I narrowed the process of church recalibration down to four phases.
I remember the first Sunday of January 2004 like it was yesterday. I had just been elected Lead Pastor of New Life Church, the church where I was saved and had served as youth pastor. It was my first official Sunday, and our Superintendent was going to “commission” me as Lead Pastor.
It snowed the entire night before (In Seattle, snow shuts down everything.) The Superintendent called, saying he couldn’t get there. So, I was up to preach—my first time as Lead Pastor. Even better, only 30% of the normal Sunday crowd arrived! Nevertheless, I stood at the pulpit and started preaching, not realizing the winding, complex road that lay ahead.
New Life was a good church, but it had plateaued. The church was in a dangerous place, what I now describe as “deceptively healthy.” It had signs of health, but if not revitalized, it would slowly die. I knew it needed new vision and leadership, however I had no understanding of the courage this would take––or the pain it would cause.
I soon realized that the changes needed were more than a new preacher or some quick cosmetic modifications. New Life was a choir-driven church, with a strong Sunday school and midweek program. I recognized that necessary changes would be deep and cultural: music style, discipleship approaches, transition to an intentional church model, and a change of core priorities.
The first three years were really hard. I quickly learned, “It would be easier to change the Bible than the music style.” Many at New Life saw change as a threat; they watered down the gospel and lessened the church's impact.
I remember the day when the top giver left the church. Over lunch, he said, “I am leaving. I don’t agree ...
Her behind-the-scenes ministry reminds us that pastors (and their spouses) can’t be reduced to a package of roles and gifts.
The pastor of the church I attended in college had a strong personality, a firm handle on Scripture, and a clear gift for expository preaching. This, in fact, was my entire perception of him: the mark he made as he stalked the stage on Sundays, Bible in hand, and the Spirit of God booming through his voice.
I never considered him beyond those weekly sermons.
Occasionally, as one among thousands in the sanctuary, I’d twist in my seat, tracing his exit with my eyes, hoping to watch him rejoin the wife or the children he spoke about from the pulpit. I was strangely fascinated with labeling them in my mind as “the pastor’s wife” and “the pastor’s kids,” as if they were mini-celebrities. I also wanted to see them interact, as if the perfect affection I imagined between them might cap for me the truth of the pastor’s sermon.
Several years after graduating college, I married a man who became a lead pastor himself, a church-planting pastor to be exact. Slowly it dawned on me that I was a pastor’s wife, the pastor’s wife, the one waiting in my folding chair to be rejoined by the preacher who stalked the elementary-school gym floor with Bible in hand and Holy Spirit in his voice. The thought struck me that a starry-eyed college student in the congregation might do what I’d done, imagining the two of us as mini-celebrities rather than mere humans trying to juggle the weighty responsibilities of leadership along with our uncertainties, insecurities, and besetting sins.
I saw my former expectations for what they were: I’d taken a servant and tried to mold him into a savior. And I’d thrown his wife in for good measure.
There’s a difference between our perceptions ...
How churches can help victims decades after assault.
Christine Blasey Ford’s recent testimony added fuel to an already heated discussion on how we should respond to abuse allegations. Regardless of politics, pastor and author Ed Stetzer called for caution in how we speak about abuse so that we don’t harm victims within our own communities. Research confirms that victims stay silent because of a negative community culture toward abuse and often don’t receive emotional support. According to therapist Connie Baker, herself a sexual abuse survivor, our response as a church community can make tragic situations worse or they can help with the healing process.
Rachael Denhollander, the attorney who spearheaded the fight to take down Larry Nassar for sexually abusing hundreds of young female gymnasts, experienced both damaging and healing responses from her church communities. Before she came forward, she recalled the kind of church culture that had previously silenced her.
During a youth group discussion, Denhollander remembers a student asking whether they could consider King David’s misuse of power toward Bathsheba as sexual assault, and their teacher said no, opening the floor for others to give their opinions. (You can read why it is assault from a theological viewpoint here.) A friend of Denhollander’s raised his hand to share: “I think it had to have been her fault, because she could have chosen to die rather than have sex with him.”
“This immediately told me I would be better off dead than a rape victim. And if I didn’t fight to my death, it’s my fault,” Denhollander recalled.The Impact of Silencing
Research indicates that when abuse victims feel like they can’t or shouldn’t talk about their experiences, ...
Five ways to facilitate a healthy ‘goodbye’ when leaving your church.
Leaving places can be difficult. Saying goodbye, even when absolutely necessary, can be really painful—especially for pastors.
After years of one pastor’s investment in a community, quite naturally it’s hard for a congregation to imagine being led by another figure. Likewise, from the pastor’s standpoint, it’s equally as hard to imagine entrusting a church’s care to another person—no matter how qualified that person may be.
In my experience, transitioning from one pastoral role to another doesn’t happen well by accident; it requires thoughtfulness, intentionality, and proper planning. Looking back on my first formal ‘goodbye’ to a church, it’s easy to recognize the many things that I could have done better. There are ways to leave a congregation well and there are ways to leave that often do more harm than good.
Pastors: transitioning away from your church will always be challenging, but it doesn’t have to leave scars on your community. Here are some ways to facilitate a healthy ‘goodbye’:
Let your congregation grieve Many of the ‘rules’ I share here are being shared because they are things I didn’t do when I left my first church. My first mistake was to underestimate the hurt my congregation would be feeling once they caught wind of my departure. What I didn’t realize was that as a Father-like figure in the lives of many of my congregants, they felt badly hurt and betrayed by the thought that I was planning to leave them. They had this person (me) in their lives who’d been a steady, heavily invested presence for many years; I completely misunderstood the effect that my goodbye would have on them. I can vividly ...
The latest abuse investigations have rattled non-Catholics’ perceptions more than Catholics themselves, according to survey data.
American Catholics have been so unsettled by the wave of allegations of decades-old sexual abuse and cover-ups spanning dioceses in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and across the country that the most vocal critics have called for Pope Francis’ resignation.
Their evangelical neighbors, some once enraptured by the popular pope, are also disappointed. According to two recent reports, white evangelical Protestants’ views of Pope Francis and the clergy have fallen even more than Catholics’ after the latest investigations into abuse by priests.
Evangelicals’ approval of Francis dropped more than twice as much as Catholics’ this year, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday.
Just 32 percent of white evangelicals rated the pope favorably last month, down from 52 percent in January, the most dramatic decline among religious groups.
His favorability among US Catholics fell from 84 percent to 72 percent during the same period. Pew also saw declines among white mainline Protestants (67% to 48%) and the unaffiliated (58% to 53%).
Francis now has his lowest approval rating—51 percent of American adults—since he assumed the papacy in 2013.
A Gallup poll last month also found that the latest allegations have damaged views of Francis among those outside the Catholic Church more than those inside it.
Catholic approval of Francis remained relatively steady around 79 percent, according to Gallup, while his favorability among non-Catholics and Americans overall dropped by at least 10 percentage points between August and September (from 63% to 45% and 66% to 53%, respectively).
Further, Gallup reported that Protestants have come to adopt a grimmer view of the church than Catholics.
About half ...