Are you familiar with the question “What is the elephant in the room?” This nonsensical question is a metaphorical idiom for an obvious problem that people don’t want to talk about. The situation is as noticeable as an elephant would be if sitting in your living room or at your dinner table.
More recently, a former pastor of a congregation stated that a firmly entrenched church secretary made life so miserable for him that she was a major factor in his decision to move on. He also noted that the two pastors previous to him shared similar sentiments. Yet, the leadership of the congregation failed to address the situation.
Back in the day, the apostle Paul called out the elephant in the room in his first letter to the church in Corinth: a man sleeping with his step-mother! For some reason, the Christians in that community thought this was behavior of which to be proud. Paul challenged their failure to deal with the situation and basically said, “If you can’t handle it, I will.”
What is your elephant in the room? What is your unresolved conflict? Your unaddressed situation? What difficult conversation do you need to have? What do you need to take care of before the arrival of a new pastor?
Here are a few of the more prominent: A vocal contrarian who insists that his or her will is God’s will, in other words, he or she must approve of every decision made by the congregation; an underperforming member of the staff or a staff member who, like a cancer, contaminates each space in which he or she enters; unrealistic expectations of the pastor, especially in the area of pastoral care; a facility that hinders rather than enhances ministry; congregational leaders who validate complaining; expecting a pastor to work full-time for a part-time salary; and unrepentant sin.
As illustrated by the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, unrepentant sin comes in many forms. Today, to name a handful, we see it in congregations birthed through division, pastors pushed out without biblical cause by congregational power brokers, congregations shaped by the sinful elements of the culture around them (such as racism), and congregations failing to call out social injustices in their neighborhoods.
Perhaps it best that congregational leaders assume there is an elephant in the room! Then, ask the Lord for eyes to see and ears to hear so that that they can clearly identify and rectify the situation, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer Prompt: Lord, grant us courage and wisdom to engage difficult but crucial conversations.
ChapterNext is a pastor search and church consulting firm led by Rev. Sam Hamstra. They assist congregations through a handful of services, including staff development, weekend worship workshops, leadership retreats, congregational mergers, and ministry reviews (vision and mission statements, budgets, building renovation, and marketing plans). These services grew out of ChapterNexts’ founding purpose which is to help congregations turn the page so that they can begin writing new chapters of dynamic and life-transforming ministry.