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Slander in the Church

Many years ago, I was preparing a sermon and decided to use a story I had read to illustrate a point.

There was just one problem: the book that told the story was buried in a box inside my garage.  Should I fish out the box and find the book?

I decided to tell the story from memory … and did just that the following Sunday.

Several days later, the pastor who wrote the book that was buried in my garage sent me an email.  He gently chided me for getting the story partly wrong.

Evidently he had been searching for his name online, found the manuscript of my message which was posted every week on the church’s website, read what I wrote, and decided to correct me directly.

I apologized to him for not getting the story completely accurate and learned a valuable lesson: when you refer to people by name – especially Christian leaders – you better tell the truth.

Since God “does not lie” (Titus 1:2), Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6), and Jesus told the Father “your word is truth” (John 17:17), we can conclude that truth is extremely important to the Holy Trinity … and must characterize the lives of Jesus’ followers as well.

But during times of stress in churches, truth often becomes a major casualty … and even Christian leaders have been known to lie at times.

Let me share two fictional scenarios to illustrate my thesis:

The first scenario involves Pastor Bob who is struggling to manage the behavior of his youth pastor, Larry.

Larry has started avoiding worship services, causing most young people to follow his example and not attend, either.

In addition, Larry has been skipping staff meetings, which are mandatory.

And the pastor has received reports that Larry swears on youth outings … bashes Pastor Bob verbally whenever he can … and doesn’t agree with Pastor Bob’s vision.

Pastor Bob finally confronts Larry, who promises to change but quickly reverts to his old ways.

Pastor Bob doesn’t want to fire Larry because he is adored by both the parents and the youth … but Bob also knows that Larry deserves it.

So Bob goes to the church board … describes the situation … gains board approval … calls Larry into a meeting with the board chairman present … and fires Larry on the spot.

However, Bob is petrified by the potential fallout.  He’s worked hard to build the congregation and is concerned that if he tells the truth about Larry’s departure, people will blame Bob and leave the church in protest.

So Bob persuades the board to give a generous severance package to Larry as long as he keeps his mouth shut … the old “cash for silence” routine.

The following Sunday, Bob tells the congregation that Larry “is no longer our youth pastor” … but Bob avoids saying why.

However, six perceptive individuals corner Bob after the service and say, “Bob, tell us the truth … why is Larry no longer here?”

Knowing that Larry has been paid to stay quiet, Bob replies, “Well, Larry wasn’t really happy here, and some parents were upset with his performance, so Larry and I mutually agreed that he would leave.  That’s really the size of it.”

Those six individuals will now get on the phone … start sending emails … and repeat Pastor Bob’s untruths all over the church.

Some of those lies will make their way back to Larry … who will become livid that Pastor Bob didn’t tell the truth that Larry was unilaterally fired.

But Larry has been squashed like a bug and has no forum to rebut Pastor Bob’s inaccuracies.

The second scenario involves Pastor Bob and the church board two years later.

Two members of the eight-person board – Marshall and Stu – have become upset with Pastor Bob.  His crime?

He refused to marry each of their daughters because they weren’t marrying Christians.

Feeding off each other, and with their wives and daughters threatening not to attend church anymore, Marshall and Stu decide together that Pastor Bob has to go.  But they know that the other board members don’t care about their issue.

So they spend several lunch hours trying to create charges against Pastor Bob that will sound plausible and stick.

After several weeks of comparing notes, they decide on the following charges:

*Pastor Bob is not the right man to reach a changing community.

*Pastor Bob has been in the church too long and is past the point of effectiveness.

*Pastor Bob can’t manage his family well because his youngest son was suspended for skipping school.

And just in case those allegations don’t work, they add one more they can pull out of their back pocket without needing corroboration:

*Pastor Bob has been mismanaging church funds.

Over the next few months, Marshall lobbies three board members to see things his way.  Stu does the same with the other three members.

Eventually, two board members agree with Marshall, and one agrees with Stu, so the board has five votes to terminate Pastor Bob … and in the end, they vote 6-2 to fire him.

The church board is gravely concerned about the fallout after they announce Bob’s departure, so they decide to fortify their charges against him, adding several more.

They then meet with Bob … ask him to sign a separation agreement in exchange for a six-month severance package … but won’t answer one question that Bob asks:

“Why specifically am I being dismissed?”

Marshall mutters something about “it’s time for a change” and Bob walks into the night … stunned and abruptly unemployed.

After the board makes their announcement to the church, the spin begins: Bob could no longer manage his family … he mismanaged church funds … some people suspected him of having an affair … the staff no longer respected him … and on and on.

In fact, sometimes the board members change their story depending upon who they’re talking with at the time.

But the truth was that all of their “charges” were really pretexts because Marshall and Stu were angry that Pastor Bob hadn’t married their daughters.

Marshall and Stu knew the truth, but they didn’t dare tell the other board members or Pastor Bob.  That wouldn’t have sounded “Christian.”

Wounded and depressed, Pastor Bob withdrew from public life until two months before his separation agreement was set to expire.

He started applying for open pastoral positions inside his denomination, but four months and thirty-two applications later, he had not received one positive response from any church.

Then one day, out of the blue, a friend from his former church called Bob.  He told Bob that his reputation inside the church was in tatters … that it was going around that Bob’s son was on drugs, that Bob had stolen church funds, and that Bob had had an affair … none of it true.

No wonder Bob couldn’t generate any interest within his denomination!

The lies had done their work.

Believe me, what I have just written happens far more than it should inside of God-loving, Bible-believing Christian churches.

It evens happens in theological seminaries.

In the late Frank Pastore’s book Shattered, the former major league baseball pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds relates a story that still bothers me.

Frank (I spent an evening with him once) taught at my college and seminary.  A group of leaders wanted to “overthrow” the school’s president.

Frank was invited to participate, but he refused, making him a “loose end” that knew too much.  The result?

Frank writes, “So they put a kinder, gentler hit on me – character assassination by slander and gossip.  To my face they acted as though nothing had changed.  But all the while, they were destroying my reputation.”

Frank’s ministries suddenly evaporated.  And then he was dismissed from the school in the middle of a semester … and his son’s scholarship was pulled.

Understandably, Frank didn’t want anything more to do with ministry or the church again for a while … although he eventually became the host of a Christian radio program that perfectly suited his talents.

But here’s what I want to know:

Why do Christian leaders who claim to know and believe the truth sometimes resort to lying?

Why do some Christians tolerate the lies without calling out the leaders?

I’ll write more about slander in the church … including ways to stop it cold … next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While going through some old church files recently, I stumbled upon a folder I forgot I had.

The folder contained documentation related to a couple who had once left a church I pastored.  I’ll call them Harry and Mary.

Harry came to Christ under my ministry.  A while later, I married him to Mary, a long-time Christian.  They attended several small groups that I led.

I even invited Harry over to watch the Super Bowl with me one year.

During premarital counseling, I discovered that Mary struggled with a particular issue.  While I made suggestions on how to manage things, there didn’t appear to be a long-term solution at hand.

Then one Sunday morning, I made a strong statement from the pulpit that reflected a value I held dear.  I could have said it better, but I explained it and moved on.

But I had hit a nerve with Harry and Mary.  They were incensed at what I had said.

Harry and Mary were part of a group that met after the first service.  When they entered the room, they immediately began criticizing me to a new couple.

That new couple never returned.

I don’t remember receiving flak from anyone else after making my statement, but Harry would not let me forget it.

He made an appointment with me in my office and wanted me to apologize for the statement that I made while preaching.

If he had said, “Jim, I appreciate your ministry.  I enjoy your preaching and have learned a lot about the Bible from you.  But that statement you made really stung, and here’s why,” I probably would have said, “Harry, I still believe in what I said, but I admit to you I could have said it better.”

But that’s not what Harry did.  He demanded an immediate apology.

Some pastors would have apologized on the spot.  Others would have stood their ground.

I tend to come from the “stand your ground” group.

And all I could think of was, “If I apologize this time for something I said while preaching, is he going to demand more apologies in the future?”

If I apologized, I was extremely concerned about the precedent I would be sending.

So I tried to explain rather than apologize … but that wasn’t enough for Harry.

He and his wife wrote a letter to the church board.  The chairman listened to the recording of my message.

The board’s conclusion: I hadn’t said anything wrong.

The board unanimously stood behind me, and Harry and Mary fired off another letter to the board, letting them know in detail why they were leaving the church.

Pastors would rather gather sheep than drive sheep away, but when sheep begin to threaten the shepherd, the shepherd must enforce boundaries.

Let me make four statements about people who threaten to leave a church:

First, making threats is a power move, not a love move.

Several years ago, I traced the English words “threat,” “threats,” and “threatening” throughout both Testaments and could not find a single instance in which those terms were used in a positive manner in Scripture.

When someone threatens us, they promise, “If you do A, I will do B” or “If you don’t do A, I will do B.”

Using a threat implies that the person making it (a) is superior to the person being threatened, and (b) views himself or herself as being indispensable.

While our world often operates by threats, that’s not the picture we receive in Scripture of how relationships operate in the body of Christ.

If I could do it all over again, I would have told Harry, “When you threaten me, I feel defensive and resistant.  If you’ll calm down and rephrase how you feel, I can hear you better.”

Second, making threats damages innocent people.

I once served on a church staff and was approached by someone who told me, “If the pastor doesn’t start doing Such-and-Such, ten percent of the people in this church are going to leave.”

That wasn’t a warning … that was a threat.

Based upon our attendance at the time, ten percent equaled 25 or 30 people.

That’s a lot of attendees … a lot of volunteers … and a lot of givers.  If they all left, it might take several years to replace them, and that can cause a pastor … or staffer … to panic.

My experience tells me that only a handful of those 25-30 people really felt strongly about the issue.  In fact, the likelihood is that most people agreed to join the cause simply to support their friends.

Knowing what I know now, I would have told the person making the threat, “This isn’t the best way to handle this situation.  Can you identify for me the two or three people who are most upset by this issue?”

If given their names, I would have said, “Chances are this is just their concern.  If this is a personal matter, I encourage someone to go and speak with the pastor directly.  If this is a policy matter, I encourage someone to go and speak with a board member directly.  But I encourage you to stop speaking for anyone who is unwilling to go directly to the pastor or the board.”

Suggesting a wiser course of action may not always work, but it’s worth a try.

Third, making threats works all too often.

This is why people do it … at least, at church.

People would never make similar threats at work, or at a government office, but they’ll do it with God’s people.  Why?

Peter Steinke writes in his book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times that when some people use aggression and anger at church:

“Peace mongering is common.  With tranquility and stability reigning as premium values, congregational leaders adapt to their most recalcitrant and immature people, allowing them to use threats and tantrums as levers of influence.  Malcontents’ complaints never seem to cease.  Unwilling to confront the constant critic, leaders set the table for the unhappy souls to have a movable feast of anxiety.  By appeasing rather than opposing, leaders give control to reactive forces.  Feed them once and leaders can be sure they will be back for more.”

Of course, that’s the problem when threats work: it’s guaranteed those same threats will be used again.

Finally, making threats should never be rewarded.

Once Harry went to power … and refused to shift into love mode … I knew what the outcome was going to be: he and his wife were going to end up leaving the church.

For a few weeks, they sapped the energy out of the congregation, the church board, and their pastor.

More than 95 percent of our congregation liked the church the way it was.  People were growing spiritually and excited about our future.

But the more the board and I engaged with Harry and Mary behind closed doors, the less effective we were in ministering to the rest of the church.

Because of the energy sap, and because most people who make threats are never satisfied, I believe that most pastors and boards should handle similar situations swiftly but firmly by saying:

“We have listened to your complaints.  We have made a decision, and we cannot support the way you have handled things.  You have a choice: either stay at the church and support the ministry, or feel free to leave.  The choice is up to you.”

Pastors should never make threats, either, and those that do should be given the opportunity to rephrase their threat.  But if a pastor consistently says, “If you don’t do this my way, I will resign,” then a church board may reluctantly have to say, “Pastor, we don’t reward threats, so if that’s your final decision, we’ll accept your resignation.”

As a pastor, I hated it when people left the church, and tended to take it personally.

But sometimes, the best possible outcome is for unhappy people to walk out the door and never return … especially if they unwisely use threats.

And when people who use such tactics leave, throw a party!

I always did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vexed in Spirit

While working in my garage a few days ago, I couldn’t help but hear the music coming from one of the houses across the street.

The music was loud … pounding … and vulgar.

Very, very vulgar.

The man who lives in that house is the father of many children.  His kids were outside playing … hearing those horrible lyrics … and it bothered me … a lot.

One might even say that those lyrics vexed me.

I felt the same way yesterday while walking down the main street in our neighborhood.  A man was sitting in his vehicle … a rap song cranked up to harmful levels … the song filled with references to four-letter words and the repetition of the term “chainsaws.”

He was parked on the street … waiting for his child to get out of school … right next to a sidewalk where children walk home.

I’ve been noticing recently that I’m becoming increasingly vexed by things that I’m seeing and hearing in our culture … and at times, I don’t know what to do about it.

Sometimes I’m vexed by things that probably don’t bother other people.

For example, when I grew up, and a basketball player hit a long jump shot, he might slap hands with a teammate, or point at him, but that would be it.

Nowadays, when some guys hit layups, they scream at the top of their lungs and pound their chest.

That vexes me … but it’s more a matter of personal style.

However, I suppose that I’m primarily disturbed by various forms of immorality that almost everyone once considered to be wrong … but now are celebrated.

Take the Grammy Awards, for example.

I am passionate about music.  And for several decades, I looked forward to watching the Grammys every February.

But several years ago, after watching another onstage display of outright paganism … along with a visible mockery of the Christian faith … I stopped watching the Grammys.

They’re just too vexing to my spirit.

The same goes for the upcoming Academy Awards.  I used to enjoy watching them.  Now I can’t.

Just too vexing.

All the hoopla about the Fifty Shades of Grey movie vexes me, too.

No, I didn’t read the book.  (In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until a couple of weeks ago.)  And I could never see a film like that.

But a prominent Christian … a famous NFL quarterback … tweeted several days ago that he saw the film and thought it was great.

Influential Christians recommending evil … that vexes me, too … as does lying.

I took my car in for an oil change several months ago to a repair shop that I’ve frequented.  The technician told me that I needed a new tire … and I was positive that I had just purchased that same tire several months before.

So I took my car to another place that specializes in tires, and the technician told me that my tire was just fine.

I was vexed.

When someone lies to me, I become extremely vexed, which is why I can’t even watch certain politicians on television.

Those who have openly, blatantly, and arrogantly lied to the American people – regardless of their party affiliation – vex me no end.  (Wasn’t it the Who who sang, “We won’t get fooled again?”)  What guarantees do we have that their next utterances won’t be full of lies, too?

Whenever these politicians come onto my television screen, I can’t remain calm, so I either mute the sound or flip to another channel … only returning when they’ve disappeared.  (Am I the only person who does this?)

And then … there’s Bruce Jenner.

Several years ago, a friend gave me a framed cover of Sports Illustrated featuring Jenner from the summer of 1976.  A signature of Jenner appeared just below the cover.

I watched Jenner win a Gold Medal in the Decathlon during the 1976 Olympic Games.  One would have thought that he was a “man’s man.”

But now, he wants to become a woman … and the headlines in a national magazine state that he’s finally happy.

Doesn’t that vex you?

And what in the world should I do with the Jenner cover and signature?  (It’s been in storage, not on my wall.)

Some of you might be thinking, “Jim, you really have some issues.”  But I claim biblical support for some of my feelings.

Dr. Luke tells us that when Paul first visited Athens … he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16).

Just this morning, while looking for a new place to take my car for an oil change, I walked into a shop office I saw advertised online.

The heavy smell of smoke repulsed me … but the large statue of Buddha vexed me.  And I can’t do business where I’m vexed.

In fact, whenever I’m vexed in spirit, I think of 2 Peter 2:7-9.  Peter writes about Abraham’s nephew Lot and highlights him as an example of a righteous man vexed by an ungodly culture:

… and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment …

While living in Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot was “distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men.”

I can relate.

There are many things I love in this world.  But more and more, I’m finding myself longing for another home … a place of purity and grace … where my spirit can enjoy rest, not torture.

As a kid, one of my favorite gospel choruses was called This World is Not My Home.

One of the lines in that song stated, “And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

Am I feeling the way I do because of my age … my experiences … my theology … or because of the Holy Spirit?

I’m not sure … but I do know that feeling vexed isn’t unusual for a Christian.

In fact, let me ask:

What vexes you these days?

 

 

 

My pastor was under attack.

He couldn’t sleep.  He couldn’t study.  His personality turned inward.

He was a wreck.

Why?

Years ago, in my third church staff position, a small group of vocal members began to criticize the church’s pastor … who was also my supervisor.

Their main claim?  That he didn’t preach often enough, an indication that he was lazy.

35 years ago, many Protestant churches had:

*Sunday School

*Sunday morning worship

*Sunday evening service (with youth group meetings before or after)

*Wednesday night prayer meeting

That’s a lot of teaching time to fill!

My pastor’s main gift was shepherding – not teaching – so he utilized a team of teachers on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.  I was happy with the arrangement because I enjoyed hearing others speak … and because I got to speak once a month as well.

I can’t recall what set off the grumbling, but many of us started feeling heightened anxiety around the church campus.  One night, someone caught me in the parking lot and told me that 10% of the church was going to leave if the pastor didn’t start preaching on Sunday nights.

Now what would you do with that information?

Some Christians would keep it to themselves.

Some would tell family and friends from the church.

Some would throw in their lot with the 10%.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I had a friend in the church – a man who went on to become an evangelist – and he and I discussed the situation.  We decided to visit the most influential man in the church … a layman known for his teaching, integrity, and straight talk.

My friend and I sat in his living room and said something like this, “There are people in this church who are attacking the pastor.  They are threatening to leave if he doesn’t start preaching on Sunday nights.  The pastor is devastated by this news and seems paralyzed to do anything about the situation.  What can we do to help him?”

Looking back, I don’t know whether or not this man was supportive of the pastor, but we had to take the risk.

He told us, “Gentlemen, when Paul talked about troublemakers in the church, he named names.  Who are these people?”

Wait a minute.  If we mention the names, isn’t that gossip?  Aren’t we tattling?  Couldn’t we get in trouble if we said too much about what was happening?

And some of those people were our friends.  How could we single out friends like that?

But this man was right.  Paul did name names – along with John, the apostle of love:

Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.  1 Timothy 1:19-20

Their teaching will spread like gangrene.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth.  They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.  2 Timothy 2:17-18

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm.  The Lord will repay him for what he has done.  You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.  2 Timothy 4:14-15

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.  3 John 9-10

With biblical precedent upholding us, my friend and I divulged the names of the troublemakers we knew about – especially the ringleaders.

I learned an important lesson that day.  Sometimes church powerbrokers are successful in making threats and demands because nobody has the courage to identify them by name.

Think about this:

Last night, my wife and I watched a recently-produced film on Solomon’s life.  The film opens with King David near death – but he hadn’t yet chosen his successor.

So one of David’s sons engaged in a pre-emptive attempt to be anointed as king –  in league with David’s top general.

Their names?  Adonijah and Joab.

Not “one of David’s sons” – but Adonijah.

Not “a high-ranking military officer” – but Joab.

They were both executed for committing treason against David’s choice for king … Solomon.

One of Jesus’ 12 disciples betrayed him.

His name?  Judas from Kerioth.

Not just “one of the Twelve” – but Judas.

Before anyone could finger him, Judas took his own life.

Paul wrote in Romans 16:17:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.

If you’re in a church, and you hear that someone is plotting against your pastor … do something about it.

Warn the pastor.  If you sense the board is supportive, talk to the board member you know and trust best.

Believe me, the pastor and/or board may have no idea of any division inside the ranks.  Your information may give them time to head off an attack before it ever takes place … or give them a key piece of information they lacked.

If you know that an individual or a group is planning on “going after” your pastor, speak to someone in authority – even if the plotters are your friends.

Because if you don’t, your church will eventually experience months of tension, division, and ugliness.  Friends will separate, donations will plunge, and people will leave.

If you know something, tell somebody!

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sinsJames 4:17

Imagine that you’re a governing board member of a medium-sized congregation.

One of your fellow board members comes to you and says, “There is a movement inside our church to get rid of our pastor.  I’m on board … and I’d like you to join, too.”

This isn’t a rare occurrence inside churches.  This scenario happens all the time!

The material below is applicable whenever someone in your church … a faction, a staff member, a board member, or an alliance of critics … wants to force out your pastor.

Let me suggest seven principles that every board member needs to know when some churchgoers want their pastor to leave:

Principle 1: Expect that your pastor will be attacked.

Jesus was attacked by the religious leaders of His day.  Paul was attacked by heretics and church leaders alike.

So don’t be surprised when professing believers raise a clamor against your pastor.  Expect it!

Pastors are often attacked when:

*They institute major change.

*They ask people to increase their giving.

*They take a stand on a controversial cultural issue.

*They try to discipline a staff member.

*They make attempts to reach the surrounding community.

*They initiate a building program.

*They preside over declining attendance.

If your pastor wasn’t attacked last year, he might be attacked this year.  If he was attacked this year, he might still be attacked next year.

When your pastor is attacked, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s done something wrong.  It might well be an indication that he’s doing things exactly right!

Principle 2: Devise a biblical and just process for handling complaints against your pastor.

That process starts by reading, studying, and implementing Paul’s instructions to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:19-21:

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder [includes “those whose work is preaching and teaching” in verse 17] unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.  Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.  I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

Before you say, “I am for or against the pastor,” it’s crucial that you take a step back and ask the other board members, “Which process will we use to evaluate these charges?”

The process must come before the product.

Paul felt so strongly about using a fair process whenever a Christian leader was attacked that he told Timothy “to keep these instructions without partiality” and “to do nothing out of favoritism.”  In fact, he strengthened his caution by stating that three witnesses would be watching how the pastor would be treated: the Father, the Son, and angelic beings.

Besides studying 1 Timothy 5:19-21 and other relevant New Testament passages, I encourage you to:

*Examine your church’s constitution and bylaws and see if there’s already a process in place for removing a pastor in those documents.

*Locate and consult with a labor attorney about the right and wrong ways to dismiss an employee in your state.

*Speak to a church consultant, a Christian conflict manager, or a Christian mediator about the issue.

If you’d like some specific guidelines for handling these situations, you might check out my book Church Coup on Amazon which can be downloaded as an e-book:

Principle 3: Discover who is unhappy with the pastor and the nature of their charges.

You want to know (a) all the names of those who are upset with the pastor, and (b) exactly why they’re upset.

This is thoroughly biblical.

In Deuteronomy 19:15-21, Moses states that for someone to be convicted of a crime in ancient Israel:

*The accusers need to go on record: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed.  A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  This idea of multiple witnesses is repeated in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21.

What usually happens is that the pastor’s accusers don’t want to go on the record.  They prefer to hide in the dark and support one of the pastor’s more vocal critics.

But you can’t let this happen.  You want the names of all the pastor’s critics.  Romans 16:17 says to “watch out for those who cause divisions.”  How can you watch out for them if you don’t know who they are?

Once you ask for the names, watch some people head for the hills.  But that’s good: you’ll have fewer people to deal with.

Once you have their names, you want to know precisely why they’re at odds with your pastor.

If it’s a matter of church policy, the pastor’s critics should be able to speak openly with any board member since the board usually makes policy.

If it’s a matter of the pastor’s personal behavior, encourage the critic to speak with the pastor directly … and leave the board out of it, at least initially.  Many of these situations involve petty complaints that nobody needs to hear about except the pastor’s accuser and the pastor.

However, if someone believes that the pastor is guilty of a major sin … like heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior … then the board will need to do an investigation.

In Deuteronomy 19:18, Moses says that when a man is accused of a crime, “The judges must make a thorough investigation …”

Principle 4: Tell the pastor who is upset with him and why.

After your investigation is complete, the pastor needs to know the names of his accusers, and what their specific charges are.

It is unfair to say to the pastor, “Some people are upset with you.”  His first question will be, “Who is upset with me?”

It is unfair to say to the pastor, “Joe is upset with you” or “Mary is so hurt that she’s stopped coming to church” unless you also tell the pastor why they’re upset.

This is where church boards often blow it.

Too often, they don’t want the pastor to know who is upset with him because (a) the pastor’s accusers are their friends, (b) his accusers are influential/wealthy, (c) his accusers have threatened to leave the church en masse unless the pastor is removed, or (d) some board members agree with the pastor’s accusers.

And, of course, all this is done in the name of confidentiality.

But I believe strongly that the pastor has the right to know the names of those who are upset with him.

In fact, let me take this further: he has the right to face those same accusers … even if they’re on the church staff or the governing board.

In Acts 25:16, Porcius Festus spoke with King Agrippa about Paul: “I told them [the Jewish leaders] that 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.”

But knowing the identity of your accusers and defending yourself against their charges is more than a Jewish practice (Deuteronomy 19:15-21) or a Roman practice.

According to 1 Timothy 5:19-21, it’s a Christian practice as well.

It’s easy at this point for a church board to say, “Well, Bill has threatened to leave the church if we don’t fire the pastor.  Bill has been here a long time … he has lots of family members in the church … he employs many people here … and if he leaves, there goes his money.  And if Bill goes, others will leave as well.”

But you can’t let a bully dictate how you’re going to treat your pastor.  Give in to Bill here, and he’ll run the church by default for years.

Instead, call a special board meeting … invite the pastor and Bill … let Bill make his charges … and let the pastor respond after each charge has been made.

If Bill has a real case, he’ll come to the meeting.  If he’s on a power trip, and knows his case is flimsy, he’ll leave the church in a huff.

Let him go.

Believe me, it’s easier to find another Bill than another pastor.  (And Bill can only return if he comes to a board meeting and repents for his foolish behavior.)

If Bill does come, let him make his charges.  If anyone else is willing to go on record, let them come as well.

When the charges have been made, and the pastor has had his say, then the board needs to go to the next step:

Principle 5: Deliberate together – prayerfully and carefully – about the pastor’s future in your church.

If it’s been demonstrated that the pastor has committed a major sin that disqualifies him from ministry, then the board needs to remove him from office … and as 1 Timothy 5:19-21 mentions, the board needs to tell the church something (after first consulting with an attorney).  The board should prepare a severance package and discuss the pastor’s exit from the church.

However, most of the time, the board will discover that the pastor’s critics strongly overreacted and turned a minor offense into a major sin.  If this is the case, then you need to exonerate your pastor as soon as possible … and if much of the church knows about your deliberations, you need to do this publicly.

If you believe the pastor needs to work on some issues to be more effective, then tell him specifically what your concerns are.  You don’t want to go through this experience very often!

If the pastor feels that the board has been unfair in the way the board handled matters, he may quietly begin to look around for a new ministry.

But if he believes the board has been fair and followed Scripture, he may become even more effective because he knows that if there’s another flare up, the board will use a biblical and deliberate process to address his critics.

I’ve told this story several times over the years, but I know a pastor who was severely criticized by four staff members.  They banded together, attacked him, and wanted him to leave.

The pastor was devastated.  The only way for him to survive the staff coup was to call a public meeting of the congregation, which he did.  When he did that, three of the staff members quit.

At the meeting, the pastor sat in a chair and fielded questions from the congregation for several hours.  His credibility intact, the pastor emerged from that meeting stronger than ever.

That pastor went on to become the leader of one of America’s largest churches which has impacted a major metropolitan city for Jesus Christ.  I know … I used to attend there.

So the whole idea that, “Well, since the pastor has been attacked, he’s damaged goods” is unbiblical thinking.  Jesus was attacked on many occasions, wasn’t He?  Did the attacks themselves discredit him?  If not, then why do attacks automatically mean that a pastor has to leave his church?

Principle 6: Aim for restoration, not for winning.

Too often, those who oppose the pastor want to win … and that means the pastor must lose.

Winning means that the pastor has to leave … and that me and my group now have more power than ever.

But when Christians seek to win at all costs, the chances are good that everybody will end up losing.

In my book Church Coup, I describe in detail a conflict that I experienced in my last church ministry.  Some people in the church were so determined to win that when the dust settled, the church lost its top ten leaders.

There was no attempt to restore anyone.  It was all about winning and losing.  That may be how the political and business worlds operate, but the church of Jesus Christ has a different set of values.

Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17 that when a brother sins … and your pastor is your brother … you should aim to win your brother over … not defeat him soundly … and this often takes time.

Paul makes the same case in Galatians 6:1 where he says that “you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”  Again, winning is not envisioned.

The more a board tries to win a conflict with their pastor, the more damage they will cause their church family … and the damage can last for years, if not decades.  The more a board tries to restore their pastor, the less damage they will cause their church family.

Principle 7: Tell the truth about your pastor … and insist that others do as well.

The news has been filled recently with the story of Brian Williams, NBC anchor for their nightly news broadcasts.

Mr. Williams has been caught exaggerating about events where he was present, and lying about events where he wasn’t present.

It’s hard to watch someone destroy their own credibility in public.

But if you want to destroy your own credibility as a church board … and that of your entire church as well … then simply lie about your pastor.

When some people want to get rid of their pastor, they lie about him.  They accuse him of unbiblical beliefs … question his financial ethics … run down his family life … and accuse him of doing things he never did.

And believe me, the lies hurt.

I know this all too well.  I can fill several pages with the lies that have been said about me over the years … but so can every pastor.

But if there’s one person in the world you want to speak accurately about, it’s a man or woman of God.

The ninth commandment warns us, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Jesus said that Satan “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  When Christians lie about a pastor, they are doing the devil’s work for him.

And the lying is almost always an attempt to destroy the reputation of a man of God.

I beg you: no matter how you feel about your pastor … even if he has caused you and your church some grief … speak about him with the utmost accuracy … and insist that others do as well.

If you permit others to destroy the pastor’s reputation, it’s the same as if you were doing it yourself.

I know all too many pastors who are no longer in Christian ministry because people lied about them.

But isn’t the church of Jesus Christ to be known for proclaiming the truth rather than falsehoods?

If you want God to bless your church, then follow these seven principles when people are complaining about your pastor.

If you want to destroy your church, then just let your emotions run haywire and make it up as you go along.

I’m praying that you’ll follow these principles!

_______________

Today marks a milestone for this blog.  This morning, I recorded view number 100,000.

This is a niche blog.  I don’t write about current political issues, or doctrinal questions, or sports teams … although I’ve touched on just about everything over the past four+ years.

No, I try and write about pastors and church conflict.  That’s my field of interest and expertise.  In fact, it’s just about all I care about these days.

Most of my best-read articles have to do with pastors and conflict.  I want to bring to light issues that are usually shrouded in darkness.

Blog titles and articles whiz through my brain every day.  Sometimes if I nail down a good title, an article writes itself.

Today’s article flowed from my brain through my arms and fingers so quickly that I couldn’t write fast enough.  Other days, it’s a bit more of a struggle.

But I want to thank every one of you who reads this blog, whether this is your first time or you’ve been here many times.

I want to thank my son Ryan for setting up the basic format when we started in December 2010.  It’s been my baby ever since.

If you have any suggestions to make the blog better … or you want to suggest a topic … just use the comments sections and I’ll respond as soon as I can.

Thank you, Father, for using this blog to make a difference in the lives of many pastors, church leaders, and churchgoers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you handle harsh criticism that is directed at you personally?

Most people don’t handle criticism very well.

Some people lash out at their critics.  Others engage in swift retribution.  Many turn to drink or drugs.  Some rush into counseling.

But when pastors are personally attacked, they tend to go into hibernation … especially if those attacks result in a forced exit.

By hibernation, I mean that the pastor holes up somewhere: in his house, a hotel, his car, or even at a friend’s house.

When a pastor hibernates, these phrases go running through his mind:

“I can’t believe what they are saying about me.”

By the time most Christians start attacking their pastor, they have been upset with him for some time.  They’ve probably shared their feelings with family members, good friends, or co-workers.

But the pastor remains unaware of those latent feelings until they surface … and when the pastor hears what is being said about him … or to him … he goes into a state of shock.

Many years ago, someone at my church accused me of a serious charge to my face.  I had received zero training on how to handle such an accusation.

I quickly brought over a staff member … called an attorney … then called the leader of the church board.  I repeated the charge to them and assured them of my innocence … and I was innocent.

My instincts led me to go home for the rest of the day.  I could not believe … and still cannot believe … that someone would make such a charge against me.

Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and in league with the devil, even though neither charge was true.  He often withdrew to desolate places to think and to pray … but I wonder if there were times when His spirit was so wounded by the charges some people were making against Him that He chose to hibernate.

“I can’t believe my friend has turned against me.”

It is difficult for most pastors to form close friendships inside their church family.

The larger a church grows, the more likely it is that the pastor spends most of his time with key members of the ministry staff or governing board.  So by default, most pastors select their friendships from the staff or the board.

After the pastor has carefully selected someone to be a friend, he still remains wary of them.  He wonders, “Can I trust them with information about my background?  About my home life?  About my feelings?  About my future plans?”

Some leaders fail the test right away, and while they remain a co-worker, the pastor doesn’t choose to pursue friendship with them.

But a few leaders seem to pass every test, and after a while, the pastor gradually learns to trust them with an increasing amount of personal information … and this process can take years.

So when one of the pastor’s few friends attacks him … or doesn’t support him when he’s under attack by someone else … the pastor is devastated … and all he wants to do is hide.

Judas’s betrayal wounded Jesus, but at least Jesus knew what Judas was going to do ahead of time.  Most pastors have no idea that a friend has become a traitor until it’s too late.

“I no longer know who to trust.”

I’ve been in hibernation mode before, and it’s downright scary.  You feel like the disciples right after Jesus was crucified … hiding out, afraid for your own life.

During my last church ministry, my wife and I were both attacked by people we thought were our friends.  During that time, I was advised to go into hibernation mode by someone who had been through what I was going through.

People from the church wrote me emails, wanting to know what was going on.

Some people called.  Some came to the door.  A few sent flowers.

But I couldn’t be transparent because when you’re in the middle of an attack, you have no idea who is for you or against you.

Put a little too much information into an email, and it could be circulated all over the church.

Reveal too much on the phone or at the door, and it will be repeated to others … often inaccurately.

I even went through my Facebook friends and “unfriended” anyone I suspected might be against me … or was good friends with those who were.

You choose to stay away from others … for a while … until it’s safe to go outside again.

So you hibernate.

“I have to stay safe until I can think straight.”

Imagine that you have a dream job.  You love the work and the people you work with.

Then one day, your boss calls you into her office, and without any warning, she fires you … ordering you to clear out your desk immediately.

How would you feel?

Confused … hurting … fearful … frightened.

You don’t know who to see … where to go … or what to do.

So you do the one thing guaranteed to keep you safe: hibernate.

That’s how pastors feel when they’re under attack.

In my case, I spent much of my time on the telephone speaking to people outside the church: Christian leaders, fellow pastors, ex-board members, close friends, and family members.

Just the interaction on the phone helped keep me sane.

I also spent time writing out what was happening to me and how I felt about it … which became the genesis of my book Church Coup.

I had many theories as to what was happening, and I was able to test those theories with people outside the church … who often gave me critical insights into what they thought was occurring.

When I was under attack, I discovered that the safety of hibernation helped me make better decisions … put things into perspective … and make wiser future decisions.

If you’re a pastor who is presently under attack, that instinct to hide out may very well be from God.

Let others investigate the charges against you and who is opposing you.  Learn all you can but stay out of sight.

And view that time of hibernation as a gift from a God who will eventually right all wrongs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastor Tim sighed.

He was not looking forward to his lunch meeting with Harold the next day.

Harold had been a member of the church board at Joy Fellowship for two years.  Although Tim liked Harold personally … and had approved his selection to the board … Tim wished someone else had come onto the board instead.

Tim had mistakenly assumed that Harold supported his ministry philosophy until after Harold’s first year on the board.  Then Harold starting sharing some bizarre ideas in meetings on how to move the church forward.

Now Harold had invited Tim to lunch … and Tim was uncertain of Harold’s agenda.

After exchanging pleasantries and talking about the Super Bowl, Harold produced a two-page list of “improvements” that he felt would make the church better.  Tim just listened as Harold excitedly discussed his suggestions.

Tim didn’t like any of Harold’s suggestions … and thought that several would drive people out of the church … so he just listened, thanked Harold for his ideas, and left the restaurant after an hour.

Over the next few months, Pastor Tim became immersed in hiring a new staff member, planning for a mission trip, and handling several unexpected deaths.  And in the process, he completely forgot about Harold’s ideas.

But Harold hadn’t forgotten about his suggestions.  He hadn’t forgotten that Pastor Tim wasn’t very enthusiastic about them, either.  And he hadn’t forgotten that Tim had never brought up any of his ideas in a board meeting.

Harold led a small men’s group that met on Saturday mornings.  The group decided to ask the entire church to support a missionary financially, so Harold went to the leader of the missions team and asked if they could make an announcement the following Sunday asking the congregation for monthly support.

The missions leader told Harold, “I’ll get back to you.”  Two days later, he called and said “No.”

Harold suspected that Pastor Tim was the one who vetoed the announcement … and Harold had guaranteed his cousin that the church would support him financially.

Harold was not a happy camper.

The pastor didn’t take his ideas seriously.  The pastor hadn’t implemented even a single one.  And now that Harold wanted to do something good … support a missionary … the pastor wouldn’t even support that.

Harold had had enough.

In his mind, there were only two options:

*Leave the church immediately.

*Get rid of Pastor Tim.

Harold and his family didn’t want to leave Joy Fellowship.  They had too many friends at the church to go somewhere else.

So Harold made a unilateral decision: Pastor Tim had to go.

_______________

Nearly a decade ago, I researched and wrote a doctoral project at Fuller Seminary on antagonism in churches … based on Scripture … and using family systems theory.

I studied five conflicts that had occurred at the church I pastored over the previous ten years.

In each case, a church leader assumed they had a special relationship with the pastor.

In each case, a dispute arose over a specific issue championed by the leader.

In each case, the pastor made a decision that went against the wishes of the leader.

In each case, the leader turned against the pastor and became an antagonist.

_______________

People become antagonistic toward pastors for a variety of reasons:

*They lack spiritual depth.

*They become emotionally reactive when they’re hurt.

*They believe the pastor has singled them out for embarrassment.

*They tend toward paranoia … thinking the pastor is out to get them … and decide to “get him” before he “gets me.”

*They aren’t comfortable with his preaching style … or content.

*They view the pastor as a father figure … or a brother figure … or a son figure … who has rejected them.

*They think the pastor is taking the church in the wrong direction.

But I believe that in many cases … and this is just a theory on my part … someone in a church … especially a leader … becomes antagonistic toward the pastor because:

*The pastor doesn’t seem to be listening to or championing any of their ideas.

*The pastor doesn’t seem to recognize that person as being “special.”

*The pastor hasn’t included this individual in his social circle.

*The pastor has resolved a dispute against the wishes of the other person.

And this is the killer:

*The pastor has limited this person’s access and influence in his ministry.

I was once the pastor of a church where a prominent leader angrily left the church.

A friend of his came to see me in my office.  The friend wanted the leader to come back to the church.

The leader said he would return if I granted him one request:

He wanted complete access to me as pastor.

I said, “No.”  The leader never returned.

What did the leader want?

He wanted to run the church through me.

He had some success doing that with the previous pastor.  It made him feel valuable and validated.

But what happened if I crossed him … or he didn’t like a decision I made … or a sermon I preached … or the schedule I kept?

I knew what would happen: he would come after me with full force … because that’s what he did to the pastors in his previous two churches.

_______________

For those of you who have been through pastoral termination … or know someone who has … see if you can answer the following question:

To what degree was the pastor’s exit determined by people who wanted complete access to him and total influence with him yet didn’t get it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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