Overcoming The Wounds of The Past through Re-Alignment

After going through a devastating split with the church seven years ago, I've spent the last years rebuilding from scratch the core of the church. I think we've been very successful in realigning the concept of why we go to church and what we do in our church as opposed other churches. There has been so many times where I have said to myself, "Oh if we could have just stayed together we would've been so much further along." I've come to realize, however, that prior to the split, the church was extremely unhealthy.

The church prior to the split was a consumer church, where people came to “get.” I was asking them to come to be part of the community and to give. I was also asking the church to be non-homogeneous and multicultural, but the people who split the church wanted the church to be a single language. I set up the church to be congregational with checks and balances in their polity, so decisions could be made in community, but a group of men attempted to take control of the church autocratically, and run the church and me by unilateral decisions. They could not tolerate anyone having a different view than their own. Several of the people who split the church fought with me about the small groups doing any form of outreach. They did not want them to multiply, they were just places where their friends could get together and they could feel good about their religion. And although they came into a church that was constantly changing and constantly moving, they brought with them baggage, which threw the brakes on to everything that, we were attempting to do. I can now see that those people had to leave in order for us to be healthy as a body.

The first three years after the split was what I call, “living in survival mode.” There were about 150 adults and about 75 to 100 children with the financial bills of a church of 1200. On top of that, there was one and a half million dollars of debt that the church was servicing, that had ridden with the church since my inception there. Estelle, my wife, had just started the preschool. As a result, her time was extremely divided as to what she could donate to the church. The bulk of the leadership that I thought I had, was ravaged: one third went to the split; one third were people who hated “the drama” and left, and the remaining third were as devastated by the split as I was.

The next four years were spent in what church revitalizer, Mark Branson would call, "Appreciative Inquiry.” The point of appreciative Inquiry is to evaluate the past while keeping the core positively focused on the good things we had done to grow the church. We ask questions like: "Remember a time when you felt most alive, most motivated and excited about your involvement at Miami Baptist Church?” We had to focus on the good in order to defeat the depression of the bad.

There was a small group of people, however, who wanted me to focus on the problems that caused the split. Their approach to what was going on was: “let's make a list of everything that you as a pastor have done wrong and correct it.” The men who did this led a “wave two” split, holding a meeting and saying: "these people said they left because of you, and if you leave they will all come back and everything will be okay." I had to sit there and tell them that if I did leave, a lot of the folks who split the church would indeed come back, but if they did come back, everything would not be okay, because they were wolves in sheep's clothing. Eventually, if they had their way, anyone who did not speak Spanish (which included these same men) would be driven away from the property. I found out very quickly that one of the men who was instigating from the outside the second split was one of the men who instigated the first split. So like Gideon's army we shaved off the dead weight. A courageous core of 12 men stood with me and fought for me. We all understood that this type of "problem-solving" approach was not what was needed in the body of Christ at Miami Baptist Church. Mark Branson says, in his book, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change, a lot of people believe that the leader’s job is to “find the problems and fix them." He calls this a "deficit model." (Branson Kindle locations 515 – 522)

So we initiated long-term change through the use of “Appreciative Inquiry,” - keeping our attitudes focused on that which is positive. First, we focused on area of the church's life and mission. This involved answering the questions: “Who are we; why are we doing what we’re doing, and for whom are we doing it?” We then began to focus on what we did well, which is what Branson calls, "locating your peak examples." After that, we began to focus on what we were doing well that was working. Branson calls this, “analyzing the factors that contribute to faithfulness and the goodness of the church's life and mission."

We then came up with a clear mission statement of our priorities as we examined our hearts against the Word of God. We did not change the mission statement of the church, but we eliminated a competing mission statement, which made the prime mission of the church to be multicultural.

(Make the Italics a Knock Out)

The big thing that I pushed in the early part of the church was the concept of becoming a multicultural, seamless church. In the early years we made every effort to unify the church beyond the languages and to be a community in Christ. We used the motif of the seamless garb of the high priest to describe the body of Christ. That garment, like the garment of the bride was to have no ethnic divisions. I did everything that I could to make everything equal between the different language groups within the body. Where I was the most sensitive, was with the Spanish only speaking part of the congregation. I came to learn that there was a tremendous amount of consumerism within the Latin community. This part of the congregation gave the least and demanded the most. In fact, if they did not get what they wanted they were extremely vocal and divisive, as I would see play out in the split later. We called Seamless Church: "Church Miami Style." 

We decided to move away from the emphasis of being “Seamless,” to an emphasis on evangelism and making disciples of all nations. Next, leadership agreed that all church members must come into alignment with the main vision statement. We agreed and then learned that we could afford to lose those who were in opposition to the main statement … to actually allow them to leave and not be a part of the community. That was probably one of the hardest lessons we had learned as a church body.

I have come to think that this principle must be one of the hardest lessons to teach any church, especially after you have lost a lot of people through conflict. It was not that we were rejecting people from coming to the church, because the church’s arms were open to all, but we determined that if anyone were to become a member of the church, they would have to be in agreement with the direction and purpose of the body of Christ at the Church. We then had to extrapolate from the best of what was and turn it into what might be, in order to create a new future and construct a proposition of what is possible. We then stated our vision as if it were already true. In essence we had to intentionally re-align what was coming out of our mouths, to a positive message in order to defeat the easy “re-hashing” of our past wounds.

In order to get people to refocus, you always start with what is working well. You work the strengths of your organization, because what we focus on becomes our reality. My wife always says that, “it is easier to act a way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting." In defeating negative “self speak” of the organization you have to flip this popular cliché around, which basically implies that positive change starts in your brain and goes to your actions. In other words, before you can get people to” do something,” you've got to get them to agree in their brains to do it. By asking people questions along the way, it creates a buy-in to the process of re-alignment.

When people carry forward positive elements of their past relationship with your organization, they will have more confidence in the journey. The differences that we see in the journey, rather than being negative, serve to enhance and legitimize the story from the past as it varies from person to person. Basically I've found that people want to tell their story of how they survived and made it through, and how they brought good things from their past forward. It is in the process of collaboration that people move forward with the healing story that enables them to embrace the future with the organization.

Bibliography

Branson, Mark Lau (2004-06-01). Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition. Web.

Ford, Kevin G. Transforming Church; Bringing Out The Good To Get To Great. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 2007. . Kindle Edition. Web.

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