The dictionary defines friendly fire as a term used to describe the discharge of a military weapon that injures or kills a member of one’s own forces. From time to time, we see the sad reports on the news and feel sorrow for both the victim and the soldier who pulled the misguided trigger.
In churches, the term friendly fire may initially seem out of place but it’s no less applicable when one witnesses the pain and suffering caused when church or staff members turn on each other. Our weapons of choice are gossip, lies and half-truths. Often the words are spoken by well-meaning individuals or at least by those attempting to give the appearance of being well-meaning.
The reason that friendly fire is particularly devastating is because of its source. Christ followers expect attacks from the outside. But these shots are fired from within. They come from the one we sit beside, sing next to or even from the pulpit itself. The closer the relationship, the greater the pain inflicted.
For the duration of this article, rather than bemoan the sad state of affairs in the church, let’s get on the solution side and do something about it. Following are some actual scenarios that have taken place. Let’s look at what happened and what could have been done to keep these churches from turning into a battlefield.
Scenario #1: Times They Are a-Changing
Pastor Joe prepared to lead the church through a change in service times. He followed all the appropriate channels for approval and communication by speaking with the staff, deacons and other key leaders. While there was some disagreement, the deacons and church voted to support the change in service times.
In this particular church, a few individuals did not support the time change. In fact, they had not supported anything that the pastor had championed over the last several years. Seemingly determined to undermine his leadership, these individuals began complaining to other leaders in the church and they began verbally attacking the pastor.
The individuals were never confronted about their bad behavior and they left the church angry and upset. The pastor and his wife were wounded and the entire church felt the sting from the disagreement.
The Shots That Were Fired:
- The group opposed to change got involved in triangulation. Rather than speaking directly to the pastor, they chose to speak about him to others.
- The lay leaders never stood up to this very small but vocal group. No one called them on their wrong actions. Instead of risking further offense, the leaders stood by and permitted “friendly fire” on their pastor.
The Life Saving Alternative:
- The individuals opposed to the change should have met directly with the pastor and shared their objections. If, after hearing the concerns, the pastor had maintained that the change was the right direction for the church, then the individuals would have had a choice. They could remain and support the pastor and their church, or they could leave.
- As for the leaders who did hear the complaints, their failure came in not insisting that the matter be discussed directly with the pastor. Any refusal to do so on the part of the individuals should have been met with a discussion about not causing dissention within the church. Deacons, elders and other church leaders must learn to deal with people who are stirring up discord in the church.
Scenario #2: “Helping” a Fellow Staff Member
As a young parent, the worship ministry coordinator of a church is unhappy with several aspects of the preschool ministry including they way children are checked into their rooms, the types of snacks provided and the teaching curriculum used. However, rather than speaking with the preschool associate responsible for these areas, he complains to her supervisor instead. His complaints are all couched with, “I want to help” but the true goal is to undermine. Sadly, the worship coordinator doesn’t stop there. He chooses to speak with other staff members plus a few preschool parents just for good measure.
The Shots That Were Fired:
- The staff member didn’t go directly to preschool associate. He went over her head to complain about her.
- Then he compounded the problem by gossiping to other staff and by stirring up discontent among other parents.
The Life Saving Alternative:
- The staff member should have gone directly to the preschool associate with humility and gentleness, and conveyed his concerns in a way that was helpful and not hurtful. If the preschool associate did not receive the help and advice, the concerned staff member, preschool associate and supervisor should have sat down and met together.
- At no time should the staff member have spoken with others on staff or other parents.
Scenario #3: End Run Around the Youth Minister
Pastor Dave served as the executive pastor at a church. One day he received a phone call from a student’s mother who was concerned about the direction of the youth ministry. She began to complain about the youth pastor until he stopped the conversation and asked if she had talked to the youth pastor directly about her concerns. When she said she had not, Pastor Dave told her she needed to express her thoughts to the youth pastor first. The mother became very angry that Pastor Dave wouldn’t hear her out. Since she was also a school teacher, he gave the example of an upset parent going to the principal complaining about her instead of coming to her first about a problem. Pastor Dave thought that his example would help her understand. He was wrong.
A few days later, he was summoned to the senior pastor’s office. The senior pastor told Pastor Dave that he’d had a conversation with this woman and had listened to all her concerns. He had also asked if she knew of others who were upset and offered to have a meeting with them as well. Now, the senior pastor was a good man and his intentions were probably good but he had thrown the youth pastor under the bus! The youth pastor was devastated and eventually was replaced.
The Shots That Were Fired:
- The student’s mom tried to go above the student pastor’s head rather than speaking with him
- When unsuccessful with the executive pastor, she convinced the senior pastor to listen.
- The senior pastor then fired some shots of his own by soliciting other parents who were unhappy with the student ministry.
The Life Saving Alternative:
- The senior pastor should have followed the same procedure as in the earlier meeting with the student’s mother. When staff members are a team and church members know they cannot go from one to the other to get their way, they are stopped in their tracks.
Note that there is a common thread through most friendly fire scenarios. The party who believes there is a problem does not address it directly with the person who is responsible. This type of triangulation must be stopped. These following reminders can get your church on the right track.
For the Senior Pastor:
- A staff member is very vulnerable
- Staff members want to know you have their back
- Quit trying to make everyone happy
For the Lay Leadership:
- Make sure you have your pastor’s back
- Do not allow disunity to fester in your church
- Be willing to have the difficult conversation with church members
For the Church Member:
- It is not your job to correct the pastor
- Pray, support and encourage your pastor
- If you have a serious concern, go directly to him with gentleness and humility
- If you cannot support the pastor, you might want to seriously consider joining another church
For the Staff Member:
- Be a team player
- NEVER undermine another staff member
- Consider that you may not be as smart as you think you are
Friendly fire serves as a major reason why most churches are not reaching their God anointed potential. A church cannot move forward when its staff and leaders have to worry about being shot in the back. It is past time to stop friendly fire in the church. Begin to address it today.
We can take our cues from our very own Bible. Matthew 18:15 states, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
Thanks for visiting me online. Helping you realize your dreams and accomplish your goals is absolutely important to me. I have helped thousands of people discover how they can live a life of no regrets and realize their greatest dreams. In fact, that is my mission in life. It would be my honor to serve your organization through my keynote “If Only…” or one of my workshops. I hope you find this website both uplifting and insightful, and I look forward to meeting you soon.
Have you noticed life is full of problems? One of the ways God teaches us to depend on Him is to experience problems and learn from them.
5 Ways to Learn from Problems:
1. Embrace problems as opportunities to improve. I often tell my grown children that pain is a great teacher. Normally our first reaction to a problem is to become negative. Stop right there! Embrace adversity as an opportunity to get better. See setbacks as stepping stones.
2. Keep perspective. Many years ago my Cindy received a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy. The doctor went on to explain that she would need a heart transplant or she would die. Thankfully she was misdiagnosed. However, those few weeks of thinking she could die changed my perspective. All the problems I had up until that moment seemed no longer important. God reminds me of that situation to keep perspective on problems. A couple of questions to ask:
- How could this have been worse?
- Will this still be a problem a year from now?
3. Remain proactive. Remember every problem has a solution or it is a fact. Do not give up. Search out solutions and pray God gives you wisdom.
4. Use self-management when times are bad. When faced with great problems, most people quit doing the things that help them get through it.
- They quit having time with God
- Stop exercising
- Stop eating healthy
Remember, proper self-management is even more critical in times of crisis.
5. Resolve to win. Yes sometimes you need to “man up.” I am not saying do it in your own strength, because we always need God’s strength. I am saying in the darkest of times we need to exercise our faith and trust!
These five ways to learn from problems have helped me through the years and I pray God will use them in your life.
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