Archive for April, 2015

The latest statistics I’ve seen state that 28% of all pastors have experienced a forced termination at least once and that 1500 to 1900 pastors resign from church ministry every month … the majority of them being forced out.

When pastors are under attack inside their own church, they become shocked and disoriented.  They often go into hiding … wish they could run away … and sink into depression.

When politicians are under fire, they put out statements … hold press conferences … respond to their critics … and fight back.

But pastors?  More often than not, they tend to wilt, and when their critics sense that the pastor is on the ropes, they continue punching until the pastor is lying on the canvas … out cold … and out of ministry.

Why do most pastors handle conflict so poorly?

First, seminaries aren’t training pastors to expect church conflict.

In my book Church Coup, I recounted a story that happened to me nearly twenty years ago.

One Sunday evening, I spent five hours in the home of a well-known Christian leader who also taught at my seminary … although he wasn’t there when I was a student.

I asked this professor why pastors aren’t taught “street smarts” in seminary.  He said that the accreditation committee insisted that core classes be academic in nature (like Hebrew/Greek, hermeneutics, apologetics) and that practical issues like church conflict could only be covered with electives.

I did take a class in church conflict management in seminary … it met very inconveniently in the middle of the afternoon … and there were only eight of us in the class.  As a church staff member, I had just gone through a situation where my senior pastor had been voted out of office and I wanted to learn all I could about how to handle such situations better.

Since my Doctor of Ministry program was focused on church conflict, I also took a class in managing conflict from Dr. David Augsburger – one of the foremost authorities on personal/church conflict in the world – and wrote my final project (dissertation) on dealing with church antagonism using both the New Testament and family systems theory.

But even though I’ve had more formal training than many pastors in conflict management, that doesn’t mean that I’ve always handled the conflicts in my ministry expertly.

I believe that pastors need to supplement any seminary training they’ve received in conflict management by reading insightful books and by attending any conflict training they can find.

Because if and when churchgoers attack, you need to respond instinctively and decisively or you’re toast.

Second, church antagonists don’t fight by the rules.

Whenever there is a conflict in a church – especially one focused on the pastor – there are three primary sources for guidelines:

*There is the Bible … especially the commands, practices, and principles of the New Testament Christians.

*There is the church’s governing documents … the constitution and bylaws … which are often a summary of what the Bible teaches on a particular topic.  (For example, many bylaws use Scripture to summarize how to handle church discipline.)

*There is the law … especially what your state has to say about termination practices and ruining someone’s reputation and livelihood.

Pastors are well-versed in Scripture, and they assume that if they’ve done something to offend or anger another believer, that person will approach the pastor with a desire to make things right as the New Testament prescribes.

But no matter how many times pastors preach on Matthew 18:15-20, most people who are angry with the pastor don’t go and seek him out … often choosing to complain to their friends instead.

And when someone is so upset with the pastor that they want him to leave, they will circumvent Scripture altogether … avoid their church’s governing documents … and bypass the law as well.

Instead, they will attack the pastor using the law of the jungle.  They react emotionally … exaggerate his faults … deny him due process … and judge and sentence him without ever letting him respond to his accusers or their accusations.

We might say that while the pastor knows to handle conflict spiritually, his opponents choose to attack him politically.

There are ways to handle those who use the law of the jungle … and I love sharing them with pastors who are under fire … but when pastors discover that they’re being bludgeoned by lawless believers, they become disheartened and nearly quit from despair.

They ask themselves, “How can professing Christians act like this when they’re so clearly disobeying God?”

But the pastor needs to understand that his adversaries … often as few as 7 to 10 people … aren’t focused on keeping any rules, biblical or not … they’re focused on “mobbing” him until he quits under pressure.

Third, most pastors are sensitive individuals.

My friend Charles Chandler, the president of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, says that 77% of all pastors are feelers, not thinkers, on the Myers-Briggs Temperamental Analysis test.

That’s what makes them good pastors.

They empathize with their people’s hurts and struggles.  They feel joy when a couple gets married … sorrow when a church attendee suddenly dies … and exhilaration when a new believer is baptized.

Many men … and leaders … in our country are insensitive toward the hurting, but a good pastor feels what his people feel.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:29, “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

So when someone attacks a pastor, his first instinct isn’t to defend himself, or to fight back.

Instead, his first instinct is to feel numb … and shocked … and betrayed … and wounded.

I believe that a pastor’s antagonists have studied his personality and can predict how he will respond to their criticism.  They sense that his sensitivity plays into their hands and that he will choose to resign rather than fight them in any manner.

To fight back, the pastor needs to feel some outrage … to realize that an attack on his position is really an attack on the church as a whole.

But being sensitive … and acting nice … isn’t going to help him keep his position.

Finally, most pastors are blindsided by their attackers.

The late Ross Campbell was a Christian psychiatrist and a great man of God.  He wrote the Christian classic How to Really Love Your Child (his book changed my wife’s parenting) along with many other books on child raising.

He also had a heart for hurting pastors, especially those who experienced forced termination, and regularly attended the Wellness Retreats sponsored by the Ministering to Ministers Foundation as a consultant.

Here’s a picture of my wife Kim with Ross:

Trip to Knoxville Jan. 10-17. 2010 134

Ross shared with us the template for forcing out a pastor one evening, and since he had counseled hundreds of pastors and their wives, I wrote down everything he said.

Ross said that most pastors are asked to resign right after they return from having time away.  With the pastor away, the church board feels they can plot without the pastor becoming suspicious, and when he returns from his trip, he’s in a vulnerable state and not yet operating at an optimal level.

I hear this all the time from pastors: “It all happened so fast.  I didn’t see it coming.  I had no time to prepare … and I thought things were going so well.”

And that’s the whole point: when you return from a trip, you’re trapped in an emotional no-man’s land, and you’re in no mood to handle matters confidently.

When I was going through my conflict in the fall of 2009, I received a phone call from a megachurch pastor who knew all about what was happening to me.  He told me that one particular individual had been speaking negatively about me for years and that the whole plot had been in the works for some time.

This pastor encouraged me to fight back.  He told me that five ex-pastors attended his church and were miserable because they couldn’t find a new ministry.

In the end, I chose to resign, but if conditions had been different, I might have fought back.

But not long after our conversation, that megachurch pastor was abruptly forced to resign himself.  As soon as he left, his biography had vanished from the church website.

If you’re a pastor and you’re reading this, I encourage you to do some reading in the area of church conflict with a special emphasis on forced termination.

In fact, I’ll recommend some books on conflict management in my next article.

Doing such reading might sound negative, but believe me, it may just save your job … and your career.

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That doesn’t sound right, does it … why do some churchgoers hate their pastor?

Aren’t God’s people supposed to love their pastor instead?

Well, yes, most Christians do love their pastor, which is why they attend the church they do.

But the truth is that some Christians grow to despise their pastor over time … and when they act on their hatred, they have the capacity to destroy themselves … their pastor … and their congregation.

How do I know this?

I haven’t interviewed an extensive number of church attendees about pastor-hatred, and I haven’t seen any studies along this line.

After all, which Christians would honestly confess to a survey taker that they hate their pastor?

But I have spoken with numerous pastors about this problem … and have encountered individuals who hated me during my 36 years in church ministry.

And when one reflects upon how some parishioners act toward their pastor, hatred is the only possible explanation … and this is a primary factor in the large number of forced terminations in the wider Christian community.

So why do some believers hate their minister?

First, the pastor represents God to them.

The pastor is a man of God … who speaks from the Word of God … with the power of the Spirit of God … inside the church of God.

You would think that everyone would appreciate and welcome this phenomena, but that’s not true.

I once preached through the Gospel of Mark, and came to chapter 6, where King Herod beheaded John the Baptist.

That Sunday, an antagonist who had left the church a year before returned and sat twenty feet away from me with his arms crossed.

After the service, he complained to the board chairman that I had aimed the message directly at him.  The board chairman said, “Look at the bulletin.  Jim was in Mark 5 last week, and he’s in Mark 6 this week.”

But the antagonist was convinced that I was preaching at him, and his animosity toward me grew even greater.

It was only a matter of time before he led a rebellion against me.

When people aren’t leading a righteous life, the simple preaching of God’s Word may cause them to repent and change … or rebel even more.

And in such cases, that rebellion isn’t against the pastor, but the God the pastor represents.

But God is unapproachable, hidden away in heaven, and the pastor is right there in the flesh, available and visible … and in some strange way, taking him down is a way of taking God down.

Second, the pastor reminds them of an authority figure.

Maybe the pastor looks a little like their dad … or he has a similar sense of humor to an abusive boss … or his voice and mannerisms make them recall a former professor.

When you’re a pastor, you can’t possibly know who feels this way about you … nor should you know.  You need to be yourself when you preach, not somebody else.

I would think that someone who feels this way would want to leave the church, but much of the time, they’ll stay and stew if the rest of their family likes the pastor.

When I was growing up, pastors were definitely authority figures.  In our day, many pastors want to be liked so much that they bend over backwards to come off as friends, not leaders.

But when a pastor has a strong personality and makes bold statements, you’ll usually find some rebellion … and even some hatred.

Third, the pastor consistently tells them how to live.

Who has this role in our culture?

I can only think of two individuals … parents and pastors.

School teachers instruct their students in academic subjects.  Employers insist that workers do their jobs.  Uncle Sam wants to make sure that citizens comply with the law.

But which authority figures in our society have the role of “all-around life coach?”

Once a person leaves home, there’s only one possibility … a pastor.

When a pastor is doing his job, he’s preaching on what God’s Word says about marriage … raising kids … obeying the government … being faithful in the marketplace … observing ethical guidelines … and relating wisely to God.

You can welcome the pastor’s role … as most people do … or you can resent his role … as some do.

I think of the comment made about Jesus on the day of His crucifixion, when the crowd said, “We will not have this man to rule over us!”

Translation: we’re not going to follow His teaching.  It’s too challenging and convicting … and worst of all, we’ll have to change the way we live … and we’re not about to do that!

And when a pastor talks about surrendering your life to the Lordship of Christ, that’s precisely what some people refuse to do … and some might even be church leaders!

What did they do with Jesus?  They got rid of Him … and twenty centuries later, things haven’t changed all that much.

Fourth, the pastor hurt them in some fashion.

Maybe it was something he said from the pulpit … or something he said in passing on the patio … or something he said in a counseling session … or even something he said in a board meeting.

Whatever the pastor said, he probably doesn’t know about it … and won’t be given the opportunity to clarify his remarks or make things right.

Some people who become hurt by others ruminate on their wound.  They rehearse it over and over … work themselves into a tizzy … and tell everyone how badly they were treated.

Some stop going to church altogether.  Some leave that particular church.  Some only attend periodically.

But some are determined that they are going to stay … and their pastor has got to go.

Before I left my last ministry, I was told that someone absolutely hated me.  I never found out what I did or said to make them hate me … and if I guessed, I’d probably be wrong … but I’m confident that hatred spread to others.

Hatred always does.

In fact, a primary reason why some people hate their pastor is that one or two of their friends hate him … and to stay friends, they need to comply with that hatred rather than challenge it.

Finally, the pastor possesses inferior knowledge … skills … and leadership ability.

Some churchgoers believe that if they could trade places with their pastor, their church would become much more efficient and successful.

These people imagine themselves preaching better than their pastor … leading better than him … and managing the church plant and finances in a manner superior to him.

Some of these individuals were called to the ministry years before, but resisted that call … and now they feel guilty.

So when they notice something around the church that isn’t going well, they imagine what would happen if they were in charge … and they tightly embrace that thought.

And in some cases, it’s true … they probably could surpass the pastor’s talent level in some key areas.

But God didn’t call them to lead or pastor their congregation.  God called their current pastor … and if they don’t like it, they should leave, not him … because chances are good that most people love their pastor.

I don’t revel in discussing issues like these, but somebody has to do it, because there’s far more hatred directed at pastors in our day than we realize.

Pastors can sometimes feel that hatred … especially while preaching … but other times, it’s cleverly disguised.

My hope is to start people thinking … conversing … and interacting with one another … so we can devise biblical, honest, and loving ways to deal with these issues in the church of Jesus Christ.

I’m sure I didn’t exhaust the reasons why some people hate their pastor.

What reasons can you think of?

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Many years ago, I read a quote from a pastor describing church ministry that went something like this: “You are either entering a crisis, in the midst of a crisis, or coming out of a crisis.”

Like most pastors, I survived many crises during my 36 years in church ministry, including rebellious staff … plunging donations … crooked contractors … draining antagonists … worship wars … false accusations … and many others.

Before I resigned from my last ministry more than five years ago, I began observing how my friends … at least, people I considered to be friends … responded toward their departing pastor.

I’m unsure if my experience is typical, but I offer this up especially for my pastor friends who have gone through a crisis that still affects them … especially a forced termination.

I believe that pastors have five kinds of friends when they go through a crisis:

First, a pastor has professional friends. 

This list includes pastoral colleagues and denominational leaders.

At least in my case, most of my pastor friends simply weren’t there for me.

If you’re a pastor and you’ve gone through a forced termination, you’ll discover that many – if not most – of your pastor friends will distance themselves from you.  They won’t contact you … listen to you … encourage you … or pray with you.

And in most cases, when you leave your church, your relationships with those pastors will end forever.

Is it because they’re busy?  Lack the time to find out what happened?  Don’t want to interfere with a pastor/church conflict?

I don’t really know.  But I’ve come to learn that those friendships usually vanish.

As far as district personnel … those relationships usually end as well.  Most district ministers relate to the pastors in their jurisdiction as professionals, so when a pastor leaves, he’s quickly forgotten … and the district minister tries to forge a relationship with that church’s new pastor.

To his credit, my district minister – even though he had only been on the job one month – met with me … heard me out … encouraged me … and called me the month after I left … which is more than most district ministers ever do when a pastor has been forced to leave.

Second, a pastor has church friends who betray him.

This includes:

*those who believe the first accusations they hear about the pastor

*those who quickly forge ties with the pastor’s detractors

*those who cut off all contact with the pastor

*those who initially support the pastor when he’s around but turn against him after he leaves town

If someone never liked their pastor … or criticized him incessantly … that person cannot by definition become guilty of betrayal.

Betrayal is reserved for those who were friends with the pastor but turned against him when it became expedient or popular.

In my case, I was surprised by some of the people who turned against me.  I had spent hours with certain individuals … in counseling, in ministry, outside of church … and thought our friendship could withstand almost anything.

So I was initially shocked that some deserted me so quickly … but I’m not alone.

Jesus’ disciples all ran for their lives after His arrest, didn’t they?

And Paul wrote to Timothy, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.  May it not be held against them” (2 Timothy 4:16).

As I wrote in my book Church Coup, many pastors view people in their congregations as friends, but those same people really don’t view the pastor as their friend … only as their current minister.

When I had strong proof that someone had betrayed me, I unfriended them on Facebook.  I wasn’t going to give them a portal into my life or feelings.  In one case, a woman whom I had unfriended made three requests to be friends again on Facebook, but I ignored her … especially when I discovered that she had severely criticized my wife in a public meeting after we left.

When you’re pastoring a church, you have to be “friends” with everybody.  When you’re no longer pastoring that church, you can choose those you want as friends.

It’s an empowering choice.

But sometimes a friend still believes in you, but the friendship dies anyway.

There was a man in my last church that I considered a good friend.  We did some things outside church together, and he was fiercely loyal when the bullets started flying over my head.

A couple of years after I left, I returned to the community where our former church was located, and I invited him out for a meal.  He did most of the talking, and never asked me one thing about how I was doing.

As painful as it was to accept, I knew that relationship was history.

Third, a pastor has friends who remain supportive but with whom he loses contact.

When some pastors experience a forced termination, they encourage their loyal followers to leave the church, and if they sense enough of them are willing to go, they consider using those people as a core group to start a new church … but I believe that’s unethical.

In my case, I encouraged everyone to stay at the church … both publicly and privately.

But while many initially stayed, more and more left over time.

Sometimes they called or wrote and told me why they left.  Sometimes I heard from someone else that they had left.

Some of those friends went to another church or stopped going to church at altogether … casualties of the conflict.

Some moved away from the community but chose to stay in touch via Facebook or email … at least for a while.

There is a natural attrition to all of our relationships, most of which are geographically based.

When we’re living in the same community with someone, and we see them all the time, it feels like that friendship will never end.

But when one of those friends moves away, the relationship changes, and in many cases, withers away.

But I am grateful to every single person who remained supportive, even if we’ve lost touch over time.  And if we make contact again, I hope we can pick up where we left off.

Fourth, a pastor has church friends who stay in contact with him.

On my final Sunday morning more than five years ago, I stood in the pulpit and preached one last time.

If I had surveyed the congregation and guessed which individuals would still be my friends five years later, I would have guessed wrong.

Some that I thought would be friends forever surrendered our friendship for good … but thankfully, others I didn’t anticipate stepped up to take their place.

In fact, I have developed many new friends through this experience, none of whom care about my history … and many of those friends are pastors who have undergone their own crises.

I have also discovered that on the whole, women are much more loyal as friends than men.  They are better listeners, more understanding, more empathetic, more responsive than men, and more spiritually oriented.

It was exclusively men who initially turned on me … even if their wives were supportive of their actions.  Maybe this shouldn’t surprise us since women were much more loyal to Jesus after His death than His own handpicked disciples.

Here’s a basic rule of thumb: I can still be good friends with those who attend my former church, but in most cases, I can be better friends with those who no longer attend the church.

Those who still attend the church naturally feel loyal to their current pastor and leadership team.  But that means that neither of us will ever feel entirely comfortable discussing what is happening at the church currently … and that may color how we view incidents from the past.

It’s easier for me to be authentic with those who no longer attend the church because we’re freer to be transparent.

Finally, a pastor has personal friends who will always be there for him.

When a pastor comes to a church … especially if he plans to stay for many years … he gradually comes to view his church family as his real family.  I suppose this kind of thinking is necessary for a successful ministry because the pastor’s whole life revolves around that congregation.

But the flip side is that the pastor often ends up neglecting his family members and old friends who live elsewhere because he is so immersed in congregational life.

In my case, all of my old friends remained my friends.  And when I moved back home to Southern California, many wanted to get together again, even though we hadn’t seen each other in decades.

These friends didn’t care about a conflict in a church hundreds of miles away.  They just wanted to renew our friendship and laugh about old times.

And I can’t say enough for my family members … on both my wife’s side and my side.  Over the past five years, I have gotten to know them much better, and have developed an abiding love and respect for them that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

For those of you who have stuck by me these past few years, I now know who my real friends are.

And I thank God for your listening ears (and I haven’t always been easy to hear) … your encouragement … and your prayers.

You have not only demonstrated real friendship, but authentic faith as well.

You mean more to me than you’ll ever know … and I hope I can be half the friend to you that you’ve been to me.

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Over the years, I’ve witnessed some pretty volatile moments in the churches I’ve served.

*During my first pastorate, I was teaching on the resurrection of Christ at a midweek study.  When I mentioned that Christ’s resurrection couldn’t be scientifically proven, a board member stood up, barked, “Then we’re all wasting our time here,” walked out of the room, and slammed the door hard.

*In my next ministry, I threw some hymnbooks into the dumpster.  They were so old that even the Rescue Mission wouldn’t take them.  The greatest antagonist I’ve ever had in any church found them (I should have thrown them out at home) and told anyone who would listen that I was throwing out the old hymns and therefore should be tossed on the trash heap myself!

*Years later, in another church, a board member became visibly angry during three separate meetings.  He kept promising to accomplish certain tasks, but didn’t get anything done, and when another board member called him on it, he went ballistic.

In addition, I’ve seen a board member stand up and lash out at a woman during a congregational meeting … had staff members adamantly refuse what I asked them to do … been fiercely challenged about my theology seconds after preaching … and on and on and on.

And from what I’ve heard from other pastors, most of the churches I served were mild in the volatility department compared to theirs.

Let’s be honest: Christians don’t handle anger very well.

We know that anger is often sinful and is one of the more overt misbehaviors in Christ’s church … so much so that Paul devoted 8 key verses to anger in Ephesians 4:25-32 … among the greatest words ever written on the subject.

I’m particularly interested in verses 26 and 27:

“In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Let me share four thoughts about anger in the church from these verses:

First, every Christian, being human, feels angry at times.  We may not like admitting this, and may even try to hide our feelings, but there are times when each of us becomes very upset … even at church … and even with the best of God’s people.

In fact, Paul implies that this is normal behavior.

Just feeling angry isn’t sinful by itself.  If we can control how we feel, and express it constructively, our anger can do much good.

But unfortunately, many Christians don’t express their anger very well.  They suppress it until it explodes.  (I heard one pastor say that there was a psychologist in his congregation who claimed that the pastor had more suppressed anger than anyone he had ever known.)  Or they unleash it at the most inopportune times.

Second, it is possible to become angry without sinning.  Just because I feel angry doesn’t mean that I have to express that anger verbally.  I can choose to distract myself … pause before speaking … walk away … or deal with the source of my anger.

Put another way, I can control my anger rather than letting my anger control me.

Every time God issues a command in Scripture, He is saying to His people, “Not only do I want you to do this, I expect that you will do this.  You have the power to choose.”

For years, I became angry every time I was driving and another car came up behind me and tried to force me to change lanes.  If he kept pushing me, I’d finally get over, but then I’d yell at him and sometimes even chase him … both stupid, dumb, counterproductive actions.

I told myself, “This happens so often that I have to come up with a plan for dealing with my feelings.”  So with God’s help, I did.  Here’s what I do now:

If another car demonstrates road rage in my rear view mirror, I get in the next lane … let off the gas … and verbally say to the Lord, “May You send a Highway Patrol officer to arrest that driver.”

Works for me.

If someone at church keeps getting on your nerves, come up with a plan in advance on how you’re going to respond … and if possible, ask a friend or family member if you can be accountable to them for your behavior.  Sometimes that plan involves using several different phrases that you can pull out of a hat to defuse the situation … or better yet, just ask the other person a question, such as, “What do you mean by that?”

Worked for Jesus.

Third, resolve any lingering anger that very day.  If Christians took to heart Paul’s phrase, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” we’d have far fewer divorces among Christian married couples … and almost no destructive conflicts in churches.

Paul encourages God’s people to resolve that day’s conflicts before sunset … or, in the case of family members, before bedtime.

This summer, my wife and I will be celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary.  Since we both have strong personalities … even though our temperaments are exact opposites … we sometimes cross verbal swords with each other.

It’s okay for us to disagree with each other … to express how we really feel at the time … and even to show a little anger.  (I once heard evangelist Luis Palau say that if a husband and wife agree on everything, one of them is retarded.)

What isn’t okay is for us to go to bed angry with each other.

Early in our marriage, there were a lot of nights where we stayed up until midnight trying to iron out our latest disagreement.  We were determined to obey this verse and not “let the sun go down” while we were still angry.

My guess is that we’ve only gone to bed angry with each other a handful of times over those forty years, and in every case, we quickly resolved matters the following morning.

This concept is so important that I believe that every successful married couple practices it.  It’s unbearable to live in the same house day after day when you’re ticked off at your partner.

But the context in Ephesians 4 isn’t marriage, but the local church … and for some reason, when another Christian wrongs us … or we wrong someone else … we quickly become hurt … even angry … and rather than resolve matters by moving toward the other person, we move away from them, which creates distance.

And then we recite the hurt to others in hopes of seeking allies.

Most of the time, when someone in the church became visibly angry in my presence, I was able to listen … calm the person down … hear what they were upset about … and suggest a way to resolve matters.

But since most Christians believe they shouldn’t become angry … and should never express that anger … they just push their feelings underground, and it surfaces in the form of avoidance … sarcasm … gossip … slander … and even rage.  (Paul was cognizant of the phenomenon of unresolved anger, commanding us in verse 31 to “get rid of all bitterness … rage and anger … brawling and slander … with every form of malice.”)

I’ve heard that pastors on the whole are an angry bunch … probably because we have a lot of be angry about.  And sadly, I must confess that there have been times in my ministry when I overreacted … said something stupid … failed to restrain my emotions and language … and deeply hurt someone else in the process.

If and when that happens, I need to make things right with the target of my wrath as soon as possible because:

Finally, unresolved anger invites Satan’s influence into a church.  Paul says that when believers don’t resolve matters before sunset, we are giving the devil “a foothold” into our life … and into our church family.

In fact, bitterness (mentioned specifically by Paul in verse 31) is probably the leading cause of church conflict … church splits … and pastoral termination.

It’s okay to share with another believer that I am upset about something they said or did … as long as I “speak truthfully” to my neighbor and remember that “we are all members of one body” (verse 25).

In other words, it’s fine to be assertive as long as I’m not aggressive (being assertive + angry) in the process.

But when I’m aggressive instead of assertive … and when I fail to speak directly to the person I’m upset with … and when I involve others in my dispute … then I’m making a situation worse, not better.

And Satan rubs his hands with glee, because now he has an entry point into the congregation: my own bitterness.

But I don’t want the devil to roam free throughout my church family.  Instead, I want the Holy Spirit of God to have free rein (verse 30) and I want the devil chased away.

Paul concludes Ephesians 4 with one of the greatest statements in all of Scripture: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Translation: you’ve been angry with God and others on many occasions, haven’t you?  And every time you’ve approached the Father and sought forgiveness, He’s forgiven you, correct?

Then when others are upset with you … even when their anger is unjustified … forgive them unilaterally.

And do everything possible to rectify matters with your brothers and sisters so you can reconcile with them … just as the Father reconciled Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

As I think back over my life and ministry, I find that I’m not upset about the people who came to me and bludgeoned me with their anger.  Sometimes these were good people who were hurting in another area of their life and sensed I was a safe person to unload on.

No, I’m much more upset that I said or did something that may have driven someone else away from the Lord or His people … and that, if I did sense their pain, I didn’t resolve matters as soon as possible.

What are your thoughts … and feelings … about anger in the church?

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Good afternoon, church family.  I’ve called this meeting today to share with you some additional perspective about the resignation of our now-former senior pastor, George Anderson.

Pastor George served our church effectively for nine years.  Under his leadership, our attendance doubled, we’ve made inroads into our community, and many lives have been changed.  For much of this time, I’ve served on the church board alongside him, and now serve as chairman.

As you may know, Pastor George had big dreams for our congregation’s future, and he was eager to share those dreams both in public and in private.

But over the past several years, two groups opposed to his plans emerged inside our church.  One group was dead set against Pastor George’s desire to build a new worship center.  The other group felt that it was time for Pastor George to leave.

When I first heard about these groups and their dissatisfaction with the pastor, I involved other elders and met with leaders from both groups separately, listening to them, answering their questions, and letting them know that I cared for them.

I told them our policy here at Grace Church: if you have a problem with the pastor personally, then you need to sit down and discuss it with him directly.  But if you have a problem with our future plans or church policies, then you need to sit down and discuss your concerns with any of the elders.  If we believe your concerns have merit, we’ll take them to the next elder meeting, discuss them, and get back to you with our decision.

This is exactly what we did on several occasions with members from both groups.  They seemed satisfied for a few weeks, but then they’d start complaining all over again.

Then somewhere along the line, the two groups merged into one.

In the meantime, various members of this new group began bypassing the board and complaining directly to the pastor.  But they didn’t just express their concerns: they began verbally abusing him, threatening his position and career, and promising to leave the church en masse if he did not agree to their demands.

At this point, I stepped in, trying to mediate the situation between Pastor George and this new group.  But The Group wouldn’t budge an inch.  They all threatened to leave the church if Pastor George did not resign.

Looking back, I made two mistakes at this juncture:

First, I should have recommended bringing in a conflict mediator or a conflict consultant to try and resolve matters between the pastor and The Group.  Whenever a group in the church says, “Either he leaves or we leave,” the conflict cannot be resolved from inside the church.  I didn’t know this at the time.  Now I do.

Second, I should have stood more solidly behind the pastor. There are several individuals in The Group with whom I have been friends for years, and I couldn’t bear for them to leave the church.  But The Group interpreted my wavering as a lack of support for the pastor and turned up the heat for him to resign.  They began spreading rumors about him and his wife that simply weren’t true, and unfortunately, some people began to believe them.

When some people began attacking Pastor George and his family, he came to me with tears in his eyes and said, “This has got to stop.  We can’t take this anymore.  I am willing to offer my resignation in exchange for a severance package that will allow me to support my family until I can discern God’s next assignment for me.”

So the elders reluctantly accepted Pastor George’s resignation and unanimously decided to give him a fair and generous severance package so he and his family can heal in the days ahead.

But not only must Pastor George and his family heal: the people of Grace Church need to heal as well.

I have learned that in almost every situation where a senior pastor is forced to resign, the elders/church board do their best to act like nothing happened.  They sweep sinful behavior under the rug, pretend to start over, and privately blame the departing pastor for everything negative that happened.

But that is not going to happen here at Grace.

Let me briefly share four steps that the elders are going to take to bring healing to our church:

First, the elders are going to identify and confront the members of The Group with their abuse toward Pastor George.

We made it very clear to members of The Group how to handle their disagreements with Pastor George, and they handled matters with power, not with love, which is not the way the New Testament specifies.  Therefore, the elders will be meeting with every person in The Group.

We will ask each person to repent of their sin toward Pastor George, the elders, and this church family.

If they refuse, we will ask them to leave the church.

If they agree, we will ask for them to contact Pastor George and apologize.  We will also let them attend the next meeting of the elders to apologize to us as well.

If they wish to stay in the church, they cannot hold a position of leadership for at least two years, and we will carefully monitor their conduct.  We don’t want a repeat performance with a new pastor.

If you have been part of The Group, and you’d like to confess your part in our pastor’s departure, the elders will be available here at the front after today’s meeting.

Second, the elders will not tolerate any attempts to destroy Pastor George’s reputation or career.

The elders felt that Pastor George was a man called by God when we invited him to be our pastor, and we still feel that way today.  As a human being, he made some mistakes at times during his tenure here, but he was never guilty of any major offense against Scripture.

When many pastors are forced to resign, some people inside that church later scapegoat the pastor for anything and everything that went wrong during his tenure.  But this is playing into the devil’s hands, and we will not allow this to occur.

We believe that once he heals, Pastor George has a bright future in ministry, and the elders will do all in their power to make sure that Pastor George is spoken of in the highest terms here at Grace.

Third, the elders are aware that some people are going to leave the church over this situation.

If you came to this church because of Pastor George’s ministry … and most of you did … I ask that you stay and help make Grace a great church.

If you find that you miss Pastor George a great deal, will you come and speak with me or one of the elders?  If after a few months, you wish to leave the church, just let us know that’s why you’re leaving.

If you want to leave the church because of the way the elders are handling things today, then be my guest.

I didn’t know this until the last several weeks, but whenever a pastor is forced out, many people leave the church.

When the elders keep quiet about why the pastor left, the healthy people leave.

When the elders are open about why the pastor left, the troublemakers leave.

Guess which group we want to stay?

Finally, the elders welcome your questions, comments, and concerns.

In many churches, when the pastor resigns under pressure, the elders put a gag order on the staff and congregation, telling them they are not to discuss matters at all.

But that’s how dysfunctional families operate, and we want to operate in a different manner: we want to tell the truth in love.

There are some matters that we will not discuss openly, not so much for legal reasons, but because we prefer to handle matters behind the scenes.  If the elders sense that we need to go public with an issue, we may do that through the church website, the newsletter, through small group meetings, or through another public congregational meeting.

Our methodology is to tell you as much as we can rather than tell you as little as we can.

If you want to know why Pastor George resigned, please contact him directly.  If he wishes to speak, great.  If he doesn’t, that’s his business.  We are not going to try and control him, and he is not going to try and control us.

The unity of a church is fragile at a time like this, and we’re tempted to blame various groups or individuals for what’s happened.

But I believe that unity is based on truth … not on cover ups or lies … and we’re going to put that theory to the test.

Do you have any questions for me?


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Contrarian Christians

“You’ll never be popular.”

That’s what a retired policeman told me after I had preached a sermon early in my pastoral career.

He told me that my sermon was great, but that if I preached that way in the future, many churchgoers weren’t going to like it.

He was probably right.

Some Christians … and I count myself as one … do not always agree with certain popular teachings or practices in the Christian church.

In fact, just because they’re popular doesn’t mean they’re right … or even wise.

When you think outside the mainstream, you might just be a contrarian … even if you’re a follower of Jesus.

Let me give you several illustrations of what I’m talking about:

*The words to a well-known chorus state, “An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.”

Is that true?

I hear that phrase “the empty grave” used as evidence of Jesus’ resurrection all the time … but according to Scripture, the empty grave didn’t convince the women (Luke 24:1-3), Peter (Luke 24:12) or Mary Magdalene (John 21:10-13) that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Most people were convinced by Jesus’ appearances to them, not by the empty grave, which even the Romans tried to exploit (Matthew 28:11-15).

And yet every Easter, we hear that Jesus is alive because of the empty grave.

But it just isn’t true.

*If you’re a Christian, you must have a quiet time every day.

Where are the Bible verses that say this?

They aren’t there.

There are many verses that espouse the wisdom of prayer and communing with God, but how many of God’s people in either Testament owned their own Bibles?

Very, very few …  and nobody owned all 66 books.

Yes, having a daily quiet time is a wonderful practice, and I can attest to its blessing.

But if you miss a quiet time here and there, you haven’t sinned, nor should you feel guilty … and pastors shouldn’t intimate that’s the case when Scripture doesn’t say that.

*And then there’s the idea of church membership.

Several months ago, I had breakfast with several pastors.  Somehow we began talking about church membership.

One of the pastors was very enthusiastic about membership.  He believes that when people commit themselves to a church, great things will happen in their lives.

Maybe so … but I hold a different view.

I’m not against church membership, but I’ve never been a big fan of the practice.  I could tell you story after story where (a) formal church members weren’t committed, (b) nobody in leadership did anything about it, and (c) some non-members were far more committed to Christ and the church than many members were.

Besides, I don’t find the idea of formally “joining a church” anywhere in the New Testament, so to me, it’s an optional practice, not one that’s essential.

My wife and I attended one of America’s largest churches … a place where people are coming to Christ right and left … and they don’t have membership.  They have covenants for leaders and teachers, but no formal membership process.

I like their approach much better than traditional membership.

Now if I attend a church and I don’t completely agree with their views on Jesus’ resurrection, quiet time, and church membership, what should I do about it?

*I can keep silent and never discuss my views with anybody … but how will I learn or grow if I do that?  (And what if I’m right and they’re wrong?)

*I can speak only to my spouse or a close friend in confidence … but that puts a lot of pressure on one or two individuals to listen to me, especially if I hold many contrarian views.

*I can speak privately with the pastor … a staff member … an elder/deacon … or another leader … and ask them questions or challenge their beliefs … but in all honesty, many church leaders view those with minority views (even if they’re biblical) as nuisances to be tolerated or ignored.

*I can leave that church and try to find another church where all my views line up with theirs … but there is no church utopia anywhere.

*I can attend church sporadically or even quit church altogether … but then I’ve isolated myself from many of God’s people.

*I can write a blog, share my views in writing, and ask people to interact with my ideas … which is what I’ve chosen to do … because I hold a lot of contrarian views … especially when it comes to church conflict and pastoral termination.

But Christian contrarians pay a price: they ultimately end up feeling isolated … alone … and very, very different.

I’ve identified five reasons why I’ve become a Christian contrarian.  See if any of these resonate with you:

*I grew up in a Christian home where we went to five church meetings every week because my father was a pastor.  While I had many friends, my parents taught a strict morality: no smoking, alcohol, moviegoing, dancing, card playing, or listening to rock music.  When you’re told that Jesus might not take you to heaven at the rapture if He finds you in a movie theatre, you can’t help but define yourself as being an outsider.

*My father died when I was 13, and all my other friends had fathers who taught them how to tie a tie, drive, and ask girls out on dates.  When you grow up without a dad or mom, it’s easy to feel abnormal.

*In social settings, I’m an extrovert when I’m in charge, but an introvert when I’m not.  And when I’m not in charge, I can feel very uncomfortable … even awkward.

*In seminary, I had to attend chapel four days a week, and my best friend Dave … now the pastor of a thriving church … sat next to me in the back row.  Dave continually commented on and rebutted anything he disagreed with, and after a while, I started thinking like him.  If you’re a contrarian, it’s likely that another contrarian heavily influenced you.

*I’ve been reading Scripture regularly since my early teens, and I have a good grasp of its major themes and practices, but when I hear a pastor teach something that Scripture doesn’t teach … no matter who says it, or how often it’s repeated … my “church crap” monitor immediately blares …  and I’m powerless to turn it off.

Know what?  Our churches are populated with many Contrarian Christians, but they’re never completely comfortable because, in the words of Paul Simon, they “think too much.”

And in the average Christian church, only the pastor and a handful of other leaders are allowed to do much thinking at all.

So Contrarian Christians never feel at home in a local church.  They have too many questions … too many uncertainties … and too many struggles to always buy the party line.

So they come off as partially committed … agreeing with most church beliefs … but questioning a lot of church practices.

In my last blog post, I mentioned some struggles I’ve been having during the thirty-minute “worship” time in most churches.  Over the past five years, I’ve probably attended 60-70 different churches, so I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in Christendom these days.

And what I see sometimes disturbs both my mind and my spirit (like singing one song for 8-10 minutes).

Since I’m no longer a pastor, what am I supposed to do with my thoughts and feelings?

Rather than monopolize my wife’s attention with my concerns, or just suppress who I am, I’ve chosen to write this blog, where I can express my thoughts … state my case … test my theories … and solicit further input.

That may work for me, but what about the average Christian Contrarian?

Many of them feel they just don’t fit anymore, and so they’re slowly but sadly walking away from church altogether.  In fact, I’m convinced this is a major reason why many believers have stopped going to church for good.

I once shared a view I have on a major social issue with a megachurch pastor.  He blurted out, “You can’t say that!”

It’s not something I’ve read or heard anywhere else, but I believe my view might make an important contribution to the whole debate about that issue.

My view isn’t anti-biblical or heretical.  It’s just a different way of looking at things.

Is that good?

I believe it is.

But when or how could I express that view in today’s local church?

I can’t, because most churches lack any kind of forum for discussion or dissent.  I might be labeled as a non-conformist … a troublemaker … or, God forbid, an independent thinker.

In my opinion, if churches would make room for the Contrarian Christians in their midst, they’d keep more of their people, and might learn something in the process.

After all, in His day, our Founder was the Biggest Contrarian of Them All.

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Last Sunday was Easter.

My wife and I arose before dawn and left the house at 6:20 am so we could arrive early for the 7:00 service at a local megachurch.

The service ended around 8:10, and as we got in the car to go out for breakfast, I wondered, “What just happened in that service?”

There was nothing heretical … nothing sensational … nothing offensive … nothing unusual … but nothing memorable, either.  In fact, the message – on Easter – barely touched on Christ’s resurrection.

I’m a pastor’s kid.  I grew up in churches that had the same order of service every week.  The hymn titles and the pastor’s message title changed from week to week, but that was about it.

Services were entirely predictable.  We sang all the stanzas of every hymn.  The pastoral prayer was around ten minutes long.  The choir sang an anthem while dressed in robes.  A public invitation ended every service.

I don’t want to return to that kind of service … but right now, I’m wondering why the worship in all too many churches has become stale … boring … and even predictable.

I sense by voicing my thoughts that I’m on somewhat dangerous ground, but I’ll forge ahead anyway … and I am not aiming this article at any church in particular because where I live, most churches are doing the exact same kind of service.

I have four questions about contemporary worship as I see it practiced in a great majority of churches today:

First, why do most contemporary worship services consist only of praise songs and preaching?

There is a strain of thinking practiced among Christian churches today that says that worship = music.

Want proof?

We call the staff member who leads the singing of praise music the “worship director.”

And when the worship director is standing before the congregation, he will often say something like, “Now let’s worship God.”  And then we’re all expected to sing … and only sing.

Where do we find this thinking in the New Testament?

The Four Gospels record only one incident where Jesus and His disciples sang: after the Last Supper.

Jesus didn’t hold any worship workshops … encourage His disciples to close their eyes and sing to the Father … or even teach them how to sing.

In fact, Jesus never emphasized singing at all.

And when Jesus told the woman at the well that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), do you think that Jesus was referring to singing praise songs when He mentioned “worship?”

I don’t think so … but that’s how we use the term today.

In fact, we don’t have even one example of a Sunday morning worship service in the New Testament, and the only service that’s mentioned occurs in Acts 20:7-12 when Paul visited Troas.

That text mentions a service held in the evening … featuring the Lord’s Supper … a long sermon by Paul … and the resuscitation of Eutychus … but nothing about singing.

I’m sure they did sing, but it certainly wasn’t emphasized by Luke.

Another text that mentions worship elements in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 14:26, where Paul writes, “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”

Paul does mention music … and I’m glad he does … but he also mentions other service elements … and intimates that many members of the congregation brought their own experiences about the Lord to share during their worship times.

I miss service elements like Scripture reading … a pastoral prayer … participatory praying … personal testimonies … performance music … and even creative videos.

My wife and I attended an impactful church in the Phoenix area several years ago, and they changed the elements and order every service.  Sometimes we had a live or video testimony.  Sometimes the pastor interviewed an expert on an issue.  Sometimes a group in the church gave a special report about a mission trip they had just taken.

And we almost always had one or two performance songs every Sunday.

But in most churches, it’s like someone took a giant broom and swept every other element out of our services … except congregational singing and preaching.

When was that vote taken?

Second, why must we sing certain songs over and over and over again?

My guess is that I’m in the minority with what I’m about to write, but I’ll say it anyway.

I am weary of singing praise and worship songs seven times … or for ten minutes … as if singing the same words repeatedly somehow brings us closer to God.

Where in Scripture do we find this idea?

When I grew up in church, we sang three, four, or five stanzas of some hymns … often with a chorus tacked on at the end … but we finished those songs in two or three minutes.

But now, the trend is to see how long we can squeeze the life out of each song … which is, in my view, why so many believers aren’t singing anymore.

I remember when the praise songs from Calvary Chapel were first introduced into churches back in the 1970s.  We’d sing a chorus like “Behold, Bless Ye the Lord” twice, and some people would complain we were guilty of “vain repetition.”

What would they think now?

What is to be gained by singing a song multiple times?

Is it guaranteed to bring us closer to God?  Obviously not.

Are we singing until we “feel” something that we equate with God’s presence?


I know this repetition works with some people … but it doesn’t work with everybody.

But why is it that only singing will produce the desired effect?

Wouldn’t reading Scripture also make us feel closer to God?

Wouldn’t longer prayers also make us feel closer to God?

Why have we elevated singing to a place that it doesn’t seem have in the New Testament?

Let me ask another question:

Why must the singing time go so long … often for at least thirty minutes?

My wife and I sang several hymns in the car on our way home from last Sunday’s service, and after several minutes, I couldn’t sing anymore because I was straining my voice.

My guess is that many believers feel like I did.  They would like to sing for an extended period of time, but their voice just can’t handle it.

But how often does the worship leader notice that the great majority of the people aren’t singing?

He doesn’t notice because his eyes are closed.  And this leads me to ask …

Third, why does the worship leader close his eyes during all or most of the “worship set?”

I have never understood this.

If you close your eyes while singing, does that mean you’re singing just for God … that you’re blocking out everything around you?

This is how many people view singing in church.  You can sense God’s presence better with your eyes closed.

That’s fine if you’re sitting in a pew.  But what if you’re the worship leader?

Imagine that your pastor gets up to preach and closes his eyes during his sermon.  When asked why he does that, he says that it helps him to become closer to God.

But if a pastor preaches with his eyes shut, how can he adjust his message to the needs of his hearers?

What if some aren’t listening?  What if they’re nodding off?  Shouldn’t he know that and accelerate his pace … or cut out some material … or tell a story … or do something to get people to listen better?

By the same token, how can a worship leader make adjustments during a time of singing if he’s not aware of what’s going on with the congregation?

Last Sunday, the worship leader at the church I attended for Easter never opened his eyes for 30 minutes … unless he was peeking.

How did he know we were singing without looking at our mouths?  With a monitor in his ear, I’m not sure that he knew one way or the other … but he was going to plow ahead regardless.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t close our eyes from time to time during singing.  It’s a great way to block out the world around us and focus on God.

But if you’re the worship leader, isn’t your job to mediate worship between the congregation and the Lord?  How can you do that if your eyes are continually closed?

Finally, why have so many churches given worship leaders so much power?

Many years ago, I was on the staff of a church, and a young man from the congregation came home from seminary and asked if he could preach.  The pastor said yes … he could preach on a Sunday evening.

The young man stood in front of the congregation where he grew up and blasted the people because he now knew how to worship … and they did not.

He came off as ungrateful … arrogant … condescending … and self-righteous.

I see this same attitude in all too many “worship leaders” today: they know how to worship … and most of the congregation does not.

So it’s their job to teach them.  This includes:

*Singing for at least 30 minutes

*Singing with your eyes closed

*Singing the same song over and over

*Singing until you feel “something”

But in the process, these worship leaders equate worship almost exclusively with music and avoid using elements other than music during the “worship time.”

For example, why should we sing for thirty minutes rather than sing for ten … pray for ten … and read Scripture for ten?

Why fill the entire 30 minutes with music?

And why do we all need to stand during those 30 minutes?  (That’s fine when you’re younger, but as people age, it’s harder and harder to stand still for long periods of time … especially when you’re expected to stand with your eyes closed!)

And in many churches, why is the music volume so loud?  If the worship time is for God … as many worship leaders claim … does the Lord have a hearing problem?

Could it be that the worship director has been given 30 minutes to fill and that he would prefer to fill it with just music?

And let me ask the most subversive question of all:

Since the New Testament is filled with sermons … and prayers … and exhortations to prayer … but says little about music except in the Book of Revelation (when the singing is confined to heaven) … why do so many churches sing for 29 minutes and pray for just one?

The cynical part of me believes that pastors hire “worship” directors so the pastor can delegate those first 30 minutes to someone without having to be involved in the planning himself.  “You take the first 30 minutes; I’ll handle the sermon.”

But the even more cynical part of me believes that those worship directors want to justify their importance by making everyone sing for those entire 30 minutes … because music sells better than prayers and other elements … because many people want to “feel” something during the service … and maybe, in some cases, because the singing time puts the worship director front and center.

But while many people may indeed feel something during today’s worship services, I remain unconvinced that those feelings are resulting in lives of greater holiness and service.

I once knew a young man who led an immoral lifestyle.  He came to our church and tried to hit on various women.  He left before we ordered him off the campus.  One night, I started watching a time of singing from a local megachurch on television, and guess who was in the front row … with his eyes closed and hands raised to heaven?

He may have looked spiritual, but he was anything but.

After 36 years in church ministry as a pastor, maybe I’ve become cranky.  I certainly hope not.

But now that I’m no longer planning worship services or preaching, I’m looking at matters through more objective eyes, and my mind is filled with all kinds of questions.

Where am I going right?  Where am I wrong?

I value your thoughts.

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