I was excited to see Bud engage in multiple weeks of journaling, so I will do my best to catch-up with this one posting!

From last week, there was a decision to be made. It was a decision that had been neglected for over 14 months…but first some helpful background.

The church was a plant into a very small town that is a bedroom community to Green Bay, WI. There was an interesting blend of rural and suburban family cultures and occupations. The church also reflected this blend.

As an Intentional Interim Pastor (IIP) the founding pastor that I was transitioning from had been there 12 years:

  • He was technically gifted with computers, excellent with the church’s financial accounting and a talented musician.
  • He paid a tremendous amount of attention to detail, especially with the graphics and written communications.
  • His Sunday messages were theologically precise and detailed.
  • Attendance had never grown over 85.

While I did not know him when he first planted the church, present  conversations with him were unusually awkward with long gaps of silence. This pointed to a very gracious and introverted personality – which was equaled in its reserved expression by his wife. This quiet and accepting couple was in some ways a blessing to the church and community.

However, this dynamic was formative in creating a quiet, accepting and passive church culture where everyone was welcome – no matter what. This strength (embodied by the pastor and his wife) became a weakness because of its unparalleled prevalence…unconditional acceptance was the defining quality and highest value in the church’s culture.

Recognize the lay of the land

From my last post, the unscheduled and uninvited appointment (let’s call him Dave) that barged into my office for a two hour rant on Day One was the fruit of being so broadly accepting that an unhealthy person was allowed to hold the small congregation as emotional hostages.

I met with the overseer board the next evening and heard their version of the past two years which included Dave’s:

  •  Angry outbursts in small group meetings.
  • Regularly pushing board members for a segregated teaching model (men teaching men and women teaching women) in lieu of a regular Sunday morning service.
  • Frequent shaking of his head in disapproval and audible and disagreeable “tsk’ing” during the pastor’s Sunday messages in the small sanctuary.

The overseers had only recently removed him from leadership as a first level of disciplinary action (after having endured these dynamics for the last 18 months at the board level also). However, their unconditional acceptance had prevented them from establishing a biblical pathway for the needed correction.

I quickly received the board’s encouragement and authority to establish the necessary criteria for shepherding Dave towards appropriately unifying and supportive attitudes and actions.

With his ranting still ringing in my ears, I wondered if I was being too gracious in giving Dave one more opportunity. Maybe I hoped that someone would do that for me if I had gotten so far out of line.

If he would be guided by scripture to practice the appropriate attitudes and actions, while being led by a couple of courageous men and getting counseling – I believed the Fruit of the Spirit would be manifested in his life.

Though Dave was a visible presence and an unhealthy influence, there was more to this church that needed assessing and shepherding.

It was Week 2 that I started frequenting the primary diner for breakfast. I have found that you can get helpful information about the community and the church you are serving from the local dining establishments.

It was also Week 2 that I started interviewing as many congregants that would sit down with me and share their understanding of the hopes and fears of this church. It is often in these interviews that an IIP can get insights into many of the unhealthy family systems that plague every church 

Simple questions that ask about the strengths, weaknesses, values, vision, priorities, key issues, leadership style, evangelism and fellowship/assimilation are vital to understanding where the church is in its effectiveness and health.

Continuing to preach through the book of Acts (to direct the gaze of the church outward and upward) along with interview assessments was giving temporary relief to the relational tension. People were starting to feel listened to and their hope for the empowering work of the Spirit was mutually encouraging.

Over the course of the next 3 weeks we conducted a Natural Church Development (NCD) Survey and held a Focus Group from those who took the survey. In combination with the interviews, The NCD Survey is an excellent tool for finding the primary obstacles to church health. 

Next week we will discuss the Minimum Factor (NCD jargon for the biggest obstacle to church health and vitality) and creating a pathway for restoring hope and health.