The setting: A church board meeting. The tension: Off the charts.
My head elder pursued the agenda – and almost swallowed his larynx. He didn’t say a word,
but his eyes and face shouted, Have you lost your bloody mind? I returned a shrug and an insincere smile that was intended to convey, Pray and hang onto your hat. We will soon find out. I had just handed out the agenda at the monthly church board meeting and one thing was sure: I had either solved a problem or blown up the church.
I read a blog this week titled Top Ten Healthy Ways to Handle the Church Critic by Charles Stone. Everything he writes is outstanding, and you can read it here: http://charlesstone.com/top-10-ways-to-handle-the-church-critic/.
As I read through Stone’s list, my mind drifted back to a deacon in my church. I’ll call him Ted. Ted exasperated pretty much everyone. He was a sprinkler system of negativity, spraying criticism on everyone he talked to. Unfortunately, he was on the church board.
I had tried everything. I had prayed, sought counsel from others, chatted with his wife, and talked directly with Ted. Charles Stone would have applauded my efforts, but nothing worked. I came to the unhappy conclusion that Ted enjoyed manipulating everyone’s emotions and being an all-around pain in the butt.
So I put the issue on the board meeting agenda. Item number 8 – after devotional, prayer, financial report, the new projector, membership transfers, and a stipend for the youth leader – was Ted’s gripes. Yep. That’s the way I listed it on the agenda. As the board members arrived and we were about to begin, I passed out copies of agenda and held my breath.
Almost everyone set the paper on a chair next to them or rolled it up like a scroll of Leviticus. But Hal, my head elder, scanned the agenda to see what we would be discussing. When he saw “Ted’s Gripes” after #8, he thought he was dreaming or that I had lost my mind.
The meeting rolled along like it always had. And then Ted turned on his sprinkler. I don’t remember what he was against at that moment, but everyone cringed as they felt the baptism of negativity. “Hey Ted,” I ventured. “May I asked you a favor? Do you mind waiting until your place on the agenda?”
“What do you mean?” he responded.
“Look at number 8.”
Ted read his name followed by the word “gripes”. His sprinkler shut down. His face turned as orange as a Cincinnati sunset. He took a deep breath, stood up, made a left turn, and walked out of the room.
The silence was thick. No one knew what to say (I certainly didn’t). After a painfully-long pause, my head elder spoke first. “Ron,” he said. “When I saw the agenda tonight, I thought you were nuts. But after hearing the negativity again and thinking more about it, I believe you did the right thing. Thank you for having the guts to deal with this issue. Hopefully we can have a happy church again.” I exhaled with relief as all around the room, one person after another agreed with Hal.
Ted came back to the meeting that night. He slipped in 45 minutes later and sat quietly. None of us addressed the issue. When we got to agenda item 8, we moved on to number 9 and kept going. As I walked to my car to drive home that night, several board members patted me on the back and thanked me again.
Two questions: Did it solve the problem? And did I do the right thing? It solved the problem. I’m not sure whether his heart had changed, but I know that no one heard anything negative from Ted from that day on. He was quieter, and everyone felt better about having him around.
Did I do the right thing? I’ll let you decide. I believed then, and I’m more convinced all the time, that the leader is responsible to shape and protect the DNA and atmosphere of the church. I did the best I could, and I think I would do it again.
Q: What have you learned about dealing with pain-in-the neck people? What are the consequences of not dealing with them?