If you don't make somebody mad...

Of all the advice I’ve gotten about transitional ministry, the words of a Presbyterian Exec still makes me smile: If you don’t make somebody MAD, you’re not doing your job! Maybe she was trying to impress on me that it was more important to help a church clean up log jams to provide an open stream for their next pastor than it was for them to like me. Of course, she knew this particular church pretty well and knew where it was stuck. Being a savvy Exec, she probably recognized that I am, by nature, a people-pleaser. I’ve had to learn to accept conflict as healthy and necessary. But her advice also introduced me to the wonderful freedom that comes from knowing you’re temporary:  even if you make a few people mad you’ll be outta’ there before you (and they) know it! 

A perceptive transitional minister will soon recognize the dysfunctional patterns and people enabled by previous pastors.  The fact that you are temporary with term limits known to everyone frees you up to fire ineffective staff, name elephants in the room (often long-term crazy-makers), or propose missional experiments to engage the community. Poking at these log jams may make some members mad. When you lead change in the church, it’s inevitable that some folks won’t like it. The real needs of the church are often hidden under the rock of resistance. But leaving them untouched will only pass the problem on to the next pastor. If you do that you’re not doing your job!

Of course, you don’t want to make people mad by doing the wrong thing or by forcing the right thing without a gracious process. But I’ve discovered that most people will be relieved and even excited by the healthy changes you lead as a transitional minister!  Is your ministry making anyone mad?

Keith Tanis

Former Transitional Pastor
Retired Exec, Olympia Presbytery (PCUSA)

Retired Exec, Olympia Presbytery (PCUSA)