Confronting Without Being Confrontational

By Marc Potvin
Pastoral Leaders Development Associate, CBOQ

Most pastors and elected church leaders I know are nice people. Of course, I include myself here! The last thing we want to do is hurt people by what we say or do. We also tend to be peace-makers, not wanting to create waves that may be difficult to navigate. Congregations like an atmosphere where people get along. When this does not happen, we become anxious and seek to gently and quickly solve the issue.

The problem is that we usually bend to those who threaten to or cause waves. We let them have their way. Why? Because it is easier and faster. Sadly, this does not solve anything. Instead it creates a greater problem.

It has been my experience that those who create waves are generally seeking control. They want decisions or activities to go their way, according to their understanding of how things should be. They can be vocal and will use their influence to get their way.

Because we are peacemakers, we typically let those who create waves have their way. In other words, we surrender to their wishes and give them permission to have control and power. While we may fume inside and vent to our friends about our frustration, we prefer to keep the peace rather than confront. My question is: What happens to the health of the church?

I suspect that we fear confronting people because we equate confronting with being confrontational. There is a difference. It is found in the demeanor, tone of voice and attitude. To confront is to address an issue directly, seeking to solve it in positive ways. It is to be assertive. To be confrontational is to openly demonstrate that we are willing to get our way at all cost. It is to be aggressive.

While confronting an issue or a person is not pleasant, it is part of effective ministry. When we chose to keep peace by not confronting a person or an issue, we create an infection that damages the relationships and mission of the church.  This has a high cost. Pastors are hurt and leave. Church members stop being willing to take leadership roles in an infected church. Conflicts become more obvious and anger flares up at meetings. “Peace at all cost” can create a diseased church that becomes dysfunctional.

Here is a real-life example. A person in the congregation is very vocal about his opinions. He simply doesn’t like change, any change. This person, along with his family, are very involved in one or more ministries of the church. Some see this person as essential, even though they dislike the way he behaves and stifles any new ideas or ministries. The leadership and membership are afraid he will leave and the ministry he is part of will suffer or disappear.

In order to keep the peace, and the person and his family in the church, they are permitted to have power and veto over ministry issues of the church. This person is not afraid to use the power he has been given, even while he proclaims he is just one church member with one opinion. People stopped coming to meetings or dreaming of what the church could look like.  Members leave, disillusioned. The church has become dysfunctional.

I look forward to hearing your ideas, I will share them with you, along with my thoughts, in the next bulletin.

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