some big changes are coming in our lives, my wife and me. our home has been on the market for about three months, and this weekend it sold. we are planning to move about 250 miles north of here to where we have relatives that we enjoy spending time with in an area that has great scenic beauty, an area where we've always wanted to live. all of our close family here is gone, either through death or from moving away, and we want to enjoy our last years near relatives we hold dear.
during the past week, we have been preoccupied with a difficulty in our church which has taken precedence over our big move. the relationship between our minister and another member of the staff has taken an ugly turn, and the head of the personnel committee of the church has taken the minister's side in this very personal conflict. the staff member under attack is a kind and gracious person who is much beloved in our church, and the situation has become critical enough that a large number of us have felt that we must intervene on his behalf. Trying to find a solution to this conflict and protecting his job has been at the center of our lives even with the upcoming major change in our lives.
now we are fearful that the divisions created by this crisis will be the death knell of our congregation. this morning i am using this post as a meditation on what steps we might take to help heal those divisions before i go later in the week to meet with the minister to make some parting suggestions before we leave for our new home. there have been an increasing number of participants in our church who oppose the minister, and she seems to have been unwilling to reach out to those who oppose her. the first thing that must happen is that the hurts and acrimony caused by her attempt to remove another member of the staff have to be put aside. she and the church secretary who has become her ally against him must go to him and ask his forgiveness and his assistance in leading a "save our church" campaign, honestly admitting that past differences have increased already-deep divisions in the church.
the lay leaders of our church must adopt policies that allow for greater input from the members-at-large in the decision making process, holding their monthly business meetings in a location that is large enough to accommodate more people and encouraging members to come to those meetings with their suggestions and comments, even if the meetings last longer and conducting business is slowed down.
a committee that is not made up of the official leadership must be formed, though one respected elected leader should chair it, someone who is viewed as being on neither side of the pro- and anti-minister factions. this committee needs to focus on reaching out to those who have stopped attending and stopped contributing to the church. one of the few ways our members can express their disapproval of the actions of the minister and leadership is to withhold their presence and their financial support, since most matters are decided by the elected leadership, rather than by the whole membership of the church voting on important decisions beyond the election of the leadership. in reaching out to the congregation, the members of the committee need to listen rather than trying to convince the disaffected that they are wrong.
the church leaders need to look for ways to reduce the church's expenses without placing essential programs in jeopardy, and they must ask the congregation for suggestions as to how to do this. we are on track to run a deficit of $100,000 or more for the year, and the depletion of the church's reserves is on everyone's minds, regardless of which faction one is a part of. knowing that the church is undertaking a major belt-tightening program would go a long way towards convincing those who now withholding their contributions that the leaders are serious in addressing the problems we face, particularly if more of the general membership is given the opportunity of make suggestions.
more than anything else, the leaders and staff, particularly the minister, must begin to listen in a non-judgmental way. much of the anti-minister sentiment has been created because people don't feel that their objections are heard or their view valued. there is a sense, largely justified, that those in power have run roughshod over those who disagree with them because they could, so those who haven't been heard feel that they've been ignored and marginalized. in a recent congregational meeting intended to convey information about the minister's contract with the church, one member rose to ask questions about the finances of the church and was told that, since her concerns were not pertinent to the purpose of the meeting, she was out of order. she hasn't been back to church, and who can blame her.
the chief process for input from the congregation to the leadership is a system of advisory committees that deal with various aspects of the church's life. the leaders need to make certain that those committee's are made up of congregants who are not elected leaders, with an elected leader chairing each committee to be an intermediary between the committee and the leadership. as the committees are now constituted, one particular elected leader serves on four of the seven church committees, chairing one of them, and is also the church's treasurer. this is too much power for one person to have. the personnel committee is made up of four of the elected leaders, with only two members-at-large serving on the committee, leaving little opportunity for congregational input or a diversity of views. these practices reinforce the sense of being ignored that many who are not in positions of leadership feel.
it pains my wife and me to think that we will soon leave this church where we have found so many friends, so many loving people who, like us, feel adrift in the midst of the controversy. some have stopped attending because it is upsetting to them to walk into the strife every time they go through the church doors. we understand their feelings and often have to force ourselves to be present, knowing that this undercurrent of animosity runs through the church. we have little to lose by offering our suggestions, in view of our imminent departure, even if those suggestions are unwelcome. we can then leave knowing that we have done what we could to end the church's divisions and move it toward healing.
may we learn to listen, to seek common ground, and to demonstrate genuine concern for the well-being of others. may we not view questions about our decisions as attacks on them. may we seek to step into the other person's shoes and look at things from another's point-of-view. may we see differences of opinion as opportunities to learn rather than as threats. shalom.