Looking for a consultant? Dial 1-800-SCAPEGOAT
Permit me to be a little honest today.
Its not every time. But I know many times, when a church wants a consultant (or help from their region, conference or denomination), what they are really looking for is a scapegoat.
And why not?
Churches are extremely complex social networks of personality and power and expectations. Our culture today is complex and doesn’t favor church participation the way it used to. It makes our congregations very difficult places to lead. Pastors feel this pressure everyday. Lay leaders struggle with this. Even in growing congregations, there aren’t enough people to do all the things we want to do. Add in a couple of oddball characters. You can see why anxiety is through the roof!
And one very “successful” method to deal with anxiety is to use a scapegoat. We project our worries and our anger onto one person (or group) and pass them the buck.
Pastors are frequently treated as scapegoats. When anxiety becomes too high to manage, a few leaders begin to target the pastor:
- “She doesn’t make enough personal visits to our elderly members.”
- “His preaching is not what it used to be.”
- “We need to hear some new ideas from the pulpit.”
I sometimes hear lay leaders treated as scapegoats:
- “We are one funeral away from being a healthy church.”
- “Our treasurer is too tight-fisted.”
- “I don’t want that elder on the committee. She disagrees with everything.”
We can find scapegoats anywhere we let our eyes look:
- “People out there just don’t respect the church anymore. That’s why visitors don’t attend our service.”
- “Those street kids tore up our basketball goal. Why should we bother to replace it?”
- “That new church across town is encroaching on our territory!”
- “That book study was too controversial. That’s why Ethel left the church.”
And consultants make good scapegoats, too. Someone comes to the church and helps identify issues that need to be faced, or changes that need be made. And instead of doing the hard work of change, we accuse the consultant of having an agenda or not understanding the situation or being greedy or working for the denomination or . . . or . . .
Identifying a scapegoat allows us to minimize our responsibility and blame someone else. That way, when the scapegoat is gone, the problems appear to be are gone, too. Order is restored. We are content again. Everyone’s happy.
But not really. In fact, the anxiety is still there. A few people have just managed to avoid seeing it for a while.
Scapegoating provides us a temporary relief, but the pain/conflict/problem/anxiety is still there.
So what’s the alternative?
I’ll offer some options in my next post. But for now, join the discussion: Where have you seen scapegoats used in your setting?