A Short Primer on Congregational Hostage Negotiations
Things had been rocky for a while. Anxiety had reached new levels. Long time members were getting twitchy. Then Tom announced that he wanted to see the executive committee in my office. (Yeah, it was just as officious as it sounds.)
“We’ve got problems,” Tom began. “We need to make some changes around here, and that starts with the minister.” (This wasn’t going well from my perspective.) “And I’m not giving another dime until those changes get made. I’ll leave it to you all to decide how that gets done.” And he turned around and walked out of my office.
That sounds like a deadly conversation to have just after worship on a February Sunday morning. And it was. Our mouths were all agape. The sheer audacity of Tom’s summons and eventual announcement was awe inspiringly brash. The executive committee sat there stunned, looking at each other slack-jawed. The whole thing struck me as almost cinematic in its dramatic sweep. The only thing missing was Barber’s Adagio for Strings.
Now, it could have been awkward, but funny. Had it been anyone beside Tom we might all have looked at each other and rolled our eyes: “Do you believe this guy? Sorry to disappoint you—what with your self-inflated opinion of your own worth—but just who the hell do you think you are?”
But we knew who he was. Tom was the guy who subsidized the congregational budget by close to 30%. Tom was the guy who one year offered to do matching pledges for the congregation so that they could retire some debt. He was the guy who “wanted to step back from leadership,” but who—when things got bad—could be counted on to show up and “redirect” the congregation toward a “more sustainable path.” Most major decisions required conversations centering on the issue of what Tom would think. He was, in the words of Reggie Jackson, the “straw that stirred the drink.”