In the original Star Wars movie, Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi Master, uttered these foreboding words: “I feel a great disturbance in the force.” I am sure that Kenobi had no idea that his words would spawn five sequels and three prequels to that original movie!

Like Kenobi, good church leaders can detect when there is a disturbance in the congregation. In a congregation, disturbances (and associated reactivity) may be caused by:

The arrival, departure or loss of a pastor.
The arrival, departure or loss of a member.
A change in the building(s) – renovations, additions, etc.
A change in meeting patterns (especially those related to corporate worship).
Changes in the finances of the congregation.
Shifts in the surrounding community.
The discovery of illegal or unethical conduct among clergy or members.
Etc., etc.

Disturbances in the congregation are caused by anything that threatens to change the status quo. The reason isn’t so much that change is a threat, but that change brings a challenge to the corporate identity and the threat of change in the functioning of the leaders and members of the congregation. I once had a Ruling Elder vocalize it this way: “I have change in every area of my life; I do not want to have change in my church, too!”

The important thing to remember is that change is the norm, yet it will be resisted due to the desire to keep things as they are. Most congregations possess a level of health that enables them to ride out the wave of change and to come out the other side and arrive at a new equilibrium. But when the normal anxiety that is the by-product of change goes unregulated it can result in reactivity. Wise leaders learn to recognize reactivity of this nature and will know that they must allow for people to work through their anxiety and reactivity for themselves, although not by themselves.

The Presbytery of Carlisle has trained facilitators who can help your congregation’s leaders sense and analyze “a great disturbance in the force” of their congregation. And, just as importantly, the congregation’s leaders will be equipped to deal with those disturbances and the resulting anxiety, reactivity, conflict, sabotage, and even loss of direction that may ensue.

If you would like to talk about how the Presbytery is able to assist your congregation’s leaders or, if you have specific situational questions, please contact me directly.

Bill Beck

Rev. Bill Beck, Healthy Congregations, Strengthening Our Congregations Committee Support