Archive for January, 2011

The Lord has done some remarkable things in our lives over the past fifteen months.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I lamented the fact that we would have to sell our house and move.  We had no idea where to go.

But the Lord prompted a former chairman of the church board and his wife to invite us to stay at their place in Surprise, Arizona, which we did for more than two months.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I were so disoriented that we did not understand all that had happened to us or how to move on with our lives.

But the Lord put me in contact with Dr. Charles Chandler from the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, and Kim and I attended a Wellness Retreat in Tennessee that put us on the road to recovery.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I knew that we would be leaving our wonderful church family behind, a prospect we dreaded.

But the Lord led us to a fantastic church (after visiting many not-so-fantastic ones) where we love the music, the preaching, their outreach orientation, and especially the way they do missions. (Kim is taking a class called Perspectives and absolutely loves it.)

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I thought that she might never visit or minister in Kenya again.

But the Lord arranged for a church in Georgia to seek Kim’s help in starting a ministry in Nairobi, and Kim was able to visit Kenya last May – while that church has invested thousands of dollars into the ministry of a pastor friend there.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I were emotionally shattered and spiritually exhausted.

But the Lord led us to a wise and caring counselor, and He has slowly been rebuilding our strength.  While it may take some time for us to be 100%, we’re at a much better place than we were.  Several people have commented that it’s good to see us smiling again.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I realized we would have to place our house up for sale, even though it was severely underwater financially.

But the Lord brought us a friend who proved to be a loving, persistent, and tireless realtor.  Although we sold the house four times before the short sale transaction was completed, we are forever in her debt.

Fifteen months ago, the former board of our church treated us in a manner we will never fully understand.

But the Lord used the next board to pray for us, encourage us, and let us know that we were still loved, and for that we will be forever grateful.

Fifteen months ago, to be honest, life didn’t seem worth living.

But the Lord has been refining us to the point where we are looking forward to whatever He has in store for us in the days ahead.

Fifteen months ago, we were looking backwards, trying to figure out what in the world happened to us and our church family.

But the Lord has turned our heads around so we are increasingly looking forward to what He has for us in the future.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I knew that we would have to leave our positions at a church that we loved (and still love) very much.  We had no idea what else we might do because we felt that God had called us to local church ministry.

But the Lord helped Kim secure a job last summer at a charter school district office, and with her help, we are ready to launch a ministry for pastors and their families who have suffered in church ministry.  In fact, we hold our first board meeting next week.

And the Lord continues to do amazing things in our lives.  Because Kim’s work commute takes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes each way, we knew we’d have to move toward her workplace when our current lease expired.

After enduring many frustrating experiences in trying to find the right place to rent, we discovered that our church had online classified ads.  We went to their website and found a fun place to rent (the walls in each room are painted a different color) in an unusual neighborhood.  We also discovered that our landlord went to my high school and that her step-mother was in my graduating class!

I have been passionate about pastoral conflict issues for more than 35 years, and now the Lord has called me to assist pastors who have suffered abuse, especially those who have experienced forced exits.

That’s why we’re launching our new ministry, Restoring Kingdom Builders.  If the Lord can help us rebuild our lives after undergoing life-shattering experiences, then He can use us to touch wounded pastors and their families.

Will you join us in praying that God will continue to use us for His glory?

I wonder what is in store for us – and for you – in the next fifteen months.

Read Full Post »

Dear Readers,

I want to thank all of you who have been kind enough to read my blog since I started it about seven weeks ago.  Today I passed 1,000 views, and I’m very excited about that!

When you start doing something like this, you have no idea whether it will reach anyone, so I’m grateful for your encouragement and comments.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the car while talking with Kim about an issue relating to conflict … and she’ll stop me and say, “Write a book!”  While I am doing that, I’m also writing these little pieces, not only to help others, but also to keep Kim from going crazy.

If you have a topic you’d like covered that relates to church conflict and pastors, please feel free to pass it along.  I love challenges!

And if you aren’t yet a subscriber to the blog, I invite you to do so – and to invite others to subscribe as well.  Let’s be subversive together!

My son Ryan put the blog together for me, and he’s working on the website as well, so I’ll let you know when that’s finished.  I am extremely grateful to him.  I guess buying the family a Mac IIsi computer when he was thirteen has finally paid off.

I’ve got scores of topics to write on, so if you’ll keep reading, I’ll keep writing.  Thanks again!

For a More Peaceful and Just Church,


Read Full Post »

Playing Politics

Three little boys were arguing over whose father was the richest.  The first boy said, “My dad is the richest because he owns the biggest farm in the county.”  The second boy said, “That’s nothing!  My dad is the richest because he owns the biggest bank in town.”  Then they both turned to the third boy and said, “Bet your dad doesn’t own anything because he’s a pastor.”  The minister’s son replied, “Oh yeah?  My dad owns something bigger than a farm or a bank.  He owns hell.”  The other boys laughed and said, “That’s crazy!  How do you know your dad owns hell?”  The PK replied, “When my dad came home from church last night,  I heard him tell Mom that the board gave him hell!”

Just like that pastor’s kid, most churchgoers have no idea what really goes on behind-the-scenes at the average church.  What really happens in meetings of the board and staff?  How many decisions are really made on the basis of Scripture and prayer?  How do the key leaders really behave when they’re immersed in a crisis?

When I first joined a church staff – and later when I became a pastor – I was horrified at how many decisions in a church were made on the basis of politics, pure and simple.  I was shocked because I thought Christian leaders would make spiritual decisions rather than political ones.  While I have been in churches where the leaders truly “walked the walk” in every situation, I have also been in churches where the leaders seem to forget they’re in a church.

The best illustration in the Bible of politics in action occurs when the Sanhedrin sent Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.  Let me share with you five political strategies that Pilate used that I have seen used in local churches:

First, politicians succumb to outside pressure.  When Jesus was first brought before Pilate, the Jewish leaders accused Him of “subverting our nation.  He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king” (Luke 23:2).  In other words, Jesus was accused of trying to overthrow Rome.  But after Pilate initially questioned Jesus, he told His accusers, “I find no basis for a charge against this man” (Luke 23:4).  And yet, when Jesus’ countrymen continued to accuse Him of stirring up the people, Pilate lost his nerve and backed down.

In my first pastorate, the board chairman asked me to take action over a theological issue involving two of his family members.  After I researched the issue, I presented relevant materials to the board in a three-hour meeting, after which we made a unanimous decision.  When I tried to explain our decision to the family members, they threatened to leave the church and demanded a personal apology.  When I asked the board for support, they flipped on me and told me to apologize, but I refused.  (I’d like to say it’s because of divine courage but it could also be because of my stubborn Germany ancestry.)  I reminded them that we had made a decision together based on Scripture, but that didn’t matter to them. 

While politicians wilt when pressured, spiritual leaders stand strong.  

Second, politicians avoid the tough calls.  Dr. Luke tells us that when Pilate heard that Jesus was a Galilean, he sent Jesus to see the ruler of Galilee, King Herod, who was visiting the Holy City for Passover.  Pilate hoped that Herod would make a decision about Jesus’ fate that would take the Roman governor off the hook, but Herod merely ridiculed Jesus and sent him back to Pilate.

I once stumbled upon some inappropriate material on the social networking site of an important  person in my church.  I consulted with that person’s supervisor who promised to address the issue, but months later, the objectionable material was still there. 

While a politician prefers not to confront a friend, a spiritual leader seeks that person’s repentance and restoration. 

Third, politicians scapegoat innocent people.  Which crimes had Jesus commited against Rome?  He hadn’t committed any.  Pilate twice confessed that Jesus was innocent of all the charges hurled His way (Luke 23:4, 14), but instead of exonerating and then releasing Him, Pilate decided to punish Jesus (by beating) before releasing Him.  Why?  This is what His vocal constituents demanded even though Jesus was blameless before the law.  Rather than declaring Jesus completely innocent, Pilate declared Jesus partly innocent.

I’ll write more about this story another time, but I know a church where the pastor resigned because a member of his family was accused of a crime they didn’t commit.  No one in that church moved a finger to right the wrong – until the new pastor came.  When he heard the truth, he arranged for the former pastor to return to the church.  In public, those who falsely accused the pastor admitted their error, the church asked his forgiveness for permitting a grave injustice, and the pastor and church experienced a liberating reconciliation that allowed both parties to move on with God’s blessing. 

While politicians apportion blame for conflicts indiscriminately, spiritual leaders apportion blame accurately

Fourth, politicians don’t seek divine wisdom.  With the Sanhedrin breathing down his neck, Pilate did not seek guidance from Scripture, or a prophet, or prayer.  God tried to speak to him through a dream that He gave Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19), but Pilate brushed off the message.  He was used to making unilateral decisions based on Roman interests + common sense, but both of those touchstones failed him at this juncture.  Had he only looked above instead of around … history might have judged him differently.

You might not like this, but I have been in scores of board meetings where the board members – who have been chosen primarily because of their walk with God – never even consider consulting God when they get stuck on an issue.  They don’t quote Scripture or turn to key passages.  They don’t stop the meeting to consult with the Lord in prayer.  I have even been in meetings where the meeting wasn’t opened with prayer.  It’s like the Lord isn’t even there.  Board members just discuss issues using worldly wisdom but never truly seek the Lord’s mind on anything

While politicians consult exclusively with their peers or constituents, spiritual leaders initially seek the Lord’s face on everything.

Finally, politicians want to look good.  They care more about their image than their character.  They care more about how they appear to others than how they appear to God.  John makes a profound statement about many of the Jewish leaders who believed in Jesus but would not confess Him openly: “For they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43).  

Stuart Briscoe from Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin is one of my all-time favorite preachers.  I once heard him make this simple but profound observation: “Most people want to feel good and look good.  They don’t want to be good and do good.” 

While politicians are primarily concerned with feeling good and looking good so they can be re-elected, spiritual leaders care more about being good and doing good – even if that means they’re one-termers. 

If we’re serious about wanting God’s blessing on our churches, if we truly wish to obey God’s Word, if we want to impact our communities for Jesus, if we want to see revival in our time – then we need to stop making decisions in our churches purely on the basis of politics and start making decisions on the basis of righteousness.

I dare you to try it.  In fact, I double dog dare you.

Read Full Post »

When our kids were little, they often fought in the back seat of the car.  If our family was just going to the store, they could refrain from harassing each other, but if we took a trip of any length, I’d constantly hear, “Get over on your side!” or “Mom, tell him to stop it!” or “Dad, she hit me – and it hurts!”  After a while, knowing in advance what would happen, my wife and I took proactive steps to minimize the noise coming from the middle of the car – like gags.  (Just kidding!)

Conflict in a local church is often unavoidable, especially when so many people with varying ways of doing things inhabit the same spaces.  But when we know up-front that conflict is likely to surface, we can take proactive steps to minimize its damaging effects.

Last time, I mentioned five predictable times for trouble in a church’s life as taken from Speed Leas’ chapter in the book Mastering Conflict and Controversy.  (While the outline comes from Leas, all comments are mine.)  Here are times ten through six again:

Number 10: Increase in church membership (or attendance)

Number 9: Loss of church membership (or attendance)

Number 8: The completion of a new building

Number 7: Introduction of baby boomers in the church (or any new generation)

Number 6: Changes in the pastor’s family

Let’s now count down numbers 5 through 1:

Number 5: The pastor’s vacation.  Why?  Because those who don’t like the pastor can plot against him without his awareness.

Like Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins, I love to laugh.  And one of the characters who makes me laugh the most is Brother Biddle, a fictitious pastor who appeared for years in comic strips by Christian cartoonist Rob Suggs.  One time, Biddle’s family asked him if they could miss just one Sunday to go away on vacation, so Biddle asked Joe “Crazy Collar” Mazzoli to preach for him.  (As the Biddles left for the airport, the whole church turned out to say goodbye with signs like “Let us know if you need more time,” causing his son to comment, “Heck, there’s more people here than for your whole last sermon series combined!”)

Anyway, while the Biddles were away in Europe, Mazzoli was having phenomenal success.  He made plans to build a gym and founded a cable TV ministry.  While his family was in Salzburg, two goatherders tried to kill Brother Biddle, but while Biddle’s wife didn’t recognize them, Biddle did. They were deacons Hardwick and Howell … from Biddle’s church!  Biddle concluded, “I knew I shouldn’t miss a Sunday!  Mazzoli must be stopped!  We’re going home!”

Like Brother Biddle, pastors sometimes have nightmares about what might happen if they miss too many Sundays in a row, and although board members usually aren’t sent on “search and destroy” missions against their shepherd, a lot of mischief can occur when he’s away.  For example, if the governing board or a group of dissidents in the church wants to remove the pastor from office, those plans will be acclerated when the pastor is away.  But the opposite can also occur: the entire church can be paralyzed while the pastor is gone, especially if he makes most of the decisions.  Careful planning can reduce most conflicts in this category.

Number 4: Change in leadership style.  Why?  Because people in a church become accustomed to one pastor’s way of leading a ministry and have a tough time adjusting to the next pastor’s style.

I once followed a pastor who was personally authoritative and rather elitist in decision-making.  Every major decision was made by the same handful of people.  When I became pastor, I laid out the overall direction for the church but used a more participative style.  While many people appreciated the way I did things, a few were so used to the previous pastor’s style that they could not adjust to mine.  This issue occurs in every church and organization, so it’s predictable – but it takes some people a long time to make the necessary adjustments.

Number 3: Addition of new staff.  Why?  Because every time a new person joins a church staff, the dynamics of the entire staff change.

A church I pastored once hired a full-time staff member who wasn’t a team player.  For example, he held a meeting week after week at the church facility on the same night but continually left the room a mess for the next group.  I tried and tried to get him to leave the room clean but he couldn’t understand what the problem was.  If we had an event on the church campus after worship on Sunday, the entire staff would stay, serve, and help clean up, but he’d slip off the campus at the first opportunity.  The rest of the staff resented his attitude because he seemed aloof from them.  And, of course, every time I had to talk with him about these issues, he resented me more and more as well.

For a church to prosper, it needs new staff members, but every time one is hired, not only does the church need to adjust to that person, but so does the pastor and the rest of the staff – and that always causes conflict.

Number 2: Stewardship campaigns/budget time.  Why?  Because everyone in a church puts a different value on money.

When I left my last church, I moved 35 boxes of files.  While watching football yesterday, I made my way through five of those boxes, and I was truly amazed at how many files had to do with money.  (My guess is that 75% of the files touched on finances.)  If a church’s income is increasing, the governing board may debate whether to hire a new staff member, save money for facility repairs, or put more money into missions.  If a church’s revenues are shrinking, the board will be forced to debate what should be cut and by how much.  Either scenario can lead to the expression of strong opinions and hurt feelings.  Then when that same board presents the budget for the following year to the church, some people go ballistic about unfunded areas while others come unglued about overfunded ones.

If I had to pastor again, I’d prefer to fast forward from September right to December every year and skip the financial planning headaches of October and November (even though they’re my two personal favorite months of the year).

Number 1: Easter.  Why?  Because Easter is usually the busiest time of the year in a church, especially if it celebrates Good Friday as well.

As a pastor, I always loved Easter Sunday.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most joyful, uplifting, inspiring, and moving topic in the world.  But … preparing for Easter Sunday can be riddled with conflict because everyone wants to look good on Easter.

Think about it: the church needs to be thoroughly cleaned; the refreshments need to be creatively displayed; marketing materials must look perfect; the decorations must be properly festive; the worship team wants to play and sound fantastic; and the pastor wants to preach his best message.  While the effort is always worth it, the build-up to Easter is fraught with pitfalls that need to be carefully negotiated.  The first Easter had far less conflict than the average Easter in the average church.

May you internalize these predictable times for trouble so that, should conflict emerge, you’ll be able to say, “This isn’t abnormal; this is very, very normal.”  May God grant you peace as you live for and serve Him!

Read Full Post »

I always knew when it was going to happen.

When I was a kid, my family drove from Orange County to Whittier on holidays to visit my grandparents.  Since they lived on a busy street, their ten grandkids were forbidden to play in the front yard but besides a swing, there wasn’t much to do in the backyard.  As the oldest of all the grandchildren, I learned early on to sit with my grandfather in the den and watch sports – mainly football.  That way, he could never yell at me for being disruptive.

But nearly every time all ten cousins congregated at that house, my grandfather would hear the racket the kids were making outside – and the incessant slamming of the kitchen door – and he’d get up, exclaim, “Yee, golly!”, and lock the kids out of the house.  It got to the point where I could have gone to the door and locked it for him – he was that predictable.

Trouble occurs in churches at predictable times, too.  According to conflict consultant Speed Leas in the book Mastering Conflict and Controversy, there are ten times when conflict is most likely to rear its ugly head in a local fellowship.  Let’s do this in typical Top Ten fashion:

Number 10: Increase in church membership (or attendance).  Why?  Because the addition of new people changes the personality of the congregation.

Let’s say that a church has an average attendance on Sunday morning of 150 people, but over the next year, it swells to 275.  That growth will alter its dynamics.  Since the church has almost doubled in size, some people who used to enjoy regular access to the pastor will find he no longer has as much time for them – and that may hurt them.  In addition, some people who served in two ministries will be asked to serve in only one so a newcomer can serve in the other – and sharing isn’t just difficult for toddlers.  When veteran attendees end up in the hospital, they may want the head pastor to visit them, but find he is out-of-town at a conference – so they get the new staff member instead.

As a church grows, it will need to add new worship services, train new leaders, and produce more ministries – and all of this can be disconcerting to those who used to be “big fish in a smaller pond.”  While everybody in a church claims they want the church to grow, some will actually sabotage the growth if their own star fades as a result.

The result?  Conflict!

Number 9:  Loss of church membership (or attendance).  Why?  Because as the number of people attending the church dwindles, so does the money.

Let’s reverse the attendance figures from the previous section.  Suppose a church with an average attendance of 275 plunges to 150 over the course of a year.  What will happen?  The giving will drop, probably substantially.  The leaders will have to institute cuts to ministries.  They may have to lay off staff.  The church may shift into maintenance mode.  And all the while, morale takes a dive as people wonder if they’re on a sinking ship and whether it might be better to grab a lifeboat (and row to another church) while they still can.  When a church experiences such drastic changes, some cast around for someone to blame, and their eyes usually rest on … the pastor.

The result?  Conflict!

Number 8: Completion of a new building.  Why?  Because different skill sets are required to build a building as opposed to filling a building.

A little more than five years ago, a church I served as pastor built a new worship center.  Before the project was completed, a former pastor quoted a statistic to me that seven out of ten pastors end up leaving their churches within a year of the completion of a building.  While that did not happen in my case, I understand why it does.

The construction of any building is an enormous undertaking.  While it’s very exciting, it’s also exhausting.  You’re on call 24/7.  In my case, I had to work with city bureaucracy, hostile neighbors (“We wish you’d go away for good”), the homeowners association, the project manager, the capital campaign leaders, the decorators (“Who chose that color?), the complainers (who thought the building would look differently than it did), the saboteurs (who talked down the capital campaign to others) and angry members (who left the church because they didn’t want to give).  And while all this was going on, I was trying to run our normal ministry while everyone constantly tiptoed around the construction site.

In my case, by the time the building was dedicated, I was eligible to take a sabbatical (and needed one desperately), but I delayed it for an entire year because we didn’t want to lose momentum.  While our church did grow, it didn’t grow at the rate everyone hoped – including me.

The result?  Conflict!

Number 7: Introduction of Baby Boomers into the Church (or any new generation).  Why?  Because the generation currently in charge of the church must surrender some authority to reach the next generation – and they resist doing so.

The church I attend has a great band that rocks out every Sunday.  While some from previous generations may take this style of music for granted, I appreciate it all the more because I was among the many pastors caught in the “worship wars” of the 1980’s.

It’s 1983.  I’m the new pastor of a church of 100+ people in the heart of Silicon Valley.  On Sunday morning, an older couple gets up to sing – but they really can’t.  They warble Out of the Ivory Palaces, not in English, but in Swedish.  I am not sure who was blessed, but I know I wasn’t.  I wanted to stand up and say, “This isn’t 1950 – this is 1983!”  But I didn’t – at least, not in public.  (And I could never tell this story in my former church because they had relatives there.)

Two years later, our church had a worship band for our Sunday service.  What they lacked in expertise they made up for in energy.  We started singing newer praise songs, and before I knew it, twenty percent of the church had left.  Guess who led them away?  That’s right – the Ivory Palaces couple.

Now, of course, I go to my local CVS store in the 55+ community in which we currently live and they’re playing Bruce Springsteen and Journey songs in the store.  And the church we attend has plenty of seniors, some in wheel chairs, and we sing edgy songs by Christian artists who weren’t even born in 1983.  My, how times have changed!

While the boomers wanted the builders (the previous generation) to accommodate their tastes, the boomers haven’t been as accommodating to the busters (the next generation).  But the churches that don’t reach the busters won’t last past 2025.

The result?  Conflict!

Number 6: Changes in the Pastor’s Family.  Why?  Because alterations in the pastor’s family, health, schedule, and energy will throw some people off-balance.

I served 10 1/2 years at my last church, and during that time, my wife had multiple surgeries and medical procedures.  Every time she came home from the hospital, I was not only her primary caregiver but her sole caregiver.  Because I had to put my energies into nursing her back to health, I was affected both physically and emotionally and consequently didn’t have as much to give to the church.  Whenever a pastor cannot operate at his normal level of energy, it affects the church because people have come to expect him operating at a certain level – and they get anxious when he can’t.

The result?  Conflict!

What are some of the other predictable times of conflict in a church?  See if you can guess what the Top Five are when I write my next article.

Read Full Post »

I love the church that my wife and I attend.  It’s the church that I always wanted to pastor.  For example, as Kim and I were walking up to the lobby last Sunday, I told her that I first needed to stop by the men’s room.  Just then, the worship band began playing their opening song, and I heard a familiar guitar riff coming through the speakers outside.  I told Kim, “That’s All Because of You by U2.”  I quickly bypassed the men’s room.  We found seats four rows from the front, I listened to the band play the entire song, and then I quickly slipped out for a moment.

After the service, we went to the information desk so Kim could confirm some details about a missions course she’s taking.  Then we bought hamburgers at the grill outside and watched the Bears pummel the Seahawks on one of five large-screen TVs in the patio area.  While we were eating lunch, kids and their parents were playing football, soccer, and basketball on the fields nearby. (It’s never winter in the Phoenix area.)  Yesterday someone who once attended the church termed it “Church Disneyland,” but I know what they’re doing and why: they are trying to reach spiritually lost people with the good news of Jesus and they’re doing it extremely well.

Our pastor is a truth teller and a straight talker, and I like that.  Last Sunday, he used three Old Testament stories to illustrate that because we have a big God, we need to think big as well, and his message resonated with us in a powerful way.  But for the third time in sixth months, he referred to an incident that happened to him years before, an occurrence that he shared with me privately before I ever heard him mention it publicly.

In the early years of the church, four staff members aligned themselves against the pastor.  I don’t know what their specific charges were but they engaged in character assassination.  When the pastor discovered their plot, he called a meeting of the entire church to expose them, and three of them immediately resigned.  That alliance threatened the entire mission and existence of the church.  The pastor survived, but it took him months to recover his drive and energy.

How often do professing Christians form alliances against a pastor?  Sadly, it happens all too often.  An alliance in a church can take many forms.  As in the above case, staff members can form a group to force the pastor to resign.  Or the governing board can initiate a “church coup” by blocking all of the pastor’s plans (and substituting their own).  Or a group can engage in “secret meetings” where people make a list of charges against the pastor and then issue a series of demands, threatening to leave the church en masse if their demands are not met.

Why do people form such alliances?  They do so because they feel powerless by themselves but powerful when they’re with others.  As they complain to their colleagues/friends/co-workers, they discover people who agree with them and share their agenda.  When they find enough willing participants, they form an unofficial group.  Someone assumes leadership, they begin meeting in secret, and they’re usually willing to use any means necessary to accomplish their goal: take out the top leader.

Isn’t this what happened with Jesus?  I’ve been studying The Gospels and have been surprised at how many alliances it took to execute Jesus.  The Pharisees enlisted the help of the hated Herodians in trying to pummel Jesus with tough theological questions (Matthew 22:15-22).  Judas struck a deal with the Sanhedrin to reveal Jesus’ whereabouts during Passover (Matthew 26:14-16).  Pontius Pilate and King Herod Antipas, who did not get along, initiated a friendship after both examined Jesus (Luke 23:12).  Even Israel (the Jews) and Rome (the Gentiles) had to form a partnership to eliminate Jesus.  Without these “strange bedfellows” – humanly speaking – Jesus would never have been crucified.

Dr. Luke notes several of these alliances in Acts 4:25-27.  After Peter and John were arrested and released by the Jewish Supreme Court, the early Christians met together and asked the Lord for boldness to share the gospel.  Notice the following phrases (italics are mine):

“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed” (Acts 4:25-27).

When I was a pastor, I didn’t mind if a few individuals in the church complained about various matters as long as they spoke to me or another top leader directly and didn’t spread their discontent to others.  I actually welcomed such complaints because there were times when people observed matters that I couldn’t possibly notice.  I always thanked those who had the courage to come and speak with me personally.

But I was always on the lookout for complainers who started to form coalitions.  It is not a sin to feel uncomfortable about something in a church, or to share your concern with a church leader, or even to have a conversation with another attendee about that same matter.  But it is a sin to form a group within the church whose express purpose is to get its own way.  And once the group begins to deliberate, it usually concludes that it cannot get its way unless it first gets rid of whoever is standing it its way – and that person is usually the pastor.

No one can ever detect every budding alliance in a church, but just determine that you will never form or join such a group.

I once met with a group of Christian clergy who were dissatisfied with the leaders of the organization that we all served.  Several of these men began to suggest that we could remove the leaders and “take back” the organization.  While listening to my colleagues talk, I could sense how powerful they felt.  But I eventually spoke up and told my friends that I wouldn’t have anything to do with plotting against the organization’s leaders, even though I was distressed by some of their decisions.  My words of protest threw a wet blanket over the whole discussion, and the leaders never again entertained the idea of overthrowing their superiors.

But I shudder to think what might have happened if I had either agreed with them or remained silent.

If you’re unhappy with your church or upset with your pastor for some reason, choose not to complain to others, even your good friends.  Instead, go to the person you’re upset with and talk to them about the matter.  That’s what Jesus instructed us to do (Matthew 18:15-17).

But you can form an alliance with one party: the Lord Himself.  Go into your closet and have a secret meeting with Him.  Unload your concerns about your church and its leaders.

Because in the long run, forming a coalition with the Father is far more effective – and uniting – than forming an alliance with any of your spiritual brothers and sisters.

Read Full Post »

Imagine this:

You work as a supervisor at a company that you really like.  You look forward to coming to work each morning, enjoy your co-workers, and find your position utilizes your special gifts and strengths.  Most of all, you believe that you are making a real contribution to your company.  You are always included in management meetings and believe that your ideas make your company better.  You plan on keeping your job for many years to come.

Your company has been undergoing some changes recently, and there’s a lot of anxiety on everyone’s part.  Then one day, you attend an all-company meeting at which the top leaders make a presentation concerning the company’s future and actively solicit feedback from its workers.  You quickly discover that you were excluded from the latest round of meetings and that decisions have been made without your knowledge or approval.

Suddenly, one of your co-workers stands up and accuses you of violating company policy.  You’re taken aback because this is the first time you’ve ever heard of this charge.  You know it isn’t true, and you want to defend yourself, when another co-worker stands up and makes a second charge against you.  You ask yourself, “What in the world is going on here?  Why are they attacking me?”

Before you know it, some other people are making accusations against you as well.  The charges sound like they could be true to others, but you know they are completely false.  After a few minutes, the tide of the meeting has turned so ugly that you just want to crawl in a hole and disappear.

For those of you who work in a company, how likely is the above scenario?

It’s not.  Why not?  Because most companies create policies that protect their workers – and leaders – from being ambushed like that.  If your supervisor believes that you’ve done something wrong, he or she is supposed to sit down with you and talk to you about it face-to-face.  You should never, ever hear negative information about yourself for the first time in a public meeting, and if it did happen, you might very well have legal grounds for taking action against that company.

Then why do all too many churches allow this kind of attack against their pastor?

Jesus, the Founder and CEO of the Christian Church, described the required protocol whenever one worker has a complaint against another worker.  The process is given to us in Matthew 18:15-20.  The steps are simple:

*If I believe that a fellow believer has sinned – especially against me – than I have the responsibility of going to that person directly and confronting him or her with what I have seen or heard.  If they “listen to you” and repent of their actions, then you have restored that person and no further action needs to be taken.

But you don’t first bring up their offenses in a public, all-church meeting.  That’s skipping steps.

*If they refuse to “listen,” Jesus says, then you are to take along one or two other people.  Once again, you repeat the first step but with additional witnesses present.  This elevates the seriousness of the charges.  Once again, the goal is restoration and redemption, not destruction and termination.

But you still don’t go to the church with your charges.  That’s skipping steps.

*Only if the accused individual refuses to change after the first and second encounter should anything be brought up before the church.  Jesus concludes in Matthew 18:17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” – in other words, as someone who is excluded from the fellowship.

These steps are redemptive and deliberate.  Confronting another believer with sin involves a progressive process, Jesus says, and the steps are crucial.  You must work the steps in the order prescribed without blowing past the first two steps.  If you can’t work step one, then quit.  Don’t jump right to step three.

But in way too many Christian churches, pastors are ambushed in public meetings with charges they have never heard before.  And sadly, most people who attend those meetings let it happen.

Can you imagine how horrible you would feel if you were abused at your workplace in that fashion?  You’d probably reach for the phone and call an attorney right away.

But who can pastors call when this sort of thing happens to them and no one stands up for them?

If I attended a public church meeting, and someone stood up and began making public charges against a pastor, here’s what I would do:

I would grab my Bible and asked to be recognized by the moderator of the meeting as soon as possible.  Then I would read Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-20 in a clear, bold voice.  Then I would ask this question of the accuser:

“Have Jesus’ steps in this passage been followed?”

If the answer came back, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure,” then I would ask the moderator to dismiss the meeting and make sure Jesus’ steps were followed before any charges were ever brought to the congregation again.  If the moderator would not comply, then I would turn on my heel and walk out of the meeting – because Jesus had ceased being the Head of that church.

But I would go further.  (It’s dangerous to have a pastor as a regular church member, is it not?)  I would insist that if the charges made against the pastor turned out to be false that the church exercise discipline on those who made the charges.

What’s the biblical basis for that?

In the Old Testament, what happened to false witnesses?  Moses writes in Deuteronomy 19:16-19: “If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time.  The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother.  You must purge the evil from among you.”

Did you catch the second-to-the-last phrase?  “If the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother.”  If the witness hoped his charges resulted in the stoning of the accused – and the charges proved to be false – then the witness should be stoned, Moses says.

The result?  One less malicious liar in Israel – and all the other gossips and haters are put on notice that their crap won’t be tolerated.

You say, “But that’s the Old Testament.  You won’t find anything like that in the New.”

But we do in Titus 3:10-11, where Paul writes, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time.  After that, have nothing to do with him.  You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

Paul advocates turning the tables on divisive individuals, working the steps in Matthew 18 in an attempt to get them to repent of their body-fracturing behavior.  While many of us would prefer just to boot them out of the church with a “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” sentiment, once again, the steps cannot be skipped: they must be worked.

Even though these verses are in Scripture, how often are they carried out in our churches?  And if not, why not?  I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Read Full Post »

Have you ever had this happen to you?

Someone you know and love is heading in the wrong direction.  Maybe they’re drinking too much, or blowing money sky high, or are on the wrong career path.  You really want them to know how you feel, but you’re not quite sure you should get involved.

So you wait.  And you pray about it.  And you muster up your courage.  And you pray about it some more.  Then you wait for just the right time, all the while mentally rehearsing the words you’re going to use.

Then the moment presents itself … and you chicken out.  You let the opportunity pass.  You begin to second guess yourself, wondering if you’re just too critical.  But that good friend continues to make poor decisions, and you know you just have to say something.  So you do … and it all goes horribly wrong.

Your friend is hurt by what you said, so hurt that you fear you’ve risked your friendship for good.  You try phoning your friend, but she won’t call back.  You email her – zilch.  You text her, but she doesn’t respond.

You go over what you said again in your mind.  You tried your best to use the right words in a caring fashion.  You monitored your tone during the minute that you spoke and believe you showed genuine concern.  You honestly don’t feel that you did anything wrong, but your friend obviously doesn’t agree, and a cold war has broken out between the two of you.

It’s no wonder that people run from conflict like they’re fleeing from a rattlesnake on their front porch (a unique Arizona experience).

I hate confronting people.  Who am I to tell someone that they’re messing up their life?  Maybe I’m not the best person for the job.  Don’t I have enough dysfunctionality in my own life to work on without intervening in other people’s lives?  (The answer is “Yes,” so no need to comment!)  Why should I take on the responsibility for how someone else lives?

The average person doesn’t have to worry about engaging in too many confrontations.  Wives sometimes must confront their husbands.  Dads occasionally need to confront their sons.  Bosses periodically must confront those they supervise.  But most of us are adept at dodging confrontations because we’re just not very good at them.

But when you’re a pastor … confrontation is part of your job.  Staff members mess up.  Volunteers don’t show up.  Families nearly blow up.  While you’d prefer not to deal with matters, one of the jobs of a pastor is to intercept entropy.  If things are sliding downhill fast, you have to say something or else people will hit bottom and implode.

With staff members, you walk down the hall and have a little chat.  Most of the time, it goes well.  Occasionally, you have to call a staff member into your office so they know you’re serious.  Some of the staff take correction well, while others never do.  In fact, the source of a lot of conflict between pastors and staff members occurs right after the pastor engages in a confrontation, because from that moment on, many staff start viewing the pastor as their personal enemy.  While the pastor may not be conscious of this fact, that staff member will probably tell his network how much the pastor hurt him, and how unfair he is, and how he doesn’t know if he can work for the pastor anymore – and some in the network will side with their friend, which can keep the staff member from trying to change.

When the pastor confronts a volunteer, some listen and comply with the pastor’s concerns, while others ignore the pastor’s wishes, complain to their network, or eventually quit.

No one ever puts “confrontation” into a pastoral job description, but it’s a necessary part of a pastor’s calling.  Very few pastors are good at it, either by technique or by results.

Speed Leas is, in my judgment, the greatest living Christian consultant on conflict management.  He takes a biblical yet realistic approach to the whole issue.  I have read everything that he’s written on the topic that is currently in print, as well as his out-of-print manual Managing Your Church through Conflict, the single greatest resource on conflict I have ever read.

In the book he co-authored titled Mastering Conflict & Controversy, Leas wrote:

“I’ve always struggled with conflict in my life.  Conflict has been hard for me.  I haven’t understood it, and I haven’t understood myself when I’ve been in conflict.  My work is partly a quest to understand what happens to me when I get in a conflict, so I can do better.”

I struggle with conflict, too.  As a pastor, I never liked it and usually tried to avoid it, but there were times when I was forced to engage in it or else (a) a person might be destroyed, (b) a family might be destroyed, (c) the church might be destroyed, or (d) I might be destroyed.  Knowing that confrontations can easily backfire, whenever a pastor senses God leading him to do it, that confrontation must be considered a loving act.

Paul put it this way in Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”  Translation: only spiritual individuals (not just leaders) should confront others, but they should do it gently and with humility.  Most of us are pretty fragile inside, no matter how we appear externally, and we rebel against harsh, arrogant attempts at correction.  Most people – including children – only respond positively to demonstratable love.

I have found that I can usually control a lot of elements when it comes to confrontation: the place, the time, the seating, my tone of voice, my language, my facial expressions.  But what I cannot control is how another person will respond to my correction attempt.  That’s what makes confrontation so … adventuresome … and troublesome … at the same time.

Although I can’t locate the exact book in which he said it (half of my books are in boxes in the garage), I recall reading something Charles Swindoll once wrote.  He said that about half the time that he had to confront someone, things turned out well, but the other half, things turned out poorly.  Same confronter, different confrontees, varying results.

Maybe the primary reason we’re uncomfortable confronting people is because we can’t predict with certainty how our friend will respond – or if we’ll still be friends afterwards.  But followers of Jesus need to obey their Lord, and Matthew 18:15-20 is still in The Book: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

If that one verse was obeyed by all parties, friends would nearly always stay friends, pastors would almost never be forced out of churches, and churches would never split.

Although I’m not very good at confrontation – and admit it, you aren’t, either – we need to learn to do better.  When confrontation works, people are transformed, families are saved, and churches become healthier.

With God’s help, it’s worth it.

Read Full Post »

Have you ever looked back on your life and wished you had taken a different path than the one you chose?

Humanly speaking, I should have turned down the first invitation I received to become a pastor.  After graduating from seminary, I was ordained by my home church.  A few months later, I was invited to speak at a small church in Silicon Valley.  I was in my late twenties and the church was mostly composed of seniors – not exactly a recipe for church growth!

In the five years that church had been in existence, I was their fourth pastor.  The previous pastor was forcibly terminated after he became angry at a church bowling party.  If I had to do it all over again, I would have contacted him and asked him directly why he had been fired.  At least I would have gotten both sides of the story.

But I didn’t contact him, the church called me as pastor, and I accepted.  Before long, my family of three left Orange County for Santa Clara Valley.

Those were the days when a pastor was still expected to do home visitation, so every Thursday night, one of the deacons and I visited people from the church- only there weren’t many people in the church.  So the deacon suggested that we visit the people who left the church when the previous pastor was fired.  Not a good idea.

Sometimes we’d set up an appointment, other times we’d make cold calls.  The people we visited tried their best to be polite, especially when the deacon introduced “our new pastor” to them, but the whole exercise was a colossal waste of time.  We’d stay for an hour or so, but it was obvious that none of the people we visited ever intended to return to the church.

Why not?  Because they liked the previous pastor and the church board had fired him.

Those poor people looked lost.  They didn’t sound very enthusiastic about their faith (if they ever did) and they weren’t very excited about going to church (if they were going anywhere at all).  When the board fired the pastor, they ended up damaging a lot of people who viewed the pastor as someone special in their life.  And while this may sound borderline heretical, that pastor represented God to them.

Yes, some pastors are too incompetent to be in the ministry, and yes, some eventually disqualify themselves by their sinful lifestyles and harmful actions.  But if a pastor must be released from ministry, the way he’s released will indicate whether (a) he and his family, (b) his church friends, (c) new believers, and (d) new members continue to follow Christ and/or continue attending any local church in the future.

Last Saturday down in Tucson, a lone gunman tried to assassinate a member of the United States House of Representatives.  While she is still clinging to life (and we pray for her complete recovery), we sadly realize that his actions did not just damage his target, but harmed many innocent bystanders, entire families, and even our whole nation.  The assassin may not have intended to harm others but he did so all the same.

I beg you: if you are ever involved in the termination of a pastor or staff member – either as a board member or a church member – make sure the process is done biblically, graciously, slowly, and redemptively.

That’s why I’m starting our new ministry Restoring Kingdom Builders.  One of my goals is to educate as many Christians as I can about the devastating effects of forced exits on pastors, their families, and the congregations they leave behind.  We as Christians can handle these situations so much better than we do.

I would appreciate your prayers for our new ministry.  And if I can answer any questions for you about church conflict or the forced termination of pastors, I would be happy to do so.  May the Lord richly bless you!

Read Full Post »

How can we know when the devil is responsible for conflict in a church?

I asked that question over lunch many years ago to a worldwide expert on spiritual warfare, Dr. Ed Murphy, who wrote the massive book The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare.  Dr. Murphy was a professor of mine both in college and in seminary and had been supported as a missionary by my home church.

His answer?  “That’s the $64,000 question,” he replied.

James seems to indicate that conflicts originate in our sinful nature.  He writes in James 4:1-2: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don’t get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.”  Paul appeals in the name of Christ to his spiritual family in Corinth and pleads “that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (I Corinthians 1:10).  Neither James nor Paul indicate that Satan is involved in every conflict, whether it’s between a husband and wife, parent and child, or pastor and staff member.  Many conflicts – perhaps most – arise out of our stubborn desire to get our own way.

It’s important that we discern the real source of a conflict so that we know best how to resolve it.  Jesus’ words in Luke 17:3-4 indicate the best way to resolve an interpersonal conflict: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  Jesus states that rebuke + repentance + forgiveness = reconciliation.

While we have all experienced interpersonal conflict, and know how to resolve matters in most cases (though we often lack the courage), devil-inspired conflict is very, very different.

In the midst of a knockdown, drag-out debate with the Jewish leaders in John 8, Jesus attributed their attitude toward Him to “your father, the devil.”  Beyond supernatural discernment, how did Jesus know that His enemies had aligned themselves with the enemy?  Boldly and confidently, Jesus says:

“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

This is the single greatest statement in all of Scripture on the work of Satan, made by the single greatest authority on spiritual matters.  In short, the devil is “a murderer” and “a liar.”  That is, Satan specializes in destruction and deception.

The Jewish leaders were trying to destroy Jesus.  They hated Him so much that they wanted to kill Him.  He knew it and deliberately attributed their hatred to Satan.  And because those who want to destroy another person will use any means necessary to accomplish their goal – including blatant lies – Jesus attributed the malicious charges of the Pharisees to Satan as well.

Peter, who may well have witnessed this very debate, wrote in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen a large coyote trotting through our backyard on two occasions.  (None of the backyards have fences.)  This morning, while driving home from an errand, I saw what might have been the same coyote walking through a neighborhood near our house.  (I pulled off the road to watch him.  He split.)  What is that coyote doing?  “Looking for someone to devour” (like a rabbit).  While that coyote doesn’t frighten me – my four-pound dog Tito barked at one and made it run last summer – a roaring lion gallivanting through my neighborhood certainly would!

But notice Peter’s language: the devil is seeking someone “to devour.”  He is in the job of destroying Christians.  While he destroys believer’s bodies all the time through terrorism and martyrdom, he also tries to destroy Christian movements and churches by targeting spiritual leaders (like Jesus, the apostles, missionaries, and pastors).  And what’s saddest of all is that sometimes Christians are the perpetrators of that very destruction.

Let me confess: I have known some Christian leaders I don’t like.  Some are interpersonally cold.  Others never listen to anyone’s voice than their own.  A few just care about money.  A handful are massive hypocrites.  But I would never, ever take action to destroy them or their ministries, even if I had likeminded allies.  That’s doing the devil’s work for him.  That is what he wants.  Remember, the Pharisees and Sadducees believed they were doing God’s work by arranging for Jesus’ execution when all the time, they were just putty in Satan’s ugly little hands.  Their hatred for Jesus caused them to form an alliance with Satan.

In addition, Satan aims to deceive people into believing lies.  His arsenal includes innuendo, exaggeration, speculation, rumors, misinterpretation, false accusations, and outright falsehood.  Jesus asked His countrymen’s leaders in John 8:46: “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”  They couldn’t.  But because they wanted to destroy Jesus, they eventually chose to deceive people into believing that He was guilty of three capital crimes: blasphemy against God, desecrating the temple, and sedition against Rome.  Jesus was executed on trumped-up charges and behind them all was the forked tongue of the deceiver himself.  Satan’s lies were parroted through the mouths of religious people.

If Satan uses destruction and deception to eliminate Christian leaders – and he hasn’t changed his template in twenty centuries – how can twenty-first believers defeat his attacks?

First, seek restoration rather than destruction.  When Christians lie about a leader to get rid of him, that’s Satanic.  When believers “play politics” to kick out a leader, that’s Satanic.  When believers charge a leader with unproven charges to force him to resign, that’s Satanic.

Before Christmas, I was sharing the story of the way I was forced to leave the last church I served as pastor, and the person with whom I was speaking, a long-time Christian leader, interrupted me and said, “That’s Satanic.”

The biblical way to handle a sinning or ineffective leader is to gently encourage that person (Galatians 6:1-2) to repent of any known sin (1 Timothy 5:19-21) with the purpose of “winning” them (Matthew 18:15-17) or “restoring them” (Galatians 6:1) to spiritual health.  While the New Testament clearly permits “kicking out” believers from a church, it is only to be done when those same believers have been sinning and repeatedly refuse to repent (Matthew 18:15-17; Titus 3:9-10).  The New Testament knows nothing about destroying a leader’s reputation or lying about him just to force him to leave.

Second, seek truthfulness instead of deception.  Christians, who believe that Jesus is “the truth” and that “the truth will set you free,” can sometimes become the purveyor of lies.  If we like someone, we are slow to believe anything negative we hear about them.  If we don’t like someone, we are quick to believe the dirt.  The better way to handle rumors and speculation is to go to the source about an accusation and ask him/her about its accuracy.  If possible, ask the person for evidence that they’re telling the truth.  Sometimes it takes just one phone call to dispel a rumor.

But more than anything, be determined to tell the truth in every situation and to every person.  I know that’s what our parents taught us to do, but it’s amazing how Christians have a hard time doing just that sometimes.  The best way to combat lies is with the weapon of truth.  Tell the truth, over and over and over again, and watch Satan run!  Lie and he’ll move toward you.  Be truthful and he’ll scamper away.

One of my mentors was forced to leave his church as pastor, but before he left, he told the congregation that he would vigorously defend his character and his ministry.  (And he had an attorney friend in the church to make sure that happened.)  Pastors, when people lie about you and you leave the record uncorrected, who gains?  Not Jesus.  Not the kingdom.  The enemy does.  And he not only seeks to harm you, he seeks to harm that church as well.

If you’re in a church, and you’re unhappy with your pastor for some reason, refuse to harm him or spread lies about him.  Instead, pray for him.  Encourage him.  Do something tangible for him.  Expect nothing in return.  If matters don’t change after a while, refuse to say, “This is my church!  He needs to leave!”  Instead, you quietly depart and begin searching for a church where you can fully support the minister and the ministry.

The greatest thing Peter ever said was that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus attributed Peter’s insight to “my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17). But maybe the worst thing Peter ever said followed Jesus’ prediction that He would eventually be killed: “Never, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!”  Jesus immediately told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”

If God could speak through Peter one moment, and Satan could speak through him the next, then you and I need to be on our guard so that the enemy does not use us as well.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: