Archive for ◊ December, 2011 ◊

• Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Post by
Gretchen Switzer

Co-Author of “Finishing With Grace”

Since I first read Tom Ehrich’s blog on the “Ten Signs of  Fear-Driven Church,” his words have been rattling around in my mind and my heart.  Questions abound.  Here, I’ll be exploring some of my own questions and hope you will send yours along for Linda and me to address.

My first observation about Tom’s ideas of fear-driven churches is that when you are part of a congregation who is guided by fear, it is very hard to see, because you are in the middle of it yourself, and likely a victim of the fear all round you.   It’s kind of like looking around at your family when you’re a kid and trying to define the unique dysfunction that inhabits it. You may be able to spot some of the signs, but accurate self-diagnosis leading to effective change is virtually impossible.   Seeing your congregation as it truly is requires you to set aside your own agenda, and to take the rose-colored glasses off your face and put them down, in order to see clearly.  Discerning fear in your life together also requires you to be truly honest with yourself   and with others as well.  This is not always easy, especially in the church, because we think we cannot hurt anyone’s feelings.  However, God calls us to be truth-tellers and truth-accepters.  We have to be willing to see what is really going on and name it aloud, even at the risk of others anger, hurt or reprisal.    The use of a consultant or a transitional pastor who comes into the congregation with no set agenda and no vested interest in the outcome will often have clearer vision,  but if people are unwilling to hear the truth from each other, how much more unwilling will we be to accept the observations of somebody “new.”    Still, a perceived “outsider” may have more luck pointing out the troubles in your congregation in such a way that folks will be willing to, as Tom writes, “name it, seek help for it, engage other sin confronting fear, do something bold and audacious, and see that fear is a distortion of what is real.”

“Fear  is a distortion of what is real.”   When we really get into trouble with fear, when it becomes paralyzing, is when we believe that what we fear is a reality.  For instance, a congregation endures the trauma of a sexually abusive, inappropriate pastor who makes unwelcome advances or even has illicit relationships with members of the congregation.  Even if that individual is found out, punished, fired, and goes away, the fear that that kind of thing will happen again is so palpable that we can begin to think that any pastor who we might call to our church will do the same thing.  We are so fearful that we do not just worry that something might happen. We expect it to happen, or believe it is happening even if it is not.  So fear can distort what is real, and take on more power than what actually is true.

My overarching response to Tom’s discussion of the “Fear-Driven Church” is to ask myself, what is the opposite of fear?  If our church is not fearful, what will it look like and feel like?  Tom makes a quick reference to it when he says that “fear undermines…confidence.”  If fear makes us worry, then what is it that makes us not worry?  The answer is confidence.  Confidence is the opposite of fear.  And I would add
that we are not just talking about confidence in other human beings or confidence in the future or confidence that we are strong enough to withstand any problem.  I am talking about the ultimate confidence that erases fear.  The confidence of which I speak is confidence in God.  Confidence in God’s love for us and in the power of God’s love to overcome all evil, including fear.  If we are confident that God will handle things in God’s way and God’s time, then fear loses its power over us and we can claim the wonderful, audacious, extravagant future God has waiting ahead.

New Year’s Blessings to you.  Gretchen.

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Gretchen

• Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Post by
Gretchen Switzer

Co-Author of “Finishing With Grace”

Tom Ehrich  posted this on his blog in November — it is a good guide and reminder for all of us in  the church.  I am re-posting it here today,  and tomorrow I will write a post based on these thoughts.  Tom Ehrich’s blog is

November 4, 2011
Ten Signs of a “Fear-Driven Church”

By Tom Ehrich

Fear, as you know, can kill anything, from a marriage to a nation. Any community built on trust and mutual respect cannot long survive the corrosive and stifling impact of fear.
This is especially true in faith communities, where fragile and yet durable bonds enable people to work out their profound life issues in the company of people whom they didn’t choose as companions.
When fear stalks a faith community, people turn on each other, withdraw from the common life, become prickly about every little thing, and refuse to sacrifice anything.
Fear in a church can start in a single trauma – misconduct, embezzlement, violence, accident, failure, financial distress – and then feed on itself, until the point of origin is forgotten and all that remains is pervasive dread.

Ultimately, the cure for fear is faith. You can’t assemble facts or logic to “prove” fear out of existence. You can only choose to live boldly, without fear, and discover that God is faithful and even the worst cannot separate us from God. Easy to say, amazingly hard to do.

Church leaders are the key. Fearful leaders will produce a fearful congregation. When leaders say No to persistent efforts to make them afraid, fear’s hold loosens and confidence has room to breathe.

First step is to know that fear is winning. Leaders need to recognize these ten signs that theirs is a “fear-driven church.”

  • Refusal to change is widespread and taken as normal (when change is actually a life force).
  • Aversion to risk is considered prudent (when it’s actually a death-wish).
  • Failure is used to blame, not to learn (guaranteeing ignorance).
  • Avoiding conflict is deemed safe (when it actually ratchets up the danger).
  • Calm and polite are valued more than dynamic and passionate (the “Botox effect”).
  • Negative behavior gets rewarded in the hope it will stop (thereby assuring that it will continue).
  • Fearful people try to keep their clergy afraid, off-balance, worried about their jobs, flinching when        the phone rings, craving approval (even though that fear renders them ineffective).
  • The new and different are frozen out (as if homogeneity were a positive value and not self-defeating).
  • Leaders make bad decisions about everything, from hiring to budgeting, from recruiting to communicating (as fear undermines their confidence, their willingness to discuss, their openness to reality).
  • The community’s affect becomes glum and passive (because fear produces anger, and anger turned inward is depression).

If you see any of these signs in your church, you probably will see them all, if not now then soon. Name it, seek help for it, engage others in confronting fear, do something bold and audacious and see that fear is a distortion of what is real.

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Gretchen

• Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Wishing You All the Best This Holiday Season and Throughout the New Year

Gretchen and Linda

• Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Last week Gretchen and I did our first teleseminar.  It was somewhat disconcerting to broadcast live all across the United States for almost two hours with no pre-taping and no do-overs.  (Okay – I admit it – I don’t want to do that again anytime soon!)    But in the end – we made it through.

Based on our book, Finishing with Grace, we provided solid and useful information for churches in transition.  As in the book, Gretchen spoke to the needs of the congregation; I addressed practicalities.  Two other participants (a minister and an attorney from Texas) also spoke from their personal experiences and expertise.

The tele-seminar was organized by Church Realty and The Church Consultant Group of Plano, TX. A recording of that seminar and the slides are available (free) by going to

Now – here’s the rest of the story. Gretchen and I carefully scripted our portions of the program, but I think we would agree that the last 15 minutes (with questions from listeners from all over the United States) was especially poignant.  It’s clear that the need for books like Finishing with Grace is huge as more and more churches in the country face change.

Here are a few of the dozens of questions that are coming in from listeners:

• After a church had made the transition into a newly merged congregation, can you speak to the challenges of the first year post-merger? (i.e.: After the honeymoon is over)

• Lots of interesting facts and “nuts and bolts”, but what about emotions? How do you keep grieving, anger, frustrations, etc. from clouding your ability to making good business decisions?

• What advice would you give to a congregations that considers a merger with debt on one or both facilities?

• At some size, I would expect a farewell to members would be inappropriate. What size of congregation would you consider such a formal farewell to be appropriate?

• Are most mergers into one congregation, or just common ownership of a property? What advantages or disadvantages are there for these two options. I’m particularly thinking of theological or culture differences between the merging entities.

• How do you get help when things are not going so well. I am new pastor; how can I get resources to help?

One of the sadnesses around Finishing with Grace is the realization that so many churches are going through difficult times.  Thanks to this recent tele-seminar, more churches have become aware of resources that are available to them.

Please – if you hear of churches that are struggling, tell them about Finishing with Grace or refer them to the seminar website.  Although it’s difficult for a congregation to go through transition, help is available.

By the way, Gretchen was terrific as were the two other guest participants.  Did I mention that I don’t want to do a live seminar again?