Have you ever seen the British TV show Whitechapel?
The show is about detectives in London’s East End who deal with gruesome murders committed by copycat killers who emulate famous criminals. The first series deals with attempts by the detectives to detect and arrest a murderer who has been replicating the crimes of the infamous Jack the Ripper.
To find the murderer, the show’s three stars must examine crime scenes, check forensic evidence, interview those who knew the victims … and attempt to write a profile of the actual killer.
If they can create such a profile, they hope to stop more murders in the future.
Unfortunately, most churches have another kind of murderer in their midst … a clergy killer.
I first heard the phrase “clergy killer” 16 years ago when I attended a seminar for pastors and their wives. On that occasion, I was given an article by G. Lloyd Rediger about this issue.
That same year, Rediger published his pioneer work Clergy Killers.
While I will use Rediger’s phrase in this article, the rest of the work is mine.
Over the course of 36 years in church ministry (4 churches as a staff member, 4 as a pastor), I have been able to identify at least 15 CKs in the 8 churches I served in.
*3 churches had 3+ CKs, while 3 others had none.
*Most CKs were men – by a 2-1 ratio.
*3 married couples in separate churches worked in concert to force out their pastor.
*3 were board members at the time they surfaced as a CK, while one was an office manager.
*2 of the 15 died of heart attacks at inopportune times.
Clergy killers are not simply chronic complainers … or those who disagree with leadership decisions … or those who get mad and leave a church.
No, clergy killers are self-appointed individuals who are on a mission to get rid of their pastor … and they will use any means at their disposal to accomplish their goal.
What is the profile of a clergy killer? Here is a composite from my experience:
First, a clergy killer is someone who strongly disagrees with the direction the pastor is taking the church.
These are complaints I’ve heard over the years (some were directed at the pastors I worked for, some at me):
“The music on Sunday mornings is awful.”
“The church doesn’t do enough with the denomination.”
“The pastor doesn’t work hard enough.”
“The church is mismanaging its money.”
“The pastor is lazy because he doesn’t teach enough during the week.”
“The pastor is too focused on the needs of the unchurched and not the congregation.”
“This church is not run enough like a business.”
After each complaint, add the phrase, “And it’s all the pastor’s fault … so he needs to go.”
A person doesn’t qualify as a CK because they mentally toy with these thoughts, or because they share them privately with their spouse or a friend.
No, a person becomes a CK because they boldly – even brazenly – begin to share their complaints with their network at church … almost indiscriminately.
And the upshot is that since the pastor is going in the wrong direction, he must be removed.
Second, a clergy killer is someone who collects the complaints of others.
The CK knows that his or her complaints aren’t enough to eliminate the minister. They’re just opinions … and not impeachable evidence.
So the CK begins to contact churchgoers they suspect have their own complaints against the pastor … often after worship on Sundays.
The CK shares their complaints in hopes that (a) their compatriots will agree with them, and (b) share some of their own issues.
This gathering of grievances is wrong.
In fact, I’ll even go further: it’s sinful.
And if it continues, it’s downright satanic.
When I collect complaints from others, I encourage them to share their offenses with me. In the process:
*I haven’t made any attempt at sharing my own feelings with the pastor so he can explain his position or make things right between us.
*I don’t encourage others who are upset with the pastor to speak with him directly … but with me instead.
*I’m using their complaints to build a case against the pastor in direction violation of Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21.
*I’m not interested in a fair process or in reconciliation … I’m interested in becoming judge, jury, and executioner for my network.
One pastor calls this pooling of offenses “the bait of Satan.”
Here’s the interesting thing: the pastor often finds out who is doing the complaining as well as the nature of at least some of the complaints anyway.
Years ago, when a CK went after me, he began making calls to people who had left the church, suggesting that they left because of me.
One woman vehemently denied that I was the reason she left … and proceeded to tell me what was going on … which was exactly the right thing to do. Her call provided evidence that a CK was at work in our midst and allowed church leaders to construct a strategy to force him out instead.
Just remember: if the CK had one clear-cut spiritual/moral felony to report about the pastor … like denying the deity of Christ … or an illicit sexual relationship … or stealing money from the offering plate … that might be sufficient to push out the pastor.
But because the CK can’t produce evidence of such felonies, the CK tries to pile up a host of lesser offenses instead … hoping the sheer volume of complaints will be enough to compel the pastor to leave.
And that is not the work of God.
Third, a clergy killer is someone who seeks additional power in the church.
The CK feels that he or she is superior to the pastor … smarter than the pastor … and more connected with the congregation.
Because the CK has an inflated view of their greatness, they believe that they know what’s best for the church … and that the pastor does not.
As I think about those who were CKs in previous ministries, they fall into two categories: those who had a church position and wanted greater authority, and those who did not have a church position but felt they deserved one.
The majority of CKs I have known fall into the latter category.
Some of them had once been on the church board but had not been asked to serve again, which made them resentful over time … especially when they noticed who did get onto the board.
Some of them taught a class or held a leadership role, but felt they deserved more authority because they alone knew what was best for the church.
The truth is that most CKs feel powerless in life.
Maybe they no longer wield the power they once did at work … or the government is after them … or they’re not getting along with their spouse … and they sense they can regain a measure of control if they seize power at church.
Some CKs were even called to the ministry earlier in life … and rejected that call … but still wish to be the Protestant Pope of their congregation.
If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering, “Jim, does this stuff really happen in churches or are you exaggerating to make a point?”
No, it really happens. In fact, 25% of all pastors have been forced out of church ministry by CKs at least once.
Know anybody who fits this profile so far? (I hope not.)
I’ll finish up next time.