A View from the Pew: Upsetting the Congregation: What to do Next

Last month I laid out six circumstances when it’s okay to upset your congregation. This month, we’ll look at what to do at such a time.

Again, I feel the need to preface this by stating I am not in favor of causing problems in a church. My premise is that there are specific circumstances that dictate a response from the church. This represents my best counsel on what to do when you discern your congregation should be upset:

Pray. Only in prayerful reflection can you really determine if what is happening is personal to you or something that involves the entire church. I believe that the vast majority of the instances when people upset a church unnecessarily, it’s because they are upset and mistakenly perceive the congregation to be in trouble. The first step to addressing an issue is to earnestly devote time and attention to prayer—both speaking with and listening to God. Ask God for clarity and direction on your and your church’s situation.

Go to the Pastor. The pastor is ultimately responsible for shepherding the flock, not you. By going to them, you may get the clarity you prayed for in step one. You may discover this is your issue, and your pastor can help you work through it. Or you may find that the pastor perceives the same problem in the church. The pastor could very well enlist you to help address it if they aren’t in a position to do what needs to be done. Perhaps the pastor is already addressing it and needs you to be patient. Any action needs to be taken with the awareness if not the blessing or direction of the pastor.

Start with yourself. If change is needed, you can be the first to model it for your sisters and brothers. All too often, someone wishes the church would get involved in a ministry or take up a cause but they themselves don’t have the time or energy to devote to it. That’s backward, in my view. If God is leading you to disrupt a church’s complacency, you must be willing to lead by example. You must be willing to give yourself to addressing the need whether or not anyone else joins you or the pastor mentions it from the pulpit. If you are, this will help you know you are not just attention seeking and are truly being an instrument of God’s service.

Work through the existing structure. Every church I’ve been a part of had a formal structure for taking on new ministries, initiating outreach, and meeting a need. If you don’t already know it, you’ll most likely learn what that is in step two, meeting with the pastor. In some churches, the deacons are the central administrative body. In others, it’s the church council, a committee, or the trustees. Whatever your church’s structure, you will accomplish more if you work through it rather than against it. God can change hearts and minds. If you are truly called to help focus your church’s attention on something that needs addressing, there will be an alignment on what you, your pastor, and your church’s leaders discern from the Spirit. If you don’t take this approach and decide to go your own way, you risk alienating the congregation and undermining your ability to have influence. I say this often in many settings: “It’s not leadership if no one follows.”

Focus on the long term. Finally, many people upset the church unnecessarily because they do not take the long view. God’s timing is not our timing. You may have a sense of urgency born out of your own timetable. By following the steps above, you’ll have a clearer idea of what’s immediate and what needs a foundation for action. Laying the groundwork will ensure a more productive outcome. Remember, if it’s truly an issue that needs to be addressed, achieving the purpose is what’s most important, not who gets the credit or the timeframe for resolution. Some deeper issues take time and great care. Be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.

My hope and prayer for your church is that these seasons of getting upset are few and far between and that when they come, you are useful to accomplishing God’s mission.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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