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Thankful For So Much

For many years, I kept a condensed list called “Top Ten Things I’m Thankful For” in my wallet.

Whenever I saw the list … much less read it … I was reminded how much God has blessed me, even when I was having a bad day.

Let me briefly share an updated list of five things I’m thankful for in reverse order:

Number 5: I am thankful for faithful, lifelong friends.

Steve, Dave, Jim and Ken @ VBC August 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve made many friends over the years, especially in the 9 churches I’ve served.  In most cases, I’ve lost contact with those people, but I’m thankful for 3 friends who have been there for me no matter what for nearly 50 years … and we all came to attend the same church.

Steve (on the left) and I met on the first day of fifth grade.  He taught me more about sports than anyone I’ve ever known … and beat me in most of them, too.  It’s fitting that he became a high school athletic director and teacher.  He’s the best athlete … and game player … I’ve ever known.

Dave (second from the left) was my constant companion at Biola and Talbot.  We rode to school together … took classes together … and graduated together (twice).  Dave is a well-known pastor and speaker in the Calvary Chapel movement and has a nationwide radio program.  I often watch his sermons on Roku.

Ken (on the right) has been my friend since seventh grade.  He taught me how to play ping pong … invited me to his church (where I eventually met my wife) … and convinced me to go with him to camp at Hume Lake (where I ended up dedicating my life to Christ).  He’s a great dentist, too … I have an appointment with him next week!

What did Clarence the Angel write to George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life?  “Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

That’s how I feel.

Number 4: I am thankful for a Christian upbringing.

Jim with Dad and Mom (2)

From birth, I went to church involuntarily.

But when I was old enough to make up my own mind, I went voluntarily … and never stopped or rebelled.

Maybe that’s a credit to the churches I attended … the friends I made at those churches … or those who taught me God’s Word.

But my parents receive most of the credit.

I grew up in a home where I knew that my father and mother loved me, so it wasn’t difficult to imagine that God loved me, too.

And the older I get, the more grateful I am for parents who were godly role models … read me Bible stories … and took me to church.

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Number 3: I am thankful for two wonderful children: Ryan and Sarah; a special daughter-in-law: Vanessa; and two growing grandchildren: Jack and Liam.

My great kids Ryan and Sarah

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Kim and I raised our children to love God and each other … and they’re still doing that today, for which I thank God.  I am so proud of my kids.

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Jack turns two in a few weeks, and Liam turns six months this Monday.  I prayed for grandchildren for a long time, and I’m thankful that God answered that prayer.

Number 2: I am thankful for Kim, my wife of 39 years.

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Who you marry largely determines how your life will go.  I married well.

I am grateful to Kim because:

*she tells me what she really thinks and feels.

*she is an incredibly hard worker.

*she always served alongside me in our various ministries without wavering.

*she was – and is – an awesome mother.

*she knows me and still loves me … a great feat indeed!

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Number 1: I am thankful for my salvation in Jesus Christ.

There are two ways to look at life:

*Assume that life is meant to be a utopia and that you should be anxious and angry about anything short of paradise

*Assume that life is a struggle and that you should thank God for every good thing that happens

The greatest thing in my life happened when I was a child and received Jesus Christ.

As Philippians 4:19 says so eloquently, I gained “riches in glory in Christ Jesus” when I became a believer.

And I’ve been drawing on those riches ever since.

Great friends … a godly upbringing … loving children and grandchildren … a wife for life … and salvation in Christ.

Regardless of my income, I am indeed a wealthy man.

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!

 

 

 

I recently ran across a book on church conflict, antagonism, and pastoral termination that was new to me, although it was first published in 2010.

It’s called When Sheep Attack by Dennis R. Maynard.  Dr. Maynard has been in church ministry for 38 years.  He once served as the pastor of a church in Houston that is the largest Episcopal church in the United States.  He has also served as a consultant to more than 100 churches of various denominations in the United States and Canada.

Dr. Maynard conducted a study of 25 pastors who had been forced out of their churches.  At the time they were attacked, each pastor was leading a dynamic and growing congregation.  In other words, these were all highly competent individuals.

After examining the data, Dr. Maynard came to the following conclusions:

“We can no longer afford the luxury of denying that there are dysfunctional personalities in congregations that want to hurt clergy.”

“The methods used by the antagonists to attack clergy and divide congregations follow an identifiable pattern.”

“The impact of these attacks on clergy, their families and the congregations they serve is devastating.”

“Ultimately, in order to neutralize the work of the antagonists all the ‘players’ in the congregational system must work together.”

Dr. Maynard then made the following points, followed by my comments:

We are dealing with a generation that believes they are the authorities in all areas despite the fact that they have no training or experience.”

There are handfuls of people in every church who believe they know how to lead, preach, administrate, and shepherd better than their own pastor.  There’s just one problem: God hasn’t called them to church ministry.  But believing themselves the most important individuals in their church, they set out to force out their pastor by any means necessary.

“Antagonists … thrive on being critical.  They enjoy conflict.  They have extremely controlling personalities.  They get their feelings hurt easily and turn those hurt feelings into anger, bitterness, resentment and ultimately revenge.  They are bulldozers fueled by a tank full of grudges.”

I remember one man who left our church in a huff.  He tried to negotiate his way back by demanding that I give him access to me 24/7.  I couldn’t do it.  He was full of rage.

“Every clergy person reported that they inherited an ‘untouchable staff member often in the guise of an active retired clergy or a retired rector [pastor]’…. They are untouchable because of the political alliances they’ve made with the ‘right people’ in the congregation.”

This is the first time I’ve ever read such a statement, but it makes perfect sense.  Some staff members always survive because they’re far more political than spiritual.

“Would it surprise you to know that in my consultations more often than not it was the active or retired pastoral associate that was the chaplain to the antagonists intent on tearing down the rector?  If not, then it won’t surprise you to learn just whom the antagonists wanted to be named as the next interim or possibly permanent rector.”

The current associate pastor is likely to become “chaplain” to the antagonists and be their choice as the interim or next pastor.  My experience resonates with this statement.

“Antagonists … have no interest in dialogue, compromise, forgiveness or reconciliation.  Their goal from the beginning is the removal and often the destruction of the rector.”

How very sad.  Those who oppose the pastor refuse to use biblical or relational means of resolving their differences with their pastor.  Instead, they demand that he leave the church.

“The antagonists refuse to deal with their own flaws by demanding perfection in their priest.  As long as they are able to stay focused on the priest’s failure to achieve their impossible standards they don’t have to consider their own.”

The other night, I asked a longtime pastor friend why pastors are breaking down at such an alarming rate.  He believes the problem is perfectionism: the pastor demands perfection of himself, and the congregation demands perfection of their pastor.  What a toxic and unbiblical combination!

“Every priest reported that the experience of being attacked by the antagonists had a negative impact on them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Their descriptions ranged from battle fatigue to severe illnesses.  Most all reported suffering from depression.  Others described the emotional impact as feeling broken, defensive, withdrawn, fear, panic, a loss of creativity, energy and profound sadness.”

Amen to the above description.  I’ve been there.  In my case, I wasn’t suicidal … I just wanted to vanish.  I spoke with a well-respected veteran Christian leader recently who told me he’s surprised by how long it takes pastors to recover after they’ve been beaten up.  It doesn’t take months … it takes years.

“The majority of the clergy reported that both they and their spouses had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and have had to continue in treatment for years after the experience ended.”

I wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD, but my wife was.  I’m haunted during the day by what happened to me.  She’s haunted at night.

“Every congregation experienced negative repercussions when the priest left the parish.  The negative impact on the parish was seen immediately.  Attendance and giving decreased dramatically.  Membership declined and program growth became stagnant to non-existent.  Empty pews at Sunday worship and declining parish collections were the most noticeable consequences.  On average, 28% of the worshippers left these parishes and united with another.  19% left the parishes completely and have yet to return to that parish or any other.”

Based on the aftermath after a pastor’s removal, how can we conclude that these antagonists are doing God’s work?  It’s obvious that they’re serving someone else.  I now believe that many of them are either very immature believers … regardless of how they appear to others … or unbelievers.

“It should be clearly agreed at the beginning that if the governing board initiates the dissolution of ministry action, the rector shall receive a minimum severance package.  Depending on the size of the parish this should be a minimum of eighteen months and for larger parishes where the job possibilities for a removed priest are fewer it could go up to five years salary and benefits.”

Some churches that toss out an innocent pastor offer no severance agreement.  Others offer three to six months.  Maynard lobbies for at least 18 months because it can take that long for dismissed pastors to find a new ministry.  If a church board doesn’t want to pay such a severance, then they should work matters out with their pastor.

“It is the wise rector that uses an outside consultant…. The majority of the clergy in this study did employ a consultant.  In none of the twenty-five cases was a consultant able to stop the antagonists from achieving their goal.”

In my situation, I used a consultant.  He flew to our community, interviewed staff, witnessed attacks firsthand, exposed the plot against me, wrote a report, and helped negotiate a severance agreement.  But the knowledge that consultants could not stop the antagonists freezes me in my tracks.

“Any senior pastor caught in an irresolvable conflict should not hesitate to consult an attorney.  The majority of the clergy surveyed did employ an attorney.  Most felt the need to do so to protect themselves and their families.  Several reported that their attorneys did advise them that they had legal grounds to sue their antagonists for slander and defamation.”

Most pastors aren’t comfortable doing this, but if they plan to continue a ministry career, and if they love their family members, this step is essential.  I hate to say this, but inside their churches, pastor under attack usually have zero rights, so they need to know their rights as an American citizen.

“… the biggest red flag of all.  If such a staff person has played an active role in the removal of a previous senior pastor, then they need to be removed by the appropriate authorities before a new senior pastor is even announced.” 

If a staff member – regardless of who it is or how long they’ve been in the church – cannot support an innocent senior pastor, that staff member needs to resign and leave the church rather than be allowed to undermine the pastor from the inner circle.  The longer a Judas stays among the disciples, the more destruction he or she will cause.

“The overwhelming majority [of the twenty-five pastors surveyed] began new ministries as professional interim ministers.  For clergy that have been attacked by antagonists, it appears that interim ministry may just be the best avenue for them to pursue.”

Most pastors who have been attacked have to be well-connected to find another church ministry … and be younger than 55.  Without a PhD, pastors can’t even teach in a Bible college.  The interim pathway is beneficial for those who want to keep leading and preaching, but the lifestyle involves travel that separates the interim from his kids and grandkids, friends, support system, belongings, and house.

“Those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome will most likely be plagued by nightmares for the greater portion of their lives.  All our participants, spouses and children now have a more cynical attitude toward the Church and people.  Most all confessed to continuing to have problems trusting others.  The loss to the Church of spouses, children and lay members that formerly were faithful and enthusiastic about their lives in the Church is a damning judgment on the work of the antagonists.” 

A longtime Christian leader told me that going through this experience is like suffering a concussion as a National Football League player.  Once you’ve suffered one, you remain in protective mode because you don’t want to suffer the disorientation of undergoing another one.

“If the antagonists begin directing their attacks toward your spouse or children, employ an attorney and make it known that you have employed an attorney.”

Some pastors who are removed from their positions later experience divorce.  Many pastors’ kids quit going to church and abandon their faith for good.  If a pastor can stop direct attacks upon his family members using legal means, then he needs to do so.

Dr. Maynard’s book is relatively brief (137 pages), concise, and true to church life.  He covers much more material than I could possibly hope to share here.  I recommend it highly.

My prayer is that Christian leaders wake up to the reality of sheep attacking their shepherds – and do something about it – so that far fewer pastors and believers sit on the bench until Jesus comes.

Have you ever been in a church where someone always seems to be antagonistic?

During my first pastorate, there was a man on the church board who used to drive me insane.  I’ll call him Rudy.

Rudy had been a pastor for many years, but somewhere along the line, his marriage failed, and his denomination prevented him from pastoring again.

Rudy became a public school teacher and married a second time.  When I first met him … at a church board meeting … he was a bit scary.  He was large but short with a booming voice, and it didn’t take much for him to start ranting about something.

Sadly, a few months after I came to the church, Rudy’s second wife filed for divorce and stopped attending.  I went to the board and requested permission to ask Rudy to step down from the board, which they reluctantly granted.  But a few months later, the remaining board members insisted that Rudy be reinstated … mostly because he was their friend.  I didn’t agree with them, but my protests fell on deaf ears.

So Rudy returned … but he was often full of rage.

One night, I was teaching a midweek class about Christ’s resurrection, and I made a point that Rudy didn’t like.  He stood up, shouted into the air, walked to the door, and slammed it behind him, which stunned everybody … especially me.

Another time, our church held a “business meeting,” and Rudy began yelling across the room at someone who said something he didn’t like.  Later that week, I told him that he had to apologize to the entire church the following Sunday or he wasn’t going to be a board member anymore.  So he apologized … sort of.

When I preached, I always had to watch what I said or Rudy might angrily confront me.  One time in a sermon, I mentioned the death and resurrection of Christ but didn’t mention His burial.  After the service, Rudy jumped all over me for that “omission.”

Another time, I wrote a newsletter article that featured some quotations from a British theologian I admired.  Rudy called me at home and let me know he didn’t agree with me at all.

Along the way, Rudy married a third time, and he began teaching the seniors’ class at our church.  Before I knew it, class members began holding secret meetings and making demands to the church board about my future.  When the board stood by me, Rudy’s class left the church en masse and started a new church in a school … one mile from our church.

As Rudy’s pastor, I was constantly on edge whenever he was around.

Why do antagonists like Rudy act the way they do at church?  Let me share three quick possibilities:

First, some antagonists dream of being in church ministry … even as the pastor.

While Rudy had been a pastor, a divorce may be all it takes to end a ministerial career, and Rudy had two of them.  Before he led his class out of our church, he had been trying to return to ministry as a missionary … but no Christian organization could get past those two divorces.

Rudy retained much of the knowledge and skills necessary to pastor again, but he knew it would never occur.  I was in the position that he so desperately coveted.  His anger toward me was his way of saying, “I’m just as good as you are, and if circumstances were different, I’d be where you are.”

Second, some antagonists are desperately seeking significance.

When I first met Rudy, he was 61 years young.  One day, I visited his fourth grade class at school, and he was honored that I was there.  But several years later, he retired and had too much time on his hands.

Dealing with the Rudys in a church can be challenging for a pastor.  If you let Rudy into leadership, he might use his position to build a following and push you out.  But if you don’t let Rudy into leadership, he might push you out anyway.

A better approach for a pastor is to sit down with Rudy … listen to his story … ask him what his hopes and dreams are … and guide him toward those that are feasible.

But to ignore Rudy completely is to dig your own grave.

Finally, some antagonists are tolerated by their church family.             

When people act in an antagonistic fashion, it’s natural to blame them for the way they behave.

However, I believe that there is something inherent in church systems that creates and tolerates antagonistic behavior.

Yes, Rudy bears some responsibility for his overreactions, but God’s people also bear responsibility for allowing him to misbehave time and time again.

When Rudy slammed the door, someone should have confronted him right away.  When he stood up in the business meeting, I shouldn’t have been the one to insist he apologize.

All too often in our church families, the pastor has to confront and correct the misbehavior of leaders by default, and when he does, he leaves himself wide open for retribution, especially if he’s standing alone.

Christians are usually strong but are seldom tough.  When it comes to antagonistic behavior, a church’s leaders need to define what they will and will not tolerate … and we never did that with Rudy.

I wasn’t asked to speak at Rudy’s funeral … no surprise there … but I did attend.  In spite of his temper, I liked Rudy, and I’m sure I will see him someday in heaven, although I’m glad he won’t be able to yell at me anymore!

Because while churches often tolerate antagonism, heaven does not.

The chairman of the church board called the pastor into a side room after his sermon one Sunday.

When the pastor entered the room, he was told by the chairman that he was being dismissed effective immediately.

The pastor had been in the church for years.  He thought the ministry was going well.

He was never told what he had done wrong.  He was not afforded a severance package or a farewell party.

His ministry … and possibly his career … now seemed over.

Nearly half the congregation left over the next several months.

The pastor’s wife was forced to work two jobs.  The pastor looked for a new ministry in vain.  And the pastor’s two kids swore they’d never darken a church door again.

One of my passions as the President of Restoring Kingdom Builders is to advocate that churches – especially church boards – utilize a biblical, just and fair process to address any issues they have with their pastor.

But much of the time, church boards become emotionally reactive and make decisions that harm the pastor and decimate their congregation.

So let me suggest a five-step process that a board can use when they’re concerned about their pastor’s behavior:

First, the church board needs to address their concerns with deliberation and patience.

If a church board is upset with their pastor, it’s important that they slow things down and discern a fair process.

Why?

Because there are usually board members who want to take shortcuts … and fire the pastor outright.

Maybe this is how some board members handle their own employees: “When in doubt, push him out.”

But a pastor isn’t just any employee.  He’s someone called and gifted by God.

And the New Testament makes it clear that pastors deserve “respect” and “the highest regard” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13) as well as “double honor” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

Handling matters with deliberation means that official leaders read, understand, and follow:

*New Testament directives on correcting a spiritual leader (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19-21).

*Pertinent passages in their church’s bylaws.

*Labor laws in their own state.

Handling matters with patience means that official leaders make decisions using realistic timetables rather than rushing toward a predetermined outcome.

When church boards are ruled by anxiety, they end up hurting a lot of people.

But when boards take their time, they handle matters with greater wisdom and dignity.

Second, those who are upset about the pastor’s personal conduct need to speak with him directly … or let things go.

Pastor Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church – America’s largest in the 1990s – stopped at the church one night and parked in a “No Parking” zone.

The next day, Pastor Bill received a note from a church custodian reminding him not to park in that spot.

Some pastors would have demanded that the custodian be disciplined for his insolence … but not Pastor Bill, who commended the custodian and said, “I need to be an example, not an exception.”

I love that story because a custodian felt he had the right to correct the pastor … and the pastor received and learned from that correction.

But pastors aren’t always examples.  They mess up from time-to-time.  And when they make mistakes, those who witnessed their misbehavior need to speak with them directly and lovingly call them on it.

But what happens in most churches is that people talk about the pastor without ever speaking with the pastor.

One time, a friend came to me before a meeting and said, “So-and-So is mad at you.”

I immediately asked, “How many people has she told?”

Counting with both hands, he stated, “Ten.”

My offense?

I didn’t say hi to her one Sunday morning.

Maybe the woman in question just needed reassurance that I cared about her.  That’s fine.  We all need reassurance at times.

But wouldn’t it have been better if she had simply spoken with me about her feelings personally?

And if she didn’t want to do that, wouldn’t it have been better to let things slide rather than involving ten other people?

This goes for board members, too.

Sometimes a church board member becomes angry with the pastor over a personal matter, but rather than speak with the pastor directly, he complains to other board members.

There are two dangers with this approach:

*Some board members may take their friend’s side in the matter, which makes them feel increasingly powerful.

*A pastor’s personal offense against one person can easily morph into an official offense against the entire board … or church.  The pastor’s perceived offense is used as a pretext for his removal.

And I have a hard time believing that God would approve of such actions.

Third, the board needs to determine the severity of a pastor’s offenses before taking action.

Sometimes pastors are guilty of a misstep and commit a spiritual or moral citation … like the equivalent of jaywalking.

Maybe the pastor skips a church event without telling anyone … or promises to visit someone in the hospital but doesn’t … or forgets to answer an important email for two weeks.

In my view, if these offenses wind their way up to the church board, they are only worthy of a citation.

Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”

Just like in marriage, some “offenses” need to be overlooked … forgiven … and forgotten as soon as possible.

If not, the church board will become the church police.

But sometimes pastors commit spiritual or moral misdemeanors.

My initial staff position was in a church that held a week-long missionary conference.  We had a missionary speaker every night of the week!

I attended the first four nights faithfully.  But on the fifth night, the movie “Gone with the Wind” was playing at a local school (this was before videos or DVDs), and my girlfriend Kim (now my wife) really wanted to see the film.

So we went, and had a great time.

However, when I next saw my pastor, he was not happy with me.

He asked me, “Where were you last night?”  I told him.  He said, “People came to me last night and wanted to know where you were.  I didn’t know what to tell them.”

I apologized to him.  Then he advised me, “Look, if you had asked me if you could go to the movie, I would have said yes.  Then if people asked where you were, I would have said, ‘I know where Jim is.  Everything’s fine.'”

Going to a movie was okay … but going without permission was not.

That was a misdemeanor because it couldn’t be quickly forgiven and forgotten.  I needed to be confronted.

When a pastor commits a spiritual or moral misdemeanor, someone needs to love him enough to confront him.  The pastor needs to know that he did something wrong … admit it was wrong … and take steps not to do it again.

And when the pastor apologizes and asks forgiveness, that should be the end of it.

But sometimes pastors are suspected of committing spiritual and moral felonies, and if so, those overseeing the pastor need to launch an investigation into the offense, as Deuteronomy 19:18 specifies.

Which offenses are felonies?

Heresy, for one.  Sexual immorality, for another.

I would also include criminal behavior, including beating one’s wife, certain kinds of theft, and committing fraud.

And in my opinion, if a pastor openly, blatantly, and knowingly lies to his congregation, he should at least be suspended, if not terminated.

Most of the time, when a pastor commits a spiritual or moral felony, he has forfeited his position as pastor, and needs to resign or be dismissed.

But all too often, some Christians … including church boards … turn offenses meriting citations into misdemeanors, or misdemeanors into felonies, because they want to get rid of the pastor and are willing to use anything they can find.

While I admit the Bible doesn’t make distinctions between these offenses, our culture does, and those distinctions can help us determine the severity of a pastor’s misbehavior.

Fourth, let the pastor face his accusers and explain his actions.

Read the Gospels.  Jesus was accused of many offenses by the Jewish leaders, but they always let Him defend Himself … even on the morning of His crucifixion.

Read Acts 7.  Stephen was accused of speaking against the temple and the law (Acts 6:13) but still offered a self-defense.

Read Acts 22 … or 23 … or 24 … or 25 … or 26.  Paul was accused of bringing Greeks into the Temple area and speaking against the Temple and the law (Acts 21:28).  But he was still allowed to face his accusers and offer a defense.

As Festus told King Agrippa in Acts 25:16, “… it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges.”

During my second pastorate, a church leader began making charges against me to anyone who would listen.  His “concerns” finally made their way to the board chairman, who invited the leader to the next board meeting.

The leader brought a list of seven “concerns.”  After he shared each issue, the chairman asked me to respond, which I gladly did.

The leader was so disheartened by my responses that he never finished his list … and announced the next day that he was leaving the church.

The charges sounded plausible when he was sharing them with friends and family …  but when he shared them in my presence, his entire case wilted.

In his book Beyond Forgiveness, Don Baker writes about the time he received credible information that a popular staff member had slept with multiple women in previous churches.

Pastor Baker didn’t fire his staffer outright.  Instead, he met with him privately, told him what he’d heard, and let him respond.

Even if a board is convinced their pastor has committed an impeachable offense, the entire board – or chairman – should first meet with the pastor and hear his side before taking any action.

If the board meets with the pastor before deciding his fate, the pastor might convincingly refute the allegations … shed light on his accuser(s) and their motivations … or confess and offer his resignation.

In the majority of cases that I hear about, the church board fires the pastor outright … without telling him his offenses … letting him face his accusers … or allowing him to explain his actions.

And those kinds of decisions destroy a pastor and his family and throw a church into turmoil.

Finally, give the pastor sufficient time to change his behavior.

If a pastor is guilty of multiple citations or occasional misdemeanors, he should be given time to correct his behavior.

Three months isn’t enough time.  Two years is too long.

Isn’t redemption a Christian virtue?

If the board follows a process, and the pastor has made progress, then he should be allowed to stay, with the board monitoring those areas where he’s deficient.

If the pastor hasn’t made progress, then it’s okay to ask for his resignation after 12 to 15 months … although most pastors would probably resign long before they’re asked.

The pastor and congregation will be far better off one year later if the board follows a biblical, just, and fair process than if they become anxious and swiftly force out their shepherd.

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Today marks my 400th blog post.  Thanks to every one of you who reads what I write!

My readers include pastors, staff members, church leaders, and lay people.

If you’d like me to cover a certain topic, please leave a comment or write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org.

And because I enjoy responding to your comments, please feel free to interact with anything I write.

Thanks again for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In his well-written, insightful, and practical book Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd, my friend Kent Crockett relates many true stories about pastor abuse.  Here’s a sampling of these stories told by actual pastors:

“Some unyielding deacons and angry members didn’t like my ideas of reaching out to people who don’t know Christ, so they forced my resignation.  In my final business meeting, I told the congregation, ‘I believe the Lord is leading me to step down and resign as pastor, effective immediately.’  As soon as I said that, about fifteen people who had opposed me stood up, started applauding, and shouted, ‘Hallelujah!  Praise God!’  In the two years I had been their pastor, they had never clapped in church or shouted praise to God.  In fact, they had always opposed displays of emotion in the worship service.  I hadn’t even seen them smile until I resigned and then they all had big grins on their faces.”

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“The deacon board chairman came to see me one evening.  He never called to set up an appointment, but just showed up unannounced clutching his gripe list.  The deacon asserted that he represented a ‘growing’ number of disgruntled people who were angry with me, and had appointed him as the liaison of church solidarity.

With seeming delight, he claimed that other members were ‘flooding’ him with concerns about me, although he wouldn’t disclose names because he wanted to ‘protect their identities.’  I later proved his list was contrived and his alleged ‘growing’ number was actually a small group the deacon had recruited.

Casting gentleness to the wind, the deacon tore into me with outlandish accusations.  When I asked what specifically I had done wrong, the deacon sidestepped the issue.  He wasn’t interested in repairing and restoring fellowship, so I refrained from further discussion.  Since I wouldn’t bow to his intimidation, the deacon started a false rumor about me.  Because of the misery I suffered at the hands of this cruel deacon, I resigned as pastor.”

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“That small group got against me.  They started lying.  They said I was a gambler.  And then they attacked my wife.  When they can’t get anything on the minister, they go after his wife or his children.  Only by suspending the bylaws were they able to fire me.”

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“In one year, 27 ministers in my district were forced to resign their pastorates, without charges of wrongdoing, unethical behavior, or immorality.  Many because they were causing growth.  Most cases it was the power bloc that ran the church that had them removed.  Many have lost their pastorates, many their reputations and many have lost their enthusiasm about staying in the ministry.”

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“As I reflect on 35 years of ministry, I realize that many of my former colleagues are no longer pastors.  Somewhere along the line, they left their ‘calling’ and undertook a different path for their lives.  Reflecting on my friends who used to be pastors, I realize that they are now a majority.  Those, like me, who have stayed in ministry are actually the minority.  The attrition rate has been high and the cost to souls is astronomical.

The majority of my acquaintances encountered such turmoil and situational conflict (from church members) that they felt they could not continue to pastor.  Congregations overwhelmed my pastor friends with unrealistic expectations, negative criticism and misplaced anger.  Some congregations even assumed the perfect pastor was ‘out there,’ so their fallible pastor was terminated.”

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Let me make four brief observations about these stories:

First, these stories are not an anomaly – they are all too typical.  While the names of the pastors, church leaders, and congregations are all different, the patterns of pastoral abuse remain the same across the board.

I saw a quote recently from a denominational executive.  He said that when a pastor started telling him his termination story, the denominational leader could accurately predict the entire aftermath.

Since there are patterns to pastoral abuse, the Christian community must band together and stop this evil.

Second, the inability of Christians to get along – especially with their pastor – negates the gospel of reconciliation.

Jesus told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Jesus didn’t say, “Love the people in your group only.”  He didn’t say, “Love everyone in your church but your pastor and his family.”  Three times in these two verses, He commands His followers to “love one another” … and that includes the pastor and his family.

When believers visibly love each other, Jesus says, then “all men” will notice that “you are my disciples.”

But when believers avoid each other and hate each other, the world concludes, “The Christian faith doesn’t work.”

As 1 John 4:20 states, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

Third, the pastor’s enemies almost always slander him to force his resignation.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but how can professing Christians blatantly lie about their spiritual leader?

Did Jesus ever lie about a spiritual leader?

Did Paul?

Did Peter … or John … or James … or Luke?

Who in the New Testament has a reputation for lying?

Satan.

Then how can those who claim to follow Jesus … who is the Truth and always spoke the truth … join hands with the evil one?

How strong is your case against a pastor if you have to use exaggeration and innuendo and false statements to get rid of Him?  Isn’t that the same tactic that was used on Jesus?

I wish churches had trials and the liars could be exposed for everyone to see.

Why aren’t we exposing the liars?

Instead, after the pastor leaves, they end up on the church board.

Here’s what I read yesterday during my quiet time:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his evil deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:20-21).

Finally, believers need to give control of their church back to Jesus Christ.

Doesn’t Colossians 1:18 say that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church” and that “in everything he might have the supremacy?”

We don’t read that any pastor is “the head of the church,” nor the church board, nor the charter members, nor a particular faction.

Instead, we read that Jesus is the head of the body.

Maybe churches should have an annual service where the leaders and congregation acknowledge that “Jesus is the head of this church” and not any specific individual or group.

Let’s be honest: too many people are fighting for control of a church when it isn’t theirs to begin with.

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I don’t mean to sound cynical, but after reading the above stories … and many more like them, not only in Kent’s books, but in other books on church conflict … I have one unanswered question:

How can people who use slander and hatred to destroy their pastor really be Christians?

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many Christians – and non-Christians – I’ve been following recent events at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Co-founder and lead pastor Mark Driscoll resigned on October 14 after a formal investigation into charges against him.

Teaching pastor Dave Bruskas just announced that Mars Hill Church will cease to exist organizationally as of January 1, 2015, and that Mars Hill’s satellite churches in four states must decide their own futures.

I have never heard Mark Driscoll speak.  I have never read any of his books.  I know little about the church, and have no special insight into its inner workings.

But from a church conflict perspective, I’d like to share four thoughts:

First, it’s always perilous to build a church around one person.

I admire visionaries … and great Bible teachers … and people who write books … and those who speak with power and forthrightness.

Sometimes, God even enfolds all those qualities into one person.

And when that person uses their gifts, God sometimes blesses them with notoriety … influence … and numbers.

That appears to be what happened with Mark Driscoll.  God seems to have given him “five talents.”

And when you’re blessed with so much, you have a responsibility to use those talents … and to experience God’s blessing.

But not long ago, I heard that Mars Hill was starting a satellite campus in a highly-churched location that I knew.

My initial thought was, “Why are they doing this?  Is there really a need for a satellite church in that community?”

But since the church would also be showing video of Driscoll preaching, I asked another question:

“What if something happens to Mark Driscoll?”

Back in the 1980s, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart produced an ad encouraging churches to buy a satellite dish … so they could watch sermons from Swaggart instead of from their own pastor.

I kid you not.  (What rhymes with Swaggart?)

The ad seemed to communicate, “Why listen to your own pastor when you can watch the charismatic, handsome, anointed, and prophetic Brother Jimmy instead?”

But it wasn’t long afterwards that Brother Jimmy fell into sexual immorality … twice.

Besides emptying out the church he pastored, he would have emptied out all those “satellite” churches as well.

Christ’s body needs hundreds of thousands of gifted teachers, but a select few operate as if we would all be better off if we just listened to them all the time.

And that should always raise a colossal red flag.

Second, it’s counterproductive to prevent churchgoers from speaking with those who have left a church.

Seven years ago at Mars Hill, church leaders fired two staff pastors who protested leadership authority being placed into the hands of Pastor Driscoll and a few close allies.

Then the pastors and elders asked the congregation to shun the two men.

What were the leaders afraid of?

They were afraid that the two staff pastors would share their mistreatment with their network inside the church … that this might make the pastors and elders look bad … and that some people might leave the church as a result.

Which, of course, is the very definition of being divisive, right?

But instituting a “gag order” never works.  It smacks of a cover-up … even if it’s designed to protect the church as an institution.

When people have been dismissed from an organization, they have the right to tell their side of things unless they forfeit that right in writing … often in exchange for a generous severance package … but their story almost always leaks out anyway.

Not long ago, I heard about a church that pushed out their senior pastor.  The church board then announced to the congregation that nobody in the church was to have any contact with the pastor whatsoever.

If I attended that congregation, I’d reach for the phone immediately to discover the pastor’s side of the story … and if he wouldn’t tell me, I’d ask his wife … relatives … friends … you name it … until I knew “the other side.”

And if the leaders told me I’d be sinning by speaking with him, I’d do it anyway and charge the leaders with sinning instead … because most of the time, leaders issue gag orders to prevent God’s people from discovering their own mistakes.

When I was a pastor, people occasionally left the church angrily over something I did or said.  From time-to-time, other churchgoers would approach me and say, “I heard So-and-So left the church.  Is that true?”

If I wanted to, I could have framed the conflict to make me look good … and to make the departing attendees look bad.

But that’s manipulation … and exercising hyper-control … and that kind of behavior is unworthy of a Christian leader.

So I would say, “Why don’t you call them and speak with them directly?”  Few ever left the church after doing so.

When people leave a church, they have the right to share their opinions and feelings … even if they’re perceived as divisive … because they are out from under church control.

And when we let God control the situation, we don’t have to control anything except our own response.

Third, godly leaders eventually admit when they’ve been wrong.

Because they unjustly dismissed those two pastors seven years ago, eighteen pastors and elders from Mars Hill have just published a confession in writing.  They wrote to their former pastors:

“We want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007.  We were wrong.  We harmed you.  You have lived with the pain of that for many years.  As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you.  Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter.”

The letter continued, “We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong….  [We] put doubt about your character in the minds of church members, though you had done nothing to warrant such embarrassment and scrutiny.  By doing this, we misled the whole church, harmed your reputation, and damaged the unity of the body of Christ.”

As Howard Hendricks used to say, “May their tribe increase.”

Judas regretted betraying Jesus the very night of his treachery.  Peter repented of denying Jesus right after he did it.

But it takes some Christian leaders years before they repent of mistreating God’s leaders … in this case, seven years … but at least they finally did it.

One line stood out for me: “You have lived with the pain of that for many years.”

Truer words have never been spoken.  There are tens of thousands of innocent pastors who are no longer in ministry because of the way they were forced out of their churches … their reputations in tatters … their hearts permanently broken.

But to have those who harmed you contact you and say, “We were wrong … please forgive us” is the very best remedy for restoration.

Because the leaders who push out an innocent pastor rarely repent of their actions, we must commend these men for their humility and courage.

May they serve as examples to thousands.

Finally, conflict can surface and destroy a church at any time.

Last January, 14,000 people were attending Sunday morning worship services at Mars Hill’s main campus.

Ten months later, the church is laying off staff and selling buildings.

Some of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Pastor Driscoll, who unwisely spent more than $200,000 of church funds to promote a book he wrote.

But sometimes, it’s hard to figure out how these things can happen.

Five years ago this Saturday, I sat in two church meetings and listened to church attendees that I loved charge me publicly with things I never did or said.  My daughter sat next to me the whole time … for 3 1/2 hours.

The charges originated with people who didn’t attend the meetings, and were passed on as gospel truth, even though the charges constituted hearsay.

When the second meeting ended, a veteran pastor … now a top church consultant … walked to the front of the worship center, picked up a microphone, and told the congregation, “You have just destroyed your church.”

I remain dumbfounded as to how quickly the conflict spread throughout the church.  I honestly didn’t sense that anything was wrong until the day the conflict surfaced.

The church of Jesus Christ has specialists who can help a church in conflict: consultants … mediators … interventionists … and peacemakers.

But Jesus’ people are doing a terrible job of preventing major conflict from occurring altogether.

I recently took training from one of the top church conflict interventionists in the United States.  He is in great demand.

I asked him, “Who is trying to prevent these conflicts from happening in the first place?”

He mentioned an organization devoted to preventing conflict that had started two years before … so that’s one.

But we need hundreds more.

If major conflict can occur at a church like Mars Hill … a church that God has richly blessed for years … then it can happen in your church as well.  So remember:

Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are underdoing the same kind of sufferings.  1 Peter 5:8-9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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