We traveled to a gathering not long ago, and visited with old (as in from the past) friends. Decades had separated many of us. On the eight hour drive home my mind flicked around through numerous pictures of the past. Many of these people, to me, looked a lot better, than I view myself, they, seemingly, aging gracefully. I should fess-up, right now, that we were all members of the same church in suburbia Minneapolis.
My mind pictured a small group of people. Our church had been through a revival of sorts, and recognized the need for small group gatherings. Initially, four or five groups were active…for a short while. My wife and I participated in a group for a couple of years.
We spun out of the first group and into a second group made up of about five couples. This was the IN group, the group where I hoped to have my closed friendships. Our Pastor was a member of a different, third group. During the next two years congregational controversies arose. Many of the small groups were unsustainable. The pastor of 17 years, no longer held peoples attention. His wife was the choir director, his daughter the organist, two sons sang in choir.
As I was on the church board, a number of members came to me demanding change. I pushed the request forward to the next level and let events run their course.
The conflict. At the end of our second year in the second small group, the pastor asked if he and his wife could join us. The group the pastor was in, was falling apart. When the request was brought before our group, silence fell over the room. Agony struck. People began to mutter, “I wouldn’t want him here”, “If they join, we’ll leave”.
It was difficult enough working within the confines of the church, while pastoral analysis and review was taking place, but this, seemingly, our last refuge of tranquility, was about to be breached. Here I was, the torchbearer of the “remove the pastor movement”, recognizing that the pastor needed a core group, yet me and mine, not wanting to be “it”. How was one to manage?
The cop-out. With no other way out, I would tell the pastor that we didn’t want a theological professional in our group. (Man, I didn’t like the sound of that.) Before I could advance that, members of our group re-thought their position and came to me saying they would leave if I gave the pastor that excuse. Our group met once again, without determining a direction. Finally in frustration, I said that I (the pastors arch-enemy) would take the pastor and start a new group, leaving this group to itself to continue on.
The conclusion. My favorite group never met again. My wife, claiming early stage, mid-stage and late stage pregnancy, left me to the pastor, his wife and a couple of ladies, in the new small group. We always met on neutral ground, the home of one of the ladies. Constantly, we shared a year of the elephant in the room. It was the pastors’ final days and the last evening was “the blow-up”. That night the air was cleared. The pastor and his wife had never understood, the depth of congregation’s readiness for change. I was always viewed as the pastor’s only source of the “problem”.
I really don’t know that the conflict could have been differently managed. We no longer had small fellowship groups at that church.
Some conflicts can not be managed, you’re left only to cope.