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Healthy Ministry in a Complex World

Pastoring

Pastors: Have Uncomfortable Conversations

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I’ve had the same conversation a few times lately.

A pastor or church leader has a problem. I listen. As I hear about the problem, it becomes clear that it’s not a wisdom problem. It’s a courage problem. It’s clear what has to be done. It’s just that taking the right action will involve courage.

Usually what’s needed is a candid conversation. I think Tim Ferriss is right: “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” For pastors and leaders — for all of us, actually — we need to grow in our ability to talk honestly and helpfully about tough issues. The pastoral epistles are full of charges to re prove, rebuke, and exhort. It’s simply part of ministry.

What Advice Would I Give Someone Else?

We know we’re dealing with a courage issue when we know what we would tell someone else to do. It’s easy for me to hear others talk and be clear about the steps that they should take. But when we’re the ones facing the issue, we cut ourselves all kinds of slack.

When encountering a problem, it’s usually helpful to get counsel from others (Proverbs 15:22). Failing that, it’s helpful to ask what we’d tell someone else to do. This usually helps to bring clarity about the solution, as well as the reasons we don’t want to pursue the right course of action.

What’s Got Me Scared?

When we know the right thing to do, but we’re scared to do it, it’s important to face our fears. Our fears reveal our idols. We need to know our idols, repent of them, and ask for God’s help and the support of others.

I’ve found that I encounter two idols in my life that cause me to fear if I’m not careful: the approval of others, and comfort. I want others to think well of me, and I want to take the easy road rather than do the right, uncomfortable thing. A pastor who lives for the approval of others and for comfort is disqualified from ministry. I must kill both of these idols, or they will destroy my soul and my ministry.

I’m not immune to these idols. I fight them regularly. I try to notice them, and I pray for God’s help regularly in confronting these idols.

I sense I’m not alone. Many of us in ministry are scared. Those fears aren’t benign; they will devour us if we don’t name them and repent of them. It’s important to know what scares us, to recognize the idols that lie beneath, and to wage war against them.

What Happens If I Don’t Confront?

I’m learning to ask this question more often: what happens if I know what I should do, but I’m unwilling to have the difficult conversation? I know what happens. Every dysfunctional church I know is one in which difficult conversations should have taken place, but didn’t. Every time I don’t have an uncomfortable conversation, I’m helping the church take a step toward dysfunction.

Churches have been ruined by the unwillingness of pastors and leaders to have difficult conversations.

It breaks my heart. It’s not pleasant to confront difficult issues, but it’s even more unpleasant when we don’t confront them. If we don’t pay the price up front, we pay a much higher price later.

Take Courage and Have the Conversation

Pastors and elders: have that difficult conversation. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be argumentative or aggressive. Be generous and loving. But confront hard issues. Resolve to be candid. Become more comfortable doing the uncomfortable thing.

I love how Daniel Im says it: “Conflict is not the problem, avoiding conflict resolution is.”

Do it because the health of your ministry depends on it. Do it because it’s good for you to root the idols of approval and comfort from your heart.

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