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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - When People Leave, but Don't Really Leave Edition

Most, if not all, of us women who are ordained have come face-to-face with men and women who do not believe in the validity of our calling from God.  Sometimes the result is that the person(s) choose to leave the communities of faith we have been called to lead; at other times, they stay, or stay on the periphery.  Such is the case with our sister in Christ who writes today.

Hello Matriarchs,

I have a problem that many of our sisters might be familiar with.  When I began my current appointment, just over a year ago, two male members and their families left because they didn’t want a female preacher.  I am not the first woman this church has had in the pulpit, but these folks probably joined in the years between.

The concern I am having is that one of these men remains teaching a Bible Study that is considered to be a church event.  It is off site and was originally sponsored by our men’s group, though now one woman attends.  This man is a self-styled expert, accountable to no one.  I realize that people like him exist in many churches.

My husband went to the Bible Study a couple of times.  He thinks this man is arrogant (in my one meeting I found him the same), but said that the only people who went to the study were a few of the “old-timers” who have been members of the church for a while, and who get along with me very well.  Now, however, some new prospective members have begun attending.  When I met this man at a church event recently (the only thing he has attended since his departure), he told me about this couple coming to his study, how he believed they needed additional “tutoring” and he is working with them individually himself.

I didn’t want to deal with this issue while I was the “new pastor” in my first year.  Now, however, I wonder if something should be done.  Is it worth ruffling feathers to say that this study should not be a church event and be taken off our calendar and other publications?  (Our calendar keeper is one of the few who attend and invite others.)  Also, what would be the precedent set about using other non-members as volunteers at our church for things like VBS, music, etc.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  Thanks!

Several of the matriarchs are enjoying some much-appreciated vacation time, while others are leading mission trips and the like.  As a result, Muthah+, who blogs at Stone of Witness is our sole respondent this week:

Dear Second Year Pastor,

First of all, I would suggest you talk to the members of your board. They are the ones who called you.  Tell them of your concerns. If they think that you can ignore him, do so.  The less you can give him credence, the better off you will be.

If he is running this study as an activity of the congregation, your leadership should end it if this person is not going to make himself part of the worshiping community.  Explain to your board what your fears are.  The more that the congregation can take responsibility for this breach the better you are.  Try not to be in the middle or triangle in this situation.  It is really those who called you who should do something about this guy.

If they cannot or won't do anything, ignore him.  He does not choose to be accountable to the church, so don't give him a second thought.  This is one of those 'shake the dust of your feet' type of situations and you are better off if you do not have to deal with him.

Have you faced a similar situation?  Do you have some insight or advice for our sister?  Please join the conversation by posting your comments below.

The Matriarchs' mailbox is empty again, so it's a great time to send your questions to us at

May you live in God's amazing grace+


  1. I experienced a similar situation, though their reason for leaving was not directly related to me (they "left" about a year before I arrived, but were still involved in church activities here and there). I did not address it immediately, but it eventually became a problem and I had to speak to it.

    In one case, it was convenient - she was serving on a committee with three-year terms, and I told her about six months before her term ended that I would not renew her term for the coming year unless she was regularly worshipping with us on Sunday mornings. She did not make too big a deal of it, though she did made some snide remarks on Facebook and elsewhere a couple of times, which I ignored. It was relatively uneventful.

    In another case, I knew that the person was worshipping elsewhere but continued to participate in one particular program. I asked to meet her for coffee and asked her to tell me about her history with the church and how she felt about her current relationship with the church. She wanted to stay involved "on her terms" but was unwilling to make changes that I & other church leaders requested. In the end, I acknowledged how hard it was to leave her "home church" but asked her to choose which community she would be a part of, because being "sort-of" a part of both was hard on everyone. She was hurt, said she felt "forced out", but in the end decided to cut ties. A few other members of the congregation felt I pushed her away, but I spoke of it in terms of sending her off with our blessing to do ministry in another place, and the whole thing eventually blew over.

    It is messy, though - and even more so if this person chooses to challenge your authority. Definitely have other leaders present or at least "in line" with you if you speak to him. Prayers for a difficult situation.

  2. You seem to have two issues: the rogue Bible study leader, and the broader issue many of us are experiencing in this post-membership era. We all have people who are in the process of assimilating to nonetheless do their best to follow the rules and be a part of what the church is doing, rather than intentionally violating boundaries.

    People may see the class as more a social peer group than competing instruction. You cannot control who socializes with whom, nor what they study outside of your sanctioned classes, but you still have a responsibility to point out to them that this man and your denomination do not see eye to eye on some important issues. I agree that the church board must tell this man that either he teaches an approved curriculum under the auspices of your church or his class cannot be publicized. If board members are not quite as alarmed as you are, you should point out that "individual tutoring" carries HUGE liability if your church is perceived to have endorsed this man in any way.

    I would also do some guerrilla maneuvers. Figure out what it is people like about his class — even ask some of them directly, if you can — and do it better in house. Be open about that. "I understand that some of our members' spiritual needs are not being met by our own Bible study; let's get together and craft a new class!" That's more work for you, but it's proactive and may take less emotional energy than worrying about what he might be doing to undermine your ministry.

    Some of your members may leave, and maybe they should. As the poster above said, send them off with a blessing and thank God they are not leaving the faith altogether. Just remember that your job is to preach, teach and minister, not to keep everyone happy. This isn't a failure on your part; it's just one of those weird things that happen to us. For part of the week, we are missionaries, but when we're with our congregations and classes, we must focus on those who are present and let the rest go.

  3. Oh my, this ATM question sounds as if I wrote it! It is amazing that somebody else is going through the exact same situation! We're currently dealing with a former-member couple who want to continue teaching *in the church building* (not at someone's house) and the entire class that attends thinks that this is perfectly acceptable. Board members are afraid to say/do anything because they're worried that the entire class will leave.

  4. I accepted a call without knowing that my predecessor (who left under bad circumstances) would remain. I actually was ordained to a CE spot which she had as a non-ordained postion. There was much conflict from the beginning as she stayed in the church and also remained on one of the committees and (yes) teaching a Bible Study. She and her spouse used the study to offer commentary on what I was or was not doing.
    It was an ongoing problem and eventually led to my departure.
    I would suggest you speak to your board or other governing body to bring resolve to the situation. As one who has been there, it is not worth the sleep you are losing or any other stress. The job is tough enough without someone making it harder.
    Prayers for a quick and good resolve

  5. Alison-in-FranceJuly 27, 2012 at 3:49 AM

    For the new couple, can you put together something official for new people/enquirers, led by yourself or someone you trust? Then you could contact them and offer it, and contact him and say something like "thanks for letting me know, we'll handle it from now on..."

    We had a similar "free-lance" housegroup for a while led by 2 men who opposed women (ie me) preaching. (I think they were positioning themselves as the only "real believers" in the congregation.) It imploded after 6 months because their egos were too big to inhabit the same room...

  6. I think that the calendar issue would be the easiest to resolve. If you are a single-staff church, then it is nice to have someone "handle the calendar" but I think that church-sponsored events should be on a church calendar, or at the very least, be an extension of the mission and work of the church in the community. So you might have to take that responsibility back for while (which could include changing up the password of the website to screen and approve changes.) Yeah. That's ticklish. But you could use it as an excuse that there is a 'revamp' going on. Or whatever. Slightly duplicitous. But there are times that it is helpful to add to your administrative work in order to change a direction or reframe a vision or action statement of the church.

    That said, you can always add events to the calendar so that this Bible study does not stand out as a couples study or "THE" study. Bringing additional content and friendships to the families of your church can only be a bonus.

    If you live in a larger metro area, you could also include support groups and nondenominational community studies if they are in line with your beliefs (for instance Alpha classes, Community Bible Study, Bible Study Fellowship). I say this with the caveat that the last two groups are fairly conservative in their teachings and outlook. Since connection and support are frequently reasons why people join studies, I think you have a positive reason to add to the "schedule."

    Above all the session or elder board (whatever your church structure has) should be a part of the process and the decision. And yes, leadership of church events should come from the church, not people who are elsewhere because they didn't agree with the decision of the Calling Body.


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