Archive for ◊ January, 2012 ◊

• Monday, January 30th, 2012

We all know the routine when it comes to church meetings. Whether it’s a meeting to discuss next year’s Sunday School curriculum or a heart wrenching meeting to discuss the future of your church, we can often predict other’s approaches to a discussion.

For better or worse – you know that Joe (the resident curmudgeon) will “harumph” over whatever is said. You know that Sally is talking just to hear herself. Fred will threaten to leave the room if people don’t see it “his way.” Tricia will rattle on and you know, just know, she has a personal agenda. Dick will sit back and not say anything throughout the meeting and then come up with a zinger of “But, have you considered . . .” just when everyone is tired and ready to go home.

If you’ve been with your congregation for a long time – been through a lot with your fellow parishioners – you can pretty much anticipate the direction some meeting participants will take.

You think “I  gotta love ’em.”   But the truth is, we sometimes don’t really like them at all. There’s a line between participants in a congregational meeting being productive and a congregational gathering that is stuck – and annoying.

I suspect many a congregation has lost it’s battle for survival because they can’t get out of their own predictable ways – and because – sadly – they end up not liking each other very much. Making tough decisions is never easy – and if you throw in a growing lack of respect for each other, it’s just about impossible.

So what do you do?
• Look at yourself first. Are you the curmudgeon, the self server, the emotional blackmailer? Honestly – are you part of the problem? – do you contribute to your church’s inability to make decisions?

• Consider your depth of attachment to those dear, but frustrating people. Can you overlook their foibles? If you care enough to stay with the process, be patient, listen and try to be the voice of reason.

• Decide if you love your fellow church members enough to stay committed to them and the process. If you are sitting in meetings and seething the whole time, you’re pretty much wasting your time. If familiarity has truly bred contempt – perhaps it’s time to leave.

• Before you make a decision about abandoning your church because of the behavior of others, consider that they are only human. They are just like every other church member in every other church – and every other gathering of human beings.

• Get someone to help run the important meetings. In theory, your pastor should be a good facilitator. But sometimes the pastor is part of the problem. Sometimes a third party facilitator is needed to break deadlocks.

• Always remember that God is with you – and them – in this process.

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• Monday, January 16th, 2012
Time and again, Gretchen and I will be talking to someone about our book and hear, “Well, my church is doing okay, but that poor church down the street could sure use some help. . . “  Or – “The church my cousin goes to is really struggling to survive.” Since the publication of Finishing with Grace, one of our frustrations has been finding churches in transition.  We have contacted denominational leadership, we have lead workshops, we have sent releases to newspaper religion editors and we have taken out ads.

That all works, but nothing works as well as hearing you say: “Have you heard about ________ – they could really use Finishing with Grace.”

Finishing with Grace is meant to be a guidebook – a support during the many stages of going through a church transition.  Feedback on the book is always positive.  It has made a difference for churches as they deal with change.  It has also proved invaluable as churches seek specific steps and actions around selling, merging, closing, moving and so on.

We need your help.  We need to know about that church down the street – your cousins church in New Mexico – that struggling church you read about in the newspaper.

We want to get  the word out about Finishing with Grace.  We want to help churches as they deal with sadness and struggle with difficult decisions.    Please contact us at with the names of churches down the street – we’ll take it from there.

• Sunday, January 08th, 2012
As I wrote my blog entry last week about fear-driven churches, my mind kept running these phrases from 1 John 4 through my head. “There is no fear in love.” “Perfect love casts out fear.”
From the time we are small children, society and the media teach us that everything that is wrong with our world and with us will be solved by finding “the one.” The perfect love will wash away all our unhappiness and imperfection. It is a lovely idea, and most of us, I suspect, buy into it to one extent or another. The young woman waits for Prince Charming to come bounding into her life on his white charger, ready to slay every demon that threatens her. The young man dreams of a perfectly beautiful, kind woman who will play Cinderella to his Prince and make his world as perfect as he always knew it could be.
I have come to the conclusion that many churches also fall victim to the same sort of magical thinking. “Someday, our perfect pastor will come and rescue us and all will be right with the world.” “One day, some fine, rich person will come along and see our good work and give us a huge bunch of the money we so sorely need, and all will be right with the world.” “That pastor who hurt us so badly, who abused his/her power among us, will be held accountable and pay for their sins and then, we can let go of the past, and all will be right with the world.” “If we could just find the right program for raising funds or church growth…” “If everything would just fall into place by human action, we would no longer feel the need to be afraid…and all will be right with the world.”
There is a clear pattern here that I have seen play itself out repeatedly in congregations with whom I have been connected, and the pattern is this: The church becomes fearful and operates out of fear (see previous blog post), and we look for that fear/those fears to be relieved by the power of human action. As the song says, “we are looking for love in all the wrong places!” We fall into the trap of looking for that “perfect love” in the world around us when the only place that perfect love exists is in God. Amazing as it may seem, congregations again and again turn to human circumstances and human promises and human power, rather than seeking the power and promise and hope God has been offering all along. The only Prince who can save us from tending the cinders of our struggling church is Jesus, not Charming. The only one who can help us let go of the past and have hope for the future is God. The only thing that can cast out our fear is perfect, divine love, The relief for our fears is living and moving and breathing in God’s perfect love. Once we take up residence in the divine, unbreakable love of God, fear has no power over us. Only then, will all be right with the world.

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