Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the book,“When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
Well, for starters , we are not “good” people, but sinners saved by grace. Those of us who have experienced the saving grace of God are not immune from bad things happening. Job would be the poster child for this. In spite of his godly walk, more “bad things” happened to him than perhaps happened to anyone we can recall reading about or heard about; and yet God brought him through it.
Furthermore, organizations (Christian or not) and churches are not immune from bad things happening. You can do everything right and, according to the book, and still get surprised with stuff that you had no idea was coming.
I have been working with, and in, churches for most of my 55 years as a Christian, and have seen a lot of bad things happen. A church can be led well, run well, prayed over well, and still things happen that are unfortunate and sometimes can’t be anticipated or avoided. How we respond and communicate is of the utmost importance.
Here are three “Bad Things” that come to mind and which I have personally observed:
1. MORAL SIN OCCURS
Someone in the leadership team commits some sort of moral sin. In most cases, it is sexual in nature and in other cases it is financial or relational in nature. I have been on a pastoral team several times where one of the pastors on the staff had crossed a moral line and had to be restored or let go. One of my coaching clients is currently dealing with such a situation.
You can do the best job possible in the hiring process, but there is no way you can predict the future or see all that is in a person’s heart. When moral sin happens, it’s best to deal with it quickly and honestly. If there is true biblical confession and repentance, a restoration process can be initiated. If there isn’t, a decision needs to be made to let the person go. There is much debate today as to how serious the sin needs to be for the person to be terminated. Matthew 18:15-20 and I Timothy 5:19,20 are two passages that can help us in prayerfully and carefully deciding these matters. To allow the sin to continue, or to cover it up, is never a good option.
How that person is released and how it is communicated to the church family is critical for the leadership to maintain credibility continuing trust. No sweeping it under the rug. No disappearing in the dead of night. No lying about what really happened. Honesty is still the best policy. If possible, an agreed upon statement which is read and posted can go a long way toward preventing people from taking sides and even causing a church split.
2. FINANCIAL CRISES HITS
There have been endless discussions on the running of church finances. I will not dive into that here, but simply state that even with the best and most prayerful planning, a financial crisis can hit. Equipment breaks down. Underestimating the cost of something can occur. Sometimes it is related to “moral sin” when a pastor or staff person steals from the church. Many years ago I was on the elder board of a church where one of the elders (over a period of time) stole $10,000 from offerings that he oversaw. We agonized for months over that as to how we should handle it and how it should be communicated.
I believe one of the smartest things a church can do is to save some from every offering for the unexpected just as you would do on a personal level. Some churches are like some families that spend just a little more than they have coming in presuming on future income. Proverb 6:6-8 reminds us of the lesson of the ant and Proverb 21:20 sternly warns us to not spend it all. Save for a rainy day is still good homespun wisdom.
3. STAFF LEAVE THE TEAM
At times pastors and staff leave and move on. There can be a number of reasons for this. It can be a moral failure which we discussed earlier. It can be to move closer to family. It may be another position that better suits their gifts and passion. It might be that the church they are in is not healthy and they can no longer with a good conscience continue to work there.
I have had conversations with pastors and other staff who have been asked to leave without a satisfying explanation. The real reason was not shared, so the person could not learn from it. I always struggle with this. If a person is not doing well in their position and responsibilities, they need to know that and hear exactly what they need to do to improve. “You’re just not meeting our expectations” doesn’t cut it in my book; especially when no expectations were clearly explained.
When a person moves on, as much as possible there needs to be positive and affirming closure and a celebration for what that staff person contributed. When there is significant and serious sin involved, there needs to be total honesty. There also needs to be a public announcement in writing on the church’s website or in the church’s newsletter with which both the person leaving and the rest of the leadership team can sign off on. If there is an attempt to cover up the real reason, great harm can be done to the trust factor going forward. Bad things really start happening when the rank and file don’t trust the leadership anymore.
Now, I have just touched the surface on these three perceived “bad things” which can happen. In some cases it is not all bad in the bigger scheme of things, as the Lord can work all things together for good (Romans 8:28). Additionally, there are lots of other “bad things” which can happen in local churches. If you want to add to my three based on your own experience, do write a comment below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org