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What to do about that church parking lot meeting

May 5, 2016 | by Margaret Marcuson

Has there been a parking lot meeting at your church lately? You know, the meeting after the meeting where people say what they really think, and don't tell you. The fact is, sometimes pastors and church staff get left out: when the trustees meet and don’t tell you. When you walk into a room and people immediately get quiet. The email exchange that leaves you out.

What’s going on here? A triangle occurs when the relationship between two people becomes troubled, and a third person (or group) is pulled in to manage the anxiety between the two.  In the situations above, you are being triangled out.

Church leaders cannot avoid these triangles; they go with the territory. In addition, triangles are not bad in and of themselves: they are part of human experience.

It’s easy to get defensive when you are left out of important conversations. Yet a defensive response rarely helps. What does help: a clear response: “I’d like to be included in the next trustee meeting, John” – without that anxious edge to your voice, if you can.

Or simply get less upset that people are talking about you. Easy to say, I know. Still, the situation is more likely to escalate if you get worked up about it, especially if you try to anxious recruit people for your “side.” An alternative response: “There they go again…”

Notice your comfort level in triangles. This comes from the families we grow up in. I grew up on the inside, and I like to be included. I hate being left out. Over many years, I’ve learned to react less. My husband grew up on the outside, and he likes it there. People confide in him because he’s calm. But he wishes they wouldn’t.

We’ve both learned to recognize these patterns in ourselves, both in our family relationships and our professional life. But those automatic responses lurk below the surface.


  1. You can’t get out of triangles. They are part of the job.
  2. Know your own preferred pattern, and how you react when people relate to you differently. Do you like to be on the inside or outside?
  3. If you like to be in, increase your comfort level with being left out. Don’t get defensive. Simply observe yourself and others. Believe it or not, that’s a real contribution.

What are ways can you observe the triangles around you more carefully, especially when you get left out?

Margaret Marcuson

Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources. Margaret is the author of Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry and MoneyandYour Ministry: Balance the Books While Keeping Your Balance. She served as a pastor for 15 years.

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