Help, I Pastor a Confederacy

Do you sometimes feel like you pastor a confederacy? I not referring to the War Between the States or anything to do with slavery. I use the word confederacy as a technical term, as in Articles of Confederation, the first form of national government in the United States (1777-1789). You will remember that our Constitution was drafted because the Articles of Confederation left the federal government too weak. All of the separate states were so strong that they couldn’t do anything together. And similarly, in a church, differing visions may hinder a congregation in the decision-making process and paralyze their advance. Sometimes, this is due to the selfish desires of strong willed and articulate individuals developing personal followings. This represents a true case of “Church Multiple Personality Disorder.” Sometimes, it merely has to do with the differing perspectives resulting from members coming to the church from various denominational and para-church backgrounds. They are simply different schools of thought. In our post-denominational age, this is a common situation.

Consider some of the multiple constituencies a pastor may serve in one congregation:

  • The Commonwealth of Charismatics
  • The Free State of Independent Baptists
  • Calvinists (or anti-Calvinists)
  • People with a house church experience in their background
  • People who had spent all their lives until now in a small church… or in a mega-church
  • Traditional Southern Baptists (that vanishing breed who do everything right out of the LifeWay kit)
  • The folks who grew up in the church and it’s all they know

So much emotional and spiritual energy may be required to hold all this together! The successor of pastor friend shortly led a group out of the church. At the time, my friend felt angry that he himself had spent all those years trying to hold everything together and the new guy took only a few months to blow the place up!

We may wonder,what attracts such diverse groupings to the same church?

  • Perhaps you are in a small town without a large church of each preferred variety
  • Family ties are very powerful
  • There is so much life and liveliness in your church they find it attractive, even if they do disagree on certain minor points here and there.
  • Some low information church members don’t care about doctrine like they ought. These clueless souls were looking for good music and a quality ministry for their children when they joined.
  • You are preaching the Word – and even though there is much they would change in your church, for them, that comes first.

I heard of a church that had a unusually broad coalition of groups like this. The pastor was a humble man of great character and a faithful, expositor of the Bible. It was said that when he rose to the pulpit you could feel the congregation coalescing in anticipation of receiving the Word.

Somehow, we all got here together. We agree on the big things, but sometimes we have differing ideas on where the church should go. How do we manage all this in a constructive manner and help keep things moving in the right direction?

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Lead. In a “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” world, it is important that you, as pastor, receive a vision from God, articulate that vision to His people, and create practical ways for its implementation. If you don’t, someone else will try to do it for you.
  2. It is important for ministerial staff members and deacons to echo the church vision. You can’t have a church where every staff member operates his area of responsibility like its own para-church ministry. The tail has no business wagging the dog!
  3. Each ministerial staff member could become the darling of his own constituency, finding support from one of the schools of thought. Or you could start a group and have your own fan base. These are often temptations, but they produce disunity. [Update: Alabama football coach Nick Saban was quoted the other day as saying in a speech to a gathering of coaches, “If you’re a coach … we didn’t hire you to be an independent contractor.”  At First Baptist, we call our staff members; we don’t hire them. But neither are they independent contractors.]
  4. Your church needs some clear-cut statements of what your congregation believes and which explain what kind of church you are trying to be — statements which are frequently cited and reviewed. These statements should be adopted as a clear consensus of the congregation as a whole. The congregation should own them. At our church, we have a church principle of the week.
  5. Explain time and again that, here at Bent Bullet Baptist Church, we don’t fight over secondary issues. It is OK to discuss anything the Bible discusses, but only with mutual respect. As the early church put it, “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things, charity.” Here is a story I think models this attitude very well: Calvinism Controversy Blew Up at My Church Last Night. Say it often and say it well, “At this church we have liberty and at this church we give liberty.”
  6. Accept the fact that not everyone will stay. On a summer night, when the porch light is on, all kinds of flying insects are attracted to it. In fact, we humans, standing out in the darkness, find an attractional quality in the light. When a church is alive, many will find it attractive and come check it out. But understand some folks will discover that the light isn’t what they had expected. They will fly around your porch for a while and, then, fly off. Instead of feeling wounded by their departure, think of it as evidence of life and proof that your church is attractive.

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One Response to Help, I Pastor a Confederacy

  1. Every church has its factions – a vision for any church involves the pastor identifying them, working with them, and balancing them in a moving direction that keeps the train on its tracks. It is not always easy to do.

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