I’m reading a new book by J. R. Briggs called Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure and enjoying the author’s insights on matters like shame, loneliness, wounds, and recovery for pastors in church ministry.

The author tells his own story of (perceived) ministry failure, and it’s worth recounting for a moment.

After graduating from a Christian college, J. R. and his wife moved to Colorado Springs – the evangelical Vatican, he calls it – and eventually was hired to pastor a group of young adults at the second largest church in the city.  Not only did J. R. see numerical growth under his leadership … he had also written three books before he turned 28.

Several years later, a senior pastor named Gary from a megachurch in the Philadelphia area asked J. R. if he might have an interest in starting an alternative service for younger adults like he was doing in Colorado Springs.  Pastor Gary told J. R. that he was planning on retiring in a few years and was looking to groom a younger pastor to replace him.

So J. R. and his wife Megan left Colorado and moved to Philadelphia.  J. R.’s ministry in the church of 3,000 members went very well.  He received opportunities to preach on occasion, and did so well that some on the staff called him “Golden Boy.”

But J. R. and his wife came to believe that God did not want him to become the senior pastor of a megachurch.

Several months later, Pastor Gary and the elders engaged in a “messy struggle.”  J. R. writes, “After twenty years of ministry he left, causing confusion, anger and hurt within the congregation.”

J. R. was invited to attend the next elder meeting, and in the process, he told the elders that “I knew that Gary was grooming me to become his successor, but I was not interested in taking the position.”

But the elders claimed they knew nothing about this succession plan … and said that if it were up to church leaders, they never would have hired J. R. at all.

That knowledge pushed J. R. and his wife “over the edge.”  Megan stopped attending services.

Because they didn’t feel they fit with the vision of the church, J. R. felt that God was releasing him to leave and plant a church in the Philadelphia area.  He approached the elders who disagreed and said “that we were not to do this and that it would be sin to pursue church planting in the region.”

J. R. adds, “Accusations, misunderstandings, threats and ultimatums were made, further solidifying and affirming the fact that we could not stay.”  The elders then told J. R. that if he planted a church in the region, they would terminate his employment within the week.

J. R. and his wife still believed that God wanted them to plant a church in the Philadelphia area.

The senior leaders then declared publicly that J. R. was leading a church split even though he just wanted to leave quietly without stealing any sheep.

Two years to the day after he was hired, J. R. and his wife left their church home for good.  J. R. and his wife lost a dream … trust in church leadership … local friends … their home (which they were forced to sell) … his salary … and financial security.

He writes, “My soul was bludgeoned, dumped in the back alley and left in the dark.”

While raising support and assembling a core group, J. R. and his wife received anonymous hate mail from people at his former church for over a year … including non-anonymous letters from one elder’s wife.


Two years after he left, J. R. believed that he was healthy enough to reach out and try and reconcile with the former leaders of the church.  He wanted to talk through what happened … and the elders accepted his invitation.

J. R. asked if each party could share how they truly felt.  He writes:

“The anger had not been tempered.  One of the pastors told me that leaving the church and starting ours was sinful – and that God would, as a result, continue to limit my small ministry, possibly for decades into the future.  He said my ministry and our church were illegitimate and dishonoring to God.”


After all the hurt J. R. and his wife had endured in that church, how wise was it for him to call a meeting and attempt reconciliation with that church’s former leaders?

I’m going to address this particular issue in my next blog post, but I’d like to ask you to think about the answer to this one question … maybe this weekend:

Why is it nearly impossible for former pastors and church boards to reconcile either personally or professionally?


Someone recently sent me a notice stating that a church volunteer who worked with youth had been arrested for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a minor.

The person who sent me the notice knows both the church and the volunteer and said that a key staff member had been warned about this particular volunteer but chose to take no action.

Every church deals with potential intruders that violate healthy boundaries.  In his book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, Peter Steinke lists the following common boundary violations in churches:

*accusing someone without reasonable cause or without initially talking to the accused

*disregarding guidelines, policies, and procedures

*humiliating people publicly or privately

*using verbal pressure to intimidate

*holding others hostage by threats or demands

*enlisting others to attend secret meetings

*labeling others with emotionally-packed words

*speaking on behalf of others, as if they know what the other is thinking

*telling different accounts or sharing different information, depending upon the hearers

*attaching fear to issues to control others

These behavioral “viruses” are constantly trying to invade congregations, which is why every church needs a strong immune system.

Steinke writes:

“Everyone’s body is equipped with proof of identity – that is, cells in our body have the same chemical combinations.  It’s as if they wear identical costumes.  Viruses also have a distinct chemical costume.  The immune system keeps cells that are bona fide residents separate from illegal aliens.  In immunology terminology, the immune system learns to distinguish ‘self’ from ‘nonself.’  Once an intruder is spotted, the immune system compares it against the rogues’ gallery of known pathogens.  If tipped off by resemblances, the immune system arrests and eliminates the intruder.  Sorting out self from nonself, the immune system says: ‘Red blood cells, good guys.  Skin cells, part of us.  Okay.  Virus … no good.  Toe.  Keep.'”

Steinke says that just as we find intruders in the human body, so we find intruders in churches:

“Lacking self-regulation, these individuals may act where they have no authority, say things that have no ground in truth, complain to everyone else except those who can do something about the situation, or place themselves in a position to control the nomination process.”

Steinke then compares the body’s immune system to immune systems in churches.  Usually the immune system is composed of a few key leaders who:

*serve as sentinels and provide the frontline of defense.

*sense when something is out of balance or troubling.

*see things firsthand and possess knowledge not widely known.

*realize that if something isn’t done, the church could pay a heavy price.

*constitute the “first responders” and sometimes must work hard for others to believe them.

After 36 years in church ministry, I’ve discovered that a congregation’s immune system may reside inside:

*the pastor.

This is especially true when a church is small.

During my first nine years as a pastor, when the church body was invaded by a violator, I was usually the one who initially addressed the issue and sought the help of other leaders.  While I didn’t like dealing with invaders, I knew what could happen if someone in authority failed to act as an immune system.

Most pastors cannot function as an immune system by themselves, but they may be the only ones who can point out the violations and the dangers of not acting.

*the official church board.

Most churches are as healthy as their boards.

In one church I pastored, the chairman and I made joint decisions on how to handle intrusions, and the church stayed healthy for years.

In another church I pastored, the chairman didn’t work with me.  One time, we had an inappropriate intrusion into our body, and I asked the chairman to write a letter and deal with the issue.  The letter he wrote was so incoherent that it wasn’t sent … and the body quickly became ill.

*a staff member.

I know a megachurch where a single staff member serves as the immune system for the entire staff.  He stays in touch with everyone … investigates any charges against staff members … and has earned the authority to make decisions regarding staff.  Not surprisingly, he’s been the pastor’s right-hand man for years.

*an individual of great wisdom and stature.

If someone had asked me during my last pastorate where the church’s immune system was located, I would have said, “The church board.”  And for much of my time there, that’s where the immune system was located.

But it took me a long time to realize that one individual in particular (a former board member I’ll call Robert) really activated the immune system.

One time, I was having trouble with a staff member who was resisting making changes we had both agreed upon.  The staff member was engaged in passive-aggressive behavior and modeling resistance.  It looked like an invasion of the body was imminent.

I called upon Robert, and we worked together to bring the body back to health.  But I couldn’t have done it alone … and he probably could have done it by himself!

But when Robert and his wife moved away, he took the church’s immune system with him, and the body was ripe for invasion.

It’s not any fun being a key part of a church’s immune system.  Dealing with invasions of the body is a behind the scenes, thankless task.

But every healthy church has a healthy immune system, usually composed of several individuals.

Who composes the immune system in your church?




Most churchgoers have no idea what really goes on behind-the-scenes at the average church.  What really happens in meetings of the board and staff?  How many decisions are really made on the basis of Scripture and prayer?  How do the key leaders really behave when they’re immersed in a crisis?

When I first joined a church staff – and later when I became a pastor – I was horrified at how many decisions in a church were made on the basis of politics, pure and simple.  I was shocked because I thought Christian leaders would make spiritual decisions rather than political ones.  While I have been in churches where the leaders truly “walked the walk” in every situation, I have also been in churches where the leaders seem to forget they’re in a church.

The best illustration in the Bible of politics in action occurs when the Sanhedrin sent Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.  Let me share with you five political strategies that Pilate used that I have seen used in local churches:

First, politicians succumb to outside pressure.  When Jesus was first brought before Pilate, the Jewish leaders accused Him of “subverting our nation.  He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king” (Luke 23:2).  In other words, Jesus was accused of trying to overthrow Rome.  But after Pilate initially questioned Jesus, he told His accusers, “I find no basis for a charge against this man” (Luke 23:4).  And yet, when Jesus’ countrymen continued to accuse Him of stirring up the people, Pilate lost his nerve and backed down.

In my first pastorate, the board chairman asked me to take action over a theological issue involving two of his family members.  After I researched the issue, I presented relevant materials to the board in a three-hour meeting, after which we made a unanimous decision.  When I tried to explain our decision to the family members, they threatened to leave the church and demanded a personal apology.  When I asked the board for support, they flipped on me and told me to apologize, but I refused.  I reminded them that we had made a decision together based on Scripture, but that didn’t matter to them.

While politicians wilt when pressured, spiritual leaders stand strong.

Second, politicians avoid the tough calls.  Dr. Luke tells us that when Pilate heard that Jesus was a Galilean, he sent Jesus to see the ruler of Galilee, King Herod, who was visiting the Holy City for Passover.  Pilate hoped that Herod would make a decision about Jesus’ fate that would take the Roman governor off the hook, but Herod merely ridiculed Jesus and sent him back to Pilate.

I once was informed about some inappropriate material on the social networking site of an important person in my church.  I consulted with that person’s supervisor who promised to address the issue, but months later, the objectionable material was still there.

While a politician prefers not to confront a friend, a spiritual leader seeks that person’s repentance and restoration.

Third, politicians scapegoat innocent people.  Which crimes had Jesus committed against Rome?  He hadn’t committed any.  Pilate twice confessed that Jesus was innocent of all the charges hurled His way (Luke 23:4, 14), but instead of exonerating and then releasing Him, Pilate decided to punish Jesus (by beating) before releasing Him.  Why?  This is what His vocal constituents demanded even though Jesus was blameless before the law.  Rather than declaring Jesus completely innocent, Pilate declared Jesus partly innocent.

I know a church where the pastor resigned because a member of his family was accused of a crime they didn’t commit.  No one in that church moved a finger to right the wrong – until the new pastor came.  When he heard the truth, he arranged for the former pastor to return.  In public, those who falsely accused the pastor admitted their error, the church asked his forgiveness for permitting a grave injustice, and the pastor and church experienced a liberating reconciliation that allowed both parties to move on with God’s blessing.

While politicians apportion blame for conflicts indiscriminately, spiritual leaders apportion blame accurately.

Fourth, politicians don’t seek divine wisdom.  With the Sanhedrin breathing down his neck, Pilate did not seek guidance from Scripture, or a prophet, or prayer.  God tried to speak to him through a dream that He gave Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19), but Pilate brushed off the message.  He was used to making unilateral decisions based on Roman interests + common sense, but both of those touchstones failed him at this juncture.  Had he only looked above instead of around … history might have judged him differently.

I have been all too many board meetings where the board members – who have been chosen primarily because of their walk with God – never even consider consulting God when they get stuck on an issue.  They don’t quote Scripture or turn to key passages.  They don’t stop the meeting to consult with the Lord in prayer.  I have even been in meetings where the meeting wasn’t opened with prayer.  It’s like the Lord isn’t even there.  Board members just discuss issues using worldly wisdom but never truly seek the Lord’s mind on anything.

While politicians consult exclusively with their peers or constituents, spiritual leaders initially seek the Lord’s face on everything.

Finally, politicians want to look good.  They care more about their image than their character.  They care more about how they appear to others than how they appear to God.  John makes a profound statement about many of the Jewish leaders who believed in Jesus but would not confess Him openly: “For they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43).

Stuart Briscoe from Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin is one of my all-time favorite preachers.  I once heard him make this simple but profound observation: “Most people want to feel good and look good.  They don’t want to be good and do good.”

While politicians are primarily concerned with feeling good and looking good so they can be re-elected, spiritual leaders care more about being good and doing good – even if that means they’re one-termers.

If we’re serious about wanting God’s blessing on our churches, if we truly wish to obey God’s Word, if we want to impact our communities for Jesus, if we want to see revival in our time – then we need to stop making decisions in our churches purely on the basis of politics and start making decisions on the basis of righteousness instead.


You’re in the fast lane on the freeway.

A car going 25 mph faster than you’re going crosses four lanes and cuts in front of you, forcing you to brake suddenly.

You’re rightfully furious.

How should you handle things?

You’re walking around at home without shoes.

You accidentally stub your toe on an immovable bookcase.

You’re in mortal pain.

How should you handle things?

You’re sitting in a worship service waiting for the pastor to begin preaching.

The pastor announces that a staff member … a close friend of yours … has resigned.

You’re positive she was forced out … and you’re angry.

How should you handle things?

The typical way we humans handle anxiety is to react emotionally.

We swear at the driver who cut us off.

We scream when we stub our toe.

We blurt out, “Noooooooo!” when our friend resigns.

We react automatically … instinctively … reflexively … and immediately.

And often … mindlessly.

God has wired us for self-preservation, so when we feel threatened, or sense that an injustice has been done, we act naturally … and sometimes foolishly.

Several weeks ago, an 18-year-old young man was shot and killed by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri.

Many local residents reacted by protesting and marching … but some … including members of the press … pronounced the policeman guilty even though they have no idea what really happened.

The American justice system does not permit citizens to take justice into their own hands, and for good reason.  Better to let a grand jury hear the evidence and return with a possible indictment several months later.


Because when we’re emotionally reactive, we can’t think straight.  We’re focused on the way we and others feel.  We’re not thinking process … we’re thinking relief.

And reactivity usually leads to greater reactivity … and that’s how wars start.

Several weeks ago, I attended a training session for Bridgebuilder, a church conflict intervention process designed by Dr. Peter Steinke.

During the course of the training, Dr. Steinke made two observations that especially intrigued me.

Observation #1: Steinke said that when a pastor is doing something that bothers or upsets church decision makers, the pastor needs to be confronted and given time to make changes.

(This does not refer to heresy, sexual immorality, or a felony).

How much time?

Steinke says the pastor should be given 12 to 15 months to make changes, and if he hasn’t made them by then, he should be asked to resign.

But in evangelical circles, pastors are often fired outright or asked for their resignation without any kind of formal confrontation and without any corrective process.

Why does this occur so often?

Because the governing leaders … sometimes in collaboration with staff members and/or a faction … can’t tolerate their anxiety.

So they resort to emotional reactivity, and then they’re shocked when the pastor protests his dismissal, or the pastor’s supporters become angry and leave the church en masse.

And when this happens, those same leaders often resort to lying to cover up their mistakes … and to scapegoat the departing pastor.

If the governing leaders of your church want to blow it to smithereens, then force out the pastor without speaking to him directly and without using any kind of deliberate process.

It’s guaranteed: the emotional reactivity of the governing leaders will lead to emotional reactivity in others … and negatively impact your church for years.

Observation #2: Steinke says that when a church is in conflict, he recommends that they engage in a 2-4 month process to work through the issues … which is what Bridgebuilder is all about.

Rather than making instant decisions that will harm many people, it’s crucial that God’s people take time to move from emotional reactivity to rational reflection … as hard as that process may be.

Seventeen years ago, I was pastoring a fantastic church.  Over the previous five years, we had experienced virtually no internal conflict.  If people didn’t like something, they just left.

But we eventually had to move our Sunday service from one location to another five miles away, and in the process, we lost 1/3 of our congregation … and their donations … overnight.

The stress started taking its toll on several leaders who were involved with finances.  A key couple left the church, and soon after, another key couple stayed home one Sunday, which they didn’t normally do.

The uncertainty of our situation made me extremely anxious.  Was our congregation about to unravel?

I confided in a wise Christian leader, and he told me, “Jim, it’s too soon to know what’s going to happen.  You need to let this play out.”

He was right.  The more anxiety I demonstrated, the more anxious I made everybody else.

If you’re experiencing conflict in your church … your workplace … or your home … there are two ways you can manage matters.

You can react instinctively … move quickly … and try and find instant relief.

Or you can respond wisely … devise a deliberate process … and work the process until most people agree upon solutions.

The arrest … trials … passion … and crucifixion of Jesus took less than a total of ten hours.  Those who executed Jesus have been castigated and pilloried for twenty centuries.

If the Jewish and Roman authorities had taken more time, would they be viewed any differently by history?

Think about it.











How would you like to receive top-notch training from an expert you respect and admire?

That’s what happened to me last week when I flew to Minneapolis and received 14 hours of training in church conflict from veteran congregational consultant Peter Steinke.  He’s the author of several books, including Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, one of my top five favorite books on church conflict.

Steinke has engaged in congregational interventions over 27 years.  He’s been involved with 217 churches/Christian entities encompassing 16 states and 8 denominations.

And from his experiences working with churches, he’s created a process for helping churches in crisis called Bridgebuilder.

Steinke presented case studies … worked his way creatively through a syllabus … and made lots of offhand remarks, many of which I wrote down verbatim.

Here are ten insights concerning church conflict that I found fascinating and that I thought you might benefit from.  They aren’t in any particular order.

Insight #1: “When you replace a music director, you sign your death warrant.”

Why is this?  Because many people become emotionally attached to the staffer who leads them to God’s throne in worship.

And if a pastor or a board tries to force out that person and put someone else in their place, things can become very unpredictable.

Insight #2: “People engage in sabotage when they are losing control.”

How many times have you witnessed this experience?

A board member … staff member … key leader … or opinion maker is unhappy with a decision made by the pastor.  The pastor meets with them … listens to their concerns … explains his position … and concludes the meeting in prayer.

Then that unhappy person immediately goes out and begins to undermine the pastor using threats, demands,  and complaints.


Because the pastor seems to be in control … and the discontented person senses they’re not.

Insight #3: “Getting rid of a pastor won’t solve the [presenting] problem.  The problem is within the system.”

It is common for some people in a church to think, “We’re having problems because of our pastor.  If we get rid of him, this church will be far better off.”

This kind of thinking … borne out of anxiety … is counterproductive.  Many churches have built-in patterns that cause them to go off the tracks.  Those issues must be identified, faced, and resolved.

But if they aren’t, the next pastor … and the next one … and the next … may all be sent packing because the real issues haven’t been addressed.

Insight #4: “Peace is often preferred over justice.”

During a conflict situation, churchgoers just want the conflict to end, even if the pastor … staff members … or others are treated shabbily.

The mature congregation says, “We’re going to aim for justice, so we’re going to devise a process, take some time, and handle this wisely.”

The immature congregation says, “We just want peace, so we’re going to ignore processes, take shortcuts, and get this over with quickly.”

Insight #5: “It’s better for people to leave than go underground.”

When a major conflict surfaces in a church, there are going to be losses in attendance and donations and volunteers, no matter which choices are made.

When people leave the church for good, there is closure for everyone involved, painful though it may be.

But when people start meeting and plotting in secret, they’re prolonging and intensifying the conflict … and there’s going to be some form of implosion.

Insight #6: “The consultant is responsible for the process, not the outcome.”

Steinke says that when prospective congregations ask him about his success rate with interventions, he answers, “100%.”

He believes he’s been successful when he works the process he’s devised, which is his responsibility.

But the outcome of his intervention?  That’s the responsibility of the congregation and its leaders.

For this reason, he doesn’t make recommendations to churches in conflict, but gets them to make their own recommendations.

Insight #7: “The top trigger for conflict is money.”

Steinke says these are the top 7 triggers for conflict in churches: money, sex, pastor’s leadership style, lay leadership style, staff conflict, major traumas/transitions, the change process.

Just my own observation: when money becomes the bottom line in a church, it becomes an idol, and God is relegated to second or seventh or tenth place.

But when God is first, money takes its rightful place.

But when giving goes down … or doesn’t meet budget … some leaders/people become anxious, and instead of turning to God, they try and control the money even more.

The result?


Insight #8: Conflicts in churches increasingly revolve around the change process.

Steinke said that 42 of the last 47 interventions he’s done … nearly 90% … have to do with change.

Many pastors feel that all they have to do is announce a change and it will automatically happen.  Once they’re convinced, they assume others will be as well.

But people need time to process change … ask questions … share feelings … and seek clarification.

When they’re not given those opportunities … conflict results.

Insight #9: During public meetings, there will be no verbal attacking, blaming, or abusing of others tolerated.

During his interventions, Steinke gives church attendees opportunities to speak publicly about how they feel about the conflict.

But they are not allowed to begin their sentences with “You,” but must make “I” statements instead.

If people violate this rule, Steinke reiterates it and expects people to abide by it.

If only we’d had this rule during all those business meetings my churches had over the years …

Insight #10: The consultant focuses on working the process, not on changing others, alleviating their anxiety, or giving them answers.

When Steinke goes into a church situation, he focuses on his role and reactions, not those of others.  He tries to remain a “non-anxious presence.”

Once again, the consultant’s job is not to analyze the church and fix everything, but to work a predetermined process that causes a church’s members to discuss and affect their own outcome.

After attending Bridgebuilder, I am now qualified to offer it to congregations in conflict.  If you know a church that might benefit from this process, please send them my way.

Thank you!









Last year, I planned to present some seminars on church conflict.  I decided to visit some area churches and drop off some promotional literature about the seminars.

Someone I respected had spoken highly of a particular church, so I stopped there first.  Walking into the church office, I introduced myself and mentioned that I would be offering some seminars on conflict.

The office manager blurted out, “We’ve hired Such-and-Such an organization for a year to work on the conflict we’re having with our leaders.”

She didn’t know anything about me, and yet she readily confessed that her church was enduring major conflict!

And nearly every major conflict revolves around the pastor in some fashion … and many times, the solution to the conflict seems obvious:

“Let’s get rid of the pastor.”

The latest figure that I’ve seen is that 28% of all pastors have endured a forced exit at some time in their ministry … and the numbers seem to be increasing because most denominations and churches are doing absolutely nothing about the problem.  Call it the Christian version of Survival of the Fittest.

Why do pastoral terminations continue to increase?  Let me offer five possible reasons:

First, pastors and churches are in denial about this issue. 

When they’re called to a church, few pastors think to themselves, “I could face termination here.”

When church leaders initially call a pastor, almost nobody says, “If things don’t work out, let’s can him.”

And yet several years later, a faction may very well coalesce to force the pastor to quit … and nearly everybody in the congregation is shocked.

Pastors and Christian leaders need to say to themselves: “Because forced exits are a reality in today’s Christian community, we need to work hard at staying current with our relationships because an involuntary dismissal could happen here.”

But for some reason, that’s not how we think.

Second, pastors have received little formal training in conflict resolution.

I remember the first big conflict I experienced as a rookie pastor.  The board chairman asked for my help in dealing with a specific issue.  I brought it to the board.  We studied it for three hours and then developed an action plan.

When I began to carry out the plan, the entire board caved on me, and then demanded that I apologize for carrying out the plan.  I refused because we had agreed on it together.

I was a PK … had been in church ministry for nearly ten years …  had taken a class on conflict management in seminary … and yet I didn’t know how to handle or interpret the behavior of those board members.

During that time, a friend came to visit me, and I had developed a case of hives because I was afraid the board was going to dismiss me as they had the previous pastor.

I believe that every student in seminary who is studying for church ministry should be required to take a class in conflict management … and maintain at least two mentors who understand church conflict while they’re in ministry.

Because when pastors are skilled in handling conflict, they sleep better … lengthen their careers … and preserve their congregations.

Third, pastors rarely speak on biblical conflict management.

Last year, I gave a sermon on conflict resolution based on Matthew 18:15-18, and when I was done, a veteran Christian in her mid-80s said to me, “In all my years of going to church, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard a sermon on that subject.”

For years, this woman attended a church where her pastor was internationally known.

Maybe he did address conflict at times during his sermons, and maybe she just forgot or wasn’t present on those occasions … but maybe she was telling the truth, too.

When I was a pastor, I did a brief series on unity/conflict management at the same time every year.  The one year I didn’t do it … thinking, “We’re okay right now” … conflict broke out soon afterward.

When Paul wrote his letters to the churches at Rome and Corinth and Ephesus and Thessalonica, those letters weren’t intended for church leaders alone, but were intended to be read to entire congregations.  Paul wanted everyone in those churches to work through their differences with love and understanding.

In the same way, pastors both need to teach on church conflict from Scripture and arrange for specialized training for their staff and leaders.

Because if and when the pastor is under attack, some people will resort to the law of the jungle.

Fourth, churchgoers need a mental picture of what a church looks like after a termination.

When I was in fourth grade, I saw newsreels of Hitler speaking … Nazi torchlight parades … and the remains of Jewish victims in concentration camps.

Those images had a profound impact on me.  They caused me to read more about Hitler’s rise to power and to become aware of the devastation that results when evil is tolerated rather than defeated.

My book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict is an attempt at letting believers know how quickly a conflict can erupt in a church … and how destructive such conflicts are for everyone involved.

My prayer is that believers will say, “I don’t want my pastor’s career and reputation destroyed.  I don’t want precious believers to leave this church wounded.  I don’t want to compromise my church’s witness in this community for years.  With God’s help, I will do everything in my power to prevent and resolve any conflicts in a truthful and loving manner.”

Sometimes I toy with the idea of making a film about pastoral termination that starts with congregational devastation … and then works backward to see how it all began.

(Anybody want to work on this with me … or finance it?)

Finally, Christians seem ignorant of the fact that Satan wants to destroy pastors so he can destroy churches.

After Jesus was arrested, all of His disciples fled.  When the shepherd was struck, the sheep scattered.

Satan thought he had won a victory … but he was wrong.  But the disciples didn’t regather on their own.

When did they regather?  Only after Jesus was resurrected and reassumed His rightful place as their leader.

I believe in spiritual warfare.  I have not only experienced it … I have felt it.

When I made mistakes … as every pastor does … I should have been lovingly confronted and given the opportunity to explain and/or be restored.

Instead, there was open abuse … defamation … and slander.

That’s not how God operates, is it?

Remember: the devil specializes in deception and destruction.  Those are the telltale signs that he is at work either in our lives or inside the life of our congregation.

I could add many other reasons why the forced termination of pastors is on the increase, but these are the five that readily came to mind.

What are some of the reasons why you believe pastoral exits are increasing?









It is possible to read the New Testament dozens of times and yet miss the clear meaning of certain verses.

For years, I missed these two:

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”

These words of Paul from 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 sound like they come from the Old Testament: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.”

What is God’s temple in this context?

God’s temple is a local church.  (The terms “you yourselves” and “you” in verse 16 are both plural.)

What’s Paul saying?

That anyone … believer or unbeliever … who destroys a local church will be destroyed by God Himself.  (Sounds like a guarantee, doesn’t it?)


God’s Spirit lives among His people.  God’s church is sacred.

Therefore, if an individual or a group destroys a local church, God promises to destroy them.

How many times can you recall hearing anyone preach this text?

I’m not aware that I’ve ever heard any preacher or teacher highlight or explain these verses … but they are there all the same.

What’s the most common way of destroying a congregation?

That’s easy: attack the pastor until he’s forced to resign.  Gary Pinion writes in his book Crushed: The Perilous Side of Ministry:

“Spiritual leaders are prime targets in these last days.  The Bible tells us that if you strike a shepherd, the sheep will scatter.  Entire congregations can be wiped out with a single blow to one shepherd.  For this reason they are the number one public enemy on Satan’s hit list…. Corresponding with this gigantic loss of shepherds, new studies are also providing growing evidence of a great loss of churches.  A study in Exit Interviews by Hendricks shows the appalling results of the loss of ministers: there are now 53,000 people leaving churches weekly who are not coming back.  George Barna’s research sadly declares that we are losing one percent of our churches in America every year, as godly warriors depart from the battle arena.  As shepherds leave, sheep leave.”

Pinion then quotes a woman whose congregational experienced major conflict:

“The conflict resulted in the pastor being forced to leave.  Because of this decision, the people who supported the pastor left the church.  The church attendance was reduced to half, relationships were severed, weekly income was drastically cut, and various ministries in the church were forced to disband.  The church became known in the community as a place of power struggles, fighting and discontent.  I could go on and on.”

The latest statistic I’ve run across is that 4,000 churches close down every year in the United States.

Let’s acknowledge that a small percentage of pastors may contribute to the destruction of a church through domination, intimidation, manipulation, or retribution.  Some pastors have behaved so badly that they have almost singlehandedly wiped out a church they’ve pastored.

But the great majority of the time, churches are destroyed by lay powerbrokers who want to limit their pastor’s authority so they can expand their own influence and that of their friends.

If I disagreed with something my pastor was doing or saying, I would make an appointment and speak to him lovingly and directly.

If he didn’t agree with me, I would either stay and support him or leave the church … without taking anybody with me.  (Division in a church begins when people pass on their personal complaints to others.)

Based on the entire tenor of the New Testament … and specifically 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 … I would never want to do anything to destroy a church that Jesus is building in a particular community.

But if I found out that I had contributed to a church’s destruction, I would repent immediately … or else be wondering constantly when God was going to take me out.

These verses don’t specify how God chooses to destroy a church destroyer.  His wrath could be exhibited in this life (primarily for a believer) or in the next life (possibly for an unbeliever).

But however God decides to deal with someone, He has an infinite number of punishments at His disposal.

If you’re a lay leader in a church … maybe a board member, or a deacon, or a ministry team leader … I beg you: be very, very careful how you treat and speak of your pastor.

Pastors are not infallible.  They make mistakes.  And when they mess up, they need to be graciously and truthfully confronted.

But you should always aim for their restoration and redemption, never their punishment and destruction.

Remember Paul’s phrase: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.”

Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

That’s exactly how God intended for it to sound.









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