By Debra White Smith
— Question: After years of pastoring our church, our beloved pastor resigned. Months later, we embraced another pastor. He is different from the former pastor in many ways, and I think he will be a fine pastor-if our church people will give him the chance. It appears that a good number of people are still frustrated that our former pastor left, and they are not accepting this new pastor like they should. I almost feel like they are taking out their negative emotions on the new pastor. Tension is rising, and I am afraid our church may fall apart or split. I am at a loss as to what I can do to help bring about a recovery for our church family.
Answer: One of the hardest things a church can do is release a pastor that they love. Some church members may even feel betrayed and angry. Unfortunately, they can even project their anger and negative emotions onto the next pastor. It does sound like this may be happening in your church.
First, begin a small prayer group whose sole focus is praying for your church. I recommend that you host these prayer meetings in your home and/or in the home of other concerned church people. Remember to keep the meeting focused on prayer--not talking about church problems to each other. Our church meets in the homes of our members every Wednesday night. We call these our cottage prayer meetings. In the meetings, we distribute the names on our church's database to each person present. We then pray aloud for each person on our list. We also pray for God's blessing upon our church and our services. I am blessed by the amazing outcomes of this commitment to prayer that our church has seen. Your church will experience the same thing. It's been said that a family that prays together, stays together; this is also true of a church family.
Second, Ephesians 4:15 references, “speaking the truth in love.” Since you are the one in the congregation who sees what is going on, then God will most likely use you to state the truth of what you see. However, there is a time and place to speak up and a time to remain silent. Begin praying that the Lord will open an opportunity to state truth. Just the simple act of saying, “I am concerned that some among us are unfairly projecting their anger and frustration onto our new pastor,” will reveal behavior that people may not even consciously realize they are manifesting. However, it is vitally important that you wait for the Lord to open a time and place for you to speak truth. If it's His will for you to speak up, you will not have to force the issue; the opportunity will fall at your feet.
Third, commit to spreading the bond of love. For instance, a simple, weekly text or e-mail, telling folks in your church that you are praying for them can have a profound effect on people's hearts and minds. Instead of judging those who are judging your new pastor, extend God's grace through note cards and hugs and encouraging words.
Fourth, support your pastor. He and his wife will be feeling the friction and will be under tremendous stress because of it. Let your pastoral family know that you are behind them and that you are supporting them in love and prayer for God's wisdom and discernment.
Last, remember, you cannot change hearts-only God can. While you can be a ready vessel for God's use, you cannot fix the problem. That's the Lord's work. Release the resolution of the issue to His control and keep your focus on Him. This will prohibit other people's dysfunctional behavior from tainting your peace.
The author of 54 books, Debra White Smith holds an M.A. from U.T. and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” She and her husband, Daniel, co-pastor Palestine Church of the Nazarene. For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com. Got a problem? E-mail Debra at email@example.com