An Important Look Into Your Church’s Culture – Part 11

Honestly, I thought I was finished with this blog series after ten installments. But this weekend, a conversation brought one more idea to mind that I think is important enough to share.

When you pastor a difficult church–one that’s been struggling for awhile and has frequently demonstrated unhealthy behaviors–you can easily slide into a view of reality that’s not terribly encouraging. Sure, you have good reason to fear the next expression of dysfunction, the next conflict, the next issue that will remind everyone why this church never moves forward. Some churches get a bit of momentum only to have their unhealthy culture swallow it up once again.

But when you’ve been instilling healthy values for awhile and even begin to see a few new and younger faces among your people, you may not realize that things are getting healthier. When I began my work as a pastor at one church, I envisioned myself on a surfboard, paddling furiously to stay ahead of a tidal wave of dysfunction and unhealthy behavior. That had been the church’s history, and I was told stories about those awkward moments when things would suddenly and nearly irreversibly turn sour.

The wave was real, so the paddling was non-stop.

But somewhere around the five-year mark, the wave diminished. Things began to be healthy. The threats of dysfunction dissipated, washed to the floor of the ocean by the healthy people that had joined us and the healthy patterns our long-time friends were now living. AND NO ONE TOLD ME!

It’s a fact, for the entire ten years of my time as pastor of that church, I was paddling…and paddling hard. I loved my church and was proud of them, but I never realized that the wave had dissipated. In fact, a few weeks after I had moved to another place of ministry, one ministry friend who was filling the pulpit in the interim told me “that’s the healthiest church I’ve ever been a part of!” Wished I had known that…

The point is that when you lead a struggling church, you may have a difficult time seeing that congregation any other way. When good moments arise, you may fear trusting them and choose to protect yourself by keeping your expectations in check. Some of the wounds, the particularly painful moments of the past may cause you to miss the moments you could be celebrating today and tomorrow.

Bottom-line? Things may be better than you realize. You may have made more progress than you think. Likely you’ll need a new set of eyes to help you see that, but let me encourage you to find the rays of hope in your congregation and bask in their warmth a little bit. This broken church isn’t as broken as it once was. In fact, some good things are happening as your values and commitment to Christ are being fleshed out in the congregation.

There may be more to rejoice in than there is to fret over. So look for some of that today, and take these words as permission to smile a bit.

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