When It's Time to Push Back on Pushback

I have been the senior pastor at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Ill., since July 1, 1997.

In this time, we have grown by an average of one hundred each year. We are constantly engaged in the economy of change and have found that change brings with it both excitement and discontinuity. 

The secret to a long tenure (in anything) is not the avoidance of problems (that is impossible in a fallen world); it is to deal with difficult challenges in healthy ways.

Tragically, since most churches have accepted the template of “rotating pastors” every four or five years, many congregations have built a culture where both church leaders and pastors have lost the relational skills to “stay at the table” when times get tough. It is not serving us well.

Here are eight ways we push back on pushback:

1. Get to the bottom of it.

People will pushback in various ways during change.

An axiom in our church culture is, “What folks are complaining about isn’t what they are complaining about.” When a grumbler comes our way significantly concerned about something insignificant, we ask, “What is this conversation really about?” Such conversations are almost always about personal preference, loss of power or fear of the future. These are very real concerns; it’s just that people often lack the sophistication to talk about important things directly so they bring up petty stuff instead.

2. Handle it biblically.

Operate by Matthew 18:15-17. You must be consistent and relentless here. Jesus’ teaching on dealing with conflict is counterintuitive (imagine that). Talk to the person with whom you have an issue (not about them), get a couple of referees if you can’t work it out and, finally, give it to the church for a final decision if things get intractable. Deal with this kind of stuff swiftly and decisively. 

3. Refuse triangulation.

People will often leave your office frustrated when you refuse to triangulate, but they will be forced to deal with discontinuity in healthy ways. Don’t talk to anyone about their concern until they have talked directly to the person about whom they are concerned. They may not leave your office happy, but remember that many of them were not happy before they met you (so don’t take full responsibility).

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Shane Bishop
Christ Church weekend worship attendance has increased from 200 to over 2,100 each weekend since Shane’s appointment in 1997. He was named The Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church in 2010. Christ Church has three regional campuses and has planted two international sister churches in the Philippines and Honduras. He resides in Belleville, Illinois with his wife Melissa. The couple has two adult children, three grandsons and a granddaughter!