“I think I’m going to look for another church”, sighed the pastor. He was a middle-aged man who’d been in the ministry for many years, not some young upstart from seminary. His reason for leaving was not new. He had, in fact, faced it a number of times, and was just tired of dealing with it, especially in a small, fading church which probably was on its way out anyway. It didn’t seem worth the hassle.
The problem? Trying to work with the church boss. This was a man, in leadership, who felt the need to be in control of the church and most of what happened in it. He obstructed whatever changes he felt unnecessary, even when they were probably beneficial. He often did it rather craftily by simply saying “I’ll handle this” when a new issue came up and then letting it quietly drop. This fellow happened to be in leadership, but that really wasn’t the point. The church boss doesn’t necessarily need to be in a formal post, in fact, they sometimes function better in the background – the leader behind the leaders.
Every church has a boss (or bosses). It does not have to be a man. Nor is this role always consciously played. Some church bosses don’t realize the level of influence they yield nor deliberately seek it. In fact, usually they’d reject the title in horror, and sincerely believe that all they’ve done is to look out for the church’s welfare and God’s glory. They may even have confidence that they’re part of the reason that the church has lasted as long as it has and thrived. And, to some extent, they may be right, for reasons we’ll discuss. This leads to our first question:
Why do churches have bosses?
1. Churches have bosses because someone almost always has more influence than others
This is human nature and true, to some extent of any group, even with a group of children. For any number of reasons, some people get listened to more quickly than others. It may be competence, charisma, looks, strength of will, or whatever. I have a cousin who has always led effortlessly, without much, if any apparent attempt to do so. He’s just the kind of personality people follow. This, in itself, is normal and may even helpful, depending on the person.
2. Churches have bosses because others don’t want to take responsibility or care who makes the choices
For a number of folks, church is just a Sunday morning excursion, enjoyable, but quickly forgotten once the “real world” begins on Monday. They don’t pay that much attention to what’s going on in the church or at least don’t want to be responsible for it. Let someone else worry about it. This leads to the next point:
3. Churches have bosses because decisions have to be made
I hope you don’t take away the picture of a church boss as necessarily negative; a willful dictator sort of thing. They can be that way. But some of them are making most of the decisions because someone has to do it, and others are reluctant to play that role. So, sometimes unwillingly, out of loyalty, they go ahead and make sure that certain things happen or that they happen properly rather than haphazardly.
4. Churches have bosses because some people like being in control
For whatever reason, benevolent or not, they’re willful by nature – they were probably born that way. They like being in charge. Others may flee from that role, but they embrace it, and often, are used to getting their way. Usually, they have a surplus of confidence that their way is the right one.
5. Churches have bosses because of continuity
Pastors come and go – usually every few years. Each of them comes in with a new plan or perspective – but then, suddenly, they’re gone. The church boss stays, though, and often reflects not just their opinion, but the long-standing culture of the church, which is not easily changed, especially in a year or two.
6. Churches have bosses because they’ve earned the right to be heard
There are bosses who have no intention of playing that role, but who have earned the confidence and trust of others over the years through their character and a history of making wise decisions. “What does Mary think?” is a question which springs naturally to peoples’ minds, because they respect her. This leads to our second question:
What’s the most constructive way to relate to a church boss?
1. I relate constructively to the church boss, first, by finding out who they are
Believe it or not, this isn’t always easy to do. They may not speak much. Listen to how the church makes decisions, to whom they pay extra attention; whose word seems to matter the most. This may take time, and there may be several church bosses, depending on which area of the church you’re dealing with (who runs the kitchen, for example).
2. I relate constructively to the church boss by initially accepting their role
Even if you may eventually confront them, this is how things are at the moment. Unless it’s crucial, let it be, and scope out the situation. In fact, this leads to the next point:
3. I relate constructively to the church boss by attempting to build a positive relationship with them
Get to know them. Listen to them a lot. Reinforce the positives. Understand what their real concerns are. Earn their trust, if possible. Help them get to know you and where you’re coming from. Emphasize your commonalities.
4. I relate constructively to the church boss by trying to work through them
This isn’t always possible, of course, but if you can, talk with them early about new ideas, if, in fact, these ideas can become “their” ideas, with them proposing them, and perhaps even getting credit for them, this is a smoother, more favorable way of handling things. It requires a bit of humility and patience, but is worth the price and gets the job done. That’s the goal, isn’t it?
5. I relate constructively to the church boss by building a support base
Work with your leaders and the congregation patiently, taking time to help them process where you’re trying to lead the church. Answer questions. Take your time. Try not to take opposition personally. Opposition is part of the process and can even be a helpful way of refining the original idea. Show respect and love. Don’t try to go it alone.
6. I relate constructively to the church boss by carefully picking my battles
At times you may have to push back against the church boss. Don’t waste those confrontations over petty matters. Know what field is worth dying on. Sometimes, you just have to swallow your pride and back off. Each success you achieve will give you more credibility to work off of.
7. I relate constructively to the church boss by loving them
This person is your brother or sister in Christ even though they may be bull-headed, close-minded, or obnoxious (which, I’ve stressed, isn’t always the case.). Anyway, if they have a bad attitude, don’t let that attitude creep into you. Don’t become hostile, manipulative, etc. Love them and pray for them. It’s God’s church, not yours.