Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

When To Intervene When Things Go Wrong

My father, Dr. Bill Cooke (above) was a mainline denominational pastor, and during the late 60’s and early 70’s he started exploring the Charismatic renewal. As a result, he began teaching on the Holy Spirit, and our church really started growing. There was an explosion of interest in that subject at the time and people started coming from everywhere. But there was one problem: My dad had a church elder who didn’t like it.  So this elder began working behind the scenes, and although my dad realized it pretty quickly, he didn’t take it seriously. After all, it was just one elder, right?

But this elder was persistent (some might say cunning,) and over the course of a year, he created enough momentum against my dad’s teaching that my dad was fired. My freshman year in college, the first phone call I received from my parents was to tell me that they’d been let go from the church. Since that time, I’ve seen far too many similar situations. Sometimes it’s a theological conflict, other times it’s a administrative issue, problem staff member, or a challenge to a pastor’s leadership style. And in case after case, too many pastors do the same thing as my dad – ignore it until it’s too late.

No matter how small, when a crisis starts brewing in a church, when’s the best time to intervene?

Now.  At that moment.  And quickly.

A crisis has a way of escalating. Momentum happens, and before long, people you’d never think would side with the opposition do exactly that. In many cases, your adversary is strategic, is a good negotiator, and understands how to sway people’s thinking.

So don’t take anything for granted. As soon as you see, hear, or smell something going south, step in. The earlier you intervene, the easier to change perceptions and correct errors. Plus, the less direct you’ll have to be.

Have you experienced a crisis where the leader waited too late to intervene?

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  1. Sadly, the majority of church conflicts have little to do with theological differences. Most are centered in power and control, then baptized in the language of Christian-eze to make it appear more spiritual. I know, as a former pastor I wear the scars of church conflict having confronted the sinful behavior of a sexual predator. Family and friends rallied to his defense with the cry, “That’s just how he is,” completely ignoring his clearly illegal deviant behavior as well as the transformative nature of the gospel. The end result was that I resigned along with the victim of the abuse and the guilty party remained basically unscathed. Although not “fair” and very painful on many fronts, I still believe the words of my good friend Paul when he encouraged us to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15.58). Phil, I’m sorry that your dad and your family had to experience this conflict and that the cause of Christ was damaged as a result. Stay the Course.

    1. Absolutely true Greg. Most church conflicts aren’t over theological differences, but power and control. Very well said – and very sad. Thanks for the great comment!

  2. Conflict, is part of our life. I have experienced it severally. God has used it to strengthen my spiritual muscle. In one of the Churches that I was privileged to serve, that was what I saw. When I told my Senior Pastor, he said to me, “You are jealous.” Rather pathetic, he acted very late and that cost him his ministry. Sorry to say that the ministry folded up.
    Prevention is better than cure.

  3. I would say that in many cases, this is true. But there is an old saying that can apply as well: “what you call attention to, you draw attention to.” After 30 plus years of ministering in the church we pioneered, we have found that sometimes purposely NOT responding dries up (or drives out) the source of the contention. Sometimes trouble makers just want attention. If you keep your leaders close and connected to your heart and mission, they can do an amazing job establishing and maintaining peace amongst the people. If its a problem like your dad had- with a church elder— then I would agree with everything you wrote. Immediate response. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth but it also can be a very toxic place with abusive behavior. I’m so sorry this happened to your family….

    1. Lisa – I agree. The key is really having the discernment to know which path to take. Sounds like you have a good sensitivity to that, and thanks for sharing that perspective!

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