|The Barnabas Ministry
and Overcoming Church Conflicts
Firestorm is a book about conflict in churches, examining the dynamics of church destruction from within. Using real-life experiences, it discusses the life-cycle of a church firestorm.
For many of us, the very mention of conflict and churches is troubling. The idealist in each one of us is uncomfortable with conflict in the church. To many of us, a mark of a healthy and righteous church is love and an absence of conflict.
The realist in each one of us, however, knows that people sin. And people have opinions. In time, there is enough sin and difference of opinion in every church to cause it to rupture at its seams via a "Firestorm."
The author's choice of metaphor (firestorm) is especially real to anyone who has seen catastrophic wildfires. Destruction in a church is like that-- devouring with such fury and force that it defies anyone to stop it. When the fury is over, ruin and loss and shock are all that remains.
We cannot prevent natural disasters. But if we are wise, we can learn to prevent conflicts in churches from turning into firestorms that ravage something so dear to us and the Lord.
Negative Traits Discussed
In addition, several portions of this discussion touched on topics I've written about in more detail. The discussion of group evil reminded me of the work of Stanley Milgram. The portion about the dark side of spiritual achievement reminded me of The Dark Side of Spiritual Leadership.
Reducing the Damage and
Cleaning up the Mess
One novel idea is the concept of an interim leader. The basic idea of this role is to come into a challenging situation (before, during or after the firestorm) and help the church deal with its problems and set the foundation for the future. An obvious benefit to this is that someone with a short-term, problem-solving approach is less like to get devoured and more likely to be effective than a leader with a larger vested interest in the issues. This is because leaders are so often the focal point of church conflicts. Such an interim leader can help the entire church (not just the leaders) work out its issues.
One might think that finding interim ministers would be difficult. But he identifies a growing group of ministers who specialize in this very ministry. He also mentions that retired ministers make good candidates for this work because of the experience and shrewdness that can come with years of ministry.
Susek discusses other important ideas like the strategic use of the pulpit and tranforming the congregation's focus from "my side winning the battle" to solving the problems. Again, an interim minister can come in and deal objectively with issues. This seems to be more than a novel idea. The benefits of such an interim minister are evident in reading through the discussion.
Another key Susek discusses in weathering a firestorm is timely and courageous spiritual leadership. Most elderships hope to minimize damage by waiting to take action. But, in the author's experience, when elders wait too long to take action in a right and godly way it almost always leads to more damage being done.
A Few Drawbacks...
This book didn't have too
many bones either, but one bone
In a couple of places, the author suggested that one's difficulties in
life might be a result of either their (or even an ancestor's!) sin
a spiritual leader in the past. While the book generally shoots pretty
straight with the negative contribution of leaders to church firestorms
and rejects the old "touch not the Lord's anointed" cop-out that many
leaders use to fend off legitimate criticisms, these remarks seemed
weird and unscriptural to me. Mistreating anyone, including a spiritual
leader, is wrong, but I'm not persuaded it would "curse" one's whole
line. I wonder if the author thinks that leaders would also be cursed
for life for mistreating sheep? It is a lot more helpful to concern
ourselves with treating other right because of God than to wonder about
multi-generational curses or bad karma from past situations.
I wish this book didn't have to be written. But along with the realities of human evil, one inevitable reality is the certainty of sin in the church. Because of these realities, the topic of Firestorm is necessary.Copyright © 2003 John Engler. All rights reserved.
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