Thoughts While Waiting for the Plane

How many congregations are held hostage by the arrogant, the rude, the self centered and self righteous? It only takes a few, maybe one or two to pull it off. Pastors, staff and leadership obsessed with church growth, pledge dollars and keeping everyone happy can themselves become obsessed with the few who threaten to leave, call the bishop or cut their pledge. The irascible Paul did not seem to worry too much about that, even as he was trying to plant new congregations in hostile territory. “Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”, he writes to the church in Corinth as just one example of his willingness to set standards and enforce them.

Yet contemporary congregations are often subject to imprisonment by a few members who appear to have little recognition or care that their behavior dominates parish life to the point of distraction and destruction. One person wants a building improvement project not in any parish plan or budget, nor especially desired by others, but makes it an issue backed up with a threat to leave or reduce financial support if their wishes are not catered to. Another person, demands that the clergy adopt ways of worship and teaching more congenial to their personal understanding of the faith backed up with threats to leave or reduce financial support. Another doesn’t like the music, or Sunday School superintendent, or the way the church is cleaned, or the presence in the congregation of “that person, “ or any of a dozen other things, and each of them threatens to quit or reduce giving unless they are appeased.

It happens all the time and pastors, being the accommodating persons they tend to be, are likely to bend over backwards trying to make everybody happy, or at least not angry, in order to salvage members and meet budgets. Somehow that doesn’t seem right. What would happen if pastors had the gumption to say, “What you want is simply not going to happen, and here’s why. I don’t want you to leave and hope you will stay and even consider raising your pledge, but right now we cannot accommodate your special request.”?

I think you can do that without stifling grassroots creativity and initiative, nor interfere with the important job of providing pastoral care, the need for which may well be buried under a variety of inappropriate behaviors.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts While Waiting for the Plane”

  1. I was in one parish where a prominent layperson was at the centre of virtually every argument at the parish level and every argument in his own congregation.One day, having lost on some issue at parish council, he walked out of the room and resigned from the council. (He didn't actually leave the parish.)Oddly, that pustule having burst, a series of otherwise underground but no less nasty disputes surfaced over the next couple of months.It seems the previous centre of controversy had served a unifying purpose in the parish – so long as everyone was fighting with him, they weren't fighting with each other. He was to the parish (or at least the parish leadership) what Toronto is to Canada.

  2. Would turning down $10,000 towards new carpet count?One of my parishes is in what's termed a \”living historical ghost town,\” and sometimes I think the people involved in that town have a history fetish. Anyway . . . A couple of wealthy part-time parishioners offered to find an exact match of our existing carpet — which they did for $27,000. They offered to donate $10,000 of that.I respectfully declined the offer and suggested a variety of other options for their donation, none of which they have seen fit to pursue.

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