As my wife and I drove back from a preaching engagement recently we noticed a small church sitting back off the main highway. This was new territory for us so we had never seen this building before. The windows were boarded up and it was obvious the church building had been closed for many years. I told my wife how saddened I am when I see such sights because I can visualize in my mind the sights and sounds that had once filled that sanctuary. Men, women, and young people had found Jesus Christ in that place at one time. People experienced renewed hope from the messages and songs they heard there. Now, the building is boarded up and slowly rotting away from the elements.
The next day a pastor called asking about a pastor position he heard was open. He learned after being called to his present ministry that before calling him as pastor the church had discussed closing. That conversation was now happening again. Too few people and resources were the primary reasons. As I pressed this pastor further I learned the story behind the problems. It's a familiar story I hear all too often.
No matter what the congregation wants to do, a controller prevents it from happening. New people are brought into the church, and this same person soon runs them off by his actions and hurtful words. He seldom attends worship services but does show up at all business meetings to enforce his rule on the congregation. No one is willing to confront this person, and on those rare occasions when such confrontation does occur the challenger finds himself all alone and leaves in frustration. Good people leave the church because a congregation does not have the courage to discipline a controller who is creating extreme disharmony in the church.
I've written numerous posts about church controllers in this blog because I find them so often in my ministry. This pastor had evidently never read any of those posts because he talked about how he has tried to reason with this person. I explained that you cannot reason with unreasonable people. He said that some people had tried to tactfully address the problem but had failed. Of course, they failed. You cannot be tactful with controllers. The reason these people keep the power they have is because churches are full of nice people who want to tactfully reason with them. Nice people don't want confrontation and controllers thrive on it, but such confrontation is the only thing that they understand.
The only way to deal with controllers is for the church leadership to state clearly what they are doing wrong, what behaviors are expected of them, and that decisive church discipline will occur if they violate those expectations. And, if those expected behaviors are violated quick, decisive action must follow. By the way, the pastor cannot be the person who confronts the controller, especially if that pastor is relatively new to the position. The controller will win almost every time that happens. He or she must know that the congregation as a whole is confronting him or her.
Unfortunately, most small churches will not take the actions listed above. They are too concerned that a long-time member will leave. Yes, they know his or her actions are hurting the church, but, after all, that person has been here a long time. The congregation has learned to accept this person's "personality," and have adjusted to it. Such churches are willing to keep the controllers while good people, including their own young people, leave the church in droves to get away from such dysfunction. These churches probably deserve to die, but it's still sad to see because it doesn't have to happen.
Does your church have controller issues? If so, what are you doing about it? Which is preferable to you: to keep your controllers or to have a long-term effective ministry in your community?