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By far, the article that has received the most views on my blog – out of more than 500 – is an article I wrote in March 2011 called “If You Must Terminate a Pastor.”

This particular article outpolls everything I’ve written … before or since … by at least a four-to-one margin.

I don’t claim that this article covers every facet of pastoral termination.  It’s not the last word on the subject, but may be viewed as the beginning of the conversation.

As a pastor, I sometimes had to deal with wayward staff members … and was attacked by church bullies at various times throughout my ministry … and finally was pushed out of office nearly seven years ago.

This article is directed toward church decision makers … usually members of the official board … and is a plea for them to understand that the way they treat their pastor will affect him … them … and their church for many years to come.

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One of the most excruciating experiences that a supervisor can have is to fire someone from their job.  The first time I had to do this with a staff member, I felt horrible.  Although I did not hire the person initially, I felt partially responsible that the staff member didn’t work out.  I wondered, “What if I had supervised this person better?  What if I had given them more attention?  More training?  More warning?”

Most pastors will leave a church via their own resignation.  They will choose the method and timing of their departure.  In the great majority of cases, they will leave one church for another.  Sometimes they will leave a pastorate to teach in a Bible college or join a parachurch organization.  And one day, they will preach their last sermon and then retire.

But many pastors – surveys now indicate more than 25% – leave church ministry involuntarily.  They are usually forced from office by a faction of ten people or less … sometimes by their governing board.  Most of the time, the process is handled clumsily, resulting in seething anger, ecclesastical division, and incalculable damage.

How can the termination of a pastor be handled in a more biblical and optimal fashion?

An attorney can recommend the legal way to terminate a pastor.  The CEO of a company might suggest how it’s done in business.  The church’s insurance agent might propose ways the church can minimize risks.  And I could mention the way the federal government terminates employees … except they almost never terminate anyone!

If you’d like to read what the Bible says about correcting an elder/pastor, please check out 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (which applies Matthew 18:15-20 to spiritual leaders).  I believe a pastor should be removed for heresy and for immorality as well as felonious criminal behavior and that many of the reasons why boards fire pastors today have more to do with style than sin.

I was a pastor for nearly four decades, and I saw a lot of my colleagues terminated in senseless ways.  If I was still in pastoral ministry, and the board decided I had to go, here’s how I would like that process to be conducted:

First, I’d like to see a possible termination coming.  If attendance was plunging, and giving was going south, and church opinion makers were unhappy, I would probably sense that my time in that place was coming to a close.  And if members of the church board had talked with me about making changes in my ministry, but I either wouldn’t or couldn’t pull them off, that would suggest to me that my days in that church were numbered.

Some pastors have confessed to me that they stayed too long in a previous pastorate and wished they had left before they did.

Last fall, I had lunch with a former mega church pastor.  He had been in his church for more than two decades, but for some unknown reason, attendance suddenly began declining at a rate where nothing he tried worked anymore.  When he preached, he sensed that people weren’t listening to him.  He eventually reached a settlement with the church board and resigned.  The Lord confirmed to his spirit that his time in that spiritual community was over.

If a board has shared their concerns with their pastor, and if matters haven’t turned around after a reasonable time frame (maybe six months to a year), then the pastor should not be surprised if the board openly talks to him about leaving.

But if the ministry is going well, and attendance and giving are holding steady, and the board has never discussed the pastor’s behavior or ministry with him in a formal way, and then the board decides to terminate the pastor … the pastor will rightfully feel blindsided, and the board may very well lose control of the situation.  While the board may have the legal and ecclesiastical right to remove the pastor from office (and in most congregational churches, they don’t have that right – only the congregation does), blindsiding a pastor with termination may be considered a destructive act that results in ripping apart both the pastor’s family and the church family.  (Just know up front that many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church within a few months.)

If I’m going to be involuntarily terminated, I want to see it coming a mile away.  And if I do see it coming, I will try and make my own plans to depart before the board ever has to deal with me.

Second, I would like the process to be fair, not fast. When one member of a church board decides that “the pastor must go,” his anxiety can become contagious.  Before anyone realizes the full ramifications, the entire board may then fall into line and quickly decide to fire the pastor.  While anxiety drives us to make fast decisions, Jesus encourages us to make fair decisions.

Let’s say that a pastor has recently displayed inappropriate anger several times in private.  The board should not convene and decide to fire the pastor immediately.  Instead, Jesus says in Matthew 18:15 that if a believer sins [and this includes the pastor], it’s your duty to “show him his fault” in private [one-on-one, not in a board meeting].  Then Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen …” then you are to take one or two witnesses along, and “if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”  Some scholars believe that the board should be informed between verses 16 and 17, although Jesus doesn’t say that.  In other words, the process is:

*A single believer [maybe the board chairman] talks with the pastor about his sin in private.

*If the pastor refuses to change, that single believer asks one or two more people [a staff member? a friend of the pastor?] to witness a second confrontation.

*If the pastor still refuses to change … only then does it become a board matter.

*If the pastor refuses to listen to the board (that’s three refusals), then either they can terminate him (if the church’s governing documents allow for this) or the church as a whole can vote him out of office in a public meeting (although there will be lobbying and it may become very divisive).

I don’t pretend to know how much time is needed between steps (maybe a month or two between each one?) but Jesus did not necessarily intend for the process to work instantly.  The person being confronted – in this case, the pastor – is not being corrected for getting angry, but for refusing to acknowledge his anger and make the necessary changes in his life.

Before saying, “But pastors should be able to change their behavior immediately,” how long does it take you to make a major change in your life?

That’s why we need to give a pastor some time to make changes in his life.

Third, I would expect to be offered a generous separation package.  The minimal severance a pastor should receive is six months.  If a pastor has been in a church for more than six years, then a good rule-of-thumb is that he receive one month’s salary for every year he’s served in a church.  While some board members might exclaim, “I would never receive severance pay like that at my job,” please realize the following facts about pastors:

*They are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

*They and their family members will suffer tremendously.  It is common for the older children of a terminated pastor to stop attending church and even leave the faith.  The wives of terminated pastors go from being somebodies to nobodies overnight.  If the marriage has already been strained by ministry, the couple might head for divorce.

*The terminated pastor is often in so much pain that he turns to alcohol, drugs, or illicit sex.

*They will lose almost everything dear to them by being terminated: their careers, their income, their church family, their local friends, their house (if they have to leave the community and sell), and their reputations – in other words, they will lose their life as they know it.  (This is why pastors often hang on at a church long after they should leave.)

*They will be stigmatized as a “loser” in much of the Christian community.  As a veteran pastor told me when I first entered the pastorate, if a pastor resigns with no place to go, it’s the “kiss of death.”  If he applies for another church position, his resume will most likely go to the bottom of the pile because he was fired from his previous church.  The Christian world is very small and word gets around quickly.

*They will suffer constant depression, great anxiety, and feel like God has abandoned them.

*They will be shocked to discover that most of their ministry colleagues will turn away from them.

*The terminated pastor usually has to rebuild his life and ministry, and that takes time.  The separation package allows for the pastor to pull away from ministry so he can take stock of his life and begin the healing process.  If the pastor is given a token separation package, he and his family will feel that he has been “kicked to the curb” and it will take them a long time to recover and forgive those who hurt them.

*The terminated pastor will probably not be able to find another church position for at least an entire year … and that church will most likely be considerably smaller than his previous congregation.

We talk a lot in the church today about social justice.  This is ecclesiastical justice.

If a board cannot or will not give the pastor a generous separation package, then they need to think twice – or ten times – about letting him go.  Getting cheap here borders on being unchristian.

Finally, I would welcome the opportunity to resign rather than be fired. If the members of a governing board want to be vindictive toward a pastor, they can fire him outright – but the word will quickly get around the church, and the board will be severely criticized by many while others will angrily leave the fellowship and encourage others to come with them.

When some churches blindside a pastor by firing him, they never recover … and it becomes easier to fire the next pastor.  When I was a kid, my dad felt forced to resign as a pastor, and after the board fired the next two pastors, the church went out of existence.

But if both the pastor and the board announce that the pastor resigned voluntarily, it takes the heat off the board and allows the pastor to leave with dignity.

The optimal win-win scenario is for the pastor to trade a unifying resignation letter for a generous separation package.  That is, the pastor cites multiple reasons for his leaving in his letter, doesn’t harshly criticize anyone in the church (especially the leaders), and encourages everyone in the church to stay and support the next pastor.  Years ago, I learned this adage: “The way you leave is the way you will be remembered.”  Leave bitter, and you will leave a legacy of bitterness.  Leave with class, and you will leave a legacy of class.

A small percentage of pastors deserve to be terminated – maybe even quickly – because they have inflicted great destruction on their ministries, their families, and themselves.  But even then, they should be treated with dignity and their families should be cared for.  But the great majority of terminations go wrong because the board wants the pastor to leave as quickly as possible, and they run the risk of dehumanizing him in the process.

More than anything, I am pleading that church leaders deal with their pastors in a biblical, Christian, and loving way rather than a businesslike, political, and vengeful manner.

And may I remind everyone of this biblical principle from Galatians 6:7: what you sow, you reap.

Or in more contemporary parlance: what goes around comes around.

I have a mentor who used to be a pastor and later became a top executive with two different denominations.

When he was a pastor, he used to tell his staff, “Remember: our jobs could all be gone overnight.”

If someone had told me that before I trained to become a pastor, maybe I would have redoubled my efforts to become a math teacher.

Because from a distance, being a pastor seems like a pretty secure position.

But upon further scrutiny, the truth leans in the opposite direction: most pastors are, in the words of a pastor friend, bound to their churches by a one day contract … revocable anytime.

There are three common scenarios along this line:

First, the pastor disqualifies himself from ministry by committing a major offense.

If a pastor commits even a single act of sexual immorality, and it becomes known to the official board, that pastor will almost always be fired or asked to resign.

If a pastor commits a felonious criminal act, like grand larceny, or fraud, or assault, that could end his ministry as well.

If a pastor struggles with an ongoing sin … such as the megachurch pastor on the East Coast who resigned last Sunday because of a problem with alcohol … that can finish someone’s ministry in a particular congregation as well.

And if a pastor preaches heresy … like the pastor I heard about who started preaching universalism (the view that everybody will be saved and enter heaven in the end) … that can either get him fired or cause his church to empty out.

Most church boards are composed of spiritual individuals who know that their pastor is human and that he can get angry … suffer from depression … become exhausted … and even struggle with family issues … and yet still be a man of God who can be an effective and productive shepherd.

But when a pastor commits a major offense … and it’s discovered … he will usually either offer his resignation or be summarily dismissed.

Second, the pastor might be fired either after a worship service or during a regular/special board meeting.

I once knew a pastor who presided over a church that was growing like crazy … but he had been at the church less than two years when he was fired by the official board.

The pastor went to a regular board meeting.  The elder who had his back was away on a trip.  Knowing this, the other elders decided this was the time for them to make their move.

When the pastor came to the meeting, someone pushed a pre-typed resignation letter over to him.

The pastor was so shocked that he stared at it for 45 minutes.

The letter stated, in part, that he had to resign … clear out his office … turn in his keys … and cut off all contact with the people of the church.

And he would not be entitled to a final sermon or any goodbye party.

His offense?

He did things differently than the previous pastor … even though the church was doing very well.

Sometimes the signs of discontent among board members are there, but the pastor misses them.

And when they finally fire him, the pastor is genuinely shocked by their ambush.

But sometimes, the board makes a decision behind the scenes … often pushed by one of the board members, who is out for revenge … and the pastor becomes ecclesiastical toast.

Third, the pastor might be given a choice: either resign now and receive a token severance agreement, or be fired without any severance.

If the pastor is guilty of sexual immorality or criminal behavior and the board just discovered his sin, I can understand this scenario.

And if the pastor was asked to deal with an issue like alcohol abuse but he hasn’t made any progress … or refuses to change … then I can understand the church board saying, “We’ve done all we can, so we have to ask for your resignation.”

But much of the time, the board never says a word to the pastor about anything he’s done wrong … he comes to a meeting … and the board gives him this ultimatum: quit right now and we’ll pay you to leave … but if you refuse, we will fire you and you will receive nothing.

There’s a variation on this: one or two board members take the pastor out to eat or meet him in his office at church and throw down the same ultimatum.

One pastor told me that when the board asked him for his resignation, he gave it to them on the spot, walked away, and left the area as quickly as he could.

That’s one way of handling things.

But many pastors will want to know things like:

*What have I done wrong?

*Why haven’t you talked with me about this sooner?

*Why are you doing this now?

*What are you going to tell the congregation about my leaving?

*Who is really behind this power play?

The pastor can try and talk with the board about questions like these … and I think he should … because the more the pastor understands the board’s thinking, the more quickly he can heal down the road.

If the board has prepared a severance agreement they want the pastor to sign on the spot, the pastor should tell the board, “I cannot sign this agreement unless I first have it reviewed by an attorney.  I will try and get back to you within a few days.”

But there’s something else the pastor can do: stand up in the meeting … walk toward the door … and tell the board, “You’ll be hearing from me soon” … and quickly leave the building.

When I went through my conflict nearly seven years ago, a church consultant asked me if our church bylaws specified a way to vote the board members out of office.

Since the bylaws didn’t envision that possibility, there wasn’t any mechanism in place for removing the board.

In my situation, I wouldn’t have done that because the board members were all duly elected by the congregation.

If a pastor is asked to resign on the spot, the best move he can make is to tell the board, “I need a few days to think and pray about this.  Can I gave you an answer by Saturday?”

If the board agrees to this scenario, the pastor should assure the board that (a) he may consult with a few people from the church, but (b) he will not lead a counterattack against the board.

But many church boards don’t allow for the pastor to take a few days to make his decision because (a) they want him to leave right away; (b) they’ve already lined up somebody to speak the following Sunday; (c) they’re afraid the pastor will lead a counterattack if they give him any rope at all.

Some pastors in megachurches and larger churches sign a contract before they become the pastor.  The contract spells out the various scenarios up front.

But most small church and medium-sized church pastors don’t sign such contracts and so are open to being railroaded right out of their positions.

Before Jesus went to the cross, He knew what was coming … and knew He would rise again.

Before most pastors are asked to leave, they are blindsided … and wonder if they’ll ever pastor again.

If you’re a church board member …  your pastor has not committed a major offense … but you think he should leave: it’s better for the board if the pastor leaves immediately, but if he does, it may very well kill his church career … for good.

So before you make a major decision that you can’t take back, search Scripture … pray it through … consult with several church consultants/interventionists … and rid your board of every desire to exact revenge on your pastor.

And be very careful … because in a real sense … your life and your job are bound by single day contracts as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was one of the spookiest sights I have ever seen.

A few years ago … while waiting for my car to be repaired … I found myself walking across a bridge over a major freeway.

And below me … as far as the eye could see … I saw hundreds of police cars … with their headlights on … driving slowly but uniformly toward the cemetery where a fellow officer … who had been gunned down a few days before … was soon to be buried.

The sight of all those police cars was eerie … but also impressive … because the officers were saying to each other … and to the world:

“What happened to my fellow officer could have happened to me, and in life, or in death, we stand together as one.”

We’re seeing the same outpouring of unity and solidarity today after twelve police officers were shot last night in Dallas … and sadly, five of them have died.

I just wish that pastors felt the same way toward each other … but for some reason, they often don’t.

Inside the local church, Paul commands believers to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

And in 1 Corinthians 12:26, Paul writes, “If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

When Christians act this way toward fellow believers inside a congregation, it’s like heaven on earth.

But for some reason, many pastors of congregations don’t tend to act this way toward their fellow pastors.

I’m not saying they never act that way.  I’ve met some pastors who are gifted at pastoring their peers, and at times I’ve been the recipient of their grace.

But when a fellow pastor suffers … especially if he’s under attack or has been forced out of his church … most pastors won’t even bother to pick up the phone and contact that pastor personally.

And in many cases, they’ll hear something through the grapevine about that pastor’s departure and assume the rumors are true without bothering to check with their hurting brother directly.

As I wrote in my book Church Coup:

“Why don’t pastors demonstrate more concern for their colleagues who experience forced exits? Maybe pastors have enough happening inside their own churches to reach out to peers, or they wouldn’t know what to say to a colleague, or they don’t want to become embroiled in another church’s issues. But my guess is that most pastors don’t want to associate with anyone they perceive as a loser. If you’re forced out of a church, the perception is that you must be incompetent, immoral, or ignorant of church politics.  There is something wrong with you, not the church, and if you were smarter, you wouldn’t have such problems. For example, I recently heard a seminary professor refer to a leadership structure he utilized when he was a pastor, stating that he never really had a major conflict with a congregation over two decades of ministry.  Translation: If you handled matters my way, you wouldn’t have any conflict.”

Let me offer three suggestions along this line:

First, I wish that pastors met together more often.   

Many years ago, when I pastored a church in Silicon Valley, pastors were invited to a monthly luncheon sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals.  I went to as many of those gatherings as I could.  They were held in various churches and often had meaningful speakers.

It was a chance for pastors to get to know each other … be exposed to other ministries … pray together … and root for each other.

But at least in my community, such meetings don’t occur.

I suppose that district/denominational meetings have taken their place in many locales, and that’s fine, but there’s often an underlying competition among denominational pastors that I didn’t find with the NAE group.

But it’s not always great when pastors meet together.

Thirty years ago, I heard the great J. I. Packer … author of Knowing God and numerous other books … speak at the Congress on Biblical Exposition in my hometown of Anaheim, California.

As he looked out among the throng of pastors, he said, “You know, pastors are a lot like manure.  When they’re all spread out, they do a lot of good, but when they all get together, it’s one big stink.”

There’s a lot of truth in Packer’s words.

Second, I wish that pastors could be honest with each other.

Many years ago, I went to a major church conference at one of America’s largest churches.  During lunch, pastors sat together at large, round tables that seated ten people.

I was looking forward to meeting some pastors from around the country, but when I sat down, two pastors were doing all the talking … and talked for the entire lunch hour.

Nobody else said anything.  Nobody else asked even asked a question.  These guys had the floor, and everyone else was irrelevant.

I’ve had that kind of experience with pastors before.  In fact, one time a few years later, I became visibly upset when one pastor did all the talking at another pastor’s event … and we spent the rest of our time discussing my concerns.

It’s true, so I’m going to say it: many … not all … but many large church pastors are arrogant jerks.  They have no time for pastors from smaller congregations.  They view them negatively … and you can feel it when you’re around them.

In fact, I once read a book where a Christian leader wrote that if you’re pastoring a church of 250 people, you’re wasting your life.

By contrast, I once put together a group of pastors that met every month for lunch.  One was a megachurch pastor … several others pastored medium-sized churches … and I probably pastored the smallest church in the group, but over the years, we came to trust each other with our feelings and our dreams … and when we needed to, we met with each other individually.

In fact, the megachurch pastor once told me something at one of those lunches that turned my entire ministry around.

Years ago, I heard Christian professor, counselor, and author Norman Wright make the following statement: “Everyone needs someone with whom he can be weak.”

I don’t know why, but pastors are terrible at demonstrating weakness toward each other … and yet the entire book of 2 Corinthians is written from the point of view of a Christian leader sharing his weaknesses … and for that reason, is probably the New Testament book I read the most.

I’m drawn to Christian leaders who share their weaknesses … like Bill Hybels, who for years was my favorite preacher … and I’m repulsed by leaders who never share their weaknesses … because I believe they’re phonies.

And sadly, there are all too many of those pastors around … and that phoniness pulls us apart rather than brings us together.

Finally, I wish that pastors would stand together across generations.

Several years ago, there was a national convention for pastors held not too far from where I live.  In fact, the convention was held at a hotel where my wife and I have stayed before.

But the convention blew up … and hasn’t been reactivated … largely because the younger pastors rebelled against the older Christian leaders.

W. A. Criswell was the pastor of First Baptist Dallas for decades.  He considered Rick Warren to be his son in the faith … and Warren considered Criswell to be a spiritual father.

But Criswell was from the builder generation … and Warren was a boomer … and there was usually a mutual respect between pastors from both those generations.

But for years, I have seen that respect missing between boomer and buster pastors.

My wife and I are catching up on the TV show Blue Bloods via Netflix, and one of the great things about the Reagan family … who are all in law enforcement … is that everyone in the family meets for Sunday lunch together.

And four generations are represented.

The discussions around the table are authentic and emotion-filled … but often enlightening.

But if anyone attacks a Reagan outside that house, the other Reagans stand up and support each other.

I wish pastors would act the same way.

Many years ago, I heard Stuart Briscoe … one of my favorite preachers … tell about the time he spoke to a group of policemen.

He quoted from Romans 13:4 and applied this verse to his audience:

“For he is God’s servant [minister] to do you good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.  He is God’s servant [minister], an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Briscoe told those officers, “I am a minister, but you are a minister as well …” and then he went into his talk.

Yes, police officers can learn some things from pastors … but when it comes to standing together … no matter what … pastors have a lot to learn from police officers.

And if pastors could learn to stand together in practice … maybe, just maybe … we could advance Christ’s kingdom significantly.

 

 

 

Twenty-five years ago, I found myself in one of the most precarious positions I’ve ever faced as a pastor.

The church I served in Silicon Valley had been struggling, and I became convinced that we needed to start over: a new church, with a new name, in a new location, with a new ministry.

This vision meant that we had to sell our church property and find a new place to meet … almost simultaneously.

After receiving congregational approval, we sold the property outright to The Salvation Army (some people must drop more than coins into those Christmas kettles) and after looking at more than thirty buildings, our leaders found a temporary place to meet … but we needed a conditional use permit first.

When we went to the planning commission, they turned us down on a 4-2 vote.

We were stunned.

Now we had to appeal to the City Council … I had to lead the effort … and I had never done anything like that before.

I pulled out all the stops.  I called everyone and anyone who might be able to help.  I even called the city manager of a prominent city nearby and picked his brain on how to proceed.

Then it came time to prepare packets for Council members and contact them individually.

I met with the mayor in his office.

After our presentation to the Council, we won a unanimous 7-0 vote.  It was one of the great moments of my life!

The elders of that church and I had a lot to learn after our defeat before the planning commission … and after we did our homework, God blessed us with a favorable decision.

But when a church board is having trouble with their pastor … and if they’re thinking about forcing him to leave … the last thing many boards do is ask outsiders for counsel.

Why don’t boards ask for counsel?

*Some board members think, “We have to keep everything confidential.  We don’t want anyone to know what’s happening between us and the pastor.”  They may be concerned about their own reputations … that they won’t be perceived as competent managers or peaceful believers.

*Others boards think, “We don’t need any outside counsel.  Just look at the composition of this board: a CEO, an attorney, a salesman, two small business owners, a school principal, and an accountant.  We’re all professionals.  We know what to do with wayward employees.”

*Still others think, “I suppose we could contact an outside consultant, but we know more about our church and our pastor than that person ever will.”

*The pastor probably knows who could be contacted for counsel, but the board won’t be inclined to consult with his network.

*And because of the nature of the conflict, the board can’t ask the pastor for help … even though he might be able to help them more than anybody else.

There are several problems with this kind of thinking among board members:

*For starters, a church is not strictly a business.  While it shouldn’t be run like a bad business, the purpose of a church isn’t to make money or reward investors, but to transform people’s lives spiritually.  Just because board members have experience in the “real world” doesn’t mean they understand the unique dynamics inside a congregation.

*Many people in a church view their congregation more as a family than a business.  Their relationships … including their relationship with the pastor … are on their frontal lobes far more than the church’s budget or buildings.  Most people will view a board-pastor clash negatively … no matter how the board frames it … because it will disrupt that “family feeling.”

*Although pastoral terminations are an increasingly common occurrence in the Christian community, the great majority of churchgoers … including board members … have never experienced the aftermath of a termination before.  They may feel that they can control the narrative and keep everyone in the church united, but they are woefully unprepared for the unpredictable events that happen after the pastor leaves.

For example, I was once thinking about firing a staff member, so I consulted with an experienced pastor.  He told me, “Well, after you let this person go, you’ll have three tough months, and then things will revert to normal.”  But when a board dismisses a pastor, they might experience three tough years … or their church may never recover.

*Outside experts may not know much about “our church” and “our pastor,” but those who have studied even two or three terminations know infinitely more than those who have never experienced even one.

Those who contact me most often are pastors under fire … pastors who have just been terminated … and board members who are having trouble with their pastor – including those who may be thinking about forcing him to resign.

While asking questions about each situation, I am constantly amazed at how many church boards think they know what they’re doing even though they’re only consulting with themselves.

Allow me to share my experience from six-and-a-half years ago.

The conflict I experienced in my last church surfaced in October 2009.  At that time:

*I had been a pastor for 35 1/2 years … 10 1/2 years in that same church.

*I had a longtime interest and passion in church conflict and pastoral termination.

*I had watched three of the pastors I served under as a staff member suffer attacks.  One resigned under fire, while another was voted out of office.

*I had an extensive library on conflict and termination which I knew well … and that library grew significantly when I wrote my doctoral project.

*I had a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary with an emphasis on church conflict.

And yet, in the week following the surfacing of the conflict, I contacted 17 Christian leaders, asking for their counsel … including seminary professors, church consultants, megachurch pastors, and former board chairmen.

Why did I do that?

*I needed to know what was really going on.  I thought I knew, but I wasn’t completely sure.

*I was too close to the situation to see things objectively.  I needed the advice of people who could see both the conflict and my situation dispassionately.

*I needed to know what my next moves should be … and what I shouldn’t do or say.

*I also needed to know what might happen inside the congregation over the next few days.  For example, here’s what I wrote in my book Church Coup about a conversation I had with a church consultant who has since became a mentor:

“Wilson said that when the board met with the staff … that was a serious offense in our state.  If the board had acted in a similar fashion in a secular organization, the aggrieved person could have sued them for millions of dollars. Wilson also asked if I was pastor of the church founded by Norman, and when I confirmed that I was – and that the communication between us had become sparse – he wrote: ‘Does not surprise me on Norman – and I have a hunch that THEY have dialed him in!’ Wilson predicted that if the board resigned, thirty to fifty people would also leave with them, and those who were in touch with the Holy Spirit (especially those with the gift of showing mercy) would later tell me that they knew something was wrong but couldn’t put their finger on it.”

I then recounted another conversation:

“Later that morning, I had a conversation with someone (I’ll call him Richard) who runs a Christian consulting firm. Richard immediately asked me about the personal and vocational lives of the board members. He believed that what was happening in their private lives had a direct bearing on how they were handling church matters. Richard stated that many boards are struggling with three primary issues in our day: they experience fear because God is not big enough for them; they struggle with stewardship because they believe the church is ‘all about us’ and not a lost world; and they struggle with faith. Satan has figured out how to defeat us by using power as an aphrodisiac. Richard suggested that one way we could seek redress was through arbitration.”

Before a church board tries to force their pastor to quit … or fires him outright … they should consult with the following individuals:

*A labor attorney to make sure they’re “dotting their i’s” and “crossing their “t’s” legally.  This should also involve a thorough discussion of any relevant passages on pastor-church conflict in the bylaws.

*A biblical expert … maybe a seminary professor … who can tell them what Scripture does and doesn’t say about terminating a pastor.

*A church consultant who is well-versed in pastoral termination who can (a) help the board decide if the pastor needs to be corrected or fired, and (b) walk the board through how to take action so there is minimal harm done to the pastor, his family, and the congregation.

*Several experienced pastors who either know what it’s like to be under fire or who have undergone termination themselves.  Listening to such pastors will give the board increased sensitivity.

What about denominational executives, like a district minister?

Probably 90% of the time, they’ll side with the board instead of the pastor because (a) they just want the conflict to go away, (b) they don’t have a clue how to resolve matters, and (c) they just want to keep the money flowing from the church to district coffers.

What about contacting a former pastor from that church?

Most boards don’t know about the rivalries and jealousies between pastors from the same church.  For that reason, I don’t recommend this approach.

What about contacting a board member from a church that already terminated a pastor?

If the termination was just and handled thoughtfully … maybe.  But if the termination blew up in the board’s face … why go there?

How about contacting a Christian mediator?

If a board decides to go this route, they need to interview the mediator, and let the pastor interview him as well.  The board cannot force a mediator down the pastor’s throat … and vice versa.

What are the benefits of a board seeking outside counsel?

*The board learns better how pastors think.  For example, pastors are often thinking “outreach,” while board members are thinking “maintenance.”  How tragic to force out a pastor who is just trying to take Christ’s Great Commission seriously.

*The board expands their thinking from “let’s get rid of the pastor” to “we need to keep our church healthy during this process.”

*The board learns about the pitfalls and land mines involved in terminating a pastor.

*The board will hear differing approaches … giving them better options from which to choose.

*The board will learn how their own emotional reactions can blind them to reality.

*The board will learn the importance of giving the pastor a fair and just severance package if they choose termination.

Why don’t boards seek thorough and experienced counsel more often?

*Pride.  They don’t think they need any help.

*Consulting with outsiders takes time, and some board members are so anxious that they just want to get things over with.

*The board usually doesn’t have a budget for seeking outside help, but good counsel isn’t cheap.  Yet spending $5,000 to $10,000 now may save the church hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years.

*Many boards are too incompetent to know that they aren’t competent.

Where does God factor into all this?

I left this issue until last because, in my view, many boards that struggle with their pastor don’t consult with God and then do His will … they ask God to bless their decisions and then move full speed ahead.

And that’s why God doesn’t bless them when they move to remove their pastor.  They never asked God what they should do … they told God what they were going to do instead.

Personally, I think much of the time, the board wants to fire the pastor because they aren’t used to praying for him … they’re just used to complaining about him.

But if they really met and prayed for their pastor, do they expect that anything would change?

And if they don’t pray for him, what does that say about them?

 

 

 

Thirty-some years ago, I had a late-night discussion with a Christian leader outside my church office in Silicon Valley.

I don’t remember the leader’s name, but I’ve always recalled a story he told me late that evening.

This leader had a friend who was a former pastor, and his friend told him, “I served as pastors in various local churches over several decades, and looking back, it was all a waste of time.”

During a pastor’s more cynical times, he may feel that way, but the truth is that pastors do much more good than they’ll ever know.

Let me give you an example.

This past week, I read about a bill that is pending in the California legislature.  The bill seeks to strip all faith-based colleges and universities in California that interweave academics with religious doctrine of their exemptions.  According to World magazine, which reported on this story, this bill “would force Christian schools to relinquish their fidelity to Scripture as a distinguishing characteristic of their institutions or risk lawsuits for religious and sexual discrimination.”

If passed, only seminaries would be eligible for exemptions.

(My wife and I live in California for two primary reasons: first, our two adult children live here, along with our two grandsons; and second, we have a large network of friends here. Otherwise, we’d live somewhere else, especially with all the garbage that emanates from the capitol 500 miles to the north.)

What struck me most was not the bill, but a response from a Christian university official.  Here’s the quote from World:

“We are not willing to forego our biblical and covenantal convictions regardless of what laws are passed,” William Jessup University President John Jackson told me. “Jessup continues to believe we are to submit to Scripture and operate in accordance with the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights that includes the First Amendment providing for freedom of press, association, and religion.”

That was a clear and unequivocal response from a Christian college president.  Good for him!

Dr. Jackson also happened to be a kid in my youth group forty years ago.

He was only in the group less than a year, but I remember that he was smart, funny, and for a kid of fifteen, liked girls a lot!

Several years after I left that church, we had lunch, and although that time went well, I lost track of him … but later heard that he was the pastor of a megachurch in Nevada.

Didn’t surprise me one bit.

I don’t take any credit for Dr. Jackson’s ascension to the top spot in a Christian school.  That was due to his parenting, his professors and mentors, his own hard work, and the blessing of God upon his life.

In his case, I’m privileged to hear that he’s been placed in a position of trust in Christ’s kingdom.

There’s another person whose exploits I do follow.

Sheri was a girl in my last youth ministry.  Because we didn’t have anyone who was musically talented, Sheri secured a guitar, learned how to play, and led the youth group in singing praise songs.

I lost track of her more than thirty years ago, and wondered if she was still following the Lord, only to discover that she heads up the children’s ministry in her church, about which she shares Facebook posts several times a day.

Sheri recently wrote an article on Facebook mentioning different leaders who have influenced her life, and I was deeply touched to be included.

So often, pastoring is like watching a parade.  People come … stop for a moment … and then move on.

But on occasion, you hear that someone you taught or mentored is still following Christ, and making an impact … and there’s no greater feeling than that.

Because I am no longer a pastor, I don’t have an influence upon any Christian institution.

But just by being faithful, the Lord used me to touch the lives of people like John and Sheri … and they are now doing their best to advance Christ’s kingdom.

I don’t know why it is, but God often hides the good that His servants do from them.

Back in the late 1980s, I went through a time of doubt and darkness about my role as a pastor, and I clung tenaciously to one verse in particular: Galatians 6:9, where Paul writes:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

When you’re a pastor, you want to see lives changed instantly … you want to see your church grow steadily … and the slowness of ministry can be extremely frustrating.

In fact, that slowness can make you so weary that you’re tempted to give up … and even turn you a bit cynical.

But as J. I. Packer once wrote, spiritual work is slow work.

Instead, Paul advises, “There is a harvest of changed lives ahead, but it’s not going to happen when you want it to happen … it’s going to happen when God wants it to happen.  So keep leading … keep teaching … keep loving … because you never know whose lives God is going to change … and you don’t know when or how He’s going to bless.”

For all you know, someone you’re ministering to right now may just become a church staff member … a megachurch pastor … or a Christian university president.

Even if you’re in a ministry that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere very fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Jim, you have no idea how much you’ve been undermined.”

Those words came from a megachurch pastor who spoke with me via telephone just days after the official board at my last church tried to force my resignation.

This pastor – who had been in contact with one of my strongest church supporters – wanted me to know that the opposition to my ministry ran much deeper than anyone suspected.

Several months later, my wife and I met with this pastor for a three-hour lunch and we began to put together the final pieces of our nightmare.

A second Christian leader backed up everything the megachurch pastor told me, and a few years later, a third Christian leader informed me that the plot against me had been in motion for at least several years.

Who was the primary force behind my eventual ouster?

My predecessor.

In some ways, I was in denial about his part in my leaving because I didn’t want to believe it.

My predecessor and I had been friends for more than a decade.  We were part of a pastors’ group that met monthly for lunch for many years.  We had spoken in each other’s churches and shared meals in each other’s homes.

In the fall of 1998, my predecessor invited me to become his associate pastor with the idea that I might succeed him when he retired.

When I resisted his initial overtures, he suggested that I visit his church anyway.

Since I never sought to go there, I can only conclude that God called me there … a powerful truth that my opponents have always chosen to ignore.

My predecessor and I served together for eighteen months.  I thought our working and personal relationships went very well.

And after he retired, I became the church’s second senior pastor.

Before his retirement, my predecessor and I were walking past a field on the church property one day, and he told me, “That’s where you’re going to build the new worship center.”

I was surprised at how well the handoff went.  Because we worked well together for those eighteen months … and because my predecessor seemed to grant me his blessing … I received little flak during my first few years.  Call it an extended honeymoon.

Until the church grew to the point that we needed more room.  Then we made plans to design, fund, and construct that new worship center.

Even though every vote the church took on the worship center was unanimous … and the congregation had lots of input … two individuals in the inner circle did their best to sabotage the entire project.

And I had factual information they were in contact with my predecessor.

I don’t know why they opposed the new worship center.  The most likely reason is because they didn’t want to make a three-year financial commitment over and above their normal giving and that made them feel left out.

And they weren’t the only ones.  We lost about eight percent of our people during the fundraising stage because while most people were wildly enthusiastic about the project, not everyone wanted the church to expand … and not everyone liked our bringing in a professional fundraising team.

The building program came right at the time I was finishing coursework for my Doctor of Ministry program and preparing to write my doctoral dissertation/final project.

In many ways, it was the perfect time to sabotage my efforts.  I didn’t have the energy to deal with critics because I had to focus and stay on track.

Somewhere around this time, I began having trouble with several members of the church staff.

They either resisted or rebelled against my clear directives … and they were all friends with my predecessor.

Should I have ferreted out the truth?

I chose not to do so … but I kept the board chairman informed.

Another time, I spoke with a Christian leader who knew my predecessor quite well.  When I mentioned the staff sabotage to him, he gave me a three-word warning: “Watch your back.”

Later, someone in the church wrote a bizarre email to one of our staff members suggesting that I needed to hire my predecessor as associate pastor.  I immediately called this individual and spoke with him on the phone, but I began to suspect that my predecessor was telling people that I didn’t know what I was doing and that only he could fix whatever was wrong with the church … even though the great majority of the congregation seemed to think matters were going fine.

One day, about two years before the attack on my leadership surfaced, I went to lunch with my predecessor, and he told me that he had chosen the wrong person to succeed him … even though the church had done very well.

Why tell me that?

For starters, I suspected that when he chose me to follow him, he was hoping that I would consult with him about any issues that I had inside the church.  In this way, he could still have an influence on the ministry.

But I had been in church ministry for twenty-five years when I became pastor … I already had a network of Christian leaders to consult with … and I had a great church board (at the time) to assist me.

I also suspected that he wished to take at least partial credit for any of the good things that were happening in the church.

After all, if I did well … hadn’t he chosen me to be the pastor?

And if we built a worship center … wasn’t that originally his idea?

He may also have been upset that I didn’t invite him to be a frequent guest speaker, though the one time I did invite him, I later regretted it.

But in retrospect, I think he was sending me a veiled warning that he was coming after me.

Several years after I left that church, a well-known Christian leader confessed that my predecessor had told him that he was coming back to the church … at least a few years before the attacks began.

But, of course, I had to leave first.

Sixteen days after the attack upon me surfaced in 2009, I sat in someone’s home and heard the district minister confirm that my predecessor had advised the church board … which was doing all it could to get rid of me … even though I wasn’t guilty of any major offense.

And as I began to piece things together, I noticed that everyone who opposed me was connected to my predecessor.

Everyone.

And I wasn’t a bit surprised.

_______________

Now why bring this up?

The title of this article is not, “Pastors and Their Predecessors.”

It’s “Pastors and Their Successors.”

After I left my church in December 2009, I became a predecessor to the new pastor, who became my successor.

And I had to think carefully about how I was going to treat him:

*Would I undermine his ministry?

*Would I listen to the complaints of staff members?

*Would I encourage people to leave the church?

*Would I try and harm his reputation?

*Would I collaborate with the church board to get rid of him?

In other words, would I do to him what was done to me?

I laid out the blueprint for the way I would treat my successor during my final sermon at the church:

“Sometime soon, a search team will be assembled to find this church a new senior pastor. I don’t know how the team will be chosen, but working on a search team is painstaking work.  Team members will have to listen to and watch lots of sermons, do background and reference work, and put together and review questionnaires.  But eventually, God will bring you a new pastor.  He will do some things better than me and maybe some things worse than me, but most of all, he will be different than me.  Some of you will welcome that, while it might take others time to adjust.  But treat him as well as you did me and he will love you as we have loved you.

“When I leave, I encourage you not to call and complain about the interim pastor or the new senior pastor.  It is a violation of ministerial ethics for me even to listen to such complaints, and besides, what could I possibly do about them?  If you have a problem with any of your new leaders, speak to them directly, but please don’t involve me.  And I won’t be able to return for a wedding or a funeral because you will have your own pastor, and he should be the one to conduct those services.”

I stand behind every word you’ve just read.

Based on this outline, let me share five principles as to how a pastor should treat his successor:

First, determine to know as little as possible about what’s happening at the church.

I know the current pastor’s first name.  In all honesty, I don’t remember his last name.

I don’t know what he looks like.  I never visit the church website.  I have never heard him preach.

The church’s name and location are the same, but beyond that, I’ve been told that I wouldn’t recognize the church if I visited … which I never will.

I won’t even visit the city where the church is located.

I served at the church from 1999-2009.  God blessed us wildly during that time.  Our work stands.

But after I left, God did not want me to influence the church in any way … and I haven’t.

Second, defend the pastor against any criticism that comes your way.

When the pastor first came to the church, some people wrote and told me gingerly that they were struggling with the way he did things.

I encouraged everyone to stay at the church and do their best to support him.

Sometimes I’d hear things and I’d ask myself, “What in the world is going on there?”

But if I weigh in with my opinion, and someone adopts my view and things go south, haven’t I undermined the ministry there?

And what right do I have to do that?

My wife and I may discuss the church on occasion, but what passes between us stays between us.

Third, stay out of the church’s inner circle.

I had a couple of friends in the church’s inner circle after I left, and I hope we’re still friends, but I haven’t used our friendship to criticize the pastor or to sabotage the ministry.

If the current church board called me and wanted to complain to me about their pastor … a scenario that would rightly never happen … I would tell them, “You’re talking to the wrong person.  Talk directly with your pastor first.  Consult with a conflict manager or a church interventionist next.  But I am the last person you should talk to about your pastor.  It’s unethical for me to be involved, and I won’t do it.”

Everybody already knows that’s how I feel, which is why nobody in the inner circle has ever solicited my counsel.

Fourth, keep a few friendships but try not to discuss the church.

I’ve kept friendships from nearly every church I’ve ever served.  That’s normal.

If a friend left the church where we served together, I’m comfortable sharing what I think about something as long as I sense that the discussion stays between us.

If a friend is still attending that church … and more than 90% of my friends from the last church have moved on … then I don’t want to discuss their ministry at all.

I don’t even want to hear anything about the church from current churchgoers.

Those old emotions – good or bad – can return in a heartbeat, and I just don’t have time for them anymore.

Finally, realize that the way you treat your successor is the way you will ultimately be treated.

Where do we find that in Scripture?

This is a valid application of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

If I’m harsh on my successor, then some people will be harsh with me.

If I’m gracious toward my successor, I can expect the same treatment.

_______________

I once met a pastor who retired from ministry and then stayed in the same church as a parishioner.

Eight years later, he was consumed with frustration at his successor.

In fact, he made an appointment with his current pastor and really gave it to him … and was proud of how he handled things.

Why didn’t he just leave and find another church?

I have no idea … but he should have left.

The single best verse in Scripture concerning pastors and their successors is found in John 3:30.

John the Baptist says about Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John wasn’t just saying in a pietistic tone, “There should be more of Jesus and less of me in my life.”

No, he was saying, “It’s time for Jesus’ ministry to increase … and it’s time for my ministry to decrease.”

Every pastor who leaves a church should utter the same words about his successor:

“He must increase … I must decrease.”

And based on my experience, they should say those words every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend, while doing some work around the house, I was plagued by some ministry memories I thought I had long forgotten.

But the more I tried to push them down, the more they flooded my soul, and the only way I know to be rid of them is to write them down and share them.

So here goes …

Nearly 30 years ago, I pastored a church in Santa Clara, California … the heart of Silicon Valley, south of the San Francisco Bay.

Early in 1988, my all-time worst antagonist … a man I’ll call Bob … had returned to the church after a year’s absence.  He ended up leading a rebellion against me for two primary reasons: he and his wife didn’t like our change in worship music (which the board unanimously supported) and some of the seniors griped to Bob that I didn’t care about them (if you knew them, you’d understand).

About twenty percent of the congregation ended up following Bob out of our church.

Rather than attend existing churches in the area, those refugees formed their own congregation in a school about a mile from our property … and used our church as their sole mission field.

A pastor who had left his church due to moral failure ended up doing a lot of guest speaking at that new church.

Even though their attendance was meager, Bob contacted the district minister with the stated goal of having his new church admitted both into the district and the denomination.

When I found out about Bob’s intent, I told the district minister, “If you recognize that renegade church, we will pull our church out of the district.”

And I meant it.

It just so happened that the denomination’s annual meetings were being held at the new Santa Clara Convention Center that June … just a few miles from our church … and my wife Kim had volunteered to lead the early childhood program.

I chose to serve with my wife and to help with her program for the upcoming annual meetings.

The festivities opened on a Wednesday night, and the facilities were spectacular.  The early childhood program was located on the second floor, and that’s where I stayed that first night.

But someone quickly brought me some bad news.

Bob was in the lobby of the convention center handing out literature to pastors and delegates inviting them to his new church!

This was a complete breach of protocol.  It just wasn’t done.  The meetings were all about churches as a whole, not any one church in particular.  Nobody went to the annual meetings and publicized their church at the expense of others.

Those who brought me this news also told me that Bob was not only publicizing his church, but taking verbal shots at me … the pastor of the only denominational church in Santa Clara … while I was serving God in a room upstairs.

Later that day, I found our district minister and asked him what he was going to do about Bob’s breach of protocol.

His reply?

“What can I do?  I don’t have the authority to do anything.”

As far as I was concerned, that was the wrong answer.

I spoke with several of my pastoral colleagues, and they were appalled that Bob was passing out literature about his church … and that the district leadership was allowing it to happen.

Finally, a long-time pastor scooped up all of Bob’s literature (he wasn’t in the lobby at the time) … threw it out … came to me … and slapped his hands together as if to say, “That will take care of that.”

I don’t know how Bob reacted when he discovered that his literature had disappeared.  Maybe he blamed me … maybe not.

But that incident is a microcosm of how denominations treat pastors when they’re assaulted by conflict:

First, many denominational leaders secretly hope that certain pastors and churches fail.

Bob was a formidable opponent.  He wanted to turn our church back to the 1940s and 1950s.

I couldn’t reason with him, and neither could anyone on our board.  He was a bully, and he was going to attack me until I resigned.

Several months before, my district minister had even recommended that I quit because of Bob’s attacks.

But I didn’t leave.  I stayed … forcing Bob and his minions to depart instead.

I couldn’t figure out why my district minister wasn’t more supportive … until a pastoral colleague clued me into what was really happening.

My friend told me that district leaders wanted both me and our church to fail so they could take over the property … sell it … and use much of the proceeds to plant new churches.

Most denominational churches insert a clause into their governing documents that states that if the church dissolves, the property reverts to the denomination.

Although our church property sat on less than two acres, land in Silicon Valley at that time sold for one million dollars per acre.

What better way to secure a windfall than to force me out and take over the church?

If you’re skeptical that denominational officials do things like this, let me assure you … they do.

And in my case, I’m positive that’s what was happening.

Second, many denominational leaders claim they lack the ecclesiastical authority to resolve conflicts involving pastors.

This is precisely what my district minister told me: “I don’t have the authority to take any action toward Bob.”

Fine … maybe the DM didn’t have any official authority to deal with him.

Many denominational executives claim that they can’t interfere in the life of a congregation because churches are autonomous … that is, they govern themselves without any outside interference.

But let me tell you … when a district minister wants to interfere in a church situation and get rid of a pastor … he will.

My district minister at that time went back to his previous church, advised the board on how to get rid of their current pastor, and was present when the board demanded the pastor’s resignation.

Not only was it a total breach of ethics, he was also violating that church’s autonomy by interfering … and his influence led to a lawsuit.

In my case, I wanted someone to exercise moral and spiritual authority.

After all, what good is ecclesiastical authority if it doesn’t translate into moral and spiritual decisions?

Thank God, several of my fellow pastors did take action against Bob’s sabotage efforts … and I was grateful for their courage.

But if you’re looking for principled action, look away from the district office … because denominations are far more political than they are spiritual.

Finally, many denominational leaders are more interested in building their denomination than advancing Christ’s kingdom. 

This was certainly true in our district.

I went to Talbot Seminary (now School of Theology), a non-denominational school.  While there, I gravitated toward books written by British scholars like John Stott, J. I. Packer, Michael Green, F. F. Bruce, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Those guys were my heroes.

I tried to think broadly, read widely, and view Christ’s kingdom internationally.

But when I started becoming involved with my church’s denomination, I was appalled at how narrow their thinking was.

For example, I served for several years on the district’s education committee.  One day, I asked the chairman if I could invite Pastor Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa to speak to the pastors in our district.  (I knew a pastor on that committee who was saved at one of Calvary’s concerts.)

At the time, Calvary Chapel may have been the largest church in the United States, and certainly was among the most influential churches anywhere in the world.

One of my best friends worked at Calvary with Pastor Chuck and I thought it would be great to have someone from outside the denomination talk about leadership.

My friend asked Chuck if he would speak for us, and Chuck said yes, so I went back to the chairman of the committee to deliver the news.

The chairman asked a district official if Chuck could come and speak.  The official said that Chuck couldn’t come because there were plenty of denominational personnel who could speak to the leaders without going outside our own group.

Pretty lame excuse, if you ask me.

That same district official later criticized me for going to Talbot even though choosing a denomination wasn’t even on my radar when I selected a seminary to attend.

A lot of pastors at this point might say, “Okay, this group may identify its denomination with the kingdom of God, and they’re obviously mistaken, but I’ll suck it up, play the game, schmooze the right people, and maybe move up the ladder someday.”

But I can’t do that.

My wife and I have been watching the TV show Blue Bloods on Netflix.  If you haven’t seen it, Tom Selleck plays Frank Reagan, the police commissioner of New York City.  (And if you aren’t aware of this, Reagan’s family openly talks about their Catholic faith and often says grace before eating … a rarity on television.)

When faced with a dilemma, Reagan always wants to do the right thing.  He always chooses principles over politics.  He hates phoniness … meaningless social events… and speaks his mind at all times.

That’s me … and that’s why I resonate with Frank Reagan so well.

But I was never comfortable in my denomination.  I was the wrong ethnicity … went to the wrong seminary … thought outside the box … and could not turn a blind ear to wrongdoing.

Many years ago, that district was holding a meeting one Saturday at my best friend’s church.  I dutifully put on my suit (this was the early 1990s), got in my car, and drove down the expressway toward the church.

About a mile down the road, I thought to myself, “I hate these meetings.  I don’t want to go … so why am I going?”

I turned around … went home … and never went to another one again.

My wife applauded me.  She said, “You always come back from those meetings depressed.”

She was right … and I hate being depressed.

Fast forward 15 years.

In our last church, out of 400 adults, only seven people cared about our church’s affiliation with that denomination.  Only seven.

One night, at a board meeting, a board member asked me what it would take to leave the denomination.

I told him that I didn’t want that to happen on my watch.

My wife later told me, “You made a mistake.  You should have taken the church out.”

She repeated that same sentiment to me this past weekend.

But I didn’t want to do it.  I thought I could just ignore them indefinitely.

When major conflict surfaced in my church in 2009, I discovered that my former district minister – who never once contacted me personally over a five-year period – was integrally involved in getting rid of me … even though he liked to claim, “I can’t interfere in local church conflicts.”

My wife was right … I should have led the church out of the denomination years before.

If I had, maybe I’d still be a pastor today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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