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I recently met a woman who told me why she will never serve in a church again.

While a new believer, she became the office manager for a prestigious megachurch.  She served in that position for seven years.

The pastor governed the church without any kind of board or advisory group … an acceptable practice within that church’s wider Christian movement.

After she eventually left her position – she said she “knew too much” – she was asked to go back and comb through seven years of financial records.

When she did so, she found that the pastor had used church funds to do work on his house, among other things.

But then the coup de grace came when the pastor had an affair … divorced his wife … and married his lover.

The pastor left his position, but several years later, was placed in another church by the leader of that wider Christian movement.

That was it for her.

She told me that she attends a church with her husband, but that they will not serve as volunteers or in any other fashion.

I asked her, “So you just sit on the back row and leave after the service?”

“Yes,” she said.

This woman was thoughtful, intelligent, and interesting, with a great personality.

But she also has her limits for witnessing and tolerating bad behavior … as is true for most of us.

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Christian leaders are fond of proclaiming that Jesus wants His Church to fulfill His Great Commission … to “make disciples of all nations” … and making disciples initially involves bringing people to faith in Christ.

So Christians share Christ through mass crusades … rock concerts … youth camps … men and women’s retreats … movies and literature … and numerous other methodologies.

But we devote little to no personnel, time, energy, or resources to believers who are the victims of Christian misbehavior.

Our country is littered with tens of thousands of Christians who feel so wounded and violated by the sins of Christian leaders (pastors, staffers, board members and other leaders) that they either don’t go to church or, if they do, they sit on the back row.

And when they hear the pastor say, “We need volunteers for Vacation Bible School next week,” or “We ask you to give so our mission team can go to Russia,” they immediately exempt themselves from any involvement.

These people are believers in Jesus Christ … they have just stopped believing in the local church.

After they have seen and heard “enough,” they pull back on church participation.  They become isolated … sometimes from other Christians, mostly from local churches.

And they don’t identify themselves inside the Christian community.  They just keep quiet.

I encouraged the woman I mentioned above to tell me her story.  She was hesitant to do so.  Like most believers, she didn’t want to cause any trouble.

_______________

Thirty years ago, I read an article in Leadership Journal written by John Savage.  Based on his research, Savage claimed that whenever a churchgoer stopped attending their home church for six to eight weeks, they would reinvest their lives in other pursuits and quit church altogether because they concluded that nobody at the church cared enough to notice they were missing.

Savage believed that congregations need systems to track their attendees and that they should be contacted by someone from their church well before that six-week period.

For instance, in our last ministry, once a regular attender was missing for two Sundays, someone contacted them the very next week and said, “We’ve missed seeing you.  Is everything okay?  How can we help?”

Savage said that once someone stops attending for eight weeks, there is only one way to get them to return.

He said a loving, well-trained person/couple need to set up an appointment with the lapsed attender(s) … and the meeting needs to take place in the attender’s home.

Savage said that the people from church should only stay one hour … and that they should spend at least fifty minutes of that hour listening rather than talking.

Savage said it takes five or six similar meetings before the lapsed churchgoer(s) shares the real reasons why they aren’t attending church … and only then is there hope they might return.

Assuming that Savage’s research was accurate, there are obvious downsides to his approach.

To reclaim lapsed attenders, a church would need to:

*make such a ministry a priority

*identify people who could do it well

*get them to buy into Savage’s approach

*train these people to listen attentively to the hurts of lapsed attendees

*expect little return from such a ministry

That’s why it’s far better for a church to set up a ministry to identify and contact missing churchgoers within two weeks than to wait two months.

And the pastor can’t engage in such a ministry personally because many of the complaints center around him … and most churchgoers will never share that information in his presence.

_______________

How can we minister to people who have been deeply wounded by Christian leaders?

Let me offer four suggestions:

First, stop blaming them for the way they feel.

If you’ve been hurt by a Christian leader, you may feel anger … disappointment … hurt … and fear.

Those feelings are all legitimate.

When most Christians are violated in some way by a leader, they can’t reconcile that leader’s behavior with the gospel or New Testament Christianity.

Especially since most of the time, sinning leaders don’t repent and ask forgiveness from their victims.

The closer a Christian was to that leader, the more deeply they feel the pain.

When a pastor commits a major offense, he creates unknown collateral damage … so we shouldn’t blame the victims.

I’ve heard pastors criticize these Christian victims from the pulpit.  It doesn’t work.

Instead:

Second, we have to understand where they’re coming from.

I once knew a pastor who was trying to convince the people in his congregation to serve as volunteers.

He proudly told me what he told them: “If you aren’t serving in this church, you’re out of the will of God.”

That statement was not only insensitive … it was just plain dumb … and designed to drive people away from service rather than move them toward it.

Is is possible that some people in that church had tried to serve in another church and had a terrible experience?

Yes.

Then why condemn them because they didn’t want to feel the same kind of pain again?

It would be better for someone in that church to set up meetings and listen to people’s stories than to tar them all as being “out of the will of God.”

In fact, if I’d been wounded by a leader, the only way I’d even consider participation in a church again is if I could tell my story to a safe Christian.

Where are such safe Christians today?

Third, most Christians will only tolerate so much sin in their leaders.

Most people know who actress Patricia Heaton is.  She is a Roman Catholic Christian who stands strongly against abortion and often quotes Scripture on her Twitter account.

Yesterday she tweeted about a priest who has been found guilty of raping young boys.  She wrote: “The church will continue to decline and lose people like me if they keep tolerating this abomination.”

The woman I wrote about at the beginning of this article was most upset that her former pastor was given another church by his superior.  She felt that his behavior was so horrendous that he should never pastor again.

Since I don’t know the details, I can’t comment on that pastor’s reassignment.

But that reassignment came with a price … one that most people would never hear about: the alienation of a good woman and her husband from Christian service.

I know many pastors who have been married for decades and have always been faithful to their wives … yet because they were forced to resign from their churches, no church will even consider them as a pastoral candidate.

But if a church has a pastoral opening, shouldn’t those pastors be considered before someone guilty of sexual immorality?

Finally, we need to speak openly about wounded Christians because their ranks are growing.

Many years ago, when I was still a pastor, I had a conversation with a Christian couple I’ve known for decades.

When I asked them about their current church commitment, they told me they weren’t going to church anymore.

They told me a story about how they went to their pastor, and tried talking to him about a family issue, and how insensitive the pastor was toward them.

Instead of trying to understand, I got on them a bit, telling them, “But all pastors and churches aren’t like that.”

What I failed to understand was that the experience was so painful that they couldn’t go through it again … so their best solution was just to stay away from church altogether.

Right now, I know many Christians who used to attend church regularly and serve enthusiastically.  But now they aren’t going to church at all, go only sporadically, or warm a pew and then zip right home.

Sometimes they have good reasons for their non-participation.  Other times, their reasons don’t seem very compelling.

But there are thousands and thousands of good, solid believers who could be reclaimed, restored, and renewed if only someone in Christ’s church would devise a ministry for them.

Any ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a pastor is forced to leave his congregation, who is to blame?

Some inside a church will instantly proclaim, “The pastor is completely responsible for his demise.  He is 100% at fault.”

Others will insist, “The pastor isn’t to blame for his departure.  It was that spineless board … that heartless faction … or even the devil himself that caused this mess!”

The truth usually lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

In my book Church Coup, I quoted church conflict expert Speed Leas, who wrote about a research project along this line:

“While we could find some situations that were primarily the congregation’s ‘fault’ … and we could find some that were primarily the pastor’s ‘fault’ … these occurrences were rare.  Most of the time we found a mixture of congregational and pastoral causes that defied unraveling as to who ‘started it.’  Asking the question ‘Whose fault is it?’ in the church seemed to tangle people up … more than it helped … in our research into 127 ‘involuntary terminations’ or firings, we found the need to find fault to be one of the most characteristic and least helpful dimensions of the conflict … it is almost never the case that one party is exclusively in the wrong.”

This issue has been rattling around in my head for years, so let me mention five common scenarios involving a pastor’s departure … along with a general assessment of responsibility in each case:

First, if a pastor is guilty of a major offense, he is fully responsible for his own departure.

If a pastor is guilty of heresy, he should be fired and removed from office.

I read about a pastor many years ago who began teaching universalism, the belief that everyone – even Satan – will eventually be saved and go to heaven.

Since universalism perverts the gospel (if everyone can be saved, why did Jesus die?), the church was justified in removing that pastor from office, although he caused untold damage in the process.

If a pastor is guilty of sexual immorality, he should be removed from office as well.

I heard about a pastor who had an affair with a woman in his church for twenty years.  Twenty years!

How could he preach from the Holy Bible … serve Holy Communion … and even relate to the Holy Spirit while engaging in such conduct?

When the church board finally discovered the pastor’s misconduct, they took steps to remove him from office quickly.

Some experts believe these are the only two offenses that should merit a pastor’s forced termination, but I’d like to add a third: criminal behavior.

If a pastor has physically abused his wife … engaged in fraudulent financial behavior … assaulted people violently … or embezzled funds from his church … how can he stay as pastor?

He can’t.

When information about the pastor’s excessive misconduct comes to the attention of the church board, they should still:

*meet with the pastor

*ask him for his side of the story

*deliberate together prayerfully

*ask him to repent, if they discern he’s guilty

*aim for his restoration, not his destruction, if they remove him from office

But even if the board doesn’t handle the pastor’s departure perfectly, the pastor who is guilty of one of The Big Three has cooked his own goose.

However, this doesn’t mean that God is done with such individuals forever.

Second, if a church board has warned a pastor about a problem, and he’s failed to change his behavior within a reasonable time, the pastor is usually responsible for his own demise.

This scenario makes some assumptions … that the church board has:

*identified an area of the pastor’s life or ministry that needs changing

*spoken to the pastor directly and seriously about their concerns

*given the pastor enough time to turn things around

*monitored the pastor’s progress through the use of markers

*told the pastor what will happen if he doesn’t comply with their directives

Let’s say a pastor makes occasional insulting comments on Facebook to people from his church.  And let’s say that five people he has insulted are hopping mad and threaten to leave the church if the pastor’s behavior continues.

Once the church board approaches the pastor about this matter, he should do all he can to comply with their wishes, even if he doesn’t agree with each example they cite.

The pastor might choose to eliminate his Facebook page altogether … or write a message on Facebook apologizing for his behavior … or resolve to only write positive comments from now on … or at least refrain from saying anything that could be negatively interpreted.

But if the pastor continues to make insulting comments after being warned against it, then the pastor is to blame if the board reluctantly asks for his resignation.

There are church boards that work the steps I’ve listed above, but most boards don’t operate in such a clear manner.  They become anxious about the pastor’s behavior … handle things reactively rather than proactively … finally meet together in secret to discuss the issues … and only speak with the pastor directly when things have spun out of control.

And by then, it’s usually too late.

But if the board does everything right, and the pastor doesn’t change after a reasonable amount of time … he shouldn’t be surprise if he’s asked to pack his bags.

Third, if it becomes obvious that the pastor isn’t a good match for the church or the community, the blame for the pastor’s departure should be shared equally.

That is, the board should assume some of the blame, and the pastor should assume some of the blame.

Thirty years ago, I put out some resumes and had several phone interviews with search teams.

One was in Bay City, Michigan.  Another was in Rochester, New York.

The search team in Michigan liked me, but they asked me this question: “How would you feel about living so far away from your family in the West?”

Up to that time, all I cared about was leaving the church I was pastoring.  But they made me think about something I hadn’t really considered … and they were right.

Had I gone to Bay City, that church would have become our family, and neither my wife nor I would have seen our own parents or siblings very often.

If the board hadn’t asked me that question, and I had gone to Bay City, and it didn’t work out, they would be partially to blame.

But if I had gone there, and it didn’t work out, I’d share the blame as well.

I once heard about a pastor who was called from the South to a large church in Northern California.  His teenage daughter was forced to leave her boyfriend behind.

The girl became so depressed and distraught that the pastor resigned and returned to the South after less than a month in California.

It’s easy to say, “The pastor was totally at fault.  He never should have left the South.”  But it’s possible the search team didn’t look at the situation as carefully as they should have.

Mismatches usually reveal themselves pretty quickly.  It’s best if both the pastor and the search team admit, “We thought this would work out, but we can’t see it happening.  We’ll both take responsibility for this situation and not blame the other party.”

Fourth, if the board is happy with their pastor’s ministry, but the pastor is under attack, and the board fails to support him adequately, and the pastor resigns, the board is more at fault than the pastor.

Let’s say that Pastor Warren has been at Mercy Fellowship for six years.  And let’s say that Mercy’s attendance and giving have both doubled during that time.

And let’s say that ninety percent of the congregation loves Pastor Warren and that they are solidly behind his ministry … including the elders.

But one day, five people from an internal faction ask to meet with two of the elders.  They claim that Pastor Warren hasn’t been attending denominational meetings … that the church isn’t giving enough to the denomination … and that if things don’t change quickly, thirty people will leave the church.

So the two elders share this conversation with the other elders, and they speak with Pastor Warren at their next regular meeting.

Pastor Warren responds, “That’s right, I don’t attend denominational meetings.  I went to some my first several years here, but I found them to be a waste of time.  I’ve shared my stance with the elders before.  And we don’t give much money to the denomination because frankly, all we’re doing is propping up a bureaucracy run by a good old boys network.  I’d rather we invest in more productive ministries.”

The elders now have a choice.  They can back their pastor, or they can back the faction, but if they don’t back their pastor, he may choose to resign … and that will hurt the church far more than if the faction left.

I once knew a pastor who grew a megachurch.  One day, he fired a staff member.  The board hired him back.  The pastor resigned.

Pastor’s aren’t infallible.  Sometimes they get things wrong.  But the board needs to know that if they fail to support their pastor publicly, the pastor might choose to resign instead … and that will leave the board in charge of the church until they call a new pastor.

Finally, if a board fires a pastor without warning or explanation, the fault lies almost exclusively with the board.

Pastors aren’t mind readers.  They assume that things are going well unless somebody says, “We’re concerned about this particular issue.”

And a pastor should feel that wayYou can’t minister effectively if you’re walking around all day asking, “I wonder who’s mad at me?  I wonder if I’ve done something wrong?”

But a common scenario I hear from pastors is, “I thought everything in my ministry was going fine.  And then the board called me into a meeting after the morning worship service and they fired me.”

A board that would do that is composed of cowards.

If a church board is upset with their pastor, they have a responsibility to:

*schedule a meeting with him

*tell him to his face what their concerns are

*allow the pastor to offer feedback

*create a plan with the pastor’s input

*revisit the plan at reasonable intervals

How much time should the pastor be given?

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke says twelve to fifteen months.  If there hasn’t been sufficient improvement by then, the board has every right to remove the pastor.

The beauty of this approach is that the pastor can decide whether or not he wants to stay.  If he thinks the board has been unfair … or that he can’t change … or that he doesn’t need to change … then he has time to search for another ministry.

But most boards don’t do this.  They fail to tell the pastor their concerns directly … speak only among themselves … blame the pastor for not changing … work themselves into a high state of anxiety … and then fire the pastor abruptly.

And when a board fires an innocent pastor (that is, he’s not guilty of any major offense) suddenly, they’ve now bought their church two to five years of misery … or a gradual death spiral.

_______________

I believe there are times when a pastor needs to be removed from office.

But even when that becomes necessary, the pastor still should be treated with dignity, compassion, fairness, and grace … not abuse, insensitivity, injustice, and revenge.

The pastor and his family should also be given a generous severance package so they can transition financially into their next season of life.  Church boards that fire their pastors with little or no severance are denying the faith they claim to believe.

And the church board should tell the congregation as much as they can … not as little as possible … about why the pastor left if they want to reestablish trust.

Can you think of any other common scenarios that I missed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During my second pastorate, there was an older couple in our congregation who came to abhor me.

We got along very well … at first.

This couple … I’ll call them Ron and Dolores … moved from the Midwest to Silicon Valley in the early 1980s.  They came to our church because of its Swedish roots … and because they liked its denominational affiliation.

Ron became a board member.  Dolores immersed herself in women’s ministry.  They became established leaders.

And then I became their pastor.

Ron wanted me to love the denomination as much as he and his wife did.  So he made it possible for me to attend a week of meetings at the denominational seminary in Minnesota … during the last week in January.

Ron arranged for me to stay with his son and his family.  I borrowed Ron’s heavy winter coat … and I needed it for the -19 degree weather with the -35 wind chill in St. Paul.

But a short time later, Ron and his wife became enraged with some of the decisions that I made as pastor.

They wanted a nice, safe church where they could enjoy friendships … practice their Swedish customs … and remake our church into the wonderful Midwestern church they’d left behind.

But that wasn’t my vision for the church at all.

I wanted the church to reach people for Christ and grow … which wasn’t on Ron’s agenda.

We began to clash on all kinds of things … especially the music on Sunday mornings.

When I first came to the church, Ron and Dolores sang “Out of the Ivory Towers” as a duet on a Sunday morning … in Swedish.

After I was there a while, I didn’t ask them to sing anymore.  (They were awful.)

And to top things off, I encouraged and championed a worship band made up of younger guys.  (This was the mid-1980s.)

While the band had the full blessing of the church board (Ron had termed out by then), Ron and his wife hated the band.

And even more, they couldn’t stand the direction I was taking the church … away from their beloved Swedish roots.

Dolores eventually quit coming to church.  I tried talking to Ron … who still seemed friendly … but he couldn’t control his wife’s rage.

Eventually, they both quit coming to church … but their anger was spilling over to others.

I knew I had to confront them.

I set up a time to meet with them, and told them casually that I’d be bringing along a board member.

They told me I could come alone, but that I could not bring that particular board member.

I consulted with my district minster, who told me that I should not meet with Ron and Dolores alone.  Instead, I needed to bring along one or two witnesses.

Finally, on a Thursday night in March, two board members went with me to Ron and Dolores’ house.  We did not have an appointment.

They let us in, and then unloaded on us.

After a little while, Dolores got up unannounced and started doing the dishes while leaving the three of us to dialogue with Ron.

The evening did not go well.

During this time, I consulted with Dr. Ed Murphy, one of the world’s foremost experts on spiritual warfare, about the conflict I was having with this couple.

Dr. Murphy told me, “Whatever you do, get them out of the church and off the rolls as quick as you can.”

For the next year, Ron and Dolores looked for another church, while keeping their friendships in our church.

I thought, “Good, they’re gone.  Now we can get some things done.”

But one Sunday, I got up to speak, and Ron was sitting twenty feet away from me … with his arms crossed … and his gaze cemented on my face.

And that’s when I knew the hatred had started.

Ron began spreading discontent … gathering malcontents … and holding secret meetings … all in an attempt to push me out as pastor.

He became the worst antagonist I’ve ever had.

And in the end, he and his wife became full of blind hatred.

Hatred is a cancer in our culture and our churches.

And sadly, some churchgoers have a special hatred for their pastor.

The problem in Christian circles is that most people – including pastors – refuse to believe that other Christians are even capable of such hatred.

So we naively allow such people to wreak havoc in our churches … and only realize our mistake until it’s too late.

So let me share with you five characteristics of the Christian hater in hopes that we can recognize the signs and take action to save our pastors … and our churches:

First, the Christian hater doesn’t like the pastor personally.

*They don’t like the way he looks.

*They don’t want to hear the pastor preach.

*They don’t want to shake his hand after the service.

*They don’t like the pastor’s wife or children.

*They don’t like those who do like the pastor.

In fact, they wish the pastor would just go away … forever.

It’s okay not to like another Christian … even a pastor.  But if you don’t like your pastor, wouldn’t it be better to find a church where you do like the pastor?

Because as long as you can’t stand your pastor, your attitude will rub off on others … making them choose between their pastor and their friendship with you.

Ron and Dolores liked me at first … then they hated me.

When the hatred started, they should have left, severed all ties, and never returned.

But their hatred was enabled by their friends, which included some key leaders.

Second, the Christian hater keeps a list of complaints against the pastor.

And every time they see or hear the pastor, they add to that list.

This is how my father left church ministry more than fifty years ago.

One Sunday, a woman began writing down some complaints she had about my pastor-dad during a worship service.  A friend saw the list and added a few complaints of her own.

Before long, that list grew much longer … even though the issues were all petty.

The list makers turned on my father and eventually ran him out of the church.

Making such a list is a sign of hatred … as is adding to the list yourself … as is asking others to add to the list.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love “keeps no record of wrongs.”

Love does not keep a list of a person’s foibles, faults, or failures.

But hatred sure does.

Ron and Dolores eventually began holding secret meetings with others in the church.

They wrote down as many of my faults as they could think of on the front and back of a green sheet of lined paper.

That list was a silent confession of hatred.

And when you list someone’s faults, you’re trying to do one thing: devalue them so you can destroy them.

Third, the Christian hater can’t hide their negative feelings.

When a hater comes to church, they don’t laugh with abandon.  They don’t smile freely.  They don’t look joyful.

And you can see it on their face.

The hater is also ready to gush out all their bitter feelings against their pastor.

If the hater goes out after the service for lunch, he or she won’t be able to stay silent for very long.

At some point during lunch, the hater will let begin attacking the pastor verbally.  No matter how hard they try to restrain themselves, their hatred will spill out.

Genuine hatred is very difficult to control … and to camoflauge.

The hater usually gives himself or herself away.

A board member kept me informed on what Ron and Dolores were telling others about their pastor.  The board member even crashed one of their secret meetings.

Ron and Dolores knew that the board member supported me completely, but they emptied their verbal guns when he was around anyway … giving away enough of their playbook so we could later counteract their actions.

Haters can’t help themselves.

Fourth, the Christian hater tries to convert others.

When you hate someone, you’re usually in the minority … or all alone.

And there’s nothing worse than hating someone on your own.

So most haters either look for other haters or try and convince their friends to hate someone as they do.

It’s no secret that I don’t like NBA player LeBron James.  While he’s incredibly talented, I find him to be arrogant and childish.  I have always rooted against him and his teams.

During the recent NBA playoffs, I didn’t have anyone to emote with about LBJ, so I found a group on Facebook called LeBron James Haters United … and sent a link they did to another person who dislikes LBJ.

I don’t represent any danger to LBJ or his worshipers.

But when someone inside a church hates their pastor, there’s a very real possibility that they will spread their hatred to others.

That’s what Ron and Dolores did.  Before the dust settled, 25% of our people left the church with them.

They formed a new church … composed of people who hated me.

That was their foundation.

Finally, the Christian hater wants to destroy the object of their hatred.

Thirty years ago, my former denomination held their annual meetings in the Silicon Valley city where my family lived.

My wife headed up a children’s program that met upstairs … and I helped her as much as I could.

But downstairs, Ron was doing his best to destroy me.

Ron had prepared literature about his new church that he passed out to people as they entered the convention center.  It was a violation of protocol … nobody ever promotes their church to the exclusion of others at such meetings … but he didn’t care about that.

And while he was promoting his church, he was vocally criticizing the church he left … and its pastor.

I was horrified.

Due to his hatred, Ron couldn’t stop trying to hurt me.

Leaving the church with his wife wasn’t enough … they had to take others with them.

Forming their own church wasn’t enough … he had to try and hurt my church in the process.

Various pastors came to me and told me what Ron was doing.  When I protested to the leaders of our district, they asked, “What can we do?”

Eventually, a pastor friend took all of Ron’s literature … when he wasn’t around … and threw it in a trash can.

_______________

A few months after the convention meetings, Ron’s influence had disappeared.  The church he founded died after a year, and the people scattered to other churches … although nobody returned to our church.

Ron’s wife died a horrible death on an interstate highway a few years later.  Ron later moved back to the Midwest, remarried, and then died himself.

I tried not to hate Ron and his wife in return.  In fact, a few years after their church disbanded, Ron and I met in a hospital, and had a productive conversation.

We can’t stop people like Ron and Dolores from hating their pastor.

But pastors and church leaders can take action so that the haters find themselves isolated and either choose to repent or leave a congregation.

Haters are aggressive individuals.  They go on the offensive.  Once they get started, they’re tough to stop.

But for the sake of our churches, our pastors, and the gospel … we have to try … and must succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the mid-1970s, I applied for the job of Youth/Christian Education Director at a church in Orange County, California that was nearly ninety years old.

My cousin and her husband attended the church and referred the search committee to me.

I interviewed with the appropriate leaders, and the congregation voted on my call.

Out of 47 ballots cast, the vote was 42-5 in the affirmative.

I was offered the position, and quickly accepted it.

(One of the kids in that youth group went on to become the president of a Christian university.  He’s quoted in the press – both secular and Christian – all the time.  I’m very proud of him!)

I immediately wanted to know who voted against me.

There was a family in the church that had four adults living at home: a husband and wife and their adult kids, a young man and a young woman.  The young man was attached to a fifth adult, his girlfriend.

I heard through the church grapevine that all five of them voted against me.

Why?

Because I graduated from Biola College (now University), and their last youth director was also from Biola … and he had painted the youth room orange without permission.

Once I surmised who voted against me, I wondered, “How hard should I try to show them that I’m really a good guy?”

The mother in the family was the church secretary.  And her husband was chairman of the all-powerful Church Council.

I spent time trying to get to know the secretary, but it was challenging.  She wasn’t very nice.

Her husband wouldn’t give me the time of day, and later cheated me out of funds by refusing to break down my salary into taxable/non-taxable categories.

Both of them were rigid legalists.

Now here’s the reason I’m telling this story:

Most of the time, when someone votes against a pastoral candidate or criticizes that pastor publicly, those individuals become likely candidates to oppose their pastor in the future.

Once churchgoers – including board members, staffers, and key leaders – take a public stance against their pastor, they almost always maintain their stance until either they leave … or the pastor leaves.

Once they go public with their opinion, they rarely adopt a different view.

They bide their time until they can prove to the pastor’s supporters that he/she was right … and they were dead wrong.

The couple I mentioned above were later involved in forcing out the pastor of that church.  I expected they would then set their sights on me but the Lord allowed me to leave soon after the pastor did.

Let me share a second example.

In 1999, I was invited by a pastor friend to become his associate pastor with the idea of succeeding him as senior pastor if things worked out.

I came to the church in June 1999 and was hired by the church board.

The pastor announced in January 2000 that he would be retiring the following December … nearly a year later.

By this time, I was preaching … teaching classes … leading a small group … and starting my Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary.

The congregation had to vote on me before I could become pastor.  I had to win 75% of the ballots cast.

The longer I stayed, the greater the chance that I would do or say something offensive … and that could hurt my chances of winning any vote of the congregation.  (It’s not expedient to candidate for a position for almost a year!)

So I went to the pastor and board and said, “I’ve been here ten months now.  If you want me to become your new pastor, I’d like you to vote on me sometime in April.”

If I won the vote … and since things were going great, I was certain I would … I’d become the senior-pastor elect, and that would give me the authority to accelerate the transition.

So one April Sunday, church members cast their ballots.  The vote was 76-4 to call me as pastor … a 95% affirmative vote.

But, just like the vote mentioned earlier, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

I was pretty sure I knew who two of the naysayers were.

There was a man in the church (let’s call him Harry) who had become both a board member and a Sunday School teacher.  In many ways, Harry was the senior pastor’s right-hand man, and his class was large, giving him great influence.

Harry and the pastor were about the same age … had similar views on money … and even took a vacation together with their wives.  The four of them were becoming increasingly close.

And then I came along.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my very presence made me an immediate threat to Harry.

When Harry got together socially with people from the church, he not only roasted me, but misrepresented things I said and believed.  Some of the things he said filtered back to me, so I knew that he didn’t like me.

And given his forceful personality, I knew that if he was going public with his complaints, there was almost nothing I could do to change his mind.

One day, Harry and I met alone at the church for two hours.  He asked me some questions about ministry, and I gave him my honest answers.

We had diametrically opposite views of the direction our church should take.

He wanted to use a retail approach to church growth.  For example, he felt we would grow quickly if we just advertised on television.

That kind of approach makes my skin crawl.

He not only didn’t like me, he didn’t understand me, and couldn’t seem to relate to me at all.

So when that vote was taken, I knew … knew … that Harry and his wife were two of those four “no” votes.

After the election, one of my best supporters came up to Harry and his wife and said … loudly … “Why don’t you congratulate Jim on today’s vote?”

They did so … but their hearts obviously weren’t in it.

Six months later … two months before I was scheduled to become the senior pastor … Harry and his wife left the church … in anger.  Harry immediately tried to negotiate his way back, asking for full access to me at all times.

I told Harry I couldn’t grant his request … and he and his wife never returned.

In essence, Harry wanted to run the church through me, but I couldn’t be anyone’s man but God’s.

Based on these two stories, let me share five principles about how a pastor should view his early opponents:

First, it’s not wise for a pastor to try and track down who voted against him.

Although I was curious about the five people who voted against me in the first story above, I don’t remember being obsessed by it.  But it didn’t take long for me to find out who those five people were … and as I recall, I didn’t seek out the information.  It somehow came to me instead.

But in the second instance, I knew that Harry and his wife did not think I should be pastor of the church.  Most people were very complimentary of my ministry when I first came.  In contrast, Harry never said one positive thing to me during that whole time.

Other than Harry and his wife, I never did discover the identities of the other two people who voted against me … although after a few months as pastor, I could have hazarded some educated guesses.

Second, although pastors cannot afford to be paranoid, it helps to know the names of those standing against him in the early days.

Most people who vote on a pastor will tell their relational circle how they voted … and they will explain or create a rationale for doing so … even if their friends disagree.

If the pastor does or says something stupid, they’re liable to tell family or friends, “Don’t look at me … I didn’t vote for the guy!”

If a pastor can casually find out who voted against him, that knowledge can become extremely useful.  This gives the pastor time to figure out how to minister to his critics … or at least neutralize them.  (For example, a pastor shouldn’t let such people into leadership.)

Third, if a pastor can win over some of his initial detractors, he should seize the opportunity.

I can only recall winning over two people who initially stood against me.

In my second pastorate, I received a vote of 51-5 to become the church’s senior pastor.  And once again, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

There was a middle-aged couple who attended the church, and I somehow discovered that they were two of the “no” votes.

I tried to get to know them, but they weren’t interested … and the woman always glared at me.

It went on like that for three years.

Then suddenly, the woman’s mother became ill and died.  I ministered to the family, and I watched their attitude toward me change overnight.

Suddenly, I became “their” pastor … and we enjoyed a great relationship for many years after that.

That’s the key: to become their pastor.

And sometimes, that takes a long time.

Fourth, some people initially oppose a pastor, not because they don’t like him, but because they assume he won’t notice or like them.

Most churchgoers don’t oppose a pastor because they disagree with his theology, or because they don’t like his stance on some social issue.

Instead, they’re afraid he won’t give them … or their family … or their ministries … sufficient attention.

This is where I sometimes failed.

As an introvert, I was often exhausted after preaching a sermon.  I didn’t have much energy left to say to the woman who glared at me all the time, “Hey, why don’t you and your husband go out with my family for pizza after church?”

Frankly, my wife and I didn’t have the money for shoes or car repairs, much less meals with people I didn’t understand.

But I needed to send some signals to that couple that I wanted to get to know them better and that they were valuable to our church … and if I sensed somebody didn’t like me, I sometimes avoided them instead.

Some of a pastor’s opponents are mean-spirited bullies who use intimidation to get their way.  Once a pastor has sized up such people, he needs to pray or escort them out of the church … and if they leave, let them go.

But others are just wounded people who wonder if the pastor truly cares for them.  And once they know that he does, they’ll become the loyalist of supporters.

Finally, although a pastor might be able to win over a few of his initial opponents, he needs to accept that some people will always oppose him.

I don’t think a pastor can win over everybody who initially stands against him:

*Some people are stubborn.

*Some people don’t want to lose face by admitting they’re wrong.

*Some people feel their influence would be jeopardized by switching positions.

*Some people are cantankerous and contrary by nature.

*Some people pride themselves on being the “loyal opposition.”

So the best of pastors can’t change everybody.

But if a pastor knows who his early opponents are, he can take steps to love them and to address their concerns … even if he never understands them.

_______________

But on rare occasions, the Lord can do amazing things even in the lives of those who vote against a pastor.

When I was nineteen years old, my church asked a former member and missionary to candidate for the position of senior pastor.

I didn’t fully agree with him … and neither did some others in my relational circle.

During his second of two sermons, he told us that God had called him to pastor the church.

I thought, “So why hold an election?”

In the end, I voted against him … as did six other people in my circle.

But 87% of the people voted for him, and five months later, he became the church’s second senior pastor.

Right before that pastor arrived, I was hired to work with youth for the summer.

That new pastor became my primary ministry mentor for decades.

And I ended up marrying his daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Friday night in winter … nearly twenty years ago … the Bay Area church I was pastoring advertised that we were going to have snow for the kiddies.

Since it never snowed in our area, the snow had to be imported on a truck.

My wife … who ordered the snow and was coordinating the event … was anxious.  She promised snow at 7:30 pm, but the truck got lost.

Finally, the driver found his way to our campus … almost an hour late.

A man from our church … who was in his eighties … was present that night and put things into perspective when he said, “Pastor, a good church is hard to find.”

Amen to that!

Until I was 56 years old, I never had to search for a church:

*During my childhood, my dad was a pastor, so I went to the churches he served, mostly in Orange County.

*For the next eight years, I attended where my family attended.

*From ages 19 through 27, I was a staff member in three churches.

*After that, I served as the solo or senior pastor of three churches.

So for most of my life, I didn’t have to search for a church home … but that all changed after we left our last church in 2009.

While living in Arizona, it took my wife and me a long six months to find a church home.

But when we moved to the Inland Empire in Southern California six years ago, finding a church home became a complicated and painful experience.

We’ve had three church homes over the past five-and-a-half years: a Baptist church, a Calvary Chapel, and a Reformed Church.

We left the Baptist church because it was too far away to become socially involved … and because they were much too ingrown.

We left the Calvary Chapel because their worship time was becoming weirder.

We left the Reformed Church because, while they didn’t do much that was wrong, they didn’t do much that was right, either.

So now … once again … my wife and I are searching for a church home.

What are we looking for in a home church?

Five things:

First, we want to hear a biblically based, intelligent sermon.

Most pastors in our area offer a sermon based in Scripture.  That’s the easy part.

But most pastors don’t offer a sermon with much, if any, intelligence.

As a former pastor, I want a pastor to:

*Give us evidence that you’ve immersed yourself in the text.

*Show us that the passage under study has passed through and touched you.

*Share with us a quote … a story … an application that is fresh and moving.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones … one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century … sometimes visited churches in America.  Pastors would get up to preach and be astounded to see the good doctor sitting in their congregation.

Lloyd-Jones said he looked for one primary thing in a sermon: evidence of the presence of God.

I’ve tried to apply that standard to the sermons I’ve heard, but I don’t always succeed.

Lloyd-Jones also summed up what a great sermon is in three words: “Logic on fire!”

I hear fire sometimes in the churches we visit.  Sadly, I don’t hear much logic.

On Sunday, April 1, my daughter and I attended an Easter service at All Souls Church in London, England, where John Stott had been the pastor years before.

The Minister of Evangelism gave the sermon that morning, and knocked it out of the park.

There was logic … and there was fire.

I loved it.

My longtime friend Dave Rolph preaches live on Roku every Sunday morning from his Orange County church.  (He’s also on the radio here in SoCal.)  I watch Dave’s sermon most Sunday mornings because while he’s thoroughly biblical, he’s also original, thinks broadly, and offers stories and applications that make me think.

With most sermons I hear, I forget them as soon as I hear them.  With Dave, his insights sometimes stay with me for days.

Second, we want the worship music to be singable and meaningful.

By singable, I mean that the band on stage isn’t playing too loud.  You can hear the people around you singing … not just the music … and you don’t have to strain to sing yourself.

By meaningful, I mean the songs are not selected because they’re currently popular, but because they say something significant about the Lord.  The words are both theologically accurate and touching.

Many churches in our area offer music that’s too loud for singing.  You can hear the band and singers on stage, but you can’t hear anyone around you.

And so many of the song lyrics are repetitious.  I refuse to sing the same words over and over for no reason.

The trend in many churches is to sing the same song for eight to ten minutes … like what you’ll hear at a Chris Tomlin concert.

That may work for some people, but it doesn’t work for me.  What is the point of singing the same words five and seven and nine times?

My son attends a Calvary Chapel that uses acoustic music.  You can hear the voices around you.  I enjoy their worship times.

My daughter attends a Reformed church that also uses acoustic music.  The words to the songs are elegant and deeply moving.

I’d attend either church in a heartbeat … but my son’s church is 60 miles away, and my daughter’s church is 500 miles away.

I’m sure there are churches out there that offer what we’re looking for.  I just don’t know where they are.

Third, we want to meet people who are in our socioeconomic background.

This is a big problem for us around here.

I grew up in suburban Anaheim, California.  Every church I pastored was located in a suburban area as well.

I don’t fit in an urban environment, and I don’t fit in a rural environment, either.

My wife and I spent 27 years ministering in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We fit best with the people in that region.  They are “our people.”

But we don’t live there … we live in the Inland Empire … and much of our community is rural … along with the communities ten miles north, west, and east of us.

This is really tough for us.  We don’t want to come off as snobs.  We aren’t better than the people around here … we’re just different.

There are churches around here where most of the people have tattoos or piercings.  Praise God that those people know the Lord … but it makes us feel very uncomfortable.

You can’t determine a “relational fit” from a church website.  You have to visit the church first.

And this is a major reason why we visit most churches only once.

Fourth, we want to be theologically compatible with the church’s faith and practice.

Two Sundays ago, my wife and I visited a church 15 miles south of us.

There was nothing on the church website that indicated the kind of church they were.

After a couple of worship songs, I turned to my wife and said, “This is a charismatic church.”

Now there is nothing wrong per se with a charismatic church … it’s just not our preference.

The pastor’s son spoke that morning … at a supersonic rate.  He spoke on the Lord’s appointing and anointing.

My wife wanted to walk out after a few minutes.  He was making us both highly anxious by his rapid-fire delivery.

I told her later that in some churches, when a pastor speaks fast, that’s an indication that he is anointed with the Holy Spirit.

After the sermon, the pastor asked everyone in the congregation to pray to receive Christ.  Everyone!

That, my friends, is manipulation, pure and simple … and I refuse to attend any church that uses manipulation.

We attended another church for a few months where a woman was on the staff.  That was okay.

But one Sunday, we came to church, and she delivered the sermon.

For us, that was not okay.

Churches aren’t going to tell you their peculiarities on their website.  You have to visit them first.

If you visit them a few times, they won’t hide their unique beliefs or practices very long.

And then you can decide if you want to stay or not.

Finally, we want to be able to use our spiritual gifts in service.

My top spiritual gift is teaching.

My wife’s passion is outreach.

I have tried to find a church that will let me use my teaching gift, but I keep hearing the same thing: the pastor is our only teacher.

And if the pastor shares his pulpit, he shares it with staff … or a visiting missionary … or an old pastor friend.

I’m not angling to preach.  I just want to teach God’s Word to God’s people.

In our community, my guess is that less than 10% of the churches even offer Sunday School or adult Bible classes.

And I don’t know where those churches are.

Instead, the churches offer small groups, which is good … but the whole idea of groups is that everyone participates … and no one teaches.

I suppose I could volunteer to clean toilets … or move chairs … or work in the nursery … or fill a slot somewhere.

Forgive me, but no thanks.

Since I can’t use my gifts inside a church, I write instead.

_______________

A couple weeks ago, my wife spent several hours looking for a church for us to visit.

She checked out dozens of websites … and only found a handful of churches that might appeal to us.

When I checked out the churches, I eliminated most of them for the reasons listed above.

I’ve decided to make a chart and rank the churches in priority order.

But my big concern is that we aren’t going to find a church where we fit.

Yes, we’ve visited several churches, and gone back two or three or more times … hoping that would become our church home.

But it just hasn’t worked out.

We’re not looking for a perfect church … just one where we fit.

There are many such churches in the Bay Area … and in Orange County.

There aren’t that many in the Inland Empire.

That older gentleman was right:

A good church is indeed hard to find.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I once had a conversation with a pastor who had been asked to leave his church by the official board.

His attitude was, “Okay, I’ll resign.”

And according to him, he and his wife then quietly left the church.

The way he told the story, he didn’t ask for any severance … didn’t feel any anger … didn’t tell anyone what happened … and didn’t need any time to recover.

Personally, I think he was either lying to me or greatly exaggerated how well he handled his departure.

Because most pastors who are forced out of their churches don’t recover quickly.  According to my friend and mentor Charles Chandler, founder of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, it takes the average pastor one to three years to heal from a forced termination.

And in some cases, I believe it can take longer than that.

In my last blog, I wrote about the first three stages that a pastor goes through after being forced to leave a ministry:

Stage 1: Shock

Stage 2: Searching

Stage 3: Panic

Let me share the final three stages with you:

Stage 4: Forgiveness

I’ve heard pastors tell me their stories but try and excuse or explain the behavior of the official board or an antagonistic faction.

If the board wasn’t at fault … if they did everything right … then the pastor should feel little to no anger, and he probably doesn’t have to forgive anyone.

But if the board violated Scripture … and possibly the church’s constitution/bylaws … and lied about the pastor’s offenses … and demonstrated callousness rather than compassion … and offered little to no severance … then the pastor rightfully feels angry, and he will have to forgive his opponents before he can truly recover.

Some boards know that the way they’re treating their pastor is wrong, but they do it anyway.  These are usually boards that are run by bullies and people who are powerful/wealthy in the church or community.  The bullies have sociopathic or narcissistic tendencies and force others to do their bidding.

These boards must be forgiven.

Other boards … maybe most … think that the way they’re treating their pastor is right, but if they asked him … and probably the majority of their congregation … they’d say, “You’re handling matters horribly.”

These boards must be forgiven as well.

Surveying those who crucified Him, Jesus prayed in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus was treated horribly.  He didn’t do anything wrong but was crucified on trumped-up charges.

Yet from His perspective, Jesus granted His enemies unilateral forgiveness.  He forgave them for their sins against the Father and the Son.  He chose not to hang onto personal anger and bitterness.

But He did not offer His enemies bilateral forgiveness … or reconciliation … from the cross.  That offer would come later.

Now here’s the problem with pastors who have undergone termination: what the pastor really wants … and needs … is reconciliation … but it isn’t possible.

He has to settle for unilateral forgiveness instead.

Let me share how this works from my own story.

The board at my former church may have been upset with me over a few issues, but for months, they did not bring them to my attention, nor did they ask me to repent.

Instead, at our final meeting, they brought up an incident where I had already asked for their forgiveness and changed my behavior.

Then they mentioned a second supposed offense which I deny to this day.

In neither case did they allow me to respond to their charges.  They engaged in a scripted monologue that made them feel better but made me feel angry.  The climate in the meeting was, “We’re right, Jim, but you’re wrong.”

It’s hard to defend yourself when it’s six against one.

Yet eight days after our final meeting, all six board members resigned together.

Based upon their resignation letter, they never wanted to see or hear from me again.  In fact, if you read their letter, you would conclude that they hated me … which is how I interpreted what they wrote.

Then a week later, at two public congregational meetings, someone stood up and rattled off a list of charges against me which the board had never shared to my face.  In fact, it was the first time I had heard of all but one charge.

According to the church consultant present at those meetings, I suffered abuse and slander.  He later wrote that the board had acted “extremely and destructively.”

Those six board members chose not to interact with me anymore.  To this day, not one of them has ever tried contacting me for any reason.  Any personal relationships we had were destroyed when our working relationship was severed.

The board is no longer an entity.  I doubt if they have annual reunions.  If I wanted to reconcile with them, what would that look like?

I read a book once about a pastor who tried to do just that.  A year after he left his previous church, he called the board together and tried to reconcile with them.

But they were even more angry and adamant about the pastor than they had been the year before!  Their hearts had hardened toward him, not softened.

I have never heard of a pastor who was able to reconcile with a board or a faction that pushed him out of office.  Maybe it’s happened … I’m just unaware of it.

Individuals from the board or a faction might desire reconciliation, but most of the time, they’d have to initiate contact with the pastor.

I can count on one hand the number of churches that I’ve heard about that brought back a pastor and admitted they sinned against him when they ran him out of town.

But in most of these situations, the board members who sent him packing are no longer on the board … and they probably wouldn’t agree with the church’s decision anyway.

The problem with reconciliation between a pastor and the board that terminated him is that they would have to rehash the story again … both sides would probably end up taking the same stances they took in the past … and the pastor would be hurt all over again.

In my case, I was not guilty of any major offense.  I tried to work with the board, but our value systems were just too different.  One or both of us needed to leave.

Since reconciliation isn’t possible, granting unilateral forgiveness is the only thing a terminated pastor can do.

The timing of genuine forgiveness depends upon two factors: the severity of the injustice and the sensitivity of the pastor.

In my case, it took me six months before I could forgive those who ended my pastoral career.

Why did it take so long?

I wasn’t ready.

This means going to the Lord alone or with family … confessing any sins that the Lord leads you to confess … and then asking the Lord to forgive those who sinned against you, just as Jesus did in Luke 23:34.

If you can pray once and let things go, great.  In my case, I’ve had to forgive some people multiple times as I’ve heard about new offenses they committed against me.

But if you don’t forgive those who hurt you, you will not be able to recover from your termination.

Forgiveness is essential.

When you’re ready, give the Lord your anger … let it go … and ask Him to right any wrongs.

And then trust Him to do just that.

If you want additional help, let me recommend the books on forgiveness by David Augsburger and Lewis Smedes.  Augusburger is more biblical and deeper … Smedes is more practical and shares great stories.

Stage 5: Distancing

What do I mean by distancing?

After you have formally forgiven everyone who attacked and hurt you, you have to put some distance between you and (a) your former congregation as an entity, and (b) nearly everyone in that congregation.

Let me share a mistake I made along this line.

When my wife and I left our last church in December 2009, we not only had to move everything in our house, we both had offices at church as well.

We put everything in two moving pods … including at least two hundred boxes of my books … but we still had to leave some items behind … and we moved nearly 800 miles away.

I left three large filing cabinets full of files in the church office, and wasn’t able to return for them for three months.

When I returned, it took 21 Banker Boxes for all those files.

But it was extremely painful to return to the church.  The interim pastor had set up camp in my former office of ten years … I could see him through the large window … and the church was planning to do a memorial service for a woman who had been one of my biggest supporters … but now I wouldn’t be conducting that service.

One night on that trip, I drove by the church in the rain … and it was the last time I ever saw the sign and the building.

I’ve returned to the city where we lived and worked several times, but I refuse to drive by the church.

It’s just too painful.

On several occasions, I met with friends from the church, but they wanted to talk about the real reasons why I was pushed out … and that was hard as well.

On one of those trips, I invited a good friend out to breakfast, but he never asked me one question about how I was doing, and talked about how much he liked the new pastor instead (even though his family left the church soon afterward).

The last time I visited the city was six years ago, and I promised myself I would never go back.

That’s what I mean by distancing.

To recover, you need to distance yourself:

*from seeing the church campus again.  If you have to remember what it looked like, find some old photos.

*from spending any time with anyone who isn’t 100% your friend.  Eight years later, I probably have 15-20 friends left from my former church … and that’s mostly on Facebook.

*from any of your detractors.  There were people who claimed to be my friends when I left the church who flipped on me a few months or years afterward.  Their disloyalty was so painful that I started pulling away from anyone I couldn’t fully trust.

*from hearing how the church is currently doing.  If you don’t have contact with people who are at the church, you won’t have to hear how things are going.  Most of the time, a church that pushes out their pastor will suffer as far as attendance, giving, volunteers, and morale for the next two to five years.  I have no idea how my previous church is doing in any detail.  I took my hands off the church years ago … and that’s the best gift I can give any successor.

*from the area where the church is located, if possible.  Visit restaurants and stores in the area, and you’re bound to see someone you don’t want to see.

When I was in college, I worked two years for McDonald’s in Anaheim.  While I’ve driven past it a few times since I moved out of Orange County in 1981, I haven’t stopped there for a burger or tried to see if anyone I knew in the early 1970s still works there.

They’ve moved on … as have I.  McDonald’s no longer defines me.

That’s how pastors have to view their former churches.

Finally, there’s:

Stage 6: Perspective

You can’t have perspective on a forced termination until you’ve forgiven those who have hurt you and have put distance between you and your former church so you know they can’t hurt you again.

As long as you’re stressed, depressed, or in pain about your termination, your thinking about what happened to you will be skewed.

And it takes time to gain that perspective … sometimes a lot of time.

While self-reflection in this area is a good thing, you’ll gain far more perspective … and much more quickly … if you ask others for assistance.

I recommend:

*talking with several pastor friends.  My pastor friends let me know that my departure did not change our friendship.  That was their greatest gift to me.  I also had meetings with a lot of prominent pastors, most of whom told me about the conflicts that they went through.  Wounded pastors bond quickly and easily.

*talking with a church consultant or conflict expert.  If you want to know what really happened in your situation, these are the guys you want to speak with.  If I can help you in any way, please email me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org  I love to hear new stories about pastoral termination … and I know I can help.

*talking with one or two Christian counselors.  I visited two counselors … both women … and both came highly recommended.  (My wife saw them both as well.)  Both had been in ministry so they understood the dynamics.  Most pastors don’t see a counselor after a forced termination, and that’s a huge mistake.  If a pastor doesn’t see a counselor, he will tend to bleed emotionally all over his wife and children, and after a while, they may not be able to take it anymore.  The right counselor will listen to your story without judgment or condemnation … point out flaws in your thinking … help you discern healthy and unhealthy responses to your termination … and help you move forward.  Make sure you see a Christian counselor who understands people in ministry!  They will also understand spiritual warfare.

*talking with several of your supporters from the church … especially if they know the back story.  Because I wrote a book about what happened to me, I spent hours emailing and calling people who knew what was said and done after I left.  For example, two weeks after our departure, the new board chairman told the congregation that an investigation was done and “there was no evidence of any wrongdoing” on our part.  I would never have known that unless several people told me it had occurred.

I had invested 35 years in pastoral ministry, but my final year was horrible.  The church was landlocked, so I didn’t see any hope for growth, and the board was obsessed with money, even though we had plenty of funds for ministry.

After two bad board meetings in a row, I visited a counselor, who tested me and told me, “You’re severely burned out and headed for a breakdown.”

But I was so committed to ministry … to my church … and to my career that I would never have resigned voluntarily.

Looking back now, I see that the Lord in His mercy removed me from office.  Things at the church were going to get worse with that board … not better … and more conflict was going to be the result.

As I’m fond of saying, I didn’t retire … the Lord retired me.

People sometimes ask me, “Don’t you miss church ministry?”  And I always tell them the same thing, “No, I don’t.  Thirty-five years was enough.”

My wife and I run in a preschool in our house.  It took us nearly four years before we settled on our new career, but it’s gone very well, and we’re nearly always full.

We have nights and weekends free … can go to church with our son’s family and our three grandsons … and lead quiet but fulfilling lives.

I resonate with the words of Joseph, who told his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good …”

When you focus more on God’s wise and good plan than the hurt and the pain caused by your detractors, you’re well on your way to recovering from your ecclesiastical nightmare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my case, I had to pray this prayer on multiple occasions because the board that wanted me gone thought they were clever in the way they handled matters but bungled them so badly I toyed with the idea of calling my book Bungled instead of Church Coup.

 

 

 

 

 

While sweeping the kitchen floor yesterday, it came to me that I’ve been in a really good place emotionally for the past several years.

After serving as a pastor for 36 years, I was forced out of my last congregation in the fall of 2009.  Of the scores of stories I’ve heard about pastors being terminated since my departure, mine still ranks among the top three worst stories I’ve ever heard.

Despite ten-and-a-half years of successful ministry, my wife and I were abused … slandered … hated … and shunned, especially during our last few weeks at the church and in the months following.

And yet today, I feel completely healed, to the point that I don’t think about those events much anymore.

What kind of stages does a terminated pastor go through to experience recovery?

Let me offer six stages … three today, three next week … and these ideas are mine alone:

Stage 1: Shock

As recounted in my book Church Coup, my fifty-day conflict began on a Saturday morning with a regularly scheduled board meeting.  The board and I were supposed to finalize the church budget for 2010 … only the board made an announcement ultimately designed to push me out of my position.

I was shocked that:

*the board had been plotting while I was overseas.

*two board members who had been supporters were involved.

*the board didn’t hear my side of the story before making drastic decisions.

*they thought they could lead the church better than I could.

*they acted like they knew what they were doing when they really didn’t.

My disbelief continued when I asked the board for documentation of the offenses they claimed had been committed … but they never produced anything coherent.

I thought I knew the six members of the board pretty well, but I was dismayed to discover I didn’t.

And I was especially shocked because I didn’t see the conflict coming.

But most of all, I found it hard to believe that Christian leaders would treat their pastor of more than a decade in such an unjust fashion.

What do I mean by “unjust?”

A pastor is treated unjustly when church leaders violate Scripture … the church’s governing documents … and labor law in their attempts to force him out of office … and when they do it all with a cold, calloused attitude lacking in compassion.

When I talk with pastors who have been forced to leave their churches, they resonate best with that last statement: that they would be treated so unjustly by professing Christians.

The shock lingers on … for months … sometimes years.

The more sensitive you are, the longer it lasts.

You never forget the moment you’re told that someone you loved suddenly died.

And you never forget the exact time a board member tells you, “Your tenure as the pastor of this church is over.”

Stage 2: Searching

After the shock wore off a little, I had two primary questions I needed answers to:

*Who was in on this plot?

*What are they saying that I did wrong?

I wanted to know the “who” before I discovered the “what” because most of the time, the “who” determines the “what.”

For example, if you told two women, “Jim did this … can you believe it?”, one woman might say, “That’s terrible!” and the other woman might say, “That’s nothing!”

It’s often how people interpret the information they’re given that determines whether they oppose or support their pastor.

So who wanted me gone?

I pretty much knew the answer to that question:

*people who wanted our church to have closer denominational ties.

*a handful of individuals I wouldn’t let into church leadership because they didn’t meet the biblical qualifications.

*people who had close ties with my predecessor and longed for his return, even though he had officially retired nine years beforehand.

*a small contingent who didn’t think my wife should be a staff member, even though she made the church go.  (I maintain to this day that some women were jealous of her success and hated her because of it.)

*people who didn’t like the church’s longstanding outreach orientation and wanted to pare down the church so they could better control it.

In a few cases, some people fit all five categories.

Some people weren’t comfortable with the church’s size anymore because they became small fish in a larger pond.  They felt more significant years before … and wanted to feel that way again.

What did they say I did wrong?

There are two sets of answers to this question … what they said while I was still at the church and what they said after I left.

While I was still at the church, the main issue was that my wife was on the church staff … and seemed to have too much influence.

And after that infamous board meeting I mentioned above, I was accused of deviating from the way the board wanted the conflict handled.

What did they want?

My wife’s resignation, followed by my own.  (And I’m convinced the board would not have offered me any kind of reasonable separation package.)

But neither one of us was going to leave voluntarily until the board made their case to our faces.

Two board members met with my wife … at my request … but they failed to convince her to resign.

And they never accused me of doing anything wrong to my face … only behind my back.

Months after I left, I was told that a small group in the church wanted to remove me from office, but they knew they couldn’t win the required vote so they decided to attack my wife instead.

That’s valuable information to have.  It’s hard enough for a pastor to leave a church under pressure … but if you don’t know why you were pushed out, you’ll spend months … if not years … blaming yourself when you don’t know the truth.

And then after I left, I was accused of all kinds of wrongdoing.  You name it, I supposedly did it.

For example, several people of influence claimed that when we built our new worship center, we should have paid for the whole thing in cash.

That would have been nice, but that wasn’t the position of the church board at the time.

Even though we raised more than half the funds, the church voted unanimously to take out a reasonable mortgage for the remaining balance.

And when I was pastor, we had plenty of people and plenty of income to pay that mortgage.

The company that loaned the church the money wanted to make sure that I had no plans to leave the church … that I was going to stay and keep the church stable.

I gave my word that I would stay … but after I was forced out, attendance and giving eventually went down … and from what I understand, the church had some challenges paying that monthly mortgage.

And some claimed that was 100% my fault.

But to this day, nobody has ever convinced me that I did anything worthy of leaving.

If anything, people’s false accusations were designed to make themselves feel better, even though they railroaded an innocent pastor.

Faultless?  No.  Flawed?  Yes.

But guilty?  No.

This stage … trying to figure out who opposed you and why … is so painful that many pastors never work through it.

It’s like being married for years to someone, and then they want you to leave the house … without any explanation.

For me, I wanted to know the truth, painful as it might be, so that I could heal.

Stage 3: Panic

There are two primary kinds of panic after a pastor has been terminated:

*Emotional panic

*Economic panic

Emotionally, you feel rejected.  Months or years before, the congregation voted you into office, and people were glad you came.

But now some … or many … are equally glad you’re gone.

When a pastor is pushed out of a church, there is usually betrayal involved … and nothing hurts more than that.

Someone you worked with … someone you trusted … someone you socialized with and prayed with … suddenly switched sides and joined forces with those who wanted to take you out … and you didn’t know when or why they flipped.

It could be the board chairman … the associate pastor … the church treasurer … or the head of men’s ministry.

Eleven of His disciples stuck with Jesus in the Garden.  Only Judas switched sides.

But how that must have devastated Jesus!

When I was a kid, I betrayed a friend, and couldn’t believe what I had done.  From that moment on, I determined that if someone was really my friend, I would stay loyal to them no matter what … and that included the five lead pastors I served under.

So to this day, I can’t understand why betrayal came so easily to some adults.

Why did they have to hold secret meetings?  Why didn’t they speak with me face to face?

Economically, a pastor depends upon the donations from people inside his church … and when he’s forced out of office, those donations disappear.

If a pastor is given enough severance … a minimum of six months … then he can methodically put together a plan to rebuild his life.

But if he’s only given three months … or less … the combination of emotional rejection and economic deprivation can cause him unbearable stress.

If the pastor has sufficient savings … if his wife has a job with a solid income … if he has skills that he can quickly use in the marketplace … his panic will lessen.

But most pastors are living paycheck to paycheck, and if they’re given a token severance … or none at all … they feel as if they’re in real trouble.

Why do terminated pastors feel such panic?

Because they trained and studied for years … went through the ordination process … sacrificed financially … gave their all to their congregation, trusting that they would care for their pastor … and then found themselves kicked to the curb.

My wife and I now run a business where we invoice our clients every month.  We provide a service, and they pay us for that service.  And when our clients fall behind on their payments, we remind them of their obligations.

But to have your income depend completely upon donations, as I did for 36 years … it takes great faith to believe that God will take care of you through His people.

And when it all turns south, it can cause even the best of pastors to become alarmed.

I will share the next three stages next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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