My wife recently gave me a unique birthday gift: a three-hour “Tragical History Tour” of infamous locations in Hollywood appropriately called “Dearly Departed Tours.”
We saw the house where Michael Jackson died … the bungalow where John Belushi died … and the hotel room where Janis Joplin died … and heard some gruesome but fascinating narration.
While it all sounds a bit morbid, we also saw the Cunningham’s house from the TV show Happy Days and many other memorable locations in the greater Hollywood area.
All this got me to thinking: what if I took you on a tour of churches in your community? The narration might go something like this:
Welcome to the Church Conflict Tour! My name is Jim, and for the next 90 minutes, we’ll visit four churches in your community, as well as hear the back story behind their histories. Since this tour frightens some people, I want you to know that once we leave our beginning point, you must complete the tour.
The first church we’re going to visit is Trinity Bible, the tall white building on your immediate left. Back in 1994, Pastor Don tried to update the music and add video screens so the church could attract the unchurched.
The governing board voted unanimously to support Pastor Don’s vision, and for two years, the church grew from 211 to 326. But several vocal members opposed Pastor Don and complained to their friends on the board, threatening to leave the church if Pastor Don didn’t quit. When the board succumbed and asked Pastor Don for his resignation, he complied.
See the parking lot there that’s overgrown with weeds? That’s where many of the discussions opposing Pastor Don took place. And the chipped paint on the sanctuary walls … the overgrown bushes and grass … and the deteriorating church sign all indicate that this church is just a ghost of its former self.
Now barely 45 people attend the church, which is composed primarily of people who don’t have families and consider this church their family. And Pastor Don? He’s selling insurance, trying desperately to make ends meet.
The lesson from this church? It’s far better for the governing board to follow their pastor than chronic complainers.
The second church is about a mile away and is called Unity Baptist. The church began in a storefront in 2002 when Pastor Rick – who had recently graduated from seminary – moved to our community with his wife and baby daughter.
Pastor Rick wanted his church to be characterized by love, which is why he called the church Unity Baptist.
Things went well for the first four years. The church grew from a core group of 18 to 163 people on Sundays. People were coming to Christ … serving with joy … and enjoying the fellowship.
But a faction arose within the church and opposed Pastor Rick’s ministry. There were only six of them, but they were aggressive and determined to bring down Pastor Rick. At first, they were very quiet … researching his background, contacting his previous churches, and looking online for any dirt they could find about him.
Then the rumors began: Pastor Rick was lazy … he was buying his sermons online … he was really a dictator … and on and on.
The rumors spread throughout the church, and by the time Pastor Rick heard them, too many people believed the lies.
Pastor Rick was never given a chance to respond to anything said about him. He was never allowed to face his accusers. And no one ever produced any evidence that the charges were true.
So Pastor Rick resigned. His wife was devastated, and began drinking heavily to medicate her pain. The couple are still married, but they’re a shell of their former selves.
After Pastor Rick left in 2006, the church has had three more pastors … two of them pushed out by the same faction. With only 22 attendees left, the people are discussing closing their doors.
The lesson? At the first sign of vicious rumors against the pastor, insist that those making charges meet with the pastor and governing board and make their accusations to his face … or leave the church.
Just two more churches to go. You there … you can’t leave the van while I’m driving! Only 40 minutes to go.
The third church today is Serene Community. The church began in a school but moved to a light industrial building in their eighth year. The church was 14 years old when Dr. Steve was called as pastor in 2005. Under Steve’s leadership, the church grew from 273 to 681 people in just six years. In 2011, this was THE church in town to attend.
Dr. Steve had two teenage sons: Robert and Jake. Unfortunately, Robert was caught one day after school smoking pot. Pastor Steve and his wife went to the police station and brought him home, but the news spread quickly throughout the community, and within a week, there were calls for Steve to resign. Some people said he couldn’t manage his family.
Steve knew nothing about Robert’s “problem,” and when he found out, he took swift but loving steps to keep his son drug-free, including counseling. But some people in the church pounced on this news and wanted Steve removed from office at once. One group of about twenty people stopped attending and giving until Steve was dismissed. When that didn’t work, they began demanding that Robert “repent” of his sin in front of the entire congregation.
Steve was torn between his calling and his family. When the board wouldn’t stand up for him, Steve negotiated a severance package and left the church quietly.
Meanwhile, most of the people at the church were devastated by what happened. The serenity at Serene Community quickly disappeared, and for the next two years, those who supported Pastor Steve refused to interact with those who opposed him. In the end, most of the happy, healthy people left the church, and the church faced some rough days. Within another two years, the church had dwindled down to barely 100 people.
Ironically, two of the leaders who had opposed Steve ended up having teenagers who also had drug problems. They didn’t ask their kids to repent in front of the church, and they didn’t view themselves as poor parents.
Pastor Steve went back to school, earned a PhD, and is teaching at a Bible college in the Midwest. Although he still loves Jesus, he attends church sporadically, but spends lots of time with his family … including Robert, who just married a fine Christian woman.
The lesson? Only a congregation that extends grace to their pastor is deserving of the name Serenity.
Finally, let’s drive by Christ Church. See it there on the right?
Christ Church was founded by Pastor Garth in 1997. The church grew steadily until 2001 when The Group began making accusations against Garth.
They claimed that he didn’t show his emotions when he preached … that he was ignoring some of the older members … and that he was making changes too quickly, among other things.
Up until this time, the church had grown from a handful of people to 475. But when the complaints began, the church stopped growing and began declining … and The Group laid the decline squarely at Pastor Garth’s feet.
Fortunately, Pastor Garth had taught his people from Scripture how to handle conflict situations. When members of The Group complained to board members about their pastor, the board members all said, “Let’s go speak with Pastor Garth about that issue.” In every case, The Group members backed down.
Then they called the district minister of the denomination and complained to him, but he stood solidly behind Pastor Garth as well.
The Group then began circulating emails filled with gossip and innuendo, implying that Pastor Garth was having an affair. When one of the emails was sent to a board member, he tracked down where it originated, called another board member, and made an immediate visit to the home of the complainer. After listening to her complaints for 30 minutes, the two board members told her: “If you want to stay in this church, then we ask that you stop your complaining right now, confess your wrongdoing, and support our pastor completely. If you don’t repent, we will return with a third board member and you will be asked to leave the church. Do you understand?”
She never attended the church again … and mysteriously, all the complaining instantly ceased.
Just like in Acts 6, once the conflict was resolved, the church exploded with growth, and last year, Christ Church became the largest church in our city, reaching nearly 1800 people every weekend with the Word of God.
The lesson? When rumors about a pastor begin, they must be dealt with swiftly and firmly or the pastor may be forced to leave … and the church will take a nosedive as well.
As we drive up to our starting point, that completes our Church Conflict Tour. I’d like to say, “I hope you enjoyed yourself,” but maybe I should say, “I hope you learned how to handle church conflict much better” instead!