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A Case Study: How Mary Was Blindsided by a Controversy

Mary was new to Second Better Grace Well-Known-Denomination Church. The church was 32 years old and had the kind of music Mary liked. The pastor was a good speaker and seemed to care for everyone.

Before she began to feel like she truly belonged, Mary was elected to the Budget Committee. At first, she was very flattered. She had barely finished her first year in the church and she was asked to be on the Budget Committee!

When her pastor, Pastor True, arranged the first committee meeting for electing a chairperson and organizing the committee, she was shocked to learn that everyone on the committee was serving for the first time. Furthermore, after the meeting when they were visiting, Mary talked to each of the other committee members and asked how long they had been attending Second Better Grace Well-Known-Denomination Church. She was surprised to learn they were all relatively new attendees and members. The one who had been there longest had been there 17 months.

What was happening? Most of the committee members didn’t seem to be concerned. Mary, however, had been through a couple of traumatic church conflicts, one of them ending in a church split. She knew an older church rarely let newer members get on important committees.

Mary worked in a company as director of Quality Control. She thought: What if I applied what I know about business process improvement to my church? As soon as Mary considered her church committee situation in this framework, she really didn’t need to do or hear anything else. She knew a root cause had to exist for such an unusual deviation from the norm for the election of church committees.

Nevertheless, Mary began doing her study. She acquired and read the church bylaw manual and then interviewed Pastor True about the church’s actual process for selecting committee members. Next, she checked the other church committees. None of them had new people. The average membership tenure was 9.9 years.

In addition, the other committees had only one-third of their group newly elected. The committee membership was staggered to always have experienced members on every committee with only one-third elected each year. The fact that everyone was new on her committee and no new member elected to the other standing committees was a significant variation from the norm. She almost broke out in hives. She was once again in a church conflict situation.

The next day after work, Mary went to a coffee shop, sitting at a small table in the corner and praying to ask God for direction. Should she resign the committee? Should she leave the church? She was making friends in this church. Outside of the suspected politics, her friends were wonderful. It had to be possible for other church members to be just as wonderful and reasonable, didn’t it?

As soon as she had that thought, her experience screamed, “No!” First, people behaved differently in different social environments. She herself acted and talked differently at work than when she was with family. She acted differently at an amusement park or a high school reunion than at church. People acted differently in different social environments — one way at a church social and another way at a church business meeting.

As Mary continued to pray and read Scripture, she decided to get more information on what happened on the Budget Committee. She hadn’t succeeded in persuading Pastor True to explain to her satisfactorily why the previous committee members were removed. He had seemed a little nervous and tentative when she asked about it. He passed the buck by telling her to talk to the Nominating Committee. Instead, she decided to interview the members who were replaced.

As soon as Mary began interviewing former Budget Committee members, she discovered that Pastor True hadn’t been given a raise for seven years. The 13-year chairman of the Budget Committee, Mr. Bitterness, was the apparent cause. The story about Mr. Bitterness was astonishing. Bitterness, who had controlled the Budget Committee, refused to give any pastor a raise.

Chairman Bitterness had been deeply hurt 15 years before by a pastor named Wolf, who borrowed $5,000 from Bitterness and never repaid it. After Bitterness gave Wolf the $5,000, Wolf accepted a position in another church in a different state. He never made the first payment on the loan. He never answered the letters or telephone calls of Mr. Bitterness. On the counsel of friends, Bitterness agreed not to sue, and he received a lot of praise from the church for his gracious Christian example and ability to forgive. But shortly afterward he volunteered to serve on the Budget Committee. At the first meeting, he was elected chairman, a position for which he had privately campaigned.

Now Mary wanted to know how the last Budget Committee got booted out of office wholesale. It turned out that the friends of Pastor True had decided to put an end to Chairman Bitterness’s reign over the Budget Committee. They had put together a campaign at the annual business meeting to vacate the membership of the Budget Committee and replace them with new church members. The friends of Pastor True hoped this could get him a raise so he would stay as pastor.

Most of the church loved their pastor, but he couldn’t support his family and had his resume circulating online and through the head office of the Well-Known Denomination. He was in contact with a couple of pastor search committees when the campaign to vacate the members of the Budget Committee took place. Since the other faction supporting Chairman Bitterness had their guard down, the friends of Pastor True had a majority at the business meeting.

The backlash to the new Budget Committee was forming as Mary began her research. Mr. Bitterness had rounded up the top contributors of the church who all agreed to stop giving if a raise was given to Pastor True. These contributors really were big contributors, Mary discovered. They gave 75 percent of the church offerings!

Shortly after Mary learned this, Pastor True was called as pastor of another church. Mary left for a new church when she began getting threatening phone calls and nasty letters because of her investigation into the Budget Committee. Most of Pastor True’s supporters also began to leave. The church was smaller, but the remaining people had a “wonderful fellowship,” and told everyone who asked just how much they loved their church.

Group Discussion Questions

Write the answers to the following questions after reading the case study entitled, “Sam Gets Saved and Filled with the Spirit.”

Bring your answers to a group discussion with others who have read the case study and written their answers. Choose someone to lead the discussion.

Afterward, write out what you learned about the case study from the group time. Be sure to summarize your “take away,” along with an idea of how to apply what you have learned.

1. Was the Second Better Grace Well-Known-Denomination Church a contemporary congregation, like a seeker-friendly church, or was it more traditional?

2. Why did Mary join the church? What are the reasons you might have to join a church?

3. Mary seemed to be in several churches with troubles. Is that unusual for Christians?

4. Why do you think Mary believed a church committee with all new members was a sign of trouble?

5. Was Mary wrong to fall back on her business experience to understand her experience on the Budget Committee? In what way are churches and business organizations similar? Different?

6. Have churches in the United States and other developed countries tended to adopt secular business practices and techniques? Has this strengthened or weakened the church?

7. Was Mary overstepping her bounds to take the initiative to investigate why all the members were dismissed from the Budget Committee and all new members elected?

8. Are churches transparent with their reasons for making decisions or is it difficult to get information about the workings of a church?

9. Did anything good come from Mary’s investigation?

10. Were the big givers of the church, who gave 75 percent of the church budget and threatened to stop giving if the new committee gave Pastor True a raise, using the right approach? Was this the best way to deal with the problem?

11. How would you, if you were the pastor, have gone about dealing with Mr. Bitterness?

12. Should Mary have left the church for a new church? What could she have done if she stayed?

13. Should Pastor True have left?

14. Who or what do you believe was the controversy in this situation?



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