I received a question from a recent seminar participant that was buried in one of the comments. I started to answer it there, but when I finished I realized it was way too long to be just a comment … so I repost it here.

The question was “So, how does one confront the “Fog Horns” that create so much conflict in the transforming church? And the words to use? While I enjoyed reading several of your articles, I did not readily find anything on the subject.”

The following response is predicated on the need to confront a congregational controller after they’ve “misbehaved.”

Step one: Develop congregational expected behaviors. If you don’t do this, you cannot effectively move on to step two. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. I’ve written about this is a number of other posts, so I won’t belabor it here. Except to say again, do not skip this step!!!!!

Step two: Rely on Matthew 18:15-17 when someone misbehaves.

  • After an incident, the pastor or board chair immediately visits the controller one-on-one and says, “As a congregation, we’ve agreed that we will not treat one another like this. Your behavior wasn’t in keeping with our expected behaviors. This cannot continue.” If an apology and repentance is offered, the issue is done (until the next time, if there ever is a next time). If, on the other hand, the controller refuses to repent and/or makes excuses or turns the blame on the board/pastor/committee/church etc., conflict resolution goes to the next level.
  • The pastor or board chair reports to the executive committee (if the board is over 12 people) or to the board the response. Then two people, the original visitor and one other (typically an elder or a senior member of the board/executive committee) goes to the controller and says, essentially, the same thing as in the first visit, except this time the controller is told that the behavior will not be tolerated and that it must cease. If the controller repents, the issue is done. If not, the conflict resolution goes to the final level.
  • The two visitors next report to the board (the whole group this time) about the visits. The board should discuss the issue and the behavior. If the board agrees that the behavior was and is inconsistent with the congregation’s expected behavior covenant, then they have no choice but to invite the controller to appear before them. If the controller comes (highly unlikely in my experience), the board then informs the controller that the controller’s behavior is unacceptable and if the behavior does not immediately cease, then the board has no choice but to remove the controller from all leadership positions and to instruct the controller to not return to the church until they have decided to behave otherwise … and if they so decide, the controller must seek reconciliation beginning with the pastor and then the board.  In other words, show the controller the door and tell them to not come back until they’ve had a change of heart.

Is this easy? No. I’ve had to do it four times during my ministry career. It’s painful and hurtful and unpleasant. But in every case … and I mean every case … when a controller is removed, there is a collective sigh of relief by the congregation. Attendance goes up (after the supporters of the controller leave in protest), giving goes up, and the spirit of the church improves significantly. Oh, and one other side benefit. Other would-be controllers notice … and when they act out (and they will), you’ll seldom have to get past the one-on-one confrontation. They know the congregation means business – and that they’re not afraid to be faithful to Jesus and his conflict instructions.