Time to have the funeral

December 31, 2014 — 8 Comments

2015-aheadThis is a difficult post to write because it’s about something near and dear to my heart: the local church. And it impacts far more congregations than we’d probably want to admit.

Having served on staff for many years in Christian churches and ministry organizations, there’s a pattern of dysfunction that must be addressed. I look around and see so many churches struggling to be effective in today’s environment. While the reasons are often numerous, one in particular seems to wreak havoc, especially in terms of unity and momentum.

It goes beyond worship styles and preaching styles. It has little or nothing to do with denominational ties or affiliations. And it’s not something that prayer alone can fix.

A closer look, usually including honest conversations with members and staff ministers, often reveals that the key problem is a failure to appropriately move through the stages of grief. Whether related to a specific ministry — or a specific minister — drastic change, even over a period of years, can bring feelings of shock, denial, anger, sadness and despair. However, acceptance of the new reality is extremely difficult for many people, particularly those who place great value on tradition and history.

Inherent in the much-needed acceptance stage is the important process of recalibrating life and perspectives in light of the loss, whether real or perceived. This lack of emotional recalibration is potentially paralyzing and poisonous to the health and growth of a church.

Let me explain.

It’s not uncommon in the life of a church for a key leader to attract a cult-like following. And I mean that in the best possible way. Many times, the leader is simply so loved and so instrumental in personal ministry that members may come to think of him or her truly as part of their extended family. When the time comes for that leader to move on, the members frequently find themselves emotionally longing for his return — or to be wherever he went. This is the point at which it’s all too easy for those members to begin comparing the current ministry with that of the past.

This is a very dangerous situation because, as is often the case in an actual death of a loved one, the individuals tend to remember only the positive parts of that person’s life and personality.

Sometimes the sense of loss is compounded by the fact (almost always unacknowledged) that the effectiveness of the particular minister or ministry is essentially masking the ineffectiveness of other ministers or ministries.

Here’s the fact: A church or ministry cannot successfully move forward if a significant number of its members are always looking backward. Our country is different. Our culture is different. Our communities are different.

It’s one thing to remember, celebrate, and learn from the past, but it’s another thing entirely to be stuck in it.

Does this hit a nerve? Does it make you uncomfortable? If so, then perhaps you are stuck in grief over the loss or drastic change of a church, ministry, or minister you hold dear.

As we approach a new year, maybe it’s time to have the funeral for whatever it is you’re grieving so deeply. Current leaders should not have to live in the constant shadows of their predecessors, who though gifted, were very much the product of a different time and culture.

It’s time to invest all our energy, attention, passion, and vision in our future. Let’s get serious. Let’s get creative. Let’s get all-in for the Kingdom!

God wants to use churches big and small to make a difference and have lasting impact for Him. I pray that 2015 will be a year of forward advancement for the gospel — in your church, in your community, and especially in your heart. In many ways, that’s up to you. Don’t waste another year pining for what was; instead, prayerfully consider what can be.


8 responses to Time to have the funeral


    Thank you Garrick. I feel exactly the same way. I know I am at PHB at this time, because I am where God led me. I know I’m supposed to be here, with this staff. I grew up in the church because of choices my parents made.

    I have wonderful memories of the past, but they cannot sustain my current needs nor help me grow into the mission minded person God is leading me to become.

    My motto: Never follow the man (staff), follow the Lord.



    So well said, as your posts always are!!! I confess that “I” am one of those who tends to dwell in the part of the past that I particularly enjoyed! And, I am certain that I have NOT been as active and supportive of more recent times in our church. I PRAY that I can change that and be MORE of what OUR LORD wants of me in the future! Thank you for your words and GOD BLESS!! John


    So many thoughts in my mind that I don’t seem to be able to express. Just want to say”BEWARE”. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, a very old saying of caution. So many levels of ministry need to change along the way while others need never change. I love you Garrick and I know that you seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you minister through writing. Pat


      Pat, thanks for your thoughts. I think you may have misunderstood my larger point. There are many people who follow a man and think the only ‘right’ way to do ministry is the way a certain person did it. Or they think ministries should always be run in the same manner they were in a previous time. I believe our message and our mission are to be unchanging, but there should be room and flexibility to do things differently. Sometimes grief gets in the way, and we think changing some aspect of ministry — even though that may or may not necessarily be biblical — is somehow disrespecting the previous minister or leadership. For example, there are some people who think it’s practically heresy to change worship service times or to engage in outreach that’s not door-to-door. We need to check our attachments and see if we’re being guided by the Bible, personal preferences, or an unhealthy need to preserve our own comfort or the reputation of a previous minister. I hope this helps.


    Well written, this is not only true but something inhave faced in the past. Its so interesting because this all involves change which is something that if bot done with wisdom can cause heart, confusion and distrust. I agree 100% with your post on leadership. What steps do you think we need to take Bro in order to better deal with situations as you mentioned above in your post?


      Nathan, thanks for stopping by. I think that one thing that makes change more difficult in the church is the reality that pastors, as a general rule, don’t know how to properly manage conflict. Many pastors and staffers are people-pleasers, and because they fear making decisions that upset some, their leadership is often passive, which actually ends up upsetting and disenfranchising an even larger number of members the longer it goes on. I think our seminaries need to be more proactive in preparing church leaders not just theologically but also practically, with significant attention on interpersonal relationships and conflict resolution. I think I’m probably a little better prepared than most due to my counseling-related classes and clinical experience. I tend to think more systemically, applying what I’ve learned about family dynamics to the local church. I wish I had easier answers, but in all honesty, I think we just have to shoot straight with people regarding barriers to church growth. The first step in recovery is admitting there’s a problem, but it seems to me that many church leaders are scared to even do that.


    I agree 100% with you Garrick. Seminaries are not teaching young men to lead and too many young men are following their father and not God. They must be called by God not man.

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