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28 May '11

Hearing the voice behind the voice

A former leader in the church says to a current leader: "I have some deep concerns about the pastor and there are others who who do as well." "Who are the others?" queries the leader. "Well, I can't really say because that would violate confidentiality but there are quite a few." 

"What are the issues," asks the leader. "Basically we don't trust the pastor and he has not handled some things very well." "Do you have first hand information about this," asks the leader? "Well, not really but I am sure that what I have heard is true." "Have you asked the pastor about your concerns?" asks the leader. "Oh no, he is not approachable." "How do you know that?" asks the leader. "Well he has a reputation of not listening and being defensive." "Hmmm, that has never been my experience," says the leader.

Did you notice in this conversation that there is a "voice" behind the "voice" of the one complaining? He has no first hand information about this situation but he has become an inadvertent spokesperson for someone else in the congregation who has an agenda to raise issues from behind the scenes, quietly and even perhaps with spiritual language ("I am deeply concerned for the pastor" or "we need to be praying about this trust issue."). And the one speaking should be listened to because after all he has taught an adult Sunday school class for years....

It is not unusual for me to receive a call from a pastor or church leader asking for my help because there are unhappy people in the church who are raising all kinds of issues, want a public forum to voice them and have spokespeople who are regularly "sharing their concerns" with leaders, leaving leaders wondering how big an issue is this and how do they deal with it. And, it seems that no matter how many conversations they have the issues don't go away. 

As I dialogue with leaders in these situations I am listening for the "voice behind the voices." Usually there is an individual, perhaps a few who are talking behind the scenes. Their friends pick up their issues whether they are legitimate or not and soon there are a number of folks who don't "trust the pastor" even though they have no personal reason not to - and the poison starts to run through the congregation.

I will often ask if there are common themes they are hearing and of course there are. I will probe as to where they think it is coming from and they often answer that they think it is a wide congregational issue (which I don't believe). Starting to probe more deeply I often come to an individual who was a former leader or a founding member of the church (sometimes not either) who is actually the voice behind the voices. Even then, some board members, knowing the truth don't want to do anything about it because he or she is "godly" and have been around for a long time.

My last blog was on courageous leaders. Courageous leaders are innocent as doves and wise as serpents. They are not naive and they do not allow anyone in the church to bring division and the behavior above is one of the most destructive behaviors any church can experience. Often it leads to pastors resigning and churches being held hostage by someone behind the scenes who wields underhanded power because no one has the courage to confront them.

When you see this scenario happening don't be deceived and figure out who the voice behind the voices actually is. Then deal with it. If you need to bring in an outside voice to help you do that make that call. It takes just one fox (sorry but that is what they are) to cause mayhem in the hen house. Paul told the elders at Ephesus that such fox's would show up and he told them not to be deceived but to deal with it (Acts 20). I know of foxes right now who are quietly chomping their way through congregations and there is blood everywhere.