Archive for June, 2015

Many years ago, I was invited to conduct a wedding inside a mainline church building.

While wandering around the lobby before the service, I happened upon a pamphlet that asked on its front, “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?”

When I opened up the pamphlet, it was blank.

On the back, it said, “That’s right.  Nothing.”

The implication was that since Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality, it must be okay.

This argument from silence, though, proves nothing.  Jesus didn’t say you can’t torture and kill the neighbor’s cat, either, but I seriously doubt He would think that’s good!

Never mind that Moses and Paul did make negative statements about homosexual conduct, and that Jesus fully endorsed all of Moses’ writings and made provision for Paul’s epistles by calling him to be an apostle.

This illogical kind of thinking is what happens when people start with the result they want and then work backwards to prove their initial assertion.  We used to call this “the end justifies the means.”

I’m greatly concerned about the Supreme Court ruling of June 26, 2015 recognizing gay marriage in all fifty states.

I’m concerned for our culture, but as a writer and consultant on church conflict, I’m far more concerned about the divisions that have already begun inside the Christian community.

For example, journalist Jim Hinch from The Orange County Register has estimated that one-fourth of all evangelical Christians already support same-sex marriage.

In addition, Idaho State University sociologist Jeremy Thomas confidently asserts that “evangelicals will more or less come to embrace homosexuality in the next 20 to 30 years.  I would put all my money on that statement.”

Although I am no longer a pastor … with attendees and donors I might offend … let me share five thoughts about the implications of the Court’s ruling for Christians today:

First, the way Christians view this ruling reveals what kind of believer they are.

There are many ways to describe people who profess to be Christians:

*Cultural Christians.  These individuals take their cues on moral/social issues from Jon Stewart … Modern Family … the latest book or film … or whatever their friends and co-workers think.  Cultural Christians always want to be cool, which means moving with the times and rarely taking an unpopular position on anything.  Some of these people reflexively superimposed gay colors on their Facebook profile photos after the Court’s ruling.

Let’s be honest: when an unpopular Bible and popular culture clash, these people almost always side with culture.  After all, since He doesn’t have an account, God won’t disagree with them on Twitter.

*Compassionate Christians.  These people know somebody who is gay … a family member, friend, or co-worker … and they identify with their struggle.  These individuals believe it’s more important to express sympathy and even solidarity with their loved ones than support the stance of Scripture or their church.

Nearly seven years ago, I preached a sermon called “Defending Biblical Marriage” a year before I left church ministry.  After the sermon, many people approached me and were torn.  They knew that God’s Word only permitted marriage between a man and a woman, but they also had gay friends “and I just want them to be happy.”

*Feeling Christians.  These professing believers look to their emotions to tell them what’s right and wrong.  They don’t care what Scripture says or what 2000 years of Christian history teaches (with an additional 1500 years of Jewish history beyond that).  No, they let the way they currently feel about an issue dictate the position they take.  Some have added their own personal experience as the basis for their morality.  It’s fruitless to debate these people over a moral/social issue.  Their feelings are never wrong … and your arguments are never right.

Jewish commentator Dennis Prager writes, “More and more Americans are relying on feelings to make moral decisions.  The heart has taken the place of the Bible.”  I’d put it even more succinctly: for these people, their feelings and experiences have replaced Scripture as their moral authority.

*Liberal Christians.  These people are politically liberal first, Christians second.  Whenever the two positions clash, they always lean left.  Their politics inform their faith … their faith rarely informs their politics.

Some famous members of Congress from the Bay Area exemplify this type of Christian.  Even though these members identify with religious organizations that take strong stances on issues like gay marriage, they ignore their faith and adopt the views of their political ideology instead.

*Biblical Christians.  These people have learned to ask themselves, “What does the Bible say?” before they take a stance on any moral/social issue.  As the great British preacher Charles Spurgeon used to say, their blood runs “bibline.”

These people want to know what the entire Bible teaches on an issue before they take a position.  They interpret each text in context and then try and harmonize that passage with others that mention the same topic.  They don’t care what the Supreme Court ruled four days ago, but what God’s Word has taught for millennia.

I once knew a married couple who had an adult lesbian daughter.  This couple loved her very much, but they stated emphatically that her lifestyle was wrong.  They visited her whenever they could, but because they were biblical Christians first, they could not give their daughter the approval she desired.

It seems to me that the Christians who support gay marriage are cultural, compassionate, feeling, or liberal Christians.  While they may take the Bible seriously on some issues, when it comes to gay marriage, they’ve either chosen to interpret it using the political correctness of 2015 or they’ve chosen to ignore it altogether.

Christians who don’t support gay marriage are uniformly biblical Christians.  This is the way I identify myself.

Whenever Jesus got into a debate with His opponents, He quoted the Old Testament to settle the matter.  (For example, read Matthew 22.)  Jesus didn’t use feelings or personal experience to settle an argument.  Scripture was paramount for Him.  If Jesus is both our Savior and our Lord, shouldn’t we emulate His example?

Second, this ruling indicates that some Christians have completely abandoned the idea of God’s holiness.

Have you seen the two-word phrase “love wins” bandied about over the past few days?  It’s being used by gay marriage supporters as a celebration of their Court victory.

But I’ve been tempted to say, “If love wins, then holiness loses.”

The contemporary Christian church has completely lost its concept of God’s holy character.

Two days ago in church, we sang that God is holy, but I can’t remember the last time I heard a pastor state that the holiness of God is the basis for biblical morality.

When we say that God is holy, we’re saying that God cannot sin … cannot have any evil in His presence … and that His holy character is the basis for human right and wrong … not polls, politics, or preferences.

When a pastor only preaches that God is love … and neglects to preach that God is holy … the Christians in that church will become morally unbalanced.

When Bill Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, he only preached that God is love.  He wanted to attract new people who would place their faith in Christ … and he was largely successful.

But when these new believers went off the rails morally, Hybels tried talking to them.  They responded by saying, “But God loves me no matter what.  Isn’t that what you’ve been preaching?”

Hybels realized that his preaching was resulting in people’s salvation but was completely negating their sanctification.

So he went out and bought a Plexiglas lectern as a reminder that from that moment on, he would always keep the truths “God is love” and “God is holy” in balance.

Without God’s holy character, the love that Jesus displayed on the cross means nothing.

“God is love” is popular.  “God is holy” will never be popular.

But jettisoning the holiness of God misrepresents both His character and His commands … and any pastor that does so will pay a heavy price …  either in his own life and family, or by watching the lives and families of others be destroyed.

Third, churches that accept gay individuals/couples into membership/leadership will end up abandoning the biblical sexual ethic.

If I asked you right now, “Can you summarize for me what the Bible teaches about sexual activity?”, could you do it?

From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture teaches that sex is a gift from God  … belongs exclusively inside a heterosexual marriage relationship … and that all sexual behavior outside of marriage is contrary to God’s will.

This means that premarital sex … extramarital sex (including adultery and prostitution) … sex with children and animals … and sex between two men or two women (or more than two men or two women) meets with God’s disapproval.

But most gay men … even when they’re married and attend church … are sexually promiscuous, and such a lifestyle becomes very addicting.  Marvin Olasky from World Magazine notes “the sociological data that most gays are not monogamous” in this article reviewing recently “Christian” books on homosexuality:


So imagine that you’re the pastor of a church that accepts sexually active gays into membership … or into leadership … like Stan Mitchell from GracePoint in Franklin, Tennesse, or Fred Harrell from City Church in San Francisco.  Here’s an article from World Magazine on City Church:


How can you preach the biblical ethic of sexuality in your church if you admit practicing gays into membership or leadership?

You can’t.

Whatever you say about heterosexual sexual behavior must also apply to homosexual sexual behavior.  How can you have two separate sexual ethics?

Since you can’t preach against gay promiscuity, you won’t be able to preach against straight promiscuity, either.  You will either have to abandon the idea that some sexual behavior is wrong, or you’ll be reduced to some meaningless sexual ethic like “we’re all called to love one another” or “let your feelings be your guide.”

Parents, is that the sexual ethic you’d like your teenagers to be taught at church?

Liberal Christian professor/author/speaker Tony Campolo recently came out in support of same-sex marriage.  Since the great majority of gay men (even the married ones) are promiscuous … and Campolo has to know this … doesn’t this “acceptance” require a radical reinvention of the Christian sexual ethic?

What will that reinvention be?  And who will create it?

While we’re at it, let’s just reinvent God’s character … sanctification … the atonement … and anything else we don’t like in Scripture.

Maybe this is why commentator Glenn Beck predicts that within five years “50% of congregants will fall away from their churches.”

I’d rather stick with God’s original plan …  even if it requires disicipline to carry out.

Fourth, Christians need their pastors to stay informed and to provide guidance on the implications of same-sex marriage for believers.

My wife and I have been attending a megachurch about twenty minutes from our house.  When we left for church last Sunday, I told her that it was extremely important that the pastor say something about the Supreme Court ruling.

To his credit, the pastor used the Court’s ruling as an introduction to his sermon, telling the congregation that he had received many emails and text messages from people who wanted to know his interpretation of events.

Time Magazine has just published an article calling for religious organizations to lose their tax-exempt status.  If that ever happens, it will mean far more than that donors won’t be able to deduct their contributions on Schedule A.

It will mean that the government can tax … and thus control … all churches and religious organizations.

And as in the days of Hitler’s Germany, the state would be able to tell churches what they can teach … and how they must behave … and that is truly scary.

Today … at least in Southern California, where I live … most churches don’t offer any classes where moral/social issues can be discussed … and most small groups discuss the pastor’s sermon from the previous Sunday.

Whether or not it’s been planned, the pastor has become the only teacher in most evangelical churches.

Most Christians don’t have time to read about and discuss the arguments for and against gay marriage … and if they do, they’re liable to overreact or be thrown into despair.

For that reason, pastors need to step up to the plate and interpret what’s happening in the culture for churchgoers.  If the pastor won’t do it, who will?

But according to Christian researcher George Barna, less than ten percent of all pastors preach on controversial issues.

Why so few?

One possibility: because they’re more interested in being successful than faithful.

You can read the interview with Barna here:


But what do we do with the apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 1:10?  “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

I believe that the days ahead will not only determine who the real Christians are, but who the faithful pastors are as well.

Pastors and churches are going to be forced to choose their positions.  Silence isn’t going to work anymore.  It’s better to say, “This is where we stand” early on … letting those who disagree find another church … than to hide your position and have a potential mass exodus later on.

Although we can’t predict how many evangelical pastors and churches will surrender to the culture over the next few years, pressures inside and outside of churches are going to be great.  Marvin Olasky from World Magazine describes the signs that your church might be caving on this issue:


Finally, it’s crucial that Bible-believing Christians transcend their differences and remain visibly unified.

Look, there aren’t just a couple of thousand Christians in the United States.  There are millions and millions of us … and we’re stationed in high places.

If we don’t change our position on this issue, we’re going to be maligned … ostracized … and vilified by many … even by some within our churches.

If we stay together, we’ll survive this challenge to our faith.  If we splinter and divide, we may be in real trouble.

I want you to imagine that this Saturday, you attend a wedding that your pastor is conducting at your church … and the wedding is attended by both believers and unbelievers.

In light of the recent court ruling, will he have the courage to read Ephesians 5:22-33 where Paul says that the marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church?

If he does, will the pastor be heckled?  Will people walk out?  Will reading those verses ruin the wedding?

Pastors need to be prepared for scenarios like these … and they need your visible support so they remain courageous.

Let me suggest four ways that you can stand strong for biblical morality:

*Stay informed about the issues.  I subscribe to National Review on Facebook and Twitter and have a monthly $2.99 digital subscription to World Magazine, which shows up on my Facebook page.  I like these publications because their articles are intelligent, well-written, and interact with the culture.  Please don’t avoid these issues because they’re unpleasant.  Get involved!

*Pray for your pastor(s) and for Christian leaders on the front lines.  They are going to be taking some vicious attacks in the days ahead.  Intercede for them before the Father and pray that their spiritual armor fits well.

*Let your pastor and these Christian leaders know that you support their efforts.  When your pastor stands up for biblical morality, write him a note of support.  When you read a great article on World, like it on Facebook.  Hold up the hands of your leaders … just like Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands in Exodus 17.

*Carefully consider engaging in civil disobedience.  I read an article two days ago about a group of African-American pastors who are organizing to engage in public, passive resistance about the gay marriage ruling.  They know they’re going to end up in jail … at least for a few hours … but they don’t know how else to make their voices heard.  Think about it.

I’m writing this article not as an activist on social issues, but as someone who longs to see unity in the body of Christ.

The night before He died, Jesus prayed for His disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

And then Jesus prayed for His disciples “that all of them may be one … that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

Jesus said that the basis for unity among His disciples was God’s Word … and that their visible unity would be the single best argument that the Father sent the Son.

When Christians stayed united around God’s Word, the world believes and churches grow.

When Christians are divided around God’s Word, the world ignores Christ and churches stagnate.

I pray that we will stand strong and stay united.

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Let’s imagine that you attend a church where you don’t like your pastor.

You don’t like his appearance … his manner … his family … or his preaching.

In fact, you’d prefer that he resigned and went far away so your church could hire a pastor you do like.

If you had a chance to push out your pastor, would you take it?

And if so, to what lengths would you go to get your way?

*Would you make up stories about him?

*Would you distort something he said?

*Would you spread a nasty rumor about his wife?

*Would you tell others that you saw him do something terribly wrong?

In other words, would you lie to get rid of him?

I’ve been hearing more and more stories about board members, staff members, and churchgoers who dislike their pastor so much that they’re willing to lie to force him to resign.

Since Christians believe that God’s Word is truth … and that Jesus is the truth … and that God’s people should only speak truth with each other … such lying is clearly wrong and out of place inside God’s covenant community.

But when people can’t push out their pastor using truth, they often resort to falsehoods … just as the Jewish leaders invented allegations about Jesus to destroy Him.

The lying is bad enough.  It’s a negation of all that God wants His people to be and do.

But these same pastors tell me that when they finally become aware of the false allegations, they are not given any kind of a forum where they can respond to the lies.

In fact, sometimes they’re encouraged to resign … leaving their reputation in tatters.

Let me share an example.

Imagine that Clark has been the pastor at Harmony Church for twelve years.  Lately, his wife has been feeling neglected … and she shares her feelings with a church friend named Donna.

In a weak moment, Donna shares that information with a friend from her small group named Betty … but Betty mixes up what Donna shares with something she heard from another friend … and Betty tells a couple of friends that the pastor and his wife may be headed for divorce.

Over the next three months, that allegation slowly makes its way throughout the church, where the charge is embellished … and now the pastor and his wife are divorcing because he’s having an affair.

The wife of a staff member hears it.  The children of two board members hear it.  Then a major church gossip hears it.

But the pastor and his wife don’t hear it … and remain unaware of what is being said about them … until the charge reaches critical mass … and comes to the attention of the church board.

Before the next board meeting, the chairman stops by Pastor Clark’s office … says that he suspects that Clark’s marriage is over … and that it would be best for the church if he would resign immediately.

Dumbfounded, Clark can’t believe what he’s hearing.  He tells the chairman, “My marriage is just fine.  Things have been a little strained at home because our daughter has been struggling with asthma … my wife’s brother has been ill … and the search for a new worship leader here at church has taken longer than expected.  But I assure you, our marriage is great!”

But the chairman responds, “Look, Clark, it’s all over the church that you’re having an affair, and that’s the real reason why your marriage is ending.  Why don’t you just stop playing games and admit it?  Or would you rather force the board to fire you?”

You might think that the story I’ve just described is rather farfetched, but I assure you, it’s not.

And what Pastor Clark doesn’t know is that several people have added their own charges to the circulating charge of adultery.

It’s been going around that Clark mistreats staff … mismanages church funds … doesn’t work a full 40-hour week … and that his son is on drugs.

But not one of the charges made against him is true.

At this juncture, what can Pastor Clark do to correct the lies?

Here are five possibilities:

*The pastor can choose to say nothing … relying on God to defend his reputation and position.

Over the years, I have heard many Christian leaders advocate this approach.  They say, “You don’t need to defend yourself.  God will defend you.”

This approach … which certainly sounds spiritual … is the way that Jesus handled the accusations against Him before He went to the cross.  1 Peter 2:23 says about Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Pastors should follow Jesus’ example and not retaliate or make threats against their accusers.  And they should entrust themselves to God the Father, who does judge justly.

But throughout His ministry, Jesus did defend Himself against various charges, as even a cursory reading of John 5-9 will make clear.  The only time He didn’t defend Himself is when He knew it was His time to go to the cross.

And Paul defended himself as well against charges that he wasn’t a legitimate apostle in 2 Corinthians.

No, a pastor doesn’t need to respond to every little criticism that someone might be saying about him.  The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon says that in such cases, a pastor needs to use “the blind eye and the deaf ear.”

But when public charges are going around about a pastor, if he doesn’t respond to them … clearly and quickly … his detractors will interpret his silence as proof that he’s guilty as charged.

In fact, the longer a pastor waits to respond to the charges, the more widespread they become … and the more people believe them.

*The pastor can call an emergency board meeting and respond to each allegation made against him.

But at this point, Clark only knows about the marriage/affair allegation.  Even if he successfully knocks that one down, he isn’t aware that there are other allegations waiting for him.

The problem is that the board has already judged Pastor Clark as guilty as evidenced by their asking for his resignation.  And once people take the position that their pastor needs to leave, they almost never reverse their position.

It might be wise for Clark to reach out to several board members that he knows personally to gauge how things look for him.  Maybe he’ll find a sympathetic ear and that person can lobby the rest of the board on his behalf.

But at the very least, the board should meet with Clark and hear him out … with an open mind.

*The pastor can call a special congregational meeting and answer the allegations in public.

At first glance, this seems like a good idea.  The pastor can speak directly to the congregation that he’s served for many years … hoping that his integrity and love will carry him through.

But the problem with this approach is that people who have never heard any of the allegations will now hear them for the first time … and some may believe them, regardless of how well Clark is able to defend himself.

In addition, if some people have convinced themselves that Clark needs to go, they may create more allegations during the meeting and throw them Clark’s way … even in an accusatory fashion.

And from the reports I’ve received, sometimes people won’t let the pastor defend himself.  They either yell at him or boo him when he tries to speak.  All some want to hear from him is, “I resign.”

I know one case where this approach worked … and I’m sure it’s worked in other situations.  If a pastor still has the support of most of the congregation, it might be worth trying … but the pastor has to know going in that he’s going to be treated fairly … and if the congregation morphs into a mob, it will damage the pastor and the church for years.

*The pastor can write a document that lists each allegation along with his response.

This approach is helpful for two specific parties: the pastor and his supporters.

It can be therapeutic for a pastor to respond in writing to each allegation made against him.  It can feel empowering … cleansing … and vindicating.

If the pastor then gives that document to his supporters, they will have the pastor’s defense in his own language.  If it’s well-written and makes sense, that document will give the pastor’s supporters greater confidence in him … and may allow them to persuade people in their network that the pastor is innocent of the charges.

*The pastor can email his response to a few trusted supporters … confident that they will use it as needed.

*The pastor can email his response to the entire congregation … although his detractors will deconstruct, parse, and challenge every word … and even circulate their own responses.

*The pastor can send the document to the entire congregation via snail mail … where everyone will receive his letter at the same time … and it’s much more difficult to respond quickly to a letter than an email.

The disadvantage of this approach, though, is that almost nothing the pastor writes will convince the pastor’s detractors that he is innocent, because if he’s innocent, then they’re guilty of gossip … hatred … lying … and acting in an ungodly manner.

In other words, every time he’s proven right, they’re proven wrong.

There is one circumstance where I think this approach has merit: after a pastor has decided to resign.

In many cases, after a pastor’s last Sunday, people come out of the woodwork to trash his reputation.  People feel free to hurl accusations at their former pastor … even though they never made those accusations to his face.

The pastor might give a defense of his ministry to some of his supporters and let them defend him after his absence.

*The pastor can insist that the board use a biblical process … either to accuse him or to clear his name.

Whenever allegations are flying around a church about a pastor, the anxiety in the congregation grows exponentially.  In fact, people become so anxious that they spread the charges around almost without thinking.

The congregation then becomes a kangaroo court … charging and convicting the pastor without a shred of evidence.

Some people even engage in the wicked practice of “mobbing” a pastor … piling on false accusations until he quits.

This raises the question:

When allegations are being made about a pastor: does the pastor need to prove that he’s innocent … or does the board need to prove that he’s guilty?

I think the board needs to prove that he’s guilty.

So here’s a suggestion.  Under such circumstances, the pastor might tell the board:

“I will not resign unless you use a biblical process to either convict or exonerate me.  Since members of the board seem to think I’m guilty … and aren’t inclined to treat me impartially … I ask that the board and I select a team of five people from within the congregation to examine the charges against me.  These people need to be spiritually mature, objective, and fairminded.

“I will take a leave of absence of two months.  During that time, this Conflict Resolution Group will conduct an investigation into the charges made against me.  They will interview those who have made those charges, and they will bring every charge to my attention so I can respond to each one.

“When their investigation is done, they will state whether I’m innocent or guilty of each charge made against me.

“If I’m guilty of any charge, I will admit wrongdoing and ask forgiveness.  If I’m guilty of a major offense … such as heresy, adultery, or criminal behavior … I will resign.

“But if it turns out that I’m innocent of all charges, then I will be given the option of staying at the church or resigning with my head held high.

“Either way, I want this church to learn how to handle such charges in a biblical, loving, and just manner.”

I know Christian leaders who would conclude, “The pastor should just resign.  Why prolong the pain?  He’s toast and should just quit.”

But I would ask this question instead:

How will a church ever learn how to handle charges against their pastor in a spiritual rather than a political manner if a pastor is forced to resign every time false allegations reach critical mass? 

The ball is in your court.  How do you feel about what I’ve just written?

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Many years ago, I became friends with a pastor in my denominational district who led a medium-sized church.

We had lunch together … saw each other at district meetings … and spent some time in conversation.

Then one day, my pastor friend … let’s call him Keith … was forced to resign after nearly a decade of ministry.

When I asked what happened, Keith told me that drugs were discovered inside his daughter’s suitcase at camp.

Even though she insisted that the drugs weren’t hers, a lynch mob from church formed, demanding that she repent in front of the congregation … and accusing her father of not managing his family well.

Choosing to believe his daughter, Keith resigned rather than subject her to public humiliation.

He was treated horribly, receiving only a small severance package and losing his medical insurance virtually overnight … ultimately a form of retribution.

After Keith quit, I invited him to lunch, and he poured out his heart to me.  I was the only pastor in the district to hear his story.

Everybody else forsook him … and believed the story that was going around … that Keith’s daughter tried smuggling drugs to camp.

Only she didn’t.

Sometime later, a high school girl confessed to church leaders that the drugs were hers.  Afraid that her suitcase would be searched, she placed the drugs in the suitcase of the pastor’s daughter … and sat silently by while the pastor’s family was run out of the church.

When anxiety grips a congregation … as it did in Keith’s case … some people become highly irrational, overreact emotionally, and seek to eliminate the cause of that anxiety: their pastor.

On a human scale, who usually keeps a congregation calm?

That’s right … the pastor.

But when the pastor is under attack, his own anxiety level skyrockets, and he’s in no position to calm anybody down.

This leaves two possibilities for alleviating congregational anxiety:

First, anxiety may be relieved if another leader … like the associate pastor, the board chairman, or a widely-respected individual … takes control of the situation and institutes a just and fair process to deal with people’s concerns about the pastor.

The problem is that most churches don’t have anybody like this … and even if they do, they don’t know how to do it.

*The associate pastor may be glad that the pastor is under attack, hoping to take his job.

*The board chairman may be leading the charge against the pastor.

*And those respected individuals may be ignored, avoided, or devalued by those who want to keep the anxiety level high.  (Their adage is, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”)

Second, anxiety may be relieved if the pastor resigns.

And when anxiety hits a certain level in most churches, this is the quickest way to stabilize the congregation and lessen tensions.

But in the process, the pastor is judged as guilty … and never given the opportunity to tell his side of the story.

In Keith’s case, his reputation as a father … as well as his daughter’s reputation … were both smeared for months.

Fortunately, after matters calmed down, the church called a new pastor … someone I got to know a little bit.

And soon after he came, that new pastor discovered the truth about the drugs and Keith’s departure.

*Some pastors would have sided with Keith’s opponents just to gain their favor.

*Some pastors would have ignored the truth so they didn’t have to live in Keith’s shadow (small as it had become).

*Some pastors would have said, “Well, that’s water under the bridge … let’s move on.”

*Some pastors would have said, “Some people liked the pastor … some didn’t.  I don’t want to take sides and alienate anyone.”

But the new pastor sought to pursue righteousness … even though it made some leaders/people in the church look bad.

The new pastor invited Keith and his family back to the church, where that pastor presided over a meeting where the congregation apologized to Keith and his family for the way they had wounded them.

For a while, I lost track of Keith … and then opened the major newspaper in our area one day and read a front-page article about him.

Keith had become a hospital chaplain and pioneered an approach to ministering to a certain class of patients with God’s mercy and grace … and was receiving nationwide attention for his efforts.

Could he have become that successful if his former church had not pursued reconciliation?

Because Keith’s former church was able to resolve their differences with him, they weren’t plagued by guilt and paralyzed by bitterness as happens in most churches.

That new pastor wisely understood that a congregation that has mistreated a pastor from the past cannot fully heal until there is an admission that the pastor was wronged and there is an attempt to reconcile with him.

After all, if God’s people can’t reconcile with a previous pastor, what hope do they have of reconciling a lost world to Jesus?

In their book Extreme Church Makeover, Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander tell the story of a pastor named John who discovered that “the church had not dealt fairly with their previous pastors …”

The authors write:

“John shared his observations with the current church board.  Although the primary players were no longer in the church, the same pathology seemed to continue – which is almost always the case.  Getting rid of a pastor or ungodly lay leaders doesn’t solve the problem by itself … it was obvious that past issues had only been covered up and not resolved.”

Pastor John “encouraged the board to contact Jerry, the previous pastor, and ask him if he would be willing to come back to the church for a special service of reconciliation.  They discovered that Jerry was still hurting from the devastating experience and had not returned to the ministry.”

When Jerry stood before the church body, the board read a list of offenses the church had committed against him and asked for his forgiveness … and after he forgave them, Jerry later returned to the ministry.

I know many pastors who were abused and then forced out of their positions.  These are good men who wish they could heal.

Some healing takes place when they unilaterally forgive their detractors … but complete reconciliation can only take place when a church and its leaders take responsibility for the way they treated their previous pastor … and let him know that they’re sorry for the way they mistreated him.

If you know of any churches that have pursued reconciliation with a previous pastor that underwent termination, I’d like to know about it.  Please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org with the details.

But sadly, this kind of reconciliation happens all too rarely … probably less than 1% of the time.

Why do you think that is?

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He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.  1 Timothy 3:6

When a church is looking for governing leaders … whether they’re called elders, deacons, trustees, the Church Council, or something else … the apostle Paul says it’s unwise to choose “a recent convert.”


Because, Paul tells Timothy, “he may become conceited” and start thinking that he’s arrived … that he’s more spiritual than his peers … and that his judgment and decisions are always correct.

Over my career, I’ve noticed another kind of governing leader that often causes trouble in churches: the leader who has only attended one church in his/her entire life.

This includes:

*a person who is elevated to board status after having been saved, baptized, and trained in your church.

*a person who has spent his entire Christian life in just one other church.

*a person who attended a megachurch in another state and now attends your church.

Let me share two examples of why such people can be dangerous.

I once hired a staff member who had spent his entire Christian life in one church.  In his mind, the way that church did things was right, and the way our church did things was wrong.

It didn’t seem to matter what the issue was.

Over the course of my pastoral career, I had served in eight different churches.  I knew all kinds of ways to plan a worship service … preach a sermon … manage church funds … run an event … manage a staff … and lead a church.

Wouldn’t you think that my broad experience was invaluable to that church?

But because I didn’t do things exactly the way the staff member’s previous church did things, I wasn’t just unwise … in his eyes, I was wrong.

You can see how such an attitude would breed conflict … and it did.

It started his first week on the job when he wanted to overhaul an aspect of church finances … even though we didn’t hire him for that reason.  And that attitude continued during his entire tenure with us … even though I asked him to stop saying, “At my former church, this is how we did things.”

I always wanted to be flexible enough to learn from any church and from any one … but the message I constantly received was, “You don’t do things the right way … like my former church.”

He began undermining me … lobbying for his positions with other church leaders … and questioning decisions that were made years before he came to the church.

In other words, if everyone … including me as pastor … would do church the way his previous church had done them… our church would have been much more successful.

Doesn’t that sound like someone who “may become conceited” … and who prefers to run the church himself?

(This reminds me of the story that Rick Warren tells about the early days at Saddleback Church.  At a meeting one night … with only around 15 people in attendance … someone kept talking about the way his old church used to do things.  Finally, Rick told him, “If you like that church so much, then why don’t you go back there?”  He did.)

Another time, I was pastoring a church that was trying to reach unchurched people for Christ.

A couple had just moved into our community and began attending our church.  In their previous community, they had attended the largest church in the United States.

This couple invited my wife and me over to their house for dinner.  That went fine.

But after dinner, the husband gave me a piece of paper on which he had rated me and every staff member in a number of different categories … including appearance and work ethic!

He was trying to remake our church into his former church … and that was never going to work.

Instead of making him a leader … which some pastors might have done … I realized that his approach would just alienate everybody.  When I let him know that I wasn’t going to follow his suggestions, he and his wife stopped coming.

I hear stories from pastors who have been sabotaged from inside their congregation, and a common thread is that the pastor’s primary antagonists have spent most … if not all … of their lives in that one church.

If the pastor has experience in several different churches, he undoubtedly has many options to choose from when it comes to instituting change.  He can say, “I’ve seen this work … and I’ve seen this fail … and I’ve seen this be a hit.”

But if the pastor has leaders who have never seen a specific idea work … because they have limited experience … it’s going to be much harder for him to sell his approach to them.

This is why I believe so strongly that whenever a pastor attends a conference or a seminar designed to help his church grow, he should invite along as many church leaders as possible so they hear what he hears at the same time.

Lyle Schaller is generally considered to be the foremost expert in how churches function in the United States.  I once read an interview with him where he confessed that for years, he would offer learning opportunities for pastors … who would try to implement what they learned in their home church … but would meet resistance from governing leaders nearly every time.

Schaller said that pastors need events where they can bring along their leaders.  Then when the learning event is over, the pastor and his leaders can discuss what they’ve heard from an outside expert … who knows what dozens of churches all over the country are doing to reach their communities.

The couple from the megachurch may have been an annoyance, but because I didn’t let them into leadership, our church didn’t suffer much from their inexperience.

But the staff member who undermined me created a lot of conflict … and when the conflict surfaced … he cleaned out his office and suddenly quit.

It isn’t always possible for a pastor to work with church leaders who have experience in three or four other churches.

Pastors usually inherit boards … and sometimes those boards are filled with leaders who have had limited church experience.  That isn’t anybody’s fault.

Pastors inherit staff members, too … and sometimes their only experience is in that one setting.

But pastors need to be aware that those who think narrowly … who think there’s only one way to do things … can often cause a disproportionate amount of trouble.

We might call them legalists.  A Christian leader I knew termed them rightists.

There’s only one way to heaven … but there are many ways to get people there.

And the more flexible church leadership is, the more people they will win for Christ … and the more they will enjoy the ride.

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Of the 450 or so blog posts that I’ve written, this is one of my favorites.  It’s based on the film High Noon starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly and is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.  If you’ve never seen it, I encourage you to check it out … I saw it offered on Netflix the other night … and to ponder its relevance for the Christian church.

Toward the end of the last millennium, the American Film Institute produced a list of the Top 100 Films of All-Time.  Since I was unfamiliar with most of them, I systematically visited the local video store and checked out as many as I could.

One of those films was High Noon – now listed by the Institute as the 27th greatest film ever.

Last night, through the magic of Roku, my wife and I watched the film again.

Gary Cooper stars as Marshal Will Kane.  (My brother John has lived for years in Montana on land once owned by Gary Cooper.)  As the film opens, it’s Kane’s wedding day.  He’s marrying Amy (played by Grace Kelly).

But as they’re ready to leave on their honeymoon, Kane and his wife learn that the dreaded Frank Miller has been released from prison … and is coming to town on the noontime train … to wreak vengeance on the marshal who put him behind bars.

As evidence of this fact, Miller’s brother and two cohorts ride through the middle of town toward the train depot while all the townspeople scatter.

Marshal Kane is advised to hightail it out of town with his bride and not look back.  After all, a new marshal is scheduled to take over the next day.  Let him handle the Ferocious Four.

Kane is torn.  On the one hand, everybody’s telling him to leave town with Amy … so that’s what he does.  But five minutes outside town, he turns around and goes back, telling Amy that they’ll never be safe if he doesn’t confront Frank Miller and his boys now.

As I watched the film with fascination, I saw many parallels between the way people reacted to the conflict inside their town and the way churchgoers respond to open conflict at their church:

First, everyone feels anxious when a group’s leader experiences an attack.

The opening scenes of High Noon show a town that’s been rejuvenated.  The people of the town are having fun and laughing.

But when Ben Miller (Frank’s younger brother) and his two buddies ride through town, everybody gets off the street and hides.

The town became a happy place because of the work done by Marshal Kane.  He’s the one who cleaned up the streets and made the place safe for women and children.

But as anxiety rises in the town, people begin to engage in self-preservation.

When a group – and it’s always a group – attacks a pastor, the entire church senses something is wrong.

Sometimes people can tell a pastor is under attack because he’s no longer himself.  He lowers his head, doesn’t smile, and seems jittery.

Other times, people start to hear rumors about the pastor – or charges by people who don’t like him.

And as anxiety begins to spread around the church, people start heading for the tall grass.

Second, a leader under attack needs reinforcements.

Marshal Kane was a tall, strong man who knew how to handle a gun.  But would he prevail in a showdown with four experienced gunmen?

Probably not – so Kane began asking the townspeople for help.  He asked men whom he had once deputized.  He asked the guys in the local saloon.  He even interrupted a church service and asked the congregation if a few men would volunteer to assist him.

After all, if 8 or 10 men stood shoulder-to-shoulder next to Kane, then maybe Frank Miller and his gang would see they were outnumbered and just ride out of town.

No pastor attacked by a group in a church can survive unless he has reinforcements.

Maybe some staff members are willing to stand with him … or the entire governing board … or some former leaders … or a group of longtime friends.

If the associate pastor stands with the pastor … along with the board chairman … and a few other key leaders, the pastor may have enough support to turn back the Gang of Gunmen.

But without that support, the pastor … and possibly the church … are toast.

Third, most people bail on their leader when he needs them the most.

This is the heart of the film.

Amy, the marshal’s new bride, runs away from her husband when they return to town because she’s a Quaker and doesn’t want to see any killing.

The guys in the saloon prove worthless.

The people in the church discuss helping their marshal … then decide against doing anything at all.  (The pastor says he doesn’t know what to do.)

And Marshal Kane can’t convince any of his deputies to help him.  One who said he’d stand by his leader runs when he discovers nobody else will help the marshal, and the current deputy is angry with Kane because he wasn’t selected to be marshal after Kane’s tenure.

Kane even goes to see a former girlfriend … and she announces she’s leaving town, too.

Over 25 years as a solo or senior pastor, there were attempts to get rid of me on three separate occasions.

The first two times, the board stood with me.

The last time, most of the staff and a group of current and former leaders stood with me.

But when most pastors are threatened, everybody bails on them.

Why is this?

Because people aren’t informed?  Because it’s not their fight?

No, it’s usually because those who stand beside their pastor when he’s under attack end up enduring the same vilification that the pastor receives … and few are willing to suffer like that.

Finally, the only way to defeat the attackers is to stand strong.

After Frank Miller came in on the noon train, he and his boys left for town to carry out their plan: kill Marshal Kane.

At the same time, Kane’s former girlfriend climbed onto the train … along with his wife Amy.

When Amy hears shots, she instinctively bolts off the train and heads for town.

When she gets there, her husband has already killed two of the four gunmen.

While the drunks in the saloon nervously wait … and Kane’s friends hide in their homes … and the congregation down the road prays … Amy, of all people, defends her husband.

And in so doing, she saves his life … and their future together.

When a group attacks a pastor, they have one of two goals in mind: defeat him (by forcing him to leave) or destroy him (by ruining his reputation and damaging his career).

Because most pastors are tender souls, he usually has just two chances to emerge victorious after such a showdown: slim and none.

Even if the pastor wilts while attacked … and most do … the attackers can be driven away – and even eradicated – if the pastor has just a few Amys on his side.

While we have several incidents in the New Testament where a spiritual leader is corrected (Paul opposed Peter to his face in Galatians; Aquila and Priscilla instructed Apollos in Acts 18), we don’t have any incidents in the New Testament where a group of believers tries to destroy their spiritual leader.

So let’s do our best to eliminate this ecclesiastical plague in the 21st century.

With the Gang of Four lying motionless on the town’s streets, the townspeople come outside and cheer Amy and Marshal Kane … who drops his badge onto the street and leaves town for the final time.

Once upon a time, pastors would endure an attack in one church … then go to another church, where they’d be attacked again … then do the same thing several more times.

In our day, most pastors are leaving ministry after the first attack.

If High Noon ever comes to your church, don’t just talk or pray.  If your pastor is being unfairly accused, be willing to fight with him.

Because if he leaves town, the Gang of Four will end up in charge.

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On May 21, I wrote an article called Five Tough Questions about Pastoral Termination.  In that blog post, I answered four questions that a forced-out pastor asked me several weeks ago.

But I didn’t answer this question:

What steps can the family take who has been affected by the trauma [of forced termination]? (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).

Why didn’t I answer this question?

Because the answer is complex and I needed time to think about my response.

If you’ve ever been fired from a job, then you know how humiliating the experience is … how difficult it is to explain to others … and how anxious you feel about finding a new job and being able to provide financially for your family.

But you still have your friends … your church family … your house … and your life.

However, when a pastor is forced out of office, his family usually loses nearly all their church friends … their church … sometimes their house (and credit rating) … and their life as they know it.

And the kicker is that all these losses are inflicted … often with malice and glee … by the hands of professing Christians.

So how does a pastor’s family heal after termination?

Let me offer seven brief ideas:

First, the pastor and his wife need to find several trusting friends they can confide in.

These friends need to be good listeners … empathetic … compassionate … wise … and very, very safe.

It doesn’t matter if they’re inside or outside the church.  What matters most is that they’re trustworthy.

In my case, I confided in two former board chairmen, several pastoral colleagues, and a few other friends.  To my knowledge, nobody turned on me.

My wife had several church friends that came and ministered to her … but she also confided in a few people who later turned on her … to the point that someone once told me, “So-and-So is not your friend.”

If the pastor and his wife discover that someone has definitely sold them out, the most prudent thing to do is to cut off all contact with them immediately… including Facebook and LinkedIn … and this is not an easy step to take.  It feels so final.

Second, the pastor and his wife need to locate a Christian counselor who specializes in counseling Christian leaders.

Most major population centers have plenty of Christian counselors … licensed psychologists and psychiatrists whose primary focus is the local Christian world.

And within that counseling community are counselors who specialize in listening to and advising pastors, missionaries, the leaders of other Christian organizations … and their wives.

I was blessed to have a long-term personal and professional relationship with a counselor who was so valued that some Christian leaders flew into town just to see him.

Why see a counselor?

For three main reasons:

*To properly assess responsibility for your departure: how much was yours and how much was the church’s.

*To express your pain to someone who can interpret it and offer ideas for healing.

*To create a game plan for your future.

How do you find counselors with this kind of experience?

*Ask the pastors who live in your area.

*Ask other Christian counselors that you know.

*Call your Bible college/seminary and ask for referrals.

*Call several megachurches in your area and ask for referrals.

*Contact several counselors and see who can make room for you.

While our conflict was ongoing, my wife and I were extremely blessed to be referred to a Christian counselor in a nearby city.  She had been a pastor’s wife for thirty years and understood both church conflict and spiritual warfare.

And when we moved to another state, we found another counselor who met with us both separately and together.

My research indicates that only twenty percent of all pastors who undergo forced termination seek a Christian counselor for healing.  This means that four out of five pastors try to heal without the compassion and insights gleaned from someone who is trained to help hurting leaders.

How do you pay for this counseling?

In our case, we used our tithe.  Since we no longer had a home church, we designated those funds for “kingdom ministry.”

Faced with the same set of circumstances, I’d do it again.

Third, speak appropriately with family members about your feelings.

Here’s what I mean by “appropriately”:

There are times when it’s fitting for a pastor, his wife, and their children to discuss how they feel about being forced to leave their church.

Such times differ from family to family.

For example, some children may need to discuss their father’s dismissal on a regular basis.  They may need reassurance that God still loves them or that God will provide for their family financially.

But other children may not want to know anything about their dad’s departure.  It’s too traumatic.

So rather than just launching into a tirade unannounced … and we’ve all been there … it might be wiser to ask your family, “I feel a need to discuss how I’m feeling right now.  Is anyone open to hearing my feelings?”

If someone is, speak with them privately.  If they’re not open, then don’t force them to listen.

Although it’s not easy to do, most emotional “dumping” should be done with a friend or a Christian counselor.

On the one hand, it’s toxic to a family’s well-being to discuss the termination all the time.

On the other hand, it’s dysfunctional not to acknowledge the pain involved on occasion.

The general rule of thumb is that the children heal before their parents … and that it can take a terminated pastor one to three years to heal.

I beg of the pastor’s family: give him plenty of room to be human … and don’t expect him to heal overnight.

The older he is, and the longer he was in a church, the more time he’ll need to heal.

Fourth, take some trips/vacations as soon as possible.

After the trauma of termination, a pastor’s family needs to have some fun.

If they don’t have much money, they might take a few weekends off … stay with family or friends in other locales … go camping together … or enjoy a staycation at home.

If they do have some money saved … or if the pastor received a good separation package … then the pastor’s family should take a week and go somewhere that will lift everyone’s spirits.

The time away will help the pastor and his family to feel safe … to regain perspective … and to reconnect with family.

In our case, my wife visited family in Texas, and then we went to the East Coast for a vacation.  (Someone gave us their time share in Virginia.)

You might not have this time again for a while … so take advantage of it.

Make some good memories.

Fifth, the pastor and his wife can benefit from a Wellness Retreat.

About a month after we left our last church, we flew to Tennessee for a five-day, four-night Wellness Retreat sponsored by a Christian organization that specializes in helping pastors who have experienced forced termination.

The retreat was a place to make new friends … tell our individual stories … express our pain … receive encouragement and guidance … and leave feeling inspired.

As I recall, there were about twelve of us attending the retreat, and my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

We learned why forced terminations occur in general … received insights into our own situations … and had plenty of time to ask questions and trade ideas.

The retreat is offered on a scholarship basis.  The only cost to the pastoral couple is transportation.

I highly recommend this retreat.  If you’d like to receive more information, please email me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and I’ll be glad to put you in touch with the retreat’s organizer.

Sixth, consider attending church somewhere but avoid getting involved until you’re nearly healed.

Every pastoral couple has several options when it comes to church attendance after a termination:

*Avoid church altogether.  There were Sundays when we didn’t have the strength to get up and go to church (giving us insight as to why some Christians in our ministries missed church!), but we went most of the time.  But when we didn’t go, we didn’t feel guilty and viewed it as part of the healing process.

*Visit many kinds of churches.  This might be a good time to visit churches that you wouldn’t normally visit: mainline churches … charismatic churches … new church starts … smaller churches in your community … and churches where you know the pastor.

*Visit churches so you can find a church home.  In our case, it took six months to find a church home … and we ended up returning to a church we had already rejected and loving it.

*Visit a megachurch and just veg.  Find a good church nearby and just take it all in.  Sit in the back row.  Come a little late.  Leave when the service closes.  Get involved if you want to but don’t feel like you have to serve every Sunday.

*Find a church where you can serve.  During the first year, you’re still wounded … and tender … and emotional.  If you try and serve as a volunteer too soon, all those negative feelings may come pouring back into your mind and spirit whenever something goes wrong.

My wife and I have learned to avoid (a) new church plants; (b) churches that meet in schools; and (c) small churches.  The larger the church, the better … at least for the first year …  and maybe longer.

Finally, unilaterally forgive those who have hurt you without expecting reconciliation.

One year after a pastor and his wife leave a church, my guess is that those who “got rid of the pastor” feel exactly the same way.  They haven’t “seen the light” … haven’t repented of any wrongdoing … and have only hardened their position.

So reconciliation … enemies becoming friends once again … is almost impossible for you to achieve.

Since you can’t meet with those who hurt you … to hear their side, to ask forgiveness, and to express your pain to them … the best you can do is to forgive your detractors unilaterally.

This transaction happens between you and God.  You either:

*ask God to forgive them, or

*tell God that you have forgiven them.

Ask God when and how you should do it … but realize that your healing will be delayed until you take this step.


It’s been five-and-a-half years since my wife and I left our last church.  In my case:

*I think about our former ministry nearly every day.

*My wife and I still talk about that church from time-to-time.

*I know I will never be a pastor again.

*I still miss certain friends from that church.

*I am grateful for all that God did through us during the ten-and-a-half years we were there.

*I believe that God’s timing in rushing us out of the church was perfect … I just didn’t like His methodology.

I have accepted the fact that I will always be wounded … but that doesn’t mean that I’m bitter.

You may be wounded for the rest of your days as well, but so was Moses … so was Jesus … and so was Paul … and they were all used by God in a greater way because of their wounds.

I recall a quote from A.W. Tozer that went something like this: “God only greatly uses those whom He has crushed.”

If you’ve been crushed as I have, it’s entirely possible that your best ministry isn’t the last one you left … it’s the next one that God has in store for you.

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You win a contest at your church and become Pastor For A Day.  This means you get to preach a sermon on an upcoming Sunday.  Which topic would you choose?  (Just humor me.)

Let’s say you decided to talk about stealing because there has been widespread looting in your community.  Would you slant your message toward warning people not to steal or making things right after they’ve already stolen something?

If you talked about lying, would you present reasons why it’s best to tell the truth in all situations or how to be forgiven after someone has already lied?

This is a continual dilemma for those who preach and teach God’s Word.

Because I grew up in more fundamentalist churches, most of the sermons I heard were preventative.  From our youth leaders to the pastor, we heard talks on “how to avoid having premarital sex” and “reasons not to take drugs” and “why you shouldn’t listen to rock music.”  Those who spoke assumed that if they scared us enough, we would avoid such sins.

Of course, public school teachers in my day warned us not to do those things in Jr. High and High School as well – and it worked in some cases.  (I still remember seeing a film featuring Sonny and Cher encouraging us not to take drugs.)

But as time went on, an increasing number of young people did have sex before marriage and did take drugs – and everyone listened to rock music.  So if a high school kid visited a friend’s church and the pastor’s message was on the prevention of sin, that kid couldn’t relate to the message at all.  Heck, he’d already done all those things and a whole lot more.

Revivalist Billy Sunday exemplified the “preaching against sin” attitude when he once said: “I’m against sin.  I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, and I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist.  I’ll butt it as long as I’ve got a head.  I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth.  When I’m old and fistless and footless and toothless, I’m gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition!”

Whenever I taught, I believed that I needed to make a case for the wisdom of what God said in Scripture.  When He said don’t get drunk, the Lord gave good reasons why this isn’t wise (Proverbs 23:29-35).  When He prohibited gossip, He knew how badly the practice wounds people (Proverbs 6:16-19).  The fundamentalists I heard preach kept telling us, “Don’t do this, avoid that, stay away from this, walk around that.”

But what do you do if you’re speaking to people who have already broken every commandment?  The prevention prescription feels like condemnation to them, not liberation.

What did they need instead?  They need to know that even though they have sinned, God still loves them.  They need to know the wideness of His mercy and the depth of His grace.  And they need to know that when they confess their sins, God will forgive them – every time.

I don’t remember hearing the message of forgiveness very much growing up.

Many years ago, I had lunch with one of my ministry heroes.  He was an educator, a missionary, and an author.  But this man wrestled with perfectionism and an obsessive-compulsive mentality.  As we compared notes, we both concluded that we struggled with certain issues not because of our parental upbringings, but because of the perfectionistic, nitpicky churches we grew up in.

To counter this thinking, some pastors have stopped warning people about sin and just tell people how they can be forgiven instead.  They continually preach that “God loves you” and “I just want to encourage you” and “Isn’t life with God great?”  They intentionally self-censor any talk about sin, focusing instead on how great God is – and how great we all are as well.

This reminds me of the famous quote by H. Richard Niebuhr who said that modern Christianity was about “a God without wrath who brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

That quotation perfectly sums up a lot of preaching in churches today.

When I was a pastor, I tried to maintain a balance between prevention and forgiveness whenever I spoke about sin.

The next time you hear a pastor speak, listen carefully.  If he talks about sin, see if he mentions both prevention and forgiveness.

John 1:17 expresses my philosophy of preaching: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

The best preachers utilize both grace and truth.  Liberals emphasize grace (or God’s love); fundamentalists emphasize truth (or God’s holiness).

Biblical preachers emphasize both … and God’s love makes virtually no sense unless He is also holy.

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I recently spoke with a retired pastor in his mid-eighties about his denominational ties.

This pastor told me that he’s very upset about the division inside his denomination over a particular social issue.  Pastors and churches have been pulling out of the denomination which grieves this pastor’s heart.

But he went on to tell me that with all its problems, he would never leave the denomination.

He was educated by their school … pastored several of their churches … has his medical insurance with them … and receives retirement checks from them.  He has also made many friends within the denomination over the years.

In other words, my friend has been loyal to his denomination, and they have been loyal to him in return.

Thirty-five years ago, when I pursued ordination with my home church, I expected that my relationship with that church’s denomination would go equally as well.  I would be loyal to them, and they would be loyal to me.

But it didn’t work out that way … and it rarely does for pastors who have experienced attacks that lead to forced termination.

I was in the same denomination for 31 years.

For the first 15 years, I did everything I was asked to do: attend district and national meetings … serve on district committees … befriend my pastoral colleagues … talk up district retreats and events inside my church … let their missionaries speak during worship services … and demonstrate loyalty to the denomination as a whole.

For my last 16 years, I did not attend meetings … serve on committees … or talk up retreats.  I did have some friendships with district pastors, and I let a few missionaries come and present their ministries, but that was it.

I found that district and denominational work was distracting and pulled me away from my true calling as a local church pastor.  When you’re in a smaller church setting, you have more time for district activities, but as your church grows, it becomes more difficult to justify taking time and energy away from your church.  (After all, who is paying you?)

So when I went through a horrendous conflict in my last ministry five-and-a-half years ago, I did not expect any assistance from our local district office.

But I talk all the time with pastors who express to me how hurt … and even outraged … they are that their district minister/superintendent did not provide support for them when they experienced personal attacks.

So let me share with you five realities that I’ve learned the hard way about denominations and pastor-church conflict:

First, denominations are more politically-oriented than they are spiritual.

When a rookie pastor finally learns this truth, it’s devastating.

One pastor told me that when he assumed his first pastorate, his district leader told him that if he ever needed any counsel or support, he would be there for him.

But when this pastor found himself under fire, and he did contact his district official, he had already sided with the pastor’s detractors inside the church.

That’s not spirituality in action.  That’s politics, pure and simple.

Let me share a sad but true story of denominational politics in action.

When I applied for ordination in my district almost four decades ago, I met with an ordination committee that provided counsel for my upcoming ordination council.  One of the three committee members was a prominent pastor in the denomination.

Soon after that committee meeting, that pastor was discovered to be guilty of sexual misconduct with someone other than his wife.

If that kind of wrongdoing had happened with almost any other pastor, he would have been placed under discipline for at least two years before being recommended for another church.

But this pastor was a well-known speaker and author … and was well-connected inside the denomination.

Know where he ended up?  I heard him preach one Sunday … as the senior pastor of the largest church in the entire denomination.

This pastor committed a major moral offense … and was promoted!

But he repeated his mistake in that megachurch … and after moving to district headquarters, repeated it still again.

Why was this pastor moved from place to place even though he obviously hadn’t changed?

As an influential leader later told me, it’s because the denomination was “a good old boy network” … and this pastor was a “good old boy.”

In other words, personalities and politics trumped principles.

I am not saying that people who work for denominations are unspiritual, but that the political aspect is more pronounced in denominational decision-making than most pastors could ever guess.

So when a pastor gets into trouble inside his own church, and his district minister doesn’t support him, that pastor may be expendable because he’s on the wrong side of denominational politics.

Second, pastoral participation in district activities is far more important than most pastors realize.

Many district ministers evaluate a pastor not on the basis of his walk with God … or his congregational leadership … or his church’s effectiveness … but on how often the pastor attends district functions, and how much money the pastor’s church contributes to the district.

For years, I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t true … but it is.

A pastor who went to the denominational college or seminary … and shows up to district functions … and whose church gives generously to district coffers … becomes “our kind of guy.”

And the pastor who didn’t attend denominational schools … or doesn’t attend district events … or whose church gives little to the district … is someone that the DM would like to see leave so he can be replaced by “our kind of guy.”

In other words, pastors who don’t show blind loyalty to the denomination will not be shown loyalty in return … no matter how badly they’ve been mistreated by their church.

However, I know of at least one exception to this principle.

Ten years ago, I had a conversation after class with a professor in my Doctor of Ministry program.  He is one of the most influential leaders in the Christian world.

We were both in the same denomination at the time, and I told him that I was feeling a bit guilty for not attending denominational meetings for years.

He asked me, “Why does it bother you?”  After I shared a response, he told me, “I’ve been to three meetings in 28 years.”

I never felt guilty about that issue again.

Third, denominational leaders have a history of playing it safe.

I served as the pastor of four churches over the course of 25 years.

When I didn’t take risks, those churches didn’t grow.  When I did take risks, they usually did grow … but conflict was the price that I paid.

Why?  Because change … even when it’s wildly successful … always makes somebody angry.

There is no meaningful growth in a church without change … which leads to conflict … and if a pastor is afraid of conflict, his church probably won’t grow.

But when a district is looking for a minister/superintendent, they don’t want someone whose past ministries have experienced conflict.  Conflict in past churches may be a precursor of conflict in many district churches in the future.

The district wants someone nice … organized … safe … and predictable instead.

I was in the same denominational district for 27 years.  During that time, there were four district ministers.

I don’t know how the first leader was chosen … but I know how the other three were selected: all were members of the district’s trustee board.

They were diplomatic … known quantities … and solid individuals … but they didn’t do or say anything that could remotely be considered risky.

So when a district minister hears about a pastor who has taken some risks … and angered some churchgoers in the process … he can’t relate to that pastor.  After all, he spent his entire ministry trying to placate people in various congregations.

So instead of understanding that pastor … and empathizing with him … and standing behind him … the district minister blames the pastor for the entire conflict.

In our district, the DM encouraged churches to grow … and growing churches were highlighted at district meetings.

But when some pastors took the necessary risks … and implemented change … their leadership was challenged, and conflict broke out in their church.

Those pastors rightly expected that their DM would stand behind them … especially since they were trying to obey Christ’s Great Commission and “make disciples of all the nations.”

But when pastors find themselves under fire in their churches … and later discover that their DM is standing against them as well … it’s enough to send a pastor into spiritual and emotional despair.

This leads us to the next reality:

Fourth, denominational leaders usually side with the pastor’s antagonists over against the pastor.

There is a growing body of literature today that blames most church conflicts on church boards and/or factions.  For example, Alan Klaas, who investigated why pastors are forced out of office in different denominations, concluded that in 45% of the cases, a minority faction pushed the pastor out, while only 7% of the time was the pastor’s misconduct the primary factor.

When I provide counsel to pastors about the attacks that they’re undergoing, I’m appalled by the tactics that church laymen use to force out their pastor.  You won’t find them anywhere in the New Testament … they lack love and grace … and if they’d use similar tactics in a secular company, they’d be sued in a heartbeat.

So how in the world can a district minister close his eyes to evil … ignore the demands of righteousness … and castigate the pastor for all the problems in a church?

In their book Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry, researchers Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger state that 42% of their respondents left church ministry because they didn’t feel they were supported by denominational officials when they needed help the most.

Most pastors don’t know this until they contact their district minister for help … and discover that their adversaries have already bent his ear.

And sadly, many DMs … like many Christians … believe the first person who tells them about a conflict.

When my conflict occurred, my district minister … who had been on the job barely a month … called me about the conflict because someone from the church had called him about it.  Fortunately, I hired a consultant who came to the church … interviewed staff … witnessed two destructive meetings … and collaborated with my DM to expose the plot against me.

If I hadn’t hired that consultant … who was well-respected in the larger Christian community … where would that DM have come down?

I don’t really know.  But I had a hard time trusting anyone in his position because of what had happened to me twenty years earlier.

Five years into my second pastorate, I was attacked by a seniors class.

My district minister then recommended that I resign.

Why?  Because I had committed some great sin?

No, because a guy named Bob and the seniors were upset with me … and they were very vocal … even though they were the only ones who were upset.

I knew what unilateral resignation meant: financial ruin (we had no savings and didn’t own a house) … the possible end of my pastoral career … an incredible strain on my wife to be the immediate family breadwinner … and being forced to move and live with family somewhere.

Fortunately, I waited three days before making my decision, and met with the church board first.  To a man, they all stood behind me and said, “If you resign, we’re all going to resign as well.”

I stayed … let Bob and the seniors leave … and began rebuilding the ministry … which improved greatly without Bob and his gang around.

But I will never forget that when I needed him the most, my district minister collapsed on me.

Thankfully, I have heard of a few district ministers who stand behind their pastors when they’re attacked, but my guess is that 90% of them stand with the pastor’s antagonists instead.

Why is this?

Because it’s easier to find another pastor than it is to plant and build another church … and if the DM stands with the pastor, he’s afraid of alienating the “winners” in the conflict … who might withhold their giving to the district, or pull their church out of the denomination altogether.

Finally, it’s usually counterproductive to trust a district leader with any confidential information.

When I became a pastor, I viewed my district minister as a “pastor to pastors” … and he encouraged that perspective.  But boy, did he dish out confidential information about other pastors … in some cases, bordering on slander.

Naively, I shared some real struggles with my next two district ministers … and in both cases, that information was later used against me.

Unless you have spoken to other pastors under fire … and know for certain that your district minister is someone you can trust … I wouldn’t tell him anything that could later be used against you.

It’s far better to speak to a Christian counselor … a friend who lives some distance away … or a former professor … than to trust most district officials … some of whom continually manipulate the district chessboard so they can get “their kind of guy” placed.


A longtime pastor friend worked for a denominational office for many years.  Nearly twenty years ago, he told me that the denomination was “a dying organization.”

I felt then … and I still feel today … that the success or failure of a denomination rests with how strongly district leaders support their pastors … not how strongly pastors support their district office.

I told a story in my book Church Coup about a pastor whose church grew from 80 to 370 in fifteen months, followed by the building of a new sanctuary which was quickly filled.  But as more people came, a group in the church began losing influence and wanted to snatch it back, launching a major conflict. The pastor tried to follow the advice of his DM and be redemptive, but the DM later demanded that the pastor resign, even though he had done nothing wrong.

This pastor later learned that he was the 28th innocent pastor within a twelve-month period to be forced to resign in that district.

Until the above scenario changes, I question how much time and energy a local church pastor should give his district and denomination.

I’m 100% behind advancing the worldwide kingdom of God … but skeptical about supporting a denomination that expects the loyalty of its pastors without giving back loyalty in return.

Sounds like a bad deal, doesn’t it?


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