When Henry was elected a deacon, his family was elated. When he was ordained, they were proud. But when his phone rang late one evening with a church member on the other end of the line complaining about the pastor, no one but he knew it. When he was cornered after church by a sister with a complaint about church finances, Henry felt ambushed. When he received an anonymous letter from someone claiming to be a member of the church with a serious charge against the youth minister, he was completely bamboozled.
Henry was completely unprepared.
He was learning that church members often see the deacons as a conduit to the “powers that be,” as a safe way to register discontent, as a means of getting their concerns addressed without their having to go public.
But no one had told Henry to expect this or how to handle it.
In teaching churchmanship to deacons and other leaders, pastors should prepare them for the unexpected barrage that will be coming their way. They should expect it, learn to recognize it, and know how to deal with it. In time, with a little experience, they may even come to welcome the criticism, the phone calls, the anonymous letters.
Here is my list of unexpected developments leaders should be prepared to deal with. You’ll think of others.
“They moved my Sunday School room! Our class has met there since the Depression. We’ve got our stuff on the walls. It’s our room, and we want it back. This is not for discussion, Henry.”
Henry is young and therefore, does not mind change so much. He had watched as the young married couples class was bursting at the seams, and the senior adult classroom had all that unused space. Swapping rooms made a lot of sense. After all, one room is the same as another, right? Wrong.
Every minister learns (one way or the other) that many people had difficulty accepting change, and therefore to proceed with caution.
Ministers need to prepare their support team (deacons and other lay leaders) to expect difficulty when changes are being made, to handle it wisely and appropriately, and not to be upset by angry members. A soft word can indeed turn away a great deal of wrath.
Churches have experienced inner conflict all the way back to New Testament times. It’s just life. The Corinthian church had problems with immoral members, lawsuit happy members, and partisan members who liked the previous pastor more than the present one. The Jerusalem church had a problem with one group of widows being neglected in the daily distribution of groceries.
Conflict in a church does not mean anything bad. It does not indicate someone is failing. It is as normal as breathing.
Pastors should prepare their deacons in how to deal with simple conflicts, how to go to troublemakers and settle disputes, and how to bring real issues to the forefront so they can be addressed responsibly.
Every church needs a little conflict now and then. Just as you build a muscle by putting stress on it, God builds His people by applying pressure. Welcome it, recognize it for what it is, and deal with it.
One of the first things that Henry noticed when his phone began ringing was that the criticism of church leaders is often unfair. In most cases the caller has only partial information and needs to be informed as to the facts. Those are fairly easily handled.
Sometimes, Henry will find himself the target of the criticism. It’s “you deacons” and “why didn’t you” do this or that. Until then, Henry had been a go-between for the irate member and the ministers. But suddenly, he is shocked to learn he is being criticized. All he did to merit this attack was sit in on the deacons meeting when the pastor and staff presented their ideas for the new property and their vision for a new building. The rumor mill went into overdrive and suddenly the phone lines are burning up with half-truths and attacks.
Church members are a lot like everyone else. They cannot be counted on to act Christlike or mature, but will frequently seem like a playground of third-graders bickering over some inconsequential thing.
Expect it, deacon. Learn to deal with it, and do not let it disturb you. It goes with the territory.
“What I want to know is why did they take our senior adult bus out of the budget? We’ve been saving for that for some time now.”
Henry promised to look into the matter. Next day he phoned the church bookkeeper. She informed him that the church had actually voted in business session to cancel the plans for a senior adult bus. It was discussed and voted, and thus removed from the budget.
When Henry informed the upset member of what he had learned, she was not pacified. In fact, she was angrier than ever. That’s why Henry dug a little deeper into the matter.
He called the pastor for his take on the issue.
What he found tickled him and taught him a lesson about human nature.
According to the minutes of that church meeting, Henry’s irate phone caller was the very one who had brought the motion to the floor of the church to cancel the bus. He had the church secretary make a photocopy of the minutes to show her.
He drove across town, sat in the lady’s living room, and handed her the paper with the account of that church conference. There it was in black and white. She had done it herself.
Veterans of church leadership will know what happened next.
The lady was angrier than ever. She had humiliated herself, she had no excuse for her behavior, and now she was mad at everyone.
For the rest of her life–several years–she never got over it. And she never forgave Henry for his role in her comeuppance.
Henry and all deacons should expect to be unfairly criticized, to be challenged on what they did and why they did it, and to be roundly condemned by thoughtless (and sometimes heartless) members.
It should not be this way. In a perfect world, all church members would have a heart for God, want whatever is best for the church family, be willing to do whatever it takes to reach the world with the gospel, and adapt as necessary.
But this is not a perfect world. This is a fallen world, and even the best of Christians will see through a glass darkly, will sometimes react from partial (and wrong) information, and will occasionally need someone to call him down.
Being a deacon is not for sissies. It takes courage and a great deal of wisdom.