Feeds:
Posts
Comments

“If it wasn’t for Jesus, I don’t think I’d have anything to do with the church.”

That was the first phrase uttered by a longtime friend of mine when we met for lunch several weeks ago … and my friend is a successful pastor.

Our meeting preceded another bombshell originating out of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago last week when the two new co-pastors … and the elders … all announced their resignations.

These resignations followed the publishing of an interview by the New York Times with Pat Baranowski, a former personal assistant to Pastor Bill Hybels at Willow.  Baranowski claimed that in the late 1980s, Hybels groped her repeatedly and that they once engaged in oral sex.

My wife and I have had some very animated discussions about these events – as I’m sure my readers have had with others – and we’ve been trying to figure out how these things can happen in one of America’s most prominent and influential churches.

Even though Hybels, his chosen successors, and the governing board have all resigned due to this scandal, there are still many things that I wonder about.

For instance:

First, I wonder if Hybels will ever face his accusers.

From what I understand, ten women have now come forward and claimed that Hybels did or said something to them that either made them feel uncomfortable or violated them deeply.

Assuming these claims are true, I abhor this kind of behavior from anyone … especially from a Christian leader.

But it bothers me that Hybels has yet to face his accusers.

Pat Baranowski made her claims against Hybels in an interview with the New York Times.  Hybels then vehemently denied the charges, again in the Times.

This is the way our culture handles such matters … people at odds talk at each other through the media.  But isn’t the healthier and more biblical way for two parties to speak with each other face-to-face?

(As I recall, in Hybels’ first book, Christians Under Construction, his first chapter was an exposition of Matthew 18:15-17 … focusing on how believers should resolve the conflicts between themselves.)

The only way to avoid a “he said, she said” situation is for both Hybels and Baranowski to speak with each other under controlled conditions … and yet that’s probably an unrealistic proposition due to the pain and fear it would cause Hybels’ former PA.

Hybels has lost his case in the court of public opinion, among Christian leaders in general, and among much of the constituency of his former congregation … and I wonder if he’s aware of that.

But the only way to find out the truth is to get Hybels in a room alone with each one of his accusers … along with others who would monitor and guide the session.

At least three women said they tried confronting Hybels in the past about what he did, but they didn’t get anywhere.

Would they today?

Second, I wonder if Hybels will ever admit any specific wrongdoing.

When King David slept with Bathsheba, and then arranged for the murder of her husband Uriah, it took David a long time to admit his guilt.  Some scholars believe it took at least one year.

Many of us might ask ourselves, “If Hybels is such a spiritual guy, shouldn’t he have admitted his sin by now?”

There are many sins that a pastor can readily admit to, and people will forgive them instantly … sins like anger, envy, and pride.

But most Christians feel very differently about sexual sin … especially when it involves their pastor … and Hybels, of all people, certainly knows this.

There was a prominent evangelical Christian leader/author in the late 1980s who engaged in a nearly year-long affair.  (No, it wasn’t Bakker or Swaggert.)  This leader admitted his wrongdoing and then wrote a book about his “broken world.”  The evangelical community forgave him and after a few years, he was restored and served again as a pastor.

Even though Hybels is now officially “retired” from church ministry, he could have experienced the same kind of restoration had he admitted his guilt immediately.

But the longer he waits to come clean, the more people he’s going to alienate … and the more people may leave Willow.

At this point, Hybels may have concluded, “I’m dead in the water anyway.  Even if I admit what I did, I’ll still be toast in the Christian community.”

And he may well be right.

But I’ll tell you something.  Many Christians … including me … have about had it with megachurch pastors and their power trips.

I read a letter from a former executive pastor at Willow on Nancy Beach’s blog dated August 8, 2018.  He claimed that Hybels and his crew used to refer to “breaking people’s legs” when people saw what was going on at the church.  This former staffer stated that much more is going to come out about the culture at Willow under Hybels.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t take much more of this stuff.

In their resignation letter, the elders at Willow referred to “scarred women” and a “tarnished church.”

And unfortunately, when a megachurch like Willow is tarnished … it can rub off on all the churches that are associated with it.

Third, I wonder about the mentality of some Christian leaders concerning sexual sin.

What I’m going to describe below probably represents a minority position, but it still bothers me greatly.

Many years ago, I became familiar with a pastor in my denominational district who had committed adultery.  The former chairman of his board was a member in one of my churches and told me what happened.

This pastor played tennis every Sunday morning and was not at church when the service started.  The board chairman would pick up the pastor after he played tennis and whisk the pastor to the service so he could quickly clean up and enter the pulpit in time to preach.

The pastor ended up having an affair with a flight attendant which ended his tenure at that church.  My district minister at the time told me that this man “would never pastor again” in our district.

But a friend of mine – a well-connected ex-pastor – told me that even though the sinning pastor had never clearly repented, he should be asked to pastor again because “he is an able man.”

I disagreed with my friend, but he felt that the denomination was short on talented leaders and pastors.

There are some Christian leaders who know that their pastor/leader is engaged in sexual misconduct but choose to maintain silence because they don’t want to stop “God’s blessing” … or their own income.

I also knew about another prominent pastor from my former denomination (I’ll call him Sam) who engaged in sexual sin in one church … was permitted after that to pastor the largest church in our denomination, where it happened again … and then ended up at headquarters, where it happened again.

Back in 1986, I attended our denomination’s annual meetings on the east coast.  On Sunday morning, everyone was asked to break into prayer groups, and I ended up in a group with Sam (who had advised me as a member of my ordination committee) and the top leader of our denomination.  Evidently they were very good friends.

Not long after that prayer time, the news came out that our top leader had also had an affair while in office.  My guess is that he protected Sam because he was a “good old boy” … and that Sam in turn protected him.

Willow’s two co-pastors and elders have resigned because they protected their shepherd even though he had harmed some sheep.  We should give them credit for eventually getting things right.

But I still wonder about the wider Christian community because we still tolerate sexual, financial, and criminal misconduct in a leader if we think that God is blessing that individual and their organization with results.

Fourth, I wonder how God could bless Willow while its pastor was mistreating women.

Back in the early 1990s, Willow Creek was the largest Protestant church in America.  Now it’s the fifth largest.

If their pastor was mistreating women behind the scenes, how could God bless the church while there was “sin in the camp?”

Or as Hybels’ former colleague Nancy Beach recently asked: “How could he [Hybels] have done all this good when there were such dark things happening behind the scenes?”

The assumption I’m making is that the evidences of God’s blessing include increasing attendance, generous giving, spacious buildings, and global influence.

Pat Baranowski stated that her encounters with Hybels took place from 1986-1988.  Hybels just resigned a few months ago.  So for at least thirty years, Willow prospered, even though its pastor had engaged in sexual misconduct with one of his employees.

Why does God allow that?

I do not know.

It may be that God blesses His Word as His servants preach it … or that the gospel transforms people even if the pastor isn’t right with God … or that God rewards churches by His grace, even when they don’t deserve any blessing.

I used to think that large churches were the result of God’s abundant favor, but I don’t think that way anymore.

The single worst thing I’ve ever heard that a pastor did occurred twelve years ago.  A megachurch pastor (let’s call him John) left his position and became the pastor of another church.  A new pastor (let’s call him Kevin) succeeded this pastor.  Kevin’s ministry went very well.  By some accounts, John’s did not.

So John left his new church .. returned to his old church … pushed Kevin out of office … and received the approval of some major Christian leaders in the process.

What John did was not just wrong … it was evil … and yet many Christian leaders chose to look the other way because John was a man of influence whom God seemed to be blessing.

One believer wrote about this situation, “Bodies, bodies everywhere.  [John] does what he wants, when he wants, and credits God for the action.”

That’s the problem, isn’t it?  The leader of the large organization becomes so powerful that most people equate His words and actions with those of God … even if he’s operating out of the flesh.

Finally, I wonder if there are any Christian heroes around anymore.

I have very few Christian heroes left.  It’s easier for me to have secular heroes like Winston Churchill.  Since his life is over … frozen in time … I can admire his accomplishments from afar without being disappointed by his weaknesses … and like all “great” men, he had many.

One of my heroes was a pastor and seminary professor who finally admitted that he had a long-term affair with his secretary.

Another hero was a pastor and author known for his transparency.  He had an affair … became divorced … and remarried his wife.

I loved their books. I may still have them, but I haven’t looked at them since their moral failures became known.

Bill Hybels was a man I admired.  He spoke more boldly on tough topics than any pastor I’ve ever heard.  He used memorable language to describe theological concepts.  I once heard him say we’re all “a colossal collection of moral foul-ups.” That phrase has stuck with me over the years.

He had a passion for lost people, encapsulated in the phrase, “People matter to God.”  I loved hearing him teach on the lost sheep, coin, and son from Luke 15.

I resonated with his preaching more than anyone else in the Christian world.  I stopped listening to him years ago, but never forgot the times I did hear him speak.

My wife and I attended a Leadership Conference at Willow in October 1990.  Hybels gave a message that night called, “The Other ‘S’ Word.”  That word wasn’t “sin” … it was “substitution.”

Hybels told a story about a man who sexually abused a little girl, and then he said something like, “For a crime so vile, someone has to pay.”

Then he went through the entire Bible and showed that God had arranged for a lamb … or a goat … and finally a Savior to pay for our sins because we could not pay ourselves.

That message isn’t just for unbelievers.  It’s for believers, too.

 

One of the most common complaints that church leaders have about their pastor is this one:

“He acts like a dictator.”

This complaint usually states that the pastor:

*spends money without authorization

*makes major decisions unilaterally

*withholds valuable information from key leaders

*verbally abuses staff members

*threatens people who try to confront him

*doesn’t listen to people’s concerns or complaints

*becomes angry easily

All too many pastors want to run the church their way … and they will take down anyone who tries to oppose them.

The difference between leaders and dictators:

*Leadership requires collaboration.  A pastor who is a good leader has to make presentations for various projects to the church board, staff, and other key leaders to seek their approval.

But a pastor who is dictator bypasses that collaboration and makes major decisions unilaterally … and then expects key leaders to support him fully.

*Leadership requires ownership.  In my last church, we built a new worship center, a project that eventually cost about two million dollars.  The building team worked on the plans.  The church board handled the financing.  The staff gave their input at every turn.  We asked the architect to stand before our congregation and present his plans … allowed people to ask questions … and then held a meeting where people shared their input.  We later listed every word people said on the church website which let everyone know we took congregational input seriously.

We needed broad ownership in decision making so that we could have broad ownership when we asked people to give toward the building.

But a pastor-dictator will bypass as many of those steps as possible.  He and a few of his buddies inside the church will do most of the work … and then expect people to buy in with their finances … and things usually won’t go very well.

*Leadership requires patience.  I once heard a prominent pastor say that it takes four years to make a major change in a church.  A good leader will devise a process where he charts a clear course … people’s complaints are heard … their objections are answered … and change is not rushed.

But a pastor-dictator is always in a hurry.  He doesn’t want to give the complainers any kind of forum because they might waylay his plans.  He doesn’t want to devote any time to answering objections because he’s thought things through and that should be good enough for everyone else.  The dictator thinks it’s his church far more than it’s the people’s church.

*Leadership requires love.  I once knew a pastor who took a ministry class in seminary.  The professor told his students you have to “love the sheep” and then “lead the sheep.”  My friend approached the professor after class and said, “That was really great … you have to lead the sheep then love the sheep.”  The professor said, “No, you have to love the sheep and then lead the sheep.”  Big difference!

The pastor who is a true leader loves his people and then leads them.  He motivates them by recommending ministries that are in their best interests.

But the dictator doesn’t even lead his people.  He manipulates the congregation into doing what are in his own best interests.  He bulldozes them … threatens them … and sends out the signals, “I alone know what is good for this church.”

To quote Paul Simon, such an attitude “sure don’t feel like love.”

*Leadership requires humility.  The leader’s attitude is, “I believe this is the direction God wants us to go as a church.  I’ll need your help along the way.”

But the dictator equates his own wishes, words, and plans with the will of God … and to question him is to doubt the Lord Himself.

If you’ve read my words …

What can you do about a pastor who is a dictator?

First, realize that most pastors who have adopted a dictatorial leadership style are rarely going to change. 

Such pastors have enjoyed at least some success with their style which is why they keep using it.  But whether it’s a personality flaw, or a narcissistic bent, or a defense mechanism, most dictators never change.

You can plead with them to become more collaborative … threaten to leave the church … or send them for counseling … but it won’t do any good.

I have never known a dictatorial pastor to alter his modus operandi.  Have you?

Now if a pastor has exercised a collaborative style, and temporarily becomes dictatorial, that’s different.  Sometimes a pastor senses that unless he pushes a project hard, nothing’s going to happen.  I had to do that at times, but if people called me on it, I backed off and tried to reset matters.

In this article, I’m talking about pastors who have demonstrated unilateral dominance from Day One.

Second, realize that dictators will keep going until someone tries to stop them.

Once a dictator has momentum, that person will continue to use their domineering style because they’re getting results.

And if nobody ever calls them on their tactics, they’ll just keep using them.

The only way to stop a dictator is to stage some kind of an intervention.  Let them know that what they are doing is counterproductive to the leadership and the congregation.

Much of the time, church leaders will tell me, “He’s a dictator, but boy, is he a great Bible teacher!  He really knows the Word!  Our people love his teaching!”

But sometimes, good teachers make lousy leaders.  Many Bible teachers would rather spend all their time researching, writing, and delivering messages than doing anything to improve their leadership skills.

If so, let the pastor teach … and get someone else on board to lead the church.

Third, realize that dictators sow the seeds of their own destruction.

Once you’ve woken up to the fact that your pastor is a dictator, know that a Day of Reckoning is bound to occur … and maybe soon.  Godly, gifted, intelligent people rebel inwardly against dictator-pastors … and if they conclude that things won’t change, they’ll quietly head for the exits.

Here is what will happen:

*your best leaders will leave the church first

*key ministries will be curtailed due to a lack of volunteers

*staff members will be laid off due to lack of funds

*those remaining will be the passive takers, not the active givers

*the dictator-pastor will then jump ship as soon as he can

This may not sound kind, but it’s better to take out the dictator before the death spiral occurs than to do nothing and watch your church slowly die.

Finally, the only way to deal with a dictator is to defeat them.

That means you’re going to have to fight them for control of the church.

And if you do engage them, I guarantee it’s going to get nasty … and bloody … and people are going to get hurt … including you and your family.

For this reason, if you’re in a church with a dictator as pastor, it’s preferable that you and your family quietly look for another church.

But if you’re determined to stay, you’re going to have to deal with your pastor … and there are ways to do this that are consistent with Scripture and the Christian faith.

If I was a board member, and I felt that the pastor had to go to save the church, I’d take the following steps:

*Call a special meeting of the official board away from the church campus.

*Express your concern about the way the pastor has been operating.  Share real-life examples.

*Go around the room and let each board member share how they feel about the pastor.  If the pastor has strong support, and you can’t convince them of your position, mentally make plans to leave the church.  YOU CAN’T DEAL WITH A DICTATORIAL PASTOR UNLESS YOU HAVE FULL BOARD SUPPORT.  If you do have full board support, then:

*Take time to pray and read Scripture together.  Ask God for His guidance … and for courage.  Confronting a dictatorial pastor will be among the hardest things you will ever do.

*Consult your church’s governing documents.  Hopefully there’s a section that lays out how to hire and fire a pastor.  If not, obtain the governing documents from three other churches that are governed like yours and summarize their process in a few steps.  Then write out what you believe are the best practices for terminating a pastor and adopt them as a board.

*Do not make a laundry list of all the pastor’s shortcomings.  That’s destructive.  Instead, focus on the one or two areas that concern you the most … no more than two.  (People can’t change in multiple areas of their lives.)  Come up with several examples under each area of concern.  You’re going to share these concerns with the pastor.

For example: “Pastor, whenever we ask you to give a report of your activities at the monthly board meeting, you just say, ‘Everything’s fine.’  But we need much more information than that!  We’d like you to bring a one or two page written report to every board meeting so we know specifically what you are doing.”

That’s a reasonable request.  (I brought a written report for years to every board meeting.)  But the dictator usually resists such accountability.

*Prayerfully ask two people to meet with the pastor to express the board’s concerns.  If possible, the chairman should be one of those people.  (Otherwise, the pastor will wonder, “Does the chairman know about and agree with this confrontation?”)

*Ask the pastor to meet the two board members at a neutral location, like a restaurant, rather than in the pastor’s study or someone’s home.  While you want privacy, it’s harder to make a scene in public.

*Give the pastor a choice.  Tell him, “We love you and we’re happy for you to remain our pastor, but we need to see the following changes in your life and ministry or else we will take further action.”  Then share with him how you want him to behave in the future.  If he becomes angry, wait until he calms down.  If he storms off, you’ll have to meet with him again.  Tell him that if he leaves the meeting and contacts his supporters,  you will recommend to the board that he be dismissed immediately.

*The pastor has four options at this point:

First, he can act like you’ve never met and continue operating as usual.

Second, he can contact his supporters, tell them about the meeting, and thereby institute an all-our war within your congregation.  YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR THIS POSSIBILITY.

Third, he can agree to make the changes you’ve suggested … in which case the board has the right to monitor his progress.

Finally, he may outwardly comply with the board’s wishes while starting to search for a new job.

I can’t give you a flow chart for what might happen under each option, but these kinds of situations can become unpredictable fast!

Let me share with you the single best way of dealing with a dictator-pastor.

Don’t hire one in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

_______________

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.

Pastors 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: