When the teachers in our village went on strike last year, it nearly tore our congregation apart.
Our congregation includes many teachers and a number of administrators and board of education members. Other church members work as librarians, nurses, and secretaries in the local schools. Naturally, the strike pitted teachers against the administration and the board of education.
During that time, each side sought to outmaneuver, undermine, and discredit the other. Some of our members were crossing picket lines in which other members were marching.
A teachers' strike isn't the only community event that can threaten a church's unity, of course. Political campaigns, zoning variances, and business deals can all put parishioners from the same church on different sides.
As pastor to people on both sides, how can we keep the peace in the church? In our teachers' strike, I learned some valuable lessons that I present here in the hope you'll never have to use them.
When it became obvious a strike was imminent, I did some careful thinking. I wrote down and then vowed to abide by these simple rules.
Rule 1: Don't take sides. In some cases when issues are of a clear moral nature, neutrality is improper for a Christian. But in this case neutrality was both possible and necessary. It allowed me to speak about faith and conduct without being put in either camp, but it wasn't easy.
About three months before the strike, the superintendent of schools gave me a tour of the schools in the system. Along the way he complained about the unreasonableness of the teachers, many of whom were in my congregation. Some of what he said offended me, but I said nothing.
Later, when some of these teachers criticized the unreasonableness of the administration ...