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Archive for March, 2016

Picture this scenario inside a church:

Pastor Mike has served as senior pastor of Mercy Church for 12 years.  During that time, the church has doubled in size and donations.

By any measure, Mike’s tenure at Mercy has been a success.

But due to the increased flow of guests, Pastor Mike has told the governing board that the church either needs to (a) add a third service, or (b) make additional room in the worship center … which might mean knocking out the side walls and expanding the seating.

For some reason … and Mike doesn’t know why … the board seems resistant to both ideas.  In fact, at the last board meeting, Mike sensed that the attitude of several board members was, “We aren’t going to get behind your suggestions no matter what.  We’re drawing a line.”

It depressed Pastor Mike to think that Mercy wouldn’t want to reach more people for Jesus … but he wondered if there were some church leaders who simply didn’t want to follow his leadership anymore.

Over the next few months, Mike learned that his instincts were correct.  Along with three board members, two staff members had also become resistant to Mike’s leadership.

Then one day, Pastor Mike discovered that those board members and staffers were holding secret meetings.

Mike began to have anxiety attacks … which led to panic attacks … which scared him so much that he began to withdraw from all but essential church meetings and activities.

But now he had given additional ammunition to the Gang of Five.  In their eyes, not only was Mike pushing too hard to reach new people, he was also acting in an aloof manner.

So they moved in for the kill.

At the next meeting of the governing board, the chairman presented Mike with a letter, claiming that he was distancing himself from people … resisting the board’s leadership … and was no longer qualified to be the church’s pastor.

Then followed the coup de grace … Mike was asked for his resignation.

After negotiating a severance package, Mike quit … with nowhere to go.

Over the following year, Mike cut off all contact with 95% of the people from Mercy Church.  It was very painful for him … he didn’t want to do it … but he realized that for his own sanity and wellbeing, he had to.

Taking this step felt counter to all that he believed, but he felt he had no choice.  Mike couldn’t bear to see Facebook stories involving church families getting together … featuring photos of those who pushed him out.

So here are the steps Mike took to stop contact:

*Mike reviewed his friends on Facebook and unfriended everybody from the church except those who had explicitly told/showed him they wanted to stay friends.

*Mike reviewed his contacts on LinkedIn and Twitter and did the same.

*Mike cut off all contact with anyone in Christian ministry who seemed to take the side of his detractors, including denominational leaders, parachurch leaders, and pastor friends.

*Mike tossed all email addresses and phone numbers of anyone and everyone who did not stand with him during his conflict at Mercy.

Do Mike’s actions seem extreme?

Some would say, “Absolutely.  Pastor Mike should be building bridges to repair relationships rather than putting up barricades to end them.”

But in many ways, I am just like Pastor Mike.  When I left my last church ministry nearly 6 1/2 years ago, I had to face some cold-hearted realities, even though they flew in the face of what I believe about Christian unity and relationships.

I had to cut myself off from most of the people in my last church … including ministry friends.

Let me share with you four reasons why I did this:

First, I cut off contact with most church attendees because I was never going to see them again.

The relationship we had was pastor-parishioner.  That was it.

And when I resigned, that relationship was over forever.

I was no longer responsible for their spiritual welfare, and they were no longer responsible for listening to me … supporting me … or praying for me.

May as well acknowledge it and let everybody move on.

I’ve never told this story before, but nearly three months after my departure, I had to return to my previous church to move more than twenty boxes of files I had left behind.

When I walked through the worship center balcony upstairs, I saw the daughter of a woman who had just turned 100 years old below.  This woman had been one of my biggest supporters for years, and I always assumed I would conduct her memorial service.

But it wasn’t to be.  The daughter was present because her mother had just died … and someone else … who didn’t know her … would be conducting the service instead.

No longer marrying or burying people that you love is one of the many prices a forced-out pastor has to pay after he leaves a church … and one he must accept to get better.

I also didn’t want to hear about what was going on in the church … good or bad … and that was the basis of most of my church friendships.

So I had to cut people off.

Second, I cut off contact with some church leaders because they had planned my demise.

It’s painful to face the truth, but when church leaders conspire to get rid of a pastor, they are not just ending their professional relationships with him … they are also ending their personal relationships with him.

By their actions, they are telling their pastor, “We never want to see you or hear from you again.  You are dead to us.”

Why keep in contact with people who either hate you or, at the very least, despise you?  There’s nothing to work out.

One church leader seemed to stand with me in public, but when he sensed the politics were shifting, he changed his stance … trying to play both sides of the fence.

I heard from him the month after I left … but after that, never again.

He followed me on Twitter, but I figured he was monitoring what I saying, so I cut him off … for good.

Although we had many wonderful memories together, our relationship was finished.

Third, I cut off contact with several pastor friends because they were more loyal to my predecessor than to me.

Years ago, I formed a luncheon group composed of four pastor friends from our denomination plus me.  We met every month for lunch … got together every Christmas for dinner … and visited each other’s homes/churches on occasion.

I was especially close to one of the pastors, considering him my best friend … and not just in ministry.

As time went on, two of those friends moved to pastorates in different states.  Both went through forced terminations, and I did my best to be there for both of them.

Years later, when I went through my own forced termination, they both called me months later to find out what happened.

(As I wrote in my book Church Coup, my predecessor … who had brought me to the church initially … played a part in forcing me out of office.)

As I shared my story with my friends, it was obvious that our friendships had changed dramatically.

With one friend, when I shared the part my predecessor played, he said something that indicated that my predecessor had already spoken with him … and that my side didn’t matter to him.

I waited several years, but my pastor friends didn’t lift a finger to help me or stay in contact.

In other words, it was obvious that for whatever reason, our friendship was history.

And so one day, I unfriended them both from Facebook and took them off LinkedIn.

That happened three years ago.  I’m grateful for the many years I enjoyed their friendship … and maybe living in different states had something to do with it … but I can’t imagine resurrecting those relationships.

So regretfully, rather than waiting for them to take my side or give me some encouragement, I cut them off.

Finally, I cut off contact with anyone who needed a long explanation as to why I left my last church.

For a long time after I was forced out, the injustice of it all was all I could talk about.  That obsessive mindset – “God’s people treated me unfairly, and I’d like to tell you about it” – is toxic.

You’re aware that you’re spewing poison, so you limit who you talk to … and for how long … because you don’t want to lose more friends than you already have.

But telling that story repeatedly drains you of the energy you need just to survive.  You’re digging your own emotional grave.

Now I feel the opposite.  I don’t want to talk about what happened … unless it’s for professional purposes.

God gave me a story, so I’ll refer to it in my blogs … while consulting with Christian leaders … and in any workshops I do on church conflict.

But other than that, I’d rather talk about the presidential race … or the 2016 baseball season … or how fun my grandsons are.

Since I left my last ministry, I’ve wondered if anyone involved in ending my ministry … and career … would ever contact me directly and say, “I’m so sorry for the part I played in your leaving.  Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?”

The answer would immediately be, “Of course I will forgive you.  In fact, you may not be aware of this, but I forgave you a long time ago.”

But not one leader or attendee has ever done that.

I don’t want my health and happiness to be dependent upon waiting for people to repent, so I’ve chosen to remain friends with those who:

*love me outside of my last church experience.

*love me in spite of my last church experience.

*love me and believe that I was unfairly treated.

*love me in spite of the fact that I write about every angle of pastoral termination on a regular basis.

I’m a huge Beatles fan and think often of the lyrics to the bridge of their song “We Can Work It Out”:

“Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend

I have always thought that it’s a crime, so I will ask you once again

Try to see it my way, only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong … ”

When I was a pastor, I tried to be friends with everyone in the church.

It was expected of me.

Now that I’m not a pastor, I can choose who my friends are.

And I can choose who they aren’t.

Before I left my last ministry, I assumed I was friends with many people in the church … including staff members, board members, and key leaders.

But if they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore, then I follow Paul’s words in Romans 12:18:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

But for those who don’t want to live in peace … I sadly but firmly cut them off … without regret or guilt.

And look forward to complete reconciliation around the throne of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am not entirely comfortable with today’s topic: why some people hate their pastor … but some issues grab me and won’t let me go.

Over the past few weeks, I have not been able to mentally censor this nagging question:

Why do some board members/staff members/church members hate their pastor enough to force him to leave?

Let’s admit that this is a real issue in many situations where a pastor is terminated.  Sometimes the driving force in a pastoral termination is the personal hatred someone has for their pastor … especially in smaller church settings.

Why is this so?

First, some people hate their pastor because he doesn’t adopt their viewpoints on church matters.

There are people in every church who think they know how to run the church better than their God-called minister.

Maybe they do … but they haven’t been entrusted by God … or by the congregation … with the same amount of decision-making authority as their pastor.

I don’t understand such people.  It would be far more sensible … and much less divisive … if such a person either (a) chose to wait and see how some of the pastor’s decisions worked out, or (b) left the church quietly and didn’t make a fuss.

But when people go public against their pastor … even if only inside their own social network … they usually don’t back down or they’re afraid of losing face.

Second, some people hate their pastor because they don’t like his ministry style.

I served under five senior pastors as a staff member over nearly 11 years.

One pastor let me run the ministry the way I wanted.  Another pastor gave me a running commentary every week on how I was doing.

One pastor used to come into my office and solicit my opinion on church matters.  Another pastor spent most of our time together talking about himself.

Several pastors were loud and opinionated; a couple were thoughtful and reflective.

Some complimented me on a regular basis; others rarely said anything encouraging or kind.

I always felt that it was my job to adapt to them and their style.  It was not their job to adapt to me and my style.

But some board members … and especially staff members … believe that the pastor needs to adjust his leadership style to them, not the other way around.

And when a pastor doesn’t make this adjustment, some people will secretly hate him.

Third, some people hate their pastor because he once offended them.

In 36 years of church ministry, I can count on two hands the number of people who came to me and said, “Jim, you said or did something that really offended me, and I’d like to see if we can work this out between us.”

Most of the time, I’d hear something like this instead: “Jim, So-and-So is really upset with you.”

But when most people are upset with their pastor, they don’t want him to know … so they don’t tell him directly.

In some respects, I get this.

When a church is smaller, it’s easier for people to speak with their pastor directly.  He’s more accessible … easier to know … and his reactions are more predictable.

As a church grows larger, it becomes more difficult for people to speak with their pastor one-on-one.  The pastor might not be visible after a weekend service … or attempts to speak with him might result in his saying, “Call me at church during the week so we can set up an appointment.”

That’s great … but what if you can’t leave work to do that?

And what if you can … but you chicken out before making that appointment?

But why blame the pastor when he doesn’t know how the offended party feels?

It’s irrational … but sadly, all too common.

______________

Let me share with you some things I’ve never shared – not even in my book Church Coup – about why I ultimately left my last ministry.

*It wasn’t because I committed a major offense, because I didn’t.

*It wasn’t because the church was going down the tubes, because it wasn’t.

*It wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job, because I was … although I was wearing down toward the end without knowing why.

*It wasn’t because of anything my wife did or didn’t do … even though that was the presenting charge … because she was ultimately exonerated by a 9-person team from inside the church.

No, the real reason I left my last ministry was because two Christian leaders hated me.

One leader was inside the church … and one leader was outside the church.

But why did these leaders hate me?  I certainly did not hate them.

The leader inside the church had his own agenda.  In my view, he wanted to control the money so he could control the ministry.  He never seemed to listen to anything I said, but he wanted me to listen to him, even though I tried but rarely understood his points.  He engineered my departure from within but did not speak with me personally about any of his concerns.

The leader outside the church had an agenda as well.  I’ve protected his reputation for many years, even though he used a scorched earth policy against me.  When the time is right, I may reveal more … not to be vindictive, but to illustrate why some pastors are forced out of their church positions.

How do I know these two men hated me?

*They never told me directly how they felt.

There are many disobeyed commands in Scripture, but Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 have to be right up near the top.

Jesus is pretty clear: “If your brother sins [and that includes your pastor], go and reprove him in private.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

Whatever I said or did that offended these men, they never loved me enough to sit down and say, “Hey, Jim, there is something between us.  Let’s try and work this out together.”

So I assumed that everything was fine … until I was ambushed and betrayed.

*They both spread their feelings to other Christians.

If I tell you that I’m angry with my pastor, you should say to me, “Why are you telling me this?  Go speak with him at once and work things out.”  If you’re too scared to speak with him directly, then take it to the Lord in prayer and let it go … or find a friend or family member who lives several states away and share your feelings with them.

But keep those feelings out of your church, or you may destroy a lot of lives.  Hatred … even of a Christian leader … can be contagious.

Because if I tell you that I’m enraged at my pastor, you may very well add some petty grievances of your own to my complaint.  If I tell my wife about my anger, she may add her own complaints as well.

Before long, I’m focusing only on how the pastor offended me, my wife, and my friends rather than looking out for the best interests of the church long-term.

If these men had come to me, we could have worked things out.  If I was wrong, I would have admitted my part.  I can be sensitive, but I’m also reasonable.

But they never came to me … but did go to others.

The result?  A firestorm.

*They tried to destroy my reputation.

The wife of the leader from inside the church called a friend of mine in another state to criticize me.

The leader from outside the church called another friend to rag on me for a different matter.

In both cases, the callers were hoping that those they called would be receptive to their harsh criticisms.

In both cases, the callers ended up being more loyal to me than to my critics … and told me who called them and what they said.

Six months after I left my last church, I made an appointment with the district leader of a denomination other than the one I had been in for years.  My hope was that I might be able to do some guest speaking in churches … just to be useful.

When I started telling him my story about what happened in my former church, he had already heard it, and guessed the name of the church before I even mentioned it … as well as the name of a leader who pushed me out.

It shook me up, and I never sent him my resume or a preaching DVD because I assumed … rightly or wrongly … “Everybody in the Christian world must know about my situation, so why proceed any further?”

In some ways, I still feel that way.

*They did all in their power to force me to resign.

I cannot imagine hating a pastor so much that you would do all in your power to force him out of office.

In my book Church Coup, I wrote the following:

“I have a theory about the mentality of those who seek to target a pastor they don’t like.  Because they sense that what they’re doing is wrong, they have to (a) exaggerate any charges to the level of a capital crime; (b) find others who agree with them to alleviate their guilt; (c) justify their actions by convincing themselves it’s for the common good; and (d) work up their hatred so they follow through with their plan.  While this progression sounds like the kind of diabolical rage one might find in politics or war (or the prelude to a murder), the last place we’d expect to find such irrationality is inside a church.”

But in all too many cases, that irrationality thrives.

*They never spoke with me again after I resigned.

One of these two men was one of my best friends for at least ten years.  He contacted me every few months, even when we lived hundreds of miles apart.

But when our conflict was brewing in the fall of 2009, the consultant I hired told me that my “friend” was involved in the conflict.

Three other Christian leaders told me about his involvement afterward.  One of them told me, “You’ve been undermined for years without your knowledge, and it’s amazing that your church has done so well during that time.”

Maybe we’ll reunite in heaven.

_______________

You might be wondering, “Jim, have you forgiven these men who hated you?”

Yes, I believe I have … if we’re talking about unilateral forgiveness.

Two months after I resigned and left my former church, I drove nearly 800 miles back to my former community to pick up some valuables that were being stored at a friend’s house.

That night, I stayed in our old house one last time.  (It was up for sale but still on the market.)

I took a walk around the old neighborhood, sat on a bench in a small park … and looked directly across at the house of the leader inside the church who engineered my departure.

He didn’t know I was there, but I prayed and forgave him.  I even asked God to bless his life and family.

The leader from outside the church had been good to me for years, so in some ways it was easier to forgive him.

But if forgiveness means reconciliation … former enemies coming together again as friends … I don’t envision that ever happening.

I wish both men and their families well.  I don’t pray that God will harm them or strike them dead.

But to this day, I still don’t know why they hated me so much … and I guess I’ll never know.

But while we’re at it, there’s something else I’m wondering:

When the hatred of these two leaders manifested itself … among their wives, their friends, and members of my former church … why didn’t anyone say to them, “You’re angry and even bitter right now, and you need to make things right with Jim, or let things go.”

Maybe someone did say that.

I just wish they had listened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I listen to the stories of pastors who have undergone a forced termination, I almost always ask them this question:

“What were the charges against you?”

If a pastor committed a major offense like heresy (and I haven’t met one yet who has), sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, then he knows precisely why the governing board removed him from office, and has only himself to blame.

But in more than 95% of the cases, by any objective measure, the pastor isn’t guilty of any major offense.

And much of the time, the pastor is in the dark as to why the board pressured him to resign.

If I was a church board member, and I was concerned about my pastor’s behavior or ministry, I would tell my fellow leaders, “We need to design and follow a fair and just process for dealing with our concerns about the pastor.  Since he isn’t guilty of any impeachable offense, we need to give him the benefit of the doubt and bring him into our deliberations.”

This means following three principles:

First, the pastor needs to know what people – including board members – are saying about him.

Second, the pastor needs to be able to respond to any charges made against him.

Finally, the pastor should be allowed to suggest ways to improve his behavior and ministry.

A minority of church boards follow the above three principles, and when I speak with such a board member, I always commend him for trying to be fair.

But the majority act differently.  Here’s a typical scenario:

Pastor Tim receives a phone call at his home late one night from his friend Nate, who tells him that the church board has met in secret twice over the past month.  Since Pastor Tim is also a board member, and he wasn’t invited to those meetings, he immediately assumes that the board is talking about him.

And Tim’s instincts are correct.

Since nobody on the board has spoken to Tim about any concerns about him, Tim asks himself a series of questions:

*Am I guilty of a major offense?  No.

*Am I aware of anyone who wants to get rid of me?  No.

*Am I aware of anyone who is angry with me?  No.

*Am I aware of any factions that are forming against me?  No.

*Have our attendance and giving slid recently?  Maybe a bit, but I can’t believe I’d be fired for a temporary slump.

Even though Tim is confident before God that he has done nothing to merit dismissal, he doesn’t sleep well that night.

Four days later, Don, the board chairman, asks to meet with Pastor Tim privately for breakfast the next day.  After another sleepless night, Don and Tim meet.

Don begins, “Pastor, a group has formed inside our church that has some serious concerns about the way you do ministry.  The board has listened to their concerns and we believe that for the good of the church, you should resign as pastor effective immediately.”

Pastor Tim cannot believe what he’s hearing.  He’s absolutely stunned by Don’s revelation.

After a long and awkward pause, Tim asks, “What are their concerns about me?”

Don responds, “We’re not at liberty to say, but they’re important enough that we think you should resign.”

Tim then asks, “Who are these people, Don?”

Don responds, “They’re spoken to us confidentially and we told them we wouldn’t reveal their names.”

Tim then says, “Don, that’s not fair!  I need to know who is making charges against me and what those charges are or you’re participating in a kangaroo court.”

But Don doesn’t budge, saying, “Look, Tim, this is in the best interests of everyone involved.”

Ready to blow his top, Tim tells Don, “I don’t agree with you, Don, unless you tell me who is saying what about me.”

But Don won’t reveal a thing to his pastor about the charges.

At this point, let me quote from church conflict expert Speed Leas in his manual Moving Your Church Through Conflict:

“A person being charged or condemned by others should have the right to know what those charges are and [have] an opportunity to respond to them. Denying this opportunity plays into the hands of real or potential manipulators, allows untrue or distorted information to be circulated and establishes a precedent that the way to deal with differences is to talk about rather than to talk with others. I have also found it true that individuals who talk about others out of their presence tend to exaggerate their charges, believing they will not be quoted.”

The process that Leas describes is eminently fair, and yet many church boards violate these principles when they conspire to get rid of their pastor.

Why do church boards do this? Why do they engage in practices toward a man of God that are utterly unjust?

Supposition #1: The board ‘s reasons for getting rid of the pastor are so petty that they’d be embarrassed to reveal them.

A common reason for getting rid of a pastor is that one or two important people just don’t like him.  But that’s not an objective charge … that’s a subjective preference … and few people are going to let their pastor know their feelings.

I have a friend who was dismissed and never given a reason.  All he could do was speculate.  He finally determined that he was fired because he didn’t visit a board member’s child who was in the hospital on an outpatient basis one day.

Supposition #2: Some key people in the church – board members, staff members, or prominent leaders – have threatened to leave the church unless the pastor is sacked. 

Some of these leaders are personal friends of board members or their spouses.  Some are longtime members or large donors.  The board reasons, “It’s easier to get another pastor than it is to replace those who stand against the pastor.”  So they jettison any kind of fair process and shut their mouths.

Supposition #3: Some board members – especially those who run small businesses – decide to treat the pastor the way they would treat one of their employees.

What do many small business owners tell their employees when they let them go?  “You just aren’t working out.”  They speak in vague terms because they feel it isn’t worth it to get into specifics.  That same mentality is directed toward pastors in too many situations … but a pastor isn’t a sales clerk or a custodian.  He’s someone called by God to lead God’s people and preach God’s Word.  Big difference.

Supposition #4: The board doesn’t want to hurt the pastor’s feelings by being specific.

But what could be worse than being summarily and instantly dismissed?  I for one would want to know exactly why I was being elbowed out the door … and I wouldn’t let the board off the hook by letting them resort to platitudes and vague generalities.  If I had a blind spot in my character or behavior, I’d want to know about it so I could work on it … or I could be dismissed from my next position.

Supposition #5: Someone in church leadership – probably on the board – has a vendetta against the pastor.

That person doesn’t want to implement Jesus’ words and confront the pastor as Matthew 18:15-17 specifies, so they bully or manipulate the board to carry out their wishes … and the board passively goes along with them.  This supposition says far more about the board than it does about the pastor.

I believe that many church boards dismiss their pastor prematurely.  They never tell him directly about their concerns so the pastor is never given a chance to make course corrections.  They also fail to bring up issues as they arise.  Speed Leas comments:

“Healthy and fair confrontation should tell the ‘offender’ what is wrong, and prepare the way for negotiation (or collaboration) toward agreement and a better relationship. Confrontation which demands that things be done one way, and does not allow for others to shape the way those things are done, is oppressive and demeaning. There are times when a board or supervisor (the one with authority to direct others) must confront without negotiation or collaboration; but even in these cases the ‘offender’ should have ample opportunity to perform differently before being dismissed from the organization. This is often difficult and done poorly in church situations. Instead of clearly describing to an employee or volunteer what is wanted and seeking to find a way to achieve a mutually satisfactory relationship, too often church leaders avoid confrontation until all hope of improving the working relationship is lost, or they confront and expect immediate change on the part of others without looking at what else in the organization might need to be changed.”

I’m sure there are other reasons why the governing board doesn’t tell the pastor why they’re pushing him out, but these are the ones that come most readily to mind.

If the board refuses to tell the pastor why they’re letting him go, what, if anything, can the pastor do about it?

If I were Pastor Tim, I’d tell Don … at breakfast or later on: “If you want to fire me, go ahead, but realize that you’re going to have to explain your decision to (a) the church staff; (b) other church leaders; (c) the congregation as a whole; (d) members who will contact individual board members; (e) the district minister (assuming the church is part of a denomination); (f) any interim pastor you might hire; and (g) the next pastor.

“And believe me, if you tell any or all of these parties why you’re letting me go, much of what you say will eventually get back to me, and you and the rest of the board will come off as cowards.

“So here is what I propose: I ask that you and one other board member meet with me as soon as possible so you can tell me the real reason why you are letting me go.  If you want to fire me, go ahead, but I will not give you a resignation letter unless you’re honest with me and until we agree on a severance package.”

If the board is intent on flexing its muscles, they might fire Pastor Time outright, but believe me … they are going to have a lot of trouble down the road.

This is just my opinion, but I believe that church boards like having a strong pastor when it comes to theology, and biblical morality, and critiquing the culture, but they want a weak pastor when they want to enforce their will upon him.  They want him to roll over and play dead, and if he doesn’t, they don’t want him around any more.

This is where church boards need to remember that nobody comes to church to watch the board make decisions.  They come primarily because they enjoy the pastor’s ministry.

All the more reason why every church board should treat the pastor fairly and justly.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

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