Scaffolding Members

The following article on scaffolding members is based on a section in the upcoming book Pastoral Helmsmenship: A Pastor’s Guide to Church Administration. When taking a pastorate with the intention of restarting or revitalizing the church, the reality of short-term members, called scaffolding members, cannot be overlooked. Sadly, most pastors do not understand how to identify and deal with these short-term blessings, resulting in lasting pain. Here is a section from the upcoming book.

Most pastors have or will experience the pain of friends and members who jump ship. These are often the individuals or couples who made a significant contribution to the church and ministry during the early, tenuous season of your ministry. Often, the contribution was a special talent, abundant generosity or going the second mile support and encouragement. Steve Sjogren and Rob Lewin address this reality in their book, Community of Kindness:

… there are two kinds of people--many are there for just a season, and a few are there to stay long-term. This is a vital lesson to learn, because as a leader it is easy to become caught up in the nurturing of what we lovingly call the "scaffolding people." Builders of physical structures use a set of scaffolding to erect a building. The scaffolding is not the building, but it is necessary for the construction of the building that will eventually emerge. As the building nears completion, the scaffolding falls away, leaving the permanent building standing.[i]

Although Sjogren and Lewin address this phenomenon primarily as it relates to church planters, we have observed scaffolding members are also attracted to new pastors and churches that are in transition. Scaffolding members are best understood as home missionaries. Their contributions to the ministry are often just what is needed, and often involve a significant sacrifice of time and resources. As a pastors, these members seem invaluable, so when the call announcing they are leaving, the unsuspecting pastor is caught off-guard. A common response is to try and convince them to stay. This is where a word of warning is merited, as emotions are running high at this juncture.

Scaffolding members can often be best identified in hindsight. However, here are some characteristics we have observed over the years:
· They show up already saved, and ready to serve
· They bring a long resume of former church affiliations
· They show loose denominational fidelity. It is not uncommon for a scaffolding member to work with a liturgical church, then go to a charismatic church, then a Baptist Church and so on
· They show above average hospitality or generosity
· They frequently speak of the need and importance of belonging

The last characteristics is interesting, because when they leave, scaffolding members will often say, “I don’t feel important” or “I need to find a church where I belong.” Instead of letting scaffolding members send you to the funny farm, consider the following response when they announce they are leaving:
1. Thank them for their friendship and service to Christ and the church
2. If possible and appropriate, publically acknowledge their contribution and future plans to the congregation. Once I understood the scaffolding principle, I was able to mitigate some of the potential problems by publically recognizing their contributions and commending them to their next assignment.
3. Do not try to hold on to them. The danger here is that you may be successful, for a season. Imagine leaving the scaffolding up after the building is completed. Scaffolding members who stay will become antagonists and vision hijackers. Let them go, or you’ll be the one who either walks the plank or jumps ship.

[i] Steve Sjogren, Rob Lewin, Community of Kindness, Gospel Light Publishers, 2003, 35


Dr. Rodney Harrison serves as Director of Doctoral Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO.  Dr. Harrison has led in the development of two Church Revitalization programs at Midwestern, and has 30 years of experience as a pastor and church planter. He can be contacted at rharrison@mbts.edu.


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