triangulationHello Matriarchs,

What do you do when certain members of the congregation are in strong disagreement with a decision that the church governing body has made?

For financial reasons, our leadership group substantially slashed funding to the youth ministry. Youth parents are very disgruntled — and understandably so! I am new to this pastorate, so I did not speak against the action. I also walked into a situation with substantial deficit spending, and I agree that we should rein in our spending (budget cuts were made across the board). I want to publicly support the decision of the council, but I also hate that the youth parents are now mad at *me.*

How do I not to get embroiled in this triangle (youth parents/Council/pastor) any further?

No Triangles, Please

Dear Triangulated,

When our congregation was facing a consistent deficit of $60K per year, we had a series of congregational informational meetings where the giving and the budget were presented by our finance task force. Congregational giving was explained in graphs, with amount pledged in chunks – like how many people pledged nothing, $1-100/year, 101-500/year, etc., 500-1050/year, 3K to10K/year, over 10K/year. We also talked about how we spend in other areas of our life – like our cell phone expense or our monthly cable bill. We talked about how we give and what needs to be cut when there isn’t enough financial support to cover the mission and ministry we have been doing.

Then we presented several options of ways to cut. The congregation responded by pledging an additional $60K within the next month. It was amazing! It helped to have the series of meetings, with an opportunity for people to view a powerpoint with facts and figures laid out, and options for paths forward. They were astounded to realize how little many of them give. We serve a blue-collar community, in an area of growing poverty. Honestly, I was not very optimistic that the giving needed would be met.

I also pointed out at one meeting in response to a question, that the biggest giver on the chart is their pastors. Which actually surprised us. And we could talk about tithing and gifts and why we do that, and how it has not been easy through the years. It is helpful to lead by modeling I think.

We let the congregation vote with their pledges. My husband and I were actually preparing to resign/retire together, because we did not think it would happen. It was an amazing response.

Blessings to you.
Soul Wiggles 

Dear Concerned Pastor,

Such a difficult situation. My prayers are with you for discernment. I don’t know your denomination or church governance but from what I have read it sounds like your role as pastor may be to find a way to allow the disgruntled church members share their concerns with the governance board in a safe setting.

Assuming your church governance board is elected by the church members then they must respect the leadership and decision of the board. But it may help the tension if the upset members could have a voice and be allowed to hear the reasoning for the decision.


Rev. Kelley


Readers, what are your thoughts? Please join the conversation in the comments.

One thought on “Ask the Matriarch: Avoiding triangulation

  1. I just came from Healthy Congregations Facilitator Training…so sharing the wisdom ala Peter Steinke.

    Keep connected to all the various entities. Know who you are and why you are there…the people in each group will try to pit you on their side. The best definition of self-differentiation: I am not hooked by your drama (or other colorful metaphor).

    Encourage everyone to listen deeply…listen for the emotions, hurt, and fear driving the dialogue. We so often are already formulating our response and fail to listen deeply.

    If people are in a highly anxious mode…listen and thank them. Wait until calmer minds prevail for further dialog. i.e. shouting matches and the blame game do not help the various parties hear one another.

    Model the behavior you expect everyone to abide by. It is easy for each group to “circle the wagons” and harness people to their side.

    This is not from the training but from conflict management training.
    1. Launder the language…re-frame the questions/comments in terms which are helpful for discussion and not put-downs or finger pointing.
    2. Help them use “I” language and if “you” language creeps in…correct and re-direct
    3. See if each side can verbally paraphrase the other positions…so all feel like they have been heard.

    Being the non-anxious presence is damned difficult and this will take time. It could be one of the best defining moments of this congregation.


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