The Relationship Between Confrontation and Church Growth (Cont'd)

The following is continued from pp. 86-88 in the book African-American Church Growth: 12 Principles for Prophetic Ministry by Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III.


Another experience had to do with a pastor whose great preaching brought in droves of new members each Sunday. However, once he preached them in, three of the older members ran them out. He brought them in one door and they were chased out the other. Finally, after observing this pattern for several months, he decided to confront the individuals with the facts.

It was reported by a recent joinee that one of the three had said to him, "You can join this church if you want, but don't expect to serve in any leadership position because they're all filled by our older members." This statement completely offended the man, but instead of leaving the church, he decided to take the matter to the pastor. Apparently, statements of this type had been made to other prospective joiners, and the offensive words had prompted their complete defection. More than fifty members had been lost due to the mishandling of new members.

The hour came when the pastor and his lay leader had a meeting with the three persons. Instead of denying their actions, as had the man accused of stealing, they confessed them: "Yes, we discouraged participation in the church because we don't approve of all these new people coming in. Things were fine when we were small in membership. Now we hardly know the names of all these new people, and things are just not like they used to be."

"Well, why didn't you say something to me earlier about your discomfort? Why would you take your frustration out on the new members by discouraging participation in the church?" asked the pastor.

"We didn't take out our frustration. We just don't believe in having all these folks who are not going to work come into the church!"

"What makes you think they won't work, that there's no work to do? There's plenty of work for everyone here, don't you think? We have to give new members a chance, and this means the older members must be amenable to new people coming into the church. This helps everyone. The older members can't expect to be here forever. We must make room for new people," exclaimed the pastor.

While dialogue ensued from this creative confrontation, the pastor nonetheless was faced with the removal of the three individuals from their new-members-care positions. They were absolutely convinced that new people posed a threat to the existing church, and as long as they harbored this attitude, they would continue to "justifiably" push people out.

Absolving these persons of their duties after seeking redress to the problem created a storm of controversy in the church. The pastor was labeled "unfair, not a team player, one who did not conduct himself in a Christian manner."

A committee was formed to petition the district superintendent for a pastoral replacement. The pastor was castigated and branded as the central cause for disruption in the church. Neither relenting nor recanting his position, he firmly believed that creative confrontation was necessary to save the congregation from further strife. Had the three been allowed to continue their bent, the church would have died a slow and certain death.

Realizing what was at stake, some of the newer and many long-standing members rallied to the cause. The controversy was quelled and now the church enjoys phenomenal growth. A prophetic stance had to be taken. Conviction, investment, and vision -- all were part of the pastor's rationale for taking a position. Creative confrontation of the wrongs and ills of the church, while not recommended by some, need to be implemented to save a congregation from demise.

This church, which happens to be United Methodist, avoided the fate of many United Methodist congregations, where the pastors beholden to an itinerant system are not invested in growth of the local church. In many cases of escalating conflict where members have placed a stranglehold on a church and thus killed it, the pastors have failed to confront the evil festering in their midst. As long as pastors are afraid to creatively confront these issues and conditions, the church cannot achieve its maximum growth potential.

Must of the resulting malaise and atrophy which cripples congregations has to do with the abuse of power by a few individuals. Failure to address these concerns often results in people who run their personal agendas at the expense of the church's public agenda, which is to save souls and in win persons to Christ.


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