Meetings Before Meetings and Newton’s Third Law

Have you seen this? An eldership had been middle-or-the-road or conservative for many years. Then there’s a complete switch. They move to the other side of the continuum. How could that be?

Here’s something I observed in a church less than 1,000 miles from where I’m writing this post and it happened less than 100 years ago. (Which is code for, “It actually happened but I’m not going to tell you where it is and who did it.)

For several years, there was a delicate balance in the eldership between what many would describe as liberals and conservatives, with a slight advantage on the side of the conservatives. To keep things going their way, the conservatives would have a meeting before each elders’ meeting to decide what they wanted the eldership to decide during the meeting. Since the conservatives had a slight advantage in numbers over the liberals, the decisions usually went in their favor. There was resentment on the side of the liberals. They knew what was going on but didn’t discuss it. I know they knew it because I interviewed many of the men who had served as elders in that congregation.

When more elders were appointed and the balance shifted, the conservatives questioned what was wrong with these men and why the shift went in their direction. They wondered what was wrong with them. Why had they turned? I didn’t hear the conservatives asking, “What did I do to contribute to that?”.

I’ve contemplated if this is an example of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

From my perspective, there were dysfunctions in the leadership team before, during, and after the shift. To their credit, they spent several hours discussing the results of my interviews of many who had served as elders in the previous decades.

Suggestions to prevent and repair dysfunctional relationships

Establish rules for elder-elder-preacher interactions. Family rules are usually unconscious, unspoken, understood, and contradictory. There’s a better way. Spend enough time to establish rules of the relationship and review them from time to time:

  1. Think about the most effective way to relate to God and each other.
  2. Talk about what would be the most Christ-like and effective way to interact with each other.
  3. Record how you agree to treat one another. Samples of agreements: 1. Elder’s Decision Policy; 2. Elder’s Rules of Engagement. The Hilldale elders have their agreements printed, signed, and posted at every major entrance to their building and outside the elders’ meeting room. This informs the congregation of their commitment to treating each other as each would like to be treated. If a member observes an elder or preacher violating one of these agreements, they have the opportunity to remind that brother of his agreements.
  4. Be aware of and try to cut contradictions in rules that cause stress.
  5. Let the group (congregation) select new and more leaders. It’s been my observation that when elders select elders, often horse-trading becomes part of the selection process. “I don’t think your son is completely qualified. But if you’ll agree to my business partner being an elder, I won’t object to your son being an elder.” If there is a liberal-conservative tension in the church, there’ll be close monitoring of appointing new leaders to keep the system (congregation) in balance — with a slight edge in your favor. See posts on the selection of leaders: 1. Who Selects Leaders in the Church?; 2. Who Selects Leaders in the Church? #2; 3. Can You Trust the Church to Select Qualified Leaders?
  6. Study and practice how to have more conflict to have less conflict. Many church fusses are the result of disagreements that have been festering for months and years that’ve never been discussed and resolved. We often think unity is always agreeing — never bringing up an alternate possibility or way of looking at a matter. A great book that discusses this issue: The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, by Patrick M. Lecioni. #ad
  7. Involve a coach to help your group work through your issues. Invite someone to lead your team who knows and isn’t afraid to ask questions to improve the health of your leadership group. Regular check-ups and corrections are better than doing bypass surgery after decades of following unhealthy habits.
  8. Individually, reflect on “How did I contribute to this?” or “How can I keep this from happening again?”. An observation I’ve found true and helpful: If a situation is chronic, it’s because everybody likes it the way it is more than what it would take to change it. I’ll make more progress in changing the group by changing the way I contributed to the situation than by trying to change the group. Or — if the group doesn’t change, I can explore ways to keep myself from getting hurt as badly the next time. These exercises get me out of the victim group.

I welcome your observations, comments, and criticism below.

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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

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