I have realized in 12 years of senior pastoring that my prefered style of leading is by unifying the body around the mission of the church. In this, I do everything I can to avoid conflict, often allowing my critics to badmouth me without fighting back. Frankly, I have learned over time that my feelings will heal and that God will vindicate me. Conflict is just a part of ministry.
I remember the first major conflict I had as a minister. There was an older man in the church on blood thinners who thought that the church was just too cold. As I would work my way through the room, building relationships and greeting new people, he always “beelined” his way straight to me. One particular Sunday I let my feelings get the best of me, and I exclaimed “Jesus Christ did not die so that we would spend our lives arguing over air conditioning.” Frankly, I stand by what I said, but I regret the way I said it. Deep within my heart, I felt a sadness. I was broken that comfort was a hill to die on in the church.
Within those 12 years of ministry, I have learned that church conflicts don’t grow from people pursuing the Word of God. I have never seen a church fight over a desire to reach their community with the gospel of Christ. Church conflicts almost always start selfishly.
This past week, my wife and I were discussing the life of ministry we have shared over the years. To be honest, both of us still bear the scars from past hurts experienced while in the ministry, and there are days where our souls ache from the pain. In our discussion, we were brought back to a time when a former church I was pastoring voted to remove a good portion of my salary, a move that was made because someone had originally gotten upset because of that blasted air conditioner. Yes, really. When they didn’t get their way, they staged a walkout. The topic of the conflict was over 3 degrees. People left a church over “3 degrees” of temperature. Jesus did not die for that.
Sadly, Jenn and I still feel the pain and occasional depression that came from that business meeting.
As a pastor, I have been chewed out for having too many decorations on stage, not wearing a tie, wearing a tie, not playing enough hymns, playing too many hymns, keeping the temperature too cold, keeping the temperature too warm, and for riding my bike to work when we didn’t have two cars because a nosy member could not drive by to make sure I was there. (By the way, we only had one car because my salary was so small that buying another car was impossible.)
One of the most humiliating parts of ministry is when church members use your salary as a talking point to further their cause, yet it is often one of the first places church members go in a conflict.
Pastors don’t quit because they get tired of ministry. They grow weary and quit (sometimes the ministry all together) because they spend their lives trying to find solutions to problems for which Jesus did not die for in the first place. I can tell you the lowest points of my 12 year ministry have been trying to appease people who bring conflict over their own perceived comfort.
I guess I am writing this blog because I see the good that is happening at FBCV. We are baptizing and seeing lives changed weekly through the ministry of our church. I have enough experience to know what is coming next. The greatest tool Satan uses to cripple the American church that is striving to serve God is conflict within their membership. He turns the hearts of just a few to distract the church from its mission.
God is doing great things at FBCV. We have become a target to be neutralized by the devil, so when you see conflict arise, know where it is coming from. If we end up arguing over 3 degrees, our focus will turn away from God’s mission to our own.
Did Jesus die for your comfort or will you sacrifice your comfort for God’s kingdom?