Dealing with Disappointment

Dealing with Disappointment

BookCongregations that are trying new things frequently experience some disappointment. Managing this disappointment is important to a vibrant, successful project.

Wanting to renovate the sanctuary, the board finds there are not enough funds.

In the middle of a new outreach initiative, the mission pastor leaves.

Seeking to start a new worship service, a vocal minority writes a letter that strongly opposes the change.

As is true in life, it is not avoiding the disappointment that is essential. It is the response to the disappointment.

At the Center, we have observed that congregations that effectively address their challenges and opportunities manage their disappointment.  They acknowledge it.  They talk about it.  They expect it.  They also don’t let disappointment take over. 

In a sense, congregations that take on new endeavors choose their disappointment.  They learn that anything worth doing is not only worth doing well, but is also going to be imperfect and carry with it human brokenness.

For example, the sanctuary is renovated, but not exactly as originally planned.  Indeed, the changes lead to a more modest, but missionally aligned, project.

The mission pastor leads, but new gifts are discovered in lay leaders.

The staff chooses to bear the discomfort of the vocal minority who, when just the right amount of attention is paid, calm down enough for the congregation to experiment with the new service.

What would it look like for congregations to choose their disappointment?  Do you catch the paradox?  It can be freeing. 

I recommend a modest book by Rabbi Harold Kushner titled Overcoming Life's Disappointments. I’d be wary of a grand book on disappointment. This book is meant to address disappointment in daily life, but I think it applies to congregational leadership too.

How do you personally respond to disappointment?

How have you helped others in your congregation respond to disappointment?

What might it mean to choose your disappointment?

Tim Shapiro
President