It is the nature of a pastor to want everyone in a congregation to like him.
And when a pastor discovers that some people don’t like him, that revelation can be painful … especially if they eventually leave the church.
But sometimes those who don’t like the pastor choose to stay … and want him gone instead.
The pastor’s detractors start pooling their grievances against him … meeting secretly … and plotting their strategy to make him unemployed.
When he’s under attack, it’s natural for a pastor to focus on those who stand against him. After all, the knowledge that some people think you shouldn’t pastor their church is devastating.
But a healthier approach is for the pastor to ask himself, “How many allies do I still have in this church?”
The more allies … and the stronger their support … the better chance the pastor has of surviving any attacks against him.
Let me share with you seven kinds of allies that every pastor needs to survive internal attacks:
The first ally is God Himself.
If a pastor believes that he is innocent of wrongdoing before God … no matter what his opponents claim … then he may confidently count the Lord God among his allies.
I read Psalm 56 during my quiet time today. David begins:
“Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack. My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride. When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?”
David believed strongly that God was 100% behind him. From his perspective, the Lord wasn’t on the side of his enemies; he was on David’s side. After all, God had called David to lead Israel, hadn’t He?
When a pastor is under attack, he needs to remind himself, “God called me to lead and shepherd this church. He did not call my detractors. Therefore, I will assume that God is on my side.”
A pastor can have no greater ally than God Himself.
Paul asks in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” This rings true in the spiritual realm.
Yet inside a congregation, a pastor may sense that God fully supports him … and yet get bounced by people who aren’t listening to God.
So the pastor needs human allies as well … the more, the better.
The second ally is the pastor’s wife.
If a pastor’s wife doesn’t respect him, or doesn’t believe he should be in ministry, or wants nothing to do with the local church, her feelings will impact her husband’s ability to pastor.
In such cases, it would be better for a pastor to leave ministry and work on his marriage than to stay in the church and eventually lose both his marriage and his ministry.
But if a pastor’s wife is solidly behind him … if she tells her husband, “I support you no matter what anyone else thinks” … if she listens to his fears and takes care of his needs and prays with him when he’s under attack … then that pastor can truly count his wife among his allies.
Before we met 42 years ago, my wife wanted to be a missionary. I felt called to be a pastor.
Because of her love for me, she was willing to submerge her dreams and serve at my side throughout my 35+ years of church ministry.
On those rare occasions when I was attacked, she stood solidly beside me.
I cannot imagine a better human ally.
The third ally is the church’s governing documents.
Whenever a group inside a church chooses to attack their pastor, they often fail to consult their church’s constitution and bylaws.
Those governing documents were adopted when church leaders were calm and thinking clearly. And they usually specify how the congregation is to behave when people have become reactive and irrational toward their pastor.
When pastors contact me and tell me they’re under attack, I ask them, “What do your governing documents say about how to remove a pastor?”
Sadly, in too many cases, the church doesn’t have any governing documents … and it’s too late to create them when a group wants the pastor’s scalp.
The governing documents are really a legal and organizational ally. And if they do specify how a pastor is to be removed from office … and the pastor’s detractors ignore them … then they need to be told … possibly by a board or staff member … that their efforts will not be recognized unless they conform to church protocol.
No church should ever abide by the law of the jungle.
Since most groups opposing a pastor thrive in the dark but wilt in the light, just informing them that they’re violating “church law” can be enough for them to stop … or at least adjust their strategy.
The fourth ally is the official church board.
If the Lord, the pastor’s wife, and the church’s governing documents are all on the pastor’s side, then everything comes down to where the official board stands regarding the pastor’s future.
Whether they’re called elders, deacons, trustees, the church council, the board of directors, or something else, the official board … usually voted in by the congregation … can make or break a pastor’s position.
*If the board chairman strongly supports the pastor, that’s a huge advantage. During my 25 years as a solo or senior pastor, every board chairman fully stood behind me … except the last one.
*If a majority of the board stands behind the pastor … including the chairman … then it will be difficult for the pastor’s detractors to prevail.
*Much of the time, when a group attacks the pastor, they already have one or two allies on the church board … maybe more. The group is emboldened largely because they have friends in high places. Those board members often remain quiet about their position until they sense they’re going to prevail … and only then will they make their position known.
*If the entire board stands behind the pastor, then it may not matter who stands against him.
*If the entire board caves on the pastor, then it may not matter who else stands behind him.
Nearly 30 years ago … when I was in my mid-thirties … I was attacked by the Senior’s Sunday School class at my church. They compiled a list of my faults, met with two board members, and demanded that the board remove me from office.
To a man, the board stood solidly behind me. And they told me privately that if I resigned, they would all quit as well … thereby turning the church over to the Seniors … who knew absolutely nothing about leading a church.
When the board told the Seniors they supported me, the Seniors all left … when they disappeared, we were free to pursue God’s vision for our church … but it took time.
Judith Viorst once wrote a book called Necessary Losses. That’s what those Seniors were.
The fifth ally is the church staff.
This includes the church secretary/office manager … the worship/music director … the youth director/pastor … and any associate pastors.
I have known office managers who undermined the pastor … right under his nose … from inside the church office.
I have known worship/music directors who insisted that worship be done their way … even if the pastor disagreed.
I have known youth pastors who openly rebelled against their pastor … and quietly joined his opposition.
I have known associate pastors who wanted their pastor’s job … and were willing to do or say almost anything to get it.
But I have also known staff members who were completely loyal … utterly faithful … and totally supportive of their pastor.
I believe that if a pastor has the support of his entire board and staff, no group in the church can push him out.
Knowing this, most groups that seek to remove a pastor have to find allies on the board and/or staff.
Even if the entire board collapses their support for their pastor, if certain key staff members stand with the pastor, he may be able to survive … but the combination of key board/staff members who don’t support their pastor can be deadly.
Sometimes a pastor knows that a staff member doesn’t fully support his leadership, but the pastor lets that person stay on because they’re doing a good job … or because they’re afraid of the fallout should that person be fired.
Staff support can be tricky.
The sixth ally is key church opinion makers.
This would include former staff members … board members … and church leaders who are still in the church.
And sometimes, this includes people who have moved away but whose opinion others still value.
When I went through my attack five-and-a-half years ago, some of my best allies were two former board members and a former staff member from inside the church. They worked behind-the-scenes to call for a fair process dealing with particular issues.
I also consulted with two former board chairmen … one from my previous church, another from my current one … and their counsel was invaluable.
If the former board members had stood against me, I might have instantly resigned … but they wanted me to stay.
If the former board chairmen thought I was out of line, I might have quit … but they encouraged me to hang in there.
If a pastor is under attack, and doesn’t have any ecclesiastical allies, that might be a sign he needs to trade a resignation letter for a severance package.
But if he does have prominent church allies … even if they don’t currently hold offices … they can sway a lot of people.
The seventh and final ally is vocal churchgoers.
When a pastor is under attack, and the charges against him float through the congregation, most people don’t know whether they should believe what they’re hearing.
The focus of most people is on whether or not the charges are true.
But a better way is to ask whether a fair and just process is being used with the pastor.
The pastor’s opponents will tell people, “The pastor is guilty of this … we heard him say that … and we don’t like the fact he does this.”
But does the pastor know what’s being said about him? Does he know who has lined up against him? And has he been given the opportunity to respond to the charges that are going around?
When a group presses charges against a pastor, they’re hoping that people become reactive and emotional and demand en masse that their pastor leave.
But when others come along and insist on a fair and just process, they’re hoping to calm down people … engage their brains … and determine the truth before demanding anything.
Every church needs a group of fair-minded, spiritual, and vocal members who tell the pastor’s detractors, “We will not let you engage in a lynch mob to dismiss our pastor. Whether he’s innocent or guilty of your charges, let’s take our time and work through a fair and just process first.”
These people comprise a pastor’s ecclesiastical safety net.
When Elisha and his servant were in Dothan (2 Kings 6), Elisha’s servant got up early and saw “an army with horses and chariots” surrounding the city … and he instantly panicked.
But Elisha remarked, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
When the Lord opened his servant’s eyes, he saw “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” … the armies of the Lord.
Sometimes a church is full of horses and chariots surrounding the pastor, too … a pastor just needs someone to open his eyes.