Church Politics Part 3: Navigating land mines while leading your church

This is Part 3 in a blog series “Church Politics: Navigating land mines while leading your church.”

Blog series: Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

The last three behaviors of politicking may be more or less present in your church leadership culture, but hopefully one of them is shunned outright. Dirty tricks should never exist, but they do. When it comes to trading favors and shading truth, however,  the valves are wide open. These seemingly benign tactics erode morale and promote leadership from  the lowest common denominator. It’s one thing to relate to human nature. It’s another thing to validly walk people into gutter politics.

Quid pro quogiving favors only to get something.

Often, if you give something you can get something. If so and so’s wife is on the worship team, her husband will give more to the church. If I let the women’s ministry have there way on this event, then I can ask them to budge on using a room on a certain night. It is healthy to have back and forth, but priorities should filter decisions before engaging in trading and bartering influence or other perks. Cashing in chips is relating to people with the lowest common denominator, not challenging them with vision and principles. Values set priorities. The logistics of navigating power is simply the climate of any institution. But, be careful to not make the activity of quid pro quo one of those values.

If we view discipleship as a transaction, are we not creating a crowd of entitled infants rather than an army of recruits for the cause of Christ?

Dirty Tricks – getting downright ugly to win.

Forcing people out of the tribe is one way to keep your post. However, in a church we are more of a family and spiritual tribe than a business. The cost is too high to ostracize a family member simply because he or she is a threat to your seat of power. If  perhaps a youth leader has more charisma than you, there can be a temptation to constantly downplay that person. Erode this persons place by gossip, rumors, and flattery. Set him up to fail. When he does, make sure everyone sees it and strike hard. Yes, church ministry at all levels contains this type of activity. Dirty tricks are often subtle, but never redemptive.

Most of this perhaps exists behind closed doors, but the effects are clearly seen in division, church splits, and disunity. Why would we allow anything that goes against maturity and unity in the church?

The Spin – wordsmithing a seed of truth to your advantage.

One way to keep yourself on top is to never admit fault, or anything for that matter. The tactic here is bend information that is true to reflect the best possible version of that information which may not be true. This is what an illusionist does, but should a pastor or church leader? We all know that when a church says “pastor is leaving to fulfill his call” that more is involved. Had the truth about him being fired come out, the pain of facing that reality may actually be healthy. Leaders should be willing to give bad news and will build trust by leading from principles rather than protection.

Why do we often say one thing in private and other in public? As leaders this is cancerous and while it may seem to quell anger or misunderstanding it actually creates those to a greater degree than might have never existed.
Have you seen any of these three behaviors of politicking the church? If so. what other leadership tactics could be used?

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

11 comments

  1. This is a great expose’. Yes I’ve personally experienced all three.

    For "spin" we need the prophetic word spoken with authority and integrity. For dirty tricks, the perpetrator needs to be removed.

    Sadly, one can win these political battles but will lose the war, then everyone is a loser.

    Great series Rich.

    1. Rob, it is hard to "openly" talk about the politics as a mode of leadership. There are healthy ways to lead institutions that do not have to bow as low as we are used to. The corporate world needs to stop being our model for management when in ministry we are about discipleship–not management.

  2. Hi Rich, thanks for having the courage to write about a most controversial & difficult subject that affects most churches today in one way or another. Unfortunately, all of the forms of politicking you mentioned above can be found in my church – so much so that I writing a series on the subject myself. I plan to use portions of your article in my series (of course you will be properly credited & cited).

    Thanks for such a great series. By the way, do you have any advise for those of us that are associate ministers in politicking churches when the pastor is suppressed by deacon & trustee boards?

  3. Hi Rich, thanks for having the courage to write about a most controversial & difficult subject that affects most churches today in one way or another. Unfortunately, all of the forms of politicking you mentioned above can be found in my church – so much so that I writing a series on the subject myself. I plan to use portions of your article in my series (of course you will be properly credited & cited).

    Thanks for such a great series. By the way, do you have any advise for those of us that are associate ministers in politicking churches when the pastor is suppressed by deacon & trustee boards?

  4. Hi Rich, thanks for having the courage to write about a most controversial & difficult subject that affects most churches today in one way or another. Unfortunately, all of the forms of politicking you mentioned above can be found in my church – so much so that I writing a series on the subject myself. I plan to use portions of your article in my series (of course you will be properly credited & cited).

    Thanks for such a great series. By the way, do you have any advise for those of us that are associate ministers in politicking churches when the pastor is suppressed by deacon & trustee boards?

  5. Hi Rich, thanks for having the courage to write about a most controversial & difficult subject that affects most churches today in one way or another. Unfortunately, all of the forms of politicking you mentioned above can be found in my church – so much so that I writing a series on the subject myself. I plan to use portions of your article in my series (of course you will be properly credited & cited).

    Thanks for such a great series. By the way, do you have any advise for those of us that are associate ministers in politicking churches when the pastor is suppressed by deacon & trustee boards?

  6. Hi Rich, thanks for having the courage to write about a most controversial & difficult subject that affects most churches today in one way or another. Unfortunately, all of the forms of politicking you mentioned above can be found in my church – so much so that I writing a series on the subject myself. I plan to use portions of your article in my series (of course you will be properly credited & cited).

    Thanks for such a great series. By the way, do you have any advise for those of us that are associate ministers in politicking churches when the pastor is suppressed by deacon & trustee boards?

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