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Archive for May, 2017

I’m still a bit upset over something that happened to me yesterday.

Bear with me.

Several weeks ago, my wife and I vacated the house we’ve rented for the past four years and moved into a house that we bought four miles away.

Before we cleaned up the rental, I spoke on the phone with the property manager about what she expected as far as cleanliness.

A few days later, after we cleaned the house thoroughly (I’m a former custodian and my wife is a former maid), I did a walk through with that same property manager.

There were things I was concerned about that she shrugged off, telling me, “That’s the owner’s responsibility.”

Then she told me, “If you just clean these blinds (at the back of the living room), I will recommend to the owner that you receive your full deposit back.”

It took me several hours, but I cleaned those blinds as well as possible, and reported it to her in an email.

I’ve been checking the mail every day for the past week or so, but so far, that deposit check from my former owner hasn’t arrived.

Yesterday, the owner sent me an email along with a copy of a bill for $300 for a cleaning service.  The property manager wanted some areas cleaned that she never mentioned to me – areas I would have done myself – and now we’re out $300 after spending at least $800 on fixing and cleaning that property.

What bothers me most isn’t that we’re out the money.  What bothers me most is that the property manager lied to me … the second time she’s done that.

Several months ago, she called me on a Saturday morning and told me she was going to be bringing some potential renters to the house that morning.

There was only one problem: I was in Arizona and my wife was in the Bay Area.

When I told her this was the first I’d heard about it, she blurted out that I had agreed to the appointment, which wasn’t true.  (I knew we were both going to be gone ahead of time.)  I had to call the owner and report the conversation so that the property manager couldn’t accuse me of lying to them.

But I’m pretty sure I know what would have happened had I confronted the property manager about her second lie.  She would have said something like:

“I don’t remember saying that.”

“That’s not the kind of thing I would have said.”

“I can’t dictate who gets their deposit back.”

“You must have misinterpreted what I said.”

And on and on and on …

If you lie to me once, you sinned.

If you lie to me twice, you’re a liar.

You’ve established a pattern.

It’s difficult to confront liars because they usually cover their past lies with new ones.

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I once worked with a church staff member who seemed to enjoy lying.

Several people came to me and said, “So-and-So lied to me.”  They were very upset and wanted me to do something about his fibs.

I tried talking to this leader to see if I could discern any untruths coming from his mouth, but he was really good at covering things up.

So I decided to take my time and see if I could catch the leader in a lie myself.

One day a few weeks later, someone who worked with this person requested a private meeting with me.  They shared information that, if true, could only result in the dismissal of this staff member.

I took two full days to investigate some of the charges the informant made … and the most serious ones turned out to be accurate.

If I brought verbal charges to this staffer, I knew what what happen: he would just deny … or explain away … the charges … just like he did with everything else.

I needed air-tight evidence that he had lied before I could confront him.

Fortunately, I was able to get that evidence in the form of an email from a key person in a Christian organization.

I called the staffer into my office … asked him some questions … asked him if he stood by his answers … and then handed him the email contradicting what he had just told me.

He lied twice to my face … and it was tragic watching him try and explain away his falsehoods.

He left the church soon afterward.

One family in particular drew close to this staff member, and when he left, I suspected they were upset with me.

And sure enough, a few years later, they were in on the attack to force me to leave.

I can only imagine the lies he told about me on his way out the door.

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When a church conflict becomes a contest, some churchgoers start lying.

On occasion, a pastor will float a lie or two about his enemies, but most of the time, people lie about the pastor instead.

In fact, when some people want to force out their pastor, they will lie about him indiscriminately as a way of getting others to join their cause.

And by the time the pastor finds out that people are lying about him, critical mass has been reached, and so many people believe the lies that the pastor has to resign.

This is what happened in my case seven-and-a-half years ago.  There were so many lies going around about me that (a) I didn’t know where they came from, (b) I didn’t know what was being said, and (c) I didn’t know how to counter the lies.

In a very real sense, I was lied right out of the church.

Because Jesus didn’t do anything wrong, the only way His enemies could destroy Him was to lie about Him.

And because many pastors try and lead godly lives, the only way their enemies can destroy them is to lie about them.

*The lies must sound plausible or people will quickly discount them.

*The lies must be plentiful in case the pastor is able to debunk one or two of them successfully.

*The lies originate from those who hate the pastor and want revenge against him … otherwise they would sit down with the pastor in love and speak to him directly.

*The lies leak out from unlikely sources at inopportune times.

*The lies multiply once the pastor leaves the church to prevent any future influence he might have.

Several months after we left our last church, my wife and I went to lunch with a woman who had been very kind to us.

She told me that rumors were swirling around that I had had an affair and that my wife had had an affair as well.

At first, my wife and I both laughed.  She’s the only woman I’ve ever kissed, and I’m the only man she’s ever kissed.

Besides that, my wife worked on the staff with me, and we drove to and from work together in the same car … the only car we had.

And we worked right across the hall from each other.

So we both knew the affair talk was balderdash … but evidently there were some who believed it … and others who were perpetuating it.

This information greatly saddened me, but it was also an indication that Satan – “a liar and the father of lies” – had established a firm foothold in that congregation.

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When I found out that the property manager had lied to me, I wrote my former owner and told her what the property manager had originally told me.

It didn’t help.

As a former renter, I represented the past.  As their property manager who brought them income, she represented the present and future.

Guess who they were going to believe?

People lie because it works.  And when they’re caught, they’re often able to lie their way out of trouble.

I accept the fact that there are liars inside local churches today.

But I pray they aren’t on church staffs … or on church boards … or in church pulpits … or any other places of influence … because lies destroy people, families, and congregations.

I once knew an associate pastor who worked for a pastor I knew quite well.

This staff member wanted to get rid of someone in the church he didn’t like … so he lied about him.

When the pastor found out that his associate had lied, he called him into his office … verified all the facts … and then told the associate, “You know what to do.”

The associate instantly resigned.

That’s how we used to handle church leaders who lied.

How should we handle them today?

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I was given a letter this week from a parent whose child attends a local elementary school.

In just seven lines, the letter states that the school’s rookie principal “has decided to pursue a professional growth opportunity outside our district and will not be returning to [the school] for the remainder of the year.  We wish him well in his new endeavor.”

Without meaning to do so, the above paragraph speaks volumes … and provides insights into how the departure of a pastor might be handled as well.

The first thing that strikes me is that the principal left at least four weeks before the last day of school, which is June 9.  What does this tell us?

It tells us that either he wanted out – badly – or that he was pressured to leave by a person or group inside/outside the school.

My guess is the latter.

Maybe he didn’t receive high marks from the school’s teachers … or district administrators … in his latest job performance review.

Maybe he didn’t do something he was asked to do … or he did something he wasn’t supposed to do.

Maybe he just wasn’t cut out to work with kids, parents, teachers, or bureaucrats.

Or maybe he did something very, very wrong.

Did the school district pay the principal not to work for the last four weeks of the school year?

I don’t know.

But leaving before the school year concludes?

Teachers don’t do that.  Students don’t do that.  And principals don’t do that, either.

Most pastors don’t have long-term contracts, meaning they’re on a perpetual one-day contract instead.

But there are times during the year when a pastor’s tenure is up for review, especially during budget time.

If the pastor’s salary is cut, that sends a message.  If he doesn’t receive even a cost-of-living raise, that sends a message.

In churchland, maybe an apt comparison would be a pastor who resigns right before Easter or Christmas.  Since most pastors enjoy those times of year, the pastor who leaves before a major Christian holiday was probably pushed out the door.

I know what I’m talking about.  I resigned my position as pastor in my last church two weeks before Christmas … but I’d much rather have waited until after Christmas.

Makes for a tough holiday.

The second thing that strikes me is that the principal will be working “outside our district” in the future.  What does this tell us?

It tells us that either he didn’t want to work in the district anymore, or that he wasn’t offered the chance to transfer to another school inside the district.

If he chose to move out of the area for some reason, wouldn’t it have been prudent to mention that as the reason for his departure?  Announcing that a leader is moving away often covers a multitude of sins.

So my sense is that the principal didn’t want to work in the district … or that the district didn’t want him working for them.

Maybe there’s a similarity between a pastor who serves in a church that’s in a particular denomination.

A recurring theme that I hear from pastors who were forced out of their positions is that either their district minister didn’t help them when they were in trouble or that their DM was applauding their ouster.

In my case, I chose to leave the district and the denomination for good.  I discovered years before that denominations are political organizations – far more than spiritual entities – and that when a pastor needs help, the last place he should go is to anyone inside the denomination.

In fact, since leaving my last ministry seven-and-a-half years ago, I don’t think I’ve visited even one church connected with that denomination.

This is a common response that pastors have toward leaders who could have helped, but chose their own self-preservation instead.

Maybe it’s why the majority of terminated pastors jump denominations when they’re looking for another position.

The third thing that strikes me is that the personnel director chose to announce the principal’s departure in a letter.

And the letter wasn’t mailed to parents … it went home with their children.

That’s like sending home a letter about a pastor’s resignation with children who attend Sunday School.

I’m not sure how this kind of thing is normally handled in the public school system.

Should a letter have been sent to parents’ homes?

That would take a lot of time, effort, and finances.

Should an announcement have been made to parents at a school assembly?

That would dampen the mood, wouldn’t it?

Should the school have sent an email to all the parents instead?

Maybe they did.

There isn’t a perfect way to announce the departure of any leader … especially a pastor.

Normally, a pastor’s resignation is announced from the pulpit when the congregation is gathered together.

If the pastor is leaving on good terms, he may read that letter himself.

If the pastor is being pushed out, he’s usually not permitted to interact with the church anymore, so someone else – often the board chairman – announces the pastor’s departure the following Sunday.

When I left a church in the late 1990s, I read my own letter.  I wanted everyone to hear the news (a) at the same time, (b) from me personally, and (c) to hear how emotional it was for me to leave.

The principal may have read his letter to teachers or the PTA, I don’t know.

But as a pastor, I would want everyone in the church to receive a copy of my letter to avoid misinterpretation.

That means I’d either arrange to have a copy of my resignation sent to every home in the church – either through snail mail or email – or I’d have it posted on the church website for a brief period of time.

I’d want people to hear why I left – and the tone of my letter – from me directly, not from those who didn’t like me or might distort what I really said.

To me, the optimal way to handle a resignation is for the pastor to:

*write a positive letter

*read it to the church board

*read it to the congregation

*hang around to answer questions, if the board permits

*distribute that letter as widely as possible

That’s the healthy way, isn’t it?

But there’s one thing left …

The last thing that strikes me is that the school’s letter does not mention who to contact if the parents have any questions or concerns.

The address, phone number, and fax number of the school are at the top of the letter, and the personnel director signed her name.

In addition, the parents are told that “[So-and-So] will be on staff five days a week to serve students and staff” and that “[So-and-So] will be at [the school] three days a week to provide support.”

But if a parent is unhappy with the principal’s quick exit, or wants to know more, who are they supposed to contact?

By not explicitly saying anything, the veiled message is, “This situation is history.  Forget about it and move on.”

Having seen the principal interacting with students – and having interacted with him myself on several occasions – my sense was that the job was a bit too big for him.  Just an impression.

In other words, because the principal wasn’t wildly popular, or didn’t have a lot of meaningful relationships, or didn’t have any notable achievements, most parents likely will accept his departure rather than protest it.

They won’t care why he left … just that he left.

How different a school is from a church!

In a church, the person announcing a pastor’s resignation – usually the board chairman – better be ready for a deluge of questions mixed with anger.

Students rarely attend a particular public school because of the principal.

But most people do attend a specific local church because of the pastor!

And when that pastor leaves – voluntarily or otherwise – many people are going to be upset and want to know more about his exodus.

If the church board says little or nothing, some people will assume that the board pushed out the pastor and is covering their tracks.

If the church board tells the congregation everything, they’ll stir up emotions that can cripple their church for months … or years.

So I believe strongly that whenever a pastor leaves a church, the board needs to say as much as they can rather than as little as they can.

This helps the congregation transfer their trust from their ex-pastor to the present board.

But if the board says little or nothing, they will lose the trust of key leaders and opinion makers, who will either leave the church or turn on the board.

There may be some short-term pain involved by providing more context … and some people may leave the church … but it’s better to be up front than to have the truth leak out later … which it surely will … when it’s much harder to control matters.

The board also needs to tell the congregation, “If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us directly.”  Then the board needs to give the congregation their email addresses … and individual board members need to answer every email they receive as soon as possible.

If I wanted to, I could ask some parents I know to find out the real reason why the principal left.  With a little snooping around, I could probably uncover the truth.

But I’m on the fringe.  I don’t have any kids or grandkids in that school.

People on the fringe of a church usually don’t care much why a pastor left … but the closer a person is to the inner circle, the more they feel they deserve to know the truth.

And with pastoral abuse and bullying – as well as forced terminations – on the rise, many churchgoers will assume the board was at fault if they don’t tell the church enough.

I once read that the best person in the secular world to compare to a local church pastor is a public school principal.

In fact, it’s a rule-of-thumb that the salary of a school principal can be used as a gauge for the amount a pastor should be paid in a community.

Maybe a school bureaucrat can get away with sending home a letter about the principal’s departure.

But a church board can’t try the same tactic without generating a gigantic train wreck.

The more that’s said … and the more honestly it’s said … the better it is for everyone.

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Probably the worst ministry nightmare that a pastor can experience is to be either fired or forced to resign.

You lose so much: your position … your income … your reputation … most of your church friends … your sense of self-worth … and more than you ever feared.

Having been through this experience more than seven years ago, I’d like to share some events that helped me to heal.  Maybe my situation can help someone who wonders, “Will I ever get better?”

Each of the following events contributed in some way to my healing:

First, I chose to leave the area where the church was located.

My wife and I loved our house so much!

It took us thirty seconds to walk to the shores of the San Francisco Bay.  When I looked to the right, I saw the Oakland Coliseum where the A’s play.  When I looked to the left, I saw AT&T Park where the Giants play.

I saw the Bay Bridge … and the San Francisco skyline … nearly every day.

Bay Farm Photos Dec. 14-16, 2009 086

There was a bench on a small bluff facing the water.  Sometimes I would sit there and study for sermons while the wind blew the water crazy at high tide.  (Although it’s at low tide in the next photo.)

Bay Farm Photos Dec. 14-16, 2009 091

Bay Farm Photos Dec. 14-16, 2009 093

The entire seven years we lived in that house, I knew that in a moment, it could all be gone.  That knowledge gave me a profound sense of gratitude for every day we lived in that beautiful place.

But when I was attacked by a small but vocal group within the church, I could not envision staying, much as we loved where we lived.  My wife suffered greatly, and we were constantly on guard that we would run into our antagonists and melt down emotionally.

We had to go.

Seeing the church … and the community … in the rear view mirror was necessary for survival.  We didn’t have kids in school, and though the economy was leaking, we chose to sell our house in a short sale (neighborhood comps were dreadful at the time) rather than stay or rent it out.

Had we stayed in that community, our healing would have been stalled.

But many pastors lack the funds to move away, or they stay because their kids are entrenched in schools, and I believe this delays their ability to heal.  The sooner a forced-out pastor can leave a community, the better.

Why stay where you’re not wanted?

Second, I only stayed in contact with churchgoers who were truly my friends.

If I even suspected someone of colluding against me, I unfriended them on Facebook.  And in almost every case, my instincts were right.

I remember a man who invited me to attend some sporting events with him.  We enjoyed our times together, and before I moved away, he told me that he had contact with a leader who was instrumental in pushing me out.  This man called that leader “nasty.”

But several months later, when I attempted to converse with him online, my sports friend had turned on me.

Why stay in contact anymore?  He had chosen sides.  It would have taken several hours of meetings to bring him around, and I was nearly 800 miles away.

Unfriend.

I need more rather than fewer friends, but when someone clearly stands against you, you’re not really unfriending them.  You’re just accepting the truth … and that’s healing.

Third, I spent a lot of time reading the Psalms.

David knew how it felt to be attacked as a leader.  He also knew how to articulate and universalize his pain.

For months, I only read authors who understood that same pain.

I was depressed.  I didn’t feel like praising the Lord.  I didn’t want to evangelize the world.  I didn’t want to become a church member or use my spiritual gifts.

But I found great comfort in the ancient wisdom of Israel’s Psalter.

Because I found it difficult to pray, I sometimes let David do the praying for me.

I also sensed God’s touch when I read 2 Corinthians.  Paul defends his apostolic ministry throughout the entire book, and lets us know that sharing our raw emotions is sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do.

I needed to know that I was not alone, that I was suffering as many other saints had done in time past.

And that insight helped a great deal.

Fourth, I found a church home.

My wife and I moved to Arizona after we left our last church, and we visited a new church nearly every Sunday for six months.

We ended up at Christ’s Church of the Valley – or CCV – which became one of the largest churches in the US while we were there.

Christmas 2011 012

Christmas 2011 028

I always thought that megachurches were cold and impersonal, but I didn’t find CCV that way at all.  It’s the closest to a perfect church that I’ve ever seen.

The church was outreach-oriented.  They served their community well.  During playoff season, they broadcast NFL games outside on monitors after services so men could stay at church while watching football.  They served breakfast before services, pizza after services.  They even gave guests a free meal.

I tried to use my gifts to serve there, but I found out the hard way there’s only one teacher in most churches these days – the lead pastor.

But I looked forward to every service, and found the people at the church both joyful and grounded.

One of the hardest things about moving from Arizona back to California was leaving CCV.

Although I believe that a forced-out pastor needs to attend church, I found serving problematic.  Most churches don’t welcome ex-pastors with open arms.

But attending a good, solid church helped me heal.

Fifth, I forgave those who attacked me. 

It took a few months to do this.  If someone had told me, “You have to forgave those who hurt you right now,” I would have replied, “I am simply not ready.”

I’m always amazed at those who claim that they instantly forgave the murderer who killed their husband or child.  The words sound good, and play well in the media, but three months later, do they still feel the same way?

There were people who joined the “Crucify him!” mob that I didn’t need to forgive.  I didn’t hold them responsible for what happened to me.

But three Christian leaders in particular knew exactly what they were doing: a former pastor, a staff member, and a board member.

I forgave them all a few months after I left my last position … but then I would hear new revelations of their collusion, and have to forgive them all over again.

I don’t think forgiveness is always an event.  Sometimes it’s a process.

In all honesty, I wish those well who plotted against me, and I don’t hope they die of the plague or rot in a prison somewhere.

The Lord will take care of things.  He always does.

But I wish that someone wise and fair could have set up a process for real reconciliation.

When I forgive someone from a distance, that’s unilateral forgiveness.

When I forgive someone to their face – and we become friends again – that’s bilateral forgiveness, or reconciliation.

That’s the kind I long for, but I’ve given up hope it’s ever going to happen.

Maybe accepting that fact is just as essential for ultimate healing.

Sixth, I largely blocked out my previous ministry whenever I did any teaching.

For many years, I’ve led workshops on church conflict at the Christian Leaders Training Association Convention in Pasadena, California.

I’m excited whenever I lead workshops because I’m doing what I believe God has called me to do.

But those conventions only last for a couple of days.

Five years ago, I became the interim pastor of a wonderful church in New Hampshire, and most of my time there, I reveled in the history of the area and formed friendships that I enjoy to this day.

And during that time, the pain of my previous ministry was largely forgotten.

It’s very healing to preach or teach others.  You’re focused on the present, not the past, and you can use your former experiences to enrich your hearers.

But because those opportunities aren’t common, I now teach the best way I know how.

I write.

Seventh, I could tell I was healing when I didn’t want to tell my story anymore.

For a few years after leaving my last church, whenever I met someone, I wanted to tell them, “I used to be a pastor, but I no longer am.  Since I don’t want you to think I left ministry due to a major offense, here’s why I did leave.”

Then I’d launch into my story … even when I didn’t mean to.

Several months after our departure, my wife and I attended an Amy Grant concert nearly 250 miles from our house.  Amy is my wife’s favorite artist.

We waited after the concert to meet her … there were only three of us … and when Amy signed a photo for me, I told her that I used to be a pastor, but I wasn’t one anymore …

Amy Grant Concert - Trip to Alameda March 2-7, 2010 090

Why in the world did I do that?

I can’t remember the exact date, but when I started telling people “I’m a retired pastor” and that my wife and I work together in our own business … that was a day of great healing.

If anybody wants to talk about what happened at my last church, I’m always willing, and I don’t feel much … if any … pain in doing so.

But I’d rather talk about something else.

A very good sign.

Finally, I felt the greatest sense of healing when my wife and I finally made enough money to pay our own expenses.

It took me 25 years to make a decent wage in church ministry.  My family did without so many things … as my wife often reminds me.

Early in my first church, I drove a car worth $200 and had large holes in the bottom of my dress shoes.

In our last ministry, we finally made enough to save money and take some trips overseas … things my best friends do routinely.

Before I left my last ministry, I negotiated a separation package with the new church board, and those funds carried us for many months.

My wife then got a job with a charter school, but we had to withdraw funds from my retirement account to supplement our needs … funds that disappeared all too quickly.

For the past several years, the Lord has blessed us with our own business – one that we run from our house – and we just purchased a new home … more than seven years after losing the last one.

The day I went into a store and paid for food based on what we earned in the present rather than what we had accumulated in the past was a day of great liberation.

That’s why I tell pastors, “The day you can pay your bills from a new job is the day your healing really begins.”

I hope sharing my experiences have been helpful.

What else helps former pastors to heal?

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Pastor Henry felt all alone.

Along with his wife and two sons, Henry had just received an invitation to become the next pastor of Grace Church, a thousand miles from his last ministry.

Henry and his wife Mary surveyed the congregation when they initially visited the church but couldn’t seem to find anyone they might want as personal friends.

But one morning during his first week, Henry received a call from Bret, a longtime member who told Henry he’d come by the church at 11:30 to take his new pastor out to lunch.

Exhausted from the move, Henry was glad that someone was taking the initiative to get to know him.

Bret took Henry to an expensive restaurant, telling his pastor all about the community, the church … and the previous pastor.

In fact, Bret told Henry a lot about the previous pastor.  Pastor Mark was a good preacher who led the church through a time of unparalleled growth.  This information made Henry feel insecure.  How could he hope to compare favorably with a predecessor he didn’t know and might never meet?

But Bret didn’t just recite the previous pastor’s virtues.  Bret also slammed Pastor Mark’s leadership in many aspects of ministry, and told Henry that Mark was pushed out of office due to his shortcomings.

Henry felt better as he realized that Pastor Mark wasn’t perfect, but had his own issues.

And then Bret told Henry, “You know, I’m so glad you’re here.  You’re just what this church needs at this time.  And whatever you need, I’ll be glad to help.”

As Bret drove Henry back to the church, the new pastor felt a bond developing with his new friend.  “Finally, somebody believes in me” he thought.

Over the next several months, Bret and his wife Hope invited Henry and Mary to their home for dinner.  The two couples quickly hit it off and became best friends.  They went to movies together, ate in each other’s homes, and saw each other nearly every week.

Six months later, when it came time to suggest names for elders, Henry recommended that Bret be considered.  The others on the nominating team remained strangely silent, not saying yes or no.  Henry backed off.  Two others were selected instead.

For the next several years, the two families got along famously … and everybody at church knew it.

One Tuesday night, Hope called Henry and asked him to come over right away.  When Henry arrived, he found Bret in a foul mood.  According to Hope, Bret had been drinking and had verbally and physically abused his wife.

Henry did not like what he was hearing.

An hour before the next meeting of the official board, Henry met with Jeff, the board chairman, and asked Jeff what he knew about Bret and Hope.

Jeff was reluctant to say anything.  After all, everybody knew that the two families were tight.

But Henry insisted, and Jeff finally said, “Bret has a drinking problem, and he refuses to get help for it.  Bret wants to be on the church board, but we can’t let him because, in Paul’s words, he is ‘given to drunkenness,’ ‘violent,’ and ‘quarrelsome.'”

Henry suddenly felt very foolish.

Jeff went on, “Pastor, I don’t know how to say this right, but your relationship with Bret and Hope is causing some people in this church to question your judgment.”

After the board meeting, Henry went home and told Mary what Jeff had said.  Mary and Hope had become very close, but Hope had never shared with Mary anything about Bret’s drinking … or any other weaknesses they had.

Several weeks after visiting Bret’s house, Henry started noticing that Bret and Hope were no longer attending services.  Henry thought about contacting Bret, but he knew such a conversation would drain him of much-needed energy to run the church.

A couple months later, chairman Jeff called Henry and told him that a campaign was underway to remove Henry from office.  When Henry asked Jeff who was behind the campaign, he was told, “Bret and his wife Hope.”

Henry’s heart sank.

As a longtime member, Bret had developed friendships with many people in the church over the years, and he had a good idea who he could influence to join his “throw out the pastor” team.

Henry decided to ask Jeff a question that he had never asked before: “When Pastor Mark was forced to leave this church, who was most responsible for his departure?”

Without hesitation, Jeff answered, “Bret and Hope.”

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Insecure pastors … and there are thousands of them around … often compare themselves to other pastors … especially their predecessors.

A wise pastor quietly gets to know the previous pastor so he can (a) form his own opinions about his personality and ministry; (b) learn about that pastor’s influence and tenure firsthand; and (c) tap into that pastor’s wisdom concerning key junctures in that church’s past.

A foolish pastor rejoices when the previous pastor is denigrated, thinking it makes him look good by comparison.

But the same person who criticizes the previous pastor will eventually criticize the current one.

And the same person who supported the previous pastor will eventually support the current one as well.

Many years ago, I learned the wisdom of Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

Pastors need to choose their church friends carefully, or the friends they latch onto early in their ministry make turn to bite them later on.

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I once met a man (I’ll call him Peter) who had served as the senior pastor of a church I had known my entire life.  That church’s first pastor lived two houses down from my house, and I went to school … and later church … with his children.

My uncle, aunt, and cousins had attended that church as well.

Years later, I made many friends in that church.

And eventually, I was called to be on their staff.

While Peter and I were talking, I shared with him some conflicts that occurred during my time in that church … conflicts that became so embedded in that church’s culture that they later affected Peter’s ministry.

I could tell that Peter had an enlightened understanding of what happened to him in that church.

Why don’t more new pastors contact their predecessors and gain that wisdom and understanding up front?

Could it be because of people like Bret and Hope?

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