FENTON, MI – As the church enters a growth-phase, ultimatums may start. Growth-changes bring friction, conflict, and sometimes result in ultimatums. Menacing statements are heard: “Pastor, if you do that then you will have to find a new church.” Or “Brother, I guess you no longer need my tithe if you are going to do that.” Or “Preacher, you seem to be more interested in the newer people than those who called you to be pastor here.”
A friend of mine, who came to know the Lord under one of my previous ministries, was surprised to discover his newly purchased home was near a new church where I had become pastor. Let’s say his name is Tom. He visited the new church with his family, and informed everyone that he was thankful for my previous ministry. Being a businessman and running his own company, Tom thought he was doing the right thing endorsing me as a good pastor, and openly expressed our longtime friendship.
There was another man, long embedded in the new church even before I came as Pastor, who we will call Rick. Rick saw Tom’s endorsement and friendship of me as a threat. Tom’s visits with his family at the new church fell-off. He came to play a pick-up basketball game at the church building. As the game progressed, I saw that Tom and Rick were guarding one another and interacting in-between plays. I thought it was a good sign.
I was wrong. After the game was over and before we shut-down the gym, Tom slid-up to me and whispered, “Hey, I hate to do this, but I think my family and I are going to look for another church closer to home. This one’s too far. We love you and we are grateful for all that you’ve done for us.” I took his statement at face-value, we guy-hugged and I wished him well.
Six-months later during a random visit to Tom’s business, he asked how the church was doing. He went on to say, “I didn’t want to tell you this, but something happened at the basketball game that convinced me joining the church would be a mistake. Tom continued, “As I grabbed my gear that night after the game, Rick came up to me and said, “If you think you’re going to come into our church and take-over with Pastor Tony, you’re wrong! It’s not going to happen.” Tom saw the shock on my face.
When euphoria from a growth-phase is peppered with ultimatums from others, oftentimes all someone tastes is the “pepper.” The euphoria is smothered. Worse yet, the person leading the growth-change becomes jumpy looking for the next ultimatum lurking in the heart of someone who is not happy.
When a growth phase is blocked by ultimatum-driven opposition, three radically different conclusions are reached.
Those who threaten ultimatums erect a statue of victory and repeat to themselves the phrase, “Ultimatums work well. I am in control.”
Those who initiated the growth phase, only to surrender to the ultimatums, put up red-flags of defeat and whisper warnings, “No longer take risks toward growth unless the ultimatum-user agrees.”
The largest group, the unknowing group of people who were led toward growth-change and then abandoned only to return to the past, plant a forest of question marks. They ask one another with puzzled and hopeless expressions, “Why is our church (or class, or group) not growing or developing when others grow?”
So how do leaders overcome the 1-2% ultimatum-driven threats and lovingly lead people toward growth? They do it through transparency in four-steps.
When someone threatens the primary leader’s direction with ultimatums, the leader should share those ultimatums with the leadership surrounding him or her in one corporate meeting. Too many leaders keep menacing ultimatums to themselves causing them to freeze progress.
The primary leader should persuade his or her circle of leadership to extend a joint invitation to the ultimatum-maker to meet with them for an open dialogue.
The primary leader would be wise to allow a trusted person, other than himself, to moderate the meeting. The opposition should explain why he or she believes the direction is unwise. The primary leader should explain why he or she believes the direction is wise. Questions toward the two should be allowed.
After the two parties have expressed themselves, each individual in the circle of leadership should state their support or opposition to the changes. The balance of support and of opposition will be clearly seen. The future direction can be solidified, canceled, or changed together rather than capitulate to a menace.
With transparency the power of an ultimatum subsides and love prevails. Ephesians 4:2-3 reminds us, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace,” (NLT).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.