Many of us in professional ministry are saddened and disillusioned to discover that – while we thought we were going to be changing the world to the Glory of God – we are actually spending most of our time doing administration and building maintenance in a church building. Especially in smaller churches with little to no staff, the pastor is expected to do what administrative assistants, webmasters, janitors, and handymen/women do in larger churches.
Many pastors leave professional ministry before the fifth anniversary of their ordination. More here. (It’s a an old article, but still true.)
Elizabeth Myer Boulton, in this post, expresses many of the truths about organizational dysfunction and toxicity, in spite what we in the church are supposed to know about the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and basic human decency. Conflict-management is not taught as consistently as Biblical Exegesis, Church History, and Theology in seminary, but I’m thinking that parish pastors need serious training in this field. Mediating between the choir and choir director, the preschool director and the parents, parents and nursery workers, two camps of members with stubborn differences on budget matters, generations, new members and long-standing members – these are all common conversations I’ve had as both a parish pastor and now a “middle judicatory staff member.”
I’m not sure what’s going on here – when church people (both clergy and parishioners) are unrecognizable as followers of Jesus, but my hunches include these:
- People don’t get that bullying is the antithesis of following Christ.
- People misunderstand whose church it is.
- People with no power in the world wield assumed power in their congregation.
- People have an erroneous understanding about the purpose of a church.
- People have an erroneous understanding about the role of a pastor.
- People gossip and send anonymous notes as if they never left junior high school.
Obviously all our issues involve being people and many of us are a mess.
By the time you read this today, I will once again have taken on the role of “invited denominational official” in hopes of mediating a church conflict. I do this a lot. For a person who grew up being fairly conflict-avoidant, I now appreciate and (sort of) love conflict. I am not afraid any more.
What I know for sure is that living and serving in community is hard. It takes maturity and commitment and honesty. Talking openly is a start. Speaking to each other as beloved children of God is essential.
Seminarians: my hope is that someone is telling you that there will be conflict and bullying and – yes – even darkness in your church. You will need tools to navigate it all and you will make a lot of mistakes. But this is God’s church and we are God’s people and love wins in the end.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5