Hostess Brands, the baker of sweet treats that include Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Ding Dongs, recently announced its intent to go out of business and lay off its 18,500 workers. Executives blamed a labor strike by two key unions, which they said compounded already high labor and pension costs. Union leaders countered that mismanagement had kept the company in bankruptcy for all but three of the past eight years, and that executives received large pay raises while asking for 30% wage and benefit cuts from the other workers.
I’m not in a position to judge which side bears more responsibility for the company’s failure. But as a consumer, I simply find myself thinking, “What? No more Twinkies?”
And I’m not alone. Texas-based Hostess has about $2.5 billion in annual sales. So if something’s not done, there could be literally millions of people bemoaning the loss of their Hostess Cupcakes, Susie Q’s, and Sno Balls.
And then of course there are the thousands of workers in 33 plants across the United States that face unemployment. At least from the outside, we can’t help but wonder, “Couldn’t this have been avoided? Couldn’t the leaders and the workers have worked out their differences, and in doing so protected the mission of the organization, the value of its products, and the very livelihoods of their families?”
Sadly, we sometimes see the same tragic dynamic at work in churches today. A pastor insists that the people he leads are apathetic, or unwilling to change or sacrifice. Or leaders in a congregation assert that the pastor isn’t effective, or isn’t listening to the right people. They find themselves in conflict over direction, or style, or who should make what compromises or sacrifices.
I guess it’s no longer shocking to me that those kinds of disagreements can arise in a church. What does surprise me is how much the pastor, or congregation, or both are often willing to sacrifice to hold their position. And what sometimes surprise me even more are the words or behaviors that can flow from God’s people in those circumstances.
Recently I talked to two different pastors whose wives were urging them to leave not only their churches but also the ministry. I simply asked them how things were going at their church, and agony, disappointment and disillusionment flowed freely from their hurting souls.
Not long before that a lay leader lamented to me that his pastor had led the church in decline down to practically nothing before leaving. Another said that the pastor had left with most of the younger members to start another church nearby.
As with the Hostess Brand, I’m not always in a position to judge which side bears the greater responsibility in these church conflicts. But in every case, the loss is so much greater than Twinkies. The loss is often the effective Gospel witness of the church, at least for a while.
I’m told that some other company is almost sure to step in and rescue Hostess. Even though the current executives and many of the laborers have probably forfeited their roles, the brand and the product line continue to have incredible value. Someone will continue to make Twinkies.
And by God’s grace and providence someone will continue to deliver the Gospel. Whether it’s Hostess or the local church, leaders and workers who are willing to risk the mission and the health of the organization itself for the sake of their preferences or personal benefits always make the wrong choice. Those who submit lovingly to one another in the spirit of Philippians 2 make the right choice. And in the case of the church, they protect the wonderful privilege of delivering the Gospel.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.