Posted on : Monday April 25, 2011

Dear Counselor,
We recently lost our pastor who resigned under pressure after repeated painful conflicts over the past year or two.  This is not the first time that this has happened in our church.  We become very hopeful with each new pastor, but then things always seem to go sour.  I am wondering, are we having bad luck in our choice of pastors or is there something wrong with us as a congregation?

Dear “Wondering” (Part 2):
In response to your question, I suggested in Part I that it is helpful to think of the relationship between pastor and congregation like a marriage where both parties are called to work on their “unfinished business” once the honeymoon is over.  Pastors have to look at character and competency issues, while congregations are challenged to look at their patterns of behavior sometimes referred to in a medical way as their “DNA.”  That is to say, there is a deeper structure within the congregation which attracts and repels members and pastors, often causes history to repeat itself, and determines issues of power, leadership, and love.  The deeper structures are most often revealed in the way the congregation handles fear, tension, and anxiety when differences or difficulties occur.

For instance, a church that began as the result of a church split often finds that the same “win-lose” patterns are repeated throughout the history of the new church.  Or, a church which experienced some form of trauma (e.g., unreported misconduct of a key leader, death of a beloved leader) and did not work through the associated grief and loss often will repeat the grief and loss by creating conflict with the next pastor.

Or, a church with lack of clarity about leadership will hire a dominant pastor and, then, react and hire a passive pastor, with the cycle continuing through several pastorates.  Or, a new church plant appeals to a core group of members and sets up a style of operation that repeats the unresolved family issues of the church planter.

Just as individuals are called to look at the secret places of their hearts out of which comes unpredictable behavior (Jer. 17:9-10; Ps. 51:6; Mk. 7:20-23, etc.), so churches seem to have fundamental, inner characteristics that determine their functioning and are called to repent (Rev. 2 and 3).  In your church, which is now between pastors, it is a good time to listen to what the “angels of the church” have to say about its fundamental DNA.   In Part III, we will look at options for discovering and evaluating that DNA.

Tom Rodgerson

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