Mike Cope's blog

Friday, March 18, 2005

Two stories of leadership from the best eldership I can imagine. The first story was several years ago. Highland was looking at the possibility of moving to a new facility. One wealthy member, who reportedly had decided we should move out of this neighborhood, offered to pay a substantial part of the building project if we moved. But the elders decided that we are right where God wants us to be (yes, right in the middle of an area that is NOT growing, where there are no new restaurants, where businesses aren't dying to move in, where office space isn't at a premium). They knew that numerical growth would be easier in another, newer part of town. But they also knew that the church isn't primarily about numerical growth (as experienced by most churches in America, where "growth" means moving to a new part of town, having the hottest worship, or offering the most services). Eventually that wealthy member left. The second story is from 10 years ago. A few months after Megan died, I asked people on a Wednesday night to listen to a song from Wayne Watson called "Home Free" that had ministered to us during the early stages of our grief. I was speaking on God's healing, and I love the line "at the ultimate healing we will be home free." A couple days later all the elders got a note that I hadn't seen or been told about. A VERY powerful member of our church (and a very good person) wrote them and insisted that I be fired. The implication was that he and his wife would leave if that didn't happen. The elders met, prayed, and assured me that they were fully behind me. And again, eventually, this wonderful couple left. These were people this church loved -- and still loves. (In a place like Abilene you have to understand that there is constant flow from congregation-to-congregation. If you held grudges against people who left, over a period of time you'd be mad at most people in town.) I tell these stories not because I'm mad at these people. I'm not. But here's the point: sometimes leadership means having to let people leave. It doesn't mean you're calloused; it doesn't mean you don't listen; it doesn't mean you run over people and their feelings. But on the other hand, isn't it time to quit letting disgruntled, uncomfortable people chart the course? Aren't there times when you have to receive criticism, try to negotiate the conflict, love, pray -- and even then let someone go? Even when it's painful? Even when it shows up on the weekly contribution? Even when people question your motives?


  • I'll bet one of those members of whom you speak is the same guy who said he would give to that campaign on the condition that he be allowed to choose a particular sermon topic. Maybe?

    By Blogger Val, at 3/18/2005 04:38:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Even in my very young ministry at this church, our elders have already had to deal with this sort of thing on two occassions. One ended in a disfellowshiping, and the other in a man being very angry at the whole church and freaking out and leaving.

    Our elders are as fine a group of men as I've ever met. It sounds like you've got a similar group. That's awesome.

    By Blogger Brian Burkett, at 3/18/2005 05:04:00 AM  

  • By the way, I, too, am frustrated about Blogger lately. I know the last couple days it's been almost impossible to leave comments. I also couldn't get anything posted. Hopefully it's fixed today.

    By Blogger Mike, at 3/18/2005 05:26:00 AM  

  • The strange angle to this that strikes me is that I am usually oblivious to all the goings-on. I rarely hear any gossip-which is wonderful, and maybe that's because I also don't circulate in the wealthy and powerful circles. I see people come, I see people go, and I occasionally ask, has anyone seen ____ lately? But usually just hear that they're at some other congregation....

    By Blogger Sarah_RN, at 3/18/2005 05:51:00 AM  

  • I appreciate your words today. My husband and I were very much affected by this sort of thing when he was in campus ministry. Unfortunately untruths were believed and there was no "backing up" going on at all. It hurt us then and still does to this day. Because of our bad experience, it has affected our involvement and willingness to commit in our current church family.

    Also, as a daughter of an elder, I will share this with him hoping that your insight will help him with situations that might arise with his flock.

    By Blogger Mommy of Boys, at 3/18/2005 06:33:00 AM  

  • In my family, all important thoughts and ideas can be supported by a line or a scene from a movie.

    So... this blog reminds me (and my daddy) of the last scene from DEAD POET'S SOCIETY. Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) has been fired from teaching. He is forced to clean out his desk as his students watch. Just as he leaves the classroom, many of his students salute him by standing on their desks and saying, "O Captain, my Captain!"

    Have you ever noticed that NOT EVERY BOY stands up on his desk? There are many who remain seated. Even though Mr. Keating was a great teacher, he didn't reach everyone. They didn't have the same ideas and thoughts. And in the end, Mr. Keating leaves and ultimately lets those students go.

    And, didn't Jesus do this in Mark 10? When the rich young man was told that he had to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, he "was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions." And Jesus let him go. Jesus could have run to him and said, "Oh... it's okay. You don't have to do all that. I'll let you get away with loving something more than me." But he didn't... he let the young man go.

    Mike, thanks for these stories. I'm sharing them with some of the people I know who are leaders. A good lesson for us all.


    By Blogger Mandy, at 3/18/2005 06:58:00 AM  

  • Blackmail is the ugliest of manipulations
    Power the headiest of wines

    In a church, these should never come into play if we are obedient to God's will and place ourselves under the guidance of our Eldership.

    When we find we cannot do so, then maybe it's time to move on, but without acrimony or gossiping about the church we leave behind.

    Jesus gave us the 'procedure' to follow when we are of the opinion that one of our fellow believers has sinned against us. If we follow His commandments, we are, imho, able to avoid falling into the power-trip blackmail syndrome.

    I am always astounded at the public ripping up and down of a fellow believer that is out on the world wide web [that's WORLD WIDE!]. How can anyone, in good faith in Jesus, make such public statements about a fellow believer? What happened with going to him/her in private, etc? But is that any less hurtful or destructive than the behind-the-back whispering and gossiping?

    We can continue to pray, pray, pray for what can be considered, imho, as the weaker brother. And we can continue to pray, pray, pray that God protect those in leadership in His Church, world-wide.

    By Blogger Kathy, at 3/18/2005 06:58:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    You said: "isn't it time to quit letting disgruntled, uncomfortable people chart the course?"

    To which I say: "AMEN! Yes! Preach it Brother!"


    By Blogger Jeff Slater, at 3/18/2005 07:53:00 AM  

  • Mike, I was just thinking about this very topic yesterday. My question is, who are we serving when we make such decisions? Are we making decisions that serve the Kingdom of God and His purposes, or do we serve the purposes of man? And what about the legacy we're leaving for the next generation? Are our decisions making their spiritual lives more healthy or more sick?

    We've still got plenty of room for spiritual growth. I don't want my leaders to maintain. I want my leaders to lead.

    By Blogger RPorche, at 3/18/2005 08:25:00 AM  

  • Mike, great post, brother.

    It addresses the issue of division from the perspective of a group of leaders who have to make a judgment call.

    There is another side of it that I've been meditating on due to personal circumstances.

    I come from a pretty factious COC upbringing. People felt like they needed to divide over every little opinion. As I slowly came to realize God's grace and liberty in Christ, I have tried to put into practice the idea of staying to love, not leaving or staying to fight. It's had a profound effect on my church family whom I dearly love, and our love for each other has only multiplied as we've all grown together in Christian grace and liberty from legalism.

    God bless!

    By Blogger Kevin Harper, at 3/18/2005 09:19:00 AM  

  • I've often wondered why people think they have the right to divorce one church family and move to another...for any reason... I look at the Corinthian church and I see a church severely divided. From what I read, the church had ceased to function as one - they had dinstinct groups following different people, maybe based on race or beliefs - they had multiple people preaching sermons simultaneously - competing for member's attention. There were deep spiritual and moral problems. However, what I do NOT see is Paul giving anybody the right to go start their own church...or move to the congregation down the road. What I do see is Paul writing 1st Corinthians 13 and describing to them the real-life application of Christian love...

    By Blogger The Daniel, at 3/18/2005 09:50:00 AM  

  • When we lived in Amarillo, I was a member of the original praise team at Central Church, about 12 or 13 years ago. This was cutting edge stuff at that time, and some were uncomfortable with change, though nothing hateful or divisive had come to my attention. As we were negotiating our way through that, an issue came up (I can't remember what, but it was pretty innocuous),
    and I, trying to EASE people into it, made the comment that we should be careful about offending folks. My younger, but apparently wiser, brother Britt Pounds said "Don, some folks need to be offended." That statement has stuck with me through this last decade, and has made me a little less fearful of what people think. I appreciate that about Britt, and I always appreciated the eldership there, as well. They tried to lovingly do what they thought was right, but if people felt they needed to leave, they were free to do that, and the elders wished them well. I got to worship with Central last week for the first time in seven years, and it's a great family.

    By Blogger don, at 3/18/2005 10:41:00 AM  

  • Just one observation, if your congregation does NOT have any who are uncomfortable or disgruntled, you might want to see if the group is alive. At the congregation I presently attend, we have some who are uncomfortable and disgruntled, and it's because our Shepherds are leading instead of circling the wagons. The last thing anybody would label us is "dead". What a blessing!

    By Blogger David U, at 3/18/2005 11:47:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    This is probably the most helpful message I have read in a LOOOONG time. I just finished a bit of wound-licking on my own blog yesterday.

    Your timing and your toughts were especially encouraging.

    And you're right, the elders at Highland are remarkable.

    In His Service

    By Blogger Scott, at 3/18/2005 12:33:00 PM  

  • AMEN!!

    By Blogger AMankin, at 3/18/2005 12:57:00 PM  

  • Thanks for your words, Mike. I've struggled with this problem a few times in my own ministry and I think your thoughts are right on target.

    I've always said that, when it comes to people leaving over things like this, the people who leave won't stop being Christians, they'll just find another church. However, if we are willing to move in the direction we feel God is leading us we may gain new souls. That makes it worth it.

    By Blogger Jared Cramer, at 3/18/2005 02:31:00 PM  

  • some thoughts from Christian singer/songwriter derek webb:

    i repent, i repent of trading truth for false unity
    i repent, i repent of confusing peace and idolatry
    by caring more of what they think than what i know of what we need
    by domesticating you until you look just like me
    i am wrong and of these things i repent

    By Blogger chrismith, at 3/18/2005 02:44:00 PM  

  • You've no idea how appropriate this was to us today. Thanks.

    By Blogger James, at 3/18/2005 03:18:00 PM  

  • Your post today brings back memories. I had the same thing happen to me a decade ago (in a much smaller church) with a member who met with the elders and said he would leave if I didn't. He even called me and asked me to resign. He stayed and was instrumental in choosing the next minister (a good friend of his).

    I believe that was a very defining moment for that church. It was also a defining moment in my life. In our fellowship, support from the elders is critical to the life of a minister and his family. A minister could have the majority behind him, and not the support of elders and it's moving time or do something else. It is too bad that their are not more Highlands among us.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 3/18/2005 03:50:00 PM  

  • Once upon a time I was a youth minister wanting to try something new, and like any good youth minister, I decided that running it past the elders was the right thing to do. I wanted their support, not their forgiveness.

    When I got about half way through my idea, one elder actually took out the church membership list and began naming the people who they would have to answer to for this. I was steamed.

    A conversation followed. There was no Biblical objection among the leadership, but there was a political problem.

    Another elder said that it was not a good idea or necessary to offend these people. This is the point where my respect for my elders lost its grip.

    "What about the people we offend by not doing this? You sit here week after week and bank on their silence for you to feel a sense of peace in this church!"

    I wish I could take back every single way I chose to make that point (but not the point itself).

    Here is where I saw the wisdom of the leders. The elderest of the elders leaned back in his chair, put his ahnds behind his hand, getting as relaxed as I was worked up, smiled and said, "You know, you might have something to teach us."

    The conversation softened quite after he said that.

    My idea did not make any progress in the way I had hoped, but it made some progress in some other areas.

    Oh for leaders who have the courage to follow Jesus.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 3/18/2005 08:58:00 PM  

  • Mike,

    Great blog! I have heard of this and seen it happen several times. I think it's time churches listened to God and did the right thing, instead of listening to people they feel are "important" to the Church. Sometimes what people want and what God wants are two different things and we have to choose which is more important. I've seen churches do things to please certain people who have the most money or who give the most money to church. It's not always about money. If you do the right thing, even if it means loosing support or loosing funds, it's amazing how the funds will start coming in from somewhere else instead. God always provides.

    By Blogger Sarah W., at 3/19/2005 12:14:00 PM  

  • 11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

    "But on the other hand, isn't it time to quit letting disgruntled, uncomfortable people chart the course? Aren't there times when you have to receive criticism, try to negotiate the conflict, love, pray -- and even then let someone go?" (God never lets go of those people, nor should the church. Yes, there are times when things seem harsh and unbearable, and you wonder how Christian people act certain ways, but God still loves them, and so should we).

    The church is made of people, people who are happy, depressed, demanding, submitting, involved, servants, loving, lonely, etc. It is not us that should be content to alienate those who don't fit the mold of the main stream happy family. Nor, do we have to listen to what negative/vocal members might dictate. But we should remember Jesus was not welcomed and condemned by the leaders of the church. However, God had his own will, and his will occured through Jesus. Whether we are the brother who never did bad and cannot understand the acceptance of our brother who dwelled in sin by our father, God understands. We are not here to cast stones. We are here to keep the church together and strengthen it. For God will be throwing a party for those he welcomes home and questioning those that let them go. For if God can transform Paul and others into believers in him, God can work through those we have doubts in, we must have faith in him instead of ourselves.

    By Blogger Angela, at 3/19/2005 05:23:00 PM  

  • Thanks for sharing this Mike. You've given me some things to think about. There are many elders that I love, but when I hear the world "elder" my heart hurts. Since we got into youth ministry full time, we have struggled with the two elderships we've worked with. Our biggest hurts were due to the lack of relationships. We were treated as staff, which we were, and not brother/sister in Christ. It seemed to us the only time we heard about what was going well or going wrong was in a meeting. We were seldom asked how we were doing spiritually, and we were not invited into most of their homes. We did have most of them in ours. I still have wounds that are healing.

    I'm so glad to hear that there are churches out there with healthy elderships, and maybe the two experiences we've had are not the norm. We learned alot from those churches, but our hearts were not cared for by their elders.

    I've posted this before, but why is it we train young men to be preachers and youth ministers, but we don't train them to be elders? Is there training I don't know about? Maybe these things are learned by example. If so, what about those men who don't have that example to follow? Maybe I don't clearly understand what being an elder is all about. I grew up in a small church and we didn't have any. Should we never question their motives? What if they aren't leaders? What if it's an elder that throws his weight, money, or influence around to get what he wants? I guess I have some Bible reading to do...

    By Blogger Niki, at 3/19/2005 05:47:00 PM  

  • Mike:
    I remember a couple who decided to let their fear of being thrown out of "the fellowship" overcome their joy of what had taken place in their child...and later probably regretted it. John 9:22.

    2 weeks until Stream.

    By Blogger Larry, at 3/20/2005 05:21:00 AM  

  • A big Amen to you, Mike, on discussing this very much needed to be talked about issue. Your comments were brief, but very insightful.

    Another big Amen to the comments that have been posted...great thinking people!

    By Blogger Big Mike Lewis, at 3/20/2005 08:16:00 AM  

  • "These were people this church loved -- and still loves .... I tell these stories not because I'm mad at these people, I'm not."

    Angela --- I'm not sure how the parable of the lost son applies here, but maybe I'm misconstruing your implication. You appear to be saying Highland church let these complainers leave, and possibly in a non-loving fashion. I don't see that at all. What I see are individuals trying to wield their wealth and influence to get their way. I see an eldership that listened, prayed, made a decision, and approached the individuals, in love, to help them understand their decision. These individuals disagreed with their eldership and left. By the way, the threats leveled are never about leaving THE church, they are about taking their money and influence down the street to another church.

    The key in these scenarios is not about dealing with these people in love, because that IS occuring. It is about not "letting them chart the course". When these issues are handled correctly, then you "receive criticism, negotiate conflict, love, pray, and even sometimes let someone go".

    By Blogger C., at 3/21/2005 03:49:00 PM  

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