Real Leaders Have Hard Conversations

4 09 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

…speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  Ephesians 4:15

Am I the only one who thinks “Pastor” should be one of Mike Rowe’s “Dirty Jobs” episodes on the Discovery Channel?

Thinking about another truth my Dad taught me about the church.

Those of you who know Dad know that he is certainly capable of “stirring the pot” even to the point of conflict.  That capability is, I think, actually a reflection of a particular leadership skill he possesses…he is capable of having the hard conversations in a church.  You know the conversations I mean: the ones nobody else on the staff wants to have, the ones which may prove to be a bit awkward, even painful.  I have watched him in ministry for all of my 52 years on this earth and, whether as a pastor or a denominational worker, or even as a Sunday School teacher, I have known Dad to step up to the plate many, many times when a hard thing needed to be said or conveyed.

This is not a lesson he has ever spoken to me, at least not that I can remember.  Rather, this is a lesson I learned from watching him all these years.  Real church leaders, the ones who are genuine influencers, are the ones who are willing to sit down and have that very difficult conversation which nobody else wants to have.  The pretend leaders, on the other hand, will avoid those conversations at all costs.

You know well the conversations I mean…

…that volunteer who needs to be “counseled out” of a particular ministry position…

…that employee whose gossip is becoming a problem…

…that Sunday School teacher who cannot seem to keep his favorite theological quirk out of any of his lessons…

…that church matriarch who is being divisive…

…that childcare worker who keeps avoiding the background check protocols…

…that curmudgeon who writes those hateful letters every single week to the pastor…

I could go on and on.   After all, there are infinite examples because there is an apparently unlimited supply of issues and difficulties with which church leaders are faced.  But the point is this: if you cannot muster the courage to speak the truth in love to a brother, if you constantly push the hard conversations off to others, then you are not a leader…not really.  Maybe you’re a manager.  Or maybe you hold some official title that sounds like a leader.  Maybe you are popular on some level, even well-liked to some extent, but you are not a leader.

Jesus was a leader.  And when you think about it, most of His words that ended up in scripture were the hard ones.  So how is it that we allow ourselves to believe our leadership role is going to be different?  It is not…because real leaders have hard conversations.

Oh, and one last word on this subject for those of us who are inclined toward technology.  You cannot have a hard conversation by e-mail or by text or even by telephone.  You have them face to face.  If you are a leader, that is.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Three Easy Steps to a Church Implosion

13 03 2012

Tuesday Re-mix – 

I remember a couple of years back when First Baptist Church, Dallas, made the news with its simultaneous implosion of several buildings on its campus in preparation for a major building program.  The videos were all over YouTube.  Here is one of them.

I’m not sure what the psychology is behind this, but I am fascinated by imploding buildings.  Feel free to comment about how twisted I am.  But even as I watched this video, I thought to myself, “There are easier ways to implode a church.”  I’ve seen it happen too many times.  So, for those who are interested in imploding your church but cannot afford the actual dynamite, here is a fairly quick and easy formula…three easy steps, and you won’t even need a fund-raising campaign to pull it off:

1.  Hold onto your pain and encourage others to do the same. This is not difficult.  In fact, it is very human.  Anytime anyone does something or fails to do something and it hurts your feelings (especially if it is a church leader…extra points for that pain), DO NOT go to them and DO NOT commit it to prayer…in fact, do not do anything at all which might actually cause you to forgive and let go of that pain.  Rather, hold onto to it with every ounce of energy you have.  Stir it regularly, just to keep it festering.  Use it however you can.  It makes a wonderful excuse for just about any kind of bad behavior in which you might care to engage.

2.  Talk to as many other people about your pain as possible. Never underestimate the value of gossip for the whole implosion process.  If you share your pain with enough people (NOT with the person who actually caused the pain, but with everyone else), it can actually go “viral”.  If you are lucky enough for that to happen, your job is probably done.  The implosion is almost sure to follow.

3.  Stay out of people’s way as they implement steps 1 and 2. It is, after all, none of your business what they do with the relationships in their lives.  Leave them alone.  Do not try to hold them accountable.  Just step back and watch the implosion that eventually happens.

Final warnings: Even if you complete all three steps, your implosion could still fail, so here are a couple of extra words of advice to help your implosion…

Leave God out of it. Do not look for Him to help you with this.  In fact, He may work against you.  Of course, if He does, you will  fail.  But if you are lucky, He will step back and allow the implosion (in order to accomplish some greater good, which of course is not your problem…you still get your implosion).

Leave scripture out of it. There is way, way too much scripture about all three of these steps that will trip you up if you pay too much attention to it.  Just keep telling yourself that it was all written 2,000 years ago and has no relevance to our culture today.  That should buy you some time.

Good luck with your implosion.  I hope it brings you all the satisfaction you are seeking…but if it does not, please do not call me.  I’m pretty much in the business of putting churches back together, not tearing them down.  I may not be much help to you.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




What’s the Opposite of Gossip?

2 06 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your comments and consideration.

15

What we do instead of Matthew 18:15

For me, “gossip” is a real hot button. It is the fuel that has grown most (probably all) of the church conflicts I have ever seen or heard about from the initial small conflict to the raging firestorm they can become. Jesus hits the topic head-on. More amazing stuff from Matthew 18…

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

This is utterly transformative teaching from Jesus. Getting our brains wrapped around this in any practical sense requires some serious prayer. But for this post, let me just make five observations which touch on some common misuses and abuses of this little passage.

  1. The Only Correct Motive for this Process is Your Love for the Brother. This is a reference back to the parable of the lost sheep which Jesus uses to lead into this process. See my previous post on this parable.  If the motive in your heart is to cause him a little bit of vengeful pain, or to push him away, or to hurry up and get through these first two steps so you can take it to the church, or because you are feeling embarrassed, or because you are feeling protective of the church, or any other feelings other than a desire to love this brother back into the fold, your heart is not right and you should stop right there until you fix it.
  2. Every Step Along the Way Involves GOING TO THE BROTHER. Do you notice that there are no steps that involve going to someone else in order to talk about the brother? There is a common word for that kind of communication (i.e., talking about someone when we should be talking to that person): the word is GOSSIP. That, unfortunately, is what we are often inclined to do instead of going to the brother. What Jesus teaches us here is actually the very opposite of gossip. Figure this out and make it your practice in life and you will go a long way toward helping preserve the unity of your church.
  3. The Process Ends When the Brother Listens to You. You may not get an apology. You may not get a confession. You may not have the privilege of seeing the brother transformed right before your eyes. Jesus doesn’t say anything about your being entitled to those things. All you are looking for is that the brother genuinely listens to the concerns. The change in his heart, it seems, is up to the Spirit to do. Has he genuinely listened to your concerns? Maybe that is a question you need help answering honestly. That is another good reason to make the circle a little bigger and take someone else along with you, so the additional person can help you know.
  4. Keep the Circle of People Involved as Small as Possible, But as Large as Necessary. Remember, your reason for expanding the circle is simply to help both of you discern, i.e., to help the brother listen and to help you know that has happened. Pray long and hard about who you should bring along. It should be someone BOTH of you are willing to listen to. Jesus says that their purpose is to establish truth for each of you. Your objective can NEVER be to find people to turn against this brother. Check your heart on that issue. If what we are doing is just “choosing up teams” to fight against each other, we are doing way more damage than good.
  5. Taking it to the Church Means You Have Failed. Your goal was to present these concerns in a way the brother would listen to them. If he has not yet listened, then you have failed. You are like the teacher whose student fails the test. Sure, the student takes some responsibility, but doesn’t the teacher also? The good ones do. You have failed to communicate your concerns in a way this brother (who has been blinded to the truth by a very effective enemy) can “get it”. You have also failed in your attempts to find someone in the church to whom the brother will listen. Taking it to the church represents a series of failures which require some degree of humility on your part. It should be the most difficult thing a church ever has to do.

What would happen in your church if everyone learned this and began to get it right?

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com





“Only YOU Can Prevent [church] Fires”

3 03 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-run for your consideration and comments.

Church fights…forest fires.  Perhaps it is Ron Susek’s book Firestorm that brings the illustration to mind (one of the really good books out there about church conflict), or maybe it is the “scorched earth” I find when I first look across the landscape of a troubled congregation.

Whatever the reminder, a raging forest fire is a great metaphor for a church fight. Once it gets to the “out of control” stage, the devastation is unimaginable and the utter helplessness catches you completely by surprise. Many of you know this from personal experience.

I am no expert on fighting forest fires, but I know this about fire: it needs oxygen to survive. Find a way to cut off the oxygen, and the fire will dissipate quickly. Water, dirt, foam, wet blankets can all serve the purpose.

Firestorms in churches also have a fuel: gossip. Without it, they cannot survive. But with enough of it, the small initial flames of conflict can grow bigger and faster than our minds can fathom. It is a universal underlying factor in every single church conflict with which I am even vaguely familiar. Gossip always makes the conflict worse, not better.

Here is how I define gossip (hide your toes, there’s a crushin’ a comin’): anytime you find yourself in a conversation about a brother or sister who is not here and he/she is not being edified in that conversation, it is gossip. I take this definition from several places in scripture, such as Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Think about all the good that would come to your own local body of believers if everyone would just start taking this counsel seriously.

Gossip is what happens when I find myself talking about someone when I should be talking to that someone. And as far as I can see, it is wrong every time it happens. As church leaders, we must demonstrate healthy patterns of communication among the church. We must help the church see gossip and run from it. Change the culture in your church to make gossip ugly and unacceptable, and you will have gone a long way toward “firestorm-proofing” your church. You see? You really CAN prevent them!

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com








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