Archive for May, 2016

A pastor friend recently send me his thoughts after an article I wrote on pastor-board conflict:

“I understand that the pastor has to have some level of accountability and I agree that this needs to be in place however; where is the level of accountability for the board??!!!  Why does the board get such freedom to govern as they see fit, and the pastor bend at their beckoning call?  When I first came into ministry 14 years ago, I was an idealist and wanted to touch lives, help as many people as I could, and set the world on fire for Jesus.  I still have fire for Jesus, but my flame for what happens behind the scenes in churches has grown very dim.  What I have discovered in my pastoral career is pastors who go into a pastorate full of desire and passion, many times must go through a board to get permission to do things in ministry.  The pastor may be the public figure, but the board runs the church with little to no accountability!!”

I’ve thought long and hard about this issue since my friend sent me his comments.  Here are five thoughts on this issue:

First, every church leader needs to be accountable to someone outside his/her group.

This means that:

*a ministry team leader should be accountable to a pastor … a staff member … or a board member.

*a staff member should be accountable to a higher-ranking staffer or the lead pastor.

*the pastor should report to someone … presumably the official board.  (If you want a miniscule church or a church split, make the pastor directly accountable to the congregation.)

*the board should account to another person/group as well, possibly depending upon who selected the board members.

When Paul laid out the qualifications for overseers/elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, he meant for Timothy and Titus to select those leaders.

In our day, that’s probably the equivalent of the lead pastor choosing the board members, which seems awkward because then he’s choosing his own supervisors!

As pastor, I always had veto power over board candidates, and used it often, though I probably let a few slip through the cracks that I shouldn’t have.

But churches ruled by congregational government usually vote on or verify the board members in an annual election.  It’s almost always a rubber stamp because I’ve never heard of any board candidate being voted down.  Most people simply don’t know enough about the leaders who are nominated to reject them … a flaw in our systems.

Second, this “accountability system” doesn’t work in actual practice for official boards.

I served in eight churches over a 36-year period in churches that espoused congregational government.

*The pastor was always accountable to the official board.

In my case, I submitted a written report to the board at every monthly meeting for years and years.  I knew that I was accountable to the board for all that I said and did.  If a board member had an issue with me, they knew they could speak with me directly or ask me a question in the presence of the other board members.  Because I kept the board current on my decisions and activities, I never had major problems with any boards until my last year in church ministry.

*The staff were always accountable to the lead pastor or the associate.

When I had just one or two staff members, they were always accountable directly to me as pastor.  When I had as many as ten staff members, most were still accountable directly to me, although I later asked several staffers to report to the associate pastor … a mistake on my part.

*The board was accountable to the congregation on paper … but rarely if ever reported anything to the church body as a whole … which gradually makes them feel as if they’re accountable to no one but themselves.

Third, the lack of board accountability is likely a major reason why so many pastors are forced out of office in our congregations today.

Think about this: who should the official board in a church account to?

Possible answers:

*Some might say, “The board is directly accountable to God Himself.”

But then why can’t the pastor be directly accountable to God as well?  As Pastor Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa used to ask pastors, “Who do you work for … the Lord or the board?”

But knowing human nature, most Christian leaders would say, “Since pastors occasionally go off track, they require immediate human accountability as well as ultimate divine accountability.”

If pastors require some level of human accountability, shouldn’t board members as well?

*Some might say, “Individual board members should be accountable to each other or to the board as a whole.”

But then why can’t staff members be accountable to each other rather than the pastor?  And why can’t the youth pastor account to other staff members rather than the lead pastor?

This might work at first, but over time … if board members are only accountable to themselves … they’ll go off the rails … no matter how “spiritual” they are.

All too many do.

*Some might say, “The official board should account to the congregation as a whole.”

And I agree.

And yet … this is either done rarely or poorly in churches with congregational government.

Why is this the case?

In most of my ministries, I as pastor became the official spokesperson for the board in public.  So when the board made a decision behind closed doors, I either volunteered or was assigned the duty of sharing that decision with our church family.

Sometimes I’d do that during the announcements on Sunday morning … or through an all-church email or letter … or through a handout in the Sunday bulletin.

Much of the time, I was more articulate than the chairman in public … and I had authority and credibility than most board members lacked.

But by always reporting board decisions to the church as a whole, I made a huge mistake … one that most pastors make:

My actions did not communicate to the congregation that the official board was accountable to the church as a whole.

Let’s say that the board decided that all greeters and ushers had to wear yellow shirts every Sunday, and that they wanted me as pastor to announce that decision during the next worship service.

Even if I said, “If you have any questions or comments about this decision, please contact one of our board members,” many people would be more likely to approach me because I’m the one who made the announcement.

It’s like I had an unspoken pact with the board: “You decide … I’ll announce.”

But in my mind, that seemingly insignificant pattern sends a strong message: the church board is not obligated to report their decisions to the congregation.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Fourth, the presumption is that since there is only one lead pastor along with multiple board members, there’s a check-and-balance system already built into board proceedings.

But I would strongly dispute this argument because without their pastor, church boards sometimes make horrendous decisions.

Ten years ago, I took a sabbatical for six weeks, and spent an entire month in Europe.

While I was gone, something unexpected happened at church, and two staff members went to the church board with a proposal that I would not have approved.

I wasn’t around to consult, so the board made a decision … the wrong one, in my view … and when I returned home, I had to try and undo the damage that was created … but my intervention-after-the-fact ultimately made things worse … even though I handled the situation as well as possible.

I’m not saying that church boards can’t make good decisions without their pastor, but they will always make better decisions with him than without him.

But when the board tries to make decisions about their pastor in secret … and without his wisdom and experience … their decisions may be based on business experience or raw emotion (think hatred or revenge) rather than Scripture or the church’s governing documents.

For that reason … and I’m just guessing here … I’d put it this way:

*When the pastor and board make decisions together, they have a 90% success rate.

*When the board makes decisions without their pastor, they have less than a 50% success rate.

Add to that last statement a couple of spiritually immature members … a degree of high anxiety … pressure from influential or wealthy churchgoers … and the feeling of, “If we get rid of the pastor, we’re in charge of the church now!” … and you can see how many church boards can slip into “termination thinking” without knowing the pitfalls ahead.

Finally, there are three possible solutions to the issue of board accountability:

*The board needs to make every decision in conjunction with their pastor.

Not the associate pastor … not a former pastor … not another church’s pastor … but their own pastor.

But if their pastor is guilty of a major offense, then it’s appropriate for them to meet without the pastor and consult outside Christian leaders – at least five, in my view – so the board doesn’t cherry pick someone they know will agree with them.

There is safety in multiple counselors.

*The board is accountable to a Conflict Resolution Group (call them the CRG) for the way they choose to handle conflict … especially anything involving the lead pastor.

I’ve made the case for this in articles over the past few weeks, but the CRG should serve as a watchdog concerning the process that the board uses whenever they engage in conflict management with the pastor, staff, or congregation.

*The board needs to report as many decisions as possible to the congregation as a whole.

In many churches, this is done on an annual basis through a verbal or written report, but this simply isn’t adequate.

If the pastor has to account to the board at every meeting – usually monthly – then why does the board only have to account to the congregation once a year?  Doesn’t that disparity lend itself to abuse?

If board members don’t interact with churchgoers regularly, they will be woefully out of touch, and in effect, minimize their chances of making God-blessed decisions.

Instead, the board should publish edited copies of their agenda before a meeting … and their minutes (edited) after a meeting … to anyone and everyone who wants a copy.  (Some boards post this information on a bulletin board, but I think it’s better nowadays to send the information via email to those who request it.)

Board members also need to publish their email addresses and let people know that they will read and respond to churchgoer concerns promptly.

The very act of being accountable on a monthly basis will keep board members on their ecclesiastical toes … help take stress off the pastor … and make for a more harmonious and productive church.

And if the board ever has to dismiss the pastor, they will already have a delivery system in place for reporting to the congregation.

There is nothing worse than a board never reporting to the congregation for a year or more … and then trying to establish accountability when they announce that the pastor has left the church.

This is one reason why all hell breaks loose after a pastor leaves: the board doesn’t have a track record of credibility with the congregation.

And what many, many boards do … sad to say … is to lie about the pastor … and destroy his reputation … as a way of covering up how badly they handled the conflict.

I’d love for what I’ve written to be the beginning of an honest conversation with my readers.

What works and doesn’t work for you in what I’ve written?













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Pastor Ken had just discovered something that he didn’t want to know: most of the members of Joy Church’s governing board were giving little or nothing to the ministry.

And that information not only broke Ken’s heart … it made him angry.

It all started one July day when Amy, the church’s office manager, was supposed to mail out the giving records of every person in the church for the first six months of the year.  The records were supposed to be in the mail by Friday so that churchgoers would have them in their possession by the end of the month.

But it was now Thursday, and Amy called Pastor Ken to say that she was out sick with a fever and probably wouldn’t be in on Friday, either.  Wanting to run an efficient church, Ken thought for a moment and asked his good friend Steve, a trusted staff member, if he would step in and put the giving statements in the mail by late that afternoon.

Ken could have dropped everything and mailed the statements himself, but two things stopped him: first, he needed to devote the rest of the day to preparing his sermon for Sunday, and second, he had always promised himself – and others – that he would never know who gave how much to the church.

During the course of that Thursday, Ken poked his head into the office several times and asked Steve how things were going.  Each time, Steve responded, “Pastor, folding the statements and putting them into envelopes is going fine, but sometimes I can’t help but notice how much people are giving to the ministry here, and it’s extremely disheartening.  Many of the leaders, who have great jobs, are giving next to nothing, while some with little income seem to be giving much more generously.”

Although he didn’t want to go there, Steve’s statement piqued Ken’s curiosity.

Years before, in another church, Ken wanted to know about the giving patterns of the church’s regular attendees, so he asked the financial secretary to make a list for him.  Down the first column, Ken asked that each giving unit in the church be assigned a number so he wouldn’t know their names.  Then he asked for 12 more columns: one for each month of the year, accompanied by how much money each unit gave every month.

Ken still shudders when he recalls the giving patterns in that church family.   He noticed that many families gave nothing during January – presumably because they were paying off their credit cards after Christmas – and that others gave virtually nothing during June, July, and August – most likely because they were financing their summer vacations with at least some of their regular giving.

When Ken received that information, he remembered a story a pastor friend had told him years before.  Ken had been asked to be a guest speaker at a church, and before he went, his pastor friend told him, “You’re visiting a church where the pastor discovered that 35 members were giving a total of $50.00 per week to that ministry!  The pastor exposed those non-givers and they were all voted out of membership.”

While Ken thought that approach was going too far, he thought to himself, “This is why I’ve never wanted to know how much money people give to the ministry.  I’m human, and I’m afraid it would impact the way I view them.”

Ken tried to put his disappointment aside that Saturday, and he preached his heart out the following day, although many people were gone on vacation.

But after the second service, as Ken was preparing to go home, the financial secretary walked up to him, handed him a sealed envelope, and told him, “You need to see this.”

Ken waited until he got in his car before he opened the envelope.  To his surprise, he had been handed the giving records of every board member and staff member for the first half of the year … and what he saw tore him up inside.

On the one hand, the staff members were giving very generously.  In fact, when Ken got home, he did the math, and the staff were outgiving the board by a three-to-one ratio.

But of the nine board members, six were giving virtually nothing to the church.  Out of those six, three had each given a total of $150 for those first six months … almost as if their donations had been coordinated … and one was giving just $20 per week.  Three others were giving regularly … one generously … but Ken was obsessed with those six non-givers.

The next day was Monday, and Ken took an early and expanded lunch.  He needed time to think.  Now that he knew how little the board members were giving, what did it all mean?

Ken came to four conclusions:

First, the non-givers were not spiritual individuals. 

Didn’t Paul tell Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:3 that an overseer should not be “a lover of money?”  Didn’t Peter write in 1 Peter 5:2 that a church elder/leader should not be “greedy for money?”

Ken knew there was a direct correlation between spirituality and giving … that those who give to God are putting Him first, and must trust Him to take care of their needs … and that those who don’t give are often confessing that money means more to them than God.  Didn’t Jesus say we can’t serve two masters?

Ken believed strongly that spiritual leaders … including pastors, staff, and official board members … need to be examples rather than exceptions.

This was true for church attendance … serving in ministries … and giving financially.

Once or twice every year, Ken preached on biblical giving, and when he did, he told his congregation that he and his wife had tithed for years, and if anyone wanted proof, they could come up to him after the service and he would show them his checkbook.

Ken assumed that when he did that, the staff and board members could stand right there with him and do the same thing … but now he knew that most of the board members couldn’t … not because they didn’t make enough money, but because they weren’t spiritual enough.

And yet, by virtue of their position on the board, everyone assumed they were.

Second, the non-givers were not behind the church’s mission or Ken’s ministry.

In his mind, Ken wasn’t giving to keep the doors of his church open.  He was giving to a mission, not an institution.

But by the same token, those non-giving board members were silently saying, “We do not stand behind our mission or our pastor.”

Ken remembered one email he received from the person who volunteered to head up the refreshment ministry.  This person told Ken that a board member had approached her the previous Sunday and said, “The budget for refreshments is gone for the year, so there’s no more money for food between services.”

This information startled Ken because the board had never made such a decision … and because he knew the person serving refreshments was funding the ministry entirely from her own pocket.

To Ken, that refreshment ministry was vital, because guests would stay after the service … enjoy a treat … talk with Ken or other staff members … and be invited to return.  Much of the church’s outreach was facilitated by those conversations around the refreshment tables.

Ken believed that money was just a tool to fulfill the church’s mission, but he was now discovering that for most board members, money assumed a far greater importance.

Third, those stingy board members were impacting the giving of others … directly or indirectly.

Ken and his wife had determined early in their ministry that they would tithe ten percent of their income … on the gross, not the net … because they wanted God to bless the gross, not just the net.  And although they had gone through many hard times, the Lord had been faithful, so they never stopped giving.

Ken and his wife were giving around 12% of their income … well over a thousand dollars … on a monthly basis.  He assumed that the nine board members were right there with him … but now he knew that most of them weren’t.

The church was going through a hard time financially, and Ken wondered why.  But now he knew that if all the board members gave generously, the shortfall would be wiped out in no time.

Years before, Ken had learned that “like produces like” … that the lifestyle patterns of church leaders eventually rub off on much of the congregation.

So even though the non-giving board members assumed that no one knew what they gave to the ministry, their stingy stances were bound to impact the congregation through their attitudes, conversations and decisions.

Finally, Ken now understood why the board wanted to cut back on spending rather than expand the income base.

Ken’s bent was to “grow the ministry.”  He believed that when the church was trusting God and taking risks, people would be attracted to the church, and they would eventually become givers.

For most of that year, the board’s bent was to “cut the budget.”  They didn’t even consider growing more givers.  They just wanted to keep trimming the spending.

Ken knew that the non-givers … who outnumbered the givers two to one … would always vote to cut back spending because they didn’t want to increase their giving to the church.

If they were all tithing, that would have been one thing … but only one-third of them were even in the ballpark.  In fact, what Ken was giving to the ministry amounted to more than what any seven members combined were giving.

So most of the board members wanted to shrink spending … and cut the budget … so they could maintain their own meager giving patterns.

During that time, Ken endured long board meetings where the board’s mindset was, “Don’t spend money … don’t try anything new … don’t take risks.”

Ken couldn’t live like that.  He knew that mindset would send the church into maintenance mode, and the church would begin a death spiral.

While sitting at a budget planning meeting several months later, Ken listened to various board members and their gloomy financial scenarios, and it began to dawn on him.

The board was no longer following his leadership.

Ken also wondered if some or all of the non-givers weren’t contributing so they could squeeze him out as pastor by claiming that his ministry wasn’t producing enough income.

Suddenly, Ken realized that the information he had providentially acquired was not only a sign that the board wasn’t behind the mission, but that his ministry at Joy Church was in jeopardy.

And Ken was right.  The following month, the board covertly initiated a plan to push out their pastor … and let the biggest non-giver become their leader.

How do you interpret what happened to Pastor Ken?






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How much do you like to play chess?

One summer, between eighth and ninth grades, I played 97 games of chess with an older friend.  As I recall, I won 49, he won 45, and there were three stalemates.

Since he was in the high school chess club and knew all my tricks, I had to prepare myself for long games, which meant that I had to learn how to set up a defense to protect my key pieces, especially the King and Queen.

In the same way, a church needs to learn how to protect their pastor(s) from attack, and to prepare a long-term defense plan.

In my last article, I mentioned five ways that church leaders can protect their church from the inevitability of internal conflicts.  (You can access that article by clicking on the green link above and to the left of the title.)

Let me share the last five ways with you:


Sixth, create a special document that specifies how to handle conflicts with the pastor (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Tim. 5:19-21).

Most churches lack this document.  If your church decides to create a Conflict Resolution Group, this could be among their first assignments.

It should be biblically-based, conform to labor law, be consistent with the church’s governing documents, and aim to treat the pastor fairly and justly.

If an individual, a leader, or a group in the church makes accusations against a pastor, the governing board should determine the severity of the charges:

*Forgive citations: these are petty, personal issues people have with the pastor (Prov. 19:11; Matt. 23:23-24).  The board should say, “This is such a silly charge that you either need to forgive the pastor, pray for him, or let this go.  We won’t pursue this any more.”  The great majority of accusations against a pastor fall into this “citation” category.

*Confront misdemeanors: this is where the pastor hurt or offended someone personally or where he committed a minor offense while carrying out his ministry (Luke 17:3-4).  The proper way to deal with a minor offense is to speak with the pastor directly about it.

*Investigate felonies: this involves serious charges against the pastor, especially involving heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior (Deut. 19:15-21).

If the pastor is accused of a felony, the board should do an investigation and (a) gather evidence; (b) meet with witnesses; and (c) decide if the charges are legitimate or illegitimate.

If they are illegitimate, the accusers should ask the pastor for forgiveness or leave the church, and the board should insist on this.  If the pastor’s accusers don’t admit they’re wrong, they’ll just create more charges down the road.

If they appear to be legitimate, the board should set up a meeting between the accusers and the pastor.  The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

Once this meeting is held, the board must decide the future of the pastor and his accusers in the congregation. Aim for restoration first (Gal. 6:1), removal last.

Seventh, remind leaders that conflict is likely to break out at certain predictable times:

Much of the time in church life, the pastor and staff know that conflict will surface at specific times.  For example:

*When the pastor/leaders are initiating change.  This is because church leaders have taken a long time to study the changes but they haven’t allowed enough time for people to share feedback and adjust to the changes themselves.

*Easter/Christmas seasons.  This is primarily because everyone wants their church to look good on the major Christian holidays and this causes people to become highly anxious.  It’s also because people bring their own personal stress over the holiday to church.

*Budget time.  This is because the annual church budget determines a church’s values and priorities (“Oh no, the youth ministry budget got slashed while the pastor’s slush fund was doubled”) and because people become anxious about the church’s ability to reach their targeted income.

*When changing the worship service.  Despite the fact that the New Testament never mentions even one Sunday morning worship service … and therefore, churches are free in the Lord to plan their own … some people will react negatively and emotionally to any change that they and their friends do not like.

*The addition of a new generation.  How many churches have made specific plans to reach Millennials?  What is your church doing to reach them?  Just think about the changes you’d have to make … and envision the conflict those changes would provoke.

*The addition or removal of staff.  “Why did we hire him?  I don’t like the guy.”  “Why did they let Pastor Brian go?  He was always very nice to me.”  Those statements alone speak volumes as to how churchgoers view staff members.  While I loved adding new staff, I hated letting anybody go because most of the fallout would be directed at me as pastor.

*When the church is shrinking.  This is because people don’t want to invest their time, energy, and money in a sinking ship … and because some will pin the blame for decline on one person: the lead pastor.

*When the church is growing.  This may sound surprising, but many pastors are ousted because they were too successful.  Many churchgoers … especially long-time leaders … would rather be large fish in a small pond than smaller fish in a larger pond.  And when they discover that some of their power is to be shared or taken away by new people, they often rebel.

Eight, practice openness about official church matters while maintaining confidentiality concerning the issues in people’s lives (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-9; 6:12-19).

During a major conflict, church leaders usually stay tight-lipped and say little or nothing to churchgoers about what’s happening.

But I believe that leaders should share as much as they can, not as little as possible, because as the saying goes, you are as sick as your secrets.

*Your church should have at least one congregational/business meeting annually.  The purpose of this meeting is for the church to vote on new board members and next year’s budget.

*Your congregation should also schedule periodic informational meetings (like a town hall meeting) where the pastor and church leaders can provide updates and receive feedback without the pressure of any voting.  Two meetings a year sounds reasonable.

*The pastor, staff, and board should be transparent with church members about everything that involves the church as an institution: attendance, weekly giving, the budget, and policies. Membership has its privileges.

*Everyone in the church should know how to contact the key leaders.  Their pictures should be on a wall someplace, and their email addresses should be published.

*The church board should report to the congregation in some fashion as often as the lead pastor has to report to the board.  You can’t have an accountable pastor and an unaccountable board.  It’s a scenario for disaster.

I learned this adage for church leaders from Dr. Archibald Hart: “We don’t have secrets, we do keep confidences.”

Ninth, practice periodic “conflict drills.”

My wife and I run a preschool in our home, and once a month, we have to do a fire drill.  (In fact, we just did one within the past hour!)  When the alarm sounds, the children must exit through the front door … even if they have one shoe on and one shoe off … and walk to the fire hydrant along the rim of our cul-de-sac as a meeting place.

In the same way, a pastor and a governing board should run one or two “conflict drills” every year … unannounced … so both parties can evaluate how they handle conflict.

Here’s an example:

*A board member hears that several church leaders are openly complaining about the pastor.

*The board member contacts the complainer and says: “If you are upset about policy matters, please speak with anyone who made the policy (usually board members). If you are upset with the pastor personally, please speak with him directly, pray for him, or let it go.  Otherwise, we’re not going to entertain your complaints.”

*The board determines the severity of the complaint (citation, misdemeanor, felony) and acts accordingly.

*Consult with the Conflict Resolution Group and make sure that the ten principles and the governing documents are followed.

*The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

*The pastor/board contacts (a) a church consultant; (b) a conflict manager; (c) a Christian mediator; (d) a denominational executive for counsel.

*The board makes a decision and announces it to the appropriate parties.

Create your own steps if you’d prefer, but I believe that periodic conflict drills can be a lifesaver for a congregation.

Tenth, implement these five biblical principles for preventing church conflict:

*Talk directly to those you’re upset with rather than telling others about them (Prov. 11:13; 16:28; 18:8; 20:19; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:13; James 4:11-12; 3 John 9-10).

*Share your frustrations with the appropriate spiritual leader rather than complaining indiscriminately (Num. 14:1-4; Luke 15:1-2; Phil. 2:14; Jude 16).

*Refuse to allow people to drag you into a dispute between two parties (called “triangulation”) (Luke12:13-14; 22:1-6).

*Deal with offenses as they arise rather than collecting them and dumping them on someone (called “gunnysacking”) all at once (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 13:5; Eph. 4:26-27).

*Report those who attack and conspire against church leaders (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10-11).

Since implementing any or all of these ten immune system strengtheners is a lot of work, a pastor would be well-served to implement one or two of them every year.

If the pastor doesn’t initiate ideas like these, when a major conflict surfaces – especially if the pastor is attacked – the law of the jungle is likely to take effect.

Depending upon the level of emotion involved, people may choose sides … define enemies … ignore Scripture … and do anything and everything to remove their pastor from office.

In the process, the church will be destroyed for the foreseeable future, and can only survive intact if there’s a resurrection years later.  Not pretty.

Which of my suggestions resonate with you?






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I recently conducted a workshop at the Christian Leadership Training Association Convention in Pasadena, California, on the topic, “Strengthening Your Church’s Immune System.”


The goal of my workshop was to present ten practical ideas designed to prevent most conflicts in Christian churches.

A severe conflict can damage a church, its leaders, and its people for years.  The trauma of a major conflict wreaks havoc with personal relationships, church budgets, pastoral careers, and spiritual lives.

So long before a church experiences serious conflict, the pastor and church leaders should discern, model, teach, and implement healthy, biblical behaviors for resolving differences.

And the best way to manage and resolve conflicts in churches is to prevent them before they escalate.

For a church to grow today, a pastor must initiate change … which involves taking risks … which provokes anxiety in some people … which leads to complaining … which usually focuses on the pastor … which can lead to antagonism, plots, secret meetings, accusations, demands, threats, church splits, forced resignations, and ultimately, a decimated congregation.

I believe that pastors must implement these strategies over time to protect their churches form internal attacks – as well as the pastoral position – or a major conflict can wipe out a congregation for years.


First, identify and communicate why your church exists and where it is going.

Many of the conflicts I experienced in my first ten years of pastoral ministry were related to our church’s direction … or lack thereof.  I had a mental picture of where I wanted those churches to go but I didn’t articulate it clearly and concisely, and consequently, major conflict resulted on two occasions.

Your mission is your church’s overarching purpose, the reason you exist.

Your vision is your church’s preferred future by a certain date; the direction you’re going.

Let me share four thoughts about mission and vision – and I have done what I’m suggesting:

*Utilize a bottom-up approach.  Let the people of your congregation have input into the creation of your mission and vision statements.  Avoid using a top-down approach where the pastor rams through his ideas without congregational buy-in.

Start by asking your congregation four open-ended questions on a handout, such as:

  1. What do you like about our church?
  2. What are our strengths as a congregation?
  3. Where can we improve?
  4. What should our church look like in five years?

Reserve 10-15 minutes during a worship service to do this.  Let people write whatever they want.  Ask them to turn in their surveys anonymously.

Then choose a mission/vision team to compile the responses.  Ask the team to meet, maybe on a Saturday morning.  Share the responses.  Look for patterns.  Create draft statements.

Let the pastor refine the language.  Send the statements back to the mission/vision team for further input.  When the process is complete, the board should officially approve the statements.

*Create compelling statements.  Make them shorter rather than longer.  The trend today is to have mission statements that are ten words or less so they can be remembered.

“Loving Jesus and others” is boring and vague.  “To transform our families and communities for Jesus” is exciting and unifying.  Make them simple but somewhat edgy.

*Announce the statements to the church in final form. Post them everywhere: your lobby, website, bulletin, classrooms.  The pastor must refer to them often … at least once a month.

*Every consequent decision will flow from your mission/vision statements which may relieve as many as 90% of your church’s “problems.”  Those who don’t like the direction – because they wanted to turn your church into Lakewood West or Saddleback North – will be forced to get with the program or leave the church.

Yes, some churches grow without those statements, and some churches that have mission/vision statements never go anywhere.  But people want to know, “What’s the plan?”  Growth is intentional, not accidental.  Without a clear direction, your church will drift.

Second, choose only leaders (pastor/staff/board) who follow and embody Scripture (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

It’s well-known in evangelical circles that church leaders should be biblically-qualified according to Paul’s lists in the Pastoral Epistles.  But selecting leaders of high character doesn’t prevent a church from experiencing a horrific conflict.  I know all too well.

*It is crucial that every leader embrace the church’s mission and vision statements.  My failure to nail this down was a primary factor in why major conflict surfaced in my last ministry.  I assumed that board members were with me without ever asking them directly.  Board members can smile when their pastor is present and stab him in the back when he’s absent.

*It is essential that prospective leaders are interviewed (maybe by the pastor and board chairman) and that after they take office, receive training (at least quarterly) and undergo periodic evaluations.  (Either every major leader should be evaluated or nobody should be evaluated.)

*The pastor should check with the financial secretary and make sure that any prospective board members are regular, generous givers to the ministry.  The pastor can do this by asking the person who knows the givers and their amounts, “Just let me know if this person is a stingy giver … an average giver … or a generous giver.”  Believe me, you don’t want any stingy givers on your board because they will tend to shoot down budget increases and special projects because they won’t want to give themselves.  You only want regular givers handling church finances.

*It is better to have nobody than the wrong person in leadership.  Why?  Because it can take a long time to get rid of the wrong person … and there is a price to be paid for doing that.

*It is better to have just a few qualified leaders than any non-qualified leaders.  If the church’s governing documents state that you need to have a minimum of seven board members, but you can only find four that are qualified, just go with four.  If you don’t, the other three “fill-ins” will kill you.

Third, ask your leaders to study and summarize the biblical principles for conflict resolution.

I believe that the lead pastor in a church must take the initiative to prevent major conflicts from surfacing.  One way to do that is to hold regular meetings involving every key leader in your church: staff members, board members, ministry team/committee leaders, small group leaders … and to broaden the ownership base by making the group larger rather than smaller.

The meetings can be held monthly or quarterly … maybe after the last service on Sunday morning, which means you’ll have to provide lunch … but it’s essential that they be held.

This article I wrote several weeks ago describes the process of formulating these principles:


The aim of such a process is to create a one-page document stating Ten Principles for Resolving Conflict at _________ Church that should be posted in many rooms all over the church.  (Just try and envision the rooms where conflict surfaces, like the church office, the associate pastor’s office, the board room, the kitchen … you get the idea.)

Fourth, create a Conflict Resolution Group inside your church of at least three strong, wise, and healthy individuals.

The reason I advocate a CRG is because when a pastor is attacked, there are usually some board members and/or staff members who are involved in trying to oust the pastor.

And when this happens, they almost always use shortcuts to expedite his departure.

They ignore Scripture … the church’s governing documents … labor law … and common decency because they have their eye on one goal: the pastor’s speedy exit … and they are anxious until “the deed is done.”

*The CRG’s job is to make sure biblical principles and processes are followed whenever a conflict surfaces, not to determine an outcome.  They make sure that the pastor is treated justly and fairly at all times.  They watch over the entire congregation, but engage in special surveillance over the board and staff.

*CRG members should be voted on by the congregation, making them accountable to the whole church.  If the board appoints the CRG, it can just disband the group should the board plan to take action to force out the pastor.  But if the CRG reports to the congregation, the board and staff may think twice about railroading the pastor unfairly.

*Terms should be for 1-3 years.  Consider especially former board members … retired pastors … and people who work in human resources.

*Make provision for them to receive training, such as that offered by Peacemaker Ministries in Colorado Springs.  Their website is http://peacemaker.net

Realize that Peacemaker University at its lower levels centers upon how to resolve conflicts between two individuals.  I have taken their course on coaching people to resolve conflicts.

*The penalty for violating the CRG’s directives is church discipline and possible expulsion.  For example, there might be a statement in the church’s governing documents that if the CRG rules that the board didn’t use the approved process for dealing with the pastor, the board could be suspended or must resign en masse.  The CRG cannot function effectively unless they can recommend discipline to the congregation.

Fifth, update your church’s governing documents (constitution/bylaws) every five years.

As churches change, their governing documents should keep pace.  While I believe that church constitutions and bylaws should be slaves, not masters, whenever a conflict breaks out, the leaders and congregation must abide by the latest version.

*Insure that your governing documents align with your ten principles for resolving conflict. (Covered under the third step above.)

*Make sure you specify the pathway to remove the pastor from office and to remove troublesome board members and staff members as well.

*If a major conflict ever breaks out, some people will become so reactive that they will resort to “the law of the jungle” to win.  If your governing documents are clear, they may think twice.

*If your church is ever sued, and a judge takes the case, the judge will decide for the party that most closely followed the governing documents.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but it can be implemented over time.

In fact, let me go further: if a pastor plans on making changes in his congregation, he should implement as many of these strategies as possible first.

The best time to prepare for war is during a time of peace.

I’ll share the remaining five ways to strengthen your church’s immune system next time.




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