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Damaged Pastor Syndrome

When a pastor is under attack inside his church, he begins to suffer from a condition I’d like to call Damaged Pastor Syndrome.

DPS strikes a pastor when he picks up signals that an individual or a group are laying the groundwork to force him from office.

These signals include church members:

*making inquiries about church attendance and giving patterns.

*requesting copies of the church constitution and bylaws.

*calling district or denominational headquarters.

*visibly gathering before and after church … even if they don’t travel in the same social circles.

*increasingly making negative comments on social media about the church and/or pastor.

In addition:

*the governing board may call itself into executive session without the pastor’s foreknowledge.

*staff members may begin to resist the pastor’s directives.

*staffers may become secretive while talking on the phone.

*some church leaders may limit or avoid social time with the pastor altogether.

*certain board and staff members may stop coming to worship … especially when the pastor is preaching.

Most pastors – nearly 80% – are very sensitive individuals, and when they sense an attack is coming, they quickly acquire DPS.

Let me share a story from my own ministry to illustrate this more concretely.

During my second pastorate, the seniors’ Bible class rebelled against me.

They didn’t like the new music the board had approved for worship.  They didn’t feel I was paying them enough attention.  And the class’s teacher – a former pastor who couldn’t find a job anywhere in Christendom – began to feel powerful as his class focused on the source of their discontent: their pastor.

Before long, rumors of discontent became reality.

A board member found out that a group of seniors were going to hold a secret meeting at a specific time and place.  He told me about the meeting.

I was afraid and anxious.  I couldn’t think.  And I wondered, “Why doesn’t this group like me?  What have I done to offend them?”

My wife and I went to a movie – a Disney cartoon, as I recall – just so I could focus on something other than that meeting.

In the end, it didn’t come off because the supportive board member showed up at the meeting unannounced and took away all their fun.

But that didn’t stop them.  They rescheduled and reloaded.

Because I didn’t know what was happening … and could only imagine the worst … I shifted into survival mode.

In the end, they created a two-page list of complaints against me, my wife, our son (who was 9), and our daughter (who was 6).

When I found out about this, I called a special board meeting and informed the entire group about the plot.

To a man, they stood with me … even though my district minister recommended that I resign.

But for weeks, I was a wreck.  I couldn’t sleep … couldn’t carry on a decent conversation … couldn’t trust people … and couldn’t think about anything other than the attack.

Because I had shifted into fight or flight mode, I was pumping adrenaline at a furious rate to handle the emergency.

The conflict went on for months … until the seniors and their buddies all left the church en masse … forming a new church one mile away.

Now here’s how DPS becomes relevant: when a pastor is under attack, he will be further attacked for responding to the attack like a human being.

For example, when a pastor is under attack:

*If he becomes depressed, he will be attacked for looking gloomy.

*If he becomes fearful, he will be attacked for not appearing strong.

*If he becomes anxious, he will be attacked for not trusting God.

*If he becomes isolated, he will be attacked for being aloof.

*If he becomes ill, he will be attacked for appearing unhealthy.

In other words, the very people who abuse, betray, and criticize the pastor will kick him around even more for not handling himself the way they think he should.

They will ask people in the church: “How can he be our pastor if he isn’t going to set a better example for the rest of us?”

DPS may be the primary reason why pastors end up resigning after enduring a sheep attack.

It took me six months to recover my energy after that group left the church.  The pastor of one of America’s largest churches told me that after he survived a similar attack, it also took him six months to recover, so this may be a pattern.

The group attacking the pastor is correct: the pastor may not be very effective for a while due to anxiety, depression, and fear.

But the group is wrong about why the pastor quickly wilts.  It’s not because he’s a poor example … it’s because shepherds are never prepared for sheep to turn on them and stomp them into the ground.

Since pastors are attacked while on the job, it only seems fair for the congregation and/or church board to assume responsibility for the pastor’s care while he recovers.  This includes a reduced workload … extended time off … funds for counseling … and creating safeguards to resist another attack.

Because most of the time, it’s not a weakness in the pastor that causes him to collapse under pressure … it’s a weakness in the church system that allows the attack in the first place.

Think about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a pastor is under attack inside the church where he serves, it is amazing how quickly many people choose a side.

No matter what, some churchgoers will automatically back their minister … even before hearing any evidence against him.

Conversely, some attendees will believe almost anything bad about their pastor … even if every accusation amounts to smoke.

I was a solo or senior pastor for 25 years, and spent 10 1/2 additional years serving as a staff member in 5 different churches.

In every one of those churches, people approached me to criticize the pastor … one of the unknown hazards of working on a church staff.

I never took the side of the pastor’s critics.  I couldn’t.  He hired me and trusted me, and I could not betray that trust … even if I thought some people’s complaints had merit.

But over the years, I learned that it was smart to be on the side of four practices whenever the sheep attack the shepherd:

First, be on the side of Scripture.

The New Testament is full of admonitions to submit to church leaders.  There aren’t any verses that advocate rebelling against a pastor or trying to force his resignation.

For example, Hebrews 13:17 counsels us to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority.”  1 Peter 5:5 adds, “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.”

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:13 to “hold them [those who are over you in the Lord] in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.”

But what if someone suspects the pastor of sin?

1 Timothy 5:19, speaking of those “whose work is preaching and teaching,” says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder [the context includes paid pastors] unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.”

This means that if someone suspects the pastor of sinning, they (a) have seen or heard him commit an act of sin, (b) consider the sin serious enough to merit investigation, and (c) are willing to go on the record about what they’ve seen or heard … even in front of the entire congregation (implied in verse 20).

But when a pastor is under attack, how often do his critics search for, cite, and observe biblical parameters?

Hardly ever.

A church with a weak view of Scripture may understandably have a weak view of pastoral leadership.

But a church that espouses a strong view of Scripture should never permit people to bypass God’s Word in the interests of emotion or expediency.

Second, be on the side of patience.

The New England Patriots destroyed the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game last Sunday.  I watched the game until it became unwatchable … and that didn’t take long.

But the next morning, there were charges circulating that 11 of the 12 footballs that the Patriots used in that game were under-inflated … presumably so that Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady could grip the ball better during wintery weather.

Four days later, this controversy is still in full swing.  Coach Belichick and Quarterback Brady both deny that they had anything to do with deflating those footballs.

If they didn’t reduce the pressure in those balls, then who did?

We … don’t … know … yet.

If you’re interested in this story, how much does it bother you that we don’t know who under-inflated those footballs?

Can you live with the ambiguity … the mystery … the anxiety?

Judging from what I’m seeing in the news and sports media, many people want to know what happened RIGHT NOW!

The same attitude hovers over churches when pastors are under attack.

People want answers RIGHT NOW.

They want to know what their friends think RIGHT NOW.

They want to know if the pastor is staying or quitting RIGHT NOW.

They want closure … RIGHT NOW.

When church leaders exude calm during a sheep attack, that calm filters out into the congregation.

However, many members can’t handle the anxiety … so they talk … and email … and gossip … and text … and speculate … because they want matters resolved RIGHT NOW.

But unfortunately, it’s this RIGHT NOW attitude that makes conflict worse.

Galatians 5:22 says that patience is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in a believer’s life.  When believers begin to become impatient during a sheep attack, more patient believers need to calm them down rather than rouse them up.

During a sheep attack, some members post nasty things about their pastor on social media like Facebook or Twitter, which only makes things worse.

When I experienced a sheep attack more than five years ago, someone who habitually criticized other church leaders online began ripping into me on social media.  Thankfully, a church leader who knew this person contacted them immediately and told them, “Take it down!”  Fortunately, they did just that before the innuendos could spread any further.

While some people angrily take several steps toward the pastor, take several steps backwards and patiently survey the entire situation first.

Third, be on the side of a fair and just process.

This process needs to be biblically-based and conducted with patience.

Many times, that process has already been spelled out in the church’s governing documents … usually in the church bylaws.

That process may also be delineated in a separate document … or a contract/covenant the pastor signed when he was called to the church … or in denominational polity.

But sadly, some factions inside a church either aren’t aware of these documents, or could care less about them … so they resort to mob justice.

This is where a church’s governing leaders need to take charge.  Whether through a verbal announcement on a Sunday … an all-church email … or a letter to the entire congregation … the leaders need to let God’s people know that they (a) are aware of what’s happening, (b) are planning a fair and just investigation, and (c) will let the church know when they have something solid to share.

I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that more than half of all pastors under attack would be able to stay in their churches if the governing leaders used a fair and just process to investigate people’s complaints and charges against their minister.

A fair and just process would include:

*Telling the pastor what the charges are against him.

*Telling the pastor who is making the charges.

*Letting the pastor face his accusers in the presence of the governing leaders.

*Letting the pastor respond to each charge against him as it’s made.

*Insisting that those who make false accusations against the pastor repent and ask his forgiveness.

*Insisting that the pastor be rebuked publicly for any serious misconduct (1 Timothy 5:20)  and/or letting the pastor resign instead.

Once again, the only way the governing leaders can carry out such a process is if they are first on the side of Scripture and on the side of patience.

In fact, when charges against the pastor begin circulating, I believe the first thing the governing board should do is to meet and agree on a deliberate process.

But too many boards become anxious and start asking themselves, “Is the pastor guilty or innocent?”  Then they make a quick decision … and blow their church apart.

Finally, be on the side of truth.

For a believer, the boundaries of truth are set by Scripture, but I’m thinking here about two things in particular: facts and accurate reporting.

Several years ago, I had lunch with the staff supervisor of one of America’s largest churches.  He told me that two women in the church had recently accused a staff member of a serious charge.

The staff supervisor did not immediately take the side of the women.  He conducted his own investigation into their charges.

His conclusion: the staff member did not use his best judgment, but was not guilty of a major offense, and could continue to serve on the staff.

However, the women were not satisfied with this exoneration.  They continued to share their charges with others, hoping in some way to harm the staff member.

The staff supervisor heard about what the women were doing and put an immediate stop to their actions.  In fact, he told them that if they continued to criticize the staff member, he would institute disciplinary action against them.

They stopped.

Please notice: the staff supervisor wanted to know two things:

First, how truthful were the charges the women made?

His determination: the issue was not as serious as they made it out to be.

Second, how accurately did the women handle the staff supervisor’s decision?

His determination: they were now spreading lies rather than speaking the truth.

I haven’t watched the original CSI program in years, but in the early days, Gil Grissom used to tell his forensic team to “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

Those six words well summarize the idea of “being on the side of truth.”

______________

This Sunday morning, imagine that you enter the worship center of your church, and one of your friends pulls you aside and says, “There are people who are saying that the pastor has been misusing church funds and that he should resign immediately.”

Please, don’t take the side of those who say, “The pastor is guilty and must fry.”

And don’t take the side of those who say, “The pastor is so godly that he’d never do anything wrong.”

Don’t let immature, dysfunctional, and overly-reactive people destroy your pastor and church.

Instead, take the side of Scripture, patience, a fair and just process, and truth.

Do your best to encourage your friends … your family … your ministry colleagues … your church staff … and your governing board to follow these principles as well.

God will smile upon you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a pastor has been forced out of a church, he goes through an incredible amount of pain.

*He loses his position … and maybe his career.

*He loses most of his church friends … and sometimes his wife and/or children.

*He loses his income … and can’t file for unemployment.

*He loses his joy and drive … and his ability to trust people.

Statistics indicate that 45% of the time a pastor experiences a forced exit, a small faction was responsible for his departure.

Only 7% of the time is the pastor’s misbehavior the real reason for his leaving.

And yet … after his last day … forces inside the church will informally conspire to blame everything on him.

What are these forces?

First, many interim pastors blame the previous pastor for any conflict that ensued.

I hear these stories all the time.  They have become predictable.

An interim is hired … comes to a church that’s just pushed out their shepherd … and concludes, “The pastor deserved to leave.”

Why does the interim do this?

*He wants to curry favor with his new employers.

*He wants to discredit the previous pastor so he will look good by comparison.

*He wants to make friends with “the faction” so they won’t turn on him.

*He wants the shadow of the previous pastor to stop hovering over him.

*He wants to “forget the past” and move on.

But in the process, many … if not most … interims allow the reputation of the previous pastor to be trashed.

And what’s sad is that in most cases, the interim has never even met the previous pastor.

Wouldn’t it be better if an interim pastor said this publicly instead?

“I have never met your pastor, so I don’t know him at all.  From what I’ve heard, he did a lot of good while he was here.  I’m sure that many of you have fond memories of him, especially when he ministered to you during a time of need.  Although I don’t know all the events surrounding his departure, as long as I’m here, we’re going to honor him for the good that he did, and pray that God will eventually bring about reconciliation between the pastor and anyone who might be upset with him.”

But when is the last time you heard an interim pastor say something like that?

Second, the church board blames the previous pastor as well.

They say things behind the scenes like:

“He always wanted his own way.”

“He wanted to change things too fast.”

“He refused to cooperate with us.”

“He never listened to our ideas.”

These charges sound credible because members of the governing board both knew and worked with the pastor.

But there are two problems with these statements:

*The pastor isn’t around to defend himself.  He may have a vastly different interpretation of the circumstances prompting his departure.

*The church board ends up taking zero responsibility for their part in the pastor’s exit … leaving them in a position to repeat their error.

During my 36 years in church ministry, there were many staff members who worked under me.  Sometimes, those situations didn’t work out.

When they left, I asked myself, “What did I do to contribute to their lack of success here?”

If it was a character issue, there may not have been anything I could do.

But if it was a supervisory issue, then maybe I did bear some responsibility for their leaving … and I didn’t want to repeat my mistake with the next person hired.

Wouldn’t it be better for a church board to say this publicly instead?

“We are sad that our pastor has left.  He was called here by God.  He loves his wife and children.  He worked hard as pastor.  We felt that his preaching was biblical and instructive, that he cared deeply for the people of this church, and that he will be very much missed.  Although we aren’t able to share all the details of his departure, we believe that he still has a future in ministry.  Therefore, we will not tolerate anyone trying to destroy the pastor’s reputation.  If we hear any talk along this line, we promise that you will be confronted and corrected.  Let’s not cause any more pain for the pastor or our people.”

But when is the last time you heard a board say something like that?

Third, the faction that drove out the pastor must blame the pastor. 

They have to.  It’s part of their narrative.

The faction could be a group of old-timers … or seniors … or traditionalists … or staff members … or the church board … or a synthesis of these groups.

The faction … often as few as 7 to 10 people … will blame all the church’s problems on the previous pastor for a long time.

They want the spotlight on him … not on them.

But this isn’t the tactic of a mature believer, but of a child.

When I was in second grade, some girls were bothering me.  One recess, my friend Steve and I handled things … unwisely.

The girls told the teacher.  The teacher came over to me in class and shook me … hard.

Thinking fast, I blamed everything on Steve … and it worked.

I don’t remember what happened to Steve, but I quickly found myself in the clear.

The girls shouldn’t have done what they did.  And Steve shouldn’t have helped me scatter them.

But I bore responsibility for my actions.

And when a faction plays a part in pushing out a pastor, they are responsible for their actions.

But for some reason … and I will never, ever understand this … nobody at the church holds them responsible.

In fact, they’re usually forgiven (which really means excused) without demonstrating any kind of repentance.

Their false accusations … malicious charges … gross overreactions … and attempts to destroy someone called by God are all ignored by the interim pastor … church board … and church staff.

And then, to guarantee future immunity, this group cozies up to the interim and the new pastor.

Wouldn’t it be better for the pastor’s attackers to say this publicly instead?

“We were angry with the pastor.  He didn’t always do what we wanted him to do.  His resistance made us anxious.  And so we overreacted.  We spread vicious lies about him.  We ran him down every chance we could.  We used the telephone and social media to make him look bad.  Even though our accusations clearly hurt him, we kept things up, even attacking his wife and children.  But we were wrong.  Although we can’t bring the pastor back, we admit our part in his departure, and will submit to any correction that the church board deems fair.  And we promise to apologize to the pastor for the way we treated him and his family.  We have asked God to forgive us and ask you as a congregation to forgive us as well.”

But when is the last time you heard a faction say something like that?

When pastors leave a church prematurely, they may have made some mistakes … but that doesn’t mean their reputations should be besmirched in their former church … among their former church friends … or in the wider body of Christ.

The single best way to protect the previous pastor’s reputation is for the remaining church leaders to properly assess responsibility for the pastor’s departure.

If the pastor was guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, okay, then maybe he’s fully or almost fully to blame for his leaving.

But if a faction rose against him … and the board turned against him … and some staff betrayed him … then how can the previous pastor be 100% to blame?

He can’t be.

God forgive us for the way many Christians thoughtlessly harm the reputations of a former or current pastor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most common emails I receive goes something like this:

“I love my church, and have been attending for many years.  I have many friends there … my family loves going … and I have a meaningful place of service.  But my pastor is driving me crazy.  He doesn’t listen to suggestions … responds harshly to the slightest criticism … manipulates people and situations … attacks critics from the pulpit … and presides over a declining church with no meaningful plans for turning things around.  I’ve tried to meet with the pastor and express my concerns, but he doesn’t seem to hear me.  I’m really torn up about this issue.  What should I do?”

Yes, there are chronic complainers in every church, but I don’t sense these people fit that description.  Most complainers aren’t seeking solutions … they just want to receive attention by venting.  But the people who write me really want to know what to do.

If this is how you feel about your pastor, let me offer five options for resolving matters … and this is not an exhaustive list:

First, stay and stew. 

Many people who are frustrated with their pastor get up every Sunday morning … get dressed … take their family to church … become upset all over again by their pastor’s announcements or sermon or manner … and go home even more frustrated than before.

Sometimes, their family members agree with their views.  Other times, they’re the only one in the family who feels the way they do.

These people contemplate leaving their church, but don’t feel they can because (a) key family members still love the church, (b) they still have meaningful friendships there, and (c) they’re still engaged in significant ministry.

So they feel helpless … trapped, even … like they’re forced to stay at a place where they’re increasingly miserable.

But that’s just not the case.  You don’t have to attend your church on autopilot every week.

You have a choice.

You can go … or not go … and that’s up to you.  God has given you the ability to decide where you attend church, and you don’t have to go where you’ve gone for years.

Staying and stewing isn’t going to resolve your dilemma, but it is a choice.

But does God want you hurting and unfulfilled for years?

Second, pray that the pastor will change.

A church leader wrote me months ago wanting to know how he could convince his pastor to change his behavior.

I told him that his desire was ultimately futile, although that’s not what he wanted to hear.

When a pastor comes to a church, his basic character and personality have already been formed.  Pastors aren’t four-year-old kids who can still be molded by their parents.  What you see is usually what you get.

If a pastor is an introvert, he’s not going to become an extrovert.

If a pastor is short, he’s not going to become tall.

If a pastor is sensitive (and most are), he’s not going to become tough overnight.

If a pastor loves the Giants (as I do), he’s not going to become a Dodgers fan.

A wise board member once told me that Christians shouldn’t play Holy Spirit in each other’s lives.  It takes time for the Holy Spirit to prompt change in your life … and it takes time for the Spirit to change pastors, too.

Pastors can and do change outwardly.  They can change their appearance … utilize new expressions … add humor to their messages … become less intense … and learn to speak more slowly.

And God can and does change pastors from the inside out … but it’s a work that He does rather than something that we do … and it’s always done on His timetable.

Most of the time, pastors don’t change very much, if at all.  If a pastor changed to make you happy, that change might make someone else unhappy.

The truth is that the great majority of people in your church are happy with who your pastor is.  That’s why they attend.

Better to say, “Lord, I’m going to stay in this church and let You change our pastor” than to say, “Lord, I’m only going to stay in our church if the pastor changes … hopefully tomorrow.”

Third, leave the church abruptly … maybe angrily.

Last year, I attended a local megachurch three times.  I liked it less each time I went.

On my third visit, I felt that the pastor was manipulating people to receive Christ so he could have enough people to baptize later that afternoon.

The manipulation really bothered me … as it always does … so I stopped attending.

That’s easy to do when you’ve only invested three Sundays of your life.  It’s much more difficult when you’ve invested hundreds of Sundays and thousands of dollars in a specific ministry.

But I’ve known people who left a church suddenly.  They didn’t like something the pastor said … or the pastor’s announced plans for the future … or the way a staff member was fired … and so they told themselves, “I’m never going to that church again.”

In my second pastorate, the board and I agreed that we would update the music and begin singing praise and worship songs on Sunday mornings.  A board member’s wife immediately stopped coming, and then her husband stopped, too.

And boy, were they angry!  They made lots of noise on their way out the door … which spoke volumes about their character.

I believe that leaving a church abruptly and angrily isn’t a great option, but it is an option.  If you’re miserable when you hear your pastor preach on Sunday, you can end the misery immediately.

Just don’t go back … ever.

But leaving suddenly usually means giving up many of your friends … surrendering your ministries … and disappointing your family.

It’s doable, but maybe not preferable.

Fourth, conspire with others to force out the pastor.

Start complaining about your pastor … frequently and loudly.  It won’t take long before you find others who agree with you and have been waiting for someone to voice their feelings.

I can tell you exactly how to get rid of your pastor, but unless he’s guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, I’d leave this decision up to the official leaders.

However, most people who write me have already rejected this option.  If they really wanted to force out their pastor, they would just do it rather than look for other solutions.

If you’re thinking about leading a rebellion against your pastor, though, let me warn you: you may destroy your church … your pastor … his family … and your own spiritual life.

This may be a destructive option, but it is an option … and sadly, one that’s increasingly common these days.

Finally, find a church where you can grow spiritually.

There used to be a group that believed that according to the New Testament, there was only one God-sanctioned local church in every city (for example, the church at Corinth, the church at Ephesus, and so on) and that their churches were the only legitimate churches in every city.

But my guess is that in your community, there are many more churches around than just the one you’re attending.

Being a member of a church isn’t like taking marriage vows.  You don’t have to be committed to one church for life.

If the pastor continually frustrates you … if you go home on Sundays feeling crazy and confused … you don’t have to keep going back to that church.

Rather than leaving suddenly, the better way to handle things might be to visit some other churches in your area.

You might attend your church one Sunday … then another church the next Sunday … then your church … then another church … and so on.  That way, you keep a presence in your church, and you no longer feel trapped.

If you really like a church, go back several times.  If you’re married, invite your spouse along and solicit their opinion.

In my experience, it takes at least six months to find a new church home.  The whole process can drive you crazy.  No church has everything you want.

But the smaller the church, the more important it is that you like the pastor, because in many smaller churches, the church revolves around the pastor.  If you don’t like a pastor or his preaching, cross that church off your list.

I don’t know why, but this is a step that many Christians just don’t want to take.  Looking for another church makes them feel disloyal.

But this is a short life.  God wants us fulfilled, not frustrated.

There are three questions that I believe every pastor-frustrated person needs to answer honestly:

*What is the pastor’s plan for growing this church?  Can I get behind it?

If the pastor doesn’t have a plan, or his plan doesn’t inspire people, your church is headed for some rough days.

*How much am I growing spiritually here?  If I’m not, is there somewhere else where I can grow?

Church life isn’t primarily about friendships and ministries.  It’s about deepening and enhancing our walk with God.  My guess is that most people who are upset with their pastor stopped growing spiritually a long time ago.  Will staying or leaving stimulate that process more?

*What does God want me to do about attending here in the future?  If He wants me to go … or stay … or change … will I completely obey Him?

My wife and I got married a month before I entered seminary.  Her father married us in our home church.  I had been his youth pastor for two years.  We wanted to stay there a long time.

But barely a month after we were married, we left … and went to a sister church several miles away.

Some of my friends from my former church were really upset with me.  They felt I was being disloyal … and after throwing us a big wedding, even ungrateful.

But circumstances had changed, and we had changed.  I needed to start over again, to make new friends, to find a healthier place where I could serve.

Maybe we left our old church too soon, but God abundantly blessed our decision.

I was eventually hired as a staff member and later ordained in that new church.

God will abundantly bless your decision, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastor Paul was in great pain.

Paul had been the pastor of a medium-sized congregation for four years, and as far as he could tell, things were going great.

After years of decline, attendance had turned around.  Giving was up.  There were plans to buy additional land and construct a new building.

It was evident that people felt great about their church.

Most people.

But a handful weren’t happy.  They no longer had access to the pastor … weren’t involved in making important decisions … and disagreed with the pastor’s direction for the church.

So eight people began meeting in secret.  They pooled their complaints and pledged to return the church to its pre-Paul state.

But to do that, they first had to bounce Pastor Paul.

And to get rid of him, they had to fight dirty.

They made lists of his flaws … wrote down “questionable” expressions in his sermons … and pulled others into their web.

They even recruited a staff member and two board members to their cause.

Before long, that group of eight had swelled to twenty-three … about five percent of the entire congregation.

When the “charges” going around finally reached Pastor Paul, he panicked.  He began having anxiety attacks … started isolating himself from people … and began breaking down emotionally.

Sensing their strategy was working, the pastor’s critics turned up the heat.

The pastor started preaching less assertively.  He was guarded around members, not knowing who was for or against him.

When his wife began folding under the strain, Pastor Paul negotiated a severance package with the board and quietly left.

Now here’s a question I’d like you to answer:

Should the church board … or members of the church staff … or the local denominational executive … tell the congregation the real reason why the pastor resigned?

The tendency in evangelical churches is to do the following:

*The board issues itself a “gag order” and refuses to discuss the situation inside the church.

*The board puts the staff under the same “gag order” … even threatening their jobs if they say what they know.

*The leader of the denominational district responds to inquiries by using stock phrases like “some people disagreed with the pastor’s direction” or “this problem goes back many years” or “there were philosophical differences” … phrases designed to make people stop asking questions.

*The pastor is given a severance package in exchange for not saying anything about why he left.

*An interim pastor comes to the church and says, “Let’s forget the past and focus on the future.”

But do these actions truly bring healing to the former pastor … church board … staff members … and congregation?

In the meantime, do we as followers of Jesus ever stop to ask ourselves, “Is this really the healthiest way to handle matters?”

In Dennis Maynard’s book Healing for Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack, the former pastor, author, and church consultant writes the following:

“The healing moment for the wounded members of the congregation will come when the real reason for the pastor’s leaving is brought into the light.  If the former pastor’s leaving was the consequence of a sheep attack then the interim period must be used to bring that out of the shadows and into the open.  It is not a secret!  The denominational executive and the remaining lay leaders may try to pretend so.  The antagonists will put their spin on it.  Most every member of the congregation already knows otherwise.”

I almost cried when I read those words.  Finally, a prominent Christian leader believes that only the truth will really set a church free!

Maynard says that if this step isn’t taken, then those who forced out the pastor will continue to blame him for everything.  But “the spin of the antagonists only deepens the anger in the congregation.  Resentment will build among those members that desperately want the truth to be brought into the open.  The end result is that their alienation from the parish is made complete…. The real dysfunction that is common knowledge in the congregation … is that the pastor was targeted, bullied and attacked.”

After a pastor is forced to leave a church, some people … perhaps many … will eventually leave.

You can’t hold onto everybody.

If church leaders fail to tell the truth, they’ll lose the good people.

If they do tell the truth, they’ll probably lose the antagonists and their friends.

Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

So why not the tell the truth?

Maynard continues:

“Pretending that the systemic dysfunction does not exist will not correct it.  It must be named and confronted.  I also contend that openly naming and discussing what happened is a critical component in the healing process.  The hurting hearts of the injured members of the congregation need it.  To do otherwise will only cause many faithful lay people wounded by the experience to leave.  Far too many of them will permanently walk away from the Church sad, angry and disgusted.  Some will stay but become passive to inactive members.  Their bitterness toward the denominational authorities and the antagonists will accelerate.  Others will seek a new congregation but will choose to become uninvolved.  Many will never return to their former ministries of leadership in any parish.”

Dennis Maynard is a leader in the Episcopal Church, which is considered to be a mainline denomination.  I believe that what he writes is biblical and true to reality, even though it may not be politically correct among evangelical leaders who seem to prefer expediency to honesty.

When a group of bullies forces a pastor to resign, why won’t anybody talk about what happened openly?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas in Saudi Arabia

Today’s guest blogger is my wife Kim, who discusses how the words “Christmas” and “Arabia” could once be used in the same sentence when she lived in the Middle East more than 40 years ago.  This post has become a Christmas tradition on this blog.  Ah, the magic and romance of the desert …

It seems so long ago.  The years were 1965-1970.  It was Christmas in Saudi Arabia, where my parents were missionaries to the Bedouin people in the desert.

We lived about 100 miles from the now beautiful, modern city of Dubai.

Dubai, May 2011

49 years ago, we traveled by open land rover on non-existing roads surrounded by sand dunes.  It took about 10 hours to travel 100 miles.

Several years ago, I went back to visit where I lived.  I took a taxi to the hospital where we used to work and it only took 1 hour and 15 minutes.  What a difference!

When the Arabs asked me why I was visiting, I told them, “I lived here 46 years ago.”  With amazement, they said, “There was nothing here.”  I said, “You are exactly right.”

In Front of Oasis Hospital, Where Her Father Worked in the 1960s

In Front of Oasis Hospital, Where Her Father Worked in the 1960s

Every year at Christmas time, my brothers, sisters and I came home from boarding school, either in Pakistan or India.  It was only at Christmas time that I saw my parents each year.  I counted every day for months when it was time to go home.  Home was where we had no homework and no strict schedules for two months.

We would get together with friends on the compound.  We hiked, cooked, played games, played tricks on each other, and saw our pets (cats, dogs, gazelles, goats, a donkey, a fox, and a hedgehog).

Sometimes we slept outside up on high beds to keep snakes and scorpions away.  We would wake up in the morning hearing camels eating our dried palm leaf fence.

Life was simple.  We would run around without shoes, help in the hospital, read books, listen to good music, and sit around and just talk.  I loved the simplicity.

When it came to getting a Christmas tree, we were creative.  We chose a thorn bush and brought it home to decorate.  We had fun adorning the tree with popcorn.  We wanted more decorations so we took Kotex and tore it apart to make snow with cotton.  I wasn’t sure my mom was very happy with us.

We learned to make taffy, pulling and pulling until we had a sweet, sticky treat.

But my best memory was camping in the desert.  I remember always having a sinus infection but I was determined to go – so I bundled up and went camping.  Being in the desert at night under a clear sky, you could see every star.  You could see the campfire for miles.  You were surrounded by sand dunes and the sound of nothing.  It was peaceful and quiet.

It must have been how the shepherds, Joseph, and Mary felt when Jesus was born.

Our Christmas service was held outside at night.  The glowing of candles and far off lights made the desert romantic and magical.  I was asked to play the organ and everyone from the compound came and sang Christmas carols.  This was my gift to Jesus.

Oh, the simplicity of Christmas!

Pastors in Jeopardy

Alex Trebek was not happy.

The thirty-year host of the TV game show Jeopardy was hosting Kids Week on the program during the first week in December.

One of the contestants ended up $1400 in the red, and according to show rules, she couldn’t compete in Final Jeopardy.

Trebek said to the girl: “We have bad news for you, because you’re in a negative situation, it means you won’t be around for Final Jeopardy, but you’ll automatically pick up $1000 for a third place finish.”

The girl was visibly upset and ran backstage.

The girl’s mother later wrote a letter to Sony, the show’s producers: “If he had taken the time, he would have known, like you do, that my daughter is not a sore loser, and does not become emotional solely over losing a game,” she wrote. “She was upset about not being able to completely play the game to the end… I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for that.”

Trebek was accused of not making a credible effort to make the girl feel better and was asked to re-tape the moment right before the girl became upset and ran backstage.

Pastors go through this stuff all the time.

During my first pastorate, I was reading William Manchester’s biography of General Douglas MacArthur called American Caesar.  I discovered that I knew next to nothing about MacArthur or his accomplishments … like writing Japan’s constitution after World War 2 ended.

During one sermon, I selected an illustration from the book, a story where the Americans won and the Japanese lost.

A young couple attended our church.  The wife was Caucasian … and her husband looked Caucasian.

His wife later told me that he was part Japanese, part Caucasian … and that because of my story, he probably wouldn’t be coming back to the church.

How could I know that he was part Japanese … and how could I know that my story might offend him?

From the beginning of my pastoral ministry, I wrote out my sermons word for word, and then discarded my manuscript as much as I could.

I realize this style isn’t in fashion nowadays because congregations expect their pastors to speak without notes.

But one reason I chose to write out my messages was because I had time to think through how to say what I wanted to say so I would offend the fewest possible people.

But just like Alex Trebek, a pastor never knows when he’s going to say something offensive … or who is going to be offended.

My wife runs a preschool in our home with about 25 kids attending at various times.  She can say the exact same thing in the same way to 24 kids and they’ll comply, but the 25th child will burst into tears.

Should she then aim her directives toward the 24 kids or the one kid who is overly sensitive?

And should a pastor speak to the congregation as a whole or change his language so some people won’t be offended?

I once heard Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church say that about 15% of his congregation might be classified as dysfunctional, while the other 85% were pretty healthy people.  (This was at least twenty years ago, so the percentage of dysfunctional people might be higher now.)  Hybels believed that a pastor should direct his message toward the 85% and direct the 15% toward counseling.

How does that sound to you?

Pastors have two choices when it comes to preaching: they can speak in a politically and emotionally correct way … in which case they won’t say much at all … or they can be themselves before God and just let it fly.

But it’s not just up to the pastor, but up to the church board as well.

If the church board backs the pastor’s right to say whatever he wants before God … even if some don’t always agree with him … that pastor’s ministry can flourish.

But if the board demands that the pastor speak in such a way that he doesn’t offend the wrong people … that pastor’s ministry may not succeed because he’ll always wonder if he’s offending somebody by what he says.

During my last ministry, I said something in a message that really upset one couple.  They complained to the church board and wanted my head.

The board chairman listened to a recording of my message, felt I didn’t say anything wrong, and told the couple just that.

They didn’t stop their crusade against me until they left the church … livid … but I felt supported, and free to continue to say whatever God wanted me to say.

In the end, Alex Trebek wrote the following words to the show’s producers: “If you all think I should retape the opening, I will.  But I want to say that for 30 years I’ve defended our show against attacks inside and out.  But it doesn’t seem to operate both ways.  When I’m vilified, corporate (and certainly legal) always seems to say ‘don’t say anything and it’ll blow over,’ and I’m not feeling support from the producers, and that disappoints the _______ out of me.”

As a former pastor for 36 years, I understand where the Jeopardy host is coming from.

When you’re attacked, if you sense support from those you account to, you’ll forge ahead with greater confidence and boldness.

But if those you account to collapse on you when you’re attacked, your morale will plunge, and you’ll start looking for a way out … which is why Alex Trebek ended his statement by saying, “Maybe it’s time for me to move on.”

My favorite verse on preaching is John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Fundamentalists focus on speaking the truth … but often without grace.

Liberals focus on speaking with grace … but usually have little to say.

But biblical pastors prioritize truth in content … and grace in presentation.

And those are the ministries that make it to Final Jeopardy.

 

 

 

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