Thursday, June 28, 2012

Second Chair Leader Articles

Pastor of Everything Else

Dr. Steve Brown, President of Arrow Leadership Canada, recently published two excellent blogs on second chair leadership -- "4 Insights for Second Chair Leaders" and "6 Best Practices for Second Chair Leaders"

Especially helpful to me were insights that 1) there are factors in decision making that we may not fully understand. As a result, we may not  always agree with the senior pastor, but we must remember we don't have the fuller picture.

And 2) that second chair leaders ask "guiding questions" instead of taking strongly opinionated stands:  "Seeking to invite discussion is far better than sparking a defensive posture or miscommunication."

Excellent stuff and great insights. I know Steve from my time in Arrow (Canadian Class '05), when he was in the second chair position.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Stuck in the Middle of Church Conflict

Pastor of Everything Else
Stuck in the Middle of Church Conflict

“You have to tell the pastor he needs to repent!”

With tears in her eyes and trembling voice, a woman pulled me aside after the morning service to tell me the pastor was wrong. Trouble had been brewing ever since the church business meeting and she was the latest to express her opinion to me. The congregation had voted to discontinue the evening worship service and even though the vote was not close, some were disgruntled and blamed the pastor.

I was a student pastor at the time, but it seemed to me that people were drawing up sides for a church fight, counting who was for and who was against. This was my first encounter with being in the middle of a conflict between the pastor and members of the congregation. I wish I could say it as my last. Here are some of the principles which have helped me.

Peace, Not Pieces
We have been called to unity as believers. This was Jesus’ prayer in the garden (Jn 17:23) and Paul’s admonition to the churches (Rom 15:5; Eph 4:3). Our work as pastors is to continue our work until we all reach unity (Eph 4:13). Reading between the lines of these verses, conflict is a given in church life. Our goal, however, should always be to work for unity.

Don’t Lead That Charge
It is easy to get caught in the passion of a conflict – right vs. wrong, justice vs. injury, doctrine vs. heresy. More than a few associates have taken up the cause to correct some perceived point of conflict. It never goes well – secret meetings, veiled references, and whispered conversations only build frustration and lead to confrontation. Eventually things deteriorate until someone is fired or the congregation splits. Everyone feels justified, but no one wins. We can’t let ourselves be part of this.

Do Not Undermine the Senior Pastor
No matter how we feel about an issue, we cannot undermine the efforts of the senior pastor. Not only is this insubordination, it creates tension in the congregation. This should be a simple concept, but surprisingly not always followed.

Use Active Listening Techniques
Someone once said to me,  “The senior pastor has got to go.” I was so stunned by his comment all I could think to say was, “Why do you feel this way?” It was the right response. Active listening is simply following up by summarizing. It helps them know they have been heard, but does not commit me to giving an opinion. I use this time to assess whether the issue is really the senior pastor or something else.

Refer to the Senior Pastor
“Have you talked about this with the pastor?” This is a scary proposition to many people, but necessary. The toughest answer is, “I did and he didn’t listen.”  At this point we encourage people to try again.

Broker Reconciliation Where Possible
A family was hurt when a member wasn’t visited by the pastor in the hospital. Despite his efforts to smooth things over, they would not meet with him or return his calls. I had a good relationship with the family and so the pastor asked me if I would speak with them about meeting to heal the rift. I did and they agreed. In the end things turned out well.

Definitely not a last resort. Pray during and after that God’s peace and unity will prevail.

Being in the middle is a crucial, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, spot. How we respond can help set a proper tone of reconciliation. Instead of encouraging people to draw up sides, we can help diffuse tension and provide a listening ear to people who are hurt or even angry. By being a team player, we prevent division.

June 4, 2012 Rev. Troy Dennis (BA, MDiv., MA, Arrow Leadership) is Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church in Moncton NB Canada. Ordained in 1995, he served in associate, solo and senior pastor positions before coming back to associate ministry in 2008.