Archive for April, 2014

My wife and I recently watched a television show where a soldier who had seen combat overseas was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder back home.

The soldier kept reliving an attack upon an enemy compound, leading him to believe, for example, that a routine thunderstorm outside his house was really caused by enemy fire.

I’ve seen these kinds of shows before, but what struck me during this episode was the real source of the soldier’s pain.

After reenacting events, it came out that the soldier was torn up inside because he saw his commanding officer accidentally kill a fellow soldier … and nothing in his training had prepared him for that moment.

He couldn’t comprehend how a leader on his side could take the life of a colleague.

Only when the truth came out was the soldier finally able to start the healing process …. and sleep through the night.

In churches all across our land, pastors and their family members are suffering emotional and spiritual trauma, even to the point where some have been diagnosed with PTSD.

For example, I recently read an article about a pastor’s son in his early teens.  Because this young man couldn’t handle the attacks upon his father any more, he contemplated suicide by standing above a river … and nearly jumping in.

What causes such trauma for pastors and their family members?

It’s not criticism.  Pastors get used to that.

It’s not having people disagree with you.  Pastors automatically factor that into their ministries.

It’s not watching people leave the church.  Pastors know that they need “blessed subtractions” from time-to-time.

No, what causes trauma is when professing Christians – especially Christian leaders – relentlessly assassinate their pastor’s character, seeking to destroy him at all costs … and the congregation lets it happen.

Why is that traumatizing?

Because pastors teach their congregations to love one another … to work out their differences … to treat each other with dignity and respect … and to realize that we’re all made in God’s image.

But when the pastor is treated like he’s a criminal … or evil … or demonic … there is nothing in his theology or his experience he can draw upon to make sense of things.

Pastors cannot fathom how Christians – including church leaders – can act like non-Christians inside God’s holy church.

When I wrote my book Church Coup, I removed the following quotations because of space, but I thought I’d share them with you now:


Dr. Shelley Rambo is professor of theology at Boston University.  In her recent book, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, Dr. Rambo challenges Christian leaders to think about trauma survivors in a theological way.  Citing Dr. Rambo’s work, columnist Anthony Bradley explains:

A traumatic event is not like a death of a loved one or being rejected by a friend.  Instead, it involves activities that were life-threatening, either physically or in one’s perception, creating a sense of unrecognizable fear, utter helplessness, or horror.  Rambo points out that trauma is a wound that ‘remains long after a precipitating event or events are over,’ and it ‘exceeds categories of comprehension’ related to an event.  Trauma is an encounter with death that exceeds the human capacity to take in and process the external world.  In fact, because of trauma, what one knows about the world is shattered.  What is true and safe are ruptured . . . . Life is not the same anymore.  The trauma interprets life for the sufferer.[1]


Did you catch that?  “What one knows about the world is shattered … the trauma interprets life for the sufferer.”

I know pastors who were forced out of their churches who experience similar trauma nearly every day.  They ask me, “When will my suffering end?  When will I be whole enough to serve God again?”


Bradley continues:

Surviving post-trauma is a life of navigating one’s way through a minefield of triggers that remind the sufferer of the traumatic event or events.  Triggers can lead to random bouts of sobbing, irregular and disturbed sleep patterns, outbursts of anger, depression, anxiety, loss of hope, loss of interest in things once loved, thoughts of suicide, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, as well as running away from thoughts, conversations, people, places that might arouse traumatic memory.  Because trauma survivors re-experience the event in ways outside of one’s control, healing is not a matter of believing the right things about God.  Or getting the gospel right.  Time does not heal traumatic wounds.  Traumatic memory is something only God can heal.  The Holy Spirit must empower trauma sufferers to re-imagine their future . . . . Those limping around in life after experiencing trauma need people who love them enough to realize that they may never ‘get over it’ and that their on-going struggle does not represent weak faith.[2]


In our case, my wife was diagnosed with PTSD by a counselor.  My wife and I are familiar with the triggers:

*Christmas and Easter

*visiting a worship center laid out like our former church

*seeing a random comment on Facebook by a one-time opponent

*running across a photo showing the faces of people who betrayed you

*trying to explain for the umpteenth time why you are no longer in church ministry

*reading our situation into a TV show or movie plot

*noticing what David wrote about his enemies in the Psalms

Several months ago, I gave a copy of my book to a family, who passed it on to a family member who had once been a pastor, but was forced out of his church.

His response after reading the book?  “I am glad to learn that I am not alone.”

It’s one of the most common responses I receive from pastors.

People sometimes ask me, “Are you healed now?”

My answer is always the same: I feel much better, but I will probably never fully get over what happened 52 months ago … and I know I am not alone.

Why not?

Because there is nothing so traumatic as knowing that fellow Christians are intentionally shooting to harm you.

May God forgive each one.

[1] Anthony Bradley, “When Trauma Doesn’t Heal,” World Magazine Online, 4 May 2011; available from http://onlineworldmag.com; Internet.

[2] Ibid.

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Several years ago, I had breakfast with the president of a seminary in Africa.

He told me that pastoral transitions are handled poorly almost everywhere … and much of the time, major conflict breaks out as a result.

Although I’m still a learner, let me share three brief guidelines for pastoral resignations:

First, make the announcement sooner rather than later.

There are at least two schools of thought on this point.  When a pastor definitely knows that he’s going to resign:

*Let the information leak out slowly.

*Make a public announcement and get it out in the open.

In most cases, I favor the latter approach.

If a pastor tells a few people in confidence that he’s leaving, one of them will invariably tell others … including their spouse … but few will share the pastor’s reasoning accurately.

The more people who know, the more they’ll speculate as to why he’s really leaving … and the pastor can easily lose control of the situation.

My first ministry as a youth pastor went well, but I was only part-time, and the church wanted to hire a full-time associate pastor … and I was too young for that position.

When I knew that I wasn’t going to be staying, I stood in front of the church, announced my resignation … effective a few months later … and ended all speculation that I would be the new associate.

This allowed me take control of the situation.  I announced my reasons for leaving publicly, and gave people plenty of time to adjust to my departure.

It’s hard to keep secrets in churches.  Better to just get it all out in the open than to play games.

Second, leave a gap between the last pastor and the next one.

I know a church where a staff member left one Sunday, and his replacement started the next Sunday.

That’s as disconcerting as having your mother die, and a week later, your father remarries.

People need time to grieve the departure of a pastor or staffer, especially someone who has meant a lot to them or been in the church for a long time.

And if people don’t have the time to grieve, guess who receives the brunt of their criticism?

That’s right … the new guy.

In the case of a staff member, it’s better to plug the gap with volunteers from inside the church … other staff members … board members … and even people hired from outside the church.

In the case of a senior pastor, it’s better to bring in special speakers until an interim arrives.

After a little while, people will start asking, “When’s the new guy coming?”

That’s far better than hearing them say, “This new staffer doesn’t compare to our beloved __________.”

Finally, leave the church completely.

Just yesterday, a former church leader told me what happened at his church.

The pastor of his church was retiring, so he resigned … and stayed in the church.

The result?

The church split.

Why would that happen?

I know why.

After I resigned from my first staff position, another position opened up … church custodian.  (The theological term is ecclesiastical engineer.)

I planned on getting married … needed a full-time job … and was hired to clean the church.

The church went on to hire an associate pastor, and we got along well.

But people began approaching me to complain about the youth program … and about the associate pastor.

I listened … but shouldn’t have.  Sometimes I commiserated … but should have kept my mouth shut.

The associate worked for the senior pastor … not for me.

But because I was a former staff member … and many people knew me … my opinion carried weight.

And I’m sure my opinions were shared with others.

Without thinking, I was undermining the associate pastor just by my presence on the church campus.

Pastors and staff members: please … when you resign … LEAVE THE CHURCH.

Only return if you’re invited.

It doesn’t matter how many of your friends or family members attend that church.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve served.

It doesn’t matter if your kids were dedicated and baptized there.

It doesn’t matter how cordial and kind you are.

Your presence will undermine your successor and confuse God’s people … so after your last day, pack up your things and go … please.

My second staff position was in a church that had existed for nearly a century.

In the back of the church, little plaques listed the name of each pastor, along with the years he served.

Back then, those names and dates meant nothing to me.

But today, I’d look at those names and ask:

I wonder how well each transition was handled?

If a quarterback fumbles a handoff, the other team may end up with the ball.

My prayer is that God’s servants will hand the ball off so wisely that the devil and his teammates never touch that ball.






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Last Sunday was Easter, and my wife and I visited a megachurch that’s been gaining quite a reputation.

During the message, the speaker – a staff pastor – made the following statement:

“There are three parts in the Trinity.”

That’s such a glaring theological error that it drove me bonkers.

The correct statement is that “there are three persons in the Trinity.”

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are persons, not “parts.”

But the speaker’s slip-up reminded me of how often Christians – even pastors – confuse the members of the Trinity in their speaking and praying.

Especially their praying.

Have you ever heard a pastor say this?

“Heavenly Father, thank you for dying on the cross for us.”

I’ve heard it all too many times.

But is the statement accurate?

No.  God the Father didn’t die on the cross for our sins … God the Son did.

But, some people wonder, aren’t the Father and the Son identical?

No, they are distinct persons.  The Father isn’t the Son, and the Son isn’t the Father.

The Father is God … and the Son is God … and the Spirit is God.

All three members of the Trinity are divine beings.  Each member possesses the essence of God.

But each member is also distinct from the others.

At Jesus’ baptism, the Father gave His verbal approval from heaven … the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove … and the Son plunged beneath the waters of the Jordan River.

One God, three persons.

The Father didn’t descend as a dove … the Son didn’t affirm anyone from heaven … and the Spirit wasn’t baptized.

The members of the Trinity are not interchangeable.

They have distinct names and duties.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He began, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).

Should we pray to the Holy Spirit?  Jesus never said we should.

Is it wrong to pray to the Spirit?  Maybe not … but the New Testament pattern is to pray to the Father through the Son in the power of the Spirit.

I realize the Trinity is a mystery greater than our feeble minds.

But when believers – especially pastors – get sloppy with their terms and practices, they perpetuate theological error.

Dads pass them on to their sons … Bible study leaders pass them on to their groups … and Christians pass them on to unbelievers.

Years ago, I led a Bible study where we leaders were told, “When you ask a question, don’t correct people’s answers.”

I asked a question about Jesus, and one man replied, “Jesus was half man and half God.”

I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and let that comment pass … correcting it later in the study.

(Jesus was fully God and fully man … the mystery of the incarnation.)

Words matter.  Theology matters.

And the Trinity matters big time.

So let’s be clear about the Trinity:

The Father is God … the Son is God … and the Spirit is God.

As the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” puts it:

“God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

What do you think about this issue?




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When I was in college, I visited a nearby law school to hear Madelyn Murray O’Hair, the famous atheist, speak.

I didn’t know what to expect.

Would she end up being articulate, caring, and thought-provoking?  Would she decimate the arguments for the existence of God and convert students to her cause?

As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about.

Her talk was more like a rant … not directed at Christians, but at the federal government … because she believed that her atheist organization should receive tax-exempt status from Uncle Sam.

But in the process, MM O’Hair came off as bitter, vulgar, mean … and utterly ugly.

Since she was the Poster Child for American Atheism, I left the lecture unconcerned about her ability to attract new converts.

But 40 years later, the atheists have regrouped.  They are better organized, have some money, and appear to be growing in numbers.

In fact, atheists have been placing signs in strategic places all over our land, proclaiming:

Nobody died for our sins

Jesus Christ is a myth

On this Good Friday, let me make three observations about this statement:

First, Jesus is not a myth.  He was really born, really lived, and really died.

You can ignore Him … hate Him … mock Him … or worship Him … but to claim that He didn’t exist is purposeful ignorance.

The Bible isn’t the only ancient document that states that Jesus existed.  I have a book called He Walked Among Us by Josh McDowell that documents Jesus’ existence from non-biblical, historical documents as well.

The truth is that many atheists wished that Jesus had never existed.

Why not?

Because they don’t want to acknowledge His Lordship … His church … His influence … or His commands.

Atheists exist, and so did Jesus … so the statement that “Jesus Christ is a myth” is itself mythological … as well as illogical.

Second, Jesus really died.  Again, it’s all a matter of history.

If He really lived, then He really died.

Both Luke and Acts state that Jesus ascended to heaven after His death and resurrection.

He didn’t ascend before He died but after He died.

Jesus of Nazareth died the same kind of death as hundreds of His countrymen … execution by crucifixion.

The Easter Bunny is a myth, so he/she can’t die.

But because Jesus truly walked this earth, He just as truly died … and then was buried.

So the statement, “Nobody died for your sins” might be true … except that the atheists’ intention is to claim that Jesus couldn’t have died for any meaningful reason because He never lived to begin with.

But He did live and die … just as every atheist will.

And that leads me to my last observation about their statement:

Finally, Jesus died for everyone’s sins … whether they receive Him or not.

Jesus died … that’s history.

Jesus died for my sins … that requires faith.

I don’t think atheists want Jesus to exist because they don’t want to acknowledge that they commit any sins … or at least, any sins that might make them account to a higher power.

Most people aren’t atheists for intellectual reasons, but for moral reasons.  They only want to be accountable to themselves.

But they seem to intimate that Christians do commit sins … especially the sin of saying that Jesus lived and died for people’s sins.

Personally, I think it takes far more faith to believe that Jesus didn’t live and didn’t die than to say that He did.

And if He did die, the record is clear: He didn’t die for His own infractions.

Like millions of Christians past and present, I believe that Jesus died for my sins … that He paid the penalty for my offenses against God by offering Himself as my substitute.

He loves everyone … including you … whether you love Him in return or not.

His love extends to atheists … agnostics … the poor … celebrities … your friends and neighbors … and even politicians.

You can’t stop Jesus’ love.  Just as we can do nothing to make Him start loving us, we can’t do anything to make Him stop loving us.

And whether or not you asked Him to die for you … or wanted Him to die for you … He died for you anyway.

And as long as you live, if you ever want to receive that love … demonstrated by His death for you … He will forgive you of all your sins.

So let me rephrase that atheist sign that’s going around:

Jesus died for your sins

Jesus Christ is reality itself

Let me share with you my favorite Easter verses from 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 … and I still have never yet heard a sermon preached on them:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.

If Christians truly believe that Jesus lived … died … and rose again … then believers must not live for ourselves, as atheists tend to do.

We must live for Jesus instead.

How alive are you spiritually right now?

That’s the best reflection of what you truly believe.




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Fifteen years ago, I was called to become the associate pastor of a church led by a pastor friend.  If things went well, the plan was for me to become the senior pastor after he retired.

And things went well … most of the time.

I went to the church with one primary agenda:

I wanted to get along with everybody … including the senior pastor … the other staff members … members of the church board … the children, youth, and seniors … and everyone else.

So I worked harder than normal at relationships, and tried not to give people any reasons to dislike me.

As always, my go-to verse concerning relationships was Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

From my angle, I listened well … tried to understand where people were coming from … monitored my speech … and worked hard to address people’s genuine concerns.

And yet when I left that church nearly 11 years later, some people hated me anyway.

Why do some people dislike their pastor so much?

Let me offer 4 possible reasons among many:

First, some people want a different kind of pastor.

On my initial visit to the church, my wife and I were scheduled to meet with the church board for an interview on Saturday morning.

The night before, the church treasurer … who sat on the board … resigned and announced he was leaving the church.

And he hadn’t even met me!

Why did he leave?  Because he wanted the church to hire an associate from a specific liberal seminary … and that was never going to happen in that evangelical church.

Had this individual stayed at the church, he might have caused all kinds of trouble.

Some people will never like their pastor because he isn’t ideal in their eyes …

But if the pastor is going to be faithful to his calling, there’s nothing he can do about it.

Second, some people want full access to their pastor.

Before my first board meeting, the pastor asked me to lead a discussion in the meeting from a chapter in a book the board was reading.

After I asked one question, a board member responded, “Who cares?  Next question!”

I had barely started, and this board member was already on my case!

It didn’t take long to discover that in his eyes, I was a terrible preacher … my ideas were unworkable … and my ministry philosophy was crazy.

And he let others know how he felt.

I tried to talk to him …. suggested we have lunch together …  but there was no interest.

Before I came, this man had full access to the pastor.  After I came, he lost some of that access because of my new position.

This gentleman wanted similar access to me after I became pastor, but he couldn’t imagine it happening … so he strongly disliked me … and eventually left.

Pastors need to be accountable … first to God … and then to the church board … but not to individuals on that board.

And when the pastor obeys God first, some leaders may very well hate him …

But if the pastor is going to be faithful to his calling, there’s nothing he can do about it.

Third, some people take offense at statements the pastor makes.

Last Sunday in Rome’s Vatican Square, the Pope went “off script” and delivered his homily off-the-cuff.  Many people praised the Pope for this approach.

But many pastors prepare a manuscript of their messages because they need structure when they speak.

My best lines often came when I was unscripted … but that’s when I was susceptible to saying stupid things, too.

One time, I made a statement … with passion … about a topic I felt strongly about.  I could have … and should have … said it better.

One couple were outraged by my statement.  They demanded that I apologize to them.

Although pastors are not infallible while speaking, apologizing for what you’ve said in the pulpit sets a bad precedent, especially since someone is always offended by God’s Word.

(How would you feel if your pastor began every few sermons with this statement: “I want to apologize for something I said last Sunday?”)

But this couple wouldn’t let up.  They complained to the church board … but the board supported me.  They then wrote the board a letter … and the board still supported me.

So this couple left the church … and we were all relieved.

Yet even when a pastor speaks the truth in love, somebody isn’t going to like it … and they’re going to dislike the pastor in return …

But if the pastor is going to be faithful to his calling, there’s nothing he can do about it.

Finally, some people violently disagree with their pastor’s decisions.

Whenever I made major decisions as a pastor, I solicited input and sought the approval of the staff and board … but some people still thought I was a dictator anyway.

One time, I wanted to make changes in our Sunday services.  I took my time and asked for input … drew up seven brief guidelines … and presented them to the board for approval.

They were all approved.

But a relative of one of the board members didn’t like the guidelines.  She became angry … and let others know how she felt.

I liked her.  And I met with her … listened to her … explained my position … which she seemed to understand … and asked if she would contact me if she had any other concerns.

She promised me she would … but her disagreement morphed into hatred.  She proceeded to engage in sabotage, eventually leaving the church in anger … and I never saw her again.

Was there anything I could have done to salvage that relationship?

Some laymen might say yes.  Many pastors would say no …

But if the pastor is going to be faithful to his calling, there’s nothing he can do about it.

If you don’t like your pastor … and you’re tempted to spread your feelings to others … please leave your church instead … quietly.

And if you’re a pastor who wants everybody to like you … please choose another profession.

The night before He died, Jesus warned His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18, 20).

The world hates Jesus’ followers.  I get it.

But I will never understand why some Christians hate Jesus’ appointed and anointed servants: pastors.

And I don’t think Jesus understands it, either.

Do you?














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When I first became a pastor in my late twenties, I was appalled at how many pastors in our district were forced to leave their ministries because they were opposed by a handful of antagonists.

As a rookie pastor, I met on a monthly basis with the district minister and other area pastors for lunch, and whenever I heard about a pastor who was forced to resign, I wanted to know why it happened and how he was faring, especially since I had become friends with some of those pastors.  The dominant impression I received was that each minister resigned because “he had it coming” and that lay leaders reluctantly handed out the treatment he deserved.

For example, one pastor in our district told his congregation in frustration that they “didn’t give a damn” about a certain issue, but because the pastor used the word “damn” in a public meeting (not a church service) some leaders believed that he had disqualified himself from service.  But I wanted to know why he used that language.  When I first entered the district, this pastor took a special interest in me, and if he became so incensed that he used emphatic language inside church walls, then maybe some detractors pushed him over the edge.

Another pastor friend was forced to leave his church because his daughter had been falsely accused of an offense and he resigned to protect her.  (The truth came out sometime later.)

But in district circles, we rarely heard about unhealthy congregations.  Instead, the implication was that if a pastor was forced out of office, you could trace his departure to something he did or said wrong.  The very presence of conflict indicated his guilt.  It’s like saying, “Caiaphas is furious; the Pharisees are incensed; Pilate is anxious; the mob is unruly.  Who is responsible?  It must be the fault of that man hanging on the center cross.”

So early in my career, I learned how district leaders viewed pastors who experienced a forced exit.  The pastor was usually blamed for whatever conflict occurred.  Upon hearing the news that another colleague had resigned, I would call that pastor and ask him why he left, and every man was transparent enough to tell me.

Then I’d ask, “How many other district pastors have called to express their concern?”  The answer was always, “You’re the only one.”  As I recall, in my first several years as a pastor, seven colleagues were forced to leave their churches, and every one told me I was the only minister who called, which broke my heart.  I later did a study of pastors in our district and discovered that out of sixty pastors that had departed, fifty were no longer connected to the denomination.  I felt so strongly about this issue that I wrote an article for our denominational magazine titled “Who Cares for Lost Shepherds?”

Why don’t pastors demonstrate more concern for their colleagues who experience forced exits?

Maybe pastors have enough happening inside their own churches to reach out to peers, or they wouldn’t know what to say to a colleague, or they don’t want to become embroiled in another church’s issues.  But my guess is that most pastors don’t want to associate with anyone they perceive as a loser.

If you’re forced out of a church, the perception is that you must be incompetent, immoral, or ignorant of church politics.  There is something wrong with you, not the church, and if you were smarter, you wouldn’t have such problems.

For example, I recently heard a seminary professor refer to a leadership structure he utilized when he was a pastor, stating that he never really had a major conflict with a congregation over two decades of ministry.  Translation: If you handled matters my way, you wouldn’t have any conflict.

But this sentiment seems arrogant to me.

Jesus wasn’t crucified because he was unhealthy but because the political and religious leaders of his day were spiritually rebellious.

Paul wasn’t chased out of European cities because anything was wrong with him but because his hearers were hostile toward the gospel.  (Were all Paul’s problems with the churches in Corinth and Galatia his fault?  Doesn’t he usually place the responsibility for church troubles at the feet of the whole church rather than single out certain leaders?)

It’s popular to say, “If the team isn’t winning, fire the coach,” but some pastors have led their churches to growth and yet are forced to leave because the powerbrokers feel less significant as the church expands.

While a small percentage of pastors deserve termination, the great majority who are involuntarily sacked have done nothing worthy of banishment.  [David] Goetz recommends that denominations keep better records of forced exits to identify repeat-offender churches and suggests that denominations discipline churches that slander or abuse their pastors.


This is an excerpt from my book Church Coup which was published a year ago by Xulon Press.  The book describes a real-life conflict that happened nearly five years ago in my last church ministry.

I wrote the book to describe how a major conflict feels from the pastor’s side and to suggest a multitude of ways that such conflicts can be avoided.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can buy a hard copy or download the e-book from Amazon.com.  Just click on the picture.


Thanks for reading!


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According to widespread statistics, 1500 to 1900 pastors leave church ministry every month due to burnout, moral failure, or forced termination – most through forced termination.

And yet according to Alan Klaas – who investigated the reasons why pastors were forced out in various Christian denominations – only 7% of the time do pastors leave because of personal misconduct, while 45% of the time they leave because of a minority faction.

And much of the time, that faction is composed of the official church board, whether they’re called elders, deacons, or the church council.

The scenario usually looks like this:

Someone on the church board becomes upset with the pastor.  The grievance might concern the way the pastor does his job.  It’s just as likely that the grievance is personal.

He or she does not speak with the pastor personally about the matter but talks to one or more board members instead, who add their own grievances to the mix.  In fact, it’s common for personal grievances to morph into official charges.

The pastor almost never has any idea that these grievances are being discussed.

When a few regular attendees step forward with grievances against the pastor – even though the number of dissatisfied individuals may barely reach 5% of the congregation – some board members will conclude, “We must remove our pastor from office.”

The church board then meets in secret … compiles a laundry list of the pastor’s “offenses” … and concludes that the pastor must be evil.

And because the pastor has become demonic in their thinking, any method used to get rid of him is justified.

Even though the Bible specifies how to deal with these situations, Scripture is ignored.

Even though the church’s governing documents usually spell out the process for removal, that process isn’t followed, often because removal requires an unpredictable congregational vote.

Even though the law lays out parameters, it suddenly becomes irrelevant.

So one day, the pastor attends a regular board meeting, and they ask for his resignation.  Or the board calls the pastor to a special meeting, and when he arrives, he’s told that he must resign or be fired.

And the pastor has no idea that his board has been plotting against him for weeks, if not months.

The carnage to follow may ruin the pastor’s career … split the church … divide friendships … and damage the church for years.

Is there a better way to handle pastoral termination?

I believe there is.

Every church needs a small team of fair-minded individuals whose charter is to teach the congregation the biblical way to resolve disputes … including disputes between the pastor and the board.

Let’s call it The Conflict Resolution Group (CRG) for lack of a better term.  They could be appointed by the board or voted into office by the congregation.

The group could be as small as three or as large as seven.  The CRG might be composed of a military officer … or a human resources director … or an attorney … people who must abide by certain operating procedures in their own professions.

The CRG would become their primary ministry in the church.

Those in the CRG would receive periodic training on church conflict prevention and resolution based on Scripture.  They would help to mediate and resolve various disputes within the church.

And if the church board wanted to remove the pastor, the board would have to consult with the CRG first.


Because too many boards use deceptive and destructive methods to force their pastor to resign … methods the board doesn’t want the rest of the church to know about … including demands and threats.

But under this plan, the CRG would monitor the board to make sure that a pre-determined process was used that would minimize harm to all parties involved.  A couple of CRG members might even attend board meetings, insuring that everyone be on their best behavior.  And CRG members might meet with the pastor – whether he stays or leaves – to make sure that he felt he was treated fairly.

If the board followed a specified process in all their dealings with their pastor, everyone would know that the process was fair.

But if the board refused to follow the process … or they deviated from the process without the CRG’s approval … or they acted without informing the CRG … then the entire board would be expected to resign (as specified ahead of time) and the CRG would inform the congregation that the board tried to circumvent the pre-determined process for removing the pastor.

Let me say this loud and clear: some pastors need to leave their churches for a host of reasons.  No pastor deserves a lifetime contract.

But it isn’t the pastor’s removal that results in massive carnage … it’s the deceptive and dangerous way that removal is carried out … because most church boards don’t want anyone looking over their shoulder when they move to eliminate their pastor.

You need to know: I detest bureaucracy.  If this proposal is just another layer of red tape, then forget it!

But most pastors are accountable to their boards and issue verbal or written reports at every meeting.

Yet while most boards are accountable to their congregations in theory, it doesn’t work in practice – especially concerning pastoral termination – because boards rarely tell the church the real reason why their pastor resigned.

So if a board knows in advance that it will be accountable to a group that’s watching their every move – and if that board knows that any missteps can be reported to the congregation – they will have to handle matters the right way or leave office.

I don’t know whether or not my theory works.  I hope it does.

But I do know this: the way that a typical church board removes a pastor in our day usually results in pain for hundreds if not thousands of people.

In fact, if the process I just described could have been implemented twenty years ago, tens of thousands of pastors might still be in church ministry today instead of sitting on the sidelines with broken hearts.

What do you think of my proposal?

Feel free to comment or send me an email at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org






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I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness,

Even if, even if, you don’t love me anymore

-Don Henley, The Heart of the Matter

In my book Church Coup, I related the story of Pastor Guy Greenfield who had been forced into early retirement by a small group of antagonists from his church.

As related in his book The Wounded Minister, Greenfield wrote each person who hurt him a lengthy personal letter detailing how he felt about “what they did to me, my ministry, my marriage, my family, my health, and my future.”

Did anyone answer their former pastor?  Not one.  They didn’t want to make things right with him – they wanted him to disappear.

How can a pastor find closure when he can no longer interact with those who have tried to harm him?

The only remedy is unilateral forgiveness.

Let me write a letter to church antagonists and bullies on behalf of those thousands of pastors who have been forced to leave their previous positions prematurely:


Dear Christian Friend,

You didn’t follow Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17 or Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 5:19-21 that deal with confronting a believer/leader who has done offended you.  This made me feel violated … but I forgive you anyway.

You failed to speak to me directly about any of my personal shortcomings or ministry mistakes although you freely discussed them with others.  This wounded me to the core … but I forgive you anyway.

You made false accusations against my character which caused churchgoers to distance themselves from me.  Losing those friendships hurts me to this day … but I forgive you anyway.

You did not provide me with a fair forum where I could answer any charges made against me.  Even a serial killer gets his day in court … but I forgive you anyway.

You ignored the section of the church constitution and bylaws that delineates how to remove a pastor, making up the process as you went along.  In my case, I played by the rules … but I forgive you anyway.

You seemed to have no interest in my restoration, using the tactic of “mobbing” to force me to resign.  Being abused by God’s people stings … but I forgive you anyway.

You didn’t know – and probably didn’t care – that when you forced me to resign, you may have ended my pastoral career.  This causes me unspeakable pain … but I forgive you anyway.

You hurt my family deeply – to the point they’re unsure if they want to attend church anymore – even though they viewed you as their spiritual family.  When they hurt, I hurt … but I forgive you anyway.

You have tried to hurt my reputation – some things you’ve said have been reported back to me – and I cannot understand why.  I committed my life to serving you … but I forgive you anyway.

You probably thought you were doing good by removing me from office, but the way you did it was wrong.  I’m still disappointed that you didn’t follow God’s Word … but I forgive you anyway.

Because I have a lot of forgiving to do, it’s going to take me a while.  Only God can forgive those offenses instantly.

I guess the next time we meet will be in heaven.  I look forward to reconciling with you there.


Your Former Pastor


I have found that when a forced-out pastor takes his last book down from the shelf … stares for the final time at the worship center … and drives away from the church campus forever … he cannot fathom why professing Christians treated him like he was demonic.  There’s nothing in his theology or experience to explain why he was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced without any kind of process, biblical or otherwise.

But pastors who have been forced out of their congregations can better understand these words of their Master on the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Even though they thought they knew what they were doing, we pastors do know what they were doing.

And to each of them we say, “I forgive you anyway.”



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