Sometimes I wonder why life in a community of faith is so hard. You’d think, since we are all following Jesus to the best of our abilities, that reconciliation would come more easily. And yet it seems that instead of listening carefully and trying to help one another along, there is always someone trying to argue that their way of looking at things is best. In fact, if you disagree with this person, they think something is wrong with you. When this person is in charge, it can be really awful.
About a decade or so ago, we went through a series of pastoral changes. In the end, we had a senior pastor and two assistants, all of whom were giving long time church members a hard time about their beliefs. Now there were some who stayed, figuring they could wait this out. No pastor stays forever, at least not in our denomination. We are a somewhat conservative leaning church, within a denomination that is mostly liberal. In this case, from what I heard, these liberal pastors were actually telling our members that they could not believe what they believed, even though they were long time members in good standing. Many of these people were our teachers and they were “invited” to leave the church!
I found this incredible, not only because I knew many of these folks and had never had a problem with how they taught. But in my understanding, we are a denomination that welcomes independent thinking. The audacity of these people, sent to serve us, to then come and try to remake our body into something it never was, was astonishing to me. No doubt, had I had a run in with them, I would have been left speechless. But on reflection, which works best for me, I realized that, first of all, they were acting as if it were their church, when the church is the people. Second of all, it is possible to wait them out, as sooner or later they move on.
As it happens, the worst of the worst were followed by a humble pastor, who had a ministry of reconciliation. I remember him coming and arranging to meet not just with the movers and shakers on the committees, but in small groups with all who remained, because of course people had left in droves. He asked questions I don’t recall ever hearing from a new pastor. I’m sure I don’t recall all of them, but they were like this: What style of worship service would you prefer? What makes this church tick? Who are the important people in this church, not necessarily paid staff, who make things happen here. Why are they important? How do they help to make this church what it is?
I remember discussing worship styles for some time. At one point I said something to the effect that we were told that there had to be a contemporary service. His calm response was that they are not here, you are. I want to know what you want. At the time we requested a blended worship style and that became our style while he was there for his short tenure. I think he was my model for a shepherd pastor, instead of the usual CEO type.
I recall being so amazed at his very quiet impact that I wished, on some level that I had the ability to bring about reconciliation. So I bought a book about it and soon found myself over my head. There was simply too much to take in, and people being human, often their hearts are hardened toward whoever they are against. Often it is nearly impossible to get them to listen to one another with respect, let alone be willing to actually love one another.
And yet, since God has called me to healing ministry, as I understand it, I think reconciliation is part of it. So, it seems every time we get someone new on staff, I’m having to put out fires. I hear complaints and urge people to give the new person a chance. At God’s prompting, sometimes I remind us all, myself included, that complaining about it is only becoming part of the problem, not the solution. In one situation I had the ear of the person people were upset about and was able to do something akin to shuttle diplomacy, reminding one to talk to him, and him to be receptive to what they had to say.
But let me tell you, when I am part of the offended group, it’s harder. Recently there was someone on the music staff that was driving us all crazy. I was praying that our members wouldn’t start walking, which could force that particular group to disband. Fortunately, that person left of their own accord, and the replacement is actually fun to be around. I don’t know why, but sometimes it seems that our homegrown talent is better than those we bring in from outside. I keep thinking we should have a positive effect on those we bring in, but it isn’t always evident.
Now there is yet another problem person. I am again connected, so I can’t act as an impartial observer. I don’t have more than a casual connection to this person, so I can neither give insight to their actions, nor suggest that they may need to be more flexible and really listen carefully to the concerns. Again it is someone who was brought in from outside, not someone who emerged from our local community. I suspect that they have no clue to what makes our church tick, and am concerned because families are again leaving the church. Oddly enough, it is several years into this person’s time with us. It would make more sense if the issues came up at first, but perhaps he was on his best behavior at first, and now has let his guard down?
I really don’t know, but I think I should be able to do something to fix things. But I do not know what to do. I see this person as having a hardened position too far to the right of our rather accepting church. All I can do is pray for wisdom, for God to show me something that will make a difference, but so far I’ve gotten nothing.