A Christian congregation is an intricate, sometimes tangled, and nearly always mystifying web of relationships.
You walked right into that one, didn’t you!
Like a hiker who stumbles into a spider web stretched between trees, pastors are often surprised by the sticky web of relationships in churches. What churches do best is carry the saving gospel of Jesus Christ across the years to new generations.
But along with the good news of a Savior, we also carry our histories of passion, conflict, celebration, victory, hurt feelings, financial crisis, periods of growth, periods of decline, favorite pastors, holiday traditions, corporate icons, and seven deadliest words along with it.
And you walked right into it, didn’t you?
Some churches are healthy. Peace, unity, joy and compassion prevail. Some churches are not so healthy. And there are even some churches that are toxic.
All churches need healthy leaders.
It takes strong gospel leadership to navigate the baggage of previous generations of church life in a healthy manner. Traditionalism, personal bias, and wounds from conflicts in generations past have a way of interfering with peace, unity, joy and compassion.
If you’ve been at your church for some time, you’re part of that history, but you probably inherited most of it.
Here’s a couple of ideas from my own (imperfect) experience of navigating the sticky web of congregational history and longstanding relationships, helping healthy churches stay healthy, and less than healthy ones move closer toward peace, unity, joy and compassion.
First of all, remember that you are a force for change, sent by the Lord of the Church and empowered by his Holy Spirit. You are wearing the gospel armor. The power of the Word and Sacraments are transformative in the lives of people.
God is always at work in you and through you. Take confidence in his presence, even in trying times.
Be aware, however, that your central position in the congregational system puts you in danger of bearing the greatest amount of the church’s anxiety. All relationships and histories funnel their way back to you.
But also be aware that your unique position gives you the most leverage to change the system.
And the more carefully you tend to your own spiritual, relational, emotional and vocational wellbeing (not to mention your physical health) the better you’ll be able to navigate the anxiety and help others find healing and strength.
And remember that you are making a difference. Every expression of your own faith, peace and joy in ministry works to counteract the unhealthy forces at play. I know how hard it is, but stand firm in Christ’s love for you, even in the face of adversity, just as Jesus encouraged his disciples to do.
Seek out systems of care. Invite the prayers of the church for you and your family. Find safe places with peers in ministry to share your trials.
Celebrate the victories of God’s presence and power among you whenever you can.
Keep “Jesus did that!” as part of your vocabulary.
Take a regular daily assessment of your own wellbeing. (Check out Reclaiming the Joy of Ministry for assistance).
Healthy churches need healthy leaders. Rely on Jesus and his grace to keep you healthy.
And pay attention to the healing work he does all around you every day.
Thanks for reading.