I have been the Senior Pastor at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since July 1, 1997. In this time we have grown by an average of one hundred each year in worship. We are constantly engaged in the economy of change and have found that change brings with it both excitement and discontinuity. The secret to a long tenure (in anything) is not the avoidance of problems (that is impossible in a fallen world); it is to deal with difficult challenges in healthy ways. Tragically, since most churches have accepted the template of “rotating pastors” every four or five years, many congregations have built a culture where church leaders and pastors have lost the relational skills to “stay at the table” when times get tough. It is not serving us well. Perhaps it is time to push back on pushback!
Perhaps it is time to push back on pushback!Tweet
Here are eight ways to push back on pushback:
- Get to the Bottom of It People will push back in various ways during change. An axiom in our church culture is, “What folks are complaining about usually isn’t what people are complaining about.” When a grumbler comes our way significantly concerned about something insignificant, we ask, “What is this conversation really about?” Such conversations are almost always about personal preference, loss of power or fear of the future. These are very real concerns; it’s just that people often lack the sophistication to talk about important things directly so they bring up trivial things instead.
- Handle it Biblically Operate by Matthew 18: 15-17. You must be consistent and relentless here. Jesus’ teaching on dealing with conflict is counter-intuitive (imagine that). Talk to the person with whom you have an issue (not about them), get a couple of referees if you can’t work it out and finally give it to the church for a final decision if things get intractable. Deal with this kind of stuff swiftly and decisively.
- Refuse triangulation People will often get frustrated when you refuse to triangulate but they will be forced to deal with discontinuity in healthy ways. Don’t talk to anyone about their concern until they have talked directly to the person about whom they are concerned. They may not leave your office happy but remember that many of them were not happy before they met you (so don’t take full responsibility).
- Be Visible and Approachable We all want to hide when the hurricane is blowing but effective leaders can’t. A good working rule is that the less you want to be around people, the more you need to be around people.
- Tell the truth Being nice is often a higher core value than being truthful in the church. It is not unchristian to be honest with people but it is unchristian to make them think you are going to do something you have no intention of doing. Taking the time to answer questions honestly and offer your position in a non-defensive way can turn a critic into a staunch ally!
- Be a Christian Always be pastoral toward the people who are in disagreement with you. You can’t let Christians behaving in an unchristian manner take away your Christianity! You can’t give them that much power over you.
- Be a Professional Never take it personal. Never raise your voice. Keep the discussion scriptural and missional. Even if a disgruntled individual leaves the church, you will earn their respect by being professional. If they do leave, do everything in your power to enable them to leave on good terms!
- Stick Around I simply don’t consider “divorce an option” in my marriage (35 years) or my church (21 years). When you decide you are going to stay at the table and work through discontinuity, your ministry has moved to a new level.
As we learn to view inevitable discontinuity as an opportunity to teach Christian behavior and sharpen our leadership skills; we find that pushback is something on which we can…push back.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.