by Mark Taylor
If church problems keep you awake at night, you’re in good company. Even Paul wrote that “I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28, NIV).
Let’s be candid: sometimes we cause our own worst problems. It’s true that selfishness or sin among church members brings untold grief and uncounted setbacks for the cause of Christ. We can’t control that. But we can control our actions, decisions, and relationships. I remember four commitments we, elders and church leaders, can make to minimize stress and maximize effectiveness with the simple acronym DISC.
We cannot marry someone to change them, and it’s unwise, even unethical, for a person to become an elder to “straighten out” the church. If you have a problem with your minister, talk with him. If you don’t agree with elders’ decisions, tell them. But we can’t join the leadership unless we can display heartfelt loyalty for the minister and elders. We’re on one team, fighting one enemy – and it’s not the music minister.
Insist on confidentiality.
When I served on a church staff, I sometimes learned unfortunate facts about people in the church. My wife knew very little, or nothing at all. I did not want her to be disheartened, especially when we on staff were giving the offender time to repent. There is nothing to be gained by spreading bad news widely. Elders do well to adopt a similar position. Leaders will always know information that should be kept private. If a staff member is being disciplined, if a minister is getting a raise, if a complainer’s demands are being denied, the church is not well served by everyone’s gossiping about it. Start by not telling your spouse, and it will be easier to keep quiet with everyone else too.
We are human, of course, and make mistakes. Accountability helps blunt the effects of those mistakes, and we should be held accountable when we mess up. I’m thinking of times a leader violates a principle mentioned here, or if an elder takes it on himself to speak for the whole eldership without their permission, or when someone agrees in a meeting but sows doubt afterward in the parking lot –a so-called “meeting after the meeting.” When an elder acts or speaks contrary to the will of the whole group, the rest of the elders must hold him accountable. Good leaders do not avoid difficult conversations. God has not called us to be nice. Rogue behavior cannot be tolerated. Undermining is not good for the eldership, not good for the individual elder, and it will be devastating to the church.
Commit to unity.
Some church members, perhaps without realizing it, will seek to divide the eldership. They will complain to one elder about another. They will criticize a minister or object to a change with the elder they think they can get to agree. Be on guard against allowing them to recruit you for their cause. Otherwise we become party to wrangling and restlessness that can fester till it divides the whole congregation. Our pastor at Christ’s Church Mason, Trevor DeVage, has written a great piece addressing similar ideas. I am not saying criticism isn’t allowed or everyone must blindly agree. I’m saying we should establish two principles for discussions with unhappy church members:
- Critics should go to the right person with their questions or concerns. Jesus Himself directed us to our aggrieved brother or sister in Matthew 18:15. Trevor’s practice: “When someone complains to me about a decision some other leader made, my first question is, ‘Did you talk to him (or her) about this?”
- Nothing should take the place of the church’s primary mission: seeking and saving the lost. That was Jesus’ self-described mission in Luke 19:10, and we are following Him alone. “If we don’t fight for putting lost people first,” Trevor says, “our tendency to prefer personal pleasure will always get in the way.”
When we put aside personal preference to support the Church’s mission, we will better handle the stress of serving. We’ll be more effective. And we will set an example and create an atmosphere that will help the whole congregation flourish.