Wishful Thinking May Create Predatory Practices in the Church


Read this post, written by a church consultant.


It is well-intended but troubling.


Consultant Sarai Rice has benevolent interests for the congregations she serves. The love comes through.


She is probably unaware that her innocent musings feed dangerous Church trends. The trends make Christianity dangerous for laity.


Her rationale sounds good. But it encourages church leaders to think of congregational assets as their own. A slippery slope. We can’t know what offering-givers are thinking, but it is probably not to enrich hierarchy.


I’ve read similar posts from other church consultants. Church leaders enjoy relatively unchecked power. This magnifies the danger.


Ideas shape policy. Church leaders have power to make their dreams come true!


Some denominations have every right to consider the best use of congregational assets. Catholic and Episcopal traditions have long assigned property/asset ownership to the judicatory.


Not so with many Protestant denominations, including Lutheran congregations.


Lutheran polity assigns ownership and administration to congregation members. They can purchase and sell property. Even if a church decides to close, members have the right to dispose of assets following charitable guidelines.


For decades, maybe even centuries, this was unchallenged.


But this is the 21st century. The troubling economics of today’s more affluent world are difficult to understand. (That’s another post!) Regardless, encouraging church leaders to ponder how struggling churches should spend dwindling resources adds to challenges.


Regardless, encouraging church leaders to ponder how struggling churches should spend dwindling resources adds to challenges.

Guilt-tripping congregations who want to spend their resources on their  ministry is cripples potential.


This sense of entitlement tempts the breaking of commandments and the abuse of power.


But Consultant Rice probably thinks she is writing only to clergy. That’s where these discussions usually start and stop. Dedicated lay leaders should start reading the blogs of the people who shape the policies we end up dealing with.


Sadly this thinking is already an influence. Judicatory leaders judge congregations by THEIR  view of a congregation’s prospects. It’s natural that they weigh what’s in it for themselves. Decisions will be made that have nothing to do with the congregations in question. They will call it discernment. Prejudice might be a better word.


This affects how they lead. Why assign the most capable pastors to churches you have no hope for? Attitudes develop among clergy that a call from a small congregation is beneath them. Poor leadership only accelerates decline—in line with their vision. People who stand to benefit but who know nothing about the congregations in question assume power they were never intended to have.


Case in point: Suburban leaders look at urban congregations and decide they cannot thrive without parking lots. Makes perfect sense to suburban Christians who rely on cars for everything. Not so in the city! If they were just wrong, this would matter little. However, their view determines the allocation of resources/talent and the influence small churches have on boards, etc. Suburban church people start making decisions for urban members.


It doesn’t end there. Lay people may not be aware of the leadership concept “caretaker pastors.” Clergy know the term. Caretaker pastors are expected to do no more than care for existing members until resources fail and the church closes. Since this term is not used in the call process, the stage is set for conflict. Lay leaders wonder why the pastor isn’t doing what they expect a pastor to do! They aren’t in the plan. They are just paying for it.


When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed in the 1980s, congregations were promised control of their properties. But since then, bylaws have been added that are in opposition to these founding promises. (This would be illegal in the secular world.) They have listed conditions that allow judicatories to take control, but there are no standards to measure these conditions. Anything goes! Furthermore, they have added wording that allows them to administer a congregation’s assets for their own benefit. If a synod is running a deficit budget, an asset-rich, small congregation can kiss their ministry goodbye.


This post innocently feeds into current predatory practices.

Taking the property of others and administering it for your own benefit is the definition of theft.


Church consultants and pastors are accustomed to discussing issues in private clergy circles. But blogs can be read by anyone. Lay leaders, start reading the blogs which shape the church you serve.


Lay leaders with a vision for ministry in their neighborhoods need to beware. Other people want what you have. Church people have a way of making coveting sound noble. It’s not.


photo credit: Soren Wolf Serval via photopin (license)