Wednesday, February 22, 2006

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.