I never cease to be amazed at how naive and undiscerning church  boards can be. Here is a case study from several years ago. 

The church has gone through a period of turbulent waters for a number of reasons and the senior pastor resigns. In the interim a staff member who loves nothing else better than to lead steps into the breach, is regular in the pulpit, and leads the staff. In addition, he puts his name in to become the next senior pastor and it is clear he desires the job. It is no secret that he wants the senior position. I will call this individual Bill.

When the search committee makes its decision, Bill is not chosen. Instead, it is Steve from outside. But when Steve comes, Bill is not asked to leave so Steve is working with the individual who wanted his job and believed should have his job on his staff.

Over the next several years, it is quickly apparent that Bill believes he is a better leader than Steve, passively resists his leadership - sometimes actively, is critical of Steve when they meet and tensions are present. Their philosophies of ministry are worlds apart, their style very different and Bill is often critical of how Steve leads. 

Yet the leadership of the church does nothing about it. They like Bill and Bill feels "called to be at the church"  and has a history at the church. Thus the board has set Steve up for an inevitable clash, for leadership pain, inability to build his own staff and a major lack of alignment on the staff. When it comes to how they would do things, Bill and Steve live on different planets.

When I met with Bill and Steve at Bill's request, I asked him who the better leader was and Bill told me in front of Steve that he was by far the better leader. I asked why he stayed at the church when he could not lead from the "first chair" and he said that the church needed his "prophetic voice" and would never leave. In other words, the church would not succeed without him and it was his prophetic voice that the church needed. I strongly suggested as an outside consultant that this arrangement would not work and that it was in fact doomed to fail. Bill came off as overly impressed with his own importance and the need of the church for his presence.

Over a period of months, as Steve pressed into this impossible situation, Bill decided that he should resign - reluctantly. He sent a letter of resignation to the elders and to my astonishment, several of the elders recommended that they should not accept the letter of resignation and that Steve should figure out how to work with Bill.

Never mind the lack of alignment, insubordination and the fact that Bill really wanted Steve's job. For some, Steve himself was the bad guy here who could not humble himself to work with Bill. In the meeting, he took a number of amazing shots for not making it work.

I was frankly stunned, sitting as an outsider listening to this conversation. Here was a group that had chosen Steve as their pastor over Bill and had then allowed Bill to stay so you had two competing leaders! Then when the inevitable tensions arose, Steve was the bad guy and should just "get along." If even Paul and Barnabas could not figure that out, how do we expect others to figure that out? I suggested that if they were that committed to Bill, they should have made him pastor rather than calling Steve, that they had set Steve up for this by keeping Bill on staff and that I had told Steve he should leave if the board did not support him on this.

Then, even more astonishing to me, they made it clear that Bill could stay in the church and some think he should be allowed to lead a ministry there as a lay leader - in spite of the fact that Steve now has a volunteer leader who wanted his job, does not respect him as a leader and who I predict will undermine Steve in subtle or not so subtle ways. In my world, Bill would be thanked for his service and asked to find another church. But, no, preservation of the unity of the body means that he should stay and even be eligible to serve in a lay leadership role.

Jesus told us to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. Too many church boards lack basic wisdom in the name of "grace," and frankly violate other Scriptures by letting the fox into the hen house in the name of unity and grace. If these leaders are not careful they will lose a staff member but it will not be Bill. It will be Steve who they called but chose not to support and whose decisions in matters like these actually made it difficult for him to lead! And if Steve does eventually leave, they will get what their leadership deserved. They were not wise, did not support their pastor, did not make good decisions early on and did not think through the consequences of their decisions.

Wisdom is lacking in far too many board rooms of churches. In this case the word "foolish" from the book of Proverbs is far more applicable than the word "wisdom." Time will tell whether this board gets its act together. I pray they do.
  • Jan 08, 2011
  • Category: News
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