I received a call recently from a staff member of a large church that I happen to know well. Their long time pastor has resigned. But, not only is he still on the payroll but he remains in town and meets with several dozen key leaders of the church on a regular basis. Including a number of elders.
To complicate matters, this leader has been the impetus for many staff members leaving the church over the years due to his domineering manner, bully tactics and desire to get his own way. He has a terrible reputation among the staff he worked with but is loved by the congregation who are not aware of the internal dysfunction. He gets his own way and the board does not constrain him. He is a force of nature and they will not go head to head with him.
The elders are well meaning but naïve. They allowed a dysfunctional situation to exist for years longer than they should have. They had the information they needed to deal with the situation but did not. And now, when they have secured a resignation, their former leader is inexorably linked to the congregation through the leaders he meets with weekly, including several elders. After all, it is only a bible study!
Why do smart people often check their intellect at the door of a church board meeting? As if the pastor has all wisdom and they none? In my years of consulting with congregations I have seen this time and again. Often after due diligence I tell the board what I have found and what amazes me is that they are not unaware. But they have not done anything about the matter. In the meantime, people have been hurt.
These same elders are planning to have a new pastor by the end of the year. Even though the most recent pastor has been there for several decades. I told the staff member who spoke with me that no wise pastor would touch this church given the history above and the ongoing relationship of the past senior pastor with the church. Oh, there will be plenty of pastors willing to come because it is a well known church. But they will never be their own leader and they are likely to be a short term casualty of the prior pastor who while "gone" is still "there." He got his way for years, and he will continue to get his way if he stays. He will also most likely end up destroying the ministry of the new leader.
As I listened, I had two reactions. One was amazement at the lack of discernment on the part of the leaders. The other was "I have seen this kind of situation too many times" where board members are simply not thinking wisely about the situations they face. This is not leadership. This is not being innocent as a dove but wise as a serpent. I am sad but not surprised. Their actions or inaction is setting up the next leader to fail and in doing so to hurt the congregation they are responsible for.
Leaders: Lead with wisdom and don't be naïve about the intentions and actions of others. Please! Don't be foolish in the name of "nice."