In my ministry to hurting and wounded ministers and churches I have occasion to see a lot of dysfunction… from both sides. I have observed perpetually conflicted congregational settings AND perpetually conflicted ministers. The possibilities work out this way (I will be presenting this to a congregation in Central Alabama in January… God willing):
Conflicted church with a loving minister,
A conflicted minister with a loving congregation,
A conflicted church and minister together, and
A loving minister with a loving congregation.
From my observation and experience, there is often a 3/4 (75%) chance of significant conflict within a congregation given the above. Ever so often the two are able to work things out and come to an equitable resolution for God’s glory… but wounds transpire on both accounts that linger sometimes for years. Obviously the best option is the 1/4 option, a loving minister WITH a loving congregation. Those marriages result in long, fruitful ministry for both. NOTE: “Nothing tests our obedience to Christ like conflict.” That is a true statement for all believers!
The 3/4 Fallout. Sadly, many times the first three situations end negatively. Congregants are wounded and sometimes leave the fellowship taking their hurt to another congregation. Then some ministers are dealt with harshly and unlovingly by them being forced to resign or terminated. They also take their hurt to another group of believers and unless they have worked through their failures properly, dysfunction is perpetuated.
The 3/4 Plan. Many times fellowships coming out of a difficult Congregant/Minister relationship “Swing the pendulum.” They seek a minister who is not like the last minister. They will ask the membership what they want in their next minister according to age, education, family demographic, experience… and those should be part of the process, BUT they should NOT override more important elements such as…
Godliness… Holiness… Prayer life… Ability to preach and teach… Called to disciple God’s people… And then Love for God’s people.
The above elements MUST trump age, education, etc. If they don’t, God’s requirements are set aside for human expectations and this is not good. Trust me on this, I’ve seen the swinging pendulum a number of times. The search team (In good faith) mistakenly trade what is MOST important for a corporate model of filling an empty position… and then wonder later what they could have done different in their search.
There is something to be said for experience in any job, but certainly for a 3/4 event congregation looking for their next minister. Those who’ve been there and done that are the best candidates for 3/4 fellowships who need healing and guidance. Ministers who have walked a particular path before know where the land mines are and can guide a congregation to avoid them… when they are given the chance. I’ve seen that happen successfully a few times… to God’s glory.
The Wounded Minister. He usually sees himself as the martyr. He blames everyone except the one he should really be looking at… himself. It is imperative though that the minister do some serious and honest introspection through the Spirit’s leadership. If he doesn’t, his previous faults will manifest themselves in the next ministry position… AND God will continue to discipline him until he learns God’s lesson (Gal 6:1B; Heb 12:4-11). In talking with many wounded ministers, very few (!) admit their own fault honestly AND work to do something about it.This is probably the most important and least embraced.
Success in ministry is not an easy thing either for the congregation or minister. From both sides there MUST be love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and help. As in marriage, these things cannot be one sided… both must purposefully apply them. Then… and only then… will the inevitable struggles and disagreements be resolved for God’s glory.
Wow, just wow. Great insight, Ronnie. Great insight, indeed. You write from your experience. Powerful & compelling.