On today’s Whiteboard Wednesday, Rick Veenstra, Regional Executive for the Great Lakes Region of the Reformed Church in America, discusses one of the challenges of starting and strengthening churches – when the tail wags the dog.
For many years, Rick has dedicated his life energy toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The church in North America has been in decline for over a half-century, and one reason why is that the tail often wags the dog.
As an illustration, Rick spoke about his own family, mentioning that he has a 4-year old grandson, and a 2-year old granddaughter. Sometimes, his little 4-year old grandson will come up to his little sister and shove her down, which hurts her and causes her to cry. Naturally, their parents (Rick’s daughter and son- in-law) swoop in and pick up his grandson to carry him away for a time out. After all, pushing his little sister is not acceptable behavior.
However, if one of those parents did not swoop in and pick up Rick’s grandson, he will get the idea that pushing his little sister down is not a big deal and is in fact acceptable behavior. If he were allowed to do that it would be considered the tail wagging the dog.
As far as parents are concerned, this seems kind of obvious – you don’t let a child push down another child. But in the church, it seems like we don’t quite get that.
Unfortunately, in the church, the tail often wags the dog. For example, in a congregation, the least mature people – emotionally or spiritually – seem to have their say and have their way. And leaders seem to allow this as though it is okay for the tail to wag the dog.
Rick offered one final illustration, mentioning that he had worked with a young pastor at a church a long time ago. Although the pastor was young, he did a good job functioning as a leader, and as a pastor. But there were three couples who were very influential within the congregation, and who were undermining this young pastor’s leadership. They said and did things to him (or about him) that undermined or sabotaged his work. Sadly, the other leaders were not really doing anything about it at the time. Rick worked with the board of elders and asked if someone would be willing to confront those couples about the issue. One of the elders confronted each of the couples, and in doing so, they all became angry and eventually left the church. However, the pastor’s ministry was saved, not only in that church but for the remainder of his ministry. The young pastor was ready to give up because he didn’t know how to handle it. He didn’t have the support he needed until an elder stepped in.
Afterwards, Rick drove through a snowstorm to thank the board of elders for their courage to have those difficult conversations, and to not allow the “tail to wag the dog.” Their courage made a huge difference for the young pastor, and for the ongoing fruitfulness and life of the church.
As far as parents are concerned, it seems obvious that a little boy should not push down his little sister. We understand that the tail should not wag the dog. However, in the church, the same is also true. We need leaders who are willing to be courageous and to stand up to those who are undermining the mission, the vision, and the values of the congregation.
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