September 4, 2012

Does Clergy Moral Failing Point to a Sick Church?

Recently in our conference, a pastor took a grave misstep that resulted in a dramatic moral failure. While this is tragic for the clergy person and the parsonage family, it is also difficult for that local church. What makes the situation worse is that this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened to that church. In fact, the last three pastors have had a difficult time. This is not to say that all three pastors had moral failings, but 2 of the 3 did, and the third was basically asked to leave because of conflict.

Putting aside the role of pastoral leadership for a moment, let's look at the church itself. What do three short-term disastrous pastorates in a row say about that church? Could the church itself play a role in its tragedy? While no one wants to "blame the victim," the question really is, "Is the church an innocent victim or is the church somehow complicit in its leaders' failures?"

No one wants to say that any group of church people are sabotaging ministry, but clearly something is not right at the church. This church is not fostering health in its leadership. It is a known fact that church people as individuals project their fear, anger, and disappointment with God onto the pastor. What has not been studied as much is how the church as a whole or as a system)projects its corporate fear, anger, and disappointment on the pastor and the pastor's family. (Do not be surprised that the role of pastor extends beyond the pastor to the family.)What exactly is going on that this particular church is for the next pastor and DS to figure out.

So what can the pastor and the pastor's family do? First, diagnose the illness the church may be suffering. This involves learning the story of the church from key leaders (both acknowledged and unacknowledged leaders). Then talk to colleagues who have served there. If the church is not healthy, there are resources. See: And here is a great book that can help, How to Lead in Church Conflict by K. Brynolf Lyon and Dan P. Moseley

We all have weaknesses, but as clergy and clergy spouses, we cannot inflict our own toxicity onto the church. We also bear responsibility for keeping ourselves healthy. Do the basic physical, emotional, relational, spiritual care. It is not rocket science. But if you find yourself getting sicker and not healthier, your unhealthy church may be part of the problem. Ignore it at your peril.

Grace, Kathy


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