Yet one more time, I received word of a secret meeting without the pastor about the pastor. The most recent was like most of those which preceded it: A couple men in positions of authority “felt led” to invite others to an off-site meeting so the two of them could share their concerns about the pastor with the group.
Surprisingly, the two concerned men never privately consulted the pastor about their concerns, a practice that would have been consistent with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18. Surprisingly, each of those invited attended the meeting, even a retired pastor.
Unsurprisingly, the pastor heard about the meeting before it took place. At the time of the meeting, he was alone with his wife wondering what was going on behind his back. After the meeting, the pastor invited the two concerned elders to a conversation, but they declined, claiming instead, they would be “praying for him.”
Why does this happen? Why is it that lay leaders of a church call secret meetings without their pastor to talk about their pastor? Without question, they violate the spirit, if not the clear teaching of Scripture on how to deal with disagreements (Matthew 18:15-20). In addition, since acts of the flesh include dissension, discord, and factions, they are most-likely motivated not by the Holy Spirit, but by sinful nature (Galatians 5:16-26). Add to this, such meetings violate the rules of engagement of any healthy organization. In other words, they reveal the congregation’s dysfunction. Individuals in the church have concerns about the pastor but they do not have the courage to speak to the pastor. They love “their” church but don’t love “their” pastor. They pray for others, including the pastor, but not for themselves.
Finally, and most importantly, secret meetings without the pastor about the pastor are not loving. The pastor inevitably learns about the meeting before the meeting. The news feels like a betrayal and wounds him or her. He or she loses valuable time and energy. Loses sleep. Questions the call to ministry. And, loses trust in congregational leaders. Secret meetings without the pastor about the pastor are simply cruel.
In times like these, I am reminded that the church is not perfect. The church often acts like the body of Christ, occasionally acts like the bride of Christ, but more often than it cares to admit, acts like Hosea’s unfaithful spouse. So, as our prayers include praise and thanksgiving for the body and bride of Christ, they also must include prayers of confession of sin and pleas for forgiveness.
I am also reminded that people may have occasion to meet without the pastor to talk about the pastor, for example, when planning a surprise birthday party. Plus, there may be times when a pastor encourages people to meet without him or her, such as when conducting an annual review. Finally, a mediator may insist on meetings with church leaders, but without the pastor, to discuss their concerns about the pastor, and vice versa. But those meetings should be the exception, not the norm.
Looking ahead, let’s hope and pray that secret meetings without the pastor about the pastor will cease and desist. The depth of our sinfulness rules out the cease and desist part but, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we surely could minimize their frequency. I have witnessed one proven practice towards that end: It only takes one.
While serving my first church, one or two people in positions of authority attempted to organize a meeting without me to talk about me. Their efforts were thwarted by Wayne, a quiet but steady leader of the congregation. When he was asked to participate, he simply said “No.” Unwilling to meet without Wayne, the meeting never took place. Instead, we had a meeting with the pastor (me) during which individuals shared their concerns with me.
I wish I could tell you that the meeting marked a turning point in my ministry with the church. I will leave that story for someone else to tell. Looking back, the meeting should have taken place months earlier and should have been followed up with more meetings, perhaps mediated by a third party. In the intervening months there had apparently been many private conversations about me. Conversations that served only to foster discontent with no means to address the perceived problems in ways that could help. By the time we had our first meeting, some wounds were so deep that reconciliation was off the table for some.
But that doesn’t invalidate the truth that healthy congregations prefer face-to-face conversations when working through disagreements. Nor does it invalidate my premise: it only takes one congregational leader to stand up to the efforts of those attempting to organize a secret meeting without the pastor about the pastor. It only takes one person to say, “I will not attend and neither should you.” I hope you never receive an invitation to such a meeting but, if you do, I hope you will be the one saying, “No.”