Ten years ago, I was pastoring the largest Protestant church in our city and working on my doctoral project for Fuller Seminary.

Because I was using so many books during that time, I set up a card table in my study at home, right next to my desk and computer.

The title of my project was “Conflict Transformation: A Biblical Model Informed by Family Systems Theory at ______________ Church.”

Regardless of the title, my project was really about how to prevent and resolve antagonistic behavior in the local church – nearly always directed toward the pastor.

I wanted to research and write on this issue because I had seen antagonistic behavior directed toward pastors all of my life:

*My father was pushed out of a church he planted after five years.

*A pastor at my next church was forced out as well.

*My father-in-law was forced out of his two pastorates.

*A pastor I worked for was voted out of office during a contentious church meeting.

I’ve seen pastor after pastor bullied … threatened … falsely accused … mobbed … and damaged … simply because the pastor would not surrender himself to a faction in the church … including the official board.

But two years after earning that degree, I went through a severe conflict in my own ministry … and I learned ten times more going through that conflict than I did writing about it from an academic perspective … although the academic preparation gave me a foundation for interpreting what was happening.

Let me share four things that I learned from going through that conflict I could not have learned from books or professors:

First, I learned that Christians can hate their pastor for a long time without ever revealing their feelings to him.

If I was attending a church, and I couldn’t stand my pastor, I would leave the church.

I would leave even if my family members all loved him … even if I enjoyed a fruitful ministry as a volunteer … even if I had been in that church for years … and even if I didn’t know any other church to attend.

Let me say this loud and clear: it is better for you to leave the church … even if you have to sit at home on Sundays for six months … then to stay in your church and lead a rebellion against your pastor.

Because when people hate their pastor … whether it’s because of his personality, or his preaching, or his mannerisms, or the changes he’s instituting … they will invariably share their feelings with their family and friends.

And those feelings will almost always go viral, because sharing your bitterness will embolden others to share their grievances as well.

As James 3:5 says, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”

A spark against a pastor has to start somewhere, and when it does, it often results in a firestorm that engulfs the entire congregation.

Before the conflict surfaced, I had no idea that some people hated me with a passion, but I have written evidence that they did.

But none of those people ever had the courage to come to me and say, “Hey, Jim, I have an issue with you, and I’d like to share it in hopes that we can work together better.”

God hates sin, but God doesn’t hate sinners.

And He doesn’t hate His own people.

And He especially doesn’t hate His own called servants.

But for some reason … in nearly every case where an innocent pastor is pushed out of office … hatred is the fuel that drives the conflict.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

Second, I learned that the pastor feels massive betrayal during such a conflict.

I bought a book a while back on betrayal in the local church.  The book contained some good insights … I’ll probably share some of them sometime … but as I read it, I wanted to ask the author one question: “Have YOU ever gone through a massive betrayal in a church before?”

If he had experienced betrayal himself, I think he would have rewritten large portions of his work.

Let me share just one instance of betrayal … and I could cite many more.

After the conflict in my last ministry came to light, I was unsure who I could trust anymore.  For the most part, I waited until people came to me and expressed support before I shared anything with them from my perspective.

After a brutal public meeting of the congregation, a man came up to me and expressed strong support.  We had done things together outside of church and I was glad he was on my side.

A month later, on my final Sunday at the church, I invited people who had demonstrated support to a final luncheon at someone’s house, and I invited this man along.

Before he left that day, he told me that he had met with one of my detractors, and that person’s attitude toward me was, in his words, “nasty.”

Several months later, I noticed on Facebook that this man had a birthday, so I wrote him a note, telling him that if I ever came back to the area, maybe we could get together.

But his conciliatory tone had changed.  I could tell by what he wrote that he had been worked over by one or more of my detractors … and that our friendship was over for good … even though I had never shared with him my side of the conflict.

When scenarios like this are constantly repeated … and they were in my case … you suddenly become suspicious of everyone you once deemed a friend from that church.

In fact, you come to a point where if you lose contact with someone in the church … even for a few days … you assume that they have turned against you.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

Third, I learned that the body of Christ lacks any kind of fair process for dealing with accusations against a pastor.

Most attacks on a pastor originate with a group of seven to ten people, regardless of church size.

Sometimes … especially if board or staff members are involved … those seven to ten individuals can force the pastor to resign without resorting to anyone else in the church.

But if the board and/or staff can’t do it alone, they will seek reinforcements from inside the congregation, including their spouses … friends … family members … and people who have left the church.

Those seven to ten people can grow to 25-35 pretty quickly.

As a conflict spreads throughout the church, the pastor needs people who are spiritual … and strong … and wise to counter the charges made against him.

The issue is never, “Are the charges being made against the pastor true?”

The issue is always, “What kind of process has been used to deal with the pastor’s shortcomings?”

If I was a church member, and I caught wind that the church board or a faction were making accusations against my pastor, I would ask each of them the same question:


I would specifically ask these questions:

*Does the pastor know what you are saying about him in private?

*Have you given the pastor the opportunity to respond to you or any of his other accusers?

*What steps are you taking to insure the pastor is treated fairly and justly?

*Which biblical passages are informing your process?

And if I didn’t like the answers to those questions, I would inform the pastor that he was being judged by the law of the jungle … not by Scripture.

And I would also figure out a way to tell the congregation that the pastor was being abused and lied about without giving him a chance to respond.

For several days in a row, someone entered the following phrase into a search engine and then found my blog:

“How can we fire our pastor without going by the church constitution?”

Do you know what they’re really asking?

“How can we avoid using a process that is biblically-based, takes time, preserves the pastor’s rights, and doesn’t guarantee the outcome that we want?”

Instead, they want to know, “How quickly can we get rid of the pastor without giving him any safeguards?”

In my case, I asked for but was not shown any evidence that church leaders claimed to have.

And I was never given a fair forum in which to answer any of the charges that were circulating around the church.

The leaders involved in pushing me out were very process-oriented whenever it came to changes I wanted to make at the church, but when they wanted me to leave, they resorted to short-cuts instead.

This is what happens almost every time that professing Christians try and force their pastor to resign.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

Finally, I learned that Satan’s presence during a conflict is so real that you can almost see him … and smell him.

I have told the story of what happened to my wife and me in my book Church Coup, but let me just touch on several things we experienced during the 50 days of our conflict:

*The conflict culminated on Halloween … and we always had the biggest outreach event of the year that evening.

*My wife and I experienced fear that we have never experienced before or since.

We were afraid to stay in our house.

We were afraid to answer the telephone.

We were afraid to answer the doorbell.

We were afraid to get the mail.

We were afraid to have any contact with our detractors.

We were afraid that we were going out of our minds.

We were afraid that we had done something horrible … but we didn’t know what it was.

*My wife was attacked by Satan in a visible, soul-destroying way.

I do not blame and have never blamed any individuals for what happened to her.  Her attack was not mediated through individuals … it was a direct assault by the enemy upon her heart, mind, and body.

*There were many lies going around the church about me, but there were so many that I didn’t know where they came from or how to answer them.

*I received an anonymous letter in the mail with the word RESIGN typed in large letters.  I gave the letter that night to a member of the new church board … he wanted to see if he could determine who sent it … but he never did.  That letter was NOT from God, believe me.

I don’t believe that every conflict in a church is from Satan, but there are two tipoffs that he’s involved:

First, there are lies and false accusations floating around the church.

Second, there is an obvious attempt to destroy the pastor’s reputation, position, career … and even his health.

At the time, I thought that Satan was targeting me to get me out of church ministry, but he was really attacking me as a means of attacking the church.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

There are many other things that I could only learn by going through a conflict firsthand, which is why I wrote my book Church Coup … and one of the most frequent comments that I receive from pastors is, “You’re describing exactly what I went through!”

That sentiment always gladdens my heart, because it means that what I experienced … and suffered … is fulfilling God’s ultimate purpose.

If you’re a pastor or staff member who has gone through a horrendous conflict, I want you to know something:

There is a God-ordained purpose behind your suffering, too.






Five years into my second pastorate, I was reviewing my sermon one Sunday morning in a small room in our educational building.  Although I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, I could hear the booming voice of the teacher of the seniors class through the wall.

Without mentioning me by name, he was pounding away at some of the changes I’d been instituting, implying that he was the guardian and protector of the old, more orthodox ways.

After hearing his critiques, I felt like drawing away from him and his class, not toward them.

That group eventually met and compiled a list of my faults, even including my wife and two young children in their “Jim-is-horrible-and-has-to-go” list.

My crimes?

The faction didn’t like the changes the board and I had been making to the worship service (and I made them all with board approval) and to the church’s governing documents.

But I think the real reason for their attack is that they felt that I was neglecting them, and they were partly right, because some of them were really nasty.

The ringleader of the faction also called my district minister, who told me on the phone one night that he thought I should resign.

But I didn’t.

I felt like it.  My heart was broken … my nerves were frayed … and my resolve was all gone.

But I stayed … largely because the church board backed me to a man … so the faction moved a mile away and started a new church.

I know what it’s like to be under attack as a pastor, and I know how awful it feels to have Christian people – who claim to love Jesus – calling for your head.

Some Christian leaders believe that when a pastor is under attack, he should quickly and quietly resign and leave the church intact.

But I don’t believe that such an automatic response is either biblical or wise.

So when pastors are under attack, why don’t they immediately quit?

First, most pastors have a strong sense of God’s call.

When a pastor is invited to lead a particular church, he believes that God has called him to that place.

And for many … if not most pastors … they won’t leave that place unless God clearly calls them away.

Most of the time, a pastor believes that God is calling him away when another church or ministry invites him to be their new leader, and the pastor senses that God is behind it.

But short of such an overture, most pastors believe that when God has called them to a church, they must stay … unless God un-calls them in some fashion.

Is it possible that God can use an attacking faction to un-call a pastor?

I suppose so, but there’s one huge problem with that scenario: the pastor can’t hear the voice of God coming through his attackers.

In fact, he usually hears a distinctly ungodly voice coming through his opponents instead.

Second, most pastors lack a Plan B in case their church situation doesn’t work out.

Most pastors that I know are 100% committed to their current congregations.

They aren’t looking around for greener pastures, perusing pastoral openings, sending out resumes, or doing proactive networking.

Because looking for another ministry position causes a pastor to lose focus and have diminished energy, most pastors are counseled to stay in their present congregations and work through the problems rather than run from them.

So when a faction starts tossing their grievances around the church, the pastor’s instinct isn’t to quit … it’s to identify the problems and solve them.

During my second pastorate, I wanted to quit every other Monday … but I didn’t.

That resilience served me well, because I never seriously entertained quitting during my third and fourth pastorates … a total of nearly 18 years … until leaving was the only option in both situations.

I once knew a pastor who was forced out of his church.  He and his wife quickly moved across the country where he secured a job working with his hands.

But many of us in ministry … and I include myself … only know how to do one thing in life: pastor a church.

So once God calls us somewhere, it’s our tendency to stay, not leave.

Third, most pastors hope and pray that someone – especially the church board – will neutralize or defeat the attackers.

When a pastor is under attack, he cannot effectively lead a charge against his opposition because he is emotionally wounded.

He can strategize.  He can amass a defense.  He can fall to his knees in prayer.

But he cannot take on his critics by himself.  He will need reinforcements.

If nobody comes to the pastor’s defense, and the attackers don’t leave the church, the pastor will be forced to quit.

But if the church board – or some strong, veteran Christians – comes to his aid, the pastor can often survive.

I was a pastor for nearly 36 years, and although I was attacked at various times by individuals, there were only two occasions when the aim of the attacks was to force me out.

The first time, as I mentioned above, the church board came to my defense.

The second time, a group of seven people surrounded my wife and me and again came to our defense … but over the past few years, I have learned how exceedingly rare this is, because the pastor’s attackers will vilify anyone who supports or defends him.

In the last chapter he ever composed, the apostle Paul  wrote, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.  May it not be held against them” (2 Timothy 4:16).

When no one comes to the pastor’s support in the midst of an attack, he’s usually dead meat.

And in such situations, the pastor may choose to resign, not because he was attacked, but because nobody came to his defense.

I have a pastor friend who was once enjoying a fruitful ministry in a church.

He was falsely accused of something, so he went to the church board to ask for their support.

He told them, “You know that accusation is not true.  You know me better than that.”

But rather than supporting their pastor, the board cowered, so the pastor resigned.

He didn’t quit because of the false accusations.  He quit because of tepid support.

Fourth, most pastors hope and pray they can outlast their opposition.

Even though many pastors under attack become emotional basket cases, this thought permeates their brain: “If I hang on, and dig in my heels, and keep doing my job, my opponents will all leave the church.”

Sometimes that sentiment works … and sometimes it doesn’t.

When the attacking faction reaches the point where they’re telling people, “Either the pastor leaves, or we will,” the faction will usually turn up the heat on their pastor.

They will intensify their attacks by making increasingly outlandish charges … creating more and more accusations … soliciting still more charges from former members and staffers … and pressuring staff members and board members to join their cause.

If the church board states unequivocally that they are behind their pastor, the faction will probably leave the church … blaming the pastor on the way out.

If the board is split … some supporting the pastor, others supporting the faction … the pastor may be able to stay as long as any detracting board members don’t join the faction.

But if the board wilts and fails to support their God-called leader, the faction will sense they have permission to go after the pastor.

In the first church where I was attacked, my opposition left the church together.

The second time it happened, the church board resigned en masse, but my other opponents stayed.

I didn’t leave when my detractors wanted me to leave … I left when I sensed that God wanted me to leave.

And there’s a huge difference between the two.

Fifth, most pastors hope to buy time to figure out what to do next.

They don’t resign right away because they have nowhere to go and no visible means of supporting their families.

I think it’s cruel to terminate a pastor involuntarily without providing for his immediate financial future.

And even if the pastor is a jerk, if he has a family, I believe the church has an obligation to care for them.

Let’s imagine that a pastor makes $60,000 a year, and that he gives 10% of that amount to the church.

Over five years, he’s tithed $30,000.  Over ten years, he’s tithed $60,000.  That’s a lot of money.

Most employees don’t give back 10% of their income to their employers … but pastors do.

Yes, the pastor gives those funds away freely, and yes, he shouldn’t expect anyone at church to return those funds back to him.

But since he has freely given, if the board wants him to quit, shouldn’t they freely provide him with a workable separation package?

There are board members in some churches who don’t want to give the pastor any severance at all.  They want to control the money after the pastor leaves, so they concoct reasons why they don’t have to give the pastor any severance.

I think that kind of behavior is despicable.

It usually takes a pastor a minimum of one year to find a new ministry … and if he’s not currently serving in a church, it can take even longer.

When a pastor comes to a church, he puts his faith, his future, and his family in the hands of the congregation and its leaders.

So if they’re going to force him to leave, they need to take care of his family … with a severance package of at least six months.

When I counsel pastors, some receive a three-month package … some receive six months … but only a few don’t receive anything.

Personally, I believe that a pastor under fire should not agree to resign until the church board offers him a written separation package.

And if they won’t agree to give the pastor anything financially, then the pastor should stay and keep on doing ministry until either the board quits or they agree to take care of the pastor and his family.

I believe there are three scenarios where a pastor may consider quitting unilaterally and immediately … even without a separation package in place:

*If the pastor is guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, he should offer his resignation to the church board … the sooner the better … although the pastor still has a family that requires care.

*If the pastor’s family is being attacked, he may choose to resign to stop the abuse.

*If the pastor’s detractors begin a campaign against him … soliciting signatures on a petition, calling for a meeting to vote him out, engaging in slander via the telephone … then the pastor may want to quit so that God’s people are not permanently damaged.

I don’t pretend that what I’ve written is the last word on this issue, so I invite you to join the conversation.

Under what circumstances should a pastor under attack just leave?













There’s a scene in the new James Bond film Spectre where the British spy sneaks into a meeting filled with international villains and thugs shrouded in shadows.  Though he has to run for his life after being discovered, Bond gains valuable information he could never have gathered otherwise.

That scene made me wonder: what if a faction of seven people in a medium-sized church held a secret meeting designed to create a strategy for forcing out their pastor … and two church leaders watched the whole meeting on a hidden camera?


“The meeting will now come to order,” Greg confidently proclaimed.  Greg was the leader of sports ministries for Brookside Church.

“Many of us have felt for a long time that Pastor Ben is not the right man for this church.  Over the past few months, several friends have come up to me after the service and said that they don’t like Ben’s preaching.

“In addition, a lot of us are really upset that Ben dismissed Pastor Scott, who worked so well with our young people.  My kids really liked Scott a lot, and were very unhappy when he left.

“Those are just some of the concerns we have about Pastor Ben.  But before I start, let me introduce the others I invited to this meeting:

“You all know my wife Marie.  She’s been taking soundings from some of the women in her small group Bible study.

“Then there’s Max, one of our oldest members who has watched pastors here at Brookside come and go over the years.  Max is here to represent the seniors.

“I want to welcome Pete and Jo, who worked with the high school group under Pastor Scott.  They never saw any of the misbehavior that Ben claimed Scott was guilty of before he was let go.  They represent our youth.

“I’m glad that our Associate Pastor, Phil, could join us tonight.  He has worked with Ben for several years and doesn’t like the direction he’s taking the church.  Once Ben is gone, Phil is willing to step in and take over the leadership of Brookside.  He’s a much better leader and preacher than Ben.

“It’s also a privilege to have Arnold, one of the board members, with us this evening.  Arnold has witnessed Ben’s behavior firsthand in official meetings these past few years.  Because I’ve heard Arnold question several of Ben’s past decisions, I decided to approach Arnold, and he’s all in with us.

“So let’s go around the room.  I want to hear why each one of you believe that Pastor Ben needs to leave our church … the sooner the better.”


With an expertise in surveillance that no one knew about, Arnold decided to accept Greg’s invitation to attend the meeting as a “double agent” and hide a small camera on his clothing where it couldn’t be detected.

His aim?  To expose Greg and his cohorts by recording the entire meeting … even if such a practice was illegal.

The camera fed pictures and sound directly to the computer of Steve, the worship pastor, a loyal supporter of Pastor Ben’s.  Brandon, another board member, watched the proceedings with Steve in his home office … all without Pastor Ben’s knowledge.  (The two leaders wanted to give the pastor deniability.)

When Greg started soliciting grievances against Pastor Ben, Brandon leaned over to Steve and whispered, “Did I miss something, or did they neglect to start the meeting with prayer?”  Steve whispered back, “You’re right.  How could God ever bless what they’re doing?”


Greg asked his wife Marie if she would keep a list of everyone’s grievances.  Marie asked, “Should I write down who made the complaints?”  Greg quickly responded, “No, that information won’t be necessary.  We’re just trying to pile up charges.”

Pete and Jo decided to go first.  Jo began, “As you all know, Scott was here just eighteen months.  Our two kids really liked the way he ran the youth group.  He had them doing service projects and always had time to listen to their problems.  I don’t know why Ben fired Scott, and I don’t really care.  My kids loved to come to church when Scott was here.  Now they won’t come at all, and they blame it all on Pastor Ben.”

(Back at Steve’s office, Steve said to Brandon, “Pete and Jo’s kids probably came to church once a month when Scott was here, if that.  They may have loved him, but not enough to show up on a regular basis.”)

Greg responded, “Sounds like Ben doesn’t care about the youth.  If he did, he would have kept Pastor Scott on because it’s hard to find a good youth man.  In fact, Ben should have been the one to leave!  Marie, write down that Ben doesn’t care about the youth.”

(Brandon turned to Steve and said, “You know why Ben fired Scott.  It’s because Scott was hired to work full-time and he didn’t even work half that time.  Ben warned him over and over … and kept the board informed … but Scott refused to change.  He deserved to be canned.”)

Max, representing the seniors, was next.  He said, “You know, Pastor Ben supposedly visits people when they’re in the hospital, but I don’t think that’s true.  Two months ago, I went in for some tests on my heart and had to stay overnight.  I kept waiting for Ben to visit me, but he never did!  Another senior said that Ben never visited him in the hospital, either.”

(Steve said to Brandon, “Ben didn’t visit Max because he was on vacation!  Ben asked me to do hospital visitation while he was away, so I visited Max, but he neglected to mention that fact.”)

Marie asked her husband, “What should I write down, Greg?”  Greg thought for a moment and then said, “Put down that Ben doesn’t care about the seniors of this church … or about people who are sick.”

Greg went fishing again.  He asked Marie, “Tell the others what you told me about Ben’s daughter Lacey last night.”

Marie replied, “Remember how Lacey was going out with Jeff, whose parents run the Guest Ministry?  I heard from a reliable source that Jeff broke up with Lacey because she was pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.”

Greg exclaimed, “Oh, brother!  That’s two charges right there!  First, Marie, write down that Ben can’t manage his family because his daughter got pregnant, and then write down that Ben is immoral because he tried to cover up the fact that his daughter planned to kill her baby.”

(Steve and Brandon, watching this horror show unfold on Steve’s computer, couldn’t believe their ears.  Steve told Brandon, “That’s a flat-out lie, and Pastor Phil knows it.  Ben told us in a staff meeting one day why Lacey and Jeff broke up.  It’s because Jeff was pressing her to have sex with him, and she told him she was only going to have sex after marriage.  Why doesn’t Phil speak up and say something?”)

Coincidentally, it was now Phil’s turn to knife his pastor.  Phil said, “I never liked Ben from Day One.  There was just something about him that I couldn’t connect with.”

Phil proceeded, “My main concern about Pastor Ben is that he doesn’t listen to our ideas.  I’ve told him over and over that I don’t agree with his emphasis on reaching out to people in our community.  After all, those people aren’t attending our church, and they aren’t paying the bills!  Why should we focus our attention on people who aren’t here?  We need to focus on the Christians who come here instead!”

Phil’s outburst caused everyone in the room to nod their heads in agreement.  “Our people come first,” Greg added.

(Brandon said to Steve, “This is hard to watch.  What about Jesus’ Great Commission?  What about all the lost people around us who are hell-bound without Christ?  If Ben focuses just on our own people, the church will begin to die.”)

Greg then asked Marie, “Can you read back the charges against Ben so far?”

Marie listed six charges:

*He doesn’t care about the youth.

*He doesn’t care about seniors.

*He doesn’t care about the sick.

*He can’t manage his family.

*He stands for immorality.

*He doesn’t pay attention to our people.

This process continued throughout the evening.  Three hours later, the group had 17 charges against Pastor Ben … including two that intimated that Ben had mishandled church funds … both sure winners once they went public.  Now they had to decide what they were going to do with those charges.

Greg, who had done this sort of thing in two previous churches, gave the group a game plan:

“First, I think we need to talk up these charges throughout the church.  Over the next two weeks, slip a charge or two into your conversations with friends and family members.  Find out who else doesn’t like Ben.  We need to develop a larger critical mass before we can act.

“Second, we need Arnold to share these charges with anyone on the board who might be sympathetic.  Arnold, can you think of any of the seven board members that you can recruit to our cause?”  Arnold replied, “I think I can sway two members to our way of thinking.”  (Arnold played along even though he had no intention of harming Pastor Ben.)

Greg continued, “If we can win four of the seven board members to our side, it’s only a matter of time until Ben is toast.  But if the board protects him, we may need to meet with Ben ourselves as ‘concerned church members.’

“Third, I’ll call the district office and let Wayne, the district minister, know that there are many people here at Brookside who think that Pastor Ben should leave the church.  My experience is that Wayne will listen to my concerns … want to know some of the charges … and tell me that he’ll be praying for our church.  District guys tend to believe the first thing they hear, so if and when Ben calls him, he’ll probably believe us over Ben.  That’s an advantage for us.

“Fourth, let’s solicit more charges from people who have left the church.  Marie and Jo, why don’t you look through the directory, see who has left Brookside over the past year, give them a call, and find out why they left.  Then make a list of those charges and bring them here next week.

“Finally, we need to stay underground and yet stay aggressive.  Don’t tell anyone what our plan is.  Don’t tell anyone who is in this group.  Let’s just keep things among ourselves for now, agreed?”

Everyone nodded their heads.

Greg concluded the meeting by saying, “If you want to talk among yourselves, use your cell phones.  No texts … no emails … and no instant messaging.  If anyone learns anything new over the seven days, please call me on my cell and let me know.  Otherwise, we’ll meet here next week, same time and place.  Good night.”

(Even though it was a long evening, Steve and Brandon now knew the entire plan.  They planned to meet with Pastor Ben the next day … tell him about the plot … reveal the names of the plotters … and help Ben create either a counterattack or a solid defense.  Ben’s future and their future were intertwined.)

Let me make seven observations about secret meetings in churches:

First, secret meetings are called either by the church board or by a church faction.  They are almost always invitation-only.  The clandestine nature of the meeting makes group members feel powerful.  Secrecy is what binds everyone together.  Take out one “secret member” and the whole scheme might come crashing down.  The faction cannot afford to have anyone who disagrees with them present.  It would ruin the entire exercise.  It usually takes only seven to ten people to “take out” a pastor, regardless of church size.

Second, secret meetings aren’t called to investigate charges against a pastor.  They are called to create charges – true or untrue – and to pile up as many charges as possible.  The charges only need to seem plausible.  The sheer volume of charges is what’s most important.  How can a pastor even answer charge after charge?  He can’t … and that’s the idea.

Third, secret meetings by their very nature create false accusations.  The group meets to pile up charges, so accusations aren’t vetted.  The most plausible charges are assumed to be true.  If the group cared about truth, they would give the pastor their list in advance … along with the names of his accusers … and let him rebut them, one by one.  But they don’t want him to rebut the charges … they want him to be ensnared by them.

Fourth, secret meetings don’t begin with offenses the pastor has made against the congregation, but offenses he’s made against individual group members.  Personal gripes somehow morph into official charges.  In this case, seven people fool themselves into thinking that they’re speaking for 300 … and they’ll try and fool the pastor into believing that, too.

Fifth, secret meetings involve one-way charges.  Group members serve as judge, jury, and executioners.  The pastor doesn’t know what the charges are, or who is making them, so he can’t answer them.  By the time he hears about the charges … and he will only hear about a few … a sizable percentage of the congregation will believe them, and he will not be given any fair and just forum to defend himself.

Sixth, secret meetings are designed to enhance the power of people who currently feel powerless.  Pete and Jo wanted Scott to stay, but Ben made him leave.  Phil secretly wants to be the pastor, but he can’t be as long as Ben is around.  The plotters must include someone from the church board and/or staff, or they won’t be successful.  They need inside support.  Those who attend and participate in secret meetings are saying two things, loud and clear: “I want to have more power than the pastor, and I want to exact revenge upon him for marginalizing me.”

Finally, secret meetings are always about one thing: destroying the pastor’s reputation, position, and even career.  Group members convince themselves that they are meeting for the good of the church and to carry out God’s will.  But the truth is that in almost every case, they are meeting for their own good and to do Satan’s will.  They aren’t meeting in the light, but in the darkness.

I thought I’d end this article with the words of John the apostle from 1 John 2:9-11.  They fit this scenario so well.  Just replace the word “brother” with “pastor”:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

My wife Kim and I have been noticing something recently.

It seems to us that more often than not, whenever we hear that still another pastor has been forced to resign from his church, that pastor falls into the 55-65 age category … and he is usually in his early 60s.

I was thinking about this pattern recently when I ran across an article last weekend about the Washington Nationals pursuit of a new manager.

Even though he was interviewed for the job, 66-year-old Dusty Baker – formerly Manager of the Year three times with the Giants, Cubs, and Reds – was not initially hired by the Nationals.

Speaking of himself as both an African-American and an older manager, Baker told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle:

“How many teams are willing to accept what we have to offer?  We’ve got something to offer,” Baker said.  “How much respect do they have for my knowledge and expertise and wisdom over the years?  There’s a certain thing called a life experience degree.  There used to be.”

You’re right, Dusty … there used to be respect for “knowledge and expertise and wisdom over the years.”  But in all too many churches these days, those qualities seem to count for nothing.

(After the Nationals announced that Bud Black was hired as manager, Black turned down the position, and Dusty Baker – who is a great guy – was hired instead.)

Even though I see a pattern starting to develop, maybe older pastors aren’t more likely to be forced out than younger ones.

But assuming my premise has merit, why would any church force out a pastor just because of his age?

Let me suggest five reasons among many … and these are just ideas, not laws cut in stone:

First, older pastors are perceived to be less energetic than younger pastors.

This may or may not be the case.

Some younger pastors are entitled and lazy, refusing to work more than 40 hours.  I have worked with and met some of these people.

On the other hand, many older pastors – if not most – work at least 50 hours a week, many working at least 60.

I suppose it’s generally true that pastors older than 55 have slowed down a bit, but so what?  They more than make up for it with their vast experience and hard-earned wisdom.

Proverbs 20:29 puts it this way: “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.”

Proverbs 16:31 adds, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.”

Yes, young men usually have greater physical strength than older men, but the gray hair of older men is twice equated with “splendor” or respect in Proverbs.

I don’t like or agree with the perception that older pastors are fading and falling apart, but probably some people in every church believe this.

Second, older pastors are perceived to be less “cool” than younger pastors.

There are millions of Americans who act like life began the day they were born.

They aren’t interested in much of anything that came before them.  They don’t care about how great a pitcher Sandy Koufax was … or what a great songwriter Bob Dylan was and still is … or how Richard Nixon managed to win the Presidency in 1968.

They’re far more interested in celebrities like Johnny Manziel … Katy Perry … and Barack Obama.

Koufax, Dylan, and Nixon represent the past, and are therefore deemed irrelevant.

Manziel, Perry, and Obama represent the present and future, so count a great deal more.

Many years ago, I visited a church where the pastor – a younger man – began the service by telling the congregation how much he loved reality shows on television.  He said he watched every one he possibly could.

Everyone loved his comments … except Pastor Jim sitting in the back.  (I don’t watch any reality TV whatsoever.)

No matter how much they try and keep up with popular culture, quoting the lyrics of a Taylor Swift song doesn’t really suit a pastor 60 years of age … but works much better with a pastor in his early 30s … and those are the people a church needs to reach if they’re going to grow.

Because younger people tend to accept popular culture uncritically … and many older pastors don’t understand or like it … older pastors may be viewed as “uncool” … even if they are godly men.

Third, older pastors are perceived as unable to reach young families as well as younger pastors.

There is an axiom among church growth proponents that pastors are best able to reach people who are ten years older and ten years younger than they are.

For example, if f I’m a pastor, and I’m 40 years old, I can best reach people ages 30 through 50.

If I’m 60 years old, I can best reach people ages 50 through 70.

(By this standard, was Jesus best at reaching people in their early 20s and 40s?)

This doesn’t mean that I can’t reach people who are much younger or much older.

It does mean that it will be more difficult … take more effort … and force me outside my comfort zone.

I was 27 when I first became a pastor.  The church board … composed of four men that averaged close to 65 years of age … gave me a charter to reach young families for Christ.

Nearly two years later, the church was all under 30 and over 60 … with only a handful of people in-between.

When the under 30s grew to the same size as the over 60s, the older group felt threatened and began making demands of the younger group.

I could sense a war was going to break out … but then, a sister church invited us to merge with them, and the war was transferred five miles away.

Let’s be honest: statistics indicate that the younger someone is, the more open they are to the gospel, and the older someone is, the more resistant they are.

So if a church is going to reach young families … which most churches say they want to do … then they may start thinking, “We need a pastor in his early to mid-thirties.”

And if their current pastor is over 55, they may … consciously or unconsciously … chase him right off their campus.

Fourth, older pastors are perceived to be less flexible than younger pastors.

I grew up in the home of a Baptist pastor, and older Baptists don’t dance.  (We can’t dance, but that’s another matter.)

I never attended a school dance in my life … my friends didn’t go, either … and I don’t think I missed anything.

So imagine how shocked I was when someone came up to me many years ago and suggested that we have a dance for singles in our worship center!

That idea was rejected quickly.

“But,” I was told, “many other churches have dances for singles.”

I didn’t care.  The answer was still, “No.”

In my mind, I was expressing my convictions … but to others, I was a stubborn, out-of-touch stick-in-the-mud.

I’m just as stubborn about giving altar calls.  The last one I gave was around 1980 … and only because my pastor at the time told me I had to.

There is a perception out there … right or wrong … that when they hear a creative idea from someone, a younger pastor will say, “Yes,” while an older pastor will say, “No.”

This perception is often held by those closest to the pastor … members of the board and staff … who have their own ideas about the direction the church should take.  But they find that the pastor wants them to champion his ideas while he rarely champions any of theirs.

Near the end of my last ministry, this was how the church board felt toward me.  We had a healthy reserve fund, and I wanted to use a good portion of those funds to start a third service.  After all, our church had been outreach-oriented for years, and my vision was entirely in line with our mission statement and history.

But the board turned down my third service proposal, and wanted to engage in maintenance tasks instead, at least in the short term.  Because I didn’t agree with them, I was labeled “stubborn.”

Younger pastors can be just as stubborn as older pastors, but they often aren’t viewed that way, because they’re seen as “works-in-progress,” while older pastors are “finished products” who just aren’t pliable enough.

Finally, older pastors are perceived to be harder to control than younger pastors.

To me, this is the crux of the problem: a church board … and a congregation … have a much more difficult time making an older pastor bend to their will.

Older pastors know from several decades of experience what works and won’t work for them in a church.  So when a staffer or a board member says, “Pastor, let’s do this” or “Why don’t we try that?”, the older pastor quickly combs through his memory and thinks to himself, “I tried that in two different churches, and it didn’t work in either one.  I’m not about to try that a third time.”

Members of the board might meet informally and say to each other, “We’re sure our proposal will work, but the pastor doesn’t even want to try it.”  And there doesn’t seem to be anything the board can do to change his mind.

But a younger pastor … maybe with just a few years of church experience … may come across as much more open to the same idea.

In John Shea’s article on Dusty Baker, the journalist made this observation:

“The trend in baseball is for owners to hire young, numbers-oriented general managers, often out of the Ivy League, and for those GMs to hire managers with little or no experience who’d buy into their sabermetric philosophies and lineup preferences.”

Translation: younger general managers wish to hire managers they can more easily control.

And they can’t control an old-school manager who relies on hunches, intuition, and gut feelings more than computer-generated patterns.

It’s my belief that when a church board and a pastor don’t agree on their church’s direction, the board will cooperate with their pastor for a while.

But if the family members or friends of board members threaten to leave the church … or stop giving … or stop coming … the board feels pressured, and their anxiety may propel them toward controlling their pastor more forcefully.

And if the pastor resists … and many older pastors do … then the board may conclude that the pastor has to go because they simply can’t control him.

While reading Chris Creech’s book Toxic Church, the author presents information he received from our mutual friend Dr. Charles Chandler from the Ministering to Ministers Foundation about pastors who are more likely to be abused by their congregations:

“Dr. Chandler reports that abuse is more likely to occur when a pastor reaches the age of fifty.  Abuse is more likely to occur when a pastor has had a long tenure.  Abuse is more likely to occur when a pastor has had some significant physical problem.  Abuse is more likely to occur when a dissident member of the church acts in collusion with a staff member of the church.”

Did you notice that first sentence?  “Abuse is more likely to occur when a pastor reaches the age of fifty.”

When my wife and I experienced a major conflict in our church six years ago, an outside consultant witnessed certain events firsthand and claimed that my wife and I were suffering abuse.  He wrote in his report, “How much more should Jim and Kim endure?”

I was 55 years of age when that conflict started, and 56 when it concluded.

Years ago, when I knew I would be leaving a church that I was pastoring, I spoke with one of my ministry mentors – a top church growth expert – who told me, “I’m sure you’ll find a new church.  You’re the right age.”

I was 44 years old.

Thirteen years later, I spoke with that same mentor again about my prospects for finding another pastorate.  But this time, he told me, “Nobody is going to hire you.  You’re the wrong age.”

I wonder how many pastors are pushed out of their churches simply because they’re “the wrong age.”

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,

hands that shed innocent blood,

a heart that devises wicked schemes,

feet that are quick to rush into evil,

a false witness who pours out lies

and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Proverbs 6:16-19

There are individuals scattered throughout Christian churches all over the world who fit Solomon’s description in Proverbs 6:16-19 perfectly.

Some people call them clergy killers.  For my purposes, let’s call them church bullies.

Church bullies attend churches where they become so angry with their pastor that they use any and every method possible to destroy their pastor’s reputation so they can force him to resign and leave their church forever.

When I was writing my doctoral project for Fuller Seminary on antagonism in the local church, my editor found it hard to believe that such Christians really do exist.

To this day, I find it hard to believe they do as well.

But they do, and at a time of their choosing, they spring into action and attempt to run their pastor out of the church … and even out of the community.

Because this kind of behavior makes no sense to most of us, we cannot fathom why a professing Christian – usually a church leader – would engage in this kind of reckless pursuit … but it happens all the time in the Christian community.

What motivates these church bullies?  Why are they so bent on destroying their pastor?

From all my research … from hearing scores of stories from other pastors … and from my own experience … let me suggest seven reasons why church bullies attack their pastor … in no particular order:

First, the church bully wants nonstop access to the pastor but isn’t granted it.

There are persons in every church who want to run the church through the pastor.  They want to become “the power behind the throne.”

So they try and become the pastor’s friend.  They invite him out to lunch … invite him and his wife over for dinner … and even suggest that the pastoral couple vacation with him and his wife.  (I’m going to use the terms “he” and “him” throughout this article even though a woman can also be a church bully.)

Sometimes these individuals will even give the pastor a special monetary gift or advocate that the pastor should receive a larger salary.  By doing this, they’re telling the pastor, “I’m your man.  You can always count on me.”

But if the pastor resists the bully’s machinations … or stops becoming his best friend … or the pastor starts investing himself into someone else … the bully will feel rejected … and may begin to plot against the pastor.

But when the pastor inevitably cuts off the attention – and especially the access – the bully will go berserk, not only because he senses he’s not as close to the pastor as he once was, but because he’s lost his ability to influence the church’s direction.

Second, the church bully believes he knows how to run the church better than the pastor.

According to Proverbs 6:16, this person has “haughty eyes,” meaning they are extremely proud.

Many years ago, I came to a church and met a board member who was full of hostility toward me.

He didn’t even know me, but at my first board meeting, he jumped down my throat over a trivial issue.

Several weeks later, he wanted to meet with me one-on-one.  We sat down together – I still remember the time and place – and he asked me all kinds of questions about the direction I wanted to take the church.

He shared his approach for growing the ministry, but I wasn’t comfortable with it.  His approach was 100% business-oriented.  For example, he wanted to advertise on television and believed that we’d pack the place out if we did.

Over the next few months, this gentleman came after me with a vengeance.  He misrepresented things I said behind my back and tried to turn others against me.

I was a threat to his plans for the church.

When he demanded to speak to me one day, and I delayed phoning him back, he angrily resigned from a volunteer position and left the church.

I was relieved.

God didn’t appoint that gentleman as the church’s leader.  Wisely or unwisely, God had appointed me.

I wasn’t about to be So-and-So’s man.  I wanted to be God’s man.

Third, the church bully senses he is losing control of his life.

Most church bullies don’t have their act together in their personal life:

*Maybe their marriage is falling apart.

*Maybe one of their kids is flunking out of school or is on drugs.

*Maybe they’ve been fired from a job or their career has stalled.

*Maybe they’re heavily in debt and have stopped paying certain accounts.

*Maybe their adult children don’t want to see them.

Whatever the issue, the bully hasn’t been able to control life events, so he feels that he can at least control events somewhere: at church.

Usually unconsciously, the bully says to himself: “I am losing significance at home … my career is going south … and I can’t seem to do anything about it.  But there is one place I can still make a difference: my church family.”

So the bully surveys the congregation and says to himself, “I can make a difference by making this proposal … supporting that idea … or stopping the pastor’s future plans.”

Even though God hasn’t called him to run the church, that’s exactly what the bully wants to do, because if he can control the church, maybe life won’t hurt so bad.

But to control the church, the bully needs to control, neutralize, or destroy the pastor … because the pastor is the one person who can thwart the bully’s plans.

I once spoke to a church consultant about some problems I was having with the church board.  He asked me how they were doing in their personal and vocational lives.  When I told him that two of the men were having major struggles at work, he said, “They’re angry.”

In other words, no matter how placid they looked when they came onto the church campus, they came to church perpetually ticked off … and it didn’t take much for that anger to surface.

Fourth, the church bully is fearful that the pastor will discover secrets in his life.

That same church consultant I just mentioned told me something I’ve never forgotten.

He told me that when a church board gangs up on their pastor to remove him from office, at least one board member is often discovered to be having an affair.

I haven’t heard this observation anywhere else, but his statement was based upon his experience in consulting with many churches.

The bully’s thinking may go like this:

“I have this problem in my life that nobody knows about.  If anybody discovers it, I could lose everything, and I can’t let that happen.  More than anyone I know, the pastor seems to have spiritual discernment, and I wonder if he knows what I’m doing.  So before he ever finds out … maybe from my wife, or my kids, or from friends … I’m going to get him instead.  That way, he’ll never be able to expose me.”

Whenever I did counseling, I was privy to secrets in people’s lives.  While I kept those sessions confidential, there are times when a pastor is preaching and he’ll mention an issue that was touched on in a counseling session … even years before.  The pastor may have forgotten who he counseled and what their problem was, but if the ex-counselee is sitting in church that Sunday, he may very well think the pastor is preaching about him – maybe even trying to change his behavior – and decide to go after the pastor for exposing his secret.

Yes, that’s paranoid behavior, but it happens more than any of us know.

Fifth, the church bully refuses to forgive his pastor for offending him.

Bullies are, by their very nature, notoriously sensitive individuals.  They see offenses where they don’t exist.

And this is especially true when it comes to pastors, because they represent God to many people.

If a bully offends a pastor, he expects to be forgiven.  That’s what pastors do: forgive.

But if the pastor offends the bully, the bully may never forgive him.  He may hold a grudge – sometimes for years – and not let anyone know how much it bothers him.

He probably won’t tell the pastor, either.  Instead, the bully will bide his time and later use that offense to run the pastor out of the church.

Only the bully won’t mention the offense to his friends – or the church board – because the issue that upsets him will look petty in the eyes of others.

Instead, the bully will begin to make official charges against the pastor: “He’s not working enough hours … he’s mismanaging funds … he’s been neglecting the seniors … he seems too absorbed with the office manager” … and so on.

Those aren’t the real issues.  The real issue is that the pastor offended the bully at some time in the past.  The bully hasn’t talked to the pastor about it, and he probably never will.

So what are personal charges end up morphing into official charges.

Proverbs 6:16-19 mentions “feet that are quick to rush into evil.”  I’ve seen those feet before, and they’re silently running toward mischief … and away from God.

Sixth, the church bully has collected grievances from others.

In the words of Proverbs 6:16-19, this person is “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

The second church I pastored was a nightmare in many ways … mostly because of the worst church bully I’ve ever encountered.

His wife was upset with me, and quit coming to church, so he quit coming, too.

But a year later, he returned to lead a rebellion against me, and we lost 20% of our people overnight.

One of his tactics was to call people who had left the church to dig up some dirt on me.  Then he compiled a list of my supposed offenses, making it as long as possible.  Then he presented the list to the church board, which defended and supported me to the hilt.

His tactic didn’t work, but I saw what he was doing … and it was evil.

If a church bully wants to get rid of his pastor, and the pastor is guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior – the Big Three – then the pastor has dug his own grave … although church leaders should aim for his restoration, not his destruction.

But if the pastor isn’t guilty of any impeachable offense, but the bully wants him to leave, then he may do one of three things:

*He will manufacture serious charges.  This is what the Jewish leaders did with Jesus.

*He will solicit charges from others – hoping there’s a major offense in there somewhere – and pass it around the church as if to say, “Do we want someone so flawed and imperfect as our pastor?”  But this is nothing more than carrying the offenses of others rather than encouraging people to see the pastor personally to make things right.

*He will make a litany of false accusations against the pastor, hoping that the sheer number of charges will drive the pastor far away.  But love doesn’t keep lists of offenses … love deals with offenses as they occur … and one at a time.

All three tactics are evil.  Doesn’t Proverbs 6:16-19 tell us that the Lord hates “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who pours out lies?”

Finally, the church bully has aligned himself with Satan.

Let me quote from Chris Creech in his recent book Toxic Church:

“It is my belief, however, that the one sure way to recognize a clergy killer is the use of the lie.  When an individual within the church is shown to have used a lie, there is no doubt that evil is at work and the person has tied himself or herself to an alliance with the devil, either knowingly or unknowingly” (see John 8:44).

How is the devil able to influence a Christian … even a Christian leader … to destroy his pastor?

It’s disturbing to say this, but the bully is so bitter and so vengeful that he gives himself over to the will of Satan.  In the words of Proverbs 6:16-19, this person has “hands that shed innocent blood” as well as “a heart that devises wicked schemes.”

I have recounted what happened to my wife and me in my book Church Coup … and our conflict climaxed, of all days, on Halloween.

There is no doubt in my mind that Satan attacked my wife and me repeatedly during the fifty days of our conflict.  His intention?  To destroy us in hopes that he could destroy the church.

There were so many lies going around the church … so much chaos … and so much hatred that it was absolutely unbelievable.  I could tell you story after story of Satan’s work during that time, and it would send shivers up and down your spine … unless you’ve been through this kind of thing yourself.

But most of all, Satan used false accusations to try and destroy my wife and me.  His strategy is simple: deception leads to destruction.

And yet here’s the ironic thing: the church bully believes that he is doing the will of God!

Where in the New Testament do we have even one positive example of a believer trying to destroy one of God’s chosen leaders?

We don’t.  Such behavior is condemned throughout the New Testament.

But as I look around the Christian world today, I see incident after incident where Satan influences a bully … the bully tries to destroy the pastor by lying … the pastor ends up leaving … the bully is never confronted or corrected … and someone from headquarters is sent to cover the whole thing up.

In fact, after the pastor leaves, in all too many cases the bully ends up being asked to serve on the church board … or the church staff … or even become the interim pastor.

What a dysfunctional lot the church of Jesus can be at times!

If a church bully read this article, he wouldn’t recognize himself.  I once heard a prominent Christian leader state that any individual who tries to destroy their pastor might be termed a “sociopath lite.”

Since the bully’s conscience isn’t functioning well, the consciences of the rest of the congregation need to be operational and discerning, or Satan can take out a pastor … or an entire church.

Let’s resolve not to let that happen anywhere.

There was a murder inside our local McDonald’s three weeks ago.

A woman shot and killed a man – allegedly her boyfriend – inside the restaurant.

Whatever he did or didn’t do, he certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered in public.

This is all we know:


My wife was eating at a nearby restaurant with a friend and saw all the commotion as she was leaving.

I worked two years at a McDonald’s in my late teens, so I can imagine how management handled matters after the police let the witnesses leave later that evening.

It’s possible that:

*Employees were instructed not to talk about the incident with any current or future customers.

*The employees who were working that night were traumatized and offered counseling.

*Some employees heard about the incident later and quit on the spot.

*Those who were inside McDonald’s when the killing occurred won’t want to return for a long time.  And customers like me might choose not to patronize that particular McDonald’s just because of the nightmarish memory attached to it.  (“Wow, somebody actually died right here on this floor.”)

*After the crime scene was thoroughly investigated, all evidence of the murder was scrubbed clean so McDonald’s could open the following morning.

I have a book buried in a box in my storage area called How to Murder a Minister, and although few pastors are ever blown away (I do have a few articles where that has actually happened), many pastors lose their jobs … careers … and reputations when they’re dismissed, even if they did nothing wrong.

There are some disturbing parallels between this incident and the way that many church boards handle matters after they have unjustly forced out their pastor.

Let me reiterate that some pastors deserve to be terminated because they are guilty of a major offense like heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior.  But as I’ve written many times, only 7% of the pastors who are terminated are guilty of sinful conduct.  45% of the time, a pastor’s termination is due to a faction in the church.

So what I write below has to do with those situations where a church board either fires a pastor or forces him to resign for political reasons, not for moral or spiritual reasons:

*Presuming that the board does address the pastor’s departure in public, they will mention it once and resolve never to mention it again.  Their attitude is, “There’s nothing to see here.  Move along.”

That attitude might work for fringe attendees, but the closer to the core people are, the more they want to know “what’s really going on.”  And if membership means anything at all, church members should be told a lot more than they usually are.

*There are people in every church who know the board members personally and may have been fed advance or inside information.  (Certainly this applies to the spouses of many board members.)

But there are also others who had no knowledge of any problems between the pastor and board, and some may be traumatized by the announcement of the pastor’s departure.  This is especially true if the pastor led them to Christ … baptized them … dedicated their children … performed their wedding … conducted a family funeral … or counseled them during a crisis.

Much of the time, the church board doesn’t factor in these people when they railroad their pastor right out of their fellowship.

After their pastor has departed, to whom will these people go when they need prayer … a reassuring word from God … or help with a difficult problem?

Certainly not to anyone on the church board … or anyone on the staff who might have been involved in pushing out their pastor.

Just when they need a pastor the most, these people suddenly find themselves shepherdless.

*When a pastor is forced out, some people immediately withdraw from the congregation because the pastor is the reason they attended that specific church.

And over the coming months … as the board maintains silence about the pastor’s departure … more and more people who loved that pastor will gradually walk away from that church.

Some Sundays, the pastor’s supporters may even watch the church board serve communion … notice that their pastor is absent … and suffer heartache all over again.

*Sunday after Sunday, it will become increasingly difficult for some parishioners to rise, clean up, get in their cars, drive to the church, walk inside, sit down, and feel good because every time they follow that pattern, they’re reminded that the church board “took out” their beloved pastor.

A friend told me about an incident some months after I left our last church.  She came to worship … discovered that she was sitting by one of my most vocal detractors (who was never disciplined) … was traumatized once more … and never set foot in that church again.

In fact, there are people from our last church who didn’t attend any church for years because of the ongoing pain after their pastor was removed.

*All evidence of the “crime” has to be cleaned up and thrown away.  Minutes of board meetings must be concealed and buried.  Board members must pledge strict confidentiality.  They will agree together how they’re going to spin things with the congregation.

Potential questioners are identified … strategies for dealing with them are created … and the board convinces itself, “In a couple of months, everyone will forget all about what happened.”

Because it’s not just the future of the congregation that’s at stake … it’s also the reputations of the board members …  who must keep a tight lid on the tactics they used to force the pastor to quit.

I realize there is a limited amount of information that a church board can give a congregation when a pastor leaves a church … whether the pastor left voluntarily or under duress.

The best boards don’t want to harm the pastor’s career, and know if they did, they might be sued … even if the lawsuit goes nowhere.

The worst boards don’t care about the pastor’s career, but they do care about their reputations … and their power inside the church … so they usually share virtually nothing and hope that everything just blows away.

But I believe that for a church to heal, the leaders need to tell their congregation as much as they can, not as little as they can.

The problem, of course, is that as long as the very people who pushed out the pastor stay on the board, they don’t want to do or say anything to jeopardize their positions.

If they tell the truth, they’ll have to resign.

If they lie, they might be able to stay … so they lie.

Many boards disseminate information through the grapevine … emphasizing their virtues and the pastor’s flaws … and tell people, “We can’t divulge anything about the pastor’s resignation” in public, but they’ll turn around and slander him in private.

But the board has far better options than stonewalling or deceiving people:

*The board can announce the pastor’s departure inside or at the end of a worship service, and at least everybody will officially hear at the same time that their pastor is gone.

*The board can call a meeting of the congregation and share a bit more information … maybe even taking some questions … although most boards won’t be inclined to let people make comments.  (Such people will be labeled “divisive.”)

*The board can meet with people in groups and share additional information in more intimate settings.  A friend told me this is how the board handled matters after her pastor resigned, and I very much like this approach as long as the board is both loving and honest.

But if I’m a member of the church, and the board doesn’t deem it appropriate for me to know why the pastor was forced to resign, I’d do the following two things:

First, I’d contact the pastor and see if he feels free to discuss what happened.  If he doesn’t want to talk about it … or if he’s signed an agreement saying he won’t discuss it … wait a month or two and try again … and keep trying until you get something concrete.  (His wife didn’t sign an agreement, though, and she may be all too happy to tell you what really happened.)

Second, I’d contact one or two board members and ask for two pieces of information: a written description of the process used to terminate the pastor, and the general timeline involved.

The board certainly isn’t violating any law or ethical standard by sharing the process they used to make their decision, but they need to share something or it just may be that (a) one person on the board pressured the others to fire the pastor, and everybody caved, or (b) the board made their decision hastily.

Without knowing the specific charges, the process or the timeline might be all that is needed to determine if the pastor’s termination was just or unjust.

In the case of the woman who committed murder at McDonald’s, she’s currently in jail.  There will be a trial down the road.  Witnesses will be called … evidence will be presented … charges will be brought … truth will be told … and justice will be served.

But deep inside thousands of Christian churches, nobody is ever held to account for brandishing the weapon of deception … decimating the pastor’s career … destroying his reputation … and terminating his friendships.

That is, nobody is ever held to account in this life.

But Judgment Day is coming in the next life, and for those who have intentionally sought to harm their pastor … in the words of a young Bob Dylan … “I’d hate to be you on that dreadful day.”

I love the fall.  It’s my favorite time of year.

But I don’t like the last eight days of October.

Because on Saturday, October 24, 2009, at an 8:00 am board meeting, events were set in motion that forced me to leave a church I had loved and served for 10 1/2 years.

In case you’ve stumbled upon this blog for the first time, my name is Jim, and I was a pastor for 36 years.  I’m a graduate of Biola College (now University), Talbot Seminary (now School of Theology), and Fuller Seminary, where I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree in church conflict in 2007.

For many years, I pastored the largest Protestant church in a city of 75,000 people.  We built a new worship center on our small, one-acre campus and successfully reached people who weren’t going to church.

But six years ago this week, I went through a horrendous conflict that ultimately led to my resignation.  I wrote a book about my experience called Church Coup.  The book was published in April 2013 and is on Amazon if you’re interested.

Since that conflict, I’ve written 475 blog posts, most of them on pastoral termination.  And over the past few years, I’ve written a special blog whenever October 24 comes around.  Call it self-therapy.

I feel great liberty in discussing this topic openly because (a) I will never be a pastor again, and (b) I have already lost nearly all of my friends from that church.

This year, I’d like to ask and answer seven questions about my experience in hopes that my story might give greater perspective to the issue of pastoral termination in the wider Christian community.

Why do you think you were pushed out as pastor?

There are multiple answers to this question.

Financially, after two great years, our church had a rough year in 2009.  The shortfall wasn’t anybody’s fault.  We were behind budget all year, but we had plenty of funds in reserve to carry us through.

There was no need to panic.  But some people became overly-anxious, and began to overreact to a situation that nearly every church was experiencing that year.

We also had a church board with the wrong combination of individuals.  They were all good people, but three were new to the board, and everyone was younger than me, so we lacked veteran leadership.  The board member who always had my back moved away, and two other seasoned laymen were on hiatus from the board.

So there wasn’t an experienced, calming influence in the group.  I believe the board interpreted some things I said in the worst possible light, overreacted to the financial shortfall, and chose a course of action designed to rid them of anxiety but that ended up causing great harm to many people, including the board members themselves and half the church staff.

Three Christian leaders later told me that for years, I had been undermined by a prominent ex-leader who had left the church years before.  I knew it was taking place, and could pinpoint those who were being influenced, but without proof, I chose to ignore the behavior.  This ex-leader advised the church board during the conflict, but his counsel backfired.

Then the mob mentality seized the congregation.  There were all kinds of charges thrown at me, and enough people believed them that I couldn’t stay.

I counsel pastors and church leaders about the conflicts in their congregations, and the situation that I experienced ranks in the Top 5 Worst Conflicts I’ve ever heard about.  A former pastor and seminary professor told me, “You’ve been to hell and back.”

I’m still coming back.

What impact has the conflict had on you and your family over the years?

I’ve always done my best to be authentic … to share how I really feel … yet to do so with love and civility.  Although I will continue that practice, I’m doing so with much restraint.

*I wonder why God didn’t protect my wife from being spiritually assaulted.  I watched helplessly as my wife … who has done more good for the cause of Christ than most of my detractors put together … was attacked in a brutal and destructive fashion by the enemy.  She was diagnosed with PTSD and told not to work for one year.  I would gladly have taken bullets for her, but she took them for me instead.

*I wonder why the generous and gracious congregation that I served for years turned into a place of betrayal, false accusations, and character assassination overnight.  The mercy, grace, and love of God vanished from the congregation, as did forgiveness and truth.  People who attended the church after we left told me that the church was never the same after the conflict occurred.

*I wonder why we still find it hard to trust churches as institutions.  Over the past six years, my wife and I have had three church homes (18 months in one church, 18 months in another church, 3 months in a church I served as an interim).  We’ve also spent nearly three of those years looking for a church home.  We’ve probably visited close to 75 churches during that time span (we visited another new church last Sunday) but have felt uncomfortable in most Christian churches.  Will that discomfort ever go away?

*I wonder why we’ve had to suffer so much financially.  When the conflict broke out, our personal finances were pristine, and we owned a house.  We’ve rented six places since then, and my wife and I will have to work well past full retirement age just to survive in the future.

What impact has your book Church Coup had?

When I wrote the book, I wanted to make a contribution to the field of church conflict and pastoral termination and believe that I’ve done that.

The book has sold several more times than the average Christian book, and I’m pleased with the number of reviews I have on Amazon.  However, I’d like to remove the lone one-star review because I don’t think the reviewer read the book at all.

Dr. Archibald Hart from Fuller Seminary told me he would include the book in the reading list for his classes at Fuller.  A colleague from Pennsylvania quoted from my book in his Doctor of Ministry project.  A pastor I’ve never met has recommended the book to church leaders.  It’s a niche book, but those who need it will find it.  (I spoke on the phone yesterday with a church leader who told me that he wished he had found the book sooner so he could have used it during his church’s conflict.)

I once met with a sales rep from a Christian publisher.  He told me that I’d need to shorten the book to 150 pages for it to be stocked in Christian bookstores, but I’m glad I wrote the book I wanted to write … although I wonder why there are more than 20 used copies on Amazon!

Have you heard from any of the people you mention in the book?

Just a handful.  I think that the conflict we endured was so painful that nobody wants to relive it.

*Some of my detractors have read the book but don’t seem to recognize themselves.

*Most people decided on the narrative they wanted to believe years ago, so the book changed few people’s minds.

*If I had published the book six months after I’d left my last church, it might have had a positive impact, but because I waited more than three years, most people had moved on emotionally.

*I had already cut ties with 80% of the people I mentioned in the book, so little that I wrote affected those friendships.  I didn’t write a book and then lose friends; I lost friends and then wrote the book.

Have any of your detractors made contact with you?

No.  There were nine people most responsible for trying to force me out, and not one has ever contacted me directly.  One did relay a message to me indirectly through a friend.

Another detractor was a friend for 22 years.  He had attended my ordination and even signed my certificate.  We have never spoken since he involved himself in trying to undermine me.  I’ve been told on good authority why he tried to push me out but I’ve never revealed that information publicly.  Although his backroom maneuverings temporarily succeeded, scores of people were harmed by his efforts.

In some termination situations, the church board loves the pastor personally, but feel he needs to leave for the church’s benefit.  In other situations, the pastor is doing a good job, but someone on the board despises the pastor personally, and that hatred spreads to others – usually including the church board – which uses “official charges” as a smokescreen for personal hatred.

Six years after the fact, I remain convinced that the attempt to push me out was personal and motivated by revenge.  I did not do anything rising to the level of official termination nor did I deserve how I was treated after 10 1/2 years of faithful service.  While it feels good to say that, I’ve had to endure a myriad of false charges, most surfacing after I left the church … and my guess is that most people who said cruel things had no idea their words would get back to me.

Some people from my former church read this blog when I first came out.  My guess is that almost none of them read it anymore.

I don’t want to hurt people the way they hurt me.  I have a story to tell, and I’m going to do so as often and as long as God uses it.  But I’m not going to mention anybody’s name in public.

In my blog, I usually don’t reveal the names of people whose stories I recount because I don’t want their names to pop up in a search engine.  If anybody really wants me to identify someone, and it’s appropriate, I will do so privately.  For example, a friend recently wrote me and asked for the names of the experts who advised me on when to terminate the pastor of a declining church.  I felt comfortable sharing that information with him because he’s trustworthy, but I’m very careful with names … unless I mention someone that I admire.

What were some of the charges against you?

In consultation with respected church members, I hired a church consultant who came to the church for a weekend.  He interviewed staff, met with the transition team, and attended two public informational meetings.  He later told me that those meetings were among the worst he has ever seen, so he witnessed the destruction firsthand.

He wrote a report stating that my wife and I had a future in ministry and that certain members had acted “extremely and destructively.”

Two Sundays after my wife and I left the church for good, a 9-person team publicly stated that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on our part.

But that just made some people angrier.  They had to win … even if it meant destroying the reputation of their former pastor.

Let me share just one example of a charge that was floating around my last church.

Before that board meeting on October 24, my wife and I had traveled to Eastern Europe on a church-sponsored mission trip, but someone was telling people that we hadn’t paid for our share of expenses.

After the mission part was over, our team flew to London to rest and see the sights for several days.  (Nearly all mission teams do something similar.)

We put all of the charges for our hotel and meals in London on the church credit card.  Then when our team returned home, the charges would be converted from British pounds to American dollars (there’s usually a lag in this process) … the charges would be divided up among various team members … and we’d all reimburse the church for our personal expenses.

This was standard operating procedure whenever a mission team went overseas.

But we didn’t find out the charges for more than a month.  As soon as we found out, we reimbursed the church immediately.

But one of my detractors was running around telling people that we never paid the church back for those charges … implying that we stole money from the church … and God only knows how many people believed that.

Do you see how subtle such accusations can be?

There are other charges floating around in the ether that I’ve heard about that are just as false.  They have caused my wife and me great sorrow over the years.

Here’s what bothers me: the charges were circulating around the church long before I heard about them or had the chance to respond to them.  People were leaking information and trying to impugn my character without ever giving me a chance to respond.  There was no forum made available where I could answer the charges made against me … and this happens in most churches.  It’s one of the least attractive truisms in Christian ministry.

I could never treat anyone else that way, especially a pastor.  Could you?

When the charges began circulating, I needed to know who was making them and exactly what they were saying.  Then I should have been given the chance to respond, and the charges should have been dismissed.

The problem was … and is … that when people are trying to destroy you, they will continually find charges to throw at you until you leave.  And after you leave, they manufacture new charges designed to alleviate their own guilty consciences, to make them believe that their mistreatment of their pastor was justified.

Where do we find this kind of practice in the New Testament?

We don’t.

What have you learned about pastoral termination over the past six years?

I probably had an average amount of conflict over the years in that church as exemplified by the fact that I never seriously considered resigning.  I worked hard to resolve every issue and conflict that came my way.

But then a conflict surfaced … and “ended” … in just 50 days.

Yet during those 50 days, I went through a wide range of experiences – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – so I have both a broad and deep range of firsthand understanding about pastoral termination.

Let me recommend three practices that are biblical and that a church’s leaders must institute whenever a pastor is under attack:

*Whenever a pastor is publicly charged with wrongdoing, he needs to answer his detractors publicly and quickly or people will assume he’s guilty.

I was publicly accused of some charges in two informational meetings 15 days after the conflict surfaced.  I was told by our church consultant (who attended both meetings) that I could not answer any charges made against me, and I promised him that I wouldn’t.  But when I didn’t respond to the charges, some people assumed they were true.

If I had to do it over again, I would have listed the accusations made against me and responded to them in writing after those meetings had concluded.  If people tried to argue with me after that, I probably wouldn’t have responded further.  But when I didn’t say anything at all, I was pronounced “guilty” in many people’s minds.  To many people, silence = guilt.

*Church leaders need to do their best to protect the reputation of their previous pastors. 

Sad to say, there is a stigma in Christian circles concerning pastors who have undergone a forced termination.  Even though it’s 6 1/2 times more likely that a pastor is pushed out because of a faction in the church than his own sinful conduct, the Christian community tends to turn its back on its wounded warriors.

To this day, I’m shocked and disappointed that leaders in my former church allowed my reputation to be trashed during the year after I left.  Some might have answered charges against me privately, but it needed to be done publicly and firmly.  One person in particular allowed the charges to be spread.  May God forgive him.

*An unjust pastoral termination hurts not just the pastor and his family, but can damage a church for years to come. 

Doesn’t David admit in Psalm 32 that he suffered physically and spiritually until he acknowledged his sin to God?  Doesn’t this same principle apply to churches as well?

There were attempts after I left to smooth over what happened, but no one was given the opportunity to repent for their part in assaulting their pastor.  In my opinion, a church can never fully heal until its leaders reveal the truth about what really happened and allow people to confess to wrongdoing.  Until that happens, the memory of that conflict is hidden in its walls … and will assuredly damage its soul.

I realize that some people are going to say, “Methinks he doth protest too much.”  Maybe so.  But I’ve sensed God calling me to be transparent about the events that happened to me so I can help those He brings my way.

If you or a pastor you know is presently under attack, and you could benefit from an understanding ear and some counsel, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and we can either converse via email or set up an appointment on the phone.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  1 Peter 5:10


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