Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Pastoral Leadership in the Midst of Controversy

Any denomination or congregation that attempts to be faithful to the call of Christ will find itself in controversy from time to time. In fact, the more faithful they are, the more frequent the controversies may be!

I had the opportunity this week to listen in on a group of pastors who are dealing the impact of with a denominational decision on the congregational level. They were candid and articulate about their concerns. As a somewhat impartial observer, I was impressed by the way that they are responding on several levels.

First, they expressed that their first priority is to pastor the entire congregation, even those who disagree with the denomination’s recent actions. They are to be pastors first with the role of proponent or denominational advocate much further down their list of priorities. They plan to continue their sacramental and pastoral commitments because that is part of their calling. They will care for and love their parishioners as long as that ministry is accepted by those persons.

Second, these pastors acknowledged that there are polity issues to consider as members of the congregation respond to the denomination’s actions. For example, some members suggest withholding funds to show their displeasure over denominational issues. They also pointed out that the controversy highlighted how little many church members understand the way that their denomination works and makes decisions, even if they have been congregants for years! These issues challenge the patience of pastoral leaders.

Third, these pastors have to be dealing with personal issues—Will my congregation be able to survive this controversy? Will I have to choose between this congregation and my personal commitments? Can I handle the stress of dealing with these divergent points of view? Will I lose my position as pastor? I was impressed, however, with a high level of personal integrity and confidence in their calling.

They pointed out that the denomination’s values upon which these decisions were based were nothing new. These ministers understood the basic commitments of the denomination when they were ordained. In fact, some expect that their churches may be even more attractive to some believers due to their denomination’s stand.

Perhaps controversy is not what these ministers signed on for, but controversy is a reality in many of our settings. The leader’s ability to deal with it constructively will be based in large part on a strong sense of calling, a healthy sense of self, a caring family, and a supportive group of colleagues like the one I observed in action.

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