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Controllers in the Church

By Dr. Dennis Bickers, Area Minister for ABC-Indiana/Kentucky

In every workshop I lead, regardless of the topic, at some point the problem of controllers in the church is raised. Sometimes, dealing with controllers is part of the presentation, but even if not someone in the audience will ask about how to handle them. Controllers are those people who see the church existing for their own benefit. They may or may not hold official positions in the church, but they wield a great amount of power and influence. They are great at organizing "parking lot meetings" where they spread their opinons like a virus.  Many prefer working in the shadows and letting others do their dirty work in public.

Tom Bandy, in his book Fragile Hope (Convergence Ebook Series), suggests controllers make up only about 20 percent of the congregation, although in declining churches the numbers may be higher. The reason they can exercise such influence is because most people in the church won't stand up to them. Most of our congregations consists of "nice" people who don't enjoy confrontations, so we allow 2-3 people in the church to have veto power over every suggestion made. The vast majority of a congregation may believe the suggestion is a good one, but no wants to say so until they find out how "Brother Joe feels about it." If he's against it, others will be too because they don't want any problems in their church.  The result is the church remains stuck and dying.

After explaining this to my workshop attendees someone usually asks what can be done with the controllers. Here is where I sometimes upset a few folks when I tell them that church controllers are a cancer. They are cancerous cells attacking healthy cells in the body of Christ. I remind them that cancer can't be cured without drastic steps. A bandaid won't cure a cancer. Neither will ignoring it.  In most cancer cases, difficult measures must be taken to stop the cancer or the body will die.  It's no different for a church.

The first thing that must happen is the leaders of the church must develop a backbone and lead.  That will often require confronting the controller(s). They will not like such confrontation and may strike back. At the very least, they will often threaten to leave.  So what!  Churches with controller issues usually tell me of the numbers of people who have left their churches due to the actions of these controllers.  Let me ask you a simple question: would you rather the controllers leave or the people they are running off? You WILL lose people either way, so who are you willing to give up? If you are in leadership you get to make that choice, so which will it be? In the same book mentioned above Bandy asks

Is it more important to keep controlling clergy, matriarchs, patriarchs, wealthy trustees, or domineering institutional managers, rather than welcome your own teenagers, parents, and immediate loved ones into the community of faith?...For most people it is as simple as "Controller or my teenager."  If one must go so the other can belong, what will be your preference?

If this post seems a little harsh, it probably is.  I recently received another e-mail from a church that decided to not move forward in order to appease a controller. The persons who wrote me are tired of doing everything they know how to help their church develop a more effective ministry only to see it overturned by a handful of people. I'm tired, too. I'm tired of churches being held hostage by small-minded, selfish individuals who are able to manipulate the workings of the church because no one in leadership is willing to confront them. I'm tired of people dying and going to hell because the church is so weak it can't move past one or two people determined to control everything the church does. I'm tired of churches wasting years of ministry trying to appease the small number of controllers that make up their congregation. I'm tired of seeing churches trying to play nice with people who are not nice while forfeiting their very reason for existence.  You should be too.  Do churches really love their controllers more than their own teenagers?  It often seems so. 

Additional information about Dennis:

Dr. Dennis Bickers became a bivocational pastor in 1981 when he accepted the call to serve Hebron Baptist Church in southeast Indiana. He served that church for 20 years while working in a factory for most of that time. During those years he also graduated from a Bible school and earned a bachelor's degree.

In 2001 Dr. Bickers became an Area Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky and remained bivocational even in this role. More information about his work with bi-vocational pastors and churches is available at his web site and his blog Dr. Bickers is also the author of four books on bivocational ministry. These are available through Amazon or Judson Press.

One Church, Multiple Congregations

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

Last Sunday I visited Spokane Valley Baptist Church where Dr. Norm Haupt is the pastor. I was pleased that they showed a video clip from the America for Christ promotional DVD (I've embedded it at the end of this post.) This clip showed Stan Crews and the revitalization taking place at Monte Vista Baptist Church in Phoenix, AZ. Over the years the congregation has experienced dramatic aging and decline. However, it has recently been renewing its vision for outreach. They jump started their outward focus by opening their facility to other churches that needed meeting space. (One is Hispanic and the other is Karen.) And more than providing space, they partner with these congregations in ministry so that together they are reaching their community for Christ. The presence of these two congregations holds the potential to help the "mother church" start a new life cycle of renewed vision, outreach and growth.

There are several churches in the ABCNW that are hosting a congregation within their facilities. Some are congregations that have their own identity, a church within a church, if you will. Some of these are "fellowships" comprised of a particular ethnic group.

For example, under the first category there is the new Communidad de Esperanza meeting at FBC Bremerton; the new Everett Community Church meeting at FBC Everett; El Camino meeting at Southside UP Church; Tabernaculo Biblico Bautista de Utah at FBC Ogden; Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana at FBC Buehl; and Beautiful Baptist Church, a Korean congregation, meeting at The Bridge in Snohomish, WA. Blessed Life Church in Bellevue, WA was planted by Seattle Chinese Baptist Church, and originally met in the facilities of the Newport Hills Community Church.

Under the second category there is a new Mongolian fellowship meeting at Newport Hills Community Church. At this point their intention is to be a fellowship group within the congregation, not a separate church. Also, there is the Karen fellowship which is a part of FBC Boise (more about both of these exciting developments in another blog).

There is a third category that is emerging, which I believe to be the wave of the future. And that is the intentionally, multi-ethnic congregation. This is one church composed of multiple ethnic fellowships or sub-congregations. But there is one board, one budget, one staff team, and one church. This is the direction that FBC Yakima and La Verdad are taking. It's been a long and challenging journey, but as of last Sunday the two previous congregations officially affirmed the transition into one, multi-ethnic church. Congratulations to pastors Dave Roberts and Manuel Luquin and the people of both congregations in this historic transition!

In fact I am so excited about this last model that we selected our 2010 ABCNW Biennial speaker in part for his commitment to multi-ethnicity. Efrem Smith, pastor of the Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, will be our speaker. What a dynamic guy! His church was planted in 2003 with the intention of being multi-ethnic from the ground level. This is now a thriving congregation of a 1,000 people in worship attendance. We have much to learn from churches like his. 

I believe that sponsoring a new church plant, or embracing an emerging ethnic Christian fellowship, within an existing church's facility is one way to be a church that is truly mission-focused. Indeed, the world has moved to our front door steps, and the possibilities for engaging in mission in our own communities are endless.

2009 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest
[This article is from Dr. Revis’ blog,]

Change or Die!!!

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

When I came across this quote, it hit me like a ton of bricks, especially as it relates to the church.

"When the rate of change inside an organization is slower than the rate of change outside an organization, the end [of that organization] is in sight." ~ Jack Welch, former CEO of GE

Most sociologists tell us that we are in the midst of a rapid cultural shift. I agree, I can no longer find cassette tapes for my aging 1992 Previa! I gave away 300 vinyl albums when I moved to N. Idaho (wish I had them back now). I couldn't get them to play in my svelte CD player. Seriously, we're at a key inflection point in world history, but not unlike what has occurred at other pivotal periods.

One example is what happened when the printing press was invented in 1439. Gutenberg's printing technology spread rapidly throughout Europe and is considered a key factor for ushering in the European Renaissance. The Gutenberg Bible was first printed in 1455. Soon the masses had access to Scripture. And, eventually comic books in 1935. (Every positive move in technology has a concomitant negative move, I believe.) This tectonic shift has been labeled the Gutenberg Revolution. The impact on the church was massive. The Catholic Church, corrupt at every level, yet powerful, could not contain the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation. That movement radically reshaped the church. In addition to prophetic leaders such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Melancthon, the Reformation was greatly advanced through the dissemination of printed materials.

Likewise, the computer, the Internet, cable optics, cell phones and a host of new advances in communication are playing a huge role in the changes that are swirling around us. Add in the effects of post-modernity, multiculturalism, international free trade, and the fall of communism, and there is no doubt that we are moving through a "worm hole", as some have called it. What awaits us on the other side of all of this remains to be seen. One thing is certain, the world we experienced in 1950 and 1960 is not returning anytime soon. Sorry, Elvis fans. We are in the midst of a giant change, and the pace is quickening.

In the face of all this change, many churches are hunkered down, perpetuating ministry patterns designed in the 1950s and 1960s. The question I would ask is, "How is that working for you?" Actually, there is a better question, "Are you still as effective at reaching the lost and making disciples as you were three or four decades ago?" Most likely not.

Throughout the ages and in various cultures when the church has experienced renewal and growth, one major factor has been the adoption of new methods. The church adapted in order to effectively reach its target group with the Good News. Here again examples abound. Consider the various innovations of John Wesley, D. L. Moody, William and Catherine Booth, Hudson Taylor, Billy Graham, and Bill Hybels. Each had a passion for reaching the lost. Each created new methods, relevant to the culture, to convey the Gospel in more effective ways. The result? Millions of people have been saved from a hellish eternity by coming to know the Savior of the world.

The ramifications for the church are huge. If an individual church intends to do its part in helping to depopulate hell, it must be willing to adapt, continuously. The search for fresh wine skins is never called off. Change in the church's methods and ministry forms must be continuous. In certain periods the pace of change must quicken as the changes in culture accelerate. This is such a time.

I know that resistance to change is endemic to our species, especially as we age. (I still prefer Tom Brokaw to Brian Williams on the evening news....sorry, Brian.) And this is exacerbated by the penchant to transform the church into the last refuge of constancy in the middle of the surrounding cultural storm. Longing for a safe haven we can turn the church into a religious museum. How? Insure that everything about the church stays the same, from the furniture to the carpet, to the music and the programs, and, vigorously resist anyone who tries to change it. The result will be slow death. I guarantee it. It may not come this year, or the next, depending on the size of the endowment fund, but it will come.

But, is this the way of Jesus? I think not. He ushered in radical change. In everything! He turned the Jewish religious establishment upside down. Worship would no longer be confined to a physical temple. The priesthood would no longer be for a privileged few, but for every man, woman, boy or girl who became a Christ follower. He broke down the dividing wall between the religious insiders and the secular outsiders (see Ephesians 2:11-19). He is a wild man for change, especially when it results in transformed people--old creations into new creations--that sort of thing.

Jesus taught with a warning in his voice, "Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins...No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved" (Matt 9: 17). In this new age of the Holy Spirit, whatever structures and methods the church employs to pursue its God given mission, one ingredient must be constant, pliability, or the new wine will burst through. The old wineskin will be ripped apart, destroyed.

I know this is a great challenge for real churches in real places. But, God is able to calm our fears, take us by the hand, and lead us into exciting new days of ministry, while helping us make the changes that are needed to make it happen. So, I encourage you, embrace change. Or, prepare to die. To vigorously resist change, I believe, is to abandon our God-given mission. Rather, we must embrace the mission, and discover creative ways to carry it forward. Let us emulate Paul who wrote that he was willing, "to become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." (1 Cor 9:22)

For more great reading about change I recommend the following:

  • Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald
  • The Present-Future by Reggie McNeal
  • LeadershipNext and ChurchNext by Eddie Gibbs
  • Deep Change by Robert Quinn
  • The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch
  • Change or Die by Alan Deuschman

2009 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest

[This article is from Dr. Revis’ blog,]