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“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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastors need friends … they just don’t have very many.

In fact, the latest statistic I’ve seen is that 70% of all pastors don’t have even one close friend.

Charles Wickman, a classy and gracious man who knows his stuff, wrote the following in his book Pastors at Risk: Protecting Your Future, Guarding Your Present:

“Perhaps a problem of the pastor’s own doing, he/she is isolated and lonely.  No understanding ear to listen to him when he needs to talk.  Few if any genuine friends who unconditionally support him, especially when he is open and transparent about the good and the bad of his life.”

Why is this?  Wickman goes on:

“When the pastor chooses to talk to his judicatory people, he jeopardizes his career; when to other pastors, competition multiplies; when he befriends a member of the congregation, he is thought to be partial; when he talks with extended family, they won’t believe he feels so alone.”

I resonate with Wickman’s comment.

Let me offer four possible reasons why pastors have few or no friends:

First, pastors are consumed by church activities.

The average pastor is so busy “doing church” that he has little time or energy to invest in personal friendships.

Sometimes it feels like Sunday comes every other day … and everything in a pastor’s life revolves around Sunday.

If I had any free time as a pastor, I did things with my wife … or carried out household chores … or tried to conserve my energy for the next church activity.

Getting together with friends wasn’t high on my list because friendships seemed peripheral to the church’s mission and vision.

I wanted friends … I needed friends … I just didn’t know how to fit them into an already-packed schedule.

Second, when pastors do make friends, somebody invariably moves away.

I became friends with someone in my first pastorate.

Then he moved away.

I became friends with a fellow pastor in my second pastorate.

Then he moved away.

I became friends with another pastor a few years later.

Then he moved away.

I became friends with a board chairman in my third pastorate.

Then he moved away.

There were times when I’m sure that I was the one who moved, but it seems like every time I made a friend, one of us left the community.

And after a while, you hesitate to make any more friends because you tell yourself, “If I do become friends with someone, one of us won’t be staying.”

I suppose this is just how life works, but it’s harder for men to make new friends as they get older … and it’s even harder for pastors.

Third, you don’t know who you can really trust.

Remember when you were a kid and you liked another boy or girl?  Would you share that information with a friend?

I wouldn’t trust anybody with that information because I saw what happened when other kids admitted that they liked somebody.

The news traveled all over the school.

I remember a night in my last church ministry when I was really down emotionally.  I was struggling with some issues and wasn’t handling matters rationally.

I confided in a church leader that evening, and assumed by the way he listened that he was my friend.

Then he went and shared what I told him with others and they interpreted my thoughts and feelings in the worst possible light.

And earlier in my pastoral career, I confided in a district official … who used what I told him against me for years.

Like most pastors, I trust very few people: my wife, my kids, some family, and a select few friends who have track records of keeping confidences.

That’s it.

Most pastors know that if they confide in the wrong person, and their thoughts/feelings get out, it could damage their position or their career … so they keep things quiet … and remain friendless.

It’s ironic that pastors … who are expected to keep the confidences of others … know few people who will keep their secrets.

Finally, many people react awkwardly around a pastor.

Why is this?

*They’re unsure how to act or speak around a “holy man of God.”

*They’re afraid they might offend the pastor in some fashion.

*They feel like the pastor, as a representative of God, can see right through them.

*They’re afraid of saying or doing something that may end up as a sermon illustration.

*They can’t seem to connect with the pastor on a personal level.

When I was a pastor, I could sense that many people only wanted to know me in a cursory manner.  Conversations were brief.  Something else was more important.

Those people probably weren’t going to become my good friends.

I once read that some people think there are three sexes: men, women, and clergy …  and pastors sense that’s how some people view them.

So the circle a pastor can choose friends from is usually quite small … which reduces the chances he will find a close friend.

_______________

Now that I’m back in Southern California, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many old friends, and I sense they love me as I am … without conditions.

I’m not “pastor” to them … just “Jim” … their friend.

Sounds good to me.

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I’ve only scratched the surface with this issue.

Why do you think that pastors have few friends?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently read an article about a pastor who is well-known in his region.

This pastor was accused of unspecified offenses and placed on paid leave … a humiliating experience.

The governing board immediately called in an outside investigator.

The leaders promised that when the investigation was over, they would make a complete disclosure to the congregation.

Two weeks later, the pastor was exonerated.  When he re-entered the pulpit, the congregation gave him a standing ovation.

I was glad that the pastor was cleared of the charges against him.  And I was glad that the church launched an immediate investigation into those charges.

But what the article never stated was what happened to the pastor’s accusers.

If the issue revolved around some kind of possible financial impropriety – say, a questionable expense account purchase – then maybe the accusation came from a church financial officer who was just doing their job.

But if the accusation was made maliciously and recklessly – as is often the case – then what should church leaders do to the accuser?

There are at least three possible options:

First, do nothing. 

The accuser made their charge.  The charge was investigated.  The charge was thrown out.

End of story.

Maybe it’s wisest to let the whole matter die out.

The accuser stays in the church … maintains any leadership position they may have … and the church carries on as before.

But if the accusation was malicious or reckless, then congregational life came to a halt … and the pastor’s career was in jeopardy.

If I were a church leader, I’d be uncomfortable doing nothing to the accuser.

Second, forgive the accuser and move on.

My guess is that most people in that church eventually learned the nature of the accusation … but may never have learned the name of the person who initiated it.

The tendency in Christian churches is to forgive people unilaterally without confronting them in any way.

In this case, the leaders in the church’s inner circle undoubtedly knew who made the accusation against the pastor.

In the future, they might feel uncomfortable in the accuser’s presence, or wonder if he or she might someday accuse them of something ominous.

But in spite of that, most church leaders will just “let things go” and not pursue any kind of justice against a false accuser.

And once the pastor was exonerated, he may not have wanted to press any kind of charges against the accuser as well.

Just forgive and forget, right?

But is this biblical?

Finally, ask the accuser to repent or leave the church.

There are two primary biblical passages that deal with making accusations against another person:

*Deuteronomy 19:15-21 in the Old Testament.

*1 Timothy 5:19-21 in the New Testament, which specifically deals with accusations against elders and pastors.

It’s so serious that Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:22 that the investigative process should be carried out “in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels” and that Timothy is to “keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

It’s a grave matter to accuse a spiritual leader of a serious offense.

The Timothy passage has its roots in Deuteronomy 19 where we’re told “a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Please note that verses 18 and 19 say that if an accuser “proves to be a liar” after “a thorough investigation” has been done, then “do to him as he intended to do to his brother.”

If the accused was going to be arrested, then arrest his accuser.  If the accused was going to be stoned, then stone the accuser.

Moses concludes, “You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.”

What’s “the evil?”  What’s “an evil thing?”

It’s making a malicious and false accusation against another person … especially a spiritual leader.

Many churches state in their governing documents that congregational members can sign a petition to make charges against their pastor.  But those same documents state that if the petition signers are unsuccessful in their attempt to oust the pastor, then they either have to relinquish any offices they hold or leave the church.

Why?

Because they’ve tried to lie about their pastor in order to get rid of him.  The purpose of deception is destruction.

If accusers make charges against their pastor, and an investigation is done, and the charges are not true, then the congregation should be informed that the pastor is innocent of the charges made against him.

But the work of the governing board is not complete.  They need to meet with the pastor’s accusers and give them a choice:

“You need to repent of your false accusations before this church body, or you need to leave the church immediately.  What are you going to do?”

 I know someone who has served as an interim pastor in many churches.  After he came to a church, he’d do some investigative work, and if the previous pastor was pushed out, he’d find out who did it.

He’d call that person into his office and hand them a written confession.  Then he’d say to them, “This Sunday, one of us is going to read this confession in front of the congregation.  If you don’t do it, I will.  What are you going to do?”

I don’t know why it is, but too many Christian leaders … maybe most … will carry out a biblical process only so far.

If the pastor is pushed out of office, in their mind, that’s the end of it.  Time to secure an interim, form a search team, and find another pastor.

But because the leaders never address the false accusations made by certain people, the leaders … and the congregation … and the pastor who left … never gain a sense of closure.

And the lies are never “purged” from the congregation, but linger on in the church’s memory and soul.

The biblical process from Deuteronomy and 1 Timothy isn’t about personal retribution but about corporate health.  Christian leaders cannot allow other believers to lie about pastors with impunity.

Sadly, some accusations against pastors are true.  A distinct minority of pastors do things that disqualify them from ministry, and those pastors should be given the opportunity to repent and/or leave their churches as well.

But some professing Christians … for whatever reason … seem to take delight in gossiping about their pastor … and trying to destroy his reputation, ministry, and career.

If our churches continue to do nothing to the false accusers, how will we ever convince the world that Jesus is the truth?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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