Archive for June, 2014

Pastor Jon was in trouble.

He had graduated from Yale as a young man, becoming valedictorian of his class, and later became a faculty member there.  But he sensed that God wanted him to become a pastor rather than a professor.

So Jon was called to pastor the church that his grandfather had led for 57 years … a prestigious church of 600 members.

Several years later, Jon’s ministry gained great fame when 300 people were converted within 6 months.  He later preached one of the most influential sermons of all time.

But although Jon was held in high esteem outside his church, his influence gradually began to wane among his own congregation.

For starters, Jon was paid by the local town council, and some people objected to the fine clothes and jewelry that his wife wore.

Since the townspeople paid his salary, they felt they had a right to know how Jon and his wife Sarah spent their money, so they requested an itemized family budget.

Sarah began having nightmares about “being driven from my home into the cold and snow” and “being chased from the town with the utmost contempt and malice.”  She imagined that her enemies surrounded and tormented her, worrying “if our house and all our property in it should be burnt up.”

In addition, Jon had noticed that many of his converts seemed to be more emotional than devout about their Christian faith, so he began to stiffen the requirements for church membership.

He also insisted upon “closed communion,” believing that only believers who had given evidence of conversion should take it, eventually resulting in the suspension of the Lord’s Supper for many years.

Jon also believed that a church should be a theocracy (ruled by God through the minister) rather than a democracy (ruled by congregational decision-making).

While Jon could sense that some were rebelling against him, he was often locked away in his study.  But his wife could feel what he couldn’t see.

He wrote a book to explain his views … but hardly anyone read it.  People began to spread hearsay testimony against him, claiming that he wanted to “judge souls.”

After 23 years as pastor, Jon was finally voted out of office by a 10-9 vote.  His ministerial career was over.

Because Pastor Jon was dismissed over a matter of conscience, the church had a hard time attracting pastoral candidates.  Because Jon couldn’t sell his house, he stayed in town, and even did some guest preaching for the church that fired him.

Finally, Jon was asked to be a missionary and moved across the state.  During that time, he wrote books … mainly on theology … works for which he is still known today.

Jon was asked to become the president of Princeton, and died a few months later at the age of 54.  Sarah died 6 months afterwards.

If you haven’t guessed already, Pastor Jon was one of the greatest philosophers, theologians, and preachers that America has ever produced: Jonathan Edwards.

He pastored a church in Northampton, Massachusetts, from 1727 to 1750 … and found himself right in the middle of the First and Second Great Awakenings.

Edwards’ case shows that given the right conditions, every pastor is susceptible to forced termination.

There is a general consensus among Christians that when a pastor is forced to resign, he must have done something to cause his dismissal.

But I know many pastors who have sterling character … are wonderful preachers … and caring pastors … who have been pushed out of a church.

In fact, the latest statistics say that 28% of all pastors have gone through at least one forced termination … and I know good men who have been through this experience two or three times.

Yes, a small percentage of pastors probably shouldn’t be in church ministry.  And yes, there are some highly dysfunctional churches out there, most of them ruled by a single individual or family.

But many … if not most … pastoral terminations occur because of a “perfect storm.”

I once knew a pastor who had great success in two churches.  When he was called to the third church, things did not go well, and he quickly latched onto another position.  Was that last situation all his fault – or was it simply a combination of circumstances?

In my own case – which I’ve recorded in my book Church Coup – my departure occurred because of a variety of factors, including a national recession (which impacted giving), inexperienced and over-reactive leaders, an undermining predecessor, exaggerated charges, and my own exhaustion, which caused me to be reactive rather than proactive in handling conflict.

In the case of Jonathan Edwards, here was an authoritarian pastor, a town increasingly receptive to democratic ideals, three wealthy individuals who opposed Edwards, the unfortunate death of his best ally, and the long shadow of Edward’s grandfather Samuel Stoddard, who was still venerated by the people of Northampton … and some of whose practices Edwards tried in vain to change.

But that’s not the whole story.

According to William J. Petersen’s book 25 Surprising Marriages, the union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards produced the following descendants: “13 college presidents, 65 professors, 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 66 physicians, and 8 holders of public office, including 3 senators, 3 governors, and a vice president of the United States.”

There’s an old saying that states that history is written by the conquerors.  So I suppose that whenever a pastor undergoes forced termination, those who pushed him out think that their story is the final account.

But as the life of Jonathan Edwards demonstrates, even the greatest of men can be rejected by their contemporaries.

Just like Jesus.



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Every day in our culture, we hear about people who try and resolve their conflicts by using power:

*They stand in front of microphones and condemn their opponents.

*They threaten to boycott a product or a company.

*They pass resolutions criticizing a leader they don’t like.

*They even pick up guns and join an army.

These tactics have been used and abused for hundreds of years … but they’re increasingly creeping into Christian churches.


*A faction threatens to leave their church unless the pastor does its bidding.

*A woman demands that a staff member apologize to her for a remark he made.

*A pastor emphatically states that he’ll resign unless the church board agrees with him on an issue.

*A member promises to withhold her giving as long as the youth pastor is still employed by the church.

In my view, many churchgoers … especially leaders … go to power way too soon in a conflict.

What should they do instead?

Try love.

Whenever there’s a conflict, go to love first … and only use power last.

When Jesus came to earth the first time, He came in love … as a baby.

He became human.  He gave up “the independent exercise of His divine attributes.”  He listened to people and hurt with them and restored them.

Yes, He became ticked at the Pharisees, but He didn’t destroy them.  Instead, He tried to shake them out of their complacency by telling them the truth.

He didn’t force people to receive Him as Messiah.  He gave them evidence and let them choose.

Even though Jesus had access to power on earth, He never used any power on Himself, but only to help others.

Even while being mocked on the cross, Jesus chose not to use power to retaliate against His enemies.

When Jesus came the first time, He came in love.

But when He comes the second time, He will come in power.

He will ride a white horse … brandish a sword … wear many crowns … make war against God’s enemies … and reveal Himself as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

He will impose His will upon the people of this planet and force them to say and do things they don’t want to do: “every knee will bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Personally, I can’t wait for that day … but it ‘s not here yet.

I believe the pattern of Jesus’ two comings provides today’s Christians with an outstanding example.

When you’re engaged in a conflict with a leader or a group or your pastor … use love first … and power last.

Most church conflicts are resolvable when both sides use love … demonstrated by listening, understanding, kindness, compassion, and choice.

But some people become anxious … just wanting the conflict to end … and so they take a shortcut and resort to power … demonstrated by monologues, manipulation, rudeness, heartlessness, and imposition.

And when they do, they make that conflict far more resistant to resolution.

Example 1: a pastor wants the worship director to stop using a certain female vocalist because she’s living immorally.

If the pastor uses love, he’ll ask the worship director kindly but firmly to remove her until her life turns around.  This will keep the conflict at a low level.

But if the pastor uses power, he might threaten to fire the worship director unless he removes her immediately.  This will cause the worship director to respond in kind and matters may quickly escalate.

Example 2: the church board wants the pastor to give them a written report of his activities at their monthly meeting.

If the board uses love, they’ll ask the pastor for the report and explain why they’d like to have it.

If the board uses power, they’ll demand that he issue that report or they’ll all resign.

Suddenly, a low-level conflict may spiral out of control.

There are times when those in leadership positions – especially pastors and church boards – need to use their God-given authority to make decisions.

But some Christian leaders tend to bypass the love route altogether and go straight to power … and when they do, they escalate matters exponentially.

I once did a word study on the words “threat” and “threaten” in the Bible.  I couldn’t find a single instance where those words were used in a positive context.

God doesn’t want His people characterized by the power tactics of our world.  He wants us to be characterized by love in all its forms.

Did Jesus say, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you impose your will on people and threaten them?”

No, He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Let us be known by our love … even in the midst of conflict … and only use power if God has given us that right through Scripture and if His Spirit is leading us to use it.

Are you currently involved in a conflict situation at your church?

Use love first … and only go to power when it’s clear that love can’t work.

If all Christians did that, we’d resolve most conflicts … and the world would pay more attention to the gospel.






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I’ve recently been doing an intensive study of Numbers 16 … the story of Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron.

Korah and three of his colleagues … along with 250 community leaders … decide that they don’t want to follow Moses’ leadership anymore.

Why not?

The group approaches Moses and Aaron and says in Numbers 16:3: “You have gone too far!  The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them.  Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

Translation: “There is nothing special about you two leaders.  We are just as holy as you are.  So why are you always telling us what to do?  We’re not going to take it anymore!”

Moses and Aaron were old men.  It’s possible that Korah was much younger and felt he could do a better job at overseeing priestly duties than Aaron could.

But as the story proceeds, it’s obvious that God sides with Moses and Aaron and opposes the attempted coup.

Most church conflicts begin because a group inside the church believes that they know how to run the church better than the official leadership … usually the pastor.

Their attitude is, “We’re more spiritual than the pastor … we’re smarter … we’re more resourceful … we’re more in touch with the congregation … so we should be running the church rather than him!”

Whenever these conflicts arise in churches … and they arise all the time … most people miss the best way to resolve the conflict.

The question is not, “Who is best qualified to lead this church?”

The question is, “Who did God call to lead this church?”

Moses told the coalition in Numbers 16:11: “It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.”  They thought they were rebelling against two human leaders, but Moses says, “No, by rebelling against God’s leaders, you’re really rebelling against the Lord.”

Moses goes on in Numbers 16:28, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea.”  Then he proposes a test to determine who is on God’s side and who is not.

Early in my ministry, I inherited a church board full of wonderful men … all except for Don.

Don wanted to take our church back to the 1950s – even though it was the late 1980s – and he wanted us to reinvent ourselves into a small, Midwestern church … even though we were located in California.

I was trying to take the church forward, while he insisted we go backward.

Don had not been called by God to pastor a church … but he was called by friends to lead a rebellion.

Don had not been formally trained in biblical interpretation or pastoral ministry … but he knew something about politics and power.

Don had not been given the spiritual gifts of leadership or teaching … but he didn’t need those gifts to subvert his pastor.

Don had not been ordained to gospel ministry … but that didn’t matter to him.

Don held secret meetings … listed all my faults, including those of my wife and children … and then demanded that I resign.

The elders of Israel supported Moses and stood by him … and the elders in our church did the same.

Don’s group quickly left the church … started their own church a mile away … and used our church as their mission field.

But a year later, their church folded.

God had called Don to be a dock worker, not a pastor.

And He had called me to be a pastor, not a dock worker.

God had called Moses to lead Israel, not Korah.

And He had called Korah to be a Levite, not the leader of a nation.

Many church conflicts could be resolved if God’s people would take some time to read Scripture … do some reflection … and ask this question:

Who did God call to lead this congregation?

If the answer is Moses … follow him.

If the answer is your pastor … follow him.

But if you follow Korah … or Don … things aren’t going to work out for you … guaranteed.

All you’re going to do is hurt a lot of people … including you and your family.

If your pastor isn’t leading or preaching or pastoring like he could be … then pray for him … and love him … and listen to him … and support him … as long as he follows the Lord.

That’s far better than watching the ground open up and swallow you and your family whole.









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Four decades ago, I visited a church near my home to hear a famous theologian speak.

The church had recently called a new pastor, and he eventually became a household name among Christians worldwide.

A friend of mine attended that church, and years later, he told me that their leaders had conducted a study of their new members.

The result?  98% of their new members came from other area churches.

Years later, I attended a major Bible conference, and that famous pastor did a two-hour question-and-answer session.

Someone asked him, “What is your church doing in the area of evangelism?”

His response?  “That’s the next thing we’re going to look at.”

He had been senior pastor of that church for 15 years.

Something troubled me about his answer.

He was a Bible teacher par excellence, and while he was now leading a megachurch, the newcomers flocking to his ministry were almost exclusively believers from other congregations.

I once heard him say that he wasn’t trying to steal sheep from other churches, but his mission field seemed confined to nearby assemblies, which caused resentment among smaller church pastors.

As I learned in seminary, there are three ways a church grows:

*biological growth (the children of Christian parents receive Christ and stay in the church)

*transfer growth (the church expects they will attract new residents and believers from other churches)

*conversion growth (the church deliberately tries to reach spiritually lost people for Christ)

Most churches in America are growing because they attract dissatisfied believers from other congregations … but that’s never been Jesus’ design for His church.

Jesus’ Great Commission is presented in all Four Gospels and in Acts 1:8.  The best-known version is found in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus tells His disciples:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

There is one command in these verses: make disciples, which begins by winning lost people to Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn’t say:

“Make better believers of the already convinced.”

“Make members on a quarterly basis.”

“Make as many Baptists as you can.”

No, His first priority for His church in these verses is evangelism … making disciples of all nations … which starts with a church’s own community.

But in most churches … as was the case with that famous megachurch pastor … evangelism ranks dead last among church activities.  In what sense can such churches claim they are carrying out Jesus’ final orders?

I’ve discovered that churches that are serious about reaching their community do the following five things:

First, the pastor preaches from Scripture about issues that people care about.

I once preached through 2 Chronicles and began emptying out the church.  While I find that book fascinating, most people don’t.

What do people care about?  Their marriage … kids … health … job … finances … emotions … and future, for starters.

It’s easy to ask your neighbor or co-worker to church when the topic is marriage or raising kids.  It’s nearly impossible when the pastor is stuck in 2 Chronicles 12.

Since there are very few outstanding Bible expositors around, it’s better for most pastors to preach like Jesus did: topically.  (Jesus never did an exposition of any Bible book, but He sure quoted a lot of Old Testament verses.)

Second, the church makes sure that newcomers have a great worship experience.

My friend Gary McIntosh says that guests make 11 decisions about a church in the first 30 seconds.

If those first 30 seconds are great, the music, preaching, and after-service experience still need to be positive for people to return.

But if those first 30 seconds are uncomfortable or offensive, people rarely will return.  Churches only have one chance to make a great impression.

My wife and I once visited a church and were forced to stand outside the church doors for 10 minutes while they held a baptism.

We never went back.

Third, after several visits, guests are invited to join small groups and serve in entry-level ministries.

There’s a guaranteed way to keep people from becoming involved in your church: don’t invite them to anything.

The people in outreach-oriented churches personally invite family, friends, and co-workers to small groups and ministries.

Those in inwardly-focused churches don’t invite people because they’re thinking, “That’s my group … that’s my ministry … and those are my friends.”

Share your group and your ministry, and your church may grow.  Hog it, and it won’t.

Fourth, the church creates services and activities that appeal to unbelievers and believers alike.

When God’s people know that their worship services are consistently great, it’s natural for them to invite newcomers along.

And when God’s people know that an outreach activity will be done first class, they will definitely invite unbelievers from their network to attend.

I found that if a service or event was designed for unbelievers, our church worked much harder on it than if it was just for Christians.

I once oversaw an outreach event that featured a Christian illusionist.  We were forced to think and plan big, but the place was packed, and many people prayed to receive Christ that night.

Finally, the church reflects their outreach orientation in their mindset, staffing, budget, and ministries.

Mindset = the entire congregation is trained to invite people from their social networks as well as greet the newcomers around them at services.

Staffing = the church employs at least one person who is focused on outreach.

Budget = the church sets aside as much money as they can to reach their community for Christ.

Ministries = the church offers specific ministries for those who don’t yet know Christ.

I’ve visited scores of churches over the past few years and I can tell you this:

You can sense whether a church is outreach-oriented or inreach-oriented within the first few minutes.

How well is your church fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission?















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Do you know any pastors personally?

If so, are you under the illusion that they’re perfect?

My grandfather … father … step-father … and father-in-law have all been pastors.

They are godly men … in my mind, even great men.

But many pastors … if not most … wish they could be perfect … and sometimes put on the façade that they are.

But there are always people around a pastor to remind him that he is very, very fallible.

During my 36 years in church ministry, I did my best to make as few mistakes as possible … but I still made my share.

Here’s the first one:

When I was 19, I was hired by my church to work with the high school and college groups over the summer.

A few days after being hired, our church held a missions conference.

The first night, a missionary showed slides of the new Bible Institute that his organization had built in India.

The missionary was quite a character.  His presentation was hilarious.  I laughed … hard … along with everybody around me.

As soon as the service was over, the Church Gestapo confronted me and said that since I was now a paid youth leader, I needed to set a better example for the young people.

I told him, “But the presentation was funny!”  He agreed … but reiterated what he said anyway.

I learned two things from that initial encounter: first, as long as I was in ministry, some people were always going to be keeping me under surveillance; second, some people weren’t going to allow me to be normal.

That puts a lot of pressure on you to meet everyone’s expectations.

Fast forward ahead 35 years.

My wife had spent five days in the hospital with great abdominal pain.  She didn’t receive a diagnosis until Friday.  It was scary … but she was going to be okay.

Our church was holding a rare Saturday morning conference.  Should I stay at home and care for my wife or attend the conference?

If I didn’t attend the conference, some people might accuse me of being unsupportive … so I went.

I felt almost giddy.  I could dress down.  I had no duties.  I could be a person.

The conference speakers were excellent.

I sat in the back, and the only person near me was a woman I’d known for years.

From time-to-time, I turned around and made little comments to her about what was being said.  It felt good to be away from the hospital.

At the break, someone came up to me and reamed me out for being rude.

To quote Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again.

Was I rude?  I didn’t think so at the time, but maybe I was.  I certainly didn’t mean to be.

But once again, I had that feeling that I had to be perfect every time I came within three miles of the church campus.

In his book, Leadership That Works, Leith Anderson introduces the concept of “parish poker.”  He writes:

“Becoming a pastor is like joining a poker game.  Although I am neither a gambler nor a poker player, I know that at the beginning of a game each player has a limited number of chips to play with and must use them strategically to win.”

Anderson goes on:

“Churches generally give new pastors 50 to 100 ‘chips’ to get started.  After that, they either gain chips or lose what they have, depending on how well they learn the catalog of rewards and penalties the church runs by (which, of course, no one bothered to tell the new pastor about).”

Anderson then lists various behaviors and the number of chips involved:

Preach a good sermon (+2 chips)

Preach a bad sermon (- 8 chips)

Visit sick person in hospital (+7 chips)

Sick person dies (was expected to recover) (-10 chips)

Sick person recovers (was expected to die) (+40 chips)

Bring cookies to monthly board meeting (+ 1/2 chip)

Lose temper and shout at monthly board meeting (-25 chips)

In my last ministry, I thought I had earned thousands of chips over the years, so if I made a mistake, I’d still have thousands more left … but some people insisted that if I made even one mistake, I deserved to lose all my chips.

Sometimes “parish poker” doesn’t seem fair.

Let me make three observations about pastors and perfection:

First, expect that your pastor will disappoint you somewhere along the line.

He will say something in a sermon that will make you wince … or angry.

He will make a decision you don’t agree with.

He will make an inappropriate comment to you personally … laugh about something serious … or fail to greet you while passing.

I didn’t say you had to like it … just expect it.  He isn’t an angel, so don’t idealize him.

But realize this: every other pastor is just as imperfect.

Second, if you’re really upset with him, talk to him directly.

Whenever somebody spoke with me personally about my perceived misbehavior, I tried to thank them.  It takes courage to confront your pastor.

If you do it out of anger, your pastor will invariably become defensive.

If you do it calmly and lovingly, he will hear what you’re saying much better.

Try not to come off as the Church Gestapo.  Every church has them … and every pastor runs from them.

Finally, let your pastor be a person.

I read around 75 books for my doctoral program.  One of them was called The Pastor as Person.

The basic thesis of the book was this: the pastor is a person before he is a pastor.

Many pastors forget that they’re persons.  Since so many people at church want them to be angels instead, that’s what they try to be.

But after a while, a pastor has to stop trying to be somebody else and just be himself.

If you want your pastor to be an angel, you’re being unfair.  He can’t be who you want him to be.

But if you accept the fact that he’s human … and that he gets weak and tired and frustrated and even angry at times … then you’ll be doing him a great favor.

Because the New Testament tells us that Jesus was human … that, at times, He was weak and tired and frustrated and angry … and that He was made “a little lower than the angels.”

Jesus was morally perfect.  Your pastor isn’t.

But Jesus was also a person … a human being … and He had limitations.

Just like pastors.














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Several weeks ago, I heard a well-known pastor make this statement: “Christians should never defend themselves.”

The pastor said that when Jesus was arrested, He refused to defend Himself.

As 1 Peter 2:23 puts it: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Yes, Jesus suffered unjustly.  He did not engage in self-defense when He was charged with blasphemy against Jewish law and sedition against Roman law.

But suppose that after that well-known pastor finished preaching that day, when he went back to his office, he was met by two church leaders, along with two detectives.

And then one of the detectives told that pastor, “I am arresting you on suspicion of child abuse.”

Would that pastor hire an attorney to defend him against the charges?

Would that pastor protest his innocence to church leaders and to his congregation?

Would that pastor assure his family and friends that he wasn’t guilty of the charges made against him?

The answer in each case is a resounding, “Yes!” … but didn’t he just preach that Christians … including pastors … should never defend themselves?

I’ve never been a fan of such blanket statements, and believe that they defy both Scripture and common sense.

Let me try and offer some clarity on this issue:

First, pastors need to ignore most criticisms and slanders.

Why?  Because it’s easy to become so obsessed with your critics that you can’t get anything done.

In his classic book Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon provided wise counsel to young pastoral students in his matchless chapter “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear”:

“We would say of the general gossip of the village, and of the unadvised words of angry friends – do not hear them, or if you must hear them, do not lay them to heart, for you also have talked idly and angrily in your day, and would even now be in an awkward position if you were called to account for every word that you have spoken, even about your dearest friend.”

In Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline, he writes:

“The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation.  A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image.  We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding.  If I have done some wrong thing (or even some right thing that I think you may misunderstand), and discover that you know about it, I will be very tempted to help you understand my action!  Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification.”

When I was a young pastor, every criticism wounded me, regardless of the source.  But as I grew older … and hopefully, more mature … I learned to shrug off many comments.  I couldn’t let them divert me from what God wanted me … and our church … to be and to do.

And sometimes I would engage in self-talk and say, “Who are you to think that you can please everybody?”

Second, pastors do need to address major charges … sometimes publicly.

A megachurch pastor once told me that four of his staff members were making false accusations about him.  The four had joined forces and were hoping to push out the pastor so they could lead the church instead.

The pastor instantly called a meeting of the congregation, and when he did, three of those staff members instantly resigned … which should tell you something.

One Sunday afternoon, the pastor sat on the stage and answered question after question related to the charges and resignations of those staff members.  As I recall, the meeting lasted many hours.

The pastor was able to convince the congregation that the charges made against him were untrue, and he stayed as pastor of the church, which has since become one of America’s largest and most impactful.

If those four staff members had successfully driven their pastor from his position, where would that church be today?

And if the pastor had taken the advice, “Christians should never defend themselves,” where would he be today?

Spurgeon put it this way:

“Standing as we do in a position which makes us choice targets for the devil and his allies, our best course is to defend our innocence by our silence and leave our reputation with God.  Yet there are exceptions to this general rule.  When distinct, definite, public charges are made against a man he is bound to answer them, and answer them in the clearest and most open manner.  To decline all investigation is in such a case practically to plead guilty, and whatever may be the mode of putting it, the general public ordinarily regard a refusal to reply as a proof of guilt…. when the matter assumes more serious proportions, and our accuser defies us to a defense, we are bound to meet his charges with honest statements of fact.  In every instance counsel should be sought of the Lord as to how to deal with slanderous tongues, and in the issue innocence will be vindicated and falsehood convicted.”

In Matthew 19:17-20, Jesus told His twelve disciples that they would be brought before governors and kings and the Gentiles because of their allegiance to Jesus.  The Master said: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Notice Jesus doesn’t tell His followers, “Don’t defend yourself and say nothing.”  Rather, He says, “The Spirit will tell you what to say when you need to say it.”  In fact, isn’t the last quarter of the Book of Acts a recounting of Paul’s attempts to defend himself against false charges?

In addition, how many times did Jesus defend Himself against charges made by the Jewish leaders of His day?  Just read John chapters 5-9 and you’ll be amazed how adamantly Jesus defends Himself and His ministry against His critics.

But when it was time for Jesus to die, He refused to defend Himself, and even though He was abused, He left His reputation in the hands of His Heavenly Father.

Whenever you hear a statement like, “Christians should never defend themselves,” stop and ask yourself, “Is that what the whole Bible teaches on the subject?”

And then imagine yourself asking the speaker: “If you were falsely accused of a major offense, would you really refuse to defend yourself at all?”

What do you think?  When should a pastor ignore any charges made against him … and when should he defend himself?









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Like you, I’ve heard a lot in the past few days about U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Like you, I have some personal opinions about the wisdom of exchanging five terrorist leaders for the sergeant.

Like you, I wonder why Sgt. Bergdahl ended up being captured by the Haqqani network.

And like you, I don’t know whether Sgt. Bergdahl is guilty of desertion … or innocent … or something in between.

But I do know this: Sgt. Bergdahl has not yet told his side of the story … and until he does … we need to be very careful about making final judgments.

Why bring this up on a blog devoted to pastors and church conflict?


Several months ago, a friend and colleague sent me an email.

My friend had spent several hours with a pastor who was forced out of a church he had planted.

One of the staff members began spreading a rumor that the pastor and his wife were taking illegal drugs.

Someone called a public meeting.

When the pastor stood up to confront the charges being made about him, those who opposed him stood up and shouted, “You’re lying!”

Because they kept yelling at their pastor, he finally stopped talking and walked out of the church … and resigned soon afterward.

Satan couldn’t have planned it any better.

That pastor – and all pastors – need to be protected by the following safeguards in every church:

First, the pastor has the right to know any charges being made about him.

How many people told that pastor that people were saying he was taking illegal drugs?

My guess: few, if any.

I was recently told for the first time about a charge some people made about me 4 1/2 years ago.

The charge was 100% false, but why wasn’t I told about it sooner?  How many people believe it to this day?

And why wasn’t I ever given a chance to defend myself against that charge?

Second, the pastor has the right to meet with his accusers.

The staff member who made the accusation about drug usage needed to speak with the pastor and his wife before taking his charge to anyone else.

By taking his charge to others first, he could have ruined their reputations and careers.  What if the charge was totally false?

If a similar charge was made against a top leader in a secular corporation … and it proved to be false … the person making the charge would be dismissed and possibly sued for slander.

When people make charges against a pastor … but never make the charges to his face … they almost always exaggerate the charges.  Remember that.

Third, the pastor has the right to see any and all evidence against him.

What kind of evidence did the staff member have that the pastor and his wife were taking drugs?  Blood tests?  Photographs?  Eyewitness accounts?

Or was it all just speculation?

The pastor needed to be presented with all the evidence.

If the evidence was strong, the pastor might have privately asked for forgiveness … or gone into rehab … or resigned on his own … without involving the congregation.

But if the evidence was fabricated … or misinterpreted … then the pastor needed to be able to tell his side of the story.

Otherwise, when we don’t like a pastor, we can just manufacture lies about him, and he’ll be forced to leave … without anyone ever discovering where those lies originated.

Fourth, the pastor should never initially be confronted with a charge in public. 

Why would a staff member take a charge against his pastor public?

To embarrass him?  To humiliate him?  To use the power of the mob?

Yes, yes, and yes … but most of all, to engage in retribution.

Many of the charges that people make against pastors are really punitive in nature.

How can you tell?

Because the people making the charges never talk about restoring their pastor … or redeeming him … but only about removing him.

Where do we ever find that sentiment in the New Testament?

Finally, the pastor should be given due process whenever charges are made against him.

Many … if not most … churches lack such a process.

And even if they do have one, the process (found in church bylaws) is often ignored because people become anxious and overly-emotional.

But it’s critical that a pastor … as well as any spiritual leader … be allowed to have a hearing and tell his version of events.  Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”

When do church leaders ever question those who make charges against their pastor?

The ethos in most churches is that whenever people make accusations against a pastor, they’re almost always accurate.

But they aren’t … not by a long shot.

In the story about the pastor allegedly taking drugs, why did the pastor’s opponents shout him down when he tried to answer their charges?

Because they didn’t want their pastor to be given due process.  They had already selected themselves as judge, jury, and executioner, and in their eyes, he was guilty.

But if he had been allowed to speak, the truth would have exposed their own guilt and hatred, and they could not allow that to occur.

My prayer for churchgoers everywhere is that whenever they have concerns about their pastor’s character or behavior, they will insist on a fair process rather than immediately declare his innocence or his guilt.


I don’t know the complete truth about Sgt. Bergdahl.  Maybe nobody does right now.

But he shouldn’t be tried in the press, especially when he can’t answer the charges that people are making against him.

In the meantime, I’m going to try and keep an open mind about his guilt or innocence, especially after I read this article today from the pastor of the Bergdahl family:


He will have his day in court.  Then we’ll find out the truth.

But please remember: neither the mainstream media … nor social media … nor your dinner table … constitute a fair and final court.










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Even though the event happened thirty years ago, I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in my second pastorate.

As a young pastor, I was trying to put a new twist on some old practices … so one Sunday morning, I did communion differently.

I substituted pita bread for those small wafers, and used Styrofoam cups instead of the tiny plastic ones.

In my mind, it was just an experiment.

After the service, many people told me how much they enjoyed communion … especially the young couples.

As I recall, nobody voiced any objections … until the following Sunday.

At 10:55 that morning … five minutes before the service began … I stepped into the men’s room.  The church’s 77-year-old songleader joined me.

While standing where men momentarily stand, the songleader told me:

“I didn’t like the way communion was done last Sunday.”

I replied, “Well, many people told me how much they enjoyed doing communion differently.”

When I asked him why some didn’t like it, he responded, “Too unsanitary.”

And then he added, “And many people agree with me.”

I asked him, “How many?”  He replied, “Five.”

I then asked, “What are their names?”

He replied, “I’m not telling you that.”

My well-meaning friend … who has long since gone to be with Jesus … could have handled the situation much better.

In fact, let me share with you three tips for disagreeing with a pastor:

First, never confront a pastor right before or right after a worship service.

My friend had one full week to discuss his feelings with me.

He could have called me on the phone or set up an appointment.

Had he shared his concerns during the week, we could have had a relaxed discussion.

But right before a service, pastors are intensely focused on their message.  Their entire week culminates with their sermon.

Because pastors are usually sensitive individuals, one stray comment can negatively impact their feelings and thus their sermon, impacting an entire congregation.

After a pastor preaches, he’s drained … especially if he has to speak more than once.

Although pastors work hard to be gracious after they preach, they’ve emptied themselves spiritually and emotionally … and if people criticize him, his reactions can be unpredictable.

It’s far better to write the pastor an email on Monday or give him a call during the week … but let him go before and after he speaks.

Second, choose an optimal setting for dialogue.

I can’t speak for women, but men don’t have substantive conversations in a restroom.

The pastor’s study might be a good place for a discussion … or a restaurant … but not a place where men tend to get in and then get out.

I realize that some people see their pastor on a Sunday and think, “Oh, I meant to call him this past week, but he’s right there, so I’ll talk to him now.”

But the heavier the issue, the more time it requires … and the church patio is not the optimal place for discussion.

It’s better to say to the pastor, “There’s something I’d like to discuss with you this next week.  When would be the best time to talk?”

Then let the pastor tell you how to approach him … and I guarantee he’ll listen better.

Third, always speak for yourself when you have a disagreement.

My friend thought that if he told me that others agreed with him, it would add weight to his argument, but it had the opposite effect.

Because if you don’t tell me who you represent, I can’t verify the truthfulness of your claim.

All he needed to say was, “I didn’t like the way you did communion last week.”  Now the two of us can dialogue one-on-one.

But when you bring phantom individuals into the room … and you won’t tell me their names … what am I supposed to say?

“You’re right … I’ll never do that again?”

After that encounter, I learned to make an additional statement to anyone who called upon phantom witnesses:

“Please tell anyone who is upset to speak with me personally.  If they do, I promise to listen.  If they don’t, then I will assume the issue isn’t that important.”

Over the years, know how many phantom witnesses later came to me?

That’s right … not one.

That should tell you something.

Pastors are not popes or angels.  They make mistakes … and it’s all right to discuss their mistakes with them.

Just avoid sermon time, bathrooms, and phantom witnesses.









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