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Avoiding the Absalom Syndrome


Avoiding the Absalom Syndrome
By Mark Wheeler

How candid can pastoral staff be with church members without undermining the pastor?

That sermon was so dry I got cotton- mouth just listening to it.
"When is he going to deal with the issue? Can't he make a decision?"
"He calls himself a counselor? I'd never go to him with my problems!"
"This guy is a control freak!"

Every associate pastor has been on the receiving end of similar comments about the senior pastor. Every organization has people dissatisfied with the leadership.

Staff members are natural lightning rods for complainers. Afraid of voicing objections publicly or confronting the senior pastor directly, the disgruntled often come to staffers.

Whether we agree with their observations or not, as staffers, we owe Loyalty to the boss. Serving in staff positions over the past 10 years, I've learned some hard lessons about loyalty and integrity

If we are not careful, associates easily become an Absalom at the gate, stealing away the hearts of Israel (2 Sam. 15:1-6). Like King David's son, we begin to think that things would be different if we were in charge, that we are the answer to the problem.

We're tempted to think we're more "in touch" than the senior pastor. We discover there's support for our way of thinking, and we can become the catalyst for a power struggle or church split!

Confronting conspiracy

John was a man with a mission— to oust the pastor. He had a long standing grudge and refused to let go of it.

John would sidle up to newcomers and say, "Does the pastor strike you as a little cold? Does it bother you that he votes on his own salary? Did you hear about the squabble last year? Let me fill you in on what really happened."

John rehashed his complaints with each new staffer and board member; If the leader didn't take his side, John accused him of covering up the issues.

My turn came one hot, summer evening. I had heard about John's tactic. I refused to be part of any gossip. To each accusation, I said, "John, you need to deal with your bitterness. I won't listen to any more until you do that." John has yet to do that, and now he considers me part of the cover-up.

Rather than playing Absalom, we should follow the biblical pattern of confrontation (Matt. 18:15 17). Instead of listening to rumors, we need to ask the complainer, "Have you talked to the pastor yet?"

If he hasn't we should politely tell him to follow what Scripture says about confrontation without commenting on the concerns. If he has done that and the matter has not been resolved, we should encourage him to follow Christ's instruction by taking another person along for a private meeting with the pastor. If there is no resolution, then take it to the official leadership of the church.

At the church I now serve, we have also adopted the "they" rule. If a critic says "they say" or "several people are upset" we ask the complainant to identify who "they" are. It's hard to know how serious a situation is if you don't know whether "they" are one person or 100.

If the individual bringing the criticism is unwilling to identify "them" or have them speak directly to the party that has offended them, we won't listen to their accusations.

Praying for Pastor Saul

Rather than Absalom's rebellion, a much better example for church staff is David's respect for his superior, Saul. Instead of manipulating the present for my own ends, I need to relax and trust God for my future.

To keep my heart pure and my perspective straight, I've had to discipline myself to do two things. One is to pray for my senior pastor on a daily basis. It's hard to criticize someone when you are praying for him. Lifting him up before God tends to diffuse any frustration and helps me to see him as God does. A second aid is to remind myself that, ultimately, I am serving Jesus Christ.

This I learned as a pastoral intern while in seminary. My main responsibility was to pastor a young adult Sunday school class. Three times that year I met with the senior pastor for evaluations. I came away from each meeting feeling like I couldn't do anything to please him.

"You don't smile enough," he said. "You didn't talk to everyone at the reception. Couldn't you visit new families sooner? You focus on those in your class too much and don't socialize with other people." At the end of the year, he told me that I was nothing more than a paid Sunday school teacher and that I would never make it in ministry He wrote me off.

Instead of quitting the ministry and becoming bitter. I prayed for him and his ministry. It was very difficult. But over several months, my prayers changed from, "God, judge him and give him what he deserves" to "Lord, help him to reach many people for your kingdom."

I also prayed about what he had said. Maybe God was speaking through him about some rough edges in my Life.

We met several years later, aired out our differences and renewed our friendship. He acknowledged that I had much to offer m ministry.

MARK WHEELER is associate pastor of

Crossroads Baptist Church 14434 NE Bib St
Bellevue WA 98007

Read Neil Anderson "setting your church free."

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