Friday, January 29, 2010

Feeling Kind of Broken Hearted

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.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the group was told of the changes, and not part of the process of how to change. Even the two people who complained, it sounds like they were not given an opportunity to work together to create change that would work. Is this accurate? I will say a prayer for all of you. I sense your deep pain.

bob said...

It sounds like people don't quite believe that ten year old from the previous post.

Kansas Bob said...

Sorry for the pain Andy. I know that, in the end, this situation will help you grow in ministry and maturity.. stuff like this pushes us like nothing else.

Blessings, Bob

Andy B. said...

Nothing more to say than I stand with you in prayer for God's Spirit to move, for the winds of change to blow.

Anonymous said...


Your job is to deliver the information. That does not mean you get to see the positive affects. Remember Moses? You plant the seeds and provide some cultivation. The rest is up to us as receipents of the message. You are not accountable for what we do, or don't do, with the info. And for some of us, it takes a long time for the message to sink in. By that time you could be blessing another congregation, and never know that "finally, she got it"!
You just keep doing what you know is your calling and trust that God will see to what is out of your control.

By the way, we miss you!

Jeremy V. said...

Change sometimes means that good hearted people disagree and then some of them move on. We had some tough decisions to make at Grace 5 years ago. So we made several changes. Over twenty people left. It was not easy. It was painful. Now I can say, it made us a much healthier church. Prayers for you as you continue to be fruitful and effective ;0) Peace, Jeremy

Anonymous said...

I'm a part of the self-centered, cliquish group. I,personally, see our group as very involved in the life of the church as huge contributors in service, special needs requests, not to mention financial support. Our committent per month, over and above the group we're in, is much more than 1%. "We(whoever that is)" didn't give us a chance to discuss the new plans before implementation. "We" made the plans and expected our group to comply wholeheartedly. Personally, I am feeling unappreciated on one level, but still an important part of the overall church family. I'm writing this to get it off my chest. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Andy -
I am a long time member of your congregation and just read this post. My heart breaks. You have brought a new life and passion to this church that we have lacked for many years. You bring joy to so many so often. Do not be discouraged. You are loved and much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Sorry about your broken heart, Andy. There are many more broken hearts than you may know because of how we are labeled as a group. Maybe we'll be healed, maybe not.

Anonymous said...

I am really sad about what has happened in this situation. . . by the wounded feelings on both sides, by the fact that both sides seem to have felt unheard and disrespected. Change and change management are difficult. I'm prayin'

Kory Wilcox said...

No offense to any anonymous posters who might be part of a group that has felt targeted, but you took that 1% statement out of context. It was in reference to the ministry in question, not to anyone's level of commitment to any other ministries. And what is the proper expression of appreciation for all that you do, anyways? Is it letting your posse hold a borderline unhealthy ministry hostage with your gifts and your service? Those were the last things I expected to become weapons in this situation.

I think Andy's point was that if you love this ONE ministry as much as you say you do, you'd trust the leadership to make changes that will ensure it remains healthy and thriving. What, otherwise, is the point of having leaders?

It's neither a privilege ("a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most") nor a due ("something that is due, owed, or naturally belongs to someone") for you to be a part of the ministry in question. It exists because you decide it exists. You ARE the ministry.

However, if you're going to hold that ministry hostage by your money or your involvement in other ministries, then you are no longer the ministry, but rather, you are its antagonist. And THAT is what is so sad in this situation.

And all of this for 2.5 hours every other Sunday morning? Your ministers and countless lay leaders are there for 6-7 hours every Sunday morning doing everything they can to ensure the congregation and its ministries are nourished... vital... healthy.

If you're going to ask those leaders for positive change, you better be ready for them to ask you, THE MINISTRY, for a little help and maybe, God forbid, a little extra time.

I am beyond heartbroken by this. I am downright somber. It makes me wish I were completely oblivious.

Dave in NKC said...

I'm a little late to the discussion but I feel your pain. I was recently trying to lead some change in our church and really thought God was guiding us (I had good input from a lot of folks)but to no avail. The fear of change can be so overwhelming for some it does, as you sadi, sort of blind them to what God really wants and/or what is really possible. Sadly, we ended up doing nothing. The whole process zapped my energy and hope. As Diana said, we miss you. You know God is here, keep walking with him.