BUILDING A LEGACY: Learning, Discerning, and Leaning In
Part 8: People Will Grumble
Is it time to look at completing the work of this congregation faithfully and well? This question may be raised and discussed first among leaders, but at some point the conversation will expand to include everyone in the congregation. It is not unusual for people to resist the completion process. It is not unusual for people outside of the leadership circle, people that may not even participate much in the conversation, to grumble the loudest. For some reason, they clap their hands over their eyes and ears, but not over their mouths. “La, la, la, I can’t hear you!” This can be very frustrating for leaders, especially when anger over unwelcome change is directed at the leadership.
If you are reading this, you are more likely to be a leader than a grumbler, I think. First, take a deep breath. Let’s attribute positive intention to the people that are grumbling. They likely see the church as a source of security and comfort, for themselves, their families, and others, and they would like to preserve this. Churches do provide security and comfort, and this is a good thing. However, this is not the only thing they do. An exclusive focus on security and comfort, on keeping members satisfied, will turn your church into a club. God yearns for more from God’s people, yes?
Next, remember that there is a long tradition of grumbling within faith communities. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, but when the people got hungry and cold, they grumbled. “Yeah, we used to be slaves, but at least we had food and fires.” (This is my non-scholarly paraphrase.) Jesus went to have dinner with Zacchaeus, and the people grumbled. From Eugene Peterson’s, The Message, “Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, ‘What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?’”
If Moses and Jesus had to deal with grumpy people, should we expect any less for church leaders today? Maybe we can find guidance in these and other passages from scripture. Why did people grumble? How did Moses, Jesus and others respond? Where is God in the story? There is a difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict. Healthy conflict forces creativity and new solutions. Unhealthy conflict undermines trust and breaks relationships. Can we see grumbling as a harbinger of conflict and find healthy ways to deal with it?
Churches often like to reach consensus about important decisions. Remember, consensus is not the same as unanimity – everyone having the same first choice. Consensus is about finding solutions that people can live with. Unanimity is when everyone sings the same melody. Consensus is when voices add harmony and counterpoint -it adds something different, but maintains a kind of unity. Even with this definition of consensus, it can be elusive when it comes to decisions about the church’s future. But as the poster in my high school guidance counselor’s office said, not to decide is to decide. Deciding to continue when financial viability and spiritual vitality are both gone is a recipe for unnecessary pain and suffering.
Grumbling may be inevitable. Inaction is not.
Church Legacy Specialist Charlie Kuchenbrod is a resource for all UCC churches that are transitioning to the legacy stage of their lifecycle. Charlie Kuchenbrod has served the Southern New England Conference and prior to that the historic Connecticut...