How to Break Free from Church Politics

Workplace politics are frustrating.

Steve and Jennifer were up for the same promotion and Jennifer was clearly more qualified for the position. But Steve got the job. It turns out that Steve’s father-in-law was the CEO of the company. Enough said.

Workplace politics is the process and behavior within human interactions involving power and authority.

When this influence is used to promote personal agendas over the mission, it divides the organization’s mission. Divided interests cause the organization to become “political” in nature, and its effectiveness quickly declines.

Churchplace politics are similar and equally frustrating.

A church of about 500 in attendance was in a building campaign. Everyone had agreed on chairs in the worship space instead of the pews they had always known. Except for one board member who had personally pledged an amount equal to all the rest of the pledges combined. The board member threatened the pastor and board to remove his pledge if they didn’t install pews.

Not all politics are negative. In a positive nature, politics are how you get things done in your church. Politics are the lubricant that oils your church’s organizational gears. It’s about people working together and setting their preferences aside for the greater good.

When this process becomes corrupted, that’s when trouble begins, and your culture can become divided and even toxic.

Indicators that the climate has become political:

  • People work hard, but sideways energy wastes time and erodes progress.
  • It’s difficult to get a decision because of divided interests.
  • Gossip overtakes open and honest conversations.
  • Trust is low.
  • Perspective overtakes truth.
  • Personal agendas compete with the purpose of the church.
  • Staff begin to look out for themselves and volunteer leaders become discouraged.

Politics are agenda driven, meaning somebody wants something.

The major complication is that the agendas are often personal and sometimes selfish, but get communicated as if they are purely about the cause of Christ.

This is further complicated because it’s rarely malice that drives the personal agenda. It’s more often good people who genuinely believe that what they are doing (what they want) is right.

The problem is those good people who are attempting to do good things can lose sight of the big picture and begin to justify their idea, (their part of the mission,) as the entire mission.

5 things you can do as a leader help break your church free from politics:

1) Never put your leadership up for sale.

It’s obviously not always about money, but “selling out” is easier than it may appear.

The pressure may come related to hiring someone, starting or stopping a ministry, or looking the other way when it comes to one of your biblical convictions. The possibilities are endless.

When the leaders around you sense that you don’t hold firm to your convictions, you open the door to church politics because options are now up for grabs. When you stay firm, even if leaders don’t always agree, trust increases because they know where you stand.

2) Insist on a culture of no pretense.

The founding and senior pastor at 12Stone, Kevin Myers, has done an incredible job to lead the element of no pretense into the culture of our church.

If you or I pretend to be something or someone other than who we really are, we present a divided authenticity. Let’s assume pure motives; we still must burn energy to keep up two fronts.

The same is true with the church. When reality is covered up, and you pretend everything is fine, the church is no longer real. This invites a divided agenda. One that invests energy into communicating everything is fine, and the other frantically working to make things better.

We know there is no such thing as a perfect leader or perfect church, but it’s startling how many attempt this pretense anyway. This divided energy is a door to side agendas taking over.

The first step is authenticity among the key leaders.

3) Refuse to engage in gossip.

If you refuse to gossip, others around you will get the message. You don’t have to be militant about it. Kindness is always appropriate.

You can lead the way or at least be a significant influencer toward a gossip free culture.

The first step is that you don’t take part in any gossip. Second, you gently but firmly call it out when it happens. Just say something like: “Hey I’m not sure that’s true, and if we’re going to have this conversation, we need to go have it with the person you’re talking about.”

It need not be more complicated than that. This also increases trust and a healthy culture.

4) Commit to being part of the solution.

Solve the problem rather than make it worse.

Gossip is like gas on a fire; it makes the problem bigger. A solution not only helps you put the fire out, but it’s also the foundation for regaining progress.

Anyone can spot a problem, and unfortunately more than enough people can cause a problem, but leaders solve problems.

The unity required to solve problems, get things done, and make progress, shuts down the time-wasting effect of politics.

5) Remain fiercely aligned to the mission.

It’s healthy and natural for people to have different opinions, ideas, and passions for specific ministries. But you won’t make progress unless the church and staff agree and fully align together in one direction.

This begins with a shared commitment to God, then to each other as a community of believers, and finally a willingness to practice mutual voluntary submission (MVS).

MVS essentially means that individuals set aside their personal agendas for the sake of the greater good, seek alignment as a team, and ultimately measure success by reaching more people for Jesus.

10 thoughts on “How to Break Free from Church Politics”

  1. It is an inspiring piece. But will appreciate if I can get an article on the dangers of politics in the church

    Pastors talk of “Truth,” or getting back to fundamentals, while all the while they’re referring to the various authoritarian dogmas of the reformation, 1500 years removed from the true Koinonia of Christ.
    This article provides good example how proscribed legalistic theologies, whether it be reformed, Arminian, or another, serve as a surrogate for truth, which the “pastor” can then use in true Machiavellian fashion to secure a sheeple following and or guilt those who dare disagree with his extra-biblical assertions into compliance. It’s uncanny that this rampant unethical political hypocrisy in churches is what has made Christianity incredulous to the culture and is why the church is losing a generation. The charge of hypocrisy has some truth to it, which cannot be assuaged or brushed under the rug by platitudes like, “come join us and make one more…”
    Sociological studies are now demonstrating the inordinate number of those “called” to ministry with diagnosable NPD, highly over represented among pastors compared to the percentile in general population. It is a very unhealthy dynamic, when a whole community allows one pretentious sap (ie. Pastor “Alpha” male), to stand up there every week behind the pulpit with a captive audience of women and men rendered passive, receptive, and weak by years of conditioning under the spiritual “covering” and his erroneous, unbiblical, self-serving, historically false, seminary trained “theologically correct” interpretation of the Bible. The whole church has become a joke to the observing world because of pathetic power and status seeking men such as these.
    I’m guessing my comment will not be posted, but that too would be church politics, nothing new.

    1. Harry,

      Thank you for taking the time to leave us with your thoughts and comments.

      I’m curious about your background, a bit of your story. Are you a pastor?

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