I’ve seen hundreds of terribly damaged relationships restored over the years.
Whether the break was caused by adultery, embezzlement, broken contracts, wrongful termination or even physical or sexual abuse, I’ve seen God bring about amazing reconciliations again and again.
But there’s one relationship that I’ve seldom seen restored.
When pastors’ relationships with their leadership teams are badly damaged, in my experience they almost never regain a truly respectful, trusting and productive ministry relationship ever again.
In many of the pastor/leadership cases I’ve mediated, the parties were able to admit and forgive their failures and thereby achieve a measure of personal reconciliation. But in most cases, they agreed it would be better to “part in peace” than to continue working together and risk further conflict.
In the few situations where they tried to rebuild a working relationship, they rarely succeeded. After a few months of superficial or strained engagement, they usually admitted that it just wasn’t working out and finally parted ways for good … often on more painful terms than if they had separated earlier.
There are a variety of theories as to why this type of relationship is so difficult to repair once its been badly damaged. Perhaps it’s because we tend to put our pastors “up on a pedestal,” and once they’ve fallen down in a significant way, we find it difficult to view and respect them the way we used to.
It could also be because some pastors put themselves up on a pedestal. Once they stumble and know that we no longer view them as being “all-wise,” they may feel they no longer command sufficient respect and admiration to lead.
Sometimes it may simply be a matter of pride. Leaders tend to believe in themselves and can get puffed up by their knowledge or blinded to their deficiencies. Pride can make it difficult for them to humbly and honestly admit their sins and failures, which prevents them from thoroughly addressing the root causes of their relational breakdowns.
Whatever the cause, in my experience the pattern is sadly consistent: badly damaged relationships between pastors and their leadership teams are extremely difficult to repair.
Therefore, this is certainly one relationship where “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Here are four practical ways to prevent this kind of relational breakdown.
First, draw on the wisdom in books like Dangerous Calling and Pastors at Risk, which provide invaluable insights and practical suggestions on how to avoid many of the attitudes and behaviors that damage leadership relationships.
Second, encourage your entire church leadership team (pastors, elders, deacons, ministry leaders, etc.) to go through our new online course, Relational Wisdom 2.0 (see our new study guide for an overview of the key principles). By creating a private group, they can study together and enjoy interactive discussions online or in person.
To spur your leaders on in this training, consider offering to pay the registration fees for your entire leadership team (only $70/person). This small investment is a fraction of the cost of picking up the pieces after a forced pastoral exit (see the sobering statistics in Strike the Shepherd).
Third, schedule regular leadership retreats where you focus on building personal relationships, celebrating God’s work through your team, and candidly addressing any disappointments or tensions that are creeping into your relationships.
Fourth, if tensions do develop in your leadership team, address them quickly, graciously and honestly, before they have time to grow into major problems. If you do not see immediate and complete restoration, seek assistance from conciliators who have been cross-trained in relational wisdom, such as those available through our ministry partner, Crossroads Resolution Group.
It will be hard for busy leaders to take these kinds of proactive steps. The tyranny of urgent tends to keep us from seeing future dangers and taking steps to avoid them.
But wise leaders (and the loving people who surround them) see these kinds of dangers and move to protect themselves and their congregations from the pain and damage of fatally damaged leadership relationships (see Prov. 22:3).
– Ken Sande
- Why do you think pastors and leadership teams are rarely reconciled after experiencing serious conflict?
- Have you ever been in a church where the pastor had a serious falling out with the leadership team? How did they handle it? How did it turn out for them? How did it impact the church?
- Have you ever been in a church were the pastor and the leadership team successfully resolve some serious differences? What was the key to their success? Were they able to continue working together? How did it impact the church?
- Which of the three steps above will you encourage in your church today?
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© 2016 Ken Sande
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