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Throwing Away a Ministry

When I started out in church ministry at the age of 19, I didn’t have many Christian books.

I had Unger’s Bible Dictionary … several volumes on Romans by Martyn Lloyd-Jones … and books I inherited from my father and grandfather – both pastors.

The following year, a book came out called The Minister’s Library.  The book was filled with the best recommendations on commentaries and theological works.

I made a list and began acquiring those books any way I could.

My girlfriend …  now my wife … gave me books and wrote little notes in the front.

My family give me books for my birthday, Christmas, and graduation.

The first youth group I served even gave me several sets of books.

I reveled in those books, and acquired a pretty good library over the years … but recently, I’ve been paring down that library.

My wife and I hope to retire in six years or so, and we’re not going to have room for all those books.  (I’ve talked her into keeping 5 of the 9 bookcases we own, though.)

Some books I keep … some I set aside to sell on Amazon (I’ve listed 5 in the past, and sold them all) …  some I plan to send to pastors in Kenya (22 boxes and counting) … and some I hope to sell at a garage sale.

How do I decide which books to keep?

I keep all books:

*relating to conflict.

*signed by the author.

*by certain authors: Alister McGrath … J. I. Packer … R. C. Sproul … John Stott … and Philip Yancey, to name a few.

*that I’ve read, marked up, and envision using again.

*that I still want to read.

I set aside books:

*I never used and never will (Hodge’s Systematic Theology, Word Biblical Commentaries).

*I once used but which now seem dated (Keil and Delitzsch’s OT Commentaries, Hendriksen’s NT Commentaries).

*on church growth (I’m amazed I bought and read so many).

*that I’ve already bought as e-books.

*that I think someone else needs more than me.

When I started this project several months ago, I’d go to our small storage area before sunrise, go through 3 or 4 boxes of books, place them in categories, and be done for the day.

Why go so slowly?

Because I’ve found it difficult to part with most of those books.

When my wife does a project like this, she’ll start in the afternoon and finish late at night.  Bang!  She’s done in one day.

But I find discarding so many books to be a gut-wrenching exercise.

How can I give away books that others gave me as gifts?

How can I set aside books that cost $25 or more?

How can I say goodbye to books that were my father’s or grandfather’s?

How can I discard books I might read if I live to be 95?

Thankfully, I finished going through all my books several days ago.

Then I had to go through several boxes of cassette tapes … including many of my old sermons.  (Those weren’t as hard to toss.)

Yesterday, I threw out a whole box of baseball magazines, including several I’ve kept for 50 years.

Today I started going through several boxes filled with issues of Leadership and The Wittenberg Door … both filled with many great articles.

If I died today, my poor wife or children would have to go through those boxes, but because I want to spare them the agony, I choose to do it myself.

And when I’m done with my books, someday I’ll have to tackle my baseball cards … all 18 huge boxes full.

Thankfully, my wife is cheering me on, but I keep reminding her: “I’ve found a few boxes that you need to go through as well.”

I once heard a wise man say that we should get rid of 10 percent of what we own every year.

Dishes?  Sounds good.

Furniture?  Makes more space.

Clothes?  Call Salvation Army.

Old photos?  Get ‘em down to one box.

But books?

They should be among the last items to go.

Because it doesn’t feel like I’m saying goodbye to books.

It feels like I’m throwing away a ministry I built over 36 years.

Most pastors eventually face this day.  It’s probably better that I’m doing it now rather than later.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to bid adieu to Swindoll … Strobel … Spurgeon … and Colson.

Because every time I bought a new book, it felt like I discovered a new friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five years ago today, October 24, 2009, I attended a board meeting at the church I had served as pastor for ten-and-a-half years.  The meeting began with a surprising and shocking announcement.

Within fifty days, the senior pastor (me), associate pastor, outreach director (my wife), youth director, and all six board members resigned.  Many others eventually left the church – some quitting church altogether – all stemming from the announcement made at that meeting.

When something triggers my memory, I mentally and emotionally relive that day.

Although I was not guilty of any impeachable offense – and my conscience has been clear on that for five years – that meeting ended up catapulting me out of a thirty-six-year pastoral career.

Because I want to prevent other pastors, church leaders, and congregations from experiencing something similar, I wrote a book about that fifty-day struggle called Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict, published by Xulon in early 2013.

With the benefit of time, formal training, personal study, and conversations with Christian leaders, I’d like to share five cautions for Christians to observe when their pastor is under attack:

Caution One: if you have a personal grievance with your pastor, follow Scripture before you do anything else.

If you’re upset with your pastor personally, don’t tell your friends, pool grievances with others, or seek to have the pastor removed from office.

Instead, follow Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

In this case, your pastor is your brother.

Personal conflicts with a pastor sometimes spread to the entire congregation because Jesus’ followers fail to obey His directives.

At my wife’s preschool, she tells children who are fighting, “Use your words.”  She has them sit down at a green table and discuss their differences between themselves.  She tells me that so far, in every single case, the children have successfully worked matters out.  They share feelings, say “I’m sorry,” and walk away with matters resolved.

Can Christians learn from preschoolers?

If you do speak with your pastor about a personal grievance, and you’re not satisfied with his response, you can follow Jesus’ steps in Matthew 18:16-17 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21.

But most people who have a personal grievance with a pastor never speak with him directly.  Instead, they share their feelings with others – which is how Satan starts firestorms in churches.

Please: if you won’t discuss your grievance with your pastor personally, then let it go … or leave your church.

But above all: follow Scripture.

Caution Two: you don’t know the real story until you’ve heard the whole story.

I watched the news several days ago about the shootings at the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.  Some of the initial reports (there were two shooters, one shooter was a member of al Qaeda) proved not to be true.  We’ll learn more about what happened with each passing day.

When a pastor is under fire, the initial accounts you hear may not be true.  If you believe and distribute those reports without solid evidence, you may be responsible for spreading rumors that will hurt people and damage your congregation’s soul.

The only way to know the whole story is to:

*exercise patience

*wait for an official investigation

*hear all sides of the issue

*discount anyone who intends to hurt or punish the pastor

During a conflict, it’s tempting to adopt the viewpoint of your friends so you’ll fit in.  After all, if you disagree too strongly with their views, they might freeze you out from their inner circle.

But if you jump on the “kick out the pastor” bandwagon, you may later be viewed with suspicion as someone who overreacts.  It’s far better to wait for the truth to come out – and that may take months.

Fifteen days after our conflict surfaced, I sat in two meetings of the congregation (totaling three-and-a-half hours) and did not say a word in my own defense. I suppose many people assumed that I was guilty of the charges because I did not respond to them.

But the consultant who was present that Sunday had advised me not to say anything in the meetings, and I promised him I wouldn’t.  If I had spoken up, I could have exposed the entire plot and decimated my critics, but I didn’t.  In fact, I never said one word in any public church meetings in my own defense.

And then I waited more than three years to tell my story in writing.

I wonder … how many people waited for the whole story to come out before hardening their opinions?

Caution Three: insist that church leaders use love first, and only use power when love doesn’t work.

My only secular work experience was at McDonalds, where I worked two (long) years as a teenager.

When the management at McDonald’s wanted the crew to do something, they used threats.

If we stole food, they promised to fire us.  If we stole money, they said they’d prosecute us.

The managers at McDonald’s used power to keep their employees in line, but love wasn’t part of their modus operandi.

However, when I began serving in church ministry, leaders used love to keep staff members in line.  When I messed up, someone spoke to me directly.  They aimed for restoration.  They forgave me when I admitted mistakes.  They would only resort to power if their attempts at love failed … and with me, love always worked.

As a pastor, I served with church boards for twenty-five years, and whenever we had a disagreement, or a board member was unhappy with me, someone would speak to me in love.  We’d discuss matters, resolve the issue, and move on.  Since love worked, power wasn’t necessary.

But in my last ministry, I ran into a board that began to use power first.  They made decisions outside meetings, and then announced them inside meetings without my input or approval.  This had never happened to me before.

I believe that a pastor and a church board should work together.  If the pastor wants to make major changes, he needs to run them through the board first.  If the board wants to make major changes, they need to run them by the pastor first.

But toward the end of my tenure, that didn’t happen.  When board members were unhappy with me, no one sat down and spoke with me in love.

Those tactics sent the church into a spiral.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

No power moves are mentioned in that verse. If someone – like a pastor – is caught in a sin, God’s Word doesn’t say to punish him harshly.  It says to “restore him gently.”

I never felt any love.  I never sensed any desire for restoration.  I never heard the voice of God coming through their pronouncements.  Instead, I sensed a desire to get even.

It became personal.

The hatred ended my pastoral career and spread throughout the church.  It’s been difficult to recover my heart.

Where was God’s grace?

Several months ago, I attended conflict intervention training with Peter Steinke, who works with mainline churches.  Out of eleven people taking the training, I was the only person with a Baptist background.  At one point, Steinke asked me, “What’s with the Baptists?  They seem to see the pastor as being all good or all bad.”

I don’t have an answer for that.

Caution Four: protect the reputation of your church’s pastor and leaders.

I hear lots of stories of pastors who are pushed out of their churches, usually by the governing board.

These pastors – who have devoted their entire lives to serving Jesus – are petrified that their forced exits will end their pastoral careers.

And humanly speaking, they have good reason to feel that way.

I know a pastor who served his church faithfully for more than twenty years.  After he was forced to resign, vicious rumors started flying around the church about him.

Six months later, when a church showed interest in him as a pastoral candidate, they nearly dropped him from consideration because people from the pastor’s former church called the search team in an effort to smear the pastor’s reputation.

To their credit, the church called the pastor anyway … but that’s often not what happens.  False accusations – which are often feeling-based rather than fact-based – have a way of making the rounds in the Christian community.

Some churches drop a candidate from consideration if they perceive there’s even a hint of failure in his past.  And some forced-out pastors are so devastated by assaults on their character that they assume they’ll never secure another church position.

Pastors are not evil.  Sometimes they’re not matched well with a church or community.  Sometimes they were effective early in their tenure but can’t take the church to the next level.  Sometimes they’re burned out and hanging on for dear life, reluctant to share that information with church leaders because they’re afraid they’ll be instantly dismissed.

But should a pastor be chased out of a church if things aren’t going well?

How do professing Christians harm the reputation of their present or former pastor?

*They attribute false motives to the pastor.

*They naively believe every negative thing they hear about him.

*They disseminate those charges through the telephone and social media.

*They spread rumors and innuendos about the pastor without confirmation.

*They conclude that the pastor is so evil that he needs to leave the church … and maybe ministry altogether.

But these “believers” seem unaware of one basic truth:

When a pastor is attacked from within, the church is attacked as well.  And the being behind that attack is always Satan.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:12, “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.”

How does God want believers to act toward their pastors?

“Respect … hold in the highest regard … love … live in peace.”

That’s a far cry from Satan’s strategy: to destroy pastors through deception.

The allegations you spread can ruin a pastor’s life.  Do you want that on your resume?

Caution Five: ask God to show you your part in the conflict, and to make things right with anyone you harmed.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 12:20: “For I am afraid that when I come … there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.”  Those words perfectly describe what happens inside a church when a major conflict breaks out.

But how many people, if any, ever repent for their part in causing quarreling, slander, and disorder?

From all my conversations over the years, I can only recall a handful of times when those who collaborated to force out a pastor later apologized to him:

*Four staff members revolted against a pastor I know.  After they all resigned, one staff member sent a letter of apology … seven years later.

*A pastor friend served as an interim at a church where the board had pushed out the pastor.  The board chairman stood up in the congregation and confessed his part in the coup.  The board later extended the pastor’s severance package.

*One of my college professors served as the pastor of a megachurch for many years.  He was eventually forced to resign, but when a new pastor came, he invited the former pastor back and the congregation apologized to him for the way they had mistreated him.

*A pastor recently told me that someone confessed their part in removing him from office … seventeen years after the fact.

Several years ago, I discovered a place online where the names and photos of nearly all my detractors were visible.  They were all connected to one individual who had opposed my ministry for years – Grand Central Station for anyone who didn’t like me.  Didn’t surprise me one bit.

Not one has ever admitted their part in forcing my departure.

May God forgive them all.

Although I’m retired from church ministry, I am reaching several thousands every month through my blogs.  If you enter the words “terminate pastor” into a search engine, mine is usually the top entry on Yahoo’s first page, and I’m on Google’s first page as well.  I reach far more people through writing than I ever did through preaching, which is all God’s doing.

I am content to be where God has placed me.

I know very little about what’s happening at my last church.  I refuse to do to others what was done to me.  I have never spoken with the pastor.  I never visit the website.  I only have twelve friends on Facebook who still attend the church, and we never discuss church happenings.

Those were good years, for the most part.  I wish the church well.

And I pray that church – and your church – will always know God’s peace.

 

“Use your words.”

Several times every week, as I walk through our house that has been turned into a preschool, I hear my wife’s voice, directed toward warring children:

“Use your words.”

One child is playing with a toy … but another child takes it away.  The child who originally had the toy hits the child who took it.  My wife tells them:

“Use your words.”

My wife doesn’t like it when the kids tattle on one another.  If she doesn’t witness an incident, she’s not always sure exactly what happened.  She wants the kids to learn how to resolve matters themselves, so she’ll tell the tattler:

“Use your words.”

There are times when I’ve watched the kids play, and one child will start screaming.  Because we don’t know why she’s upset, my wife will tell the drama queen:

Use your words.”

She even has a special green table, and when two kids aren’t getting along, she sits them down to work things out and gets things rolling by saying:

“Use your words.”

She wants the children to speak to each other directly … immediately … and calmly.  When they do that, she says matters are resolved every single time.

Jesus said something similar:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

What is Jesus saying?

“Use your words.”

When another Christian takes your toy … or you’re tempted to tattle to the pastor on them … or you feel like screaming at them … go the green table and:

“Use your words.”

Talk to the person who hurt you directly … just between the two of you … rather than involving others.

Talk to them immediately … rather than avoiding them for a long time … which only makes matters worse.

Talk to them calmly … rather than escalating matters … because a quiet tone defuses anxiety.

Jesus says, “Don’t yell at them.  Don’t sock them.  Don’t throw something at them.”  Instead:

Use your words.”

When churches are in conflict … when pastors and staff members don’t get along … when the church board is upset with the pastor … Jesus says:

“Use your words.”

Sometimes, Christians do use words, but they speak harshly … rashly … deceptively … fearfully.  When you’re on the receiving end of such words … and we all are at times … Jesus tells us to express ourselves this way:

“Use your words.”

I read an article yesterday about Frank White, the great second baseman for the Kansas City Royals in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nine years ago, White was managing for the Royals in the minor leagues, and a vacancy opened up for the team’s major league managerial position.

Frank White really wanted that job.

The team offered it to somebody else, and it bothered Frank White … a lot.

The same thing happened three years later.

The team eventually asked him to be a color commentator on team broadcasts, which he did for several years.  He also did community service for them.

Then they reduced his community service salary by 2/3 … and fired him from the broadcast booth the following year.

After all Frank White had meant to the Royals, it hurt.

The Royals and Frank White have been estranged ever since.  He wrote in his recent autobiography, “You’ll never see me in that stadium again.”

But with the Royals going undefeated in the playoffs, and playing in their first World Series in 29 years this evening (against my Giants), White has been back to Kauffman Stadium three times recently.

In fact, the team invited him onto the field to join other members of the Royals Hall of Fame before Game 3 of the Championship Series … but White declined.

It’s one thing to visit the stadium as a fan … and another thing to stand on the field as a valued former player.

Frank White has taken a step toward reconciliation by visiting the stadium.  The team took a step forward by inviting him onto the field.

Personally, I think the team has to make the next move.  They were the ones who reduced his salary and then pushed him out.  They need to offer more than just standing on the field with others.

But if there’s going to be a solution to the estrangement between White and the Royals, it’s the same solution that Jesus recommended to estranged disciples twenty centuries ago:

“Use your words.”

If three-year-olds can go to the green table and work things out with their words, why can’t pastors, staff members, and church boards do the same?

 

 

 

 

 

Stupid Pastors

I shared a meal recently with a widely-respected Christian leader.  He told me why he eventually quit supervising pastors for a living.

In his view, too many pastors are stupid, and “you can’t fix stupid.”

To my knowledge, there aren’t any studies out there as to how many pastors are wise and how many aren’t.  My guess is that the vast majority of pastors are spiritually mature and possess great wisdom.

But my friend’s comments made me wonder:

What are the qualities of a stupid pastor?

First, stupid pastors think they know it all.

They come into a church with the attitude: “I know everything about the Bible and the gospel and church growth, so I don’t need to learn anything from anyone in this church.”

They don’t want to learn about a church’s uniqueness, or its past, or its community, or its people.

In fact, they purposely choose to ignore all of that.

They could learn from Christian authors, or neighborhood studies, or ministry mentors, or church consultants, but they don’t need anyone else’s help.  They already know what to do … and then proceed to show that they know nothing at all.

That’s stupid.

Second, stupid pastors do ministry by themselves.

They don’t believe that anyone in the church can do ministry better than they can.

They teach better than anyone.  They lead better.  They pastor better.  They cook better, watch nursery kids better, work with youth better.  Their motto is: “Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you.”

Because they think they’re superior to others, they gradually come to control everything in the church.

In the process, they devalue the biblical role of spiritual gifts and act like they’re the entire church body … or at least, its head.

That’s stupid.

Third, stupid pastors are insensitive.

They say the wrong thing to the wrong party at the wrong time – but think they’re being authoritative or clever or witty when they’re really being obnoxious.

And the problem is … they have no idea how they come across … and they don’t care.

Rather than building bridges between people, they construct walls … and they’re surprised when those they’ve offended leave the church.

And in all too many cases, insensitive pastors ignore the people who built and paid for the church in pursuit of newcomers who may never attend or give a dime.

That’s stupid.

Fourth, stupid pastors surround themselves with equally stupid people.

Here is what I read from Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 in The Message this morning:

Here’s a piece of bad business I’ve seen on this earth,

An error that can be blamed on whoever is in charge:

Immaturity is given a place of prominence,

While maturity is made to take a back seat.

I’ve seen unproven upstarts riding in style,

While experienced veterans are put out to pasture.

It’s one thing for a pastor to choose his own ministry team.  It’s another for him to ignore the wisdom of spiritually mature individuals because he’d prefer to serve with hangers-on who need him to feel valuable.

That’s stupid.

Fifth, stupid pastors attempt to superimpose a model onto their current church.

A wise pastor comes to a church, and studies its history, leadership, and community.

He solicits ideas about a church’s future from its people and leaders.

But too many pastors come to a church, ignore its uniqueness, put their head down, and try to turn that church into another church they know about.

A pastor may as well try turning his wife into a former girlfriend.  Ain’t gonna work.

It’s good to have church models, but a pastor needs to spend a long time studying his current church before he knows which model might work best.

But too many pastors think they know best … and try and turn First Church into North Point West or Saddleback North.

That’s stupid.

I’m just getting warmed up, but I’d like to hear from you.

What do you think stupid pastors are like?

And what should churches do with them?

How much power should a pastor have in a church?

Should a pastor have absolute power to make decisions?  Or should he implement change only after consulting with and gaining the approval of other leaders?

I once made an appointment with a pastor who had great prestige.  He had a commanding presence and seemed like someone who knew how to wield power firmly.  He told me that he had two boards in his church.  One kept telling him, “Go, go!”  The other one kept saying, “Slow, slow!”  Drove him nuts.

During my 36 years in church ministry, some people told me that I needed to exercise more power than I did, while others labeled me a dictator who didn’t let others make decisions.  I suppose most pastors struggle with the proper balance here.

Let me share five principles concerning how pastors should wield power in a church:

First, a pastor’s authority originates from God.  A pastor does not gain power through seminary graduation, or ordination, or by attending Catalyst training.  No, a pastor’s authority comes directly from the Holy Trinity.  The Father, Son, and Spirit call specific individuals to pastoral ministry.

Before ascending to heaven, Jesus told His disciples that even His own authority was derived from His Father when He claimed: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

And Paul told the elders/pastors of the church at Ephesus that “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28).

Many – if not most – of the men who pastor a Calvary Chapel are taught “The Moses Principle” of leadership.  God spoke directly to Moses, and Moses told the people what God said.  The late Pastor Chuck Smith used to be fond of asking pastors if they worked for the Lord or for the board.

Since God calls people to be pastors, those pastors always need to be accountable to Him for the way they exercise authority.  While the Godhead truly possesses all authority for all time, a pastor’s authority is both partial and temporary.  Therefore, it needs to be stewarded wisely.

Second, pastors are to advance the kingdom of God.  They are to say with Jesus, “Thy kingdom come,” not “my kingdom come.”  It is the job of a pastor to extend the rule of Jesus Christ, not to grab control of a congregation for himself.

It is unworthy of a pastor to aim to make a lot of money, or to become famous, or to be unnecessarily admired, or to have his eye on a larger church.

I Peter 5:6 is written in the context of church leadership and says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”  A humble pastor knows that he is accountable to God and that the Lord will reward him in His own time and way.

In other words, it’s important for a pastor’s motives to be pure – and a true desire to build God’s kingdom usually results in more pastoral power, not less.

Third, a pastor earns power as he serves people.  A pastor cannot stay in his church office all day and earn power by thinking up new projects.  He earns power by touching the lives of hurting people.

In my second pastorate, there was a couple that didn’t seem to like me.  The husband was standoffish and the wife could be caustic at times.  While they weren’t overtly antagonistic toward me, I didn’t really know how to win them over.

Three years into my ministry, the wife’s mother died.  As I ministered to the family in their time of grief, I could sense that things were changing.  Before long, this couple was one of my best supporters – but it took time.

Isn’t this what Jesus said in Matthew 20:26-28?  “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If anyone deserved to exercise authority over people, it was Jesus.  He had the ability to force people to do things against their will – but He identified and met their needs instead.  He never bulldozed anyone over.  He presented His case and let people make up their own minds about His kingdom.

I am eager to follow a leader who says, “I care about you.  Come follow me.”  But I resist following anyone who says, “Do what I tell you to do just because I tell you to do it.”  That doesn’t cut for me.

Fourth, a church grants a pastor power when it trusts him.  When should a pastor begin to make major changes in a church?  Some experts say, “The pastor should start making changes from Day One.  He’s in his ‘honeymoon period’ and can do no wrong.”  Others counter by saying, “But how can a pastor institute major changes when he doesn’t yet know the congregation or the community?”

A pastor cannot go into a church and automatically implement an agenda that he’s read about or seen work in another situation.  Every area and every fellowship are unique.

The wise pastor realizes that trust takes time.  This is why a pastor’s best years begin after he’s been in a church for at least five years.  The people have learned that the pastor truly knows them, understands them, loves them and wants what is best for them.  He doesn’t view the church as a mass of statistics but as a collection of individuals and families whom he deeply treasures.

If a pastor truly loves the people of his church, then he should retain the title “pastor.”  If he sends off signals that he wants to control matters, then he should be called “reverend” or “CEO” or “your royal highness” – anything but “pastor.”

That’s a title that must be earned over time.

Finally, a pastor’s power needs to be shared.  While the Lord used many leaders in the Old Testament, I don’t think that pastors should ever be viewed strictly as generals (like Joshua) or kings (like David) or prophets (like Amos).  While Israel did have elders, the OT is filled with stories of individuals making decisions in consultation with God alone.

But the New Testament applauds a plurality of leaders in a local church setting.  Read Paul’s words to the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38) or Paul’s instructions about overseers to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7) and Titus (Titus 1:5-9) or Peter’s admonitions to elders (1 Peter 5:1-5).  There isn’t just one governing leader in a local church – there are many.  Some elders are set apart and paid because of their giftedness in leading and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17-18) but every NT church has multiple leaders – not just one.

However, I believe that a called individual should set the agenda for a church, and the pastor fits that description better than anyone else. As the pastor reads Scripture, prays, studies the community, and learns the congregation, the Lord gives him a direction for the church.  (But if a pastor chooses to implement change without the governing leaders, that’s a formula for disaster.)

The pastor then shares his agenda with the leaders.  Unless the pastor is promoting heresy or building his own kingdom, those leaders need to take the time to understand that agenda so they can fully stand behind it. They’re welcome to do research, have input, make suggestions, and modify it, but if a church is going anywhere, it’s because the pastor has laid out a compelling vision.

No church can have a board alone set the agenda.  I can’t think of a single church that is doing anything for Jesus where the board casts the vision.  That’s going nowhere.

But more than anything, the pastor needs the board’s counsel as to the timing of the agenda.  If the pastor gets too far out ahead of the congregation, some people will become highly anxious and conflict will break out.  If the pastor lags behind the congregation, there may be calls for a new leader.

This is why leadership is an art, not a science – and why your pastor needs your prayers so very much.

[This is a modified version of a blog post I wrote several years ago.]

When Pastors Feel Alone

A pastor wrote me recently and said that he had read my book Church Coup and that he wanted to contact me because he needed someone who understood how he felt.

Several days later, we spoke at length on the phone.

I was struck by how often I hear the same story: the church is going well … yet struggling financially … the board meets in secret … lies to the pastor … asks the pastor for his resignation … brings back that pastor’s predecessor … the pastor’s supporters leave … the pastor and his family are devastated … and the pastor has no idea what he did wrong.

During the course of my conversation with this precious brother, he told me something that another pastor had shared with me recently:

“I am so glad to know that I’m not alone.”

Five years ago, similar events happened to me at a church I served for nearly 11 years.  These thoughts went through my head after I was blindsided by church leaders:

“How long has this plot been in effect?”

What have I done to deserve this treatment?”

“Why is this happening now?”

“Who else knows about this situation?”

“What is really going on here?”

“If I leave, how will I support my family?”

“With housing values so low, what should we do with the house?”

“Will this end my pastoral career?”

“What does God think about all this?”

The pastor going through the process of forced termination feels anxious … betrayed … confused … devastated … and forsaken.

He can’t think straight … is scared to death … can’t see past that very minute … suddenly becomes distrustful of everybody in the church … and blames himself for everything.

Except … he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong.

One part of him feels like he’s supposed to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself.

Another part of him is aching to get them out.

During a forced termination, church leaders often tell the pastor not to discuss what’s happening with anybody else.

But much of the time, their intent is to control the flow of information so they are in charge of the conflict, not the pastor.

Personally, I believe a pastor needs to discuss his thoughts and feelings with other Christian leaders so he can regain perspective.

There were Christian leaders that I wanted to call and consult with, but I was concerned they might have advance knowledge of what was happening, so I crossed them off my contact list.

Instead, I contacted leaders who didn’t know my church … didn’t know my predecessor … and would be willing to give me a fair hearing.

Within several days, I contacted nearly 20 Christian leaders, some of whom I hadn’t spoken with in more then 10 years.  One day, I spent 14 hours on the phone.

Every leader I spoke with seemed to have one or two pieces to my puzzle, but in hindsight, maybe I was reaching out so I wouldn’t feel so all alone.

Jesus never felt more alone than when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane.

*He knew that He’d soon be in gruesome pain.

*He knew that the Father’s protection was being removed.

*He knew that Satan was coming after Him with full force.

*He knew that He would suffer even though He hadn’t done anything wrong.

In His greatest hour of need, Jesus reached out to His three best friends in this world: Peter, James and John.

Even the Son of God didn’t want to be alone during His hour of trial.

If you’re a pastor or a staff member, and you sense you’re close to being terminated or you’ve been terminated, I want to encourage you to reach out to some or all of the following people:

*your oldest Christian friends.

*pastor friends who love you unconditionally.

*older pastors who have experienced a forced termination.

*Christian conflict managers and interventionists.

*seminary professors and classmates.

Many of these people know what you’re going through because they’ve been through it themselves.  Let them encourage you and pray for you.

And although you might not feel like reading Scripture or praying when you’re under attack, know that God is with you, even when you can’t sense His presence or favor.

If I can help, feel free to contact me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and we can set up a time to talk.

When I wrote my book Church Coup, I didn’t do it for revenge, or for personal therapy, or to make money, or to become well-known.

I wrote the book to help pastors, church leaders, and lay people better understand the phenomenon of forced termination and to try and minimize the damage that happens so often to pastors and churches.

Just this morning, a prominent Christian leader cited the statistic that 1700 pastors are leaving church ministry every month.

Let that sink in: 1700!

My guess is that the great majority of those 1700 are being forced out of their churches by just a handful of opponents.

In fact, you’re in great company with leaders like Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham, and many others who were forced to leave their churches prematurely.

You aren’t alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many years, I have listened to pastors, board members, and parishioners tell me about the conflicts that have occurred in their churches.

Yes, there are some immature pastors out there, and sometimes they deserve to be dismissed.

But all too often, governing board members take a minor conflict with their pastor and make it worse by the injudicious way they handle matters.

From what I’ve gathered, there are two kinds of boards when it comes to pastoral conflict: the immature board, and the mature board.

Let’s contrast them in five ways:

First, the immature board relies initially on business practices, while the mature board relies on Scripture.

When some small business owners hear complaints about their pastor, their attitude may be, “If the pastor worked for me, I’d fire him immediately.”

Sometimes it doesn’t take long for a few other board members to sing the same chorus … and then the entire board decides to remove their pastor from office.

But a church is not a business … it’s a collection of Christians for whom the Bible is “their authority for faith and practice.”

So before business practices come into play, the mature board will say, “Let’s examine the relevant biblical passages on correcting a pastor before we inject any business practices into our decision-making.”

And then they’ll examine Deuteronomy 19:15-21 … Matthew 18:15-20 … Galatians 6:1,2 … and 1 Timothy 5:19-21, among others.

Only after studying the scriptural admonitions will they sift through which business practices might be relevant.

Second, the immature board engages in reactivity, while the mature board responds wisely.

Many years ago, country singer Lee Ann Womack had a hit song about a woman who took away her man.  Womack sings mischievously, “I really hate her, I’ll think of a reason later.”

Unfortunately, that’s the identical sentiment that immature boards have about their pastor.

Their pastor isn’t guilty of heresy, or sexual immorality, or criminal behavior.

No, but a key person in the church … the associate pastor’s wife … the office manager’s husband … the board chairman’s brother … just doesn’t like the pastor.

In fact, their feelings may be much stronger than that … a single person may actually hate the pastor.

While these feelings may not have originated inside the governing board, they’re so strong that they begin to gain momentum and spread inside the inner circle.

But the mature board doesn’t react suddenly to these kinds of feelings.  Instead, they respond in a measured but sensible fashion.

The mature board challenges feelings of dislike and hatred … tries to discover what’s underneath those feelings … and tells the complainers, “Look, these simply aren’t biblical reasons for getting rid of a pastor.  If you don’t like him, we suggest you leave the church, because most people here don’t just like the pastor, they love him.”

Third, the immature board gives up quickly on improving pastoral relations, while the mature board pulls out all the stops.

Several weeks ago, I attended church conflict intervention training with Dr. Peter Steinke, who has done more than 200 such interventions.

Dr. Steinke said that when church leaders are having problems with their pastor, the pastor needs to be given 12-15 months to change.  (Naturally, this does not apply to cases of heresy, immorality, or criminality.)

But immature boards become captured by anxiety and aren’t willing to give their pastor time to improve his performance.  After a few mistakes and complaints, they want him out: NOW!

Church boards need to remember that pastors may appear fully grown physically and educationally when they come to a church, but they still have some growing to do spiritually and emotionally … and God may want to use their church to help his growth along.

Mature boards realize they have many options at their disposal when they’re having trouble with their pastor, including mediation, bringing in a consultant, attending a conflict workshop together, and encouraging the pastor to seek counseling or take extended time off.

But immature boards think: “The pastor is either all good or all bad.  Since he’s not all good right now, let’s toss him overboard.”

Do board members treat their family members the same way?

Fourth, the immature board seeks retribution, while the mature board seeks restoration.

One Sunday, the pastor says something deemed inappropriate in his sermon.  In fact, several people claim they’re highly offended by what he said.

The matter makes its way to the governing board.  The wife and older daughter of one board member are particularly incensed.

What should the board do?  Demand the pastor apologize publicly?  Express their collective outrage?  Censure him?

The immature board will look at who is offended … their position in the church … and hit back angrily at the pastor for his remark.

The mature board will share their concern with the pastor and let him address the issue … always seeking to treat him fairly and lovingly … knowing any one of them could make a mistake themselves.

Finally, the immature board blames any conflict solely on the pastor, while the mature board realizes there’s sufficient blame to go around.

If a pastor begins his ministry on a Monday, and he shoots and kills a staff member three days later, okay, the pastor is solely to blame for that conflict.

But when a pastor has been in a church for a few years, but some people want to get rid of him, is that scenario always the pastor’s fault?

The pastor may be responsible for letting a conflict fester … for not apologizing for his misbehavior … for doing something without authorization … and for saying something really stupid.

But are any of those shortcomings reasons he should be dismissed from a church?  If they’re honest, aren’t all the board members guilty of the same indiscretions at times?

Much of the time, after a pastor has been dismissed, the church board tries to ruin the pastor’s reputation.

He becomes a convenient scapegoat because he’s no longer around.  Things that should have been said to his face are unfairly circulated behind his back.

If the pastor knew what was being said about him, he could easily correct any misstatements.  But when he doesn’t know what’s being said, gossip and speculation are easily substituted for fact.

The pastor’s character, conduct, and ministry are painted in the worst possible light … and sadly, all too many people believe the house spin because they never run what they hear by the pastor.

The board will then sit back and let the pastor’s reputation take a pounding because then no one will know what part they played in the conflict.

The immature board says, “The conflict we had is 100% the pastor’s fault.”

The mature board says, “While the pastor hasn’t demonstrated perfect behavior during this impasse, we haven’t handled matters brilliantly, either, and will do what we can to make things right.”

_______________

Whenever a conflict in a church involves the pastor and governing board, those conflicts are stressful, and when people are under stress, they say and do things that are more childish than adult.

During such times, we pray that our pastor and spiritual leaders will behave in a Christian manner, and that they will not resort to name-calling, lying, slander, and destruction.

Immature boards do.

Mature boards don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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