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Acknowledge your pain: When crisis comes to the church – Part 1

Part 1 of a 5-part series. I will post one part each day this week. 

One of the grim realities of church is its leaders are human. Ordination and consecration do not change us from sinful, broken human beings. This means lead pastors and fellow staff members will sometimes make sinful choices that affect them, their families, their congregations, and others. Some will leave ministry, some will retire under a cloud of suspicion, some will go through a church trial, and others through a civil one. I pray you will never experience such a situation, but many will – not because of their action, but because of the actions of someone else on the staff.

Everything inside of you is going to tell you to run away, ignore the crisis, hope and pray it will simply go away. Churches, and entire denominations, have used this approach, attempting to avoid the embarrassment of exposure, they try to sweep it under the rug.

Despite the adage, time does not heal all wounds. Experts in these matters tell us dysfunction in some congregations can be traced back to a crisis occurring as much as 100 years before (from a conversation with one such expert). Because the people tried to run from the infraction, secrets have become the norm and the system has remained unhealthy. To keep a congregation from getting stuck in bad patterns, leaders need to take the difficult route of working through the crisis rather than avoiding it.

As a staff member, you are in a key position to help move the congregation to a place of renewed health and strength. Don’t shirk that responsibility. You are there for a reason. Allow yourself to be used as an agent of healing.

In the next several posts I will share strategies to assist you in that role.

PainAcknowledge your pain – Do not skip this step or save it for later. Start here. Acknowledge your own feelings first. Unhealthy leaders are ineffective, so the best thing you can do for a hurting congregation is prepare yourself to lead by taking care of yourself.

You are not the victim, but that does not mean that you have not been adversely affected by the actions of the other. You have been betrayed, lied to, deceived. Your trust has been broken, your ideals compromised, your assumptions challenged. You may struggle with guilt over having missed clues, that now, in hindsight, seem patently obvious. You may have a history, either with a similar failing of another leader or with a general distrust of leadership. All of this can weigh heavily upon you.

This crisis, caused by someone else, will also cause you to enter a frustrating time. Your ministry will be on hold for a season while the crisis demands large portions of your time and attention. You will be asked to keep confidence, or might not want to share what you know with anyone involved in the church, even your spouse. This can be a heavy burden. You may wonder if you are seen as guilty by association, accused of covering things up, or just sense a general distrust that was not there previously. There are hundreds of reactions you may feel. Some will seem rational, others will not.

Don’t keep your feelings to yourself. Don’t ignore them. Don’t wallow in them. Deal with them. Unload to a counselor.  Call your health insurance provider and ask what counseling is covered, then take advantage of it. Find a colleague with whom you can vent. Seek out appropriate means of addressing your wounds. Take care of yourself so that you may be an agent of healing for others.

You may not be THE victim of the infraction, but you are A victim – one of many who suffer from the collateral damage. Church crises hurt every member of the congregation, including the staff. Acknowledge your pain and address it appropriately.

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