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.
*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.