Sunday, February 8, 2009

Inner City Case Study

Feedback is MUCH appreciated!

Case Study:

Matt and Maggie have been part of First Church off and on for about 4-5 years, but have increased their level of commitment over the past year. They joined the 12 week membership class offered by Pastor Greg and attended faithfully offering substantive interaction and feedback. On the last Sunday of December 2008, Matt and Maggie joined officially as members with the understanding that they would faithfully attend a smoker's recovery group and hold to the commitments set forth in the Book of Discipline. These two are a particularly needy couple – they demand lots of special attention, financial resources, and pastoral care. It is not rare for the pastors to receive 4-5 calls per day (EACH!) from Matt about needing a ride to somewhere or payment for something or prayer for something. All was fine until the third Sunday of January. Pastor Greg was on vacation and Jim, Martha, and Brian were in charge. During our weekly time for sharing prayer requests, one girl stood to thank the church for helping her financially surrounding the birth of her firstborn daughter (although she's actually been helped by a member of the church, not the church institution itself). This evidently angered Maggie who prompted her husband to stand and say the following:

“Why does this church help our her when we have asked for money for our rent and been denied? After all, we're members and she is not! Maggie and I are very angry and we are leaving this church for good and never coming back! We give back our membership!!!” Following this, they stormed out of the sanctuary from the front pew where they were sitting. The service, which had been highly enthusiastic and filled with the Holy Spirit, seemed deflated. Pastor Jim did his best to move on with the worship time, but the congregation was somewhat shell shocked.

Not long after this, Matt and Maggie wanted to pretend that it had never happened and be welcomed back into Sunday morning worship. Pastor Greg sat down and explained to them that they had hurt the church and revoked their membership in front of everyone. He kindly asked them to refrain from coming back to Sunday morning worship for a while to let the congregation heal from the hurt that they had caused. He informed them that he would have been happy to talk with them about their grievances privately, but that they had decided to rebuke the church on Sunday morning and that the consequence of this was exclusion from membership and communal worship. This exclusion was something all four pastors had discussed and agreed was the best course of action for the present time. Although this was communicated calmly and in a loving way, Maggie stormed out of the office and told Pastor Greg that he should be fired from his job for speaking in such a way to his parishioners.

Matt and Maggie also attend our Monday food pantry and Pastor Greg gave them permission to continue coming in order to get groceries.

Since then, Maggie and Matt have not returned to Sunday morning, but have contacted a number of our members and told them “we want to come back, but the pastors won't let us.” Some of these members are concerned that we acted too harshly to exclude them – although in the pastors' defense, they feel that Matt and Maggie have decided to exclude themselves (the church is just holding them to their word).

Questions: Did the pastors make the right decision to tell Matt and Maggie to find a new church home? Should the pastors reverse their decision if Matt and Maggie show that they are genuinely sorry for what they did? Where should we go from here? Does the Scriptural passage below have any bearing on this case?

Titus 3:10-11 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

1 comment:

  1. Greg,
    It is so hard to answer or enter into a decision making process from a distance. It seems that this is a complicated issue for you and your leadership team, yet it sounds so familiar.

    There are many people, like Matt and Maggie, who have become the "addicts" that the church is enabling. Just as we do in family systems, we help the needy family member, trying to help them through their addictions and behaviors. We try to be the accountability people and set the boundaries, until the need get's so extreme that the whole family is being hurt by the behavior.

    When we hold the boundaries and say "no more" there are members who say "too harsh" and others who say "we are just sticking to the rules".

    What to do? I always start with questions.

    What is the outcome hoped for with these two?
    How can the conflict be addressed as a community?
    Is there a safe place to have an open, honest discussion about what the real issues are - that Matt and Maggie represent?
    Is there room for a type of truth and reconciliation process?

    These two are just the beginning of who will come to your church. What are the issues that surfaced over the weeks with Matt and Maggie? You hinted at a few - "they demanded attention"; they didn't follow through on the rules of membership; they "hurt" people; .....

    What is behind all this - both for them and the congregation?

    How can I help?