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When Helping Hurts

Kelly C. Bedard, M.Div.

Number 190

A friend loves at all times, but a brother is born for adversity.
(Proverbs 17:17)

Adversity Borne
What do you do when a disgruntled mis- or half-informed member of your parish seeks a transfer of membership to a sister (or other) congregation?

In most cases, you hopefully can rely on your brother pastor to either help remedy the situation or at least allow for proper closure of the controversy and, accordingly, parting as Christian friends.

Sadly, though, some brothers have been known to receive members before attempts at conflict resolution are even attempted or complete or to advise their colleagues in ministry of membership reception only after the fact.

All-Times Love
To avoid either scenario, whenever I receive a controverted intra-denominational transfer of membership request I do the following:

* If the member requests I initiate the transfer, I respectfully decline and ask him/her to initiate the same--thus allowing for direct and proper closure at the former parish;

* If (s)he seems reticent, I contact my brother pastor and advise of the request and, moreover, ask if there is anything that would preclude such a transfer; and

* If the transfer is controverted, I assure him that I will not act on the it until there is agreement that every attempt has been made to resolve whatever conflict might be evident.

There Are Limitations
Granted, often there is nothing you can do once someone has his/her mind made up. On the other hand, why compound the hurt and frustration by treating colleagues more as brothers than as friends?

The distinction between these terms might seem evident, but "brother" is used so readily nowadays that it’s almost lost its Hebrew (and biblical!) connotation of mere "physical relation." On the other hand, "friend"--transcending genealogical or synodical affiliation--implies utmost concern for all parties, not just the transferring member.

When afforded opportunity to sit down with a conflicted member, two questions might be asked:

1) How is what’s being done here (the transfer) glorifying God? and

2) How is the transfer edifying the larger Christian community (city, circuit)?

Helping someone (granting a transfer without question) sometimes hurts a lot more (and a lot more people) than it might seem.

Kelly C. Bedard

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