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Archive for July, 2013

It’s precarious to be a pastor in our day.  According to the latest research, 70% of pastors are leaving ministry before they reach their fifth year out of seminary.

Why is this?

I could cite many possibilities, but my guess is that well-meaning pastors eventually wear down under a relentless barrage of criticism.

There are times when a critic is right … but much of the time, the critic means well but only represents his/her own ideas, not those of the majority of the congregation.

When I was a pastor, there were times when people accused me of doing something wrong and I disagreed with their assessment.

I heard their criticism … weighed their charges … but didn’t take their side … and in some cases, it made them angry.

A sampling:

*When I wrote my personal doctrinal statement for my district’s ordination committee, a committee member – a megachurch pastor and author – told me that my statement lacked warmth.

But isn’t a doctrinal statement supposed to be about truth and accuracy instead?

*When I met with a denominational executive many years ago, he told me, “You went to the wrong seminary.”

But should I have checked with him before applying to the school?

*The relative of a recently-deceased person from my last church called me up and chewed me out for preaching the gospel at his father-in-law’s memorial service.

But should I have mouthed pious platitudes and sentimental mush instead?

*A board member once chided me for preaching on “political issues” after I preached from Matthew 19 on Jesus’ view of marriage.

But aren’t the words of Jesus in Scripture both normative and relevant for Christians today?

*A couple once became angry with me for refusing to marry them.

But isn’t Scripture clear that a believer is not to marry a non-believer?

Sometimes a pastor knows that his critics have made a valid point.  There’s a little phrase I learned long ago for such situations: “Maybe you’re right.”

But there are times when a pastor’s critics fire bullets at him and the pastor knows they’re wrong … even if the critic believes they’re right.

When Paul appeared before the Roman governor Felix in Acts 24, Tertullus the prosecuting attorney accused Paul of being a “troublemaker” guilty of “stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world” and that Paul “tried to desecrate the temple.”  Acts 24:9 adds, “The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.”

But were they true?  In Paul’s mind, he was merely preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But in the minds of his critics, Paul was inciting public violence and attempting to destroy Judaism.

How did Paul handle this situation?  Agree with his critics?  Throw himself upon Felix’ mercy?  Head straight for jail?

No, Paul answered each accusation, and then says in 24:16: “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”

Paul said, “I know my heart.  I have examined my motives.  I’ve mentally reviewed my actions, and before God, I am not guilty of the charges brought before me, and I haven’t done what you’ve accused me of doing.”

It takes a lot of courage to be a pastor today.  The verbal attacks against pastors are often cruel.  (Ever read an online story about Rick Warren?  He preached for the first time in months after his son’s suicide last weekend … and the critics were waiting with sharpened knives.  Check out this article from Time and read some of the comments afterward: http://swampland.time.com/2013/07/28/rick-warren-preaches-first-sermon-since-his-sons-suicide/)

Why bring this up?  Three reasons:

First, because when some churchgoers criticize their pastor for an alleged offense, and the pastor disagrees with their assessment, they become irate.  And from that moment on, they turn on the pastor.  But should a pastor surrender his integrity and agree with critics just to keep them happy and in the church?

Second, because when some board members criticize their pastor for an alleged offense, and he disagrees, they claim, “The pastor is stubborn and doesn’t listen to us.”  Most likely, the pastor heard the criticism loud and clear … he just doesn’t buy it.  When I was a pastor, if I had done everything my critics wanted me to do, I would have come off as a weak and ineffectual leader who was easy to push around.

Finally, because when some churchgoers criticize their pastor for an alleged offense, they want him to apologize and repent for hurting their feelings.  This presumes that a pastor has the ability to control the emotions of others – but he doesn’t.  Have you ever read the Gospels and noticed how many people Jesus offended?  For example, if you compare Mark 3:6 with Luke 6:11, you’ll see that when Jesus healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue, the Jewish leaders became so furious that they began to plot His execution.  But they were responsible for the way they felt, not Jesus.

It is my job to control my actions and my feelings.  It is your job to control your actions and your feelings.  I cannot control your actions … and I cannot control your feelings … only you can do that.

If pastors had to ask themselves, “If I say this or do that, whose feelings might I hurt?”, they would never do anything.

Many years ago, when I was a pastor, I was accused of doing something that I didn’t do, and the charge really bothered me.  I knew before God that I had done nothing wrong, but that didn’t seem to be enough for a few people.  They wanted blood.

I happened to speak with someone from another profession about the charge, and she said something I’ve never forgotten: “Just because somebody accuses you of something doesn’t mean that it’s true.”

Yes, all pastors sin.  Yes, most pastors are deeply flawed.  Yes, there are times when a pastor steps over a line and needs to apologize and even repent for something he said or did.

But my guess is that the great majority of the time, a pastor cannot agree with his critics … unless they show him from Scripture that he’s wrong … and most critics operate on the basis of their own preferences.

Both Jesus and Paul were accused of doing many things wrong, but they ignored their critics and pressed on.  If they had agreed with their critics, we wouldn’t have a New Testament or a Christian church today.

I believe that the more a pastor focuses on his critics, the less he’ll advance the kingdom of God.  But the more he focuses on God, the greater impact he’ll have on expanding Christ’s kingdom.

And here’s the kicker: God usually doesn’t speak through critics … yet they assume they’re the voice of God … but they aren’t.

During my 36 years in church ministry, God spoke to me most often through (a) Scripture, (b) my pastoral instincts, and (c) my wife.

Critics held place #348 … and that was still too high.

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Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and information about upcoming seminars.

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A pastor friend who lives in Japan – and was once a Jr. Higher in one of the youth groups I led – read my last blog post and asked, “Can you address the issue of pastors who were pushed out needing to deal with the roots of bitterness?  I find some say they forgive them [those who pushed them out].  But you see their face wince and eye twitch at the mention of these people.  They prayed the prayer to forgive them in obedience but the emotional wounds are very deep.”

I find this struggle for wounded pastors to forgive their assailants encapsulated in two New Testament passages:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32

“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.”  Luke 17:3-4

Let me summarize the way we usually view these verses:

“A fellow believer has hurt you.  The hurt was unjustified and makes you angry.  You’re tempted to harm that person in return, but resist that temptation.  Follow the example of Jesus instead.  Just let it go and act like it never happened.”

Those five statements all appear to be true – but they don’t go far enough.

I believe there are two kinds of forgiveness: unilateral forgiveness and bilateral forgiveness.

When you forgive someone unilaterally, you choose to release the wrong they committed against you in private.  You say, “Father, I ask that You forgive Joe for insulting me in front of my friends.”  You never talk to Joe about his offense – you just tell God.  When you do this, you may choose to renew your relationship with Joe, or you may feel that your relationship with Joe has been temporarily or permanently harmed.  Joe may not know or care that he hurt you.

I believe that as a believer, I am compelled by God to forgive every person who wrongs me unilaterally.  It’s not an option – I must forgive.

But when you forgive someone bilaterally, you are aiming to restore your relationship with the person who hurt you.  While you can forgive them unilaterally, there are times when the relationship cannot be repaired unless you tell that person how much their actions wounded you.  If you don’t have that conversation, the relationship remains in a perpetual state of disrepair.

For example, sometimes a husband keeps hurting his wife, and she tries to tell him how much he’s hurt her, but the husband doesn’t acknowledge his error or change, so she just stops sharing her feelings, and they drift apart.  The same thing happens in friendships.

Now what about Ephesians 4:31-32 and Luke 17:3-4?  Are they dealing with unilateral or bilateral forgiveness?

Stay with me.  I will deal with wounded pastors and forgiveness!

At first glance, Ephesians 4:31-32 seems to be dealing with unilateral forgiveness except that the context is dealing with relationships inside the body of Christ.  You forgive your spiritual brother or sister for their offense and prove it by demonstrating kindness, compassion, and a lack of anger toward them.  The passage implies that you’ve sat down with the person who hurt you and worked things out with them.

But Jesus’ words in Luke 17:3-4 clinch this.  Jesus does not say, “If your brother sins, forgive him.”  That’s unilateral forgiveness, right?

Instead, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.”   Why rebuke him?  Because when your brother hurt you, he may be unaware of that fact unless you tell him.

During my freshman year in college, I attended a social event for freshmen at a park.  I joined a co-ed tackle football game, intercepted a pass, and ran it back for a touchdown.  I expected applause from my team as I returned to the field, but was met with anger instead.  Why?  Because when a girl on the other team tried to tackle me, I knocked her silly but was totally unaware I had hurt her.

Sometimes a fellow believer will hurt us by their actions, but they honestly aren’t aware of it, so Jesus encourages us to say to our friend, “You hurt me by what you did.”

Jesus isn’t concerned about who’s right and who’s wrong.  He’s concerned about right relationships among His followers.

And then He says, “If they repent, you are obligated to forgive them.  That’s how My followers act.”  And Jesus takes it even further, stating that if they repent seven times in one day, I’m obligated to forgive all seven times.

Now the confession must be authentic.  When we were kids, I sometimes hit my brother John and then immediately asked him to forgive me.  Due to my obvious insincerity, he had every right not to forgive me until I was truly contrite.  He could forgive me unilaterally, but our relationship wasn’t going to be repaired until I could admit that I had wronged him.

There’s another name for bilateral forgiveness: reconciliation.  In fact, professor and author David Augsburger believes that when the New Testament speaks of forgiveness among believers, it’s talking about reconciliation, or bilateral forgiveness, not unilateral forgiveness.

And Augsburger believes that, according to Jesus’ words in Luke 17:3-4, if you rebuke your brother, but he doesn’t repent, there’s a sense in which you can’t fully forgive/reconcile with him.

Okay, let’s apply all of this to a fictional 57-year-old wounded pastor named Al.

Al has been the pastor of Trinity Church for 13 years.  The church has tripled its attendance and giving during that time.  Al and most of the people in the church are pleased with the way things are going.

One day, Al is called into an unplanned meeting of the church board, where he is told, “Either sign this resignation letter and receive two months of severance pay or you’re fired without pay.”  Brokenhearted, Al signs the letter.

In the months to come, Al struggles to forgive members of the church board.  Why?

First, the board did not follow any kind of biblical process to dismiss Al.  Al was ambushed, blindsided, bushwhacked, and sideswiped.  He was never confronted or rebuked, so he could never make things right with the board.

While the vilest criminal in the United States is entitled to a public trial, a godly pastor can be kicked to the curb without the board using any kind of process, biblical or otherwise.

This lack of a biblical process makes a pastor feel violated.  The pastor cannot get his head around why the Bible was ignored.  He thinks to himself, “Isn’t this a church?  Don’t we take Scripture seriously here?  What is going on?”

Second, the board never tells Al why he’s being dismissed.  This tortures Al’s soul because he has to resort to guessing to find the real reason why he’s being relieved of his duties.

Al wonders if his dismissal has to do with his competency: “Was it my preaching?  My leadership?  My pastoring?  My counseling?”

He wonders if it has to do with chemistry: “Do I no longer fit in this community?  In this church?  Have I hurt someone interpersonally that I don’t know about?”

He reviews incidents from the past and wonders, “What have I done or said that should result in my termination?”

Because the board never tells Al the truth about his dismissal, Al doesn’t know how to make things right with them.  Their actions have not only destroyed their working relationship, but their personal relationships as well … and this wounds Al to the core.

After Al’s departure, some accuse him of sexual immorality … embezzling funds … slothfulness … not preaching the Word of God … and on and on.  While Al knows these charges aren’t true, he wonders, “Why isn’t anybody calling me to find out if these charges are true?  Or are people believing the first thing that they hear?”

So Al tries to defend himself against some of the charges … and every time he does, he’s charged with three more offenses.  Al asks himself, “Why are they destroying me?”

Third, the board treats Al far worse than he deserves.  Al asks himself, “Is this the thanks I get for tripling the attendance and giving?  And after being here 13 years, why am I only receiving 2 months severance?  Shouldn’t I receive 6-12 months instead?”

Al doesn’t feel he’s been granted justice, mercy, or grace.  In fact, he can’t find anything redemptive or Christian about the way he’s been treated.  Instead, he believes that someone on the board is being vindictive.

But because Al has left the area, and church leaders are now in control of the congregation, Al comes to realize that almost nobody is interested in his side of the story.

Fourth, Al will lose his life as he knows it.  Al knows that he will now lose 7 things that are precious to him:

*He will lose his church family from the past 13 years.

*He will lose 90% of his church friends.

*He will lose his reputation as a man of honor and integrity.

*He will lose his pastoral career because of his age.  (When you’re over 55, it’s nearly impossible to find a pastorate or staff position.  There are hundreds of applicants for every available position.)

*He will lose his income and his lifestyle.

*He will lose his house because he can’t possibly keep up payments without an income … which will decimate his credit.

*He will lose his faith in the Church and Christian leaders … and for a while, maybe even in God Himself.

If you work for a high-tech company, and you’re fired, you still have your church family, and your church friends, and your reputation, and your career, and your faith.  You may lose some income, and even your house, but your losses are minimal compared to what a pastor loses when he’s forced to leave a church.

Finally, Al comes to realize that he can never reconcile with his previous church.  Why not?  Because nobody there shows any interest in any kind of reconciliation.

The church will put their energies into looking for an interim pastor.  Then the church will appoint a search team for a new pastor.  During this time, board members will do their best to obliterate Al’s memory from the church.  The interim pastor may help with this exercise.

Friends from Al’s old church will stop emailing him … unfriend him on Facebook … cease sending him Christmas cards … and avoid him when he’s back in town.  Al can sense their rejection … and it stings.

And all the while he wonders, “What did I do to be treated this way by the church I faithfully served for 13 years?”

In the end, wounded pastors struggle with forgiveness because they sense that professing Christians have chosen to treat them with anger, contempt, and injustice.  The pastor instinctively knows that he doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment but knows that he will never be offered any kind of forum for biblical reconciliation.

The pastor has been branded … slandered … and banished from the church that he once loved and served with his entire being.

And every time the pastor goes to church and hears a praise song they sang at his former church … every time he hears a pastor preaching he laments, “That’s what I used to do” … every time he hears about friends taking a vacation he can’t afford … every time he hears the name of someone from his former church who cut him off … every time he engages in self-torture by asking, “Why was I dismissed?” … the pastor is wounded all over again.

And after a while, the pastor grows weary of forgiving people – who have never repented – so many times.

So all wounded pastors can do is forgive their opponents unilaterally from afar … and wait until everyone arrives in heaven before he experiences authentic and lasting reconciliation.

In the meantime, pastors continue to suffer spiritually and emotionally because they know that heaven is a long way off.

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Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and information about upcoming seminars.

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What happens inside a congregation after a pastor has been forcibly terminated?

It might surprise you … and even shock you.

From all I’ve gathered, here are four events that often occur after a pastor has been forced to leave a church:

First, there are immediate attempts to discredit that pastor.

In Season 5 of the hit TV show 24, Karen Hayes and her assistant Miles march into the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) and attempt to absorb CTU into Homeland Security.

With CTU Director Bill Buchanan onsite and in their way, the pair get together and concoct a story designed to (a) discredit Buchanan in the eyes of his loyal CTU followers, and (b) provide justification for their own takeover.

But to discredit Bill Buchanan – a man of great integrity and sound judgment – they have to lie about him.  In their minds – because they believe they are better suited to lead CTU than Buchanan – their lie is justified.

I can’t cite any studies on attempts to discredit former pastors, but I’ve heard plenty of stories, and they’re basically the same.  As soon as the pastor leaves, some people begin to slander him.

But the sad part is … few people make any attempt to stop the lies.

But if you permit a lie to be told without correcting it, aren’t you guilty of perpetuating that lie?  And how can God bless your church if there’s such blatant sin in the camp?

Over the past several years, I have been shocked to learn how often Christians – even Christian leaders – lie.  They do this either to discredit another leader or to build up their own accomplishments.

I’m reminded of the time that a pastor near Willow Creek Church was circulating false stories about Bill and Lynne Hybels.  The two of them went directly to that pastor and said, “The things you’re saying about us are tearing our hearts out!”  The lies stopped.

On behalf of every pastor who has been undeservedly forced to leave a church, let me say to those who are spreading falsehoods: “The things you’re saying are tearing our hearts out!”

Please, stop lying about men and women who have been called by God to serve His church.

Second, the interim pastor tries to discredit the previous pastor behind the scenes.

There are several options available to interim pastors after they follow a pastor:

*The interim can ignore the previous pastor.  In their book The Elephant in the Boardroom, Weese and Crabtree write: “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 the church.  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.”

A pastor wrote me recently and said that after being forced to resign, the bully responsible for the pastor’s departure told that pastor’s church friends to shun him, which hurt that pastor deeply.  Seven months later, that pastor is still in great turmoil.  But like it or not, the previous pastor’s presence hangs over a church for a long time, so we can’t just pretend that he was never around.

I love the way the San Francisco Giants handle matters with their past managers and players.  As often as they can, they bring them back to honor them just for being a part of the Giants’ family.  Even if a famous manager or player left the Giants under less than optimal conditions, the Giants still attempt to honor them in public.  If secular companies can do this, why can’t churches do this as well?  What about Hebrews 13:7?

*The interim can trash the previous pastor.  Several pastors have contacted me recently and told me how hurt they were to hear that the interim pastor who followed them adopted this approach.  The interim’s attitude seemed to be, “Your pastor deserved to leave this church.  You shouldn’t have any more contact with him.  He shouldn’t even be in the ministry anymore.  I’m your pastor now, so follow me.”

I can understand why an interim pastor – who has a short window in which to try and turn around a leaderless church – would want a congregation’s attention focused away from the previous pastor.  But to do that, must the interim intentionally harm the reputation of the previous pastor and act like that pastor was evil incarnate?  Where do we find this tactic in Scripture?  If the interim trashes the previous pastor, won’t the interim eventually be trashed as well?  (See Matthew 7:1-2.)

*The interim can honor the previous pastor.  This is the approach recommended by Weese and Crabtree who label this approach TLC: talk, listen, and confirm.  They write: “Members and leaders need to confirm that past experiences, including those with a predecessor, make an important contribution to the drama of their lives even when a significant change had to be made.”

They continue: “The operation of the human ego in pastors can work against a healthy pastoral transition.  The ego does not want to ‘adopt’ the effective ministries that were the ‘children’ of the previous pastor; it wants to have its own children. . . .  It is best to think of a pastoral transition as a blended family in which former effective ministries are adopted by the new pastor while new ministries are birthed as well.”

The best way to honor a previous pastor is to speak well of him in public … and to defend him from slander in private … even if he wasn’t perfect.  (Interims aren’t perfect, either.)

Third, some of the people responsible for pushing the pastor out become church leaders.

In fact, those who pushed out the previous pastor will try and cozy up to the interim.  They’ll rip on the previous pastor and tell the interim that he’s just what the church needs … even if they don’t yet know him.

Some interims fall for this approach.  Maybe they no longer feel significant in ministry or they need affirmation or they’re glad to hear that the previous pastor had his foibles.  But then they take this information and embellish it.

However, if they were saner, they’d realize that the people who tried to push out the previous pastor may be at the forefront of pushing out the interim.  People who crave power want it no matter who is leading their church.

In fact, let’s just say it: the bullies responsible for forcing out an innocent pastor should never be allowed to get anywhere near church leadership unless they repent … even if they become bosom buddies with the interim or the next pastor … and the interim/next pastor needs to know all the names of those who pushed out the previous pastor.

I recently asked a pastor this question: “If you became the pastor of a church, and you knew the names of those who pushed out the previous pastor, would you put any of those individuals into leadership?”  My pastor friend didn’t even blink.  He immediately uttered, “No.”

Forgive me, but how can pastors be so stupid?

If Jesus had stayed on the earth 40 years instead of 40 days, and He decided to get the old gang back together, would He have chosen Peter again?

Yes, because Peter repented of the fact he had denied Christ three times.

But do you think Jesus would have put an unrepentant Judas back into leadership?

No way.

And yet in church after church, after the previous pastor has left, Judas is asked to become a church leader … and we wonder why we can’t expand the kingdom of God.

Finally, most of the pastor’s supporters eventually turn on him.

I’m going to share a story that I’ve never told before.

Two months after my wife and I left our last church, I drove by myself back to our old place – a full day’s drive.  Our house was on the market but hadn’t yet sold.  We had left many things behind and needed to transport them to our new home.

I stayed for the last time in our old bedroom.  That night, I walked around our former neighborhood and spotted the house of the individual most responsible for our departure.

I knew who that was and what he had done.  In fact, his wife had called churchgoers in an attempt to harm our reputations.  To this day, I don’t know why he attacked me, although my hunches are probably accurate.

Anyway, I sat on a park bench and prayed for him and his family.  I forgave him and his wife.  I asked God to bless them.

But several months later, this man spent an entire evening running me down in front of friends and supporters even though he had never confronted me to my face.

When he was allowed to do that, I knew what would happen: my wife and I would lose nearly all our friends from that church.

We weren’t there anymore.  We didn’t know what was being said about us,  so we couldn’t adequately defend ourselves.

After this trashing occurred, people who promised they would remain my friends slowly stopped being my friends … and I will probably never see them again this side of heaven.

The trashing was aided and abetted by a Christian leader who should have known better.  He knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it.  He was scapegoating me for the entire conflict.

After this happened, I contacted some friends from that church, but their attitude toward me had changed.  They were done with me, and I knew it.  They have made zero attempts to renew our friendship.

What hurts the most is not that we’ve lost friends, but that friends who once believed in us seem to have sided with our critics.

We still have a few friends in that community, and because they’ve remained with us through thick and thin, they will probably always be our friends, for which we’re grateful.

I can accept the fact that when a pastor and his wife move away from a church community, the pastor and his wife … as well as their church friends … will all make new friends … and gradually drop some of their old friends.

But I refuse to believe that God supports the trashing of a Christian leader’s reputation when that leader is not guilty of any major offense.

When I was nineteen years old – and had only been a youth pastor for two weeks – I learned about some sexual shenanigans that involved top leaders in my church.  I was devastated.

My pastor – who later became my father-in-law – told me that night, “Jim, don’t ever be shocked by what Christians do.”

Over the years, I’ve tried to take his advice … but forgive me if I’m still shocked by how Christians behave during pastoral transitions.

Because if Christians preach that every person is made in the image of God … and that God loves every one of us … and that Christ died for every person … and that God isn’t finished with any of us yet … then how can Jesus’ people trash Christian leaders – especially those who aren’t present to defend themselves?

Let’s play on Jesus’ team … and not on Satan’s.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and information about upcoming seminars.

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Pastor Phil couldn’t believe what he was hearing at the monthly meeting of the church board.  He had only been pastor for six months.

Out of nowhere, Don the chairman viciously slammed Pastor Phil.  Don claimed that Phil was preaching against sin too often … that several experiments in the worship service were colossal failures … and that Phil needed to spend less time in sermon preparation and more time in home visitation.

It wasn’t Don’s criticisms that bothered Phil as much as Don’s tone.  Don was implying that Pastor Phil worked for Don!

But that’s not how Phil saw it.  As he planned his time, he didn’t contact Don on a daily basis and ask, “What should I do this Thursday?  Study for my sermon or visit shut-ins?”

It’s safe to say that as many as one thousand pastors are terminated monthly.  My guess is that this question is at the heart of the problem:

Who does the pastor work for? 

As I see it, there are four possible answers:

First, the pastor works for the congregation.

In churches with congregational government, church members vote to call a pastor, usually on the recommendation of a search team and/or the church board.  But while the congregation may have the final say as to who their pastor will be, no pastor can truly work for the entire church body because everyone has differing expectations for their pastor.

Mary wants the pastor to preach through Bible books.  Joe wants the pastor to preach on contemporary social issues.  Linda wants him to speak on family/emotional problems.  Bob wants the pastor to preach on theological truths.

Mary wants her pastor to focus on home visitation/counseling … Joe on administration/organization … Linda on leadership/teacher training … Bob on vision casting/big-picture items.

Mary wants to become the pastor’s personal friend … Joe aims to become his advisor … Linda hopes the pastor will be her advocate for women’s ministry … and Bob wants the pastor to become his golf buddy.

I’ve only shared with you the personal viewpoints of four people!  Can you imagine what it’s like to pastor a church of 75 … or 150 … or 300?  The expectations keep escalating.  The larger the church, the less likely the pastor can ever meet everyone’s expectations.  If he tries, he will fail miserably.

Unless the church is composed of a handful of people, no pastor can ever truly work for the congregation.

Second, the pastor works for the governing board.

Whether they’re called elders, deacons, the church council, the board of directors, or something else, many churches expect that the pastor will work for the governing board.

When I first entered church ministry, this was my assumption.  I’d meet with the deacons once a month and we’d make decisions together.  In fact, I made few decisions without consulting the deacons.

But this arrangement just slowed the ministry to a crawl.  If I made a proposal, but only one deacon hesitated, we didn’t do it.  In fact, the more items I brought to the board, the longer the meetings lasted, and the less we accomplished.

The better way was for the board and I to agree on a job description and for me to report to the board in writing on a monthly basis.  But although I wanted to be accountable, I could never tell them everything I did … and I didn’t want to feed anyone’s micromanaging tendencies.

I believe a pastor should work with the board … not for the board … and that the board’s primary mission should be to encourage and protect their pastor.

When I worked with a board that said, “Jim, you’re the professional.  We’re going to follow your lead and promote your ideas and protect you from attacks” … the church prospered.

But when I worked with a board that said, “Jim, we’re the professionals.  You’re going to follow our lead and expect you to promote our ideas and protect us from attacks” … the church tanked.

Every church I know that is doing something significant for Christ’s kingdom is led by a strong pastor … and I don’t know a single board-led church that is growing to any degree.

Third, the pastor works for a powerbroker in the church.

This person may be a charter member … a wealthy businessperson … the church patriarch/matriarch … a large donor … a church staff member … someone who employs many churchgoers … an adult Sunday School teacher … or a former pastor … but this person holds the real power in the church.  Whenever the pastor wants to make a major change … and sometimes even minor ones … the powerbroker is consulted … even if they hold no official leadership role in the church.

It’s good to have friends.  It’s wise to listen to advice.  But I will never understand why professing Christians ever pledge allegiance to any unofficial/official church leader and let that person do their thinking for them.  It’s not only unwise … it’s just plain dumb.  No powerbroker can ever do for a church what a pastor can do!

Should a pastor listen to board members and powerbrokers?  Yes, he should try and understand their concerns, but that doesn’t mean he should automatically do whatever they want.

Once a pastor has identified a powerbroker, he needs to ask God to remove that person … the sooner the better.  (In case you think this sounds harsh, this is a step that all intentional interim pastors take.  No church can survive if it’s being taken hostage/blackmailed by a powerbroker.)  Whatever the powerbroker thinks, the pastor does not work for him/her … because:

Finally, the pastor works for Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Head of the church … not the church board … and not a church powerbroker.

Every Christian church is ultimately owned and run by Jesus … and not anybody else.

*Jesus directly calls pastors into ministry.

*The risen Christ gives pastors unique combinations of spiritual gifts including leadership, teaching, shepherding, prophecy, discernment, administration, and showing mercy.

*Jesus leads pastors to engage in formal training in Bible schools and seminaries.

*He gives them ministry mentors.

*He allows them to suffer so they can identify better with parishioners.

*He certifies pastors through the ordination process.

From a pastor’s viewpoint, he works directly for Jesus … with the governing board … over the church staff … and never for any church powerbroker.

But in all too many cases, the board thinks the pastor works directly for them … some powerbrokers think the same thing … and conflict is crouching at the door.

Think about this:

If a church board/powerbroker wants to run off their pastor … and he is not guilty of any biblical offense … then:

*Which board member/powerbroker has God directly called to ministry?

*Which board member/powerbroker has God specially gifted for ministry?

*Which board member/powerbroker has completed formal biblical/theological training?

*Which board member/powerbroker can preach like the pastor … pray like the pastor … counsel like the pastor … and pastor like the pastor?

If the pastor ever capitulates and starts working for the board or for a powerbroker … he’s finished in that church … because a pastor must work directly for Jesus Christ.

What is the church about?

It’s about fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples … baptize them … and teach them.

If a structure advances the Commission and expands the Kingdom, we should applaud it.

If a structure hinders the Commission and stalls the Kingdom, we should oppose it.

It seems to me that churches that have a strong leader and a strong preacher do a far better job of advancing the Commission and expanding the Kingdom.

After 36 years in church ministry, I look back and realize that when I was working for the board, the church stalled … and when I worked for the Lord, the church prospered.

As Pastor Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel has often asked pastors, “Who do you work for: the board or the Lord?”

As for me and my house … we work for the Lord.

Who do you work for?

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Let me introduce you to Zane.  He’s been a member of the governing board at the 225-member First Baptist Church in a medium-sized Midwestern city for 42 years.

During that time, Zane has watched 10 pastors come and go … and most of the time, Zane has led the charge for the pastor’s removal.

I recently asked Zane if I could interview him about the way he wields power in his church.  I had just one stipulation: he had to tell the unvarnished truth.  Zane agreed.

Zane, the average tenure of a pastor in your church is less than 5 years.  Why is this?

For the first year or two that a pastor is with us, he is still feeling his way around.  He’s trying to get settled, matching names with faces, and learning about our culture.  During this time, I still wield the power in the church.  But if new people start visiting, and the church starts to grow, then I gather my board buddies together and we start sabotaging the pastor’s ministry.

Why would you do that?  Don’t you want your church to grow?

Not really.  If the church grows too much, then the balance of power will tilt toward the pastor, and we will have to work even harder to dislodge him in the future.  While it would be nice to have more people and funds, we can never let the church get larger than our ability to control things.

But don’t you want to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission and make disciples?

I almost never think about people outside this church.  My goal is to satisfy the desires of the people I know inside this church.

How does that work out in practice?

For example, I meet with my buddies at a restaurant before every board meeting.  We review the agenda and make decisions among ourselves.  Then when we attend the meeting, we control everything, and the pastor ends up having little influence.  On those rare occasions when the pastor persuades the board to do something his way, I contact the board members afterward and bring them back into line.

So you don’t want your pastor to be a leader?

That’s right.  The pastor doesn’t know the community or the church’s history or its people like I do.  We hire him primarily to preach, counsel, do visitation, and conduct weddings and funerals.  We don’t need or want a leader.

When you finally decide that a pastor needs to go, how do you accomplish that?

The best way to get rid of a pastor is to wear him down so he’s no longer effective.  There are several ways we do this.

First, we oppose his plans for outreach.  We can’t afford to have people join the church that we can’t control.  Newcomers are almost always loyal to the pastor, so we have to limit their number.  We usually do this by controlling the money.

Second, we always make sure to attack the pastor’s wife.  We’ll criticize her for working outside the home (meaning she’s not very involved at church).  Or we’ll criticize her for not working outside the home (indicating that she’s lazy).  If she’s not outgoing, we’ll say she’s unfriendly.  If she’s too outgoing, we’ll claim she wants the spotlight.  It doesn’t take long for the pastor’s wife to sense that we don’t like her – and she’ll pass on her feelings to her husband.  When she starts missing meetings, or stays home from church completely, then we’ll claim the pastor doesn’t manage his family well.

If attacking the pastor’s wife isn’t successful, we start in on their kids, and we always find something to nail them on.  As we start spreading our opinions about the pastor’s family around the church, they practically have their bags packed.

When we attack his family, the pastor begins to wear down physically.  He becomes discouraged and depressed.  He starts isolating himself from others.  Then we claim that he isn’t fit to lead us.  This usually works.

And if that doesn’t work?

Then we start spreading half-truths.  We’ll claim that the pastor has been padding his expense account.  We’ll claim that his wife is seeing someone else.  We’ll say that one of their kids is getting poor grades.

If we’re consistent and adamant about our claims, most people in the church will believe us.  Very few people ever ask the pastor if the claims are true.  You wouldn’t believe how naïve most Christians are.  They believe the first thing anybody tells them especially if it comes from an official church leader.  My wife and the wives of my board buddies have become experts at calling churchgoers to run down the pastor.

But that’s lying!  How can you justify what you’re doing?

I’m not really lying … just stretching the truth a little bit.  In all honesty, I don’t care about the pastor – I care about the church.  And I really don’t care about the congregation as a whole – only about my friends and family.  As long as I’m in charge, they’ll keep coming because they know I represent their interests.

But isn’t what you’re doing in direct contradiction to Scripture?

Well, I asked Jesus into my life when I was 9 years old, so I know I’m going to heaven.  But I’ve learned more about subverting a leader from following politics than from the Bible.

What about church bylaws?

We either ignore them or rationalize that they don’t apply in our situation, and nobody has ever called us on it.

If a pastor became wise to your tactics, is there a way for him to stop the attacks?

I suppose there is theoretically, although no pastor has ever tried.  To stop us, the pastor would have to expose our behind-the-scenes machinations to those outside our network.  Since I’m in control of my network, almost nothing the pastor could say would sway them, but if he could document our tricks, he might convince some people to stand against us.  However, in that case, we’d just claim that the pastor was being divisive.

Just in case, we make sure to build strong alliances before we launch our attacks.  I contact the district minister of our denomination and detail the pastor’s deficiencies, so if the pastor ever contacts him, the district minister recommends that the pastor leave the church to keep the peace.  I also contact the associate pastor and office manager and coax them into spying on the pastor.  One is always a willing accomplice.

If by some strange occurrence the pastor survives my campaign against him, I have one more ace to play: my buddies and I threaten to leave the church.  We’ve only had to do this twice, and it worked both times.  If you just say, “It’s either us or the pastor,” it’s amazing how quickly people turn against the pastor because people assume that we know things they don’t know.

If the pastor resigns, what happens to his supporters?

Most of them eventually leave the church, so it affects our attendance and giving temporarily.  But we usually hire a new pastor within a few months.  When we advertise the position, we’ll get 200-300 resumes – and I always make sure to stack the search team with my people so I have the final say.

What happens to the pastors that you force out?

I don’t really care.  I’d say less than half go back into church ministry.  Right after the pastor leaves, I make sure to spread a few additional rumors about him to discourage people from contacting him in the future.  When a pastor is at our church, I try and discredit him.  After he leaves, I try to destroy him.  That way, if he tries to tell anyone from the church why he really left, he’ll be shunned rather than taken seriously.

What’s your worst nightmare?

A pastor with experience who is a strong leader.  If the church starts growing rapidly, and donations pour in, I might have to sell my soul to the devil to stop him.

I’m also afraid of a pastor who is adamant that he gets to face his accusers.  My whole strategy is based on secrecy and back-hallway maneuvering.

I’m also afraid of a pastor who comes to this church and teaches the congregation how to prevent and resolve conflicts biblically.  My success at chasing out pastors is based on my ability to manipulate a faction to carry out my wishes.  If a pastor taught the church how to handle disagreements in a biblical way, my time as a leader might be nearing an end.  Fortunately, most pastors avoid preaching on conflict, so right now, I’m safe.

One more thing: I’m fearful of a principled board member that I can’t manipulate, as well as a strong lay person who insists that we follow the Bible in our dealings with the pastor.

The latest statistics indicate that 23 million Christians in America no longer attend church.  What kind of role does bullying a pastor play in those numbers?

How would anyone know that their pastor was being bullied?  I do my work in secret, and few pastors or Christian leaders are willing to discuss the issue.

Any final words for our readers?

You’re not actually going to publish this interview, are you?  You never told me that!

____________________

I hope by now you’ve figured out that this is a purely fictional interview.  It’s a composite made up of church bullies that I’ve known, read about, or heard about from other pastors.

A friend of mine is writing a book about church bullies, so if you have any stories you’d like to share that he can use, please send them to me and I’ll pass them along.  Thanks!

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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While browsing through various tweets on Twitter two days ago, I ran across a three-month-old blog post on the topic of pastors and suicide from Brian Dodd.  Here is his article in full: http://briandoddonleadership.com/2013/04/10/pastors-and-suicide/

Dodd states that the pastoral profession has one of the top three suicide rates of any profession, along with doctors and attorneys.

The author had a pastor friend who took his own life, leaving behind a wife, two children, and three grandchildren.  The deceased pastor’s suicide note had been posted for a brief time on Facebook.

Then Dodd said this:

As Christians, many of us should be embarrassed at how we treat pastors, church staff, and their families!!!! Embarrassed!!!  These people pray for us daily, go to God on our behalf, study for years to get better equipped to serve us, live in glass houses, sacrifice more than we will ever know, each week feed us God’s Word, and tell us what Jesus thinks about the issues of our life.  And we have the unmitigated gall to question their communication skills, insights, biblical knowledge, and leadership skills.”

Here’s the coup de grace:

“If you are someone who is always hassling your pastor, talking bad about him/her, listening to people’s ‘prayer concerns,’ or leading the charge to have them removed, please do us all a favor and just stop.  It’s acceptable to address issues, just not in a way that demeans people.  And if you can’t do that, do us all a favor and just leave the church … NOW!!!”

My sentiments exactly.

Dodd’s article led me to another one by Steve Vensel on the phenomenon called “mobbing.”  Vensel has been a practicing counselor for 30 years.  Steve Brown – a wonderful preacher and writer – was Vensel’s pastor for many years.  Vensel eventually earned a PhD from Florida Atlantic University by writing about the issue of mobbing.  Here’s his initial blog post on this topic: http://www.poopedpastors.com/blogs/mobbing/

The following are my questions followed by Vensel’s answers:

What is mobbing?

Mobbing is defined “as the prolonged malicious harassment of a coworker by a group of other members of an organization to secure the removal from the organization of the one who is targeted.”

What does mobbing involve?

“Mobbing involves a small group of people and results in the humiliation, devaluation, discrediting, degradation, loss of reputation and the removal of the target through termination, extended medical leave or quitting.”

What happens after a person experiences mobbing?

“It is a traumatizing experience that often results in significant financial, career, health, emotional and social loss.  Mobbing is unjust, unfair and undeserved.  In a church setting the organization includes staff members, elders, deacons, and congregation members.”

How do these people act before mobbing begins?

“The pastor is rarely confronted by individuals seeking to solve an actual problem or there may be a bullying attempt to control the pastor.  The mobbing begins as others are pulled in and persuaded that the target is the problem.  In churches there is rarely, if ever, a chance for the pastor to face his accusers because of the ‘people are saying’ syndrome and ‘they’ don’t want to cause problems!

How do pastors respond to mobbing?

“Mobbing is progressive and eventually the targeted pastor is so confused by the unfairness of it, and so in shock by the brutality of it, they simply don’t know what to do. . . . pastors are often told not to talk to anyone or they will split the church and that would not honor Christ.”

What is the impact of mobbing on pastors?  (For me, this is the most thought-provoking statement in the article.)

“The personal impact includes deep humiliation, anger, anxiety, fear, depression, and isolation.  There is often a profound sense of shame (guilt is ‘I’ve done something bad,’ shame is ‘I am something bad’) that works to redefine all previous accomplishments as meaningless and all future hopes as dashed.  In short, mobbing often convinces the target that they are failures and always will be.”

Did you catch that?  Mobbing “works to redefine all previous accomplishments as meaningless and all future hopes as dashed.”  This means that after a mobbing, the typical pastor cannot identify any ministry successes in his past and cannot envision any ministry success in his future.

Vensel goes on:

“While a mobbing is taking place the pastor and his family do not know who they can trust or who they can talk to.  Fearing further reprisals they remain silent, deepening their isolation, and become either depressed or physically ill.  It is a vicious cycle that, because of the shame attached to it, doesn’t end when they leave the church.”

I have never received a satisfactory answer to the following two questions:

How can professing Christians act this way toward someone called by God?

And how can professing Christians allow mobbing to occur in their own church?

I went through this experience nearly four years ago, and its effects are ever with me.  I wrote a book to help me work through what happened, but most pastors don’t have that luxury.

I’m going to try and learn more about mobbing a pastor, and when I do, I’ll pass on my findings to you.

What are your thoughts on mobbing a pastor?

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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Many Christians are having problems with their pastor.

In fact, here are three common phrases people use to find this blog … along with my thoughts on each phrase:

First: “control freak pastors”

For my money, a control freak is someone who tells others what to do and how to do it.

A control freak pastor tells the janitor, “Here’s how to sweep the stairs.”  He tells the women in the kitchen, “Here’s how to organize the refrigerator.”  He tells the music director, “Here’s how I want the band to look on stage.”

Since the CFP (control freak pastor) doesn’t trust those around him to do ministry well, he’s constantly telling people, “No, don’t do it that way … do it this (my) way instead.”

While a pastor should set high standards for ministry – after all, we represent God Himself – he needs to recruit gifted leaders, train them, turn them loose, and then take his hands off their ministries.

When people are looking for help with a CFP, I suspect they’re upset because they believe their pastor is interfering with their ministry.

My guess is that a high percentage of pastors are CFPs.  Here are two ways to deal with them:

First, ask your pastor, “What does success look like in my ministry?”  Ask him to use a single phrase: “There’s no visible dirt on the stairs … you can see and access everything in the refrigerator … band members fill the entire stage.”

Second, ask him, “If I meet your standard of success, will you let me do it my way?”

If the pastor agrees, he only appears to be a CFP.  If he doesn’t agree … or agrees and reneges … he may be a CFP … and only you can decide how much you can endure.

Of course, if you’re a control freak … that could very well be the issue!

Second: “manipulative pastors”

What’s the difference between manipulation and motivation?

When a pastor is using manipulation, he wants you to do something because it benefits him.  When he’s using motivation, it benefits you.

Here’s the difference:

The manipulative pastor says, “I want every family in this church to give $1000 toward retiring our mortgage so I can sleep better at night.”

The motivational pastor says, “I want every family to give as God leads you so we can retire the mortgage and free up funds for ministry to your family and unchurched friends.”

The manipulative pastor will violate you to get what he wants … and you can sense that intuitively.

The motivational pastor will never make you do something you’re uncomfortable doing.

Manipulative pastors are me-centered; motivational pastors are others-centered.

Here’s a simple question to determine whether a pastor is being manipulative or motivational:

“Do you want me to do this for your benefit or for mine?”

A better question might be, “Do you want me to do this for your glory or for God’s?”

My wife and I once attended a church service where a guest speaker was manipulating people to come to the front.  I took her by the hand and said, “We’re out of here.”  We left and never looked back.

If your pastor must use manipulation to get people to attend, give, or serve, call him on it … and if he doesn’t change, leave and never look back.

Third: “pastor severance package”

When a church’s governing leaders are thinking about removing their pastor from office, they usually want to know whether they need to give him a severance package … and if so, how much they should give him.

If the pastor is married and/or has kids, the answer is “Absolutely.”  Since pastors don’t pay into unemployment, they’re not eligible for it … and most pastors live paycheck to paycheck.

It all depends upon the church’s finances and the pastor’s tenure.

Some church boards choose to give their pastor as little severance as possible … maybe a month or two … especially if the church doesn’t have much money in reserve.

But a good rule-of-thumb is that a pastor be given one month’s severance for every year he served in a church.

In our day, nearly half the pastors who are forcibly terminated never return to pastoral ministry.  They need healing … retraining … and assistance … especially if their wives don’t have a full-time career.

Dismiss a pastor without a severance package, and you may destroy his family … and the faith of his wife and kids … or force him to start a church nearby … in which case your church may become his mission field.  Pay him well, and he can afford to move away.

Dismiss a pastor with a token severance package … far less than your church can afford … and you may hurt his family and your own church as well.

Do you want God’s blessing on your church?  Then treat the departing pastor with generosity and dignity.  A friend who served a church as an interim pastor actually went to the church board and got the previous pastor more severance money than he was originally promised.

And if I was a pastoral candidate following a termination, I would want to know what kind of severance the outgoing pastor received because that would speak volumes about how I’d be treated in a similar situation.

I’ll write more about these phrases another time.

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