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Church Politics: Part 2

by Dan Reiland

Church politics is alive and well but you have the opportunity to significantly reduce it, if not nearly eliminate it in your church. Whether it's a big problem or you just need to stay proactive, this two part series will help you!

Bob wanted pews in the new sanctuary, and the pastor, board, staff and building committee wanted chairs. Easy right? Wrong. Bob was a founding member, influential and rich. The pastor met with him on several occasions pleading his case in favor of chairs in the new sanctuary. If you are wondering "What about Bob" is causing all the fuss, he threatened to pull his huge commitment to the building fund if they didn't put pews in the new church. Before you say this is an easy one, the pastor should buck up and tell Bob to take a hike, you know it's never that easy. Under the intense financial pressure of a new building, the leaders needed and wanted Bob's check.

Bob had dozens of people convinced that this was a critical issue and central to the future success of the church. The church was about fifty years old and always had pews. People had come to Christ in pews, hundreds of them. God cared about pews. Pews represented unity and chairs individualism. Don't laugh, if I came to your church I'll bet I could find a sacred cow or two! Before long, Bob had made it a theological issue of passionate proportion. And it didn't matter that pews were more expensive than chairs, and sat less people.

This caused a division in the church. Soon, as is often the case, the issue wasn't the issue. The case of pews vs. chairs began to fade for church politics and who was whose friend. This sounded like, "I don't really care about pews and chairs, but I'm Bob's friend, so I guess I want pews." Bob's grandson was the youth pastor at the church. And there you have church politics in full bloom. This is not the subtle variety, but nonetheless common. Most political issues start slow, quiet and subtle, and then turn into a "crazy" story like this one. (The story slightly modified to protect the church, and the person's name is not Bob.)

The next several paragraphs comprise a summary review of the central thoughts of Part 1 of this article on Church Politics. I enthusiastically encourage you to read Part 1 in its entirety if you haven't (Read Church Politics: Part 1 on the Pneuma Foundation Guest Articles index).

Church politics has taken on its own contemporary definition, pertaining specifically to the local church. We instinctively know what we're talking about when someone says "church politics."

Politics is agenda driven. Somebody wants something. The major complication is that the issues at the core (personal and selfish desires), get communicated as if they are the cause of Christ. This is not new. Holy Wars have been fought with the same dynamics in play. This is further complicated because it's rarely malice that drives the personal agenda. It's more often good people who really believe that what they are doing (what they want) is right. The problem is that good people who are attempting to do good things lose sight of the big picture and begin to justify their part of the mission as The Mission.

So, what can you do?

If politics is a problem and clean-up is needed:

Refuse to engage with petty people and petty matters on a petty level. Good people who have lost perspective, or who are hurting can create political situations that require leadership. Left untended they can transition to situations of malice. This requires a very different approach.

Hit the big issues head on. But don't be political about politics. Jesus said: "be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16), but He never meant for you to fight people's personal agenda's to defend, or in protection of, your own personal agenda.

That's the end of a very brief summary, let's press jump back into Part 2.

If things are good, but you want to be proactive:

  • Never allow yourself to be put up for sale.

    Don't let anyone put a price tag on your leadership no matter how much pressure you are under. Every leader has at least one significant decision to make, usually early on, whether or not to receive a check and thereby sell his or her time and influence. Don't miss-read this. I'm not referring to a back-room type of unethical deal. I'm talking about a subjective situation in which anyone might have difficulty making the decision. Far too many good men and women, on a mission for God, have fallen prey to the need to finance their dream.

    In the opening story, the pastor did take "Bob's" check. Ultimately it cost him his job. Too much influence slid into the wrong people's hands and he lost leadership of the church. The story is a sad one, but it doesn't have to be for you. Just say "Thanks, but keep the check."

  • Develop a culture where character matters.

    Kevin Myers, the senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Lawrenceville, GA (a suburb of Atlanta) where I serve, has done an outstanding job keeping the church virtually free from politics. I do my best to carry on what he has established as I lead the staff.

    I believe the central thing that Kevin did over the years to make this a reality is insist on a culture of no pretense and character that is above reproach. It's not a culture of perfection. Trust me, we're a team where I think sarcasm is a spiritual gift! Seriously, we well recognize all our flaws and laugh a lot because we don't take ourselves too seriously. But because we take God seriously, character matters.

    One example is Chris Morgan our worship leader. Chris is the bomb. He's a killer guitar player, can sing like James Taylor, and will take you out on a basketball court. But here's where it gets really good. When it comes to musicians and singers Chris will never allow competence to override character. Chris always says no to that check, no matter how big it is. Further, he works with his team to keep ego in check, hearts set on God, and worship as the genuine objective. He will confront pride and coach for Godliness. All the while he and his team have a blast. If you sneak in to a rehearsal just a little early while they are warming up, you might hear them busting out with a hot rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama.".

  • Refuse to engage in or allow gossip.

    Church leaders can get caught up in gossip. I believe that leaders do need to talk about people, yes, on occasion, even when they are not in the room. But only for the purpose of developing their spiritual life or overall welfare. Never for the purpose of tearing them down or the blunt end of a hurtful joke. And more often than not, the person becomes aware of the conversation.

    The difficulty in this process is that its easy for noble purposes to descend into purposeless or even hurtful gossip. Negative things get said about people and then they get repeated. No harm was meant, but it was said. It takes so much time and effort to repair the relationship and trust still remains at risk. When trust is at risk, politics is on the other side of the door.

    Keep it real. Stay positive. Speak well of everyone. And when you must have the tough conversations about someone, make it solely for the purpose of their best interest.

  • Practice generosity.

    Let me close with a simple thought. Generosity is the opposite of politics. I know that if you consult Webster's Dictionary, you won't find them to be natural opposites. But consider that if political people in political environments are about getting something they want, then the act of generosity and giving yourself away will do much to deflate the air out of political tires. Could they take advantage of you? Yes. But do it anyway. Jesus would and I believe it will come back around for God's favor in the end.

Church politics is likely here to stay, but you have the opportunity to reduce it substantially in your church, if not nearly eliminate it. Whether you need to hit it head on or you will proactively keep politics to a minimum, my prayer for you is that God would help you in this process so you can invest your time in the things that really matter.

Be blessed and thanks for all you do!!

Dan Reiland | Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter The Pastor's Coach available at www.INJOY.com. INJOY'S The Pastor's Coach: Volume 8, Issue 11 (2007).

Prepared for the Pneuma Foundation website by KenJ