One of the worst presidents in U.S. history is John Tyler, who had no real legacy beyond being contentious. My hometown and high school are both named after him. In my ministry to pastors on behalf of LifeWay, I have observed four common reactive responses pastors make to conflict which only make things worse.
John Tyler was initially a Democrat, until he got sideways with Andrew Jackson. He joined the fringe Whig party, which expelled him during his presidency. Most of Tyler’s Cabinet resigned early into his term and he soon earned the nickname, His Accidency.
Conflicts usually evolve from slow relational erosion instead of an explosive event. Since the pastor is the primary leader of the church, there is no one more responsible in that church for waging peace.
The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24).
Tyler became America’s first non-elected president when Harrison died in 1841. He was a Virginia aristocrat with no social skills and a strong vision for nationalism which nobody else shared. It seemed that the more he talked, the worse things got.
I often hear frustrated pastors pointing to their sound biblical preaching as validation for their leadership status. I have some tough news for you – preaching the truth is not the solution. Preaching the truth with love, on the other hand, is a step in the right direction (Eph. 4:15). If you are preaching without love, you are simply making noise (1 Cor. 13:1). Most problems are solved privately and immediately (Matt.18:15).
When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise (Prov. 10:19).
Though Tyler was not the first president to veto bills, he was the first to see his veto overridden by Congress. Thus the political gridlock of D.C. was born.
Most church fires are people problems, not polity problems. Don’t think you will extinguish any fires by tweaking your church constitution or policy manual. Rules are important, but relationships are imperative. Pastors who bully their members and staff with Bibles or by-laws are following the footsteps of John Tyler, so don’t expect different results. Think of how many arguments you have actually resolved with a well aimed proof-text or new rule.
Pastors usually have a prophetic gift and with it, a strong sense of justice. When something (or someone) is wrong, they want to fix it. If fixers focus more on the problem than the person, their motives are questioned and the issues get clouded. I recently reminded a frustrated pastor who was ready to call down fire on a staff member, that his church needed a pastor more than a policeman.
Today, John Tyler is considered an obscure president, with no lasting legacy other than being a contentious placeholder. What do you want your legacy to be when you leave? How can you become the primary minister of reconciliation in your church? What are some other mistakes pastors make when conflict arises in their church?