot accomplished for your own good.