Believing (Difficult) Truths

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.  Ephesians 4:15

How do we get people to believe us when we share the truth in love?

The Key by Jackson PollockIt’s an age-old question, especially for those of us whose job it is to hold people accountable or help shepherd them into a healthier and more faithful way of life.    Every day I deal with people in churches who deny that there is any dysfunction in their community/congregation/institution.  It’s not that I want to be negative or that I look for the dirty laundry.  But it’s really important to face The Truth so that we can become what we were created to be.

Examples:

  • A church program is totally controlled by One Person who wields Great Power, and even though it no longer feeds anyone’s soul (except the person in power) it continues because people are afraid to challenge the viability or the effectiveness of the program. So: they never challenge the bullies or the power players.
  • Patterns in spiritual communities are obvious to everybody except those in the communities.  They just can’t see it or they don’t want to see it.  And so they keep hiring the same dysfunctional staff people or they refuse to make the necessary shifts or they choose to argue about silly things instead of Important Things. So:  they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
  • Pastors continue to perpetuate tired patterns, refuse to do something bold and scary,  and fear obeying God because of what that might mean.  So:  they stick around too long, doing damage as they pretend that there is no good reason to make a change.

Sometimes I tread carefully as I share what I see in a church’s life.  Sometimes I just come right out and say it.  This often doesn’t go well, because people don’t want to hear that Changes Are Necessary.  How do we help people notice what’s really true about ourselves (me included)?

Image is The Key by Jackson Pollock (1946)

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2 responses to “Believing (Difficult) Truths

  1. Susan Quinn Bryan

    The problem is not the pastor staying around too long. It is the pastor being stuck. Getting a new pastor is not always the answer – because it means the congregation stays in the same place, too, reaching the same ‘speed bump’ in the journey of transformation over and over. Rabbi Ed Friedman believed that long pastorates are actually the key to healthy churches (and relationships generally) as long as the pastor continues to grow, be self differentiated, and pursue the pastor’s vision and call through the resistance to change that will surely be there. Churches with a history of long term pastors tend to be what Friedman termed ‘plums’ and churches with a history of lots of short term pastors he called ‘pits.’ In those churches (as in any relationship) getting out and moving on does not encourage moving beyond blaming and doing the hard work that is transformation (or reformation.)

  2. I believe that a pastor who keeps his or her eye on the prize can tell the truth in love and get congregations to think about making needed changes. But I also believe in the human nature of those who don’t want to change and who “blame” the new pastor for taking away their favorite programs. When the second “new” pastor arrives after a congregation has made needed changes and shifts, that’s when a strong congregation will affirm the changes they’ve made and will look at what needs changing next. I’ve watched too many people who think that everything is “pastor driven.” That’s why I believe that pastoral turnover every 8 – 15 years is essential to getting congregations to seek out better ways of doing ministry. Churches need the occasional shakeup that changing pastors brings to self-examine. As Wendell Berry said, “the impeded stream is the one that sings.”

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