“What do you think are the chances that Pastor Greg* will be able to continue as pastor of this church?” I asked Alex, the elder chair. Alex was the most respected spiritual leader in the church and fully committed to supporting Greg. The church had split five years before and still not recovered. Many members blamed Greg and wanted him gone.
“About 50/50,” Alex told me, a sobering answer.
Over several days, our consulting team interviewed more than 40 church members, asking them all the same four questions, jotting down their answers. Their answers filled eleven pages in the report we gave the elders.
It could easily go either way—healing, or another huge blowup.
The healing that took place in the coming months was thanks in no small part to the elders. While many churches sweep conflict under the rug, these elders had the courage to go line by line discussing every issue raised: “Is this concern legitimate? If so, what needs to be done? By whom?” Over the summer the elders held 18 meetings devoted exclusively to processing these concerns. They addressed every item, no matter how painful. No stone was left unturned.
No less essential to the healing process was the pastor. Soon after our team arrived at the church, Greg made two statements that laid the groundwork for healing.
First, he said, “I’m not aware of anything I’ve done wrong, but if I can be shown where I’m at fault, I will own it.”
Second, he said, “I’m not looking to leave this church, but if the finding of this review is that the church will be best served by my leaving, I am willing to go.”
The life-giving gift this pastor gave his church was non-defensive humility.
As it turned out, several concerns people raised did relate to mistakes the pastor had made. None intentional, but still hurtful. Greg listened, learned, and owned all these mistakes, even a few the elders didn’t think he needed to own. His response embodied Proverbs 15:32: “The one who heeds correction gains understanding” (ESV).
At the next church business meeting, Greg stood before the congregation, and, in the words of one member, “with quaking voice and shaking knees” read a letter confessing his mistakes and asking forgiveness. He had made good on his promise.
From that day on, only a handful of pastoral critics remained, and their complaints fell on deaf ears. The people had seen their pastor’s heart, and they trusted it.
The church today is more united and reaching out more effectively than ever before. Thanks to courageous elders and a pastor who modeled costly humility.
Can you sincerely say:
- “If I can be shown what I’ve done wrong, I’ll own it and make it right?”
- “Though I’m not looking to quit, if I can best serve the church by stepping aside from leadership, I’m ready to go?”
* Names have been changed.