By Luke Holmes
It might look like a nice place, but there is often more there than meets the eye. Sometimes the danger is clearly visible, but other times, it’s hidden beneath the surface.
At the end of the Korean War the armies of North and South Korea reached a stalemate at the 38th parallel. The two miles on either side are now called the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.
No one is to cross into that space from either direction. It’s only about 12 square miles. But in that space are buried almost two million landmines, ensuring no one will go near it.
While it might not be quite like walking through the DMZ, pastoring a church can sometimes feel just as dangerous.
Many of our churches contain buried dangers—not physical bombs (at least I hope not). But many pastors have uncovered issues that have proved dangerous when unwittingly detonated.
There might be situations or factors present in your church that will prove deadly to your ministry or the church if they aren’t dealt with correctly.
Most pastors don’t find out where the landmine is until it’s already too late.
Buried dangers in churches come in all shapes and sizes, but they tend to fall into predictable categories.
Financial issues can cause problems in many churches. It could be a mismanagement of money, a person who spends too freely, or a person looking to gain control through their giving.
Other times the problems are found in a pattern of leaders not being accountable for their actions, or a power struggle between factions in the church.
Then there are the sacred cows that aren’t to be touched, like the music programs or kids ministry. Other pastors unknowingly step on landmines when they try to update buildings, bylaws, or just change anything at all.
It might be an issue that was mishandled, a racist past, or something else that has caused irreparable damage to a person.
All of these things have the potential to damage and disrupt the church and the ministry.
But when they are handled carefully and wisely those dangers can be removed so that nothing stands in the way of the growth of God’s kingdom.
Leaders might have to defuse bombs that are not of their own making—bombs that threaten to blow up in their faces. These bombs have a way of coming to the surface at the worst possible time in the worst possible way.
So how do we find these dangers, and what can we do about them?
Know your church’s history.
For pastors of established churches, a written church history can be one of their best tools. The pastor should know the history of the church as well as anyone else in the congregation.
It helps to know why the church was established, why they split with the church down the street, or why one pastor is so revered.
The written and published history of a church is often just the high points though, so make sure you discover whatever you can find on the full history of the church.
Deacons’ minutes, financial records, and conversations with long-term members can help shed light on those hidden dangers.
Search public records.
Another thing a pastor might do is look through public records like newspapers to see what others have written about the church.
A church might do all they can to sweep something under the rug, but others outside the church are usually more willing to talk about it.
Even something as simple as a thorough Google search of your church might help you learn things you never knew before.
All of these things will make you aware of the highs and lows of the church and where those landmines might be.
As a pastor, don’t be afraid to call in those who have the expertise to handle these types of tough situations.
This might mean calling a mentor for advice, going to a strong lay leader in the church who was there when the landmine got buried, or even legal help or law enforcement if necessary.
The last thing you want to do is try and defuse a landmine all by yourself.
It’s important to remember that no matter how big the threat before you seems, there is a greater power.
Some of the pastor’s time will have to be spent uncovering those dangers in the church. But make sure you spend more time digging in the gospel than digging in the past of your church.
Scripture promises us that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. Said another way: The power of the gospel in your church is greater than the power of your church’s troubled past.
No matter what’s in your church’s past, God’s power is greater.
Through His wisdom, we can step around those landmines, defuse them, and turn our hearts and minds to the gospel—the only power to change everything.
LUKE HOLMES (@lukeholmes) is husband to Sara, father to three young girls, and pastor at First Baptist Church Tishomingo, Oklahoma, since 2011. He’s a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and can be found online at LukeAHolmes.com.