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When I was taking classes at Fuller Seminary for my doctoral degree, I went out early some mornings and ran around various parts of Pasadena.

One morning, I ran across the bridge over the Interstate 210 Freeway and jogged into the parking lot of one of Southern California’s most prestigious churches.

The door to the worship center was open, so I looked inside.  It was huge!

The senior pastor of that church had taught me when I attended Biola.  He later did a weekend retreat for my youth group.

But several years after I peeked inside that sanctuary, that pastor – an absolute master teacher – was forced out of his position after fourteen years of ministry.

The news made the local newspaper, which quoted an attorney from the congregation.  Although the attorney held no official office, he represented “old money” … and the old money people didn’t like the pastor making changes without their approval.

As I recall, more than 4,000 people attended that church, yet a relative handful of disgruntled individuals were able to push out their pastor.

I have seen statistics that indicate that regardless of church size, it only takes seven to ten people to force a pastor to resign.  Other studies say it takes a mere eight to twelve people.

How can such a small group of people determine a pastor’s future?

I don’t claim divine authority for what I’m about to write, but let me take a shot at answering this question:

First, that small group contains at least one determined bully.

In my second staff position, a mean-spirited man was the chairman of the church council … and his wife was the church secretary … so this man’s wife reported to him everything that was going on in the office.

She didn’t like what the pastor was doing … and her husband didn’t, either.

And since the pastor didn’t do what this couple wanted, they decided they wanted him to leave.

Before long, the chairman convinced the rest of the council that the pastor had to go … and the pastor was voted out of office by the congregation.

This man paid me … the only staff member besides his wife … scant attention.  But when he finally did speak with me … only via telephone … he came off as a dominating and demanding figure.

In fact, he was downright scary.

The others on the council were typical churchgoers: nice, kind, mild-mannered, well-intentioned … but their personalities were no match for the chairman.

If the bully hadn’t been the chairman, he would have hounded whoever else was chairman to do what he wanted … so it was easier just to let him run the council.

The pastor … who also had a strong personality … was the only person in the church to challenge the chairman.

But ultimately, the pastor was voted out of office.

My guess is that embedded within the typical group of seven to twelve individuals is at least one person whose personality is so intimidating that few if any Christians will challenge that person to his/her face.

And yes, the bully can be a woman.

But if a church has two or three leaders who are vocally supportive of the pastor’s ministry, such a bully probably won’t challenge them and may leave the church instead.

Second, the bully takes advantage of the natural niceness of Christians.

 

Let’s say you’ve been invited by a church leader named Hank to a restaurant after the Sunday service.

When you arrive at the restaurant, you’re surprised to see nine other individuals from the church there with Hank.

Hank begins by saying, “Many people are concerned about the changes our pastor is making at the church right now.  I’ve called this group together to see if we can stop the pastor from making these changes.”

If you don’t question or challenge Hank right then and there, you may never be able to do so.

Many years ago, I met with a group of pastors for lunch.  The talk turned to the leaders of our district.  The consensus among the pastors was that those leaders were making our district the laughingstock of the denomination.

One pastor said, “If you want to, I know how to get rid of the leaders.”

I instantly spoke up and said, “I don’t want anything to do with this.”

That ended the discussion.

And that’s exactly what someone … maybe you … need to say to Hank.

But if you and the others hesitate, Hank will lay out his case against the pastor, and the longer group members remain silent, the harder it will be to stop Hank.

And the more danger your pastor … and your church … will experience.

Years ago, Dr. Archibald Hart taught me that Christians need to learn to be assertive without being aggressive.

We need to learn to share how we really feel without getting angry.

But since many Christians equate being assertive with getting angry, we remain silent when we should speak up … and find ourselves subject to manipulation.

Before Hank’s group gains momentum, somebody needs to stop him.

Would you?

I once heard about a board that decided to take out their pastor.  There was only one problem: the pastor’s biggest supporter was also a board member.

So the board waited until that supporter was out of town and then they voted out the pastor.

I have a folder an inch thick about that situation.  It was nasty.

Third, group members feel they are carrying out a special assignment.

The bully makes people feel they’re important because only a few churchgoers have been invited to the meeting.

But what they don’t see is that the bully chose each person because he’s confident they’ll support and implement his/her agenda.

The bully wants to use the group as a base of operations.  He can’t take out the pastor by himself.  He needs others … even if they say or do very little.

My first few months in my last church ministry, I noticed that someone I’ll call Charlie taught a Sunday School class … and that it was constantly growing.

Charlie openly bragged about how large his class was getting … even to me.  I became concerned that Charlie was going to use his class as an operational base to increase his congregational power.

After doing some investigative work, I learned that was precisely Charlie’s modus operandi in two previous churches … before he openly challenged both pastors.

And I remain convinced that Charlie was going to challenge me because he felt he could control those fifty people.

Most church bullies make each person in their group feel valuable.  They will:

*listen to and agree with their complaints against the pastor.

*invite members’ spouses into the group (even if they aren’t believers).

*mix social events with their plotting.

*make group members feel, “Only we can save this church.”

*pay members more attention than the pastor does.

And most of the time, that’s really what’s happening.  While the pastor may have a congregation of hundreds or thousands, the bully has a congregation of ten or fifteen or perhaps twenty people … and by showering them with attention, he can persuade them to do what they wouldn’t normally do.

I survived an attempt to remove me as pastor thirty years ago.  The bully recruited people who weren’t prominent in the church.

After he pulled the group out of the church, two group members died … and their families asked me to conduct their memorial services.

I assumed that since they joined the bully’s group that they hated me, but they didn’t.  They joined the dissident group because they were made to feel special.

Fourth, the group has to secure at least two top leaders to be taken seriously.

If the bully is a board member or a staff member, then he just needs to secure one other board member or staffer to gain credibility.

People can easily write off one leader who goes on the attack.  It’s much harder to write off two or more leaders.

When two or more leaders begin to criticize the pastor openly, some churchgoers … especially those without much experience in congregations … may quickly choose to believe them because they assume they have inside knowledge others lack.

The bully usually looks for three kinds of allies among the leaders:

*The key player in bringing down the senior/lead pastor may be the associate pastor.

If the associate is not 100% loyal, then taking down the senior pastor may be the way for him to get more money … have more say … or become senior pastor himself.

From all the stories I’ve heard over the past eight years, I’d say the leader most likely to turn on the senior pastor is the associate.

I believe that if it can be proven that the associate was involved in trying to take out an innocent senior pastor, the associate should be banned from church ministry for many years.  Trying to remove your superior is a far worse offense than almost anything an innocent pastor has done.

*The bully sometimes tries to recruit former board members who still attend the church.

These board members may have their own ax to grind against the pastor.

The most frequent complaint they have is that they used to be board members, but after the pastor came … and they termed out … they were not asked to serve again.

In my last ministry, a man had once been chairman of the church board.  When I came to the church, he was no longer on the board … I don’t know why.

When I became senior pastor, I didn’t think this man should be a board member because he missed too many Sunday services.  How could he make informed decisions about the church’s future when he was rarely around?

Besides, his wife had a reputation as a first-class gossip.

But later, this man became a key player in forcing me to leave … and I wasn’t surprised.

If I could do it again, I’d make the same decision. Placing him on the board would have been a political decision, not a spiritual one.

*The bully primarily looks for allies on the church board.

I believe that when at least two board members conspire together to target a pastor for removal, they often get their way.

A church board needs to be 100% behind their pastor.  A board can survive one dissident, but usually not two.

Remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7?  He said:

“Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”

If the bully is on the church board, he doesn’t need to persuade the entire group to get rid of the pastor … he only needs to convince one or two others.

And if they add a staff member like the associate pastor, who will stop them?

If they sense other board members are with them, they may call a special board meeting, or go into executive session after a regular meeting … and make sure the pastor isn’t invited.

If they sense other board members aren’t with them, they will try to persuade them outside of official meetings.  And when they sense they have enough support, they’ll make their complaints in an official board meeting … and then:

Finally, the group operates in such an aggressive manner that they’re confident they won’t be challenged.

And this is really why such a group gains power out of all proportion to its size.

They use the following tactics:

First, they verbally attack the pastor personally.

The group criticizes his appearance … his car(s) … his house … his manner … his sermon illustrations … anything and everything is fair game.

Some people in a church might think these things, but proper decorum keeps them from saying them aloud.  But the small group out to get the pastor vocalizes their criticisms.

Complaining is contagious.  Hatred is contagious.

As people openly criticize their pastor, others feel emboldened and add their own grievances to the mix.

Most pastors won’t wilt with this tactic … but they will with this one:

Second, they verbally attack the pastor’s family.

They attack his wife: she works too much or not at all; she’s too prominent at church or too quiet; she’s nice to some women but not others … and on and on.

They attack the pastor’s children: they’re unruly; they’re arrogant; they’re not at church enough; they’re at church too much … and on and on.

The attacks don’t have to correspond to reality.  And there don’t have to be many attackers.

The pastor doesn’t count how many people are making the criticisms because he’s too busy ministering to his wounded wife and children.

When a group attacks the pastor’s family, he has one foot out the door.

Third, they consult the church’s governing documents on how to remove a pastor. 

If they think they have the required percentage to vote him out of office, they’ll try that.

But most of the time, they just bypass the stated process and try alternative tactics.

Fourth, they pass around a petition to address their grievances.

The petition might call for a meeting so the group can air their complaints.  Or the petition might call for the pastor’s removal by the board or in a public meeting.

But everyone who signs that petition will experience a change in status toward their pastor.

In my last church, my wife served for years with a woman she dearly loved.

As the attacks upon me escalated, someone put together a petition and circulated it.  The petition called for an investigation into matters concerning me.

It was a confusing time for many people.  The woman my wife loved signed the petition.  But when she did, her signature ended her relationship with my wife.

Neither my wife nor I ever saw the petition.  Our supporters undoubtedly did.  And over time, they would tell us, “Those who signed the petition are not your friends.”

When people signed the petition, they were switching allegiances from their pastor to the dissidents.

The group circulating the petition knew that.  Those who signed it did not … at least initially.

Finally, they boldly exaggerate charges against the pastor and try to turn others against him … and they usually succeed.

When the pastor’s family is attacked, he has one foot out the door.

But when his integrity is called into question publicly, he’ll start packing his bags.

The only way a pastor can stay under such circumstances is if key members of the staff and board stand up strongly for him and say publicly, “The charges you’re hearing are not true.  I know the pastor well and he is the man you think he is.”

But once the charges gain momentum, most churches lack any kind of process or forum for the pastor or his supporters to rebut the charges … and the pastor gets buried underneath an avalanche of lies and slander.

And then so many allegations float into the ether that they can’t be rebutted … and people who were once the pastor’s supporters call for his resignation.

And somewhere during the entire “get the pastor” process, the devil and his assistants enter the picture and not only try to destroy the pastor … but the church as well.

_______________

The small group that opposes the pastor keeps pushing … keeps trying to recruit individuals to join their cause … keeps spreading exaggerated charges … and keeps the pressure on to remove the pastor … because they have gone too far to stop.

And they have sold their souls in the process.

The only way to stop that small group is for strong Christians to say … loudly and publicly … “What you are doing is wrong.  We won’t stand for this.  You are not only hurting our pastor and his family … you are severely harming our church.  We have worked too hard for too long to let you do this.  Stop this at once!”

But the reason that small group of seven to twelve people often succeeds is that there aren’t enough strong Christians in our churches to stop them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

I have a pastor friend who reads this blog, and periodically, he tells me that most board members who participate in the termination of an innocent pastor do it out of ignorance rather than malice.

In other words, they think they know what they’re doing, but they really don’t.

He may be right.

Sadly, I have experienced personal hatred and wrath from some board members over my 36 years of church ministry, so I know firsthand that some pastor-board conflicts result from unbridled bitterness.

But certainly not all do … and much of the time, pastoral terminations are handled badly simply because members of the official board don’t know what they don’t know.

So let me share with you four things that most church boards don’t know when they’re thinking about terminating their lead shepherd:

First, they don’t know the biblical process for dealing with the pastor’s shortcomings.

Every believer … and every church leader … needs to study Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 in great depth.

Jesus tells His followers what to do if a spiritual brother (or sister) sins … especially if that sin is committed against someone personally.

Jesus says in verse 15:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

Jesus is speaking here about personal sin, not church policy.

And He doesn’t exclude pastors, board members, and church staffers from His directive.

I believe that if someone has a personal issue with the pastor, they need to speak with him directly, and if they have a policy issue with him, they should speak with anyone who makes the policy … which is usually made by members of the church board.

Let me apply verse 15 specifically to pastors:

“If your pastor sins against you … by telling an offensive joke, by failing to greet you one Sunday, by getting visibly angry while playing basketball … go to him personally and privately and share with him what you have seen or heard him do.  Do not involve others at this stage.  If your pastor agrees with your view and asks forgiveness, your relationship has been restored, and there is no need to involve anyone else.”

If someone thinks the pastor drives an expensive car … or that he shouldn’t mention his vacations from the pulpit … or that he should dress better when he preaches … then that person either needs to speak with the pastor personally … pray about the situation … or let it go.

But this isn’t how most Christians handle their feelings about their pastor’s humanity, is it?

No, they share their feelings with their family and friends … especially their church friends … and usually, the pastor’s alleged shortcomings are dissected while he himself knows nothing about these discussions.

And as people talk, they share their own personal criticisms or grievances against the pastor, and before you know it, the pastor seems like Satan incarnate.

This is probably the single greatest sin a congregation can commit against its pastor: to indict, judge, and sentence him for his mistakes without ever speaking with him personally.

In fact, I’d say that most of the time, the sin of not obeying Matthew 18:15 is a far greater violation than the petty offenses a pastor has supposedly committed.

The official board … and the top staff members … need to insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first whenever someone has a personal grievance against their shepherd.

The pastor needs to teach this verse to the key leaders in private and the congregation in public, but then those leaders need to enforce the practice of Matthew 18:15 on the entire church family … or the pastor’s ministry will be in constant jeopardy.

Please note: Matthew 18:16 (involving one or two others) only applies if the first encounter with the pastor doesn’t work out, and Matthew 18:17 (involving the entire congregation) only applies if the first two steps haven’t worked.

And yet, in many churches, Jesus’ first step in Matthew 18:15 is ignored, and the board permits individuals to jump right to telling others and telling the church.

I know pastors who resigned voluntarily because the church board didn’t protect them from complaints made by members of the congregation.

And all the board needed to do was insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first.

These verses are often mentioned in church constitutions/bylaws as a way of resolving church disputes.

If a board doesn’t obey these verses when they’re having problems with their pastor … or somehow find a way to skip around them … many people will suffer.

Second, they don’t know that the faster they proceed, the more mistakes they’ll make.

If a pastor is guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or a criminal offense – The Big Three – then yes, the church board needs to act with a degree of haste.

But most of the time, pastors aren’t guilty of The Big Three, so if the board and pastor are struggling in their relationship, the board can devise a reasonable long-term process that’s fair to both the pastor and the church.

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke believes that when church leaders are struggling with their pastor, they should give him twelve to fifteen months to make any necessary changes.  If the pastor hasn’t or won’t change, then he’s subject to being terminated after at least one year.

This allows the pastor to seek personal counseling … go for continuing education … find a coach or mentor … or put out his resume.

And many times, within that year, the pastor has time to make good decisions, and the issue has resolved itself.

But when just one or two board members become anxious … sometimes because their friends are threatening to leave the church “unless the pastor is dealt with” … their anxiety can spread to others, and within a brief period of time, the board has decided that the pastor has to go.

Rather than work a process and live with the anxiety, they overreact emotionally … claim that God is behind their feelings … and fire the pastor to relieve their anxiety.

When the pastor finds out that the board has abruptly decided to terminate him … especially if they haven’t given him any time to make changes … the board’s anxiety is passed on to the pastor, who may become panicked, depressed, and desperate … and justifiably so.

(Please remember that pastors aren’t angels, they’re human beings.)

In such cases, the breakdown in relationship doesn’t lie with the pastor, but with the board.

The older a person gets, the harder it is for them to change.  People do change as they age, and pastors can change, too … especially as they rely upon the power of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

But people usually need time to change.

In 1990, I reinvented my approach to ministry.

My basic personality remained, but I learned new approaches to leadership, worship, evangelism, growth, giving, administration … and many other pastoral tasks.

And when I changed, my ministry changed … for the better.

So I know it can be done … and in my case, nobody made me change.  The desire came from within.

I think church boards give up on pastors way too fast … and they often do so without ever having spoken with the pastor in a direct way about their concerns.

And that’s not the pastor’s fault.

Third, they don’t know how important a generous severance agreement is when they pressure the pastor to resign.

Let me say this loud and clear:

A pastor is not a standard employee.  A pastor is someone called by God.

It’s taking longer and longer to hire a pastor today.  From the time the search team in your church started looking for a new pastor, to the time they hired your current one, how long did things take?

One year?  Two years?  Longer?

Before a pastor is called to a church, he usually receives a formal letter of call.  And that letter usually says, “We believe that God has called you to our church at this particular time.”

Included with that letter of call is a document specifying the pastor’s salary, housing allowance, retirement funds, medical insurance, and ministry expenses, among other things.

And in a sense, the relationship of a pastor and a church is very much like a marriage.  The pastor leaves his old way of life and commits himself to that church 100% … and trusts them to take care of him and his family.

When I left Arizona in 1999 so I could assume a position at a church in Northern California, I left my son behind (and it about killed me emotionally).  We sold our house.  I left my stepfather and mother and sister and other family.  I left friends behind.

I moved nearly 800 miles away because God had called me to that church … but at least I was moving from one church position to another.

But the greatest nightmare any pastor has is to be forced out of his church position without any other position waiting.

In case any board members are reading this article, let me distinguish two kinds of pastors:

First, there’s the pastor who has disqualified himself from ministry because he has committed a major offense.

Second, there’s the pastor who is being asked to leave a church because his gifts and personality no longer match what the board feels the church needs.

Even though the pastor was called by God to your church years ago, that doesn’t mean he’s entitled to a lifetime appointment.  Unlike college professors, pastors should not be given tenure.

But why punish the pastor and his family financially because circumstances have changed since the pastor came to the church?

If you believe that God called your pastor to your church, then if you want him to leave, you must believe that God is calling him away … even though he probably has nowhere to go.

Then you need to give him a generous separation package. 

He gave up his whole life to come to your church.

He doesn’t have another source of income.

And he hasn’t been spending his time at your church taking courses to do something else with his life.

He’s been “all in” with your church … and now he needs you to be “all in” with him.

If you don’t give him a generous package:

*You may put great stress on his marriage because his wife will feel like she needs to support the family financially.

*You may embitter his children … regardless of their age.

*You may send your pastor into the depths of emotional despair.

*You may force him to tap into his retirement account prematurely.

*You may very likely end his ministry career.

It’s the same thing as a husband divorcing his wife without offering her any alimony or child support.

Trade the pastor a generous separation package for a unifying resignation letter.

When I left my last ministry in 2009, I encouraged everyone to stay at the church … and I reiterated that when I preached my last sermon.

My sentiments were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in future donations to that congregation.

But if you mistreat the pastor by offering him a skimpy separation package, the word will get around … no matter how careful you are … and your church will lose many people and a lot of money.

Probably tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.

Fourth, they don’t know that many people are more committed to their pastor than they are their church.

Let me share with you three things that will happen if you force an innocent pastor from office:

*There will be a general sense of anxiety and unease in your congregation.

This can be alleviated somewhat by weekly updates from the church board, but it may last for many years.

And if you’re able to secure a good interim pastor … especially an intentional interim … that will help as well.

But every Sunday, when people come to church and don’t see their former pastor, many will wonder, “Why isn’t our beloved pastor preaching this week?  I wonder how he’s doing?  I wonder why he really left?  And I wonder if someone pushed him out.”

And that anxiety can last for months, if not years.

*Many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church … regardless of the reason.

To keep people in the church, some boards decide to blame the pastor’s departure completely on him … and some even manufacture charges against him.

Some even place a gag order on everybody … especially board members and staff members.

Such heavy-handed tactics rarely work, and aren’t consistent with the holy life that God requires of all His followers.

So expect that many of your best attendees … volunteers … and givers will leave the church … not altogether, but slowly.

And when that happens:

*Expect that you will have to cut back on your ministries.

You may not have enough money to pay some of your key staff members.

You may have to cut back one of your worship services.

You may not be able to fund some of your annual events.

A friend of mine came to a church of 50 people.  Three years later, the church stood at 150.  The board pushed him out, and the church reverted to 50 people once again.

Those 100 additional people were more loyal to the pastor than to the church, so they all left.

And most church boards don’t know that.

Several years ago, I recounted my story to one of the world’s leading experts on churches.  When I finished my narrative, he said, “How’s that church doing today?  It’s probably not doing very well, is it?”

Most churches that push out an innocent pastor never fully recover.

I began this article by mentioning a pastor friend.  After he was terminated by the church board … after a Sunday service, no less … the leaders may have thought, “Now we can do what we want around here!”

A few years later, that church went out of existence.

_______________

How can board members learn what to do when they’re having problems with their pastor?

*They can read a book … but I’m unaware of any such book right now.

*They can attend a seminar … but I’m unaware of anyone who is doing them.

*They can contact their denomination or local district … but they usually offer little help except to try and convince church leaders to keep giving money to the denomination.

*They can contact an expert in pastor-church conflict … a consultant, a conflict manager, an interventionist, a mediator … and they’re often of great help … but you have to pay them well.

Two pastors have told me that my material on pastor-church conflict is “the best on the internet.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not.

But accessing my articles doesn’t cost anything financially … and you can pass them on to others.

If I can help you with your situation, please let me know by emailing me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastor Joel could barely breathe.

The pastor of Good News Church for six years, Joel had just received a phone call from Tim, the board chairman.  Tim informed Joel that a group in the church had just held a secret meeting intended to force Joel out of his position as pastor.

So many questions whizzed through Joel’s mind, among them:

*Who was in the group?

*What were they upset about?

*Why didn’t anyone share their concerns with Joel himself?

*How long had they been meeting?

*How much did the staff and board know about them?

Joel instantly became disoriented and confused.  He couldn’t think clearly.  He began having an anxiety attack … maybe even a full-blown panic attack.

He had been targeted before in his previous two ministries.

In his first pastorate, a group of former lay leaders organized and tried to push him out.  But the board backed Joel completely, and the malcontents all left.

In his next pastorate, two staff members and three board members conspired to get rid of Joel, but their plot also failed, and they all departed together.

So Joel had been attacked before, but even though he had survived both attempts, he prayed that he would never have to go through another one.

And now this.

While Joel knew a lot intellectually about how to handle such a coup attempt, he also knew that when he was threatened, his emotions tended to overwhelm his brain, and that he quickly went into “fight or flight” mode.

He needed divine support, so he paused to ask God for wisdom and strength.

He needed human support, so he asked himself, “Which leaders do I know are 100% behind me?”

He identified three: Tim, the board chairman; Ron, the outreach pastor; and Craig, a former board chairman.

Joel contacted each person and asked if they could meet that night at a restaurant four miles outside town.  All three agreed.

When everyone arrived, Joel asked Tim to tell the others about his phone call.  Then Joel … thinking a bit more clearly … asked the following questions which he had written on a napkin:

*Tim, who told you about the plot?

*Why do you think they told you?

*Who do we know that opposes my ministry?

*What are their charges?

*What do you think their strategy is?

*Which staff members or board members might be with them?

After some discussion, Joel told his three supporters, “Based on my experience and research, I want to share with you how we can beat back this opposition and preserve congregational unity … provided that no staff members or board members are in on the plot.”

Pastor Joel told the leaders:

First, realize that nearly every plot against an innocent pastor is fueled by hatred. 

Joel shared:

“Clear away the smoke, and you’ll find an individual who has contempt for his pastor.  This individual – sometimes in concert with his spouse – has made a unilateral decision: the pastor must go.”

Joel then stated:

“If we can discover ‘the hater,’ we will have a better idea of discerning what’s happening.”

Joel went on:

“The hater is almost always the ringleader of the opposition.  The pastor hasn’t recognized his brilliance … hasn’t paid him sufficient attention … hasn’t taken his ideas for the church seriously … hasn’t let his buddies be in charge … and hasn’t kept the church the way it was when I came in 2011 … so I must leave.”

Joel then said:

“When the hater is identified, his name probably won’t be a surprise to any of us.  But others may say, ‘He really loves this church.  He’s a fine man.  He is so misunderstood.  He’s just uncomfortable with all the changes.  Cut him some slack.'”

Joel then shared:

“But once a plot is uncovered, there are only three possible outcomes:

*The hater repents of his rebellious behavior.

*The hater leaves the church.

*The pastor leaves.

Sadly, by this stage, haters almost never repent.”

Joel and his three supporters need to realize that the probable outcome of this conflict is that either Joel will leave … sending the church into turmoil … or the hater and a few of his minions will leave instead … the optimal option for the church’s mission at this point.

Second, the hater will hold secret meetings and invite disgruntled churchgoers to pool their grievances against the pastor.

Joel told his three supporters:

“The hater has already determined my fate: he wants me gone.  But if he goes after me alone, he knows he won’t succeed.  He’ll be outnumbered.  He needs allies … as many as possible … so he calls a meeting … shares a few of his complaints … and then solicits complaints about the pastor from others … the more, the better.”

Someone will be asked to record the complaints.

If the pastor has committed a major offense (heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior) … and it can be documented … anyone who attends the secret meeting can take their evidence to the church board, and the pastor most likely will be dismissed.

But secret meetings aren’t intended to come up with serious charges, but many charges … any one of which are trivial and petty.

Pastor Joel told the men:

“This is what happened to me in my second pastorate.  A group of 15 people came up with a list of 22 offenses I had supposedly committed.  The list was then distributed via email all over the church as if to say, ‘Anyone so flawed should never be our pastor.'”

Pastor Joel went on:

“I was accused of not dressing appropriately for a church event … driving a car that’s too expensive … counseling women alone (even though there’s a window on my study door) … changing the worship order too often … letting my wife miss a Sunday when she was sick … and so on.  They were all that trivial … and many of my accusers were guilty of the very same things!”

Joel added:

“The problem with soliciting grievances is that everybody has a different set of complaints.  I might feel passionate about two complaints of my own, but I don’t feel as strongly about the complaints of others in the group.”

Joel went on:

“We need to find out who attended the secret meeting, and then send a message to the hater and his minions: ‘Select two people to present your complaints.  The board will select two leaders to hear those complaints.  That’s fair … a two-on-two meeting.'”

Joel then asked Tim:

“Has any list been distributed to the church yet?”  Tim said, “Not as far as I know.”  Joel replied, “Good.  Let’s put together this meeting before any list goes out.”

Third, the pastor’s opponents will assume that the sheer quantity of charges against him will be enough for him to be terminated.

Some charges might be incident-based: “We saw the pastor do this after a service … we heard his wife say this after a small group meeting … we know that the pastor’s son was sent to the principal’s office at school.”

Other charges will be pattern-based: “The pastor is too intellectual when he speaks … he never takes my phone calls … he doesn’t show up for workdays … he strikes me as being depressed.”

Joel shared:

“Once again, if my opponents can produce even one impeachable offense, they won’t need to create a list of offenses.  The list is their confession that they really don’t have anything substantive to use against me.  We could create such a list against anyone in this church.  Remember that.”

Joel then said:

“Most charges will be exaggerated to some extent.  Listen for the words ‘always’ and ‘never.’  And listen for complaints to be overstated: ‘When the pastor made that decision, fifty people left the church.'”

Joel then told his supporters:

“When two leaders meet with two others from the faction, ask them how many offenses they’ve recorded.  Then ask them to read each one … and you answer each one before they read the next one.  Do not let them read the whole list because you can’t answer the whole list at once!”

Joel continued:

“As you answer each complaint, they will begin to lose heart.  They may not even finish the list.  When their complaints have been exhausted, ask them what they expect to do next.  They will probably say, ‘We need to report to our group.'”

Joel advised:

“Ask them at that point, ‘Who is in your group?  Who is leading your group?’  They probably won’t share any information with you, but they’ll know you’re onto them.  By answering their charges, you will have exposed their plot … and their hearts.”

Joel then shared an insight from family systems theory:

“I have learned that when you can ‘peel off’ one or two of a pastor’s antagonists, the whole plot usually unravels.  Suddenly all the fun is taken out of attacking the pastor.”

Joel then shared one more step:

Finally, tell the group in writing what you expect from the pastor’s opponents … including them.

Joel explained:

“Tell them that we have a simple process for handling complaints at our church.  If you believe the pastor has wronged you personally, then set up a meeting with him and share your concern directly.  If you want, one of us can meet with you as an impartial witness.”

Joel then added:

“If you are upset about church policy, you are free to speak with anyone on the board because the board sets policy.  We will either ask you to make your complaint in writing or ask you to attend the next board meeting personally.  After we have heard your complaint, we will discuss it and make a decision, and ask you to abide by it.”

Joel then said:

“Ask them, ‘Do you understand our process?  Will you abide by it?’  Assuming they agree, then hold them to it.”

Joel then added:

“Then tell them, ‘We believe that our policy for handling complaints is consistent with Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 and Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 5:19-21.  We believe the Bible teaches that conflict should be handled above-ground (in the light, not in darkness) and that those who are accused of sin should be able to face their accusers.'”

Joel then said:

“It’s my belief that if you handle matters this way, the two individuals will either leave the church immediately (the more likely scenario) and take others with them, or they will slink away and lose their appetite for getting rid of their pastor.  And if they bow out of the ‘get the pastor campaign,’ others will probably follow suit.”

After some discussion, Joel concluded:

“If we as leaders take control of the process for resolving these differences, then we will likely take control of the results as well.”

What do you think about Joel’s strategy for beating back his opposition?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our family bought a house last spring, and one of its many wonderful features is a three-car garage.

About one-third of the garage is filled with file boxes containing my books, sermons, teaching lessons, and other assorted items from 36 years in church ministry.

I’ve been trying to create more space in the garage by tossing as many of those files as I can, but one kind of file in particular has been sending me into mini-depressions.

Those files contain written documentation of conflicts that I’ve experienced over the course of my ministry life.

If I could blame all those conflicts on others, I would.

But in some cases, I didn’t handle matters as well as I could have … and it pains me to think about that, even for a second.

Whenever a church has a major conflict, there are often unreasonable, obstinate, irrational leaders and lay people involved.

But pastors and church leaders can do a much better job of teaching and modeling what God’s Word says about how to handle our differences as well.

Let me share three mistakes that pastors and church leaders often make that can help create church conflict:

The first mistake is that the pastor fails to teach on biblical conflict resolution often enough.

It’s the pastor’s job to teach his congregation, “This is how we handle conflict in our church family.”

Many pastors are afraid to do this, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why.

I once knew a pastor who found it relatively easy to confront people one-on-one about the sins in their lives.

That was always hard for me to do.

But he found it difficult to confront people’s sins from the pulpit … something that came naturally for me.

So I realize we’re all different, but I believe that a pastor has to plan at least one Sunday every year where he reminds the congregation, “This is how we deal with our differences around here.”

Some pastors prefer to preach through books of the Bible, and that’s commendable, but you can preach for years and never hit the key biblical passages on conflict resolution.

It has to be done intentionally.

It might be wise for a pastor to do a series … maybe four or five weeks … on conflict in general.  Touch on issues like conflict in the home … the workplace … with friends … and in the church.

Let people submit questions in writing on the conflicts they are experiencing all through the series, and then answer the best questions on the final Sunday.

Then announce, “This series has been so fruitful that I’m going to preach an annual sermon on conflict resolution from Scripture.”

My suggestion would be to schedule that sermon around the time of the annual meeting and budget presentation.

If the pastor never teaches on conflict resolution, how will people know how to act if they’re upset about something?

The second mistake is that church leaders have not devised healthy feedback mechanisms.

During my second pastorate, our church had a large wooden Suggestion Box, which I inherited from the previous administration.

If churchgoers weren’t happy with something, they could write a note and drop it in the box.

One Sunday, I held the box up during a sermon, made a negative comment about it, and then placed it inside the pulpit.

I didn’t like that box because it allowed people to write anonymous notes of complaint.

But what I failed to do was give people a healthy alternative instead.

There are many unhealthy ways that churchgoers express their negativity, but it’s up to church leaders to give them healthier ways to share their concerns.

I’ll mention three quick ones:

*Let the pastor and board conduct an all-church survey at least annually … maybe in the spring.  Cut the Sunday service(s) short by ten minutes and ask people to fill out the surveys where they’re seated.  Ask a handful (maybe five) open-ended questions that call for a positive response.  For example:

Why do you attend our church?

What are we doing well?

Where do we need improvement?

Where would you like to see us in five years?

Then tabulate the responses and put them all on the church website.  Don’t fear the negative responses … they will usually be drowned out by the positive ones. (When I did this once, under improvement, someone wrote, “Get a new pastor.”)

*Hold an informational meeting at least annually.  Let the pastor/staff/board present the church’s goals and budget for the next year.  Then ask people if they have any questions or concerns about the presentation.  If the leaders really listen, many people will share their true feelings, but do so in a structured way.

*Designate several times a year for the pastor to take questions from the people of the church.  He can do this in a large meeting … a smaller forum … or online.  (Maybe try all three to see what works best.)  When he does this, he needs one or two key church leaders to monitor the discussions and to support the pastor in case things go south.

The beauty of these approaches is that:

*the pastor and official leaders are being proactive, not reactive

*the leaders can stay in touch with the congregation better

*the leaders come off as being transparent

*if people complain in inappropriate ways, the leaders can ask them, “Why didn’t you speak up when we had our survey/meeting/forum?”

Over the years, I’ve discovered that people want their say far more than they want their way.

If feedback opportunities are spread throughout the church year, leaders will usually be able to head off any major disgruntlement.

But the one thing church leaders cannot do is to prohibit churchgoers from expressing their opinions and feelings.  Better to channel their concerns in a structured manner than to provide zero feedback mechanisms.

I know a church where the pastor did one of the most reprehensible things I’ve ever heard.  (I have the documentation.)  But whenever churchgoers went to church leaders and expressed their concerns, they were told, “If that’s your attitude, you can leave the church.”

If the leaders want people to attend, serve, and give, the very least they can do is listen to them if they want to express a concern.

The third mistake is that church leaders forget to remind churchgoers of the biblical principles for conflict resolution and the existing feedback mechanisms.

A wise board member once told me, “Most sermons don’t contain a lot of new information.  They’re just reminders.”

We all forget how to act like a Christian at times.

Maybe we’re not feeling well physically … or we’re dealing with frustration at home … or we’re afraid we’re going to lose our job … and we bring our concerns to church.

And when something makes us feel uncomfortable, we overreact emotionally and start spreading our discontent to others.

In fact, even the best Christians get upset about something at church from time-to-time.

And when that happens, they need to be reminded, “How do you think God wants you to handle your feelings right now?”

This is why I believe that every church should have some sort of written brochure that specifies “how we handle conflict around here.”

Let’s say that Joe is upset after a service because he didn’t like something the pastor said in his sermon.

So Joe goes up to Harold … a board member … and starts ripping on the pastor.

Harold should pull Joe aside … listen to him … ask some questions … and then say to Harold, “I suggest that you read this brochure on how we handle conflict in our church and then contact the pastor directly about your feelings.  I have found that he is a good listener and that he really cares for every person in this church.  Will you promise me you’ll do that?”

What are the chances that Harold is going to go home and either hit the phones or complain online?

He might … but he’s also been told by a church leader how to handle his concerns in a biblical and healthy manner.

And if Harold finds out that Joe isn’t handling matters wisely, he has every right to contact him and remind him what to do.

When it comes to handling conflict wisely, we all need reminders, don’t we?

_______________

The first three mistakes have to do with failures on the part of the pastor, staff, and official board.

The final four mistakes have to do with failures on the part of disgruntled congregational members.

I’ll write on that next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the past six years, I’ve heard many heart-wrenching stories about pastors being attacked by church leaders.

One pastor of a large congregation was fired without warning and without any severance.

Two pastors were falsely accused of stealing money from their churches.  In both situations, their attackers brought in law enforcement.

One man served three churches as pastor … and was forced out of all three.

And I’ve heard about many coup attempts, either by the board or the associate pastor.

Out of all the stories I’ve heard, ours is still among the top three worst conflicts.

(You can read Part 1 of this article by clicking on the green link above the title on the left.)

Once allegations have been made against a pastor, he has to trust whatever process was already in place to allow him a fair hearing, or his position … and maybe his career … are toast.

The length of our conflict was exactly fifty days from the board meeting on October 24, 2009 until our last Sunday on December 13.

When the board met with me in October, they attempted to checkmate my wife and me in various ways.

One avenue they used … and it’s used by most boards that attack their pastor … was to impose a gag order on me in the name of “confidentiality.”

The board tells the pastor that they don’t want him discussing their concerns with anyone else.  That’s how they control you.

The board told me to keep matters private (they never asked me), but I never agreed to any confidentiality because I knew it was a trap.

But the biggest trap of all was the board’s threat to quit.  They said, “We’re all willing to resign over this issue … and we’ll give Kim the choice of being fired or resigning.”

But the strong implication was that if she didn’t resign, they would all resign instead.

Why did the board issue such an ultimatum?

I can only guess.

I don’t know exactly how many pastors, staffers, board members, and churchgoers I’ve worked with over the past six years, but I still haven’t heard any stories about a board that threatened to resign en masse.

In my 36 years of church ministry, I never issued even one ultimatum in a meeting.  It’s a power move.

If I said, “I must get my way, or I’ll quit,” someone might respond, “Then we want your resignation tomorrow morning.”

One pastor friend told me he would have said, “I’ve had enough of this.  You want to resign?  Let’s have your resignations right now.”

Not one of the many boards I served with over 25 years as a solo or senior pastor ever would have pulled such a stunt.

The board’s threat wasn’t spiritual in any way.  They didn’t leave any room for discussion or negotiation.

The board had arrested, judged, and sentenced my wife without meeting with her directly or letting her respond to their charges.

And they never made their case to me.

I was told verbally that my wife had overspent her budgets, and when I asked for a figure, I knew it was way overblown.

The signal that the board wasn’t playing fair is that they didn’t prepare a list of her spending for me.  As the pastor … and a board member … wasn’t I entitled to see it?

The night of October 24, the board met with several staff members, and added two charges to their list.

Five nights later, when two board members met with Kim (at my request) to explain their actions, they added even more charges.

Why wasn’t the overspending charge enough?

If a pastor is caught having illicit sex in a hotel room, that’s all you need to fire him.  You don’t need to say, “And you were rude at a board meeting three months ago” as well.

So why add charges?

When Kim didn’t resign immediately after the board made the overspending charge, they had to add charges to force her to quit.

And that was not only cruel, it was also a form of retribution.

There is no justification for the way the board acted.  They violated the church constitution which clearly stated that the senior pastor had to recommend the termination of any staff member to the board before anyone could be dismissed.

Someone was pushing matters … hard … so Kim would resign of her own accord.

And the expectation was that when she quit, I would quit as well.

_______________

Several years after the coup attempt, I asked someone inside that church, “What are the chances that the board was really after Kim and not me?”

Their reply: “Zero.”

So if the board wanted me to resign, why didn’t they come after me directly?

Because, in my view, they didn’t have anything impeachable they could use against me … not even my minute-long rant … and certainly nothing they could tell the congregation … so they went after my wife instead.

As someone on the inside later told me, they viewed us as a single entity … Jim/Kim, if you will.  (If you nail Kim, you nail Jim.)

Even though we didn’t work together very often, we did … and do … love each other very much … even though I quickly corrected her whenever she stepped out of line … something I did in the car and at home (and with a level of scrutiny no other staff member had to endure)!

Five days after that October 24 meeting, Kim still had not quit.  We both sought outside counsel, and were told, “If Kim doesn’t think she did anything wrong, and she resigns, that would be a lie.  Let the board fire her instead.”

But the board didn’t want to fire her, because they would have endured the wrath of most of the congregation.  They had to make it look like she resigned herself even though they had already “terminated” her.

At this point, I’m going to pull a veil over what happened next to Kim.  Let’s just say that Satan attacked her in a brutal fashion, and that I feared for her very life.  She was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Her suffering was the primary reason I eventually resigned.

After the dust settled, I was able to forgive people for what they did to me, but found it extremely difficult to forgive those who had hurt Kim … not only because she is my wife, but because she was the person who best exemplified our mission.

If the board had only followed Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 instead of business practices, matters might have turned out much differently.

Because six days after the October 24 meeting … the day before Halloween … the associate pastor resigned.  And the day after Halloween … the entire board resigned.

Looking back, what was the single most difficult matter for you?

It was having people I thought were my friends turn on me without waiting to hear my side of the story.

The associate pastor turned on me … as did the entire board … as did my predecessor.  That’s eight Christian leaders.

And I was told by someone on the inside that I could have survived the board’s departure, but that the associate’s betrayal ultimately did me in.

Their approach wasn’t biblical … spiritual … loving … or redemptive.  In fact, it felt like hatred.

It was devastating to know that false narratives were circulating around the congregation.  Based on my personal character and ministry history, most people had to know they weren’t true.

Every time I saw someone on the campus after that, I wondered, “What do you know?  Are you for me, or against me?”

I knew who some of my opponents were.  It was no surprise.  But when long-time friends turn on you … it’s heartbreaking.

After the board resigned together, they should have stuck to their initial narrative.

But they didn’t.  Allegation after allegation leaked out from those leaders as justification for their departures even though they had never discussed those issues with me personally.

Their attitude seemed to be, “That charge isn’t gaining traction.  Let’s try another one.”

The aim of my detractors was to destroy my reputation, and they didn’t seem to care how they did it.

And I had no forum in which to defend myself.

When churchgoers hear accusations against their pastor, but he doesn’t answer the charges, they assume the accusations are true.

And that’s when the pastor loses most of his church friends.

Dennis Murray writes: “Antagonists see themselves as saving the parish from a pastor that could more accurately be labeled a reprobate.  They are equally determined that their fellow parish members and all the folks in the greater community see things their way.  In order to establish bragging rights they try to control the story.  They need to do so by making sure that their target does not have any opportunity for rebuttal.”

When the “fire Kim” plan backfired, the “destroy Jim” plot was put in its place.

And it worked well.

I didn’t get my side out until I published my book more than three years later … and by then, my viewpoint was irrelevant.

If I had to do it over again, I would have written out the allegations I had heard … responded to each one on paper … and then made sure that my supporters distributed them throughout the church after I left.

That might have stopped some of the lies that were circulating about me … but, of course, my detractors would have just created new ones.

One day, I received an anonymous letter in the mail.  It demanded that we both RESIGN.  Kim and I were both scheduled that night to meet with the newly-elected board, and I gave the letter to someone who tried to determine who sent it … although he never did.

Kim met with the new board … they even prayed for her … and I met with them afterwards to announce my resignation.

We both appeared to be stubborn at times in our interactions with top leaders, but our seeming intractability wasn’t personal obstinance.  Instead, we were both completely committed to the church’s outreach mission which had been approved eight years before.

On my last Sunday, I urged the church to keep its outreach orientation.

But as soon as we left, our ministries were dismantled and the church quickly flipped back into maintenance mode.

What lessons have you learned from this experience?

Let me share four lessons as they relate to a church’s mission:

If a church really wants to reach its community, that mission must stay on track at all times.

Kim and I had learned this lesson at our church in Silicon Valley.

The staff, board, and key leaders were completely behind the mission of reaching lost people … on paper and in practice.

That commitment created incredible purpose, synergy, and power … and for that reason, that will always be my favorite church.

But during 2009, the commitment to mission was on paper among the board and associate pastor, but it wasn’t being carried out in practice.

There were people who rallied around us because of the board’s actions.  They were the ones who had made the church grow for years.  They served selflessly and gave generously.

By contrast, most of the board members had little to do with the church’s success, and four of the six did not serve in any extra-board capacity.

After creating great damage, the board and associate ran away.

But Kim and I didn’t run.  We waited until a new board was elected … until an investigation was completed … until we were offered separation packages by the new board … and until we had one last Sunday to say goodbye and offer people closure.

If staff members aren’t on board with a church’s mission, they should resign.

Can you imagine how it felt to have the outreach director fully committed to the mission while the associate pastor wasn’t?

It created friction between them.

The associate knew that he wasn’t in sync with the mission.  He told me near the end of his tenure that he should have resigned a long time before.

Why not fire staff who resist the mission?

I know someone who pastored a megachurch for years.  He fired a staff member, and the board instantly rehired him.  The pastor quickly resigned.

When there is conflict between the pastor and a staff member, boards sometimes stand with the senior pastor, and sometimes stand with staffers … and no one can predict which way they’ll lean.

One of my biggest regrets is that I let the associate pastor wiggle his way onto the church board in a non-voting capacity.

Kim warned me what would happen if I let that occur.  She was right.

When the board attacks the pastor, they attack the mission as well.

Pastors know that it’s difficult to convince a church to be outreach-oriented on paper, much less in practice.

When a church calls a pastor, they are looking for someone who fits their culture and community.

If it’s true that only 15-20% of all churches are growing … and that 80-85% are stagnating or declining … then forcing out a growth pastor can be suicidal for a church’s future.

What are the chances that the church will hire another pastor who has the training and experience to do successful outreach?

The odds aren’t very good.

A congregation can find scores of pastors who will pursue maintenance, but it’s challenging to find someone who understands reaching a community.

And once outreach is killed off, it can take years to resurrect it … so many churches end up wandering in the wilderness instead.

When the mission has been surrendered, the pastor has to leave.

If a church’s leaders want to change the mission, they need to go through the pastor rather than around him.

The board could have told me, “We don’t want to do outreach ministry anymore.  It requires too much risk-taking … it costs too much … and it’s creating too much conflict.  We want to be a church that reaches Christians instead.  That’s how we really feel.”

Had they been that explicit, I would have quietly looked for another ministry and then departed.

I came to the church because I only wanted to pastor an outreach-oriented congregation.  Having spent years spinning my wheels in churches going nowhere, I could never go back.

_______________

As you’ve read my story, please don’t feel sorry for me or for my wife.

The Lord catapulted us out of ministry because He knew that the outreach sentiment among the leaders had changed and that we couldn’t be in a church like that anymore.

As I’ve said on many occasions … we left at the right time … just not in the best way.

Did we make mistakes?

Of course.  Even the best pastors and staffers do.

But to this day, I maintain that we never committed any major offenses, and certainly nothing that merited the mistreatment we received.

In fact, many of the offenses we were later charged with had to do with how we handled the 50-day conflict, not how we handled our ministries.

Why revisit the coup eight years later?

*It’s a way of cleansing my soul.  Pastors who experience a forced termination are afraid to discuss it with anyone, much less write about it.

But I’m here to say, “I understand what you’ve gone through and how you’ve been feeling.  And the more you discuss it, the more quickly you will recover.”

If I can help you or someone you know with a coup attempt or a pastoral attack, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org.  I love hearing people’s stories … and I know I can help.

*I want pastors and Christian leaders to read my account … both on this blog, and in my book … and ask, “How would we handle a similar situation?  What would we do differently?  Let’s create or strengthen procedures that are biblical, just, loving, and redemptive.”

I spent hours with the pastor of a megachurch and his wife last year, and they bought copies of my book for their top leaders to read and discuss.  I felt humbled and honored by their actions.

*I want my friends to know why I’m no longer in church ministry.

It takes pastors one to three years to recover from a “sheep attack,” and much of that recovery is emotional.

Three years after leaving my last church, I became interim pastor of a wonderful church in New Hampshire.

After I returned to California, my director wanted to send me to another church back east, but after Kim and I spent four days there, we decided against it.

I spoke with my ministry mentor the day after we returned home.  After I told him what happened over those four days, he said, “Jim, if you and Kim go there, it will permanently damage your souls.”

Our souls were already damaged.

Thank God He specializes in healing damaged souls.

 

 

“You never need to explain yourself to anyone.  Your true friends don’t require an explanation.  And your enemies won’t believe anything you say.”  Dr. Dennis Murray, Healing For Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack

On October 24, 2009 – eight years ago today – a coup was attempted at the Bay Area church I had pastored for nine years.

The official board consulted with … and likely collaborated with … the church’s founding pastor (my predecessor) to push me out as pastor.

Somewhere along the line, the associate pastor signed onto the coup, along with churchgoers who were loyal to my predecessor.

Even though I wrote my book Church Coup (published in 2013) as a cautionary tale, I revisit the conflict on this blog every October 24 to see if my perspective has broadened and deepened.  (If you’d like a more detailed description of what happens inside a church when a pastor is attacked, my book – which is on Amazon – may be of interest to you.)

I have no desire to convince my detractors that they behaved unwisely or even cruelly, so this article is not aimed at them, but I am including information I’ve never shared before.

This time, I’ve decided to answer eight questions about the conflict, and hope that my responses will provide insight into coup attempts involving other pastors.

We’ll do Part 1 today, and Part 2 in two days.

What was the coup really about?

I believe the coup was really about stopping the church’s mission, which was designed to reach people without Christ.

When I was hired as associate pastor in June 1999, the senior pastor – a friend for years – wanted me to continue his efforts to reach unchurched people.

We served together eighteen months, and then he retired and I became senior pastor.  (The congregation had approved me as senior pastor-elect seven months before.)

Over time, I had earned solid credentials.

I had been the senior pastor of an outreach-oriented church in Silicon Valley for seven years and had served as teaching pastor of a similar church.  I had also received extensive training from Willow Creek and Saddleback Churches.

My wife had undergone the same kind of training and had served alongside me at the Silicon Valley church.  When it came to outreach-oriented ministry, we both knew what we were doing.

So I wasn’t changing the church’s charter, but clarifying it … expanding it … and furthering it.

Several months after I became pastor, I invited Dr. Gary McIntosh – one of the foremost experts on growing churches in the world – to lead a series of workshops for our leadership team, and 43 people came.  The time with Gary was extremely productive.

We also had a professional facilitator inside the church oversee the creation of our mission and vision statements … starting with congregational input, and ending with board approval.

So I received wide support for our mission during my first few years, which enabled the church to grow numerically in a highly resistant community and to construct a new worship center.

But toward the end of my tenure, the mission was being sabotaged from within.

Who was sabotaging the mission?

We hired an associate pastor in early 2007 who told me before he was hired that he wanted to be in an outreach-oriented church, but after he arrived, he began to resist the mission because it made him too uncomfortable.

We called a husband-wife team as our youth directors a few years before that, but long after they were hired, they confessed that they didn’t believe in the mission, either.

It was difficult serving alongside key leaders who weren’t with us … and their lack of support eventually became obvious.

For years, I received my greatest support from the official board, and our church grew to become the largest Protestant church in our city.

And with that support, I was able to overcome most staff resistance.

But as 2009 approached, we lost three key board members.  All three men were older than me.  All three supported me fully.  And all three constantly had my back.

As we added new board members, every one was younger than me and involved in business.  I naively assumed they were all behind our outreach mission.

On paper, they were.  In practice, they weren’t.

They began viewing the ministry through “maintenance eyes,” not “mission eyes” … and in my view, had a “money comes before ministry” mentality.

But the one person most committed to an outreach-oriented church was my wife Kim.  I could always count on her.

How did the conflict about mission lead to your departure?

I once had a conversation with a pastor friend whose church was growing rapidly.  He told me, “There are many people in this church who are trying to change our direction so we only reach Christians, but I can’t let that happen.  You have to keep the mission of reaching people for Christ front and center or the church will go off track.”  His comment always stuck with me.

For most of my time in that church, both the leaders and the congregation were solidly behind the mission.

But as we got deeper into 2009, my wife and I were continuing to go in an outreach direction, while the associate and the board were going in an opposite direction … without any formal discussion.

Let me share one story to illustrate this polarization.

As the summer of 2009 ended, we had a part-time staff member in charge of small groups.  She did a great job, putting together thirty groups at one point.  But when she moved away, the small group ministry fell to the person originally hired to oversee it: the associate pastor.

Only he had never been in a small group in his life.

Every year, we announced that year’s groups at a small group fair.  The leaders would stand behind tables and present their groups to interested parties.  People would sign up at the tables and write down their phone numbers/email addresses.

In an outreach-oriented church, the leaders contact those who signed up. We reach out to them.

But the associate pastor vehemently believed that those interested should call the leaders instead … and then accused me of “coddling” people when I disagreed.

I wasn’t coddling anybody.  I wanted the maximum number of people in those groups because that’s where real life change happens in a congregation.  And the best way for people to join a group is for someone to invite them.

But the staff member with zero small group experience thought he knew better than the pastor with more than twenty years of small group experience … and that ministry began to collapse.

And that’s how my last year at the church went.  Resistance, sabotage, passive-aggressive behavior … and I could feel it.

And when that kind of climate develops, you’re going to make some mistakes … and every one will be recorded and counted against you.

Just for the record, those who resisted my leadership were all in contact … and later collaboration … with my predecessor.

When did matters finally come to a head?

The year 2008 was the best year our church ever had.  We had 785 people on Easter Sunday … had nine Sundays over 500 people … and enjoyed our highest average Sunday attendance ever … all on a one-acre campus that was nearly invisible from the street.

You might recall that 2009 was a difficult year economically, and after two years of generous giving in our church, we were about five tithing families short of meeting our budget, which caused great anxiety on the board.

Even though Kim had made plans for outreach events and two mission trips, the board set up procedures designed to slow or limit those activities.  Most of the staff were frustrated by the board’s micromanagement, but the board expected me to keep the staff in line.

I wanted to start a third service to reach a younger demographic, and so with board approval, eleven of us – including two board members and two staff members – visited two churches in Southern California to learn how to add that service.

After many months of work, the board turned down my proposal for a third service at a special meeting, and it became evident that we weren’t in sync.

On paper, our church was still outreach-oriented.  In practice, it was starting to flip backwards.

At the next regular board meeting, we started at 6:00 pm and were still going strong by 10:00 pm.

About 10:10 pm, the chairman stated that the church budget was frozen for the rest of the year and that nobody should even ask for more funds.

I was shocked.  Nobody had discussed this with me in advance, but it was clear that the board had colluded together in making this decision.

Trying to be conciliatory, I told the board that I had already announced to the congregation that we were going to produce a special drama for our upcoming anniversary called A Divine Comedy.  We had already obtained the script and were in the process of holding auditions.  The play was going to cost some money, but if we couldn’t find it in the budget, then I told the board, “I’ll ask several people with the gift of giving to donate the funds.”

The chairman responded to my comment by saying, “No.”

What?  The board was telling the pastor that he couldn’t raise money?

I should have calmly asked, “What do you mean, the budget is frozen?  Who made that decision?  When was it made?  Why wasn’t I included?”

Instead, I lost it.

I don’t know how long my rant lasted … maybe a minute? … but I told the board that it wasn’t fun working with them anymore and that the staff didn’t want to take any risks because the board had started micromanaging them. (Managing them had always been my job, not theirs.)

After the meeting, I spent a long time conversing with the chairman.  I felt awful about the way I had reacted … and knew that everything I told him would quickly get back to the others.

I immediately sought out a counselor to find out why I had reacted so badly.  After hearing me and testing me, he concluded, “You are severely burned out and headed for a breakdown.”

(Why did I burn out?  The construction of the worship center … finishing my doctoral program … and dealing with board and staff resistance all took their toll on me.)

After sharing this story with a pastor friend, he told me, “Jim, you had every right to be angry.”

I told him, “Maybe so, but I got too angry.”

Many pastors lose it in a board meeting on occasion, but in twenty-five years as a pastor, I never had.  In that church, I had a nine-year track record of remaining calm in meetings, but now I had messed up.

I felt like a colossal failure.  I never became angry after that, but I know my rant was used against me.

A more mature board might have met together and said, “Jim seems to be under great stress right now.  He’s meant so much to this church.  Something is troubling him, and we need to find out what it is.  Let’s send two board members to meet with him and see how we can help him overcome his frustration so we can all work together in harmony.”

But that’s not what happened.

In the end, the board never spoke with me about that night again.  They should have.  I was too embarrassed to go to them.  I wanted them to speak with me as a sign of love.

Instead, they did something else.

They waited until we were overseas on a mission trip … and then went after my wife.

Why did they go after your wife?

Kim is an amazing woman … maybe too amazing.

And she does a lot of good … maybe too much good.

The board hired Kim in 2001 as full-time outreach director after a search process produced twenty possible candidates.  Kim was the only person to survive the first round.  She was hired on merit because she knew more about outreach ministry than any other applicant even though others had more formal education.

(One time, we let a major outreach group use our facility for a training meeting.  Kim walked into the room and heard the leader using her material.  They had stolen it from her outright, but that shows how much her approach was valued.)

Kim was the best leader in our entire church.  She had vision … passion … charisma … a great work ethic … and a heart that beat for lost people.  As our mission statement put it, she loved to “share God’s unconditional love.”

In fact, several months before October 24, a board member told Kim, “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to this church.”

She learned people’s names.  She learned about their families and problems.  She recorded what she heard and used that information to help people become assimilated into church life.  She started new ministries … recruiting and training leaders to take them over.  She shared her faith everywhere.

And she did it all with contagious enthusiasm and a smile.

She was the most indispensable person in the entire church … including the pastor.

But she made a few enemies along the way because she believed so strongly in our church’s outreach orientation … and because, in my view, some individuals were jealous of her influence.

On October 24, the board told me they had terminated Kim’s position effective immediately because, they said, she had overspent her budgets.

When I asked how much she had overspent, I was given a number verbally.  I should have asked for written documentation, but I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I did ask for it three days later, but received nothing coherent.  Kim then asked for the documentation again two days later when she met with two board members, but was given nothing.

Was it all a bluff?

The bookkeeper later met with Kim and determined she had overspent her budgets by a negligible amount … light years away from the number I was given at the October 24 meeting.  A nine-person team from inside the church later investigated all charges and concluded there was no evidence that either Kim or I had committed any wrongdoing.

At that October 24 meeting, the board told me to tell Kim that she had a choice: she could resign or be fired.

And then the chairman made a statement I still can’t believe: the board felt so strongly about their decision that they were all willing to resign.

_______________

I’ve answered five questions so far, and will be responding to the final three questions in two days.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my last blog, I wrote “an open letter to pastor terminators.”

The letter was a composite of stories I’ve heard over the years about the damage that members of the church board have caused pastors and staff members they’ve forced out of office.

One friend wrote me on Facebook and asked, “Would you send it?”

If I thought it would do any good, yes, I would send it.

But the odds are that it wouldn’t.

_______________

It’s been nearly eight years since I left my last church ministry.  Two weeks from today, I’ll be writing my annual article about the church coup I experienced.

Throughout the past eight years, I’ve had this fantasy: that one day, just one of the individuals most responsible for pushing me out would contact me and apologize for their actions.

Sometimes, when I go to the mailbox, I wonder if there will be a letter of confession from one of my opponents inside.

It’s never happened.

Sometimes, when I pick up the phone, I wonder if one of the perpetrators is calling me to say, “Oh, Jim, what we did was so, so wrong.  Can you ever forgive us?”

It’s never happened.

I wrote a book called Church Coup about what happened from my perspective.  I have written hundreds of blogs about the problems of pastoral abuse and termination.

The damage the terminators caused was unfathomable.  I lost my job … income … career … reputation … house … and many, many friends.

A nine-person team investigated the charges against me and concluded that “there was no evidence of any wrongdoing.”

But I was lied right out of the church.  It’s the only way “they” could get rid of me.

I was wronged … severely wronged.

But is anybody ever going to admit their part in the conflict to me?

Almost certainly not.

_______________

So would I send a letter to specific terminators, hoping they would have a “come to Jesus” moment and apologize for their actions?

Pastor Guy Greenfield tried to do just that.  In his excellent book The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks, Greenfield writes:

“When I was pressured to retire early in my last pastorate by the machinations of a small group of antagonists, I wrote each one a lengthy personal letter describing how I felt about what they did to me, my ministry, my marriage, my family, my health, and my future.  I tried to be honest without being harsh.  I felt they needed to know that they had hurt me deeply.  Not one of them wrote in response, called me, or came by for a visit.  Not one said he was sorry.  Therefore, I had to move on with my life, shattered though it was, and start over somewhere else.”

Greenfield made the first move toward reconciliation.  He followed Jesus’ instructions in Luke 17:3-4:

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

In essence, Greenfield rebuked those who hurt him.  They didn’t repent … at least, not to him personally.  Should he then forgive them?

Yes, he should forgive them unilaterally, and he did.  He writes:

“For my own sake, I needed to forgive them even though none said he was sorry.  I tried to do that even though it took me a long time.  I wrote a note to each that I was forgiving him of his mistreatment of me, knowing it would be a process rather than something instantaneous.  I had to do it for myself.  I did not expect reconciliation, but I did need to be free of my resentment.  I did not expect sorrow or repentance from them in order to forgive them.  I made a distinct decision not to seek revenge.  There were several things I  could have done, but I chose not to do any of those vengeful acts.  I could not afford to put my future happiness in the hands of those people who made me so miserable by their abuse of me.”

Greenfield exercised unilateral forgiveness.  He “let go” of his anger, resentment, and desire for revenge.  And that’s all he could do.

Because whenever a pastor or staff member are unjustly terminated, biblical reconciliation … or bilateral forgiveness … as outlined by Jesus in Luke 17:3-4 almost never takes place.

_______________

On a rare occasion, I will hear the perspective of the “other” side … from a board member who tried to get rid of a pastor and later felt badly about it.

A friend once told me that his father was instrumental in pushing out his pastor, and that it haunted him for the rest of his life.

I suspect there are other board members and lay antagonists who later were horrified when they realized that their words or actions had destroyed their pastor.

When my father was pushed out of his last pastorate, a woman whose hurtful words had gone viral cried out in a public meeting, “I never meant for it to come to this.  I crucified the man!”

But those kinds of confessions are all too rare.

_______________

It’s amazing to me.  To become a Christian, a person must confess their sins to the Lord and request His forgiveness, which He always grants.

To remain a Christian, a person must continually confess their sins to the Lord … as 1 John 1:8-10 specifies … and again, the Lord promises He will always forgive.

But when those same professing Christians severely wound the person and position of someone God has called to serve their congregation, they stop looking at any sins they might have committed and only see the sins of their pastor/staffer.

They completely exonerate themselves and just as fully blame the person they’ve driven from office.

In the words of Jesus, they’re focused on the “specks” in their pastor’s life while ignoring the “planks” in their own lives (Matthew 7:3-5).

I have a friend who occasionally holds meetings after a pastor has been forced out.  He gathers together the leaders of the church … places an empty chair at the front of the room (signifying the presence of Jesus) … asks for a period of silence … and then lets the leaders say whatever comes to their mind.

There is often a time of confession as people finally admit to others that they did indeed play a part in getting rid of their pastor … and harming their local body as well.

Maybe, since the deed was done with others, confession can only come in concert with those same people.

_______________

I’ve long since given up hope that anyone who meant to harm me will ever admit it to me.

If they did … since I have already forgiven them unilaterally … I would joyfully forgive them on-the-spot.

But I realize it’s unlikely to happen.

In his wise book Healing for Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack, Dr. Dennis Maynard writes the following:

“Before we can reconcile with another we have to know that they are truly sorry.  We need to hear their words of repentance.  We need to know their contrition is genuine.  To reconcile with those who are not truly contrite is to excuse their offense as though it never occurred…. We are basically giving them permission to hurt us again.  We need to hear the person who hurt us take responsibility for their behavior.”

Maynard then continues:

“Those that target clergy are oblivious to the pain they cause others.  They have actually deceived themselves into believing they have done the right thing.  They are consumed with their public image.”

He then writes something both remarkable and scary:

I have not found a single case of an antagonist seeking to reconcile with the pastor they targeted for destruction.  True repentance would also include trying to undue the damage that their conspiracy of lies brought on their pastor…. Some will rationalize their acts of sin and evil as righteous and justified…. Reconciliation is simply not an option.  To do so would be to fail to hold them accountable for the pain they have caused.  We cannot reconcile with them, but for our soul’s sake we still must forgive them.”

I have a theory that the people who target an innocent pastor for termination have surrendered themselves … at least temporarily … to some sort of dark force.  You can’t be a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led individual and go after your pastor with a vengeance.  Kindly show me one place in the New Testament where God blesses that kind of behavior and I’ll eat my words.

_______________

I now live some 500 miles away from my former church.  I cannot envision ever visiting the church again for any reason, and I have vowed never to visit the city in which the church is located, either.

There is just too much pain involved.

I accept the fact that even successful ministry tenures end.  Casey Stengel won ten pennants in twelve years for the New York Yankees – including five World Championships in a row from 1949-1953 – and even he was forced out after the Yankees lost the World Series in 1960.

But to get rid of a leader, God’s people often throw away their Bibles and engage in satanic shortcuts … adopting the strategy of deception leading to destruction (John 8:44).

Since they can’t force their pastor to resign any other way, they start spreading lies about him.

Lies designed to harm his reputation.  Lies designed to cause others to call for his dismissal.  Lies designed to create pain for him and his family.

And that decision … to get rid of a leader at all costs … is guaranteed to cause the leader … his family … his supporters … and their congregation … immense heartache for many years to come.

_______________

The reason that I wrote this article is to encourage the pastors and staffers who have been forced out to:

*accept that the church of Jesus Christ handles these situations horribly … so you aren’t alone.

*accept what happened to you as being part of God’s overall plan.

*accept that you will never fully reconcile with those who caused you harm.

*accept that you can and should forgive each person who hurt you unilaterally.

*accept that God still loves you and wants the best for you.

So will those who terminated you ever repent for what they did to you?

It’s highly unlikely.

After Judas betrayed Jesus, our Savior let him go.

We need to follow His example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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