* Talk to the members. Make a point of getting to church early and leaving late. Be generous with your time. Listen to what people say. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that your friends are representative of the entire church. Sometimes, the only people who think that way are your friends.
I know a church that was considering a major change. The elders announced that they’d meet with every single family and get their input in person before making a decision. That night, a few influential families called, threatened to pull their contributions, and the elders panicked. They decided to yield to the threats. And those families all stayed and made their contributions.
But about a third of the church left. The elders made a promise and didn’t keep it. Worse yet, they’d made their decision in utter disregard for the opinions of most of the church. The elders were afraid of the loud minority — who likely would never have left — when they should have been afraid of the silent majority.
* Keep confidential plans confidential. One of the worst ways to get into trouble is for the members to hear about your decision through the rumor mill. If an elder can’t keep a secret, he can’t be an elder. Seriously. He has to step down.
I once sat on a committee — long before I became an elder — and we brainstormed the idea of dropping “Church of Christ” from our name. We had no such authority. It was just an idea being kicked around. We couldn’t have done it had we wanted to. And the idea went nowhere.
The very next day, a new member who’d transferred from another congregation heard that we’d already taken the sign down! He actually drove to the building to see.
It was supposed to be a confidential discussion. It wasn’t even serious. He and his family nearly left the church.
Of course, the other problem with leaks is you want to be very careful about how announcements are made. It may require explanation. It may need to come from an elder or be in writing. You never want it to come by rumor!
Impress on one another that the only way to keep a secret is to tell no one. Sometimes, you have to agree not to even talk to your wives. If that’s too hard, you aren’t elder material — and you aren’t minister material.
* Be very careful about how announcements are made. The cliché is true: you only get one chance to make a first impression. Should an elder make the announcement? Or the preacher? At church from the pulpit? Or in the bulletin?
Here’s a hint. If you’re afraid to stand up and make it personally, you need to stand up and make it personally. Don’t hide from your decisions. You can’t, you know.
* Beware opinion makers and blockers. This is group politics 101. In any group, some people have the power to persuade others or to keep others from being persuaded. It may be a retired elder who carries great authority with the church. It may be the preacher. It may be the lady who runs the ladies Bible class.
In a healthy church, all these people can be trusted to follow the elders if given good information — which all members should receive. But in many churches, they must be reckoned with. If you don’t persuade Mr. X, then you lose half your contribution and 20% of your members.
Normally, my view of such people is that the elders should not empower them. After all, they aren’t elders and they shouldn’t be given veto power. But my view is also that we can’t be stupid. On a really, really big question, you may have to sit them down in advance, brief them, and persuade them. Or you may have to be particularly careful to do the necessary preparatory work in their class — persuading the opinion leaders in the classroom.
For example, in some churches, the deacons need to be told first, as a matter of protocol. But if this is the case, you should assume that the deacons will not keep the secret! People are just really bad at secrets. Don’t be naive.
All this assumes that these are good, spiritual people and that their influence is due to their spirituality and the respect that engenders. By all means, get the good people of the church on your side early. Pay them the respect their service to the Lord justifies.
But if your movers and blockers are self-centered, power-hungry types, you can’t feed their sinful attitude. You have to accept that they might leave. Better yet, you might just confront them and ask them to repent — long before any critical change comes down the path. Better that they leave before you take on a big mortgage than after!
I know of one very large church that came within a phone call of having their preacher leave because an influential member tried to run him off “for the good of the church.” When it was all tracked down, this member was mad because the hymnals were replaced by a projector without anyone consulting him! He wasn’t mad about the hymnals. He was trying to re-establish his power. Such members should be dealt with under Matthew 18:15 ff.
* Beware debt! This is a hard one, but the more debt your church takes on, the more power you give the donors — and the less risk you can take in your teaching and preaching. Therefore, teach your hard lessons before you take on the big mortgage.
Of course, the big donors may well be spiritually mature, Godly men and women who are anxious for change. It’s a delightful blessing when that’s true. But those churches that have members who use money for leverage are destined for spiritual midget-hood.
Never, ever empower a member who threatens the church by withholding his checks. Never. Better to declare bankruptcy than to turn the leadership of the church over to an unspiritual man.
* Do not let a vocal minority run the church. Countless churches allow a few very vocal members to have their way on everything. Wrong! Look for a chance to say no and stick with it. Love them. Hug them. Pray with them. Study with them. Do not yield to them.
Jesus runs the church. Let him have his way. Do not turn the reigns over to people that church would never ordain as elders.
One of the major turning points in the history of many churches is when the vocal minority first learns they are no longer are in control. They’ll either get right with Jesus — or they’ll pass around petitions, withhold contributions, try to run off the preacher — you name it. This is called by a technical term: sin. You should call it the same thing.
Treat it as the moral and spiritual issue it is — not a political issue. It’s not about compromise. It’s about refusing to approve ungodly tactics. And once you shut it down, it will likely never happen again. Grit your teeth. Buy some sleeping pills. And suffer through it.
One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard was by our then pulpit minister Buddy Jones. We were in a tussle over musical styles. He finally told us something like this:
The young people enjoy contemporary music. The older members tend to prefer traditional hymns. And we’re going to sing both. The elders decided to have a blended service. But this is not a compromise. In fact, it’s the opposite. You see, both sides win and both sides get everything they want.
The older members love the younger members — and they know the younger members enjoy the contemporary songs. And so, when we sing contemporary songs, the older members will find joy in the fact that people they love are happy. And when we sing traditional songs, the younger members will find joy in the fact that the older members are happy. And so we’ll all be happy when our favorite songs are being sung. And we’ll be even happier when someone else’s favorite song is being sung — because people who love each other take their greatest joy in the pleasure of the ones they love.