Monday, September 15, 2008

Going Public with a Problem

Dear pastors & church leaders,

When facing a problem in your church, it is a mistake to avoid confronting the issue head on. And sometimes these problems need to be confronted publicly - plenty of scripture bears this out.

When something is not right in the church and church leaders don’t acknowledge it, or “own” it, many people will lose confidence in that leader. They will assume the leader doesn’t know what’s going on, or either doesn’t have the courage to address it.

Let me pause here to say – church leadership is hard work. You can’t do this line of work because of a written job description, or because of a salary. The written job description does not provide motivation, and no amount of pay is worth it. It takes a “call of God,” and a God-given love for the church to face these things head-on.

I think people would rather have a church leader “tell it like it is” with a little backbone, rather than spreading a thin Christian-glaze over an issue, pretending it’s not so bad. Truthfully acknowledging (or dealing with) a problem is always better than pretending a problem does not exist. I mean, when it is necessary to go public, do so - answer questions, share information, be open, show documentation, open the books, and be absolutely truthful, honest, and above reproach.

I have had many seasons in my ministry in which I have had to go public with a problem. One time, I had fourteen-hour days for two solid weeks (including weekends) as I met with people to answer questions to clarify an issue. I literally had more than forty meetings during that period. In addition, I made dozens of phone calls, had lengthy conversations, held public meetings, group meetings, and private meetings in my office. I even dropped in to a couple of our small groups to address the issue and answer questions. I went on the offense to deal with an offence, and I was proactive rather than reactive.

The end result? To-the-person, those who accepted my invitation to meet with me were satisfied with our handling of the matter. Our congregation appreciated my honesty, integrity, and transparency. They were thankful to be included. When they got correct information straight from the horses’ mouth, (not what they had “heard” second-hand), the matter simply resolved itself. Misinformation and rumor became obvious to them. They realized their church leaders did know what was going on and had the courage to deal with it. In short order we got healed and moved on. It just took some serious “the-buck-stops-here” attitude to take care of the matter.

In difficult seasons of church life it is so easy to do nothing and simply assume “God will work it out,” when in fact, God may be waiting for the church leaders to work it out. (Hello, that’s one of the reasons He called you pastor - to “manage the church” I Timothy 3:4-5). Some leaders are so terrified of conflict that they will do anything to avoid it. They will over-spiritualize the problem, couching it in spiritual-sounding language and sound very pious when they do. Their only goal is to pursue peace "at all costs." Fatal mistake. Meanwhile, the abscess continues to fester when it actually needs to be lanced.

Peace “at all costs” sounds like a lofty idea, but in reality is not peace at all. It is simply conflict delayed. Better to deal with it up front. A lanced wound heals much quicker than one that is not.

When scandals or problems are handled poorly, confidence is eroded. Instead, be courageous, open, honest, full of integrity, transparent, and full of wisdom. A clear conscience is a fierce thing to come into contact with - and your oppontents will quickly figure that out. Always stand for truth. Always.

Courageously dealing with a problem is one of the most refreshing characteristics that godly leaders can possess.