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Archive for May, 2015

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.

Some observations:

*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.

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I have been blessed to become friends with many pastors and their wives through this blog.  Sometimes a pastor reads my articles and shares them with his wife, while other times a wife shares them with her husband. 

Several weeks ago, I asked a wife whose husband went through a forced termination if she would be willing to write an article about how her husband’s departure affected her personally.  Because she loves writing – and has a blog of her own – she quickly submitted the following article.  I’m choosing to keep her identity anonymous so that nobody can trace this article back to her.

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“Well, you will never guess what happened at the deacon/elder meeting tonight,” my husband said as he sat down on the edge of the bed.  I figured it must be monumental considering the late hour. 

Then he proceeded to tell me about the conversation that had taken place and his reasons for resigning.

Yes … resigning.

Somehow I knew that things were building up to this but hearing it verbalized finally made my suspicions a reality.

How had we come to this place and what would we do?

He resigned without having another job lined up.  Nobody in their right mind does that!  We still had our youngest child living at home and heading into his senior year of high school.

Despite all of the questions whirling around in my head, I knew that he had been backed into a corner and if he hadn’t resigned, the people who wanted him out would keep pressing in until eventually he would be fired.

There had been the few disgruntled people who weren’t happy with his leadership.  They found a few others who had felt slighted or hurt or ignored … or claimed they weren’t being spiritually fed … or that my husband’s sermons were too negative … or that they weren’t hard hitting enough.

They had talked with each other, had secret meetings and eventually had convinced the deacon/elder board that the pastor needed to change.  (After having a fairly uneventful pastorate for almost two decades, how does one change and become someone else?)

My husband apologized for any ways that people might have been hurt, though most of them were nameless to “protect their anonymity.”  It was a no-win situation.

There was an agenda that had taken on a life of its own.  Without any possibility of due process occurring, we knew it was over.

As I watched this man whom I deeply respected begin to grieve and mourn the many losses that accompany this sort of situation, I began to enter into a journey of my own.

It started with a fog of mainly going through the motions of life while trying to figure out the next step.  We had just moved out of a parsonage and bought our own house.  We even had major projects we were in the middle of.

How would my husband get another pastorate after this one did not end well?  What if he didn’t want to pastor anymore and has no training for any other type of job?  Where might we have to move?  What about aging parents and our children who were all in various transitions of life?

Those were just the practical questions I was trying to process.

The other issues I wrestled with were the hardest.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  I thought we were all Christians?  Is this how the body of Christ is supposed to treat their pastor?

There was no doubt in my mind that my husband wasn’t perfect.  Good grief, I was married to the man!  However, when a pastor is attacked, the one person who would be his best character witness and knows him more than anyone else gets the least amount of input.  I knew him better than anyone and I didn’t have a voice.

Nobody saw the countless times he wrestled in prayer for some of these people.  They didn’t know the many ways he would alter his schedule or put personal time aside to counsel them or give them a helping hand when needed. While they were believing the worst about him, most of them were people he would have called “friend” and would have certainly considered a brother in Christ.  He would have dropped everything to have been there for them if he was needed or given them his last dime if he knew he could help them. 

He was a good pastor and a caring shepherd, but my opinion didn’t count.  I could do nothing to help my husband but stand with him in his suffering.

I as well struggled with personal hurt.  I had poured myself into these people and their families.  I had babysat their kids, fed them meals in my home, cared for them, prayed for them, been vulnerable with them, laughed and cried with them.

I began to see certain women who I thought were friends withdraw from me with no explanation.  Who had they talked to?  They hadn’t talked with me or even asked what was going on or how I was doing.  I began to realize that other people were influencing their opinions and that they didn’t want to know mine.

On the other hand, would I have told them if they had asked?  What details would be appropriate to share and which would not be?  How do I reflect Christ in this situation?  What does it look like?

I spent a lot of time reading blogs such as http://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org.  I devoured books on pastoral termination and church conflict.  I found great comfort in the Psalms, identifying with David as he cried out to God in those situations where he felt attacked and alone.  I prayed often that God would guard my heart against bitterness.  I desired that He would allow me to learn, grow and somehow be able to make use of the pain.

I learned a lot about the lonely suffering of Jesus.  He was forsaken by almost everyone at his crucifixion.  The disciples ran away, the people who were shouting “Hosanna” the week before were now screaming at Him, mocking Him or simply not even there.  We are told in John 2:24 that Jesus did not entrust Himself to any man because He knew what was in their hearts.  I began to coin a phrase: “Love them deeply but hold them loosely.”  I realized that Jesus loved man enough to die for him but He also knew that He could not fully trust in men because they did not have pure hearts.

I decided there were four types of people in these sort of situations:

*There are those who mean to do a pastor harm.  Sometimes they harbor a grudge; sometimes they have selfish ambition or control issues and operate out of evil places.

*There are those who just follow along because the first group influences them and they don’t know what to believe.

*There are those who really love the pastor and don’t like what is happening but they are not vocal or are too intimidated to find their voice.

*By God’s incredible grace, there are those amazing few people who may stand up and be your greatest supporters.  Because we were blessed to have some of those godly brothers and sisters in Christ who knew how to support us, it has given me the understanding and the ability to do that for fellow pastors and wives when they find themselves in similar situations.

One of God’s gifts to me is exhortation so I cannot leave this place without offering the hope that He will take care of you.  God provided for us and He indeed pulled a Romans 8:28.

We are in a new pastorate and provided for well.  We have moved far from our families but God has taken care of all of them.  His faithfulness and provision have humbled us and taken our faith and trust in Him to a whole new level.

This does not in any way nullify that there was wrongdoing on the part of some.  However, we leave them to the One who knows what is in the hearts of all men.

My prayer for you comes from Paul’s words in Philippians 1:3-6: “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

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If you are the wife of a current or former pastor, and you’d like a safe place online to share thoughts and feelings about what you’ve experienced in ministry with other pastor’s wives, please drop me a quick email at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and I will pass on your information to this article’s author.  Thank you!

 

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Several weeks ago, I wrote an article called “Ten Suggestions For Pastors Under Attack.”  You can read that article here: https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2015/05/12/ten-suggestions-for-pastors-under-attack-part-1/

I received an extended comment from a former pastor afterwards.  (I’ll call him Rich.)  Rich went through a terrible forced termination at a rural church less than two years ago.  He was there only three years, yet the church tripled in attendance with many people coming to faith in Christ.  By anyone’s measure, his ministry was a huge success.

But some church leaders chose to force Rich to resign.  With Rich’s permission, let me reprint his comment … and then I will endeavor to answer his five questions at the end.

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Hello Jim, I enjoyed your article, and have a few comments on the subject matter at hand. You have known me over the course of the last year and a half, and have been a tremendous help to me in recovering from my ministry loss. What is amazing, and quite eye opening to me is that there are people who sit in the pews, make claims about Christianity, and possess little semblance to Christ other than their empty, and shallow professions. Their sole investment is towards themselves, and how they think church should be done; and they will stifle or eliminate anyone who gets in their way. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING IN THE BODY??! I apologize for the capital letters but I use them to express my emotion and frustration.

You had mentioned that there was a faction that threatened to leave the church if the pastor didn’t leave…my suggestion would be…THEN LEAVE!! The church will continue, and most likely in a much more healthy condition than if they stayed. These people are a cancer, eating away at the foundation of unity of the church body. They are an anchor weighing down the church, as they hold onto graven images that they deem valuable.

You had also mentioned that there was a group of people that brought up a bunch of your “faults” including those of your children. As a minister who has been pushed out of his vocation and is now working in a secular job, I have never heard of anyone in the corporate world making charges or accusations against someone’s children. Quite honestly (and I know this sounds bad for a minister to say) if anyone in the corporate world said anything negative about my children I would punch them in the mouth with no regret.

What is amazing to me is that we allow this subversive behavior to be exorcised within the church body! If anyone went through what I went through with my malicious antagonists there would be lawsuits in the corporate world. The way they tried to fire me after I gave my notice, the way they slandered my name, the way they cut my pay, and took away my medical benefits even knowing that my daughter was suffering from neurological issues and we had a MRI pre-scheduled…it was horrendous!

What I have realized that for many…church is something that many people do to feel good about themselves. They have made a religion of attendance, and are so consumed with being in the “church” they have forgotten or discarded Jesus. The only relevance in the lives of these people is that they are in the building, and having been in the building, therefore they must be sanctimonious. I am very weary of these polyester wearing, artificially flavored, self-centered, pre-packed, power hungry, low self-esteemed, and self serving leaches that suck the life out of the church. They have made a covenant with themselves, and their commitment is only to themselves. I realize that this post is filled with emotion but having been forced from my position because of some power brokers., I am still trying to get back to my calling, and get my life back. There has been a deep injustice, and things for me and my family have been difficult to say the least.

My questions to you are:

Can legal action be taken against such atrocious actions?
Should these people be held liable for their actions?
What can the church body do to prevent these people from their power?
How can the pastor who has been forced out find help getting back on his feet financially, and help into a ministry position?
What steps can the family take who has been affected by the trauma? (My wife is having a hard time considering being back into a ministry position…she does not want to allow herself to be vulnerable again).

_______________

Before answering Rich’s questions, I think his sense of outrage is healthy.  His feelings might make some people feel uncomfortable, but sometimes Christians need to express themselves in strong terms before the wider body of Christ is willing to consider making significant changes in local church ministry.

Let me try and answer Rich’s questions:

First, can legal action be taken against such atrocious actions?

In most cases, probably not.  A labor attorney told me that if a judge saw a church personnel issue on his docket, he would refuse to hear the case based on “the separation of church and state.”  This constitutional provision prevents churches from being taxed but also prevents churches from being accountable to anyone outside of their congregation for internal decisions.

It seems to me that pastors have the following options if they believe they’ve been wronged by a church:

*Tell their supporters inside the church how they’ve been treated and let the supporters handle matters.

*Tell the local denominational leadership what’s happened and ask if they will intervene.

*Tell a church conflict interventionist … a church consultant … or a church mediator if they can step in and help … but this must be done before the pastor resigns … and the church board/faction must agree to it.

*Forgive everyone who wronged you quickly and move on … but it’s nearly impossible to do.

Pastors tell me all the time that they were slandered right out of their church.  It’s true that if you’re employed in a company, you’re much better protected from slander than if you’re a local church pastor.

For this reason, I believe that when pastors negotiate the terms of their call, they need to insist that a clause be written into their contract that after they leave the church … regardless of why they leave … the official leaders must insure they will not be openly slandered.  This implies that if the pastor discovers he is being slandered … and especially if it negatively impacts his ability to make a living … then he’d be justified in taking some kind of action against the church.

Of course, if the pastor slandered the church, don’t you think that he would be threatened with a lawsuit?

Second, should these people be held liable for their actions?

The term “liable” sounds like a legal term and implies that destructive churchgoers can be controlled by secular law.  A better term might be “held accountable” … and the answer is “Yes,” they should be held accountable for their actions.

But this hardly ever happens in churches … and for the life of me, I don’t know why.

The New Testament is very clear that churchgoers guilty of heresy, division, slander, and rebellion must be confronted and asked to repent of their sin.  Paul’s instructions in passages like Romans 16:17 and Titus 3:10-11 are clear that believers must be disciplined for corporate sin.

But when a group forces out their pastor … and that group happens to be the church board … who is going to hold them accountable?  They hold the reins of power … and they know it.

In their minds, they won … the pastor lost … and to the winners go the spoils.

If a faction pushes out the pastor against the will of the church board, then the board can and should take action against the members of the faction … not as retribution, but to cleanse the congregation from sin.  But this is done all too rarely, usually because some people on the board are friends with the rebels.

It’s ironic that some board members have no problem confronting their pastor about an issue but can’t bring themselves to confront their friends about anything.

In the end, God’s people have to believe that God will right all wrongs … either in this life, or in the next life.  As Hebrews 10:30-31 says:

“For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.'”

Third, what can the church body do to prevent these people from their power?

If “these people” refers to the official church board, there are several things the members of a congregation can do to limit the power of those who abuse their pastor.

*Churchgoers need to hear both sides of the story as to why the pastor resigned and left.  If they only hear one side … the board’s side … they can’t make any kind of objective judgment.  For that reason, if I was attending a church where the pastor suddenly resigned, I would not believe the first thing I heard.  (But sadly, brain-dead Christians often do.)  Instead, I would sit down with a board member and hear his side, and then I’d contact the pastor and hear his side.

If one party wants to talk, and the other doesn’t, that makes it difficult.  If neither party will talk (possibly due to a “gag order” in the pastor’s severance agreement), then finding out what happened is going to be hard …  so I’d widen the circle of my knowledge.

The truth will eventually come out … it always does … but by then, most people won’t care anymore.

*Churchgoers who feel that the pastor was mistreated can insist that members of the church board tell them the process that the board used to deal with the pastor.  In fact, I’d ask for a copy of the process in writing.  And if I didn’t get it, I’d assume that the board either didn’t use any process, or that they used the law of the jungle.

Then I’d take that written process to the pastor and ask if the board followed the steps they’ve outlined.

*Churchgoers can attempt to remove board members through a process outlined in the church’s governing documents.  If only the board stood against the pastor, and everyone else in the church supported the pastor, this might be a real option.

I was once in a homeowner’s association where the five-member board voted to make every homeowner re-shingle their houses at a cost of up to $70,000 per home.  The homeowners rebelled and voted the board out of office … and discovered in the process that three of the five board members had homes with more than $100,000 in damages … and that they wanted everybody else to subsidize those improvements.

Throwing out that board was the right thing to do.  I suppose in some instances, some church boards need to be removed as well.  It just needs to be done very, very carefully.

*Churchgoers can hear both sides, protest the way the church board handled matters, and then leave the church for good.  This is the way most churchgoers register their disapproval when a pastor has been forced to resign.

Fourth, how can the pastor who has been forced out find help getting back on his feet financially, and help into a ministry position?

If a church board forces out their pastor and does not give him a generous severance package … especially if the pastor has a family … to me, that’s a serious offense against God … and should be viewed as a form of retribution against the pastor.

A church board member wrote me recently and said that their new pastor … who had been at the church for less than a year … was not working out.  The board gave him a six-month severance package even though it nearly emptied out the church’s savings.

But that’s the right thing to do, especially since most pastors are only qualified for one thing: being a pastor … and because it takes at least a year for a pastor to find a new position.

If a board doesn’t want to give the pastor a generous severance package, then they need to bring in someone from the outside who will help them negotiate their differences with the pastor.

If the pastor resigns abruptly because he’s being pressured to resign, the board should still offer him something to help him and his family.

But the best thing for the pastor to do is to trade a resignation letter for a severance agreement … and if the board won’t give him a severance, then the pastor should continue as pastor … which may lead to the resignation of the entire board.

If the pastor doesn’t receive any kind of severance agreement, then he has several options for money:

*Find an entry-level secular job … and quick.

*Try and live off the income of the pastor’s wife … if she has any.

*Take early withdrawals from the pastor’s retirement account … provided he has an account.

*Move in with family … if they’re willing … even if they live cross-country.

*Solicit gifts from friends and family on a temporary basis.

But here’s the problem: if the pastor has been forced to resign … and believes it was done unfairly … then he will carry that hurt and pain with him to the next job.

It takes a long time for a pastor to heal emotionally after going through a forced termination.

As far as how to find a new ministry … check out this article:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2014/05/29/seven-options-for-pastors-seeking-a-ministry/

Finally, what steps can the family take who has been affected by the trauma?

This is such a great question that I’m going to write a separate blog article on this within a few weeks.

I’ll just make one comment: everybody in the family needs someone from outside the family who will listen to their thoughts and feelings without judging them.

It’s all right for family members to discuss the situation with each other … but a family can implode if they’re only talking with each other.

I realize this article is quite long, but I felt it was important for you to read the words of a pastor who has gone through a forced termination … and still struggles with its aftermath many months later.

May God help His people to act with kindness, grace, and truth whenever there’s an impasse between a pastor and a group in their church.

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What does it mean when a pastor is “under attack?”

It means that people from inside your church are openly challenging your right to lead the congregation anymore.

These people (often including official leaders) believe that your ministry is finished, not because God says you’re through, or because the official leaders say you’re through, but because these self-appointed vigilantes say you’re through.

Their goal?  To destroy your reputation … remove you from your position as pastor … and, in some cases, end your career in ministry altogether.

How should a pastor respond when under attack?

Last time, I offered the following five suggestions:

First, trust your pastoral instincts.

Second, locate several comforting passages of Scripture and read them daily.

Third, confide in believers from outside the church.

Fourth, identify and meet with your supporters from inside your church … cautiously.

Fifth, gauge the opposition against you: both who and how many.

Let me add five more suggestions:

Sixth, try and determine the charges against you, but realize they’re probably irrelevant.

Why do I say this?

Because once there is a movement inside the church to force you out, the charges really don’t matter to your accusers.

Those who that insist that you leave aren’t interested in a biblical process, or your own repentance and redemption, or the health of your congregation, or your church’s testimony in the community.

Once they have launched an attack, they are only interested in one thing: your departure.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I need to: you can’t reason with your attackers.  And if you try and set up a meeting with several of them, it will not go well.  It’s a waste of time.

Once they’ve decided that you need to go, they will stop at nothing until you clean out your office and turn in your keys.

Based on my experience:

*There won’t be any single impeachable accusation against you.  If you were guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, your opponents would have presented their evidence to the church board and let them dismiss you.

*There will be a laundry list of charges against you.  If your opponents had just one or two charges, you might be able to answer them favorably, so to make sure that doesn’t happen, they’ll hit you with multiple charges.

*There will be charges you know nothing about.  You offended a board member’s wife two years ago … you failed to greet someone in the church lobby one Sunday … you speak too much about cultural issues … and so on.  In most cases, you will hear about these “charges” for the first time …  but nobody has ever had the courage to share any concerns with you until your opponents decided to pool their complaints together.

*There will be new charges created until you resign.  If you answer one charge, another one will be created.  The charges aren’t grounded in reality, but in the hardness of some people’s hearts.

*There will be different charges from different people.  One person doesn’t like the way you dress … another doesn’t like the seminary you graduated from … another doesn’t like your lack of denominational involvement.  There won’t be a consensus on why you need to leave, but only that you need to leave.

Seventh, try and discern if your church has already created a process for terminating a pastor through its governing documents or board policies.

When your church began, it probably adopted a constitution and set of bylaws.  These are your governing documents.

They were created when people were thinking clearly … and biblically.  Those documents are intended to govern your church … especially when people overreact and become irrational.

So locate the latest version of your governing documents.  Look carefully at what they say about removing a pastor from office.

And realize that your opponents may not know what the documents say about a pastor’s removal … or care.

If you plan to stay and fight, then point out how your detractors are ignoring the governing documents, and insist they comply with them.  They’ll probably pull back, regroup, and reload, but it will buy you some time.

If you plan to leave, then keep those violations to yourself … and only bring them up in any negotiations for a severance package.

Eighth, do everything in your power to avoid a public congregational meeting.

Sadly, I’ve been through two of these meetings in my 36-year ministry career.

The first meeting was called to vote out our church’s pastor … and that’s exactly what the congregation did.

The second meeting ended up focusing on me and is described in my book Church Coup in a chapter entitled, “Hell Invades the Church.”  While no formal vote was taken at that meeting (there were actually two meetings on the same day), I knew I had to leave when those meetings ended.

Most church governing documents require that any upcoming meeting of the congregation be announced ahead of time … let’s say seven days in advance.

And the governing documents may require that the purpose of any special meeting be shared with the congregation as well.

But once your adversaries discover why you’ve called the meeting, they will accelerate their campaign to force your resignation.

They will contact people who have left the church, hoping that a few of them will feed them some dirt … and they will be invited to the meeting … even if they can’t vote.

Your detractors will be highly motivated to fill the auditorium with their friends … to announce the charges against you … and to trash your reputation in front of the congregation.

I heard about a pastor who was accused … along with his wife … of smoking pot.  When the pastor tried to defend himself in a public meeting, he was shouted down … and left the meeting in shock.

The only way I would engage in a public meeting is if:

*I knew I could control the microphone.

*I knew I could control the process … and that might be difficult if a moderator or board chairman runs it.

*I knew ahead of time that I would be given the opportunity to present my case to the congregation.

*I knew ahead of time that any vote on my position would not be held on the same day as the meeting.

*I knew that most of the congregation was behind me … and would be willing to stand up to my opponents.

Other than meetings of the official church board, more damage occurs in public congregational meetings than anywhere else in a church’s life.

Do your best not to call one.  They can harm people for years.

I know … firsthand.

Ninth, realize that Satan is behind all the chaos … and that his ultimate aim is to destroy your church.

You are NOT the enemy’s target.  It may feel like you are, but you aren’t.

The proof?  Whenever you leave the church, the enemy will most likely leave you alone.  He doesn’t hate you as a person … at least no more than he hates the average Christian.

No, he hates you as a pastor.  If he can drive out the shepherd, he can scatter the sheep … and assume control of the entire pasture.

You are simply the means to an end.  The devil knows that the quickest way to take out a church is to take out its pastor.

To do that, he will use two primary tactics: deception and destruction … or deception leading to destruction.

In other words, Satan will lie about you … throw all kinds of false accusations at you … in order to smear you and force you to leave your position.

And tragically, all too many churchgoers will believe the first negative thing they hear about you without ever checking with you to see if it’s true.

When they’re attacked, many pastors go into hiding and curl into the fetal position.  They blame themselves for the entire mess, castigating themselves for (a) not being perfect, (b) not knowing the attacks were coming, (c) choosing disloyal church leaders, or (d) not creating a forum in which to answer the charges against them.

But this all plays into Satan’s hands.

If your detractors were truly spiritual, Bible-believing Christians, they would never hold secret meetings, pool their grievances against you, attack you anonymously, and demand your resignation.

Where in the New Testament do we find believers acting that way?

We don’t.

If your opponents really loved God, and truly followed Scripture, they would never act in an unbiblical, political fashion against you.  They would use a biblical/constitutional process instead.

But when they use the law of the jungle, that’s the tipoff that they’ve surrendered their hearts to Satan.

Finally, God will use this experience to give you a better life … and ministry.

If you remain as pastor of your congregation, make sure that your church’s leaders use a biblical process to confront the troublemakers.

*If they repent, forgive them and let them stay … but do not let them be leaders for at least two years … and monitor their speech and behavior.

*If they refuse to repent, then ask them to leave your church.  You cannot let them stay and resurface with new complaints down the road.

However, if you are forced to resign from your position as pastor, realize that God in His sovereignty may very well be protecting you from future harm.

The spiritual temperature of your congregation can be difficult to measure.  Sometimes the pastor thinks a church is healthier than it really is … and only a crisis reveals the truth.

In my case, I thought my congregation was more mature than it ended up demonstrating.  On a 1 to 10 scale … with 10 being the most spiritual … I thought my church was at a 7 … when it was probably around a 3.

Some individuals were at a 10 level spiritually … while others hovered around a 1 or a 2 … and unfortunately, those at the lower levels were the ones who prevailed … which says something about the church’s overall maturity.

I was worn out when I left, and had I stayed, I might have become a basket case.  God knew that.

Referring to Lot leaving Sodom and Gomorrah, 2 Peter 2:9 says that “the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials …”  Another version says that “God knows how to deliver the righteous …”

For months after I resigned, I told myself, “I’ve been forced to leave a congregation.  How humiliating!”

But somewhere along the line, I started telling myself, “I’ve been delivered from an intolerable situation.  How liberating!”

I’m sure Jonah didn’t like being swallowed by a large fish, but that’s the means God used to get him to Nineveh.

And I’m sure that most pastors don’t like being swallowed by a few detractors, but sometimes that’s the method God uses to propel a pastor toward more effective ministry.

No, God isn’t directing your detractors to lie about you, and He will hold them accountable … but He is above and behind all that is happening to you.

Remember the story of Joseph in Genesis?

Or the story of Jesus in the Gospels?

God used the evil motives of conspirators to save others in both those cases … and He will do the same for you.

If you’re under attack, and you’d like someone to listen to you … pray with you … and help you think things through, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org.

There is no cost to you … I just want to help as I’ve been helped.

What are your thoughts about what I’ve written?

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It’s mid-afternoon on a Tuesday.

As pastor of Grace Church, you’ve just about recovered your energy from last Sunday’s service … and you’re looking ahead to the following Sunday’s worship time.

Suddenly, the phone rings.  It’s John, one of your board members.  He sounds anxious.

“Pastor, I’ve just heard and confirmed that a petition is being circulated to call for a vote to remove you as pastor.  I don’t have all the details, but I thought you ought to know.”

With that one phone call, your world will never be the same.

Because I’ve written a book on the topic of forced termination called Church Coup … because I write a blog on pastor-church conflict … and because I know firsthand what it’s like to be attacked from within your church … I regularly hear the stories of pastors who have already gone through this horrendous experience.

But what about the pastor who has just received word that a group of people from inside the church want him to leave?  What, if anything, should he do?

Let me present ten suggestions for pastors who have just confirmed they’re under attack (five this time, five next time):

First, trust your pastoral instincts.

If you think you’re under attack, you probably are.

If you think someone hates you, they probably do.

If you think a group wants you to resign, you’re most likely correct.

Could you just be paranoid?  Yes.  Could you be overreacting?  Of course.

But the most likely scenario is that you know in your heart of hearts exactly what is going on.

When I was under attack more than five years ago, some people from the church came around me and tried to encourage me.  They would say things like, “I can’t believe So-and-So is against you” or “I’m sure you’re reading this wrong” or “Maybe this will all blow over in a few weeks.”

While I appreciated their attempts to make me feel better, I knew deep inside what the endgame was: to force me to quit.

And in almost every circumstance, my instincts were right.

The more years you’ve been in church ministry, the more finely-tuned your instincts are.  While they’re not infallible, they’re incredibly accurate.  Unless you have clear-cut evidence that they’re wrong, trust them.

Second, locate several comforting passages of Scripture and read them daily.

When you’re under attack, you usually can’t concentrate for very long.

If you can maintain a quiet time schedule … including reading through books of the Bible … then go ahead and do it … but realize that you may end up reading the words but not deriving much from their meaning.

Two books of the Bible deal specifically with attacks upon God’s servants: the Psalms and 2 Corinthians.

Time after time throughout the Psalms, David laments that his enemies are trying to harm him … even kill him.  The way David felt several thousand years ago mirrors the way many pastors feel today when they’re under attack.

In my situation, I perused the Psalms until I found Psalm 35, and for several weeks, my wife and I read that psalm every evening before we went to bed.  If you can identify one or more psalms that work for you, maybe you can park there for a while, and let God’s Word fill your mind and soul.

Paul wrote 2 Corinthians because some people in Corinth were questioning his qualifications to be an apostle.  Paul opens up his heart and expresses his feelings in a way he doesn’t do in places like Romans or Ephesians.  It’s great therapy.

If you find difficulty praying, it’s okay to shoot “arrow prayers” up to God during the day like “God help me” or “God save me” or “God give me wisdom.”  Jesus was in so much pain on the cross that He only uttered a few words at a time, and our Father understands if you can’t pray as long or as deep as you’re accustomed to doing.

Third, confide in believers from outside the church.

When you suspect you’re under attack, proactively contact two types of friends who are not in your church:

*Contact personal friends who are believers.  These are people who call you by your first name.  They don’t know you as “Pastor.”

Share with them what you’re going through.  Ask them to pray for you … and with you right then.  Ask them to check in on you over the next few weeks.

When I was under attack, I regularly called several friends, including one who is a pastor, and two who were former board chairmen.  While they were honest with me, they also let me know that our friendship superseded whatever my opponents were saying … and they usually saw matters more clearly than I did.

*Contact professional friends who can provide perspective.  This includes seminary professors … Christian counselors … church conflict interventionists … and fellow pastors.

Five days after our conflict surfaced, I spent 14 hours on the phone one day with Christian leaders.  They were generous with their time … provided much-needed insights … and let me know that I wasn’t alone.

If you can, take notes during these conversations.  You’ll be able to relay their thoughts much better to your wife and family, and the notes may be useful down the road if matters go south.

Fourth, identify and meet with your supporters from inside your church … cautiously.

I spoke recently with a woman who was trying to bring a charter school to her community.  She told me that a school leader held some face-to-face conversations with two school board members and came away convinced that both members would vote in favor of the project.

Both ended up voting no … along with the rest of the board.

The lesson?  During times of crisis, don’t assume that people who have supported you in the past will continue to support you in the future.

And don’t assume that people who say they support you will continue to do so … because some will flip on you.

In fact, some may become double agents … acting like they’re your supporter but passing on whatever you say to your detractors … and you may not find out who these people are until it’s too late.

How can you tell who your supporters are?

They’ll use “we” language (“Pastor, what are we doing to do?”) … threaten to leave the church if you leave … encourage you not to resign prematurely … defend you to the hilt when people criticize you … and share any conversations they have with your opponents with you.

Assume that unless you’ve done something impeachable … like commit adultery, steal church funds, or commit a criminal act … most people will continue to support you, at least initially.  After all, the great majority of people who attend your church are there because of you … and not because of your detractors.

Fifth, gauge the opposition against you: both who and how many.

This is a difficult step to take, but it’s necessary.  Consulting with your supporters, you want to find out:

*Who is against you?  Don’t be surprised if your opposition includes a staff member or a few board members.  Some church leaders sense that if they can overthrow you in a coup, they will gain more power in the church by default.

When I discovered that some top church leaders were standing against me, I was devastated.  Nobody had ever sat down with me and said, “Hey, Jim, I’m concerned about your behavior or about this aspect of the ministry.”

Looking back, those who ended up opposing me went silent whenever they didn’t like something I had said or done.  That’s why I didn’t know they were against me.

You have to shake off the shock of discovering that an associate or close friend has turned against you.  It says far more about them than it does about you.  They lack the courage to confront you to your face and are only willing to go public when they’ve pooled their grievances with others.

*How many are against you?  I haven’t read this anywhere, but here’s what I think:

If the entire church board is against you, you cannot survive as pastor.  No matter how bad you feel, or what people are saying about you, do not resign without a severance agreement. Trade your resignation for a severance agreement … but don’t resign until you have one in place and it’s been reviewed by an attorney.  If you resign without a severance agreement, you will put a tremendous strain on your family financially, and you will kick yourself for a long time.

Here is a blog article I wrote for board members on severance agreements.  Feel free to send them the link:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2014/02/24/why-give-a-terminated-pastor-a-severance-package

If a vocal faction is against you, try and find out how many people are in the faction, as well as their names.  Know your opposition.  If they are making demands and threats, they’re probably at the point where they’re telling people, “Either the pastor leaves or we leave.”  If the faction doesn’t include any board members, staff members, or spiritual leaders, you may be able to survive provided that your board and/or your staff stands behind you.

During my second pastorate, a vocal faction … mostly composed of seniors … held a secret meeting … created a list of my faults (and included my wife and two kids) … approached the church board with their list … and demanded that I be fired.  Because their list consisted of petty items, the board stood with me and the entire faction left the church en masse.

If several members of the church staff are against you, and their complaints are petty, call a public meeting and expose their opposition.  Some will probably resign immediately because they don’t want to go on record against you.  I know a pastor who did this many years ago and now leads one of America’s greatest churches.

Just because some prominent people are against you doesn’t mean that you should resign.  And just because ten or fifteen percent of your congregation is against you doesn’t mean you should quit, either.

It all depends upon the strength of your support from the church board and staff.  If they stand with you, you can survive any uprising.  But if several of them wilt on you …  especially because they’re friends with your opponents … that’s a different story.

I’ll share five more suggestions next time.

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It’s been five-and-a-half years since I retired … or was retired … as a pastor.

There are aspects of being a pastor that I miss … and aspects that I don’t miss at all.

For example:

First, I miss studying for sermons.

I loved choosing a text or a topic, and then scouring my library until I had a stack of 25-30 books that dealt with that passage or issue.

And I loved finding an operational outline for my message.

And I loved writing the message, searching for the optimal words … creative illustrations … and practical applications.

When I was in the “study zone,” nothing else seemed to matter … and I often didn’t want the time to end.

I miss that.

Second, I miss teaching a class.

While preaching almost always consists of delivering a monologue, teaching a class can be much more of a dialogue with the students.

I loved preparing handouts … fielding questions … occasional debates … staying after class to interact … and going home feeling, “Wow, we all learned something important tonight.”

Since the senior pastor tends to be the only teacher in most evangelical churches these days … I trend I will never understand … I may never have the opportunity to teach an ongoing class for Christians in my lifetime.

I miss that.

Third, I miss counseling.

If someone came up to me after a worship service, and asked, “Pastor, do you have a few minutes?”, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to that person, encouraging their heart, and interceding for them in prayer.

If someone came to see me in my office for counseling, I considered it a great privilege, and did all I could to help the counselee feel heard and understood.

Most of us who are called to pastoral ministry just want to help people.  I do that now whenever someone emails me for counsel (usually involving pastor-church conflicts) or calls me on the phone, but it’s not the same as when people came to see me as their pastor.

I miss that.

Fourth, I miss planning for worship services.

For years, I attended a meeting – usually on a Monday evening – with people who helped me plan upcoming services.

It was fun to choose the right songs … to ask someone to share a testimony … or to select a crazy video we might show before or after the message.

And it was exciting to put together the service so it would flow well and lead people toward the preaching of God’s Word.

I don’t know how many churches have a team that plans worship anymore … much of this seems delegated to the paid worship director/pastor now … but I enjoyed the camaraderie and strategy involved in such meetings.

I miss that.

Finally, I miss taking risks to reach people for Christ.

Last week, I presented a workshop at a Christian leadership convention on “Instituting Change in Your Church.”

During my 36-year pastoral tenure, I’ve been involved in a church merger … a church rebirth … serving as an associate pastor and succeeding a senior pastor … and overseeing all aspects of the construction of a worship center, among others.

Thankfully, with each mega change, I learned a little bit more about how to cast a vision … communicate it effectively …  and bring people along to do something great for Jesus.

I miss that.

But there are things about church ministry that I will never miss … and some of them may surprise you.

First, I don’t miss weddings.

I once met a pastor who conducted 130 weddings a year on average.

That would drive me to the funny farm.

Weddings were difficult for me because I often didn’t know the couple I was marrying … so I didn’t know if they were telling me the truth about themselves during premarital counseling.

I married one couple on a Northern California beach … at least a quarter mile from the parking lot.  He dressed up like Sir Lancelot, and she appeared as Maid Marian.  The wedding guests – all 15 of them – sat on driftwood, and I think a horse was involved somewhere along the line.  I had to wait an hour after the pronouncement for my honorarium, and even then, it was like pulling teeth.

God help me.

The last wedding I conducted was at a resort on another Northern California beach.  The resort was 130 miles from my home, and my wife and I were gone 32 hours … mostly killing time until the ceremony.  The DJ was paid … the caterer was paid … the resort was paid … the wedding hostess was paid … and the pastor was stiffed.

I don’t miss that at all.

Second, I don’t miss board meetings.

For most of my ministry, I liked board meetings.  Various members didn’t always agree about everything, but we were usually able to talk matters out, come to consensus agreements … and leave as friends.

But toward the end of my ministry, I sensed that I was becoming irrelevant at those meetings.  The board had an agenda … which they did not explicitly share with me as their pastor … and the meetings became full of tension.

Then the board started making decisions outside of meetings … announcing them inside the meetings … and ignoring whatever concerns or objections I had.

My mentor says that he used to tell his staff when he was a pastor, “Our entire ministry could fall apart overnight.”

I think more ministries are destroyed inside board meetings than anywhere else.

I do not miss them at all.

Third, I don’t miss correcting staff members.

When a pastor hires a staff member, he often does a sales job … telling the potential staffer how great the church is and how much he/she is needed.

But when a staff member messes up … and they all do … many of them are not very receptive to correction.

I never yelled at anybody.  I never swore at anybody.  I treated staff members the way I would want to be treated … and often much better than the way I was treated when I was a staff member.

But in case after case, staff members turned against me after I corrected them.

What’s the alternative?  Lettings things slide?

Failing to address certain issues could have led to loss of credibility … damaged relationships … lawsuits … and even fatal accidents.

And if I as staff supervisor didn’t address those issues, I could ultimately be held responsible for staff failures.

I worked as a staff member for five pastors, and the first one corrected me more than the other four combined … and I ended up marrying his daughter!

But I don’t think I was ever as overly sensitive toward him as many staff members were toward me.

I don’t miss it at all.

Fourth, I don’t miss backstabbers.

When someone criticizes your ministry directly … using a response card, phone call, email, or a scheduled appointment … their observations might sting, but you can usually handle it, especially if you can engage them in a dialogue.

But churches … maybe more than most venues … have people who smile to your face … and stab you in the back.

I’m thinking of one woman in particular.  One day at church, she walked up and kissed me on the cheek … told my wife that she was lucky to be married to me … and then did her best to destroy me behind the scenes.

They give you the impression that they care about you … that you mean a lot to them … and then they turn around and denigrate you when you’re out of earshot.

Yes, I will let God take care of them.

But I don’t miss them at all.

Finally, I don’t miss being a spiritual target.

And believe me, Satan is in the business of targeting pastors.

In many ways, a local church pastor is the key person in advancing Christ’s kingdom.

He functions as a prophet … bringing God’s message to His people … and as a priest … representing the people before God.

Denominational leaders … parachurch presidents … seminary professors … special speakers … all must go through the pastor to communicate with a congregation.

The enemy knows that if he can take out a pastor, the ripple effect will soon become a torrent.

So the devil attacks a pastor in a variety of ways, using weapons like discouragement … betrayal … depression … temptation … and burnout.

Now that I’m not a pastor, my emotions are more stable, my friendships more solid, and my health more favorable.

I no longer sense I’m a spiritual target.

And I don’t miss it at all.

I do miss the romance of Sunday mornings … especially those last few moments before preaching … when you have no idea how God is going to use you.

But I enjoy having nights and weekends free … leaving early on a Saturday to visit my grandsons … and hardly ever hearing the phone ring at night.

I’m glad I was a pastor for many years … and I’m glad I’m doing a different ministry now.

Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9 have gotten me through many a discouraging time:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Do I hear an “Amen?”

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There are times in our lives when a situation arises and we have no idea what to do.

We’re confused … upset … off balance … and despairing.

Believe it or not, there are times when pastors … no matter how well-trained or experienced they are … don’t know what to do, either.

In my own 36-year ministry, I needed more help when conflict surfaced than at any other time.

A conflict could occur through a phone call late on a Saturday night … at a staff meeting during the week … through an anonymous letter … on the church patio after a Sunday service … or from an unexpected visitor to my church study.

Much of the time, I was pretty sure how to handle matters.

But there were times when I didn’t know what to do or say … and I didn’t always handle matters calmly or wisely.

A pastor’s responses to conflict primarily come from his temperament … his experience … and his training … especially his training.

And since seminaries fail to prepare pastors for managing conflict in any meaningful way, pastors must rely upon mentors … and books.

For example, if someone criticizes the pastor severely in a letter, and the pastor doesn’t know how to reply, he might grab a book on conflict from his study bookshelf and formulate a reasonable response.

But if the pastor is sitting in a board meeting, and he’s unexpectedly criticized, he can’t excuse himself, run to his library, select a book, and read about what he should do or say.

In fact, the pastor should be so familiar with this scenario that he instinctively knows how to respond … and that can only occur if he’s already read and assimilated lessons from the best Christian authors on conflict.

Let me share with you the names of five crucial books on pastor-church conflict … and in no particular order:

1. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What by Peter L. Steinke.

I first discovered Steinke’s writings when I was doing background reading for my doctoral project on antagonism in the local church using family systems theory.

Steinke’s book makes great reading for any Christian … lay people, board/staff members, or pastors … because he’s grounded in both Scripture and reality.

There are ideas in this book that I’ve never read anywhere else.  For example, Steinke doesn’t believe, as many pastors are taught, that unity should come before truth, but that truth should come before unity.  That single idea is worth the price of the book alone for me.

Later on, he tells the story of a pastor accused of child abuse, and champions an approach that calls for a fair and just process to play out before exonerating or condemning that pastor.  (The charges were dropped before the pastor ever stood before a judge.)

Steinke’s postscript, called “People of the Charm,” is about narcissism in the local church, and is so good that I practically underlined the entire 11 pages!

Last summer, I had the privilege of attending Steinke’s annual training on conflict management called BridgeBuilder, and I can still see him speaking with perverse delight about various conflict interventions he’s engaged in over the years (more than 200 as of last August).  He is a rare gift to the body of Christ.

This book is available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book editions.  If you don’t have it, grab it … and devour it.

2. Moving Your Church Through Conflict by Speed Leas.

Speed Leas used to write for Leadership Journal, which still publishes articles and books for pastors.  And out of all the authors who wrote on conflict, I felt that Leas was the most practical and insightful.

Eighteen years ago, when I was at a career crossroads, I was reading an article by Leas in Leadership, and I noticed that he lived about an hour away from me … up in the mountains.

So I contacted him and asked if we could get together.  He kindly invited me to lunch and we spoke for several hours.

During our time together, he showed me a closet where he kept copies of many of his writings.  I bought everything he had, and I absolutely loved his manual Moving Your Church Though Conflict.  It’s a masterpiece.

In fact, I so valued his manual that I made several copies of it and put it in different places so I’d always have one in case I misplaced or lost the original.

In his manual, Leas presents his Five Levels of Conflict, for which he is justly famous.

Most churches can handle conflicts at levels one and two.  With level three, positions begin to harden and groups begin to form.

In level four, people begin to say … usually to the pastor … “Either you go or we go.”

In level five, an individual or a group in the church engages in destructive behavior, attempting to destroy the position, reputation, or career of someone else … usually the pastor.

Leas says that when a conflict reaches levels four or five, the leaders must call in an outside party like a mediator, an interventionist, or a conflict manager or the conflict will spin out of control.

Thankfully, when I experienced a horrendous conflict five-and-a-half years ago, I remembered some of Leas’ words at critical junctures, and tried to behave as he instructed.

I bought an e-book copy of Leas’ manual several years ago on Amazon, but noticed that it’s temporarily out-of-print.  Scour the internet and see if you can find one … it’s worth its weight in gold.

3. When Sheep Attack by Dennis R. Maynard.

I used to see this book on Amazon but figured it was lightweight because of its cover, featuring a cartoon of two giant sheep ready to pounce on a fearful minister.

But I’m glad I finally relented and bought the book, because even though it’s relatively brief, it’s full of wisdom and truth.

Maynard states emphatically that there are dysfunctional personalities in our churches … that these people want to hurt clergy … that their methodologies follow a pattern … that their impact is devastating … and that they can be thwarted if the people in a congregation work together.

Based on surveys he took with twenty-five pastors, Maynard states that these pastors were bullied and forced out of their congregations even though their churches were growing and making an impact for Christ.

As one pastor told him, “I still don’t know what I did wrong.  Everything was going so well.  Then a group of no more than a dozen people brought it all to an end.  I just don’t get it … I feel like I was punished for doing a good job…. Please, somebody tell me what I did wrong.”

While the stories in this book are priceless, I also noticed that I marked up nearly every page.

4. Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd by Kent Crockett.

Of all the books I’m recommending, this is the one I wish I had written myself.  In fact, I think so highly of this book that I wrote a review of it on Amazon and gave it five stars, as did almost everyone who has reviewed it.

Having been through forced termination himself, Crockett’s chapter titles include:

“The Secret Church Scandal”

“Satan’s Strategy to Expel the Pastor”

“Do Demons Attend Church?”

“Showdown with the Abusers”

“Life After Leaving: What Do I Do Now?” (This is the best chapter on finding a new ministry/job for pastors that I’ve seen in print.)

Kent is a great writer … he’s written many books, and has an insightful blog … and I’m proud to call him my friend.  In fact, the first time we spoke on the phone, he exclaimed, “Churches are sick!”

You gotta love a guy like that!

In fact, if you look at my book Church Coup on Amazon, there’s a place on my page where it says that my book and his book are frequently bought together … and I’m honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Kent.

5. Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict by Kenneth C. Haugk.

I’ve used this book so much that the binding has loosened and many of the pages have fallen out.

Haugk is the founder of Stephen Ministries.  For years, he’s conducted workshops in churches dealing with antagonism in churches.

The chapters are brief but full of insights.  For example, Haugk says that if a pastor is in his church office, and an antagonist comes by and demands to speak with pastor immediately, the pastor should calmly tell the antagonist that he can’t speak with him now and that he needs to set up an appointment.

This might seem like a small matter, but when I tried this suggestion one time, a man who was gunning for me was so offended that he left the church … thank God … and never returned.

A unique feature of this book is that Haugk collects all the relevant New Testament texts on antagonism in churches and briefly explains each one.

For around $50, pastors and church leaders can purchase five incredible books on pastor-church conflict, and by reading them carefully … marking them up appropriately … and incorporating their insights into everyday church life … a pastor can be well-armed to defuse, manage, and resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise in a local church.

 

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