Special project: Where have all the churches gone?
Introduction • Where have all the churches gone?: Christian Chronicle…
How does a church handle a crisis? What is God up to in the middle of a minister transition? How can a church find healing after traumatic events?
For 30-plus years, Don Hebbard, aka “Dr. Don,” has helped churches navigate these questions and more.
A church consultant with the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University in Texas and an interim minister, Hebbard shares what he has learned through these experiences in his recent book, “Healing Hurting Churches.”
He outlines six key wounds that a church may experience: the Tough Bargainer Wound, the Narcissist Wound, the Sexuality Wound, the Borderline Wound, the Incompetence Wound, and the Exhaustion Wound.
These wounds come from difficult church leaders, hard minister tenures, disappointing ministry endings, or in some cases, grief over what has been lost.
The book’s second half outlines Hebbard’s process for healing that he describes as the Economou Model, which ironically is his birth father’s last name. The model uses theological insights, systems theory, inductive preaching and process consultation. Hebbard adapts his marriage and family therapy background, where he was mentored by Paul Faulkner, to diagnose, analyze and coach not a troubled marriage, in this instance, but a troubled church.
The current Amberton University counseling professor uses multiple congregational anecdotes to describe the various wounds a church can have and how the process of healing unfolds. These stories and case studies serve to bring his concepts to life and allow leaders to apply his material readily. Some of his stories are quite humorous, including the time the communion was frozen and Hebbard had to keep preaching until the grape juice was no longer ice cubes.
Hebbard emphasizes empathy. Many ministers and elders, he claims, do not have the “empathy chip.” They brush over wounds, paint the picture too rosy or press forward with their own personal agenda. As Jeremiah declares (6:14), “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, where there is no peace.”
The first step of healing is for leaders to acknowledge the pain of the church, to “sit with the ambiguity” of the moment and let God bring direction and healing in his time. A key practice that facilitates this is listening. Good preaching is based on good listening. The leader can then start with where the people are and gently bring them back to the Lord for renewal.
Any church leader or minister would do well to buy this book and have it handy as a guide during a time of transition or crisis in a church’s life.
Hebbard’s book is replete with ministry tidbits and application points for thorny and difficult church situations. Bullying elders, ministers living double lives, fatigued congregations and lack of congregational direction are all conditions that Hebbard addresses.
As churches emerge from the trauma of the pandemic, healing will need to take place.
Hebbard’s book offers assistance on how that can be done.
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