Those Who Obstruct Ministry


You know Bertha. She’s your Sunday school superintendent, a veteran of 10 years. She’s reliable. But she’s standing in the way of
effective ministry. You’re ready to move ahead with a new approach and a new curriculum, but Bertha clings to her old, less-effective ways. The kids in Sunday school are bored and really don’t learn much. But Bertha shows up every Sunday

So rather than risk upsetting Bertha. you put your new plans on hold and pray that Bertha will someday soften or retire.

It’s a typical scene in churches and Christian organizations. It’s dysfunctional. And it obstructs your ministry.


Here at Group Publishing the provider of this magazine and other ministry resources, we face similar temptations. Perhaps because we’re ministry people, we don’t relish the thought of confronting Bertha behavior We don’t want to see people like Bertha hurt or embarrassed. But we’ve found that if we ignore Bertha behavior, our ministry—and the rest of our team—suffers.

For the past 20 years or so. we’ve taught our staff about a key ingredient of our organizational culture–direct communication. When an issue or concern arises, we encourage all staff to speak directly to the person involved. No complaining to others. No sending of obscure signals. No ignoring the problem.

When new people join our staff, they’re trained in direct communication during our extensive orientation program. And they’re
reminded of it often If people start to say I’m really having a problem with Joe,’ they’re generally promptly asked, Have you talked directly with Joe about this? This is now a natural part of our culture–a culture that discourages behind-the-back talk and unnecessary obstructions to ministry. This ultimately benefits the entire organization and our mission.


What’s your mission? Why does your church exist? What are your priorities? How do those priorities affect your approach with Bertha? What’s more important—to refrain from confronting Bertha, or to improve your ministry to your congregation?

All too often Christian leaders are more willing to diminish their ministry than directly handle an uncomfortable problem with an
individual. Obviously, no one wants to see Bertha hurt that’s not the goal. But leaders’ compassion for an individual sometimes clouds their view of the larger ministry. Sacrifice of an individuals feelings is often seen as an unacceptable price for more effective ministry

Is it ever okay to sacrifice one for the benefit of many? We believe God answered this when he sacrificed his Sons life so that we
all might live As Christian leaders we’re called to lead with love, with courage, and with a clear focus on the ultimate mission.


If Bertha is obstructing ministry, we need _ to help her change her behavior or move her to a better role. How can we handle this
delicate situation with tact, compassion, and success? Here are some tips we’ve found helpful.

Schedule a time to meet with Bertha one-to-one. Don’t gang up on her Arrange a time and place that offers respect and confidentiality

Gather your thoughts–and give yourself a break. When contemplating a conversation such as this, leaders often conjure up all
sorts of monstrous scenarios. The truth is, the conversation rarely gets as dire as imagined. In fact, people like Bertha often already sense there’s a problem. They’ve read the signals, but they’re unsure how to extricate themselves. Though the discussion may be uncomfortable, they’re often relieved someone is helping to bring resolution.

Begin by thanking Bertha for her efforts. Then move into your areas of concern Focus on behaviors, not the person. Say, “Your
approach doesn’t seem to be working well” rather than, ‘You’re not a good superintendent.

If changing Bertha’s behavior isn’t likely, discuss new options to better utilize Bertha’s gifts within the church’s ministry. Assure
her you want her to thrive and be successful.

Keep your priorities straight. Don’t allow the conversation to weasle you into an outcome that diminishes your ministry. Remain firm in representing the best interests of your congregation.

Outline clearly the next steps, your expectations, and your timeline.

Pray with Bertha.

If you’ve not done it before, now may be a fine time to institute finite terms of service with volunteers. Ask all volunteers to serve
for six months, a year, or whatever’s appropriate. Asking people to serve with no end in sight simply invites problems with those who under perform. But definite terms offer opportunities to affirm those who perform well and offer natural times to move those who don’t When a term is up, ask good performers to renew for another term. But use the term expiration to propose that poor performers accept a different responsibility for which they’re better matched.

Who’s your Bertha? How could your ministry move forward after some direct communication with her? We encourage you to do whets right for your entire ministry. And then watch what God will do through you… and through Bertha!

Thom Schultz ( is founder and president of Group Publishing Inc. Joani Schultz (jschultz@group is chief creative officer.