Handling Baggage in the New Year

woman sweeping

A New Broom Sweeps Clean

Happy New Year!

A time for forgetting the past—or is it?


There is a lot of talk about dealing with unpleasantness as if declaring a new year will make dirt disappear. Everything can be rosy. Just get out the broom and start sweeping.


Funny thing about sweeping. It’s a job that is never done!


There is really no avoiding the work. You can hire a cleaning person—or handle it yourself. You can’t sweep it away.


Yet, some leadership gurus premise their theories for building churches on just that. Church replanters in particular espouse methodologies that eliminate problems. Although I hate to mix the metaphor, they usually call it baggage.


Here’s their typical strategy for dealing with church baggage:

  • Close a troubled church for six weeks or six months—or seven years in our case.
  • Tear down signage.
  • Lock the doors.
  • Change the name.
  • Allow none of the former members leadership positions if they happen to show up at the church in their neighborhood. Some are very clear—allow them presence but no voice.

These theorists treat church members as servants of a cause. They don’t want flawed people. They want an easy road.


That’s not a biblical model!


Sweeping problems under the rug is creating a full-time challenge. To resolve the mixed metaphor—baggage is too big to sweep under the rug. It must be dealt with.


Here’s a short quote from an article by Dennis Bickers, a pastor of a church in Indiana.

I remember my first church business meeting as a pastor. A proposal I made, which was in line with one of the priorities the church had given me, was firmly resisted by every person in that meeting. I went home wondering what I had gotten myself into.

A few minutes later, one of the church matriarchs called and explained some history in that church that caused such resistance.

I had not been there long enough to know this story, but with that information I was able to revise my plans so that they were later accepted.


This pastor recognizes that lay people are vessels filled with valuable knowledge.


I wish I had had his wisdom about twenty years ago when I ran into a similar situation.

Our congregation had a bad experience with our regional body. I was not active at the start of the problems, but I was involved in the eventual resolution. Trust was very low. As part of the two-year saga, our regional body had required us to meet with a consultant who ended up to be an agent of the regional body’s interests. We had felt used and betrayed by the consultant’s use of our honest interaction. She had seriously twisted and edited remarks to support the regional body’s position. The memory was still fresh.

We had a new pastor who proposed a weekend retreat. He recommended a church consultant he knew to lead the retreat. I tried to facilitate this for the sake of our new pastor, who I knew was dealing with a tough situation. We all were!

Newer members were willing to give it a chance. Older members, more familiar with the conflict, were suspicious that a retreat led by a church consultant was inviting the fox back into the henhouse. I argued that WE were engaging the consultant this time‚ not our regional body.

I shared the reason for the resistance with the pastor. We went ahead with the retreat. Key leaders did not attend. Those who attended, I among them, enjoyed it. It seemed to help the new pastor. It helped us get to know the newer people. A week or so later, I got a huge “I told you so” dropped on my head. The president of the church council received a letter from the consultant, thanking us for using his services. The letter included a copy of a report he had sent to the regional body. The report was not damaging in itself, but the fact that he reported things that we had shared in confidence revived and deepened our collective sense of betrayal. And yes, it led to more problems.

Lay leaders with experience are valuable. Those “I told you sos” are powerful defenses.


Baggage is experience. Experience is the root of wisdom. Leaders who insist on “no baggage” fresh starts are not eliminating problems. They are creating new ones.


So what do churches with “baggage” do in this new year?


Christianity, after all, is all about dealing with baggage.


photo credit: Church Door (B&W Version) via photopin (license)