What is the Right way to deal with Bad or Questionable Spiritual Leadership?

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you~ Hebrews 13:7 NIV

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has experienced one of the following scenarios:

A trusted spiritual leader (a pastor or Bible study leader) says something (or a lot of somethings) troubling from a doctrinal perspective-

We feel uneasy with the direction the pastor is taking the church-

We have (or know someone who has) a spiritual, physical or emotional need not being met in the church-

We feel the church has become dangerously inwardly focused-

Our feelings have been hurt in some way by the pastor or another leader-

We suspect our pastor (or someone in the church) is not living a moral life-

 These situations are not unique to contemporary church life. The church has been dealing with sticky issues since the very dawn of church (Acts 6:1-7, 1st Corinthians 5:1-11, Galatians 2:11-14 Acts 15:36-39). How church people choose to handle these types of situations matter. Unfortunately, they are typically handled rather poorly in one of two ways: either leadership problems are talked about but not with the leader (Ephesians 4:26): or, conversely someone (or group of someones) confronts the leader with a long list of the leader’s faults, problems and inadequacies. In both cases a sensitive situation is handled with all of the elegance and grace of a herd of wild goats running free at a tea party (Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 29:20).

 Both ways of dealing with the issue inevitably end in disaster.

The first typically ends with a large group of unhappy people quietly leaving their church and taking their unresolved issues with them.  Sadly, these folks rarely explain why they left or go back and work things through with the leader. The leader remains forever bewildered by the desertion and never learns anything that might make them a better person or leader. Those who leave take their anger and resentment with them to the next church where they perpetuate the cycle of unresolved problems and church hurt (James 1:20). When leaders are confronted in a harsh way or in a way that makes them feel blindsided it typically results in a hurt leader who feels bullied by the people he or she has loved and invested in. It is not at all unusual for these leaders to leave the ministry in anger and disillusionment. 

 Either way, Satan wins and everyone else loses.

 We have to do better. The health of the body is on the line. Following are five recommendations for having a tough conversation with a spiritual leader.

 Keep your leadership expectations in line with reality-

 Here’s the thing: even the very best pastors and leaders are fallible, broken and inclined towards stupidity, pride and cluelessness (Romans 3:23). Because leaders are in the process of working out their salvation with fear and trembling (like all Christians) they need grace as well as prayer (Philippians 2:12). This does not mean a spiritual leader is above correction or redirection. There are times when leaders need to be corrected and should be corrected. That said, if we want to facilitate healthy change (and avoid the sin of pride) we must recognize the reality that no human (leader or follower) will ever be perfect or do things perfectly. Our expectation for spiritual leaders should not be perfection but rather a teachable spirit and a desire to become better and more Christlike (Proverbs 9:9, Proverbs 10:8).    

 Ask questions and seek to understand (Proverbs 12:18)-

 Many confrontations with leaders are a result of decisions people did not like or understand. It’s critical we recognize sometimes leaders make decisions based on information the rest of the congregation simply doesn’t have. Therefore, it is imperative we ask questions with an attitude of humility before we assume we understand why things are being done the way they are being done.

 Figure out if there is something deeper driving you before you confront-

 Sometimes a pastor or spiritual leader will rub us the wrong way for reasons that really and truly have nothing to do with them or their leadership. Sometimes we will reject a new leader because we really loved the style and personality of the old leader and what we really want is to get our old leader back. Other times a leader will irritate us because they remind us of a family member we have unresolved issues with. It’s unfair and unkind to project our weird junk onto others. Therefore, it’s imperative that we examine our hearts and our attitudes before we begin a conversation.

 Pray before you do or say anything-

 Pray like crazy. Begin with praying for yourself before you pray for the leader. Ask God to reveal any weird and/or destructive attitudes/motivations you have that may be driving the desire to confront. Ask for wisdom (James 1:5). Most critically,  pray everyone’s heart (including yours) will be open to healing the relationship and ready to receive truth.

 Say what needs to be said without assigning motives-

 No one but God knows why anyone does what they do. Therefore, it is critical that we be very careful about accusing people of doing things out of motives that we do not know for an absolute fact they have (Proverbs 3:7). Always stick to discussing the issues while being careful to leave discerning the motives to God.

And finally:

 Do not write a letter. Seriously. I know I just lost some people because not writing a letter or email feels counterintuitive to a lot of Christians. However, it’s important to understand leaders get a LOT of letters and letters tend to feel like an ambush rather than an adult conversation. A text is a great way to arrange a meeting and it might be helpful for you to write down your thoughts and concerns before you go into a meeting.  There is nothing wrong with taking notes into a meeting. That said, letters are a one-way conversation that offer zero opportunity for the other person to explain their side or defend themselves and their decisions. As a result, letters without a followup breed resentment and hurt with the receiver.   If you absolutely must send a letter then arrange for a face-to-face followup when you send it so the other person can have their say in the matter (Proverbs 18:17, John 7:51). If you aren’t ready to meet with the person face-to-face you probably shouldn’t be sending a letter.

Keep praying until you are because the church should be a place of healing. 

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