Sunday, November 05, 2006

HOW DO CHURCHES HEAL?

HOW DO CHURCHES HEAL?
After-pastor churches are ones that have experienced a violation of trust by an offending clergy. The condition of the church prior to the incident is a critical determining factor. If the church was unhealthy before the incident, then it will return to an unhealthy state afterwards. But if the church was healthy before, it will likely return as a healthy church later.
A second factor, is if the church really wants to recover. Reminds me of Jesus asking the man at the pool if he wants to be healed. If the answer is yes and the people are willing to work at it, then miracles will happen.
An additional component is that the people of the church must truly love each other and be willing to keep communication open and honest. Unhealthy behavior can not be tolerated and must be extinguished as soon as possible in loving ways.
Also the role of the incoming after-pastor is crucial. Knowing that the trust has been violated in the past, one must be extra careful not to violate any newly acquired trust. This will undo years of work and spread a cloud of suspicion over anything done from that point onward.
Seeing the joy present in a healthy healed congregation is such a delight, and ministry does become productive again, meetings are free from hostilities, fellowship is enjoyed and there is a sense of wellness clearly visible as soon as anyone walks in the door.
For more info about after-pastor ministry, check out the web site:
http://afterpastor.org/ See especially the APART link

Friday, June 23, 2006

I MUST BE NUTS

Retirement felt so good. Because I live close to churches I previously served, I felt I was safe pew sitting in a Congregational church. No expectations, or demands, only preaching once in a while, and not being a member, I was not put on any committees. I figured I was home free. Wrong!
God has a way of nudging me even when I thought I was out of the line of fire. Encounters with folks from one of the churches I served kept finding me and informing me about what was going on. “Not my concern” I told myself. But something was gnawing at my soul. Retirement income is not enormous, but we get by in an okay fashion. I have lots of free time and am engaged in helping after-pastors deal with the unhealthy dynamics of their churches.
The Divine nudge kept urging me to volunteer for an appointment to this very small church. It looks a bit like the church/school house on “Little House on the Prairie.” Folks in the church have done a major renovation to the parish hall and have a full schedule of events this summer and into the fall season.
Wrestling with God brought out my best arguments. I spend 30 years dealing with wounded churches, hurt by clergy sexual misconduct. I had done my part, and this was one of those churches. Why would I want to go back there? I must be nuts, because I found myself offering to serve this little, struggling church. What was I thinking?!
Well, it is a done deal, and I begin the first Sunday in July. That Divine nudge would not go away, and now I am excited about finding out how far this church has come since I left 10 years ago. The offending pastor left 20 years ago and was removed from pastoral ministry forever.
At the interview, I told them “I know what I know; what I don’t know is what I don’t know.” I will have to listen carefully to hear where they are now. I know the human tendency is to freeze situations in time and refuse to acknowledge where people have grown and changed. This will be my growing edge and ever present challenge. It is my hope that enough healing has taken place, that we can begin and a point of new beginnings.
Don’t forget my web site at: http://afterpastor.org/

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

MISCOMMUNICATION

MISCOMMUNICATION
I know what I say, but what you heard is not what I said. This statement becomes all to common in an after-pastor church. Miscommunication is a typical symptom that something is wrong in the dynamics of the church.

I once mentioned to someone that going into the hospital where I had Cardiac by-pass surgery to visit another cardiac patient was a strange experience. In my mind I was thinking about the difference between walking the halls and being wheeled into the surgical suite. It is a unique perspective. What was heard was that I refused to visit a parishioner in the Cardiac unit because it “freaked me out.” Did I say that? The truth of the matter was that I did not know he was there until he was home. No one thought to mention his hospitalization to me. That hospital was 60 miles away so I did not just “drop in” unless I knew someone was there. What was most infuriating was the “rumor” stuck, no matter how many times I tried to explain or correct the perception.

When there has been a violation of trust in the Pastoral Office, why would anyone believe the pastor when a rumor makes more sense? Besides the rumor comes from another person who is trusted. After-pastors face situations like this frequently. The violation of trust colors the position, and stains the one holding that title, regardless of how trustworthy that person may or may not be.

Perhaps this is the most difficult aspect of after-pastor ministry. Authentic communication is essential to lead a congregation toward healing; miscommunication is counter-productive to that end. Clear and consistent messages must be stated and heard correctly.

We live in the information era, but how well do we listen?

For more information about after-pastor ministry, check out my web site at:
http://afterpastor.org/
To add comments, click below.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

PHYSICAL COSTS

PHYSICAL COSTS
Holmes and Rhea established an instrument to determine the likelihood of serious illness based on a stress level indicator. Even good stress, such as buying a new home, landing a new job etc. There are also negative stress factors, all which predict the possibility of personal illness. While there is some value to this stress indicator, other factors will vary the results. How each person handles medical situations, our general attitude, family support all alter the projected outcome.
One area not fully explored is how trying to work in a job we are educated in and trained to perform, when the job becomes more frustrating then we anticipated. Such is the world for most “after-pastors.” Seminary education, associated Field Education, and personal experience within the church, may not really prepare us for the frustration of serving a church where the members of the congregation do not trust the person holding the pastoral office. If one steps into a position of leadership when a previous pastor has violated the trust, we are met with suspicion and often are subjected to hyper vigilance by those who do not want to be caught unaware again.
I am living (almost dying) proof of the physical cost to living in these stressful churches. Medical issues abide with me and I must deal with too many medications, treatments and cautions every day. Others I know have also been plagued by illness, depression, anger issues and assorted maladies.
I found out almost too late about the central role of good self-care, while doing this demanding work. Interests outside of the church became a cornerstone element for me. If any pastor focuses entirely on life within the church, that is a formula for disaster. I needed to find a niche where I was accepted just for who I am. The expectations of clergy are high enough, but when trying to re-establish a trust relationship, which you did not violate, the ministry becomes frustrating and demeaning.
I discovered that I need to be near the water. I live by a lake, visit the ocean, like to kayak, canoe and drive the motorboat. Sometimes I sit in the boat out in the lake, fishing pole in hand, with no bait on it, just to relax and so that well meaning boaters do not come by and ask if I need assistance.
I own an old muscle car (Olds 442) and take it to car shows, talk with other “motor heads” about automotive topics. In these situations, I am just me, set free from expectations for a time. It is refreshing and renewing.
Good self-care involves doing what makes you whole, refreshed and affirmed. My self-care is not expected to work for anyone other than me. Each person needs to find what is best for themselves.
What is crucial, is that self-care balance the frustration and demands of serving wounded, “after-pastor” churches. For more information on this subject see my web site at: www.afterpastor.org. I welcome your comments below

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Multiple hits

MULTIPLE HITS
Some churches are hit by clergy misconduct or dysfunction more than once. Reeling from a series of unfortunate pastorates carries a huge cost. Anger at the denominational leaders who provide pastoral profiles either through the “call” method or the “appointive” process, is intense. They are viewed with suspicion and distrust. Questions are asked about how much the denominational leaders knew about a certain clergy person. How did this individual receive approval for serving a church? What safeguards are in place to screen out unhealthy or damaging clergy? What had been the track record of this clergy person before being called or appointed here? All these are legitimate inquires.
The difficulty here is that the victimized church can place all the blame on the denominational leaders and not look at what the church may be doing which contributes to the unhealthy environment. Unresolved anger, when allowed to fester, creates a hostile congregation which even the best equipped clergy would have a hard time leading. If communication becomes closed, sub groups lie in ambush and there is a basic lack of trust for the pastor, then things are not likely to be resolved any time soon.
This does not excuse the incoming pastor from taking responsibility for the boundaries and maintaining healthy relationships, but dysfunction does not happen in isolation. It would serve a church well to examine its internal dynamics after a series of difficult and/or brief pastorates.
I have seen churches where the misconduct was so far back in time, no one remembers the incident or who was the likely offending clergy. These are “cold case after-pastor” churches. Twenty or more years later, the unhealthy dynamics continue but no one knows why. Basic distrust of the pastor (whomever that may be) and anger at the denominational leaders seem to linger unabated.
Open, honest and forthright communications seem to be at the root of managing this situation. Listening sessions in small groups are likely to be a successful method to move beyond the stuck dynamics. It would take a strong pastoral leader to keep this on track and avoid reverting to previous patterns.
All this is new, so it remains to be seen how it will really work.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Reflections on teaching

Reflections from teaching the after-pastor course.
(Note: I taught an after-pastor intensive, 2 day, course for after-pastor ministry to clergy. For further details, request a copy of the report by going to the comments link below.)
Teaching the intensive course was interactive. That says a great deal about my preferred style as well as my learning mode. The result is that I learn as much, if not more, than the students.
What I gleaned from the course is that lay people in local churches need to be engaged in understanding the dynamics of after-pastor churches in the same way clergy need to know what to expect. This is most necessary when the misconduct was recent, but churches can benefit from a course such as this if the misconduct was many years ago, or not fully known. The key is finding the will to want to be healed (such as in the case of the crippled man by the pool in John 5). If the local church knows that they are chewing up pastor after pastor and the turn around of clergy is frequent, then they must realize at some point, the church is unhealthy. It is only when the leadership of the church wants to get better, heal and find wholeness that any significant change can occur.
Another insight I received was that some clergy have served a succession of wounded churches. When denominational leaders review their “track record” it appears they are ineffective. This may not be the case! These are frustrating churches to serve and are usually not very fruitful in their ministry. Too many really good pastors are gone from the ministry, and in some cases from the church. This is tragic. A competent pastor serving a wounded church may not do very well attempting to build up the membership roles. Who wants to remain in an unhealthy church?
Often I feel like a voice, crying in the wilderness and I wonder if any one hears what I am saying. Wounded churches are involved in a self-defeating downward spiral; damaging the Gospel they represent and destroying capable, caring pastors who are offering themselves for the sake of this same Gospel. Healing needs to come to these churches and people before the kingdom can be advanced.

Reflections on teaching

Reflections from teaching the after-pastor course.
(Note: I taught an after-pastor intensive, 2 day, course for after-pastor ministry to clergy. For further details, request a copy of the report by going to the comments link below.)
Teaching the intensive course was interactive. That says a great deal about my preferred style as well as my learning mode. The result is that I learn as much, if not more, than the students.
What I gleaned from the course is that lay people in local churches need to be engaged in understanding the dynamics of after-pastor churches in the same way clergy need to know what to expect. This is most necessary when the misconduct was recent, but churches can benefit from a course such as this if the misconduct was many years ago, or not fully known. The key is finding the will to want to be healed (such as in the case of the crippled man by the pool in John 5). If the local church knows that they are chewing up pastor after pastor and the turn around of clergy is frequent, then they must realize at some point, the church is unhealthy. It is only when the leadership of the church wants to get better, heal and find wholeness that any significant change can occur.
Another insight I received was that some clergy have served a succession of wounded churches. When denominational leaders review their “track record” it appears they are ineffective. This may not be the case! These are frustrating churches to serve and are usually not very fruitful in their ministry. Too many really good pastors are gone from the ministry, and in some cases from the church. This is tragic. A competent pastor serving a wounded church may not do very well attempting to build up the membership roles. Who wants to remain in an unhealthy church?
Often I feel like a voice, crying in the wilderness and I wonder if any one hears what I am saying. Wounded churches are involved in a self-defeating downward spiral; damaging the Gospel they represent and destroying capable, caring pastors who are offering themselves for the sake of this same Gospel. Healing needs to come to these churches and people before the kingdom can be advanced.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Throwing sheeps to the wolves

THROWING SHEEP TO THE WOLVES
Pastors appointed or called to wounded churches are often chewed up, spit out and blamed for not “fixing” their church or solving their problems. As I addressed below, the unintentional after-pastor serving a church, unhealthy because of prior clergy misconduct, is a recipe for disaster. Unless the Church (in its broadest definition) trains, equips and prepares pastors for this work, the shortage of incoming clergy will continue.
I can call to mind about a dozen former pastors who have left parish ministry and, in some cases, left the church altogether. These very talented, caring folks have been damaged beyond repair and the church has not seen the carnage it has done. Granted that some clergy have severely wounded the churches they were called to serve, but at some point healing needs to happen.
The after-pastor intensive course I taught this week is but a beginning to understanding the dynamics of wounded churches, and preparing clergy to fill these roles. The goal of the after-pastor is “To work toward restoring the integrity of the pastoral office.” This is intentionally stated to remove the burden of thinking we need to accomplish this during our term in the office of pastor.
Support for the after-pastor is essential if the person filling this role is to survive (and even thrive). Clergy self-care is also an important component. I asked the class to share what activities and interests bring them delight. I was looking to see if these folks had fulfilling ventures outside of the church. They all did. This is really good and helps maintain a sense of self and links to other “communities” outside the church.
In the post below the line should read “Oh, by the way.” Speling is not my native language, nor is typing!