DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Keep Looking From the Balcony

Written by: on September 7, 2019

The inaugural issue of Theology of Leadership Journal was an interesting read. I hesitate to use the word “delightful” because I have rarely come across an academic-oriented journal which attempted to combine biblical, theological, and church leadership threads. My inherent eisegesis has become attuned to how each assigned reading will enhance my doctoral research pursuits (the formation and development of coaching networks within church planting organizations). Within this journal, however, I found a source instead to address a current conflict within our local church’s “bumpy” transition with a new lead pastor striving to form his unique team out of an existing staff who have worked together for over ten years. I found Singfiel’s “Paul, The Team Leader,” an excellent article to illuminate our internal staff conflict “management” efforts.

Singfiel focuses on the Acts 15:32-41 pericope where Paul and Barnabas disagree on the personnel (John Mark in particular) who were to be included in the second visit to the churches planted during the first visit (described in Acts 15).[1]  The contemporary application of the article is how the teams strategically planned, disagreed, and engaged in conflict, and then formed new subsequent teams. It has been suggested that the lengthy planning took place over the winter months leading up to the opening of spring travel. Paul and Barnabas’ relationship was significant in that Barnabas had acted as Paul’s initial advocate and mentor. Paul’s leadership and ministry development progressed to the point in Acts 13, where Paul came to be described as the “lead” member of the team.[2]

What caught my attention about Singfiel’s article, was not the conflict, but rather how the essential characters (Paul, Barnabas, the sending church, and even John Mark) seemed to respond in the aftermath of the conflict. Heretofore, I perceived Luke’s moderate portrayal of the disagreement as more of a simple difference of opinion. Singfiel proceeds to bring out the kinship of Barnabas and John Mark and the incumbent trappings of patronage, honor, and loyalty. Singfiel reminds the reader that the seeds of disagreement between Paul and Barnabas were probably already present following Mark’s earlier departure in Acts 13:13.[3]

The response of Paul was to form a new team with Silas. The response of Barnabas was to form a new team with John Mark. Both shared the same mission but elected to now move forward independently with two new teams instead of the former singular team. The seeming resolution of the conflict was to move forward in separate directions to carry out the planned mission to visit the earlier church plants.

The response of the sending church was to bless both new teams. Singfiel brings out that Luke chose to utilize the Greek word of  Stephen’s selection (epilego) when describing Silas’ inclusion on Paul’s new team. His view is this demonstrates the sending church’s perspective that the newly formed team of Paul and Silas was significant and warranted the blessing of the sending church. In so doing, Singfiel emphasizes that the sending church afforded appropriate honor and blessing to all parties despite the break between Paul and Barnabas.[4]

I mentioned earlier how I found Singfiel’s article helpful to bring theological illumination to my local church’s internal staff conflict response efforts (I forwarded this article to my lead pastor to aid his perspective). My sense is Singfiel brought out that, “Often, what appears to be the main issue is not the main issue.”[5] In our local context, the new lead pastor has elected to provide the incumbent worship pastor three months notice and six months severance (after trying to work with the individual for some thirteen months and yet concluding there remained a trust issue). While no polity or procedure has been breached, not surprisingly, those closest to the affected pastor have taken every opportunity to communicate their displeasure in a disagreeable manner. Typically the much greater focus within the local church is on the conflict; what precipitated it, what are the contributing factors, and which person is more or less right or righteous.

Singfiel’s illumination comes in the form of viewing the conflict between Paul and Barnabas  “from the balcony.” Paul and Silas continued the amazing work of the Church. Barnabas and John Mark also continued the amazing work of the Church. Paul eventually viewed John Mark “of great service” (2 Timothy 4:11) and even urged the Colossians to “make him welcome” (Colossians 4:10). Our response to conflict (Romans 12:18 (CEB) “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.”) should be on moving forward with grace and honor for all. The separation terms for our former worship pastor are generous and unprecedented within our local church. We will be honoring the couple with a send-off reception this coming Sunday. Singfiel has reminded myself and others to be gracious and honorable to all (even while sometimes gritting my teeth in the interim).

[1] Jeffrey Singfiel, “Paul, The Team Leader: Strategic Planning, Intragroup Conflict, and Team Formation,” Theology of Leadership Journal 1, no. 1 (2018): 7.

[2] Singfiel, “Paul, The Team Leader,” 8-9.

[3] Singfiel, “Paul, The Team Leader,” 11-12.

[4] Singfiel, “Paul, The Team Leader,” 14-15.

[5] Singfiel, “Paul, The Team Leader,” 11.

 

About the Author

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Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Pastor of Business Administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston and the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA). He is also pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for over forty years and has two grown children; Michelle who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark who is in a relationship with Cannus. He loves making friends from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call.

14 responses to “Keep Looking From the Balcony”

  1. Thank you Harry for helping me to see the importance of focusing on the bigger picture of What God is doing, and not be distracted by what the enemy is doing. There will always be conflicts between us Christians because we’re not perfect but we have to learn to be gracious to one another and work together despite our limitations and differences. We should learn to forgive and be peacemakers rather than judging each other.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Wallace,
      You are so right, all of these situations are very difficult and often very bruising to the leader. That is why so many pastoral leaders end up leaving the ministry. I am sorry for your living through many of these experiences. May the Lord let you know how loved and blessed you are for your continued passion for the church and your faithful leadership. I really appreciate you being in our cohort.

  2. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    This is great stuff Harry. I love how you point out the fact that when there is a separation in a relationship the church can bless both parties as they go in their unique ways. Beautiful.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Jacob,
      I am a pastor and I love pastors, especially when they must make hard decisions that will be very unpopular and misunderstood. Many blessings on you as you wrap up one pastorate and begin another. May you continue to grow powerfully in his grace and wisdom!

  3. Thanks for your thoughts on this Harry. I wonder what words were exchanged between Paul and Barnabas as they disagreed about John Mark’s involvement in ministry?
    I can’t imagine he lacked useful skills, knowledge and experience. After all he was Paul’s ministry companion and we know that he did well in end per Paul’s own testimony. And who wouldn’t want to have a Barnabas on the team? He always comes alongside the underdog, always siding with the unpopular. He’s like the team captain of a pick-up basketball game who always picks the person no one else will pick.

    This passage convinces me that God gives us and expects us to use wisdom in making decisions. There’s also the idea of “fitness” in a team, sort of a complementarity that says the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And it’s the leaders job to figure out how to assess each others strengths and weaknesses to for the best team for the task.

    A good example of a bad fit was when the Lakers signed Karl Malone and Gary Payton to join the strong team led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in 03-04 season. Phil Jackson, NBA’s winningest, was their coach. They were dubbed the dream team. They were unstoppable and expected to win the championship that year.

    Each of the players and coaches were the best, but they didn’t win the championship. The problem? They didn’t play well together — simple as that. Egos and pride got in the way. In basketball, like in many other activities that require a team, success is measured by how well a team executes their mission and vision, not by each one’s own efforts, however noble and commendable.

    So perhaps Paul thought Silas was a better fit for the 2nd trip and Barnabas went thought John Mark was a better fit for him. Again, “fitness” might be something worth exploring in these cases.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Harry,
      You make a most astute observation, in team sports, it is all about how well the team players play together! We would probably not be surprised at the banter between Paul and Barnabas as they disagreed concerning John Mark. However, they picked new teammates and continued to play well, going on two different paths to accomplish the same mission. I agree fit is essential and we should utilize every tool available to enhance the probabilities of playing well together. However, we should always remember He is the coach and we all play for Him. Therefore, we should respect and bless each other accordingly (even if we move to another team). After all, it is his team (thanks for the sports analogy!)

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Great integrated reflection Harry. I enjoyed the read and it gave me pause to reflect on the conflicts I have either adjudicated or participated in. Navigating human nature is never straightforward even in the best of situations and individual competence – especially in the church. I have sometimes wondered whether our absolute commitment to relational harmony creates more disruption. Taking our eyes off the mission to which we are committed often results in an obsession about ourselves. In the end, the mission transforms into a form of community idolatry – perfect harmony in relationships becomes a new God. Often moving on with support and encouragement for the mission is the best outcome, but as you noted, it must be acknowledged that it is done so with difficulty. Time and a clear mission trajectory often heal old disagreements. Transparency and shared truth on any mission are keys to the success of the mission. Harmony is great, but it’s not the basis of kinship. Kinship just reminds us that we belong to each other, even when we disagree. True kinship determines ‘if’ ‘when’ and ‘how we part company.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Digby,
      What makes you such a treasure, is your brilliant scholarship, your passion for the Church, and your wisdom gained from many years pastoring real people (perhaps pastoring Kiwis are not that much different than pastoring Texans?). Truly, you are a gem and a gift to our cohort. I agree, sometimes well-meaning friends have made harmony and community into idols which then make the conflict worse by blowing it out of proportion. Perhaps warm feelings would be healthier if they flourished within the guardrails of mission and kinship? Kinship, that seems to fit like many of your other words!

  5. mm Sean Dean says:

    Great reflection Harry. Two parts I love, firstly the realization that separation of work does not indicate that either side was wrong and should be shunned and that both parties can go and be blessed. Secondly, the reminder that often what is seen on the surface is but a symptom of something happening on a deeper level. Great work!

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Sean,
      Thanks for your encouraging words. You have summarized and communicated my desired thoughts well. Now, if I can actually help others to walk this out.

  6. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Thanks Harry! These situations are so difficult and feel I’ve lived through more than I should for my age. They wear leaders out. It sounds like the church has been very generous and I believe it is what you can do. It may not be right to keep this team member in that role but to honor them publicly and to bless them is right. And I am
    amazed how quickly things can quiet down once they ar no longer there. Sigh. Appreciate you!

  7. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Andrea,
    Thanks so much for your understanding and empathy. Also, thank you for the reminder that things will quiet down (quickly) as soon as they are no longer here. May we continue to live in and share grace as we keep our focus on His desired future for his church in our locale. I appreciate your wisdom and words of encouragement!

  8. mm Mary Mims says:

    Harry, I love that you wrote about this article and shared a practical application from your church. I was thinking about how I want to run from the conflict I’m experiencing at my church, and finally I feel that it may not be a bad thing to part ways. However, I do feel it should be done properly, with the right attitude and for the right purpose. I think you are right in how your church applied these leadership principles. Thanks for your openness on this matter.

  9. mm John Muhanji says:

    Thank you, Harry, for you great piece as you connected the Paul lead article to your church. I connect very well with this article with my Quaker church too. We have similar conflicts where leaders have had conflicts and they go different path doing the same work and later meet appreciating each other for the good work they have done from the time they parted ways. It is interesting that God would create such conflict so that more work would be achieved rather than sticking together and less work is done. I call this type of conflict “Postive conflict” because it yields fruits in the long run. Am encouraged by your sharing this.

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