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Archive for March, 2011

I went to a great seminary.  I loved everything about it: the professors, the books, interacting with fellow students, writing a thesis – just the general environment.  Sometimes the reading got to be a bit much, and at times the incessant papers nearly drove me mad, but I knew what the goal was: a solid Bible education.

We were in seminary to learn the Bible: to preach it, explain it, defend it, apply it.  Our professors knew, loved, and practiced the Word of God.  Being in seminary was a foretaste of heaven.

We didn’t learn much about business in seminary.  After all, we weren’t trying to get our MBAs, but our M.Divs (Master of Divinity degrees).  In fact, when I graduated from seminary after five years, the business world had little if any influence on the local church.

My how times have changed!

If you’re going to pastor an impactful church these days, a seminary education doesn’t seem necessary.  Some people say that what you really need is to take successful business principles and apply them to the church.  Develop your mission.  Cast a vision.  Find your niche.  Market your product.  And evaluate, evaluate, evaluate.

I am not saying that any of the above ideas are wrong.  Pastors can learn from any and all fields.  But in our culture, churches are getting more and more away from what the Bible says and are becoming increasingly enamored with what business says.

I could cite many examples, but one of the most prominent ones concerns the way churches view pastors.

The old paradigm said that a pastor was called by God to love the people and teach the Word.  Loving the people involved practices like counseling, hospital visitation, and praying with people.  Teaching the Word involved disciplines like studying, writing, and delivering biblically-based messages.

The new paradigm says that a pastor is the CEO of a small business, the local church.  You’re not called; you’re hired.  You don’t love the people as much as you lead the church.  You don’t teach the Word as much as communicate a message – one that should continually advance the church’s mission.

It’s all so different.

The reason I bring this up is that many pastors – including myself – were trained at a time when we believed God was calling us to be a pastor, not a CEO.  As some churches grew in size, their pastors became cultural superstars, and a lot of smaller church pastors suddenly felt inadequate.  Most of these large church pastors were using business principles in their churches, so the business way of doing things gradually spread to other churches.

But somewhere along the line, we lost the whole plot.

We now expect pastors to be CEOs, elders to be the board of directors, and money to be the bottom line.

Where’s the Bible in all this?

I bring this up because of my passion for pastors who have been involuntarily forced out of their churches.  How often is the Bible used in such situations?  How often are business practices used instead?

What does that say about our confidence in the relevance of Scripture?

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Pastors and churches can profit from some of the insights and practices of the business community.  But as followers of Jesus Christ, we should go to Scripture first and business second, not business first and Scripture second.

If God’s Word is primary, that changes everything in a local church.

What’s the bottom line in business?  Money.  How about in a church?  Devoted disciples.  The problem is that it’s easier to measure donations than changed lives.

What does a business do when it has hard times?  It cuts expenses.  It lays off employees.  It gets rid of product lines.

What does a church do?  It digs into Scripture.  It gathers together for prayer.  It believes God for great things.

It’s ironic: many Christian leaders believe what Scripture teaches for salvation and spiritual growth but ignore Scripture when business practices dictate otherwise.

Let me give you two examples among many I could cite.

Example one: I had a conversation yesterday with a Christian man.  We were discussing what should be done (if anything) about the people in a church who are wrongfully involved in forcing out a pastor.

My friend’s view is that a church doesn’t need to do anything to these people because God will punish them in His time and way.  He told me the story of an associate pastor who engineered the ouster of the senior pastor.  The associate got cancer and his wife died a horrible death.  His conclusion?  Christians don’t need to address the perpetrators in any way because eventually “God’ll get ’em.”

Where do we find that in the New Testament?

Yes, God will repay all of us according to our deeds in the next life (2 Corinthians 5:10), and the law of sowing and reaping still applies in this life as well (Galatians 6:7).  But would you rather receive correction from God directly or mediated through the leaders of a local church?

As Hebrews 10:29 reminds us, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Instead, the New Testament tells us exactly what to do when those inside a church sin and cause division.  We are to gently and lovingly confront them until they repent.  We are to show them the error of their ways and bring them back to the Lord.  For example, look up Romans 16:17-18; Titus 3:10-11; 3 John 9-10.

Jesus said in Luke 17:3-4, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

There are four action verbs mentioned here: sin, rebuke, repent, forgive.  Jesus lays out the sequence for us.  When someone sins, we rebuke them.  When they repent, we forgive them.  But how often do we follow His way?  Instead, when people sin, we quickly forgive them and dispense with our rebuking and their repenting.

In other words, if I’m the ringleader against my pastor, and I mount a campaign to force him to resign, and he eventually leaves, most people will quickly forgive me even though I’ve sinned.  No one will rebuke me.  No one will insist I repent.  No one will follow Jesus’ instructions.  And, of course, that leaves me wide open to do the same thing again.

Where’s the Bible in all this?

Example two: The church’s governing board is upset with the pastor for something he said.  One of the board members has had it.  He wants to fire the pastor outright.  During the meeting, another board member comes to agree with him.  Several aren’t yet sure, but nobody feels confident enough to defend the pastor.  After talking into the night, the remaining holdouts come around and agree that the board will fire the pastor.  They then agree to meet again to discuss how and when they’ll talk to the pastor and what (if anything) they’ll say to the congregation.

During this whole episode, they never crack open their Bibles.  They never discuss gently rebuking the pastor so he can repent and be restored.  They never ask for his intepretation of the event or let him present any defense.  They never even ask God for His guidance, asking Him to bless their decision instead.

In other words, they handle matters like they were in a seventh floor office at work.

Once again, where’s the Bible in all this?

The mission statement of Restoring Kingdom Builders is 25 words long:

“To begin the healing process for pastors and their families who have experienced forced termination and to teach Christians ways to manage these conflicts biblically.”

Please notice that last phrase: “to teach Christians ways to manage these conflicts biblically.”

Which conflicts?  The ones that involve the forced termination of pastors.

Most clergy-centered ministries in America are focused on the “healing process” for those who have gone through the pain of a forced exit, and my wife and I want to do that as well.  But isn’t it also wise to try and prevent these situations from happening in the first place?

That’s what I want to do.  Will you pray for my wife and me as we begin this ministry?  And when you hear about pastors who have undergone the pain of termination, will you let them know about our ministry?

And while you’re at it, may I suggest a project?  As you re-read the New Testament again, notice how many times the human authors – inspired by the Holy Spirit – make concrete suggestions as to how divisive people in a church are to be treated.  These instructions are always to the leaders or the people of a local church.

While reading Jeremiah 1 in The Message several days ago, I came across a fascinating phrase, especially as Opening Day in baseball approaches this Thursday.  God told Jeremiah (the prophet with whom I have the most affinity), “Don’t pull your punches or I’ll pull you out of the lineup.”

I believe He’s saying the same thing to me.

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I’m ten years old and playing baseball with friends at my school on a Saturday.  The field is muddy because of rain, better conditions for football than baseball.  There’s a collision at home plate involving a friend and me.  He comes up swinging.  So do I.  We each land a few blows on the other’s body.  We’re each covered in mud.  Game over.  Score tied 10-10.

My friends are all surprised that I got in a fight: the pastor’s kid.  As we both walk home, my slop-covered friend and I are yelling things at each other.  Crazy things, hurtful things, things we felt for a moment but later denied we really meant.

I valued my friends – all of them, even the guy I collided with.  Sometime later, we met and made up.  It’s funny – we weren’t related, but we both had the same last name.

I abhor conflict.  Most of us do.  As the above story indicates, too many times in our lives, conflict results in emotional damage, verbal volleys, physical pain, and relational distancing.

Why does conflict scare us so much – especially Christians?

For starters, conflict scares us because it’s unpredictable.  Let’s say I have two co-workers who constantly make cutting remarks to me.  I finally work up the courage to confront each person in private.  The first individual quickly admits his wrongdoing and apologizes.  The second person accuses me of “being soft” and “not being adult enough to take it.”  I’ve reconciled with the first co-worker – but now I’m even more distant from the second one.

While I feel I did the right things, I didn’t necessarily obtain the right results.  There is no one-size-fits-all way of handling conflict because it always involves more than one person.

After more than 35 years in church ministry, I don’t miss confrontations at all.  I’d talk to one staff member about an issue, and he’d rebel on me.  I’d talk to another, and she’d fully understand and cooperate.  Mark Twain said he could live a month on one good compliment.  One bad confrontation can ruin an entire month as well.

Conflict scares us because we don’t know how others will react to it.  But …

Second, conflict scares us because we’re afraid of ourselves.  Most of the time, I’m a pretty mild-mannered person.  I know myself well.  Give me nine scenarios involving conflict, and I can predict with accuracy how I’ll handle each one.

But put me behind the wheel of a car, and let another driver nearly run me off the road, and I can become a different person.  (When my kids were teenagers, they used to chide me for the way I reacted to stupid drivers.  When they began driving, they changed their tune.  There are a lot of dangerous drivers out there!  Of course, I’m not one of them.)

If a car approaches me from the rear and tries to run me off the road … if a driver cuts in front of me with no warning … if a vehicle plows through a stop sign without ever applying the brakes … I don’t know what to do with how I feel.  The other driver has initiated conflict with me (not that’s it’s personal) but then speeds away – and even if I tried to follow the car, how would I communicate with the perpetrator?  (I once knew a high school girl who made little signs and would show them to other drivers when the youth went on missions trips.  Is that the answer?)

My point?  When people threaten my life (and my car with 213K miles on it) I’m anything but a happy camper.  In fact, sometimes my reactions scare myself!  (Am I the only one who feels this way?)  While I’ve learned better how to handle these situations over the years (“Lord, send a CHP officer their way”), I’m still amazed at the depths of fear and rage that can reside even inside a present Christian and former pastor.

Many of us instinctively know that we do not handle conflict well.  Paul wrote about his own “conflict on the outside, fears within” (11 Corinthians 7:5).  Over time, we have to learn how to handle conflict better.

Third, conflict scares us because we avoid it so much.  If someone hurts me with words, I resolve not to say a thing.  If a co-worker ignores me, I decide not to do anything to reconcile.  If a pastor says something really stupid from the pulpit, I choose not to challenge him.

But when we go through life practicing conflict avoidance, we never get better at handling conflict.  Because even when we try and dodge it, it still has a way of finding us.  The way to take the fear out of conflict is to practice getting better at it.

On the Myers-Briggs test, my wife and I are exact opposites.  For example, I’m a thinker, she’s a feeler.  She’s intuitive, I need data.  For years in our marriage, when we fought (and I use that word deliberately), we both learned a little more about the other during our post-combat wrap-up.  Instead of assuming that my conflict style was correct, I’d ask my wife, “How could I have handled that situation better?  How would you like me to talk to you about that issue in the future?”  She would tell me how to approach her and I’d try and do that when we had our next conflict.  (Ten years later.)

You can read all the books you want on conflict (and I’ve read scores).  You can take all the seminars available.  You can even write out all the verses applying to conflict in the NT (as I’ve done).  But the best way to become fearless about conflict is to practice getting better at it rather than running away from it.  View every conflict situation as a learning experience.

Finally, conflict scares us because the stakes are high when it gets out of control.  When conflict goes south in the Middle East, innocent people die.  When conflict goes poorly at work, people lose their jobs.  When conflict goes badly at church, pastors quit, staff are fired, and people leave in droves.  A conflict badly handled can negatively impact our lives for a long, long time – and we instinctively know this.

This is why it’s helpful to know the level of a conflict when we’re going through one.  Speed Leas, my number one go-to conflict expert, believes that there are five levels of conflict.  The lower the level, the better chance we can resolve the issue ourselves.  The higher the level, the more essential it is that we obtain outside expertise.  Leas says that:

Level 1 involves predicaments.  Everyone wants to solve the problem and go for a win-win.

Level 2 involves disagreements.  We look for a tradeoff and want to come out looking good.

Level 3 involves a contest.  We want to win and get out our way.  We form coalitions and scapegoat people.

Level 4 involves fight/flight.  We either withdraw or want the other party to withdraw.  We’ve become enemies.

Level 5 involves punishing people.  We try and destroy people’s careers and reputations.

Most of us handle Level 1 conflicts nearly every day.  We’re not as proficient at Level 2, and it’s getting away from us at Level 3.  We’re so out of our league at Levels 4 and 5 that if a conflict gets to this point, we either fight and get bloodied or run far away.

When matters get to Levels 4 and 5, we need to call for outside professional help, like a consultant or a mediator, or we can destroy individuals, families, and organizations.

I’ll write more about Leas’ levels later, but for now, I encourage you to try and keep conflicts at the lowest level possible.  If we can become experts at handling matters at Levels 1 and 2, then hopefully we’ll rarely if ever have to deal with conflict at Levels 4 and 5.

My big concern is for the way Christians handle (or don’t handle) major conflicts, especially as they relate to the pastor.  While pastors can certainly learn better ways of dealing with conflict, when a conflict is about the pastor himself, he almost always has to step to the sidelines and let others manage things.  If those others are prepared, a church can survive and even thrive in such an environment.  If the leaders aren’t ready – and most aren’t – conflict can have disastrous results.

If a church had a major conflict every week, its people would eventually learn how to resolve issues from a biblical perspective or the church would collapse.  But when a major conflict only occurs once every five or ten years, then people either lack the skills to deal with the issues or forget whatever skills they may have learned.  (This is not a justification for creating more conflicts!)  I’d like to share some ideas with you in the future on how we might do a better job in this area.

One of my goals with Restoring Kingdom Builders is to “teach Christians ways to manage these conflicts biblically,” especially issues surrounding the involuntarily termination of pastors and staff members.  I receive statistics on a daily basis as to how many people are viewing the blog, as well as the terms that people are inserting into their search engines to find me.  One of the most common phrases is “how to terminate a pastor.”  I don’t know if pastors, board members, or lay people are ending up here (probably a combination of all three), but I’m gratified to know that God is using me in some way to help others.  There is a dearth of materials and teaching in this area in the Christian community.

Please join me in praying that God will use our new ministry to bring biblical and healing solutions to the hundreds of American churches every month that are considering forcibly removing their pastor.

May you become so proficient at conflict management that the Lord uses you to bring reconciliation to others!

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Several decades ago, I took a friend to a White Sox-A’s game at the Oakland Coliseum.  (The White Sox won 1-0.)  After the game, while we were stuck in traffic, we both noticed some verbal interplay between a young woman and a car full of guys.  While both parties were in their cars, the guys were yelling at her, she was yelling at them – and there was alcohol involved.  Suddenly, the young woman grabbed a bucket of ice, ran over to the guys’ car, and poured out the ice through the driver’s side window onto the lap of the driver.  She then ran back toward her car, but the guys caught her and began beating her up.

I can’t stand to watch anyone get hit in real life, especially a woman.

Instinctively, I wanted to get out of the car and defend her, but my companion cautioned, “Don’t Jim – she asked for it.”

What would you have done in that situation?

As difficult as it is to watch non-TV people fighting, it’s even more disturbing to watch one-sided combat.  And yet, that’s what Saul of Tarsus did the first time we meet him in Scripture.

The most prominent early Christian outside the apostles was Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit … a man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:5,8).  (How many Christian leaders would be described that way in our day?)  Just like with Jesus, some Jewish leaders made up charges against Stephen, incited a mob against him, held a kangaroo court, and produced false witnesses to trump-up charges.  Unlike Jesus, Stephen was able to mount a vigorous defense of his message from the Old Testament, but the verdict had been decided long before he began speaking.

Sometimes it’s hard to read Acts 7:57-58.  Luke mentions five phrases that indicate that the mob had already made up its minds about Stephen’s guilt.  Note the phrases in italics:

“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”  If a movie was made about what really happened on this occasion, it would be rated NC-17 – or maybe NC-35.

Here’s what I want to know: why didn’t anybody try and stop the mob from carrying out this horrible action?  It was clearly a miscarriage of justice.  It didn’t honor God.  It couldn’t be explained away.  It was wrong.  But according to the text, no one protested this mob action.

And then Dr. Luke slips in a little phrase at the end of verse 58 to introduce us to someone: “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”  Most commentators believe that Saul was more than just an innocent bystander; as Acts 8:1 notes, “Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”

Once again, what would you have done in that situation?

There is no doubt that by not protesting, and by watching the coats of the executioners, Saul’s silent tongue was an indicator that he agreed with Stephen’s guilt, stoning, and death.  I am not saying that Saul could have singlehandedly stopped it.  (Although we don’t know because he didn’t try.)  But somewhere along the line, he made up his mind: Stephen needed to die, and Saul preferred a box seat to doing anything about it.

Saul would feel much differently years later.  In Acts 22:20, while recounting his testimony before another Jerusalem mob, Saul (now Paul) found himself in their crosshairs.  He summed up his actions years before: “And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”  One can sense the regret in Paul’s voice: “I can’t believe I did that.”

This time, because the Romans were in charge of the proceedings, Paul was able to escape the mob and live another day.  But I wonder how many times he was haunted by the fact that when an innocent man of God was being stoned, he stood idly by without registering a protest.

Why bring this up?

I had breakfast this past week with a Christian leader who started a ministry for terminated pastors many years ago.  As we were discussing the statistics of how many pastors leave their churches every month, my friend told me that the latest statistic is 1,800.  When I did a search online, I discovered that the stats being quoted now are that 1,800 pastors leave their churches every month and that 1,300 of that group are involuntarily let go.  That’s a lot of pastors – and churches – in pain.

While I concede that there are pastors who need to leave their churches, the overwhelming majority of these forced exits happen to pastors who have done nothing worthy of being fired.

And in most situations, either a handful of board members (usually three) and/or a small contingent of opponents (less than ten) conspire together to remove the pastor from office.  And when they do so, they exaggerate the charges against him and offer him no defense.

Here’s what I want to know: why doesn’t anybody protest this kind of clandestine behavior?

When there is clearly injustice being perpetrated, why doesn’t even one board member tell the spiritual assassins (called by some “the gang of three”) to knock it off?  Why don’t they threaten to expose them to the congregation?  Why do so many board members suddenly go silent when their more vocal colleagues plan to do evil?

And if matters get to the floor of the congregation, why don’t more people in the church vocally support the pastor?  Why do supposedly strong believers suddenly wilt like Peter rather than stand strong like Daniel?

In other words, why do good Christians so often end up guarding clothes rather than fighting injustice?

When I was a kid, James 4:17 used to bother me.  It still does.  Our Lord’s half-brother writes, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

When you know you should protest … when you know God wants you to speak up … when you know you should walk away from the clothes … but you don’t – that’s sin.

In our new ministry, Restoring Kingdom Builders, I want to empower lay people to speak up when it looks like their pastor is being verbally or vocationally stoned.  I want to share with them specific measures they can take to counteract this plague of forcing called, trained, and godly pastors out of churches and even out of ministry.

Rather than guarding clothes for others, maybe it’s time we say, “Watch your own clothes.  I see what you’re up to, and with God’s help, I’m going to do everything I can to stop it.”

Who’s up for this?  Are you?

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Hi.  I attend your church.  You don’t know who I am, but I show up nearly every Sunday and sit in the next-to-the-last row on the left side.

And it’s ironic that I attend your church at all, because I don’t like the pastor.  I don’t like his sermons.  I don’t like his kids.  I don’t like the schools he attended and the hobbies he jabbers about from the pulpit.  I just don’t like him – and for that reason, I’d like him to leave.

The right thing to do would be for me to leave the church and attend somewhere else.  After all, at this point I’m not aware of anyone else who feels the way I do.  But I don’t want to leave.  I want to stay.  I want him to leave.

There’s a quick way for me to pull this off: start making accusations against the pastor.  It almost doesn’t matter what I accuse him of doing: sleeping around, embezzling funds, fuzzy beliefs, power plays – you get the picture.

Still with me?

I can accuse the pastor of various misdeeds through (a) a whispering campaign (“Did you hear that the pastor was recently seen …”); (b) a letter sent to select church homes (“The pastor doesn’t believe in the virgin birth!”); (c) a few strategic emails (“The pastor has been seriously overspending funds recently”); or (d) conversations with my friends (“Why does he continually refer to that TV show all the time?”).

Having done this sort of thing before, I know that one or two of my accusations will eventually reach the pastor, and he’ll be very upset.  But I also know my accusations will reach the ears of the governing leaders as well.

And if my charges are taken seriously, no one will come and talk with me.  No one will ask me for the evidence that my charges are true.

The pastor’s supporters will disbelieve the charges immediately.  His enemies (among which I count myself a proud member) will believe all the charges and more.  (We’ve just been waiting for someone to articulate them.)  It’s the group in the middle that I’m aiming for.  I just need to pick off a few to accomplish my goal.

By this time, a few people will add charges to the ones I’ve already made.  It almost doesn’t matter what they are or if they’re true or not.  The board may choose to investigate the charges, but if they do, they will almost certainly not be traced back to me.  And if anyone tries to confront me, I will just do what they do in politics: deny, deny, deny.

My first attempt may not be successful.  The pastor may survive my little campaign.  But if I keep making little charges here and there, the wind will pick them up, and when they get to the pastor, they’ll start to wear him down.

And then one of these days, the pastor will resign due to burnout or stress, or a small group in the church will add to my accusations and formally drive the pastor out.

The pastor will be told by the leaders of both the church and the demonination that he needs to leave the church to preserve its unity, that the church needs to start with a clean slate.

But no one will do anything to me.  I have ecclesiastical immunity.

Nobody will sue me.  Christians aren’t to sue other Christians according to 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, right?

Nobody will confront me.  After the board deals with the pastor, they’ll be too tired.

Nobody will finger me.  In the unlikely event that the leaders launch an investigation to find out who started the rumors, they would probably speak with others long before they got to me.  If I caught wind of their efforts, I’d quietly slip out the back door of the church, wait a couple months, and then return.  Nothing would happen to me.

Nobody will ask me to leave.  After all, I’m allowed to attend services at my own church, right?

And when the church calls the next pastor, if I don’t like him, I already know what to do.

Who will stop me?

Nobody.

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Nearly ten years ago, a famous rock star became incensed as to what was happening to music in America.  He remembered when he was a kid and would listen to the radio, enthralled at the personalities of the disc jockeys who spun records and tall tales.  Back then, you had to have a lot of talent to break through the pack and have your record make it to radio.  You had to write a great song, play and sing it well, and keep it up to have a successful music career.

Somewhere along the line, all of that changed.

So in 2002, this rock star put out a CD lamenting what has happened to the music industry.  He sang about “The Last DJ” who “plays what he wants to play”; about “Joe,” the CEO of a large record company who wants a kid “with a good-looking face” who “gets to be famous” while Joe gets “to be rich”; and in “Money Becomes King,” he decries the time when “everything got bigger and the rules began to bend, and the TV taught the people how to get their hair to shine.”

I’m with this rock star 100% on this stuff.  Throughout his career, he has taken on the big boys in the music industry on various issues, even going bankrupt because he refused to budge on principle.

His name?  Tom Petty.

While Tom has chosen to take on some large issues in the culture at times, there are still too many Christians who choose to focus on tiny stuff.  They make a big deal about nothing.

We should stick them with the last name “petty,” too.  Patrick Petty.  Margaret Petty.  Richard Petty.  (Oh, wait,  I hear he’s actually a good guy!)

Why do I mention this?  Because in a world where we’re dealing with earthquake fallout, radiation levels, no-fly zones, and bankrupt states, some Christians choose to focus on some little thing their pastor did or didn’t do.

Look, we all notice things about public people.  We notice their hair, their clothing, and their weight.  We quickly detect the depth of their voice, the accent they use, and the magnetism of their smile.  While we all have our own personal opinions about these matters, it’s almost always beneath us to talk about them with other people.

But that’s exactly what some Christians do.  Let me give you several examples.

*When my dad was a pastor, he received a lot of criticism toward the end of his tenure.  One of the complaints about him was that some people thought he parted his hair on the wrong side.

*A friend once told me that a woman in the church was angry with me.  When I asked him why, he said it was because I didn’t say hi to her one Sunday.  When I asked how many people she had told, he used both fingers to count and said, “Ten.”

*An older believer once became upset with me because I didn’t visit him in the hospital when he had a procedure done.  I told him that I didn’t know he was in the hospital.  He told me that I should have known anyway.

*While studying the resurrection of Christ for a midweek study, I made the statement that Christians could not scientifically prove that Christ rose from the dead.  One of the board members got up from his chair, walked to the door, said, “Then we’re all wasting our time here,” and slammed the door.

*That same board member became incensed with me after a worship service when I mentioned Christ’s death and resurrection in a statement of faith but didn’t mention his burial.

*In a message on Moses, I briefly referred to Moses as a “fogey” when God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt.  A man wrote an angry note on his response card about the use of that word and took offense for every senior person in the church.  I wanted to tell him that I got the idea for the word from a book on Moses … by Chuck Swindoll.

I could go on and on and on, but then I’d be the one who was being petty!

I believe that this “drip, drip, drip” effect of pettiness in our churches is driving pastors out of the ministry.  I recently read a statistic that said that 80% of new pastors are quitting the ministry within five years!  Why?

Undoubtedly some of it has to do with Karen, Daniel, and Mary Petty.

The Pharisees were petty.  They donated a tenth of their spices to the Lord but, Jesus said, “neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”  Jesus went on to say, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gant but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).

Sometimes when our pastor is preaching, I will catch something that he says that isn’t accurate.  (For example, he claimed on several occasions that Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king of Babylon, when he was actually cupbearer to the king of Persia.)  I might quickly mention it to my wife or discuss it with her after the service, but that’s as far as it goes.  I don’t send out a mass email detailing his mistakes.  I don’t hop on the phone and mention it to friends.  I don’t criticize him within a small group context.

But some “petty” people inside a church will criticize the pastor for every little thing he does wrong.  It’s almost like they exist to ferret out the pastor’s flubs.  When I was a pastor, there were times when I imagined certain individuals in our chuch singing these words to me (with apologies to Sting): “Every breath you take and every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”

What can we do about this pettiness, especially when it comes to our pastors?

First, pray for your pastor more often.  Pray about the big things: his walk with God, his marriage, his fatherhood, his vision for your church, his teaching opportunities.  When you pray about the big stuff, you’ll be calling down the power of God upon him, and you’ll begin diverting your attention away from the small stuff.

Next, if you detect a small flaw in his life, keep it to yourself.  Look hard enough at anybody’s life and you will notice their little quirks and idiosyncrasies.  So what?  We all have them, so we all need to be gracious toward others.  If we start making a big deal about our pastor’s little foibles, others will start doing the same to us (Matthew 7:1-2).

There were times when I was tempted to write out a one-page list of all my tiny flaws (okay, two pages!) and hand it out to certain people in the church so they would know that I knew I had these little issues.  Would that have taken away their fun?  Or would they have started in on page three?

Third, discourage others from focusing on his flaws.  Most people that know me don’t know that (a) I practically get claustrophobic in heavy highway traffic and (b) cannot stand to wait in any line that goes for more than five minutes.  (Just today, I stopped by Target, and when I went to the checkstands, there were three long lines – and I only had two small items.  When they finally opened a fourth line, I should have been asked to be the first person in line, but the guy behind me was asked to go over instead.  I wasn’t happy.  Was I being petty?)

Okay, so let’s say that a friend of yours learns about my weaknesses in these areas, and this person comes and tells you about them.  How would you respond?  Would you say, like in Grease, “Tell me more, tell me more,” or would you shrug your shoulders and say, “Who cares?  I already knew he wasn’t an angel.”  If the latter, chances are good that you won’t be brought too much more gossip.

Finally, start encouraging him in his strengths.  Instead of noticing and publicizing a pastor’s flaws, it’s better to praise him for what he does well.  Reinforcement is a great teacher.  If you like your pastor’s humor, tell him so.  If you like his stories, tell him so.  If you like his applications, tell him so.  If you like his sincerity, tell him so.

Now if you start doing that every week, he’ll become suspicious that you’re no longer being objective, but if you do it every month or so, he may very well keep doing what you like.  While I liked it when someone complimented me verbally about a message after I gave it, I much preferred to receive a note or an email later on because I could keep that written record.  (And verbal comments tended to go in one ear and sail right out the other.)

So don’t be a petty Christian.  Be a pretty Christian instead.  One thing about pretty Christians: they’re never petty.

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As a child (and a young man, and an adult), I was an avid reader of the Peanuts cartoon strip.  There was often more wisdom and true-to-life observations in those little panels than you’ll get in most places.  One time, Linus and Lucy were going to be moving away because their father had taken a job in another city.  Charlie Brown hung his head in sorrow and said, “I need fewer goodbyes.  I need more hellos.”

Exactly.

But there comes a time when all of us must say goodbye – to a departing friend, to a graduating class, to a treasured house, to a dying loved one – and even to a church family.  During my ministerial career, I’ve said goodbye to six church families.  In some cases, it was a wonderful experience.  As people said kind things about you, it was almost like listening in at your own memorial service.  In others … well, let’s just say that people aren’t always thoughtful.

Let me discuss five ways that a terminated pastor might say goodbye to his church family:

First, he needs to tell his side of the story.  When I first became a pastor, I was shocked at how many of my colleagues were forced out of their churches by either a small minority or the governing board.  In each case, I contacted these men and heard their side of the story, and in each case, they were grateful that they could tell their story to somebody.  Know why?

Because they had been told that if they told their side of the story to anybody, that would be divisive.

Unbelievable.

For years, conventional wisdom held that when a pastor was forced to leave his church, he should fall on his sword, refuse to say anything to anybody, and walk away.  But the pastors that I spoke with regretted that they had followed that counsel.  After they left their church, these pastors (a) allowed their enemies to define their legacy, (b) saw friends flip on them (because they only heard one side), (c) watched their reputations be destroyed, and (d) felt they had to leave the pastorate for good because they felt stigmatized.

There is a lawsuit currently on its way to the Supreme Court.  It involves a claim by a pastor that he was terminated and then defamed by two pastors within that church.  You can read about it here:

http://www.thestreet.com/story/11000761/1/us-supreme-court-weighs-review-of-pastor-defamation-verdict-first-amendments-free-exercise-of-religion-clause-at-issue.html

While all of us should be sad that Christians feel they must use the secular legal system to settle disputes, this trend will continue until the Christian church gets its act together and allows pastors who have been unfairly treated to defend themselves in a structured and just manner.  Mainline churches have their own court systems – why not evangelicals?  Even Jesus had the opportunity to defend Himself at several trials, crooked as they were.

While I don’t believe a falsely accused pastor should publicly tell his story inside his church (then accusations will be tossed back and forth), he can do so privately, and should.  The best way to do this is to contact selected church friends and tell them your account of what happened.  The devil doesn’t want this to occur because he only wants one side of the story told: his side.  And the devil will use his side to not only defame the pastor, but to defame the church as well.  Because while Satan does target pastors and their families, he hates churches most of all.

Then when the pastor leaves, when his detractors try and smear him, there will be those who have heard “the other side.”

Maybe the biblical example of Jesus is a good pattern to follow.  While Jesus did not tell His side of the story to Caiaphas or Pilate or Herod, His disciples (like Matthew and John and Peter) did tell His side in the pages of the New Testament.  The Gospels are both apologetic and evangelistic documents.  In fact, the gospel itself encapsulates Jesus’ side.  He died – that’s the verdict of Jesus’ enemies.  He arose – that’s the verdict of His followers.  We know the full story today, but for a long time, many people only heard that Jesus was a criminal, not the promised Messiah who became the Lamb of God.

Second, he needs to act with class publicly.  And this isn’t easy, especially if the pastor believes that he’s been unjustly treated.

This kind of class starts with his resignation letter.  It should be brief rather than long, positive rather than negative, thankful rather than bitter, and unifying rather than divisive.

If the pastor is permitted to preach one more time – which he often isn’t when he’s terminated – his message should look back with gratitude and look forward with hope.  It’s not the time or the place to burn bridges.  The memory of an effective ministry can all but be wiped out with a few thoughtless public remarks.

By the way, if a pastor needs to leave a church to keep it united, shouldn’t those who perpetrated his departure leave as well?  In other words, shouldn’t the church begin again with a clean slate?

Third, he should allow a goodbye event.  Sometimes when a pastor is forced to leave a church, no one wants to throw him a party of any kind, so he just kind of slinks away.  But even if the pastor doesn’t wish for an event like this for himself, it’s part of the grieving process for the church as a whole.  If the church’s leadership doesn’t wish to throw a huge party, they can at least … order cake.  (Just make sure the pastor and his wife get some.)

A better event would be for the pastor and his wife to attend a party at the home of one of their trusted friends.  They can invite those they still feel comfortable being around.  The pastor and his wife can also arrange for photos to be taken with their precious supporters.

Fourth, the pastor should encourage people to stay in the church.  Frankly, I cannot understand how a pastor would leave a church – under any circumstances – and later want that church to be destroyed.

Which is the greater legacy: to leave a church and then have it flourish years later, or leave a church and watch it flounder and eventually die?

The growing church makes Jesus look good and enhances the legacies of all pastors who have come before.

When mistreated, some pastors will leave a church and start another one down the block or across the city – and their core group will consist of followers from the church they just left.  They will encourage people to leave that church and join them in their new endeavor.  This kind of move guarantees bad blood between those two groups for a long, long time.

It’s far better to encourage people to stay in the church and make it better.

Finally, he should not interfere with the church’s affairs.  It is a breach of professional ethics for a pastor to leave a church and yet continue to exert influence within the fellowship.  When a pastor leaves a church, in most cases, he should leave the community and not return.

If he stays in that community, there will be people in the church who will complain to him about the pastor or the board or certain decisions, and the former pastor – being human – may not be able to resist offering his opinions.  Whether or not it’s his intention, too many pastors undermine their successor through their offhand comments.

When a pastor leaves a church, he should leave in every way possible.

He can and should keep some friendships.  He can receive news about how the church is doing.  (And should rejoice when the church is doing well.)  He should pray for the church and its new pastor, and if he hears criticism about his successor, he should either support him or say nothing at all.

One of the worst church crimes imaginable is when a pastor seeks to undermine his successor.  It’s not your church or my church: it’s Christ’s church.  Can you imagine Joshua undermining Moses, or Paul undermining Timothy?

I guess some pastors, in the words of Michael Jackson, “never can say goodbye.”

Because conflict situations like a forced termination may only occur once in the life of a pastor and a congregation, it’s wise to think through some of the issues ahead of time.

May you never have to experience a situation like this, but if you do, may the Lord give you the grace, wisdom, and courage to do what is classy and right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*They are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time, I’ll talk about how to say goodbye to a pastor in a way in which everyone can win.

I just want to see Christian churches handle these situations in a more biblical and redemptive way.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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