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Archive for October, 2012

With Hurricane Sandy beating upon the Eastern seaboard … and headed north toward my position in New England … let me share with you a few provocative quotations from my soon-to-be-published book on church conflict (called Church Coup) before the power goes out.

While these quotations have been wrested from their context, they are designed to make all of us think.

Here’s the first one from Lloyd Rediger on page 53 of his book Clergy Killers:

“Because the church as a whole has succumbed to the business model of operation . . . the pastor has become an employee, and parishioners the stockholders/customers.  The pastor is hired to manage the small business we used to call a congregation. This means his primary task is to keep the stockholders happy; the secondary task is to produce and market an attractive product. When this mindset infects the church, the church is no longer a mission but has become a business . . . the introduction of a business mindset is producing dissonance in the church continually.  For though businesses advocate mission and discipline, the budget is necessarily the bottom line.  This is the reverse of how a healthy congregation functions.”

Here’s a second quotation from Guy Greenfield on page 56 of his book The Wounded Minister:

“Administration is a necessary part of directing a church’s life, but administration must always be a means and never an end. When deacons and other lay leaders see themselves primarily as administrators, then control is likely to be more important than ministry. When deacons emphasize that they are a ‘board’ (not a biblical concept), or when elders call themselves ‘ruling elders,’ watch out.  Control will become the primary issue.”

Here’s a third quotation from page 53 of Peter Steinke’s book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times:

“When we are flooded with anxiety, we can neither hear what is said without distortion nor respond with clarity. Bruce McEwen, a neuroendocrinologist, comments that stress limits our repertoire of responses. Fixated on what is endangering us, we forfeit our imaginative capacities. We act with a small and sometimes unproductive repertoire of behaviors.  With fewer alternatives, we act foolishly . . . . Our mind is set in imaginative gridlock, we obsess about the threat, and our chances of changing our thinking are almost nonexistent.”

Finally, here’s a quote from page 116 of Speed Leas’ book Leadership and Conflict:

“Confidentiality just increases the amount of fear in the system.  If we believe that we cannot share what is going on in a meeting or in a conflict, the secretive aura enhances rather than diminishes assessments of just how dangerous this situation is.  The more that is shared, the more that is talked about, the less threatening the experience . . . . I can’t say enough about the problems of confidentiality in organizational settings. In my experience the norms of confidentiality are serious barriers to managing conflict.  Secrets inhibit rather than open up communication, secrets raise fear, secrets keep out people who might be able to help, secrets presume that truth will enslave rather than set one free, secrets are often lies that keep the accused from confronting them because he or she supposedly doesn’t know the ‘charges.’”

If you’d like to interact with one of the quotations above, feel free to leave a comment.  As for me, I’ve got to batten down the hatches.  Sandy’s coming, and she’s pretty upset.

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Today is an important day in my life.

I uploaded my book manuscript today to the publisher.

Every year, I remember the birthdates of family and friends.

Every year, I remember the anniversary of my father’s death.

And from now until the day I die, I will remember October 24, 2009.

Because on that day, my life and ministry … and the life and ministry of my wife … changed forever.

And that’s what my book is all about.

I’ve spent more than 30 months working on my book.  Over the past month, I’ve been getting up most mornings around 5 am to finish it.

I’ve told friends and family that “I’m just about done” so many times that they’ve stopped taking me seriously.

When I write articles for this blog … and I’ve written 230 of them so far … I can go back and change some wording any time I want.

But when you write a book, and have it published, it’s permanent.  You get an ISBN number.  It goes to the Library of Congress.

Worst of all for a perfectionist, you can’t change the text after it’s published.

But I’m getting sick of it.  It’s become an unwelcome intruder into my brain and my marriage … and my sleep patterns.

Besides, I can’t write another book until I get this one out of my life.  (I’m writing a simple e-book next time.)

Here’s what I wrote as a summary of the book for the back cover:

Conflict in churches has reached epidemic levels.  With 1,500 pastors leaving the ministry every month – many being forced to leave – Jesus’ church is increasingly losing trained, impactful leaders.  These conflicts damage pastors, their families, and congregations alike.  While many Christian leaders are aware of this issue, most have chosen to maintain silence rather than combat this problem.  Church Coup is the firsthand account of a pastor who experienced a devastating conflict and who exposes why such tragedies occur while suggesting biblical, concrete solutions for their resolution.

The book should be out before Christmas, if not sooner.  I’ll let you know when I have a publishing date.

Please pray for the book’s success.  I already know it’s not going to be a million-seller … after all, there isn’t any murder or sex in it … and the average Christian book sells less than a hundred copies.

So I already expect to visit a Christian bookstore someday and see a remainder mark on the book while it’s baking in the sun on the discount table outside.  (I’ll never get a job in marketing.)

But before that happens, I pray it does some good.

Three years ago, my wife and I experienced confusion, anger, and shame.

Today, we experience clarity, calm, and redemption.

And redemption is a beautiful word.

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If a former pastor came to your church, and he wanted to use his spiritual gifts, where could he serve?

Last year, my wife and I were attending a great church.  We loved everything about it … except there wasn’t any venue for me to use my gifts and teach there.

So we began visiting other churches in hopes that I might find a place to teach.

One Sunday morning, we visited a church with about 70 people in attendance.  From where we were seated, I counted 8 empty rows between us and the stage.  The music wasn’t very good, the pastor ran the whole service, and the entire experience was underwhelming.

Before the service, the pastor and his wife came over and introduced themselves to us, which I thought was cool.  They seemed to be happy we were there.  I gave the pastor my card at the door and told him I’d like to take him out to lunch.

We went out a few days later.  I shared with him that we were looking for a church home and that I was looking for a place I might be able to teach from on occasion.

The pastor blurted out, “I don’t even know you!  It would take a year for you to be able to teach in our church!”

(If he had been open to having me teach, he could have vetted me with a couple phone calls, one or two speaking mp3s, and a resume.  Would have taken two hours.)

Obviously, I had hit a nerve.

I didn’t want to take the pastor’s job, or preach every Sunday, or take the spotlight off him in any way.

I just wanted to teach the Bible to Christians … and I thought he might welcome an offer of help.

But I was wrong.

More recently, I visited a church that advertised a contemporary service … at 11:30 on Sunday morning.

When I got there, I didn’t know where the bathroom was … couldn’t find the door to the worship center … wasn’t greeted by anybody when I finally found the entrance … and counted 43 people at that service.

Several weeks later, my wife came with me and we counted 25 people at that same service.

So I took the pastor out to lunch, and casually mentioned that I had been doing contemporary services for 22 years, and if he ever needed help, I would be glad to assist him in any way I could.

He hasn’t called yet.

There are thousands of ex-pastors who aren’t helping to advance the kingdom of God because they’re not permitted to serve in local churches.

Why not?

Because they’re perceived as a threat by the lead pastor.

Even though it’s bad theology, pastors like to view themselves as being omnicompetent.

Inside their congregations, they believe they know more about the Bible and leadership and preaching and administration and fundraising and evangelism and managing staff and prayer than anybody else does.

Or at least they want people to think that they do.

So if someone comes along that might know Scripture or leadership or staff management as well or better than they do, they feel threatened.

Here’s the irony: that same church would open its arms to an untested young man in his early twenties who felt called to ministry.

He’d be allowed to work with children … or youth … or the worship team … or a small group … and maybe even speak on ocassion.

Why?

Because he’s obviously in an inferior position to the pastor.

But if you have years of experience, and you could do something better than the senior pastor, you would find yourself unwelcome in most churches.

This is why most ex-pastors do one of four things:

*Quit going to church.

*Form their own ministry.

*Find a megachurch and just veg.

*Become an interim pastor.

In each case, that seasoned pastor doesn’t threaten anybody.

Do pastors really want to see the kingdom of God advance in America?

Then they should seek out former pastors as mentors … and coaches … and consultants … and trainers … and unpaid staff members … and fill-in preachers … and teachers of special classes.

But if they’re more interested in being the undisputed sovereigns of their little church empires, then they should chase away anyone who is more gifted in some area than they are.

And from where I sit, they’re doing it quite well.

Why do you think current pastors fail to utilize the gifts and experiences of former pastors?  I’m interested in your observations.

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I’ve been reading an 8-year-old book on pastoral transitions called The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken About Pastoral Transitions by Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree.

The book’s first chapter lays out the principles Jesus used in ministry transition.

John the Baptist was Jesus’ predecessor, the apostles His successors.

One passage in this chapter really stood out for me:

“Jesus was not afraid to talk about His predecessor in public.  Yet many church members experience an eerie silence on the part of their new pastor regarding the work of his or her predecessor.  It would be refreshing and liberating for many members to hear their pastor speak, in positive terms, the name of the pastor who went before and was referred to as an instrument in God’s plan for building that church.”

This problem is so pervasive that some pastors won’t even allow churchgoers to talk about a previous pastor in their presence:

“Members need leaders to listen to them talk about their affection for their predecessor.  This enables them to integrate their past and present experiences rather than compartmentalize them.  If the leader is unwilling to do this, it places an emotional burden on the members.  In one church, members made an agreement with one another not to speak the name of a former pastor except in private for nearly twenty years after the pastor left the community and moved to another state!”

However, Jesus spoke about John the Baptizer – who was also His cousin – on many occasions in public (Matt. 11:11; 21:32; Mark 11:30; Luke 7:33).  Jesus provides a healthy example for pastors in that regard.  But not all pastors do this:

“In reality, the opposite is often the case.  A pastor is sometimes so threatened by the esteem paid to a predecessor that he or she gives the signal to members that they are not to speak about the predecessor in the pastor’s presence.”

We might expect this kind of behavior from an ex-wife, or an ego-driven politician, but a pastor?  Out of all professions, wouldn’t you think that a pastor could handle talk about his predecessor with grace and class?

Many years ago, I became a staff member in a church where the previous staffer was practically worshiped.

Not only did I know this man, but he recommended that I succeed him.

He was a dedicated man … a thoughtful man … a gifted man … but he’d be the first one to tell you he wasn’t a god.

But after he left, he assumed godlike status.  (Years later, we both had a good laugh over this.)

For my first six months in that church, I couldn’t do anything right.  I was criticized by some of the students and especially the adult leaders, who missed their friend terribly.

My sin?  I wasn’t him.

I didn’t understand the attachment they had to him, so I didn’t know how to handle matters.

They were grieving the loss of someone who meant a great deal to them.  If I had been more mature, I could have dealt with the issue openly … and mentioned his name out loud.

The problem wasn’t between the two of us … it was between his followers and me.

One day, while reading John 3, I came upon the passage where John the Baptist’s ministry was receding into the shadows while Jesus stepped into the limelight.

John’s disciples were pretty upset about this transition.  But John settled them down, climaxing in his famous statement in John 3:30:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John was secure in his role.  He knew he wasn’t the Messiah … he was the forerunner to the Messiah.

The problem wasn’t between John and Jesus … it was between John’s followers and Jesus … as well as His newly-called disciples.

John defused things nicely and let Jesus take over … and Jesus returned the favor by openly mentioning and complimenting John on many occasions.

Isn’t this a great model for pastors today?

Every pastor will leave a church someday … even a beloved church.

A pastor might die in the pulpit … or suffer disability and quit … or be involuntarily terminated … or take a position in another church … or retire gracefully.

But every pastor will eventually leave a church.

If the next pastor won’t mention the name of his predecessor in public, and retains jealous feelings about his success, and tries to dismantle ministries the previous pastor constructed, then the new pastor’s ego is much too large … and God will have to work on shrinking it … just like He did with me in the story above.

(Just for kicks, mention the names of one or two of your church’s previous pastors to your current pastor, and see how he responds.)

While attending a class in my doctoral program, I jogged one day over to a megachurch in the area.

As I entered the lobby, I noticed a painting of the church’s present pastor, along with his two predecessors.

Predecessor Number One was a great preacher and an author who had written some books I had once read.

Predecessor Number Two was a friend of my father-in-law and an author as well.

The present pastor had taught a class that I took in college and had once led a retreat for 50 kids in my youth group.

The painting seemed to say, “We are all friends and colleagues.  No one of us is better than the other.  You cannot drive a wedge between us, so don’t even try.”

Maybe a church could invite all of its living pastors together sometime … for a church reunion, or a social event, or the installation of a new pastor.

The pastors could catch up … and swap stories with each other … and take a tour of the facility together … and begin to bond as leaders … and friends.

Someone might even commission a photograph or a painting that could be hung in a promiment place in the church as if to say:

“These are the pastors who have made us who we are today.”

Maybe they could even be asked to stand in front of the congregation and say nice things about each other.

What do you think about this issue?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Where in life do you experience the most conflict?

On the job with passive-aggressive subordinates or insensitive supervisors?

In the neighborhood with barking dogs and mischievous students?

At your church with loud worship bands and unfriendly ushers?

In your home with lazy kids and an uncooperative spouse?

How about on the road?

My wife and I just returned today from a little trip to the Revolutionary War sites of Concord and Lexington, both in Massachusetts.  We drove about 60 miles each way.  (I’m serving a church in New England for a few months.)

In the short distance we traveled, we met some drivers who caused some conflict.  Let me draw some parallels between these drivers and certain churchgoers.

First, some drivers … like some churchgoers … are always driving in the slow lane.

Six days a week, I drive 21 miles up and down Interstate 93 here in New Hampshire.  The 93 features two wide lanes and excellent road surfaces.

Some drivers stay in the slow lane … not because they’re going the speed limit, but because they’ve chosen a speed that’s comfortable for them.

I hate driving behind those people.

Some churchgoers are like this, too.  They want life at church to go slowly.  They especially resist change.

They prefer to find their place on the road, put their life on cruise control, and force everyone else to pass them.

I don’t blame church attendees for feeling this way.  If they wish to camp in the slow lane, that’s allowed.

However, some slow laners swerve into the fast lane on occasion … not for passing … but to obstruct faster drivers.

I’ve seen staff members try this trick … along with board members … musicians … youth leaders … and seniors.

They want to keep the church from changing too quickly, so they do their best to slow everything down.

Rule-of-thumb: if you want to travel at a leisurely pace, stay in the slow lane … and let others pass you by.

Second, some drivers … like some churchgoers … are always pushing you from behind.

This afternoon, as I drove from New Hampshire into Massachusetts, a woman came racing up behind me in the fast lane and placed her car nearly up against mine.

Such driving is characteristic of people with road rage.

I was already going plenty fast … and we were at a place on the highway where there are several miles of turns without straightaways … and I couldn’t get into the slow lane.

My wife was so bugged at the woman … who was smoking … that my wife turned around and stared at her to get her to back off.

But she didn’t back off.

After I got over, the woman passed me going at least 90 miles an hour.

Some church leaders … especially pastors … have a habit of pushing people from behind as well.

Instead of leading the sheep, they drive the sheep.

“Read your Bible!  Join a group!  Deposit your tithe!  Use your gifts!  Come every Sunday!  Share your faith!  Pray without ceasing!”

All good counsel for believers.  It’s the way the pastor does it that counts.

If he’s doing it for his own purposes, that’s manipulation.

If he’s doing it to help others grow spiritually, that’s motivation.

The driver who kept pushing me didn’t know me and certainly didn’t love me … especially when my car bore a California license plate.

And when a pastor drives his people, one suspects he doesn’t know or love them very well, either.

Rule-of-thumb: follow leaders who know and love you … and get as far away as possible from the others.

Finally, some drivers … like churchgoers … want to occupy the same space at the same time as you do.

We were preparing to merge tonight from Interstate 95 going east onto Interstate 93 going north … and there was a lot of traffic around us.

As I tried to merge into the slow lane about 1/2 mile away, I couldn’t do it because a driver was going very slow.

So I sped up … and just as I planned to get over … an unbroken line of cars merged into our lane from Interstate 93 going north.

It didn’t look like I could get over in time … but I did … barely … after loudly lamenting the fact that some engineer made a mistake by putting a freeway on-ramp about 1/8 mile from a freeway off-ramp.

Conflict occurs in churches when two parties want the same space at the same time.

The children’s director asks for and receives permission three months ahead of time to hold a special event in the youth room on November 20.

The youth director never notices … assuming he’ll always have use of the room.

On the morning of November 20, he walks into the youth room only to find the children’s director decorating the room for her event.

The youth director goes nuts.  That’s his room!

Conflict.

Or here’s another scenario.

The young moms group meets every other Thursday at the church from 10-11:30 am … but this month, they decide to have a potluck lunch after their meeting … without telling anybody.

All the moms bring their favorite dish and place it in the refrigerator before the meeting.

While they’re meeting, the leader of the seniors’ group walks into the kitchen to take out the food for the seniors’ luncheon … and finds piles of unauthorized food blocking her authorized food instead.

Conflict.

Sometimes conflict at church just happens.  It’s nobody’s fault.

But sometimes, it’s the result of poor planning … or faulty communication … or a way too aggressive attitude.

Rule-of-thumb: plan your moves early, signal your intentions clearly, and move into daylight boldly.

Last month, my wife and I drove 3,200 miles across America.

We encountered some terrible roads (especially in Oklahoma), some awful weather (especially in Missouri), some horrendous drivers (especially in Massachusetts), and some costly toll roads (especially in New York.)

But even though I experienced conflicts on the road, I quickly forgot about each one.

Why?

Because driving has been second nature to me for more than four decades.

When we learn to practice what the Bible says about resolving conflicts, they will become second nature for us as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Did you know there are individuals in our churches who seek to destroy pastors?

There is a term for such people: “clergy killers.”

I first heard the phrase used by Dr. Lloyd Rediger in an article promoting his book Clergy Killers which was published in the late 1990s.

The late Dr. Rediger was an ordained Presbyterian minister, a pastoral counselor, a church consultant, and the author of books on clergy burnout and toxic congregations, among others.

In 2011, when I learned that Dr. Rediger lived in the Southwest, I contacted him about the possibility of meeting someday.  However, he told me he couldn’t meet because he was busy working on a film about the clergy killer phenomenon.

The film has now been released, and it’s called Betrayed: The Clergy Killer’s DNA.

My wife and I recently viewed the 90-minute film in its entirety … hitting the pause button along the way to discuss what we had just heard.  (I can be annoying that way.)

The film features unscripted interviews with pastors, psychiatrists, and Christian leaders who seek to expose what they say has been “the best kept secret in the Church.”

And these leaders hail from evangelical, mainline, and Roman Catholic congregations.

Those who are interviewed discuss the motivations of those who attack clergy … our need to label this kind of behavior as “evil” … the viciousness of the attacks … the role of Satan and spiritual warfare … and the heavy cost that clergy killers exact on pastors, their families, and congregations.

In fact, clergy killers consider themselves to be on a mission: to destroy a pastor at all costs … regardless of how much the CK hurts others.

The film not only exposes people who attempt to harm their pastors, but also indicts churchgoers who allow this “emotional terrorism” to happen without doing anything.

I encourage you to order this film and watch it with other believers.  It’s one of the best things you can do to keep your church healthy … and to protect your pastor from unwarranted attacks.

In fact, if you’re in a small group, I encourage you to show the film sometime and discuss it afterwards.

You can order the film from the following website (and they’ll send it right out):

http://www.betrayedthemovie.com

It’s one of the best moves you can make to protect your pastor … and your church … from clergy killers.

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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A wise old pastor once warned me to avoid “the kiss of death.”

The kiss of death for a pastor isn’t administered by a woman … or a governing board … or a government agency.

No, the kiss of death occurs when a pastor resigns his position without anywhere else to go … because when churches are looking for a pastor, they prefer to call one who is already serving in a church rather than one who is in secular work or unemployed.

I nearly experienced the kiss of death in my second pastorate.

The church I served as pastor was the result of a merger between two churches … and I had led one of those churches.

The church board and I went on a retreat in the mountains.  We evaluated the entire ministry, including ways to improve everything we did.

This included the music ministry.

The board agreed to allow a band of young men to play for our services on Sunday mornings and evenings.

(The mother of the board chairman liked the band so much that when she died, she requested they play at her memorial service.)

However, when we made this change, I warned the board in advance that some people weren’t going to like it.

And I was right.

One middle-aged couple in particular became incensed about the music.  The wife refused to come to church.  Her husband eventually stayed home as well.

One year later, this antagonist contacted my district minister to complain about me.  By this time, he had gathered together a small but vocal contingent of people who viewed me as the antichrist.

One night, my district minister and I had a conversation in which he recommended that I resign to keep the peace in the church.

However, the entire board had told me that if I resigned, they would all resign along with me … leaving the church in the hands of the antagonists … who didn’t have a collective clue as to how to run a church.

Fortunately, the board stood with me … but the district leadership wilted.

For years, this scenario has played itself out in thousands of churches:

*The district leaders of a denomination hold a training time for pastors.

*The pastors are encouraged to institute changes in their churches so they will grow numerically.

*The changes always involve taking risks … and such risk-taking always angers some attendees.

*Those attendees who are angry about the changes don’t speak directly with their pastor about their feelings.

*Instead, they go around the pastor and form a faction inside the church designed to oust the pastor … threatening to boycott services and withhold giving unless their demands are met.

*In the process, someone in their group calls the district minister and complains to him about the pastor, intimating that the pastor is so divisive and/or ineffective that he should be removed from office.

*The district minister listens to the complainers, ends up taking their side, and then recommends that the pastor resign to keep peace in the church.

That’s exactly what happened to me 25 years ago.

Here’s the problem, however.  For any church to grow:

*The pastor needs to assume leadership.

*Leadership involves taking risks.

*Risk-taking always provokes change.

*Change always provokes anxiety and even anger.

*And those reactions are always aimed at the leader … in this case, the pastor.

*If the pastor receives support from the church’s governing board, he will survive and the church has the best chance for success.

*The pastor also needs support from his “superior,” whether that’s a district minister or a bishop.

*But if either the board or the district collapses on the pastor, he may be forced to resign.

I’ve recently been reading an insightful and motivating book on denominational leadership at the district level.

It’s called Hit the Bullseye by former denominational executive Paul Borden.

Borden says that district leaders need to become coaches for pastors, who need to become better leaders in their churches.

And if this occurs, Borden writes about district leadership:

“We are also willing to confront those congregations and congregational leaders (the emotional terrorists) who for years have chewed up pastors and spit them out.  We have confronted both pastors and congregations even though it has cost the region the loss of financial support.”

That last statement takes great courage to implement.  One of the reasons district leaders side with a church over against their pastor is to keep donations to the district flowing.

Borden continues:

“Finally, we are adamant about not letting the region be used to promote congregational triangulation, which allows laity to condemn pastors anonymously.  If any lay leaders call the region to complain about their pastor those leaders are told they must first confront their pastor before we will become involved in offering assistance, if that is required.”

Borden goes on to say that “congregational transformation will create tremendous conflict in dysfunctional, dying churches” and that “the worst thing that can happen in the midst of such conflict is mediation, since the conflict is more about the transfer of power and who will lead the congregation, than individuals or groups not being able to get along.”

Let me tell you one reason why so many churches aren’t growing and so many pastors are ineffective.

It’s because pastors instinctively know that for a church to grow, they’ll have to take risks … and if they do, they may very well end up standing alone without any support … because many Christian leaders will not stand up to emotional terrorism.

Will you?

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