Dan Reiland: Church Politics, Part 2

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Church politics
Church politics, especially when it comes to money, can get dicey. (Lightstock)

The pastor, board, staff and building committee wanted chairs in the new sanctuary. Bob wanted pews. 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 worship auditorium. If you are wondering “What about Bob?” caused 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 and assert that the pastor should buck up and tell Bob to take a hike, you know it’s not 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 this was a critical issue and central to the future success of the church. The church was about 50 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.

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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 seated 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 into church politics without a clear direction. It turned into more of a “Whose side are you on?” issue.

An example sounded like this: “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. This story was modified (only slightly) and the person’s name changed to protect the church and the individual.

The next several paragraphs comprise a summary review of the central thoughts in Part 1 of this article on church politics. I encourage you to read Part 1 in its entirety if you haven’t.

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 agendas are often personal and sometimes selfish, and they get communicated as if they are purely about 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 can 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:

1. 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.

2. 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” (Matt. 10:16, NIV), but He never meant for you to fight people’s personal agendas to defend or be in protection of your own personal agenda.

That concludes the brief summary. Now let’s jump back into Part 2.

If things are good but you want to be proactive:

1. 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 in their ministry, whether or not to receive a check and thereby sell his or her time and influence. Don’t misread 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 unwise decisions because of the financial pressures to fund their ministry dreams.


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