Compared to my last post, feeling so groovy and inspired, this one will seem dramatically different. Sorry...
I am feeling something I’ve not felt in 5 ½ years as a lead pastor, 4 years as an associate pastor, 5 years as a full-time director of music, or 1 year as a part-time church choir director. I’m just adding it up to get a sense … that’s 15 ½ years of professional church ministry, and I have had a lot of different reactions to things. But this one is new.
It’s hard to describe. It kind of feels like a broken heart. I feel so sorry for a group of people in the church. And mixed into that is a sense that I have failed as a preacher. So blend together the feelings of broken-heartedness, sorrow, and failure, and there you have it – my mood today!
I’m not going to share the details, of course. That wouldn’t be ethical. But I can share this – we sensed the need for a change, thought through the options, decided on a plan we thought would help improve the overall health of the ministry, then proposed that change to the group that would be affected. The change would have required the group to adjust their routine every other week, and keep it the same every other week. At the same time, the change would allow others in the congregation to begin participating alongside this group in their ministry, thus enhancing the overall effect. In short, it was a compromise.
I anticipated the proposal would meet with some resistance. Almost all compromises do. But I was not prepared for the level of animosity toward the change. There were a number of people involved with the ministry who said they would quit altogether rather than compromise – that was the heartbreaking part.
This is a ministry that they claim to love doing. And so they are proving how much they love this ministry by threatening to quit instead of compromise. Make sense to you? No, me neither.
The resistance was based on how the change would disrupt their individual routine, and destroy a sense of “family” that had developed in the group. In terms of time commitment per month, the change to routine affects them by less than one percent of their time; about 3 hours per every two weeks is altered, and no time is added or subtracted to the status quo.
In terms of the feeling of “family” they have – that’s fine. But it’s a side affect of the ministry, not the mission. I tried to reason with them that the change is intended to see that the ministry more effectively accomplishes its mission. Furthermore, the insider’s feeling of family is the newcomer’s feeling of cliquishness, and I’ve worked hard to eliminate that unhealthy situation.
Here’s another wrinkle – two of the people who started this change in motion by coming to me and complaining about the ministry and how something needed to change because they were feeling so frustrated with it … (are you ready for it?) … are now two of the people saying that they are going to quit if we make this change. “Something needs to change! BUT it had better not be a change that actually affects us, or we’ll just quit.” What? Really?
I’m not mad, which is weird. At another stage in my ministry I might have been mad. This time, I’m listening to these otherwise loving, faithful, good people share their purely self-centered reactions to the change, and all I can feel is profound sorrow on their behalf. There was no empathy. There was no understanding. There was no trying to see the situation from another’s point of view. The only thing anyone was saying was how horribly this change would affect them personally. (Remember, it is a change that affects the status quo routine only every other week – it is a compromise.)
So the feeling of failure is there because I’ve been preaching here for a year and a half, calling for people to prioritize God’s mission, focus outward into the world, and think first of others before self. It makes me feel like nobody is listening to me when I experience reactions like this. It makes me not want to try so hard. It makes me want to just phone it in, if it’s not going to make any difference, anyway. Why work my tail off when people aren’t going to get it?
This too shall pass. I know.
Even though this change isn’t going to happen, something in this ministry still has to change; the need for the change is still there. I have seen this particular ministry flourish at an amazing level of excellence and energy; I know that the potential is there. I know exactly what it would take to get it there, but if the people involved would rather quit than risk the change, it won’t work. It won’t work without the people.
I’m not going to quit, though. (Insert State of the Union reference here.) I understand how systems work and how people can get so enmeshed that they cannot see clearly. My expectations are high, but they are reasonable. The ministry in question could be exceptional, and I’m not going to sit still and let it be “just fine” forever. Of course, I believe that God loves us at “just fine,” and that is just the reason that we should strive to offer our very best, even if that means we have to work hard to achieve it.
I also need to say that there is a lot, lot, lot of good, good, good stuff happening in the congregation. It is a phenomenal church and this incident has very much been the exception to the rule.
*sigh* So if, the next time you see me, I seem grumpy or distracted or not my usual self, at least now you will know why. But at least, writing this, it is off my chest a little bit. Thanks for reading.
Let It Go, Sermon for Christmas Eve 2020
5 weeks ago