23 replies

  1. My first appointment ,I walked into what can only be described as a war between 2 families.The conflict could have split the church. The battle of words ,dirty looks and ugliness forced me to teach and preach messages on loving your enemy and unity.It was surreal.
    The church that I served liked to think of themselves as the friendly little church on the side of the road.The ironic statement was not so much a naive boast as it was wishful thinking.When one of the feuding families left the church things simmered down to a low roar.To this day any pastor assigned to this little church better put on the whole armour of God,trust me.

  2. My experience as a lay person prior to becoming a pastor firmly identifies power struggles as the major destructive force to Christian unity and harmony. I have seen pastors decimated by the actions of lay persons in ways that should never happen in a Christian world. In my current church, I would hate to see the consequences of action to enforce our trust clause as a connectional system. Too commonly, lay persons, who built the church from the ground up, believe they ‘own’ the church, and hence have the right and power to control its directions, including the actions of its pastor. This group is usually very small, probably no more than half a dozen activists. It is the model in which we serve, even if we profess an episcopal system.

  3. I must agree with everyone who has responded recently. I would like to add that the controling lay people (usually a small group) think that all they need to do is make enough noise and they can get rid of the pastor. Unfortunately this is true and many pastors who have fallen victim to this ploy can testify to that fact. I have tried unsuccessfully to dialog with the Conference representatives and several DS only to be told that the problem is with the pastor’s way of addressing the conflict that is the problem. I personally have not fallen victim to this but have clergy friends who have.

    How can we hope to solve a problem that is killing church and pastoral ministry when the very people we turn to for help and support have never served in this invironment and are not open to listening with open minds and taking a stand for our Lord’s body. We talk about pastoral accountability yet do not hold the lay leaders in the church accountable. My guess is that if we held the lay leadership of our churches accountable to the Discipline and Scriptural leader requirements our leadership positions would be mostly unfilled for a few years, yet be more effective.

  4. I believe that it is unresolved conflicts. Without resolution they grow and grow and grow till the church is split into sides. And then being a missional church goes right out the window, because the focus is so internal.

    • Jeanine, you and some others have picked up on a common theme — staying inwardly focused. A question it raises for me is: does conflict cause us to remain inwardly focused, or is it that churches that are basically inwardly focused are more prone to conflict? So many of the unresolved conflicts people have shared with me revolve around resistance to change — generally associated with bringing in newcomers. Those who love and defend the status quo resent change. It is often the attempt to hold onto the comfort and safety of the known (inward focus) that lies at the root of the unresolved conflict. These different destructive factors are so closely related that it is almost impossible to determine which is the chicken and which the egg!

  5. I think what is most damaging to the local church is being self-focused. When a church is consumed with itself and its self-preservation, its mission in the community is distorted and many of the above issues begin to take over. The challenge for many of us is fostering a culture in our local churches of loving and serving those around us that we might consider outsiders. I think this begins by us as leaders in the local church living out love and service to the people in our churches.

  6. The Pastors job description in the BOD gets over looked. Most folks think we are just those who preach. We have the responsibly to be the administrator of the church along with the title shepherd and pastor. This is the power struggle. We need support from the Ds and Bishop when these power struggles happen as we try to enforce the BOD as administrators of the church and pastors as we long to be kingdom builders..

  7. I think it all comes down to a power struggle (as in “who’s in charge here?”). The other items are subservient to this one. I think all of the others — rumors, unresolved conflict etc. are rooted in the quest for control (power) — to wrestle power away from someone with whom a person or group disagrees. Sometimes this is the pastor, other times it is a person or group of lay persons.

    One of the problems of United Methodist Churches is the unresolved issues which stem from the fact that we are NOT a democratic institution. A majority vote counts for very little in our structure. The pastor has power because he/she is granted power by the annual conference and bishop. The laity have little voice and no control. The whole issue of property rights and the trust clause stems from the fact that the laity see the church as congregational in structure and not connectional. Most pastoral conflicts are attempts by one or more lay persons to wrestle control away from the pastor.

    We need to do a better job of training our members (old and new) that we are a connectional church and that the people are not vested with the kind of power laity hold in free churches. We transfer in or receive as members a lot of “congregational” minded people. Unless they are taught that we are NOT a democratic church they will still try to wield power in ways that are not applicable in the United Methodist Church.

    Every church conflict I have been through, or witnessed, has revolved around “power” issues when you reduce the conflict down to the basic disagreement(s).

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