Thursday, February 02, 2006

The spirit of Churches

I've been thinking about a colleague who serves a disturbed church. That's right, disturbed. She's been pastor there for several years, much longer than most of the preachers before her. When she prepared the congregations's history for a recent anniversary, she realized that's she'd outlasted most of her predecessors. Her tenure will be less than ten years.

She's planning to leave as soon as her conference allows.

The congregation is demanding, difficult-t0-impossible to satisfy, passive aggressive, verbally abusive and secretive. Not everyone, of course. She's attracted numerous new members who stay until the rot begins to show, then leave. Her ministry wears her down. I've seen her when she had no eye sparkle left.

I think congregations have "spirits". Some congregations are loving, welcoming and gracious. Others are hard-hearted, stingy and perilous to serve. Some are rigid with their lives and others, careless.

I'm fortunate to serve a gracious congregation. I've served a stinker or two in my years as a pastor.

A great deal more can be said about this topic. Can you add to these remarks?

Slowly but Surely,
St. Casserole


Songbird said...

Churches are like families. It's hard to break the chain of behavior unless there are people who really want to do it. It's like upsetting a family system. I've known almost since I got to Small Church that the most recent long-term (20+ years) pastor was forced to leave, but only three years later have I learned (from a 96-year-old member) that the last long-term pastor before him had the same experience. Now that I know this is not a one-time occurence, it will help me break the chain (mostly by not staying 20+ years!), or rather it gives me a chance to help them break the chain by mutally and graciously identifying reality when it is time for us to part company. I'm still trying to understand the motivations involved in the history of the church, but most of what happened seems to revolve around low self-esteem and lack of confidence that allows a few bullies who feel the same way out in the "real world" to run things at church. God forbid the pastor should get on the wrong side of the bullies! Mine attacked too early and found they did not have support, so that's step one of creating a new system. But to do it we have had to identify a lot of unhappy things that went on before, not only the bullying but also the passive complicity of many people who remain in the church.
Large Church, where I was an active laywoman for 15 years, had its own dirty history of power-grabbing and abuses of power, but scaled differently due to the size of the church and the more professional class members. Their devious acts were dreamed big. And, wow, were they nasty. The history of bad faith between the clergy and the laity in that church went back generations, and in that case both sides had contributed along the way. One minister would do something untoward, and the next one would be punished for it. And so forth.
So, yes, I do agree that a church can have its own unique spirit. I know some that are simply beautiful. But most, like most of us, are not so lovely. And the collective unloveliness can become dispiritingly ugly.

St. Casserole said...

Thanks, Songbird. Insightful and written beautifully...

Anonymous said...

Lurking Mr. C here,

Here are some random comments:

1) A church friend, commenting on rascally behavior in churches, said," Think how bad they would be if they weren't attending church."

2)The elder (governing group) at a church who wanted to get off the church session stating, " This is interfering with my spirituality."

3)And finally, Pogo, who noted that whenever we seek the enemy, we find that it is us. This is why charity begins at home--- all around us are people who are needy...those who need to provide help and succor to others and not themselves, need to find meaning outside their own wants, need to want for others all those things they want for themselves, need to be crazy about life and not about--forgive me-- la vida loca.

Mr. C

Lorna said...

Thanks for writing this St C. And songbird. Your insights have helped me a lot -and I believe that the answer is in more prayer and not soulish prayer either. Prayer by the pastor for her congregation and prayer by them for her/him.

When neither is happening we open ourslves up to the opposite force to love and unity.

Taking a deep breath and preparing to step into the fray again.