What?! You Mean Everything’s Not Perfect in the Missional Church?!

IMHO – Confronting the Parking Lot Meeting in the Missional Church Environment,

Or, What? You Mean Everything’s Not Perfect in the Missional Church?!

Missional Church planting has some of the same problems that the early church faced…mostly, I think, because it is most like the early church.  I just got a call the other night from a new Christ-follower who is still learning what it means to be surrendered to Christ.  She loves the Lord but hasn’t figured out yet all the ways that worldly living has impacted her behavior.  She called to tell me, “You are coming to dinner on Friday…I will be paying for it, so you don’t have to worry about that.  There’s a bunch of us that have been talking about some problems at the mission. Especially about a person who is a problem at the pantry. I’m not going to tell you what this is about exactly.  I will tell you when you get to the meeting.”   Wow…a parking lot meeting in the missional church environment!  Triangulation in the missional environment? What?  That can’t happen in the Missional Church.  That’s just part of the culture of the institutional church. Right?!…..Wrong!  Paul’s church plants had this kind of problem, too. First Corinthians is all about power plays and leveraging and triangulation.  James’ church to which he writes his letter is fraught with this behavior.  Of course it’s going to happen here.  It’s harder for the behavior to take hold in the community, and it’s easier to deal with when it does happen here. Still painful.  But easier.

A parking lot meeting for those who don’t know, is when several people get together after a meeting is already over to talk behind people’s back about all the stuff they didn’t have the courage to bring up in the meeting.  And an effort is sometimes made to gather enough people behind a gripe that they can make a decision before it’s really even discussed with the community.  Generally, the group forms to conspire or commiserate about a third party.  These after-meeting meetings happen when the culture of the community does not yet fully ascribe to the mature spiritual values of confronting in love, and accountability.  The group then comes back to the community or the pastor not to talk through a solution, but to demand compliance to their decision that they have already made. When the word is delivered, it almost always ends with, “or else ”.  It sometimes involves hostage taking – “If you don’t do this, I’m leaving and I’m taking all of these people with me.”   I’m sure some of you…all of you maybe…have experienced that at some point.

The Bible teaches a better way.  If somebody has a problem with someone, they take the problem to the person they have the problem with (Matthew 18:15).  If the person won’t listen, then you go get someone from the community to go with you to talk to the person.  If they still won’t listen, then depending on the nature of the offense, you either treat the person like a stranger (as in, you love them and are polite to them, but you wouldn’t trust them with your kids), or you then take the matter to the community if it affects them.  Any other way of dealing with problems can kill a missional church just as well as it can kill any other kind of church plant.  It’s not as easy to kill a mission plant because the mission binds people together in a much different way.  But it can do damage.  We discipline ourselves to confront one another in love with the goal of restoring the relationship – not proving yourself right or righteous and the other person wrong or evil. It worked in Paul’s time.  Why shouldn’t it work now?

Something I started doing several years ago at the behest of a mentor of mine has also been very effective in curtailing the parking lot meeting.  As the pastor, I am like a drain where all rumors and nasty talk eventually swirls down to.  For some reason,  people think that these things will never get back to me. People think that if they say to someone, “I know something about so-and-so but you have to promise not tell anyone”, that the other person will be the kind of person who actually won’t tell anyone.  The kind of person you can trust to keep a secret is the kind of person who tells you to repent if you were spreading rumors about people.  The logic is inane, but you know what I mean.  Anyway, I end up eventually hearing about everything.  When I do, I go to the person who initiated the rumor and I say, “What you said is so hurtful, that if you don’t contact that person and tell them what you’ve been saying about them within 24 hours, then I am going to contact the person and tell them what you told me (or whoever).”  Usually, that’s met with stunned silence.  Then, “You wouldn’t!”.  Oh, yes I would.  It is amazing how quickly the rumors stop when two or three mature Christ-followers in the community do this. When the majority of the community does this, there are no more problems.  They just end.  The first time I did this, it wasn’t pretty.  I came pretty close to getting fired because the person I did it to had been in the church a long time and had some pull among the “been-heres”.  But many of the been-heres are also Christ followers and believers in the Bible and know that what she was doing was wrong.  Saner heads prevailed.  That was the end of that.  It’s Biblical.  It works.

The major difference for me, as a pastor, between confronting this kind of thing in the institutional church and confronting it in the missional church is that my “job” is not on the line in the missional church plant.  I know how wrong that sounds, but I think pastors know what I’m talking about. The parking lot group cannot fire me, take away my income, and put me out of my house.  I don’t have to do the political dance that delicately balances speaking the truth and staying employed.  This is a huge difference for most people who are professional pastors in the institutional church.  If you pastor in a spiritually immature and ill congregation and you have to do the work of transformation from sick to healthy, you and I both know that as much as we wish it weren’t so, our job is constantly on the line. I say this having taking some big chances and drawing a line in the sand that I would not back across.   In the missional environment, my income comes from several streams, and the church plant is not one of them.  I think that is a crucial thing in staying on course with missional community planting.  Here, I can remind people what Scripture says.  I can confront people in love, and walk away if I have to. Hopefully they will listen and repent, and try a new way.  But if not, and the conversation devolves down to, “If you don’t do what I say, I’m leaving”, I can say, “Okay.”  “And I’m taking these people with me!”  Again, “Okay.” No chess game.  No midnight phone calls.  No political wrangling.  We grieve the loss of cherished people, and then we move on with the mission.  There will be casualties.  We will lose people along the way.  In missional plants, you often have to shrink some in order to grow.  Paul told us that.  James told us that. And Jesus told us that. IMHO.

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