I recently read a pastor’s blog about problems in his church.  He quoted Gene Wood’s book Leading Turnaround Churches, and lamented the book’s contention that that churches will not successfully turn around without a major, significant fight.

But I don’t agree with Gene Wood. When I read his book, I was annoyed with his underlying assumption that the problem with struggling churches was always some person or group that was out to control the church.  His solution seemed to be for the pastor to get the complainer to leave, and things will get better.

I have been part of churches that turned around when the pastor led the congregation into shared discussion about who they were to be as a church.  No fights.  No recrimination.  None of the few dozen members left or were ushered out the door. All contributed an opinion, and a shared solution was constructed.  That is now a significant, thriving church in its community, and was recently honored as having one of the best youth programs in the country.  (It runs around 200 on a Sunday.)

If you read Seth Goodin, you will come to understand that complainers care.  They are usually well-meaning people with a desire to help, but they’ve been ignored for so long they’ve gotten used to shouting.  I, too, get tired of listening to the complaints, but I try to listen – or get a deacon to help listen for me – to HEAR their concerns and look for truth underneath the complaint, and find a way to address at least some of their observation.

I have found that preachers who only pretend to pastor, and only sweep away the prophets in their midst, will not achieve the radical transformation they desire.  Instead, they focus on the beam in their congregation instead of the speck in their own ministry.

Instead of Wood’s book (and while you’re waiting on my book to be published), I commend to you Dean Kelly’s Why Conservative Churches Are Growing and Christian Schwartz’s Natural Church Development.