Archive for December, 2018

When the pastor called me out of the blue, I knew I could help him … even though his church board had treated him horribly.

After years of faithful service in a church of 500 people, the board had fired their pastor … without warning … without reasons … and without any severance.

He was devastated.

I don’t know how he found me, but I was glad he did … and I’d like to think that he was relieved to find somebody who understood.

That’s been my ministry for the past eight years … helping pastors who have been attacked … or pastors who have been forced out … or board members who have asked for help dealing with their pastor … or churchgoers who have watched their pastor being treated unjustly.

If anybody wants my help in the future, I will be glad to counsel them in any way I can.

But this is the 600th article that I’ve written … most of them on pastoral termination … and I’m going to take a break from writing … maybe for a long time.


When I wrote my book Church Coup, I asked some Christian leaders to read it, and I received the most help from Dr. Charles Chandler, founder of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation.

Charles called me when I was climbing Bunker Hill in Boston, and I tried to absorb every correction he was telling me while my wife walked ahead.

One of the things he told me was, “Your book isn’t going to sell well.”  So right from the start, I knew that my book would have a limited audience.

It’s sold more than the average Christian book, for which I’m grateful, but I knew it would never be a best seller.  A Christian book agent told me that for the book to sell in any great quantities, I’d have to cut it to 150 pages … and I knew he’d edit the life out of it.  (It ended up being 291 pages of text plus footnotes.)

So I ignored his counsel and wrote the book I wanted to write, self-publishing it with Xulon in the spring of 2013.

I also purposely broke a few writing rules … according to Turabian … in the book.

And I edited the book myself, eventually finding only two errors … and one of them was a place that I didn’t mean to mention.

I submitted the proofs to Xulon in March 2013 and had no idea when the book would actually be published.

The following month, my wife and I were having lunch with our son Ryan and his wife and Ryan said, “Dad, your book has been published.  I saw it on Amazon.”  (Ryan now works for Amazon as a senior software analyst.)

I was thrilled!

It was also exciting to see my first review on Amazon, from Shelli Rehmert … a pastor’s wife in Kansas … who has become a wonderful online friend.

Every year, Xulon asks me if I want to keep the book on Amazon and elsewhere, and every year, I write them a small check to keep it published.  Although I have never made much money on the book … think $3 to $4 a copy … I’m pleased that I sell a few books every quarter … and that I once sold fourteen books over a three-month period in the UK!

But I’ve never liked the cover.


I started writing this blog eight years ago, and had no idea how it would be received.

My son Ryan advised me to write three times a week to start, and told me that my writing would most likely attract critics who would attack me unmercifully.

But I didn’t find that to be the case.  Thankfully, I’ve received well over 95% positive comments, so the few nasty ones haven’t bothered me very much.

It’s a niche blog … and a narrow niche at that.  Most Christians don’t care about the topic of pastoral termination unless it happens to their pastor or one they know and like … and even then, most churchgoers won’t do any research on the issue.

My book will gradually fade away, but many of my blogs will stay online for years.

For example, I once had 696 views of one article in one day.

While serving as an interim pastor in New Hampshire, I wrote a blog one morning called “Pastors Who Overfunction.”  The words came quickly … I barely edited it … and sent it into the ether to be published.

Before I knew it, someone put a link to the article on the Gospel Coalition website … the only time, to my knowledge, that has ever happened.

But that article hasn’t been viewed much since then.

I wrote one recently called, “My Pastor is a Dictator!”  Seems like that article receives views nearly every day now … but it didn’t do well when it was first published.

I’ve always believed that if I write something, and it meets a need, people will find it.


My blog “If You Must Terminate a Pastor” has been viewed more than 24,500 times.  I don’t know how many pastors or board members have accessed it, but I’d like to think that one article has stopped a lot of boards from harming their pastor, his family, and their church.

Just yesterday, there were 30 views on my article “Lying in the Church” and 24 views on the article “Why Give a Terminated Pastor a Severance Package?”

I’ve sensed that some people recommend an article to others, accounting for a more than average number of views in a day, and I’d like to think that some articles have been read by all the members of a church board before they’ve confronted their pastor about something.

In my last ministry, I wrote out my sermons word for word, and then published them on the church website.  One ex-pastor didn’t like what I said about him in a sermon and wrote me to set the record straight, which I did on the website.  (It was too late to correct my sermon since it had already been delivered.)

I learned two things from his email:

*First, when you quote from someone’s book, don’t leave the book in your garage and summarize it from memory.  Dig it out and know what it says for sure!

*Second, when you tell a story about a well-known Christian leader, more often than not, don’t use his name in your blog … or he, his wife, or someone he knows may challenge what you wrote … not because you said anything wrong, but so there isn’t anything negative about the person online.

That pastor had been forced to resign from his church because of adultery, and my guess is that he was trying to assess his reputation online.

So when I’ve told stories about most people, I’ve chosen not to name names.  If anyone wants to know who I’m talking about, and they write me, I’ll tell them … and provide any backup necessary … but I don’t want to hurt anyone needlessly.


However, one topic that I’ve tackled fearlessly on occasion is the pathetic assistance that denominations give their pastors when they’re under attack.

And the reason I’ve been bold enough to do this is that I don’t need or want any kind of assistance from any denomination anywhere.

I am not saying that denominations don’t do any good.  Of course they do!

But when it comes to helping pastors who are under attack … they’re usually useless.

Here’s how this plays out in real life:

Pastor Bob is called to a church of 100 people.  He wants the church to grow.

He attends some local and national denominational meetings, and several speakers talk about the importance of reaching people for Christ.  Bob is excited.

Then Bob attends a local event, and his district minister talks about the importance of local church evangelism and church planting.  Bob starts catching the vision!

He goes back to his church … draws up some growth plans … sells them to the church board … and begins implementing steps to reach their community for Christ!

Two years later, the church has grown to 150 … at which point some of the church pioneers begin to attack Pastor Bob personally.  They begin making ultimatums: either Bob leaves or they leave.

(When people are under stress, they think narrowly, and usually come up with only two options: fight or flight.  If I have just one piece of advice for church boards when they’re struggling with their pastor, it would be this: refrain from taking any action against your pastor until your board has taken the time to think broadly … creating many options for how to resolve the conflict … rather than narrowly … creating only two options: either he goes or we go.)

Bob assumes that his DM, who has painted himself as a “pastor to pastors,” will back him up for doing the very things the denomination has wanted him to do: reach people for Jesus.

What Bob doesn’t know is that the pioneers have already contacted his district minister to complain about him.

Devastated, Bob doesn’t know who to confide in … so he contacts his DM … who listens to everything Bob says … and then shares what Bob has said with the pioneers.

With the DM’s blessing, the pioneers push for Bob’s resignation.  When Bob contacts the DM for help, the DM tells him, “Bob, there are too many charges against you being made inside the congregation for you to stay.  I think you need to resign.”

So Bob quits.

His wife is forced to become the family breadwinner.  His kids don’t want to attend church ever again.  Bob plunges into depression, convinced his ministry career is over.  He can barely function for months.

Most of the people at his former church believe the false charges being made about Bob and drop all contact with him.  And the denomination provides zero assistance … except for recommending a veteran pastor to Bob’s former church … someone who has a safe personality but has never seen any growth in his previous three churches.

Welcome to Business as Usual in America’s Denominations … where mediocrity is rewarded and success is punished.

The stuff I saw going on behind the scenes in my former denomination was so sickening that I wanted nothing to do with them anymore.

And for pulling away, I was labeled a malcontent … a label I’ve proudly worn for years.

At least I still have my integrity.

Years ago, I severed all ties with my denomination: medical insurance … retirement … you name it.

I’m not very good at playing games, but I’m in good company.

Jesus wasn’t good at playing games, either.  (If Jesus pastored a church in 2018, do you think He’d join a denomination?)


For years, whenever a pastor in an evangelical church has been under attack, there’s a consensus among Christian leaders that the pastor should resign to keep the church united and to keep the peace.

Some pastors should resign … but many pastors shouldn’t.

Instead, they should fight back.

Let me share three examples:

First, I met a pastor a few years ago at the Christian Leadership Convention in Pasadena who told me his story.

As a young man, this pastor went to a church in New Hampshire, and he quickly found out that a certain influential woman ran the church … her way.

She had run out the previous few pastors, and she intended to run out the new one as well.

Only this young man was determined that she was going to leave, not him.

It was a battle, but the woman finally left the church … and the pastor enjoyed a prosperous ministry for the next 23 years!

Seminaries don’t tell pastors about people like that woman, and denominations act like they don’t exist.

Second, I attended a church in Arizona where the church’s senior pastor told me this story himself.

As the church was growing, four staff members decided to rebel against their pastor.  They not only didn’t want to work for him anymore … they wanted him to quit.

They began spreading rumors throughout the church … rumors designed to force him out.

The pastor didn’t wilt.  He didn’t resign.

Instead, he fought back.

He called a public meeting of the congregation … and when he did, three of the staffers instantly quit.

The pastor sat in a chair onstage for hours on a Sunday afternoon and answered every question anybody in the church had about the attacks.

And when he was done, he was the undisputed leader of the church … and the church grew to become one of America’s largest churches.

Would that have happened if the pastor had quit under fire?

Third, I spent a lot of time on the phone with a pastor from the East Coast.  He was being attacked by a faction inside the church that wanted him to quit.

It took some time, but the pastor stayed, and his opponents left.

He wrote me recently and is still doing well.  I encouraged him to write a book about his experiences.

When Jesus was attacked by the Jewish leaders, He always fought back.  He didn’t resign the first or the tenth time He was criticized.  Read John chapters 5-9 if you don’t believe me.

Yes, Jesus finally surrendered His life at the cross because it was “His time.”

But if we took all the disputes He had with the Jewish leaders out of the Gospels, they would at least be cut in half, wouldn’t they?

Somebody needs to write a book about how Jesus handled opposition … and He never quit just because people were against Him!


For the past eight years, my favorite thing to do has been to hear the stories of pastors who have gone through the heartache of a forced termination.

Dr. Archibald Hart loves to say that whenever he hears that someone is depressed, he gets excited because he knows he can help them!

Because of my unique background, training, experiences, and research, I feel the same way as Dr. Hart.

When I hear that someone has gone through a tough time at their church, my attitude is, “I’d love to hear your story because I know I can help you!”

Most of the time, I hear the stories on the phone.  I’ve had pastors call me, but I’ve also been contacted by their wives, their sons, and their daughters as well.

On occasion, I’ve met people in restaurants to hear their stories.  One time, a megachurch pastor and his wife drove from Arizona to spend four hours with me at a local Coco’s.  I know I helped him because his board bought more than twenty copies of my book!

If we haven’t yet connected, I’d love to hear your story, too.


But pastors aren’t very good about telling their stories.

Pastors tend to be private people when it comes to their own fears and insecurities.  Because a pastor will tell a story about himself in a sermon, many people assume that their pastor is a transparent and open person, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Pastors feel pressure from their congregations to be more spiritual than they really are … to act like better leaders than they know how to be … and to preach truths from Scripture that they haven’t really lived out.

In other words, pastors … like most people … are obsessed with their images.

And when a pastor is attacked and forced out of his position … he’s scared to death that his image as a spiritual person … a leader … and a preacher … has been ruined forever.

Based on my experience, I would venture a guess that about 90% of all pastors try hard to please their congregations … cooperate with their denominations … and get along with everybody in the Christian community.

If the average pastor attended a conference, and the keynote speaker didn’t believe in the Trinity, the average pastor would say, “I didn’t agree with him on everything, but he made a lot of good points.”

But I’m in the 10% that would say, “That guy’s a heretic!  If he’s wrong on the Trinity, how can he be right on anything else?  And who invited that guy, anyway?”

Somewhere along the line, a pastor has to make a decision.

Let me quote the apostle Paul in Galatians 1:10:

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I’m more comfortable being in the 10% group than the 90% group … but the price I pay is that I often don’t feel like I fit in the larger evangelical world.


A few years ago, I had lunch with a mentor, someone who knows practically everyone in the evangelical world.

I asked him, “Let’s say you know a church here in Southern California that is going through a severe conflict.  Who would you recommend to help them?”

I wanted him to give me the name of someone whom I could meet with and learn from.

Instead, he pointed his index finger at me and said, “You.”

God gave me the ability to do this ministry.  What I lack is the ability to do self-promotion.

I’m awful at it.

After a few months, I hope to compile some of my best blog articles, edit them, organize them in a logical way, and publish them in book form.

My prayer is that such a book could help a lot of pastors and church leaders who are in conflict with each other.

Maybe if I scrub it of any mention of denominations, it will sell a little better.


Why take a break from writing?

*I just turned 65, and I’m doing some self-assessment right now about my future.

*Besides working sixty plus hours every week, my wife wants to start taking college classes again, which means more of the load of our preschool will fall on me.

*After 600 articles, it feels like I have said about all I can say on the topic of pastoral termination.

*Part of me doesn’t want to focus on the hurts of the past anymore.  My own forced termination happened nine years ago this month.  I’d like to forget about it … at least for a while.

I will write again.  I love to write.  And if a large church conflict rears its ugly head … like the situation with Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Church this past year … I may share my thoughts again through this blog.

Until then …


This last space is reserved for my mother and stepfather.

As far as I know, only my mother and stepfather have read every article that I’ve written.

They may have missed a few, and that’s fine with me, but they’ve given me the impression that they’ve read them all.

My dear wife, who is 100% behind my writing, has read most of what I’ve written … even if I have to read an article to her!

I thank God for the support I’ve received from so many people, but especially my mother June, my stepfather Carlton, and my wife Kim.

And whether this is the first article of mine you’ve read, or you’ve read many others, thanks for reading!

You’ve helped me fulfill a life’s dream.








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“Before you blow out the candles, make a wish.”

How many times have we heard that phrase repeated at someone’s birthday party?

Few people track such wishes.  Nobody writes them down and revisits them in the future to see if they’ve come true.

Well, I have some wishes for the people of God, and I will write them down.

My wishes involve the way pastors and their opponents … official boards, staff members, church factions … interact with each other when they’re in conflict.

Here are my seven wishes for churchgoers who are in conflict with their pastor:

First, I wish that churchgoers would speak directly to their opponents.

But most of the time, they don’t.

If I’m an average church attendee, and I’m upset with my pastor, I probably won’t tell him how I feel.

Instead, I’ll tell my spouse … several church friends … and someone on the board or staff.

I’ll talk to people who are safe rather than the pastor who seems … unsafe.

And since most pastors are sensitive individuals, they usually don’t speak directly to a leader or a member that they’re upset with, either.

And yet Jesus instructed His followers in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

This may be one of Jesus’ least-obeyed commands.

Jesus uses the phrase, “Just between the two of you.”

This means if the pastor is upset with the board chairman … the youth leader is upset with the pastor … the office manager is upset with the women’s team leader … the church treasurer is upset with the associate pastor … the person who is upset should speak directly with the person who is upsetting them so as to resolve the conflict.

There is no need to involve others first.  If I involve others in my conflict, I’m triangling them into my situation so that they can alleviate my anxiety.

But if I don’t follow Jesus’ words, some people who don’t need to know about the conflict now do, and some will take my side … even against their pastor.

This is where church conflicts begin to mushroom.

But they would die a quick death if churchgoers would speak directly to those they’re upset with.

Second, I wish pastors would speak regularly about biblical conflict resolution.

When I was in Jr. High, I played a lot of chess.  One of my goals in each game was to have each major piece defended by at least two other pieces.

Pastors need to think the same way … to put together a strategy for defending their church when the inevitable conflicts come … and they will come.

A wise general prepares for war during times of peace.  If war comes, and you’re unprepared … it’s too late.

So within two years of a pastor’s arrival, he needs to tell his congregation … on a Sunday morning(s) … what God says in the New Testament about conflict resolution among believers.

The pastor needs to say, “This is the way we’re going to handle conflict around here … and we’re not going to handle conflict in these ways.”

A friend told me recently about a pastor at his church who stood up on Sunday and read aloud some of the petty comments that people wrote on their response cards about him and his ministry … ranging from how he dressed to the volume of the music.

I commend that pastor for having the courage to do that.

I believe a pastor has a responsibility to his congregation to tell them how he expects them to behave.

For example, I had a policy for years that I would not read anonymous notes.  I told the office manager to ignore them and throw them out.

One time, she told me, “No, you need to read this.  It’s important.”  But since the author didn’t sign his or her name, I didn’t care what it said.  Why not?

Because the author was a coward.

How can I weigh the complaints … and their merit … if I don’t know who made them?

And how can I answer them?

Knowing what I know now, I’d take that note with me into the pulpit, read some of it, and then tell the congregation why an anonymous note is counterproductive.

That’s just one of a hundred things a pastor can do to train his congregation on how to handle conflict in a biblical, healthy manner.

If the benefits are so great … and they are … then why don’t more pastors do this?

Third, I wish that church leaders would devise a process for conflicts with the pastor before it’s ever needed.

When it comes to conflict with the pastor, there are four kinds of churches:

*There are churches that have nothing in writing about how to handle conflicts with their pastor.

Over the past seven years, I have been shocked as to how many pastors/leaders have told me that they don’t have any governing documents at all.

They don’t have a church constitution … church bylaws … nothing.

So when a conflict breaks out between the pastor and church leaders, they don’t have any guidelines in writing that can steer their behavior … meaning the law of the jungle takes over.

*There are churches that have governing documents in writing but they don’t specify how to handle conflicts with the pastor.

These governing documents were originally written to cover best-case scenarios, but to be effective, they need to cover worst-case scenarios instead.

The documents need to answer the question, “If our pastor’s behavior becomes questionable, or a group of people are upset with him, how should we handle matters?”

*There are churches that include something in writing about how to handle conflicts with their pastor, but church members ignore those guidelines.

My guess is that this is true of the vast number of churches in America.  They have the documents … they just don’t follow them.

But if they ever end up in court, those who follow the documents will prevail, and those who ignore them will lose.

In fact, that should be the case regardless.

*There are churches that have guidelines about pastor-church conflict and follow those guidelines should the need arise.

I once wrote an article about a church that did everything right in the way they dealt with their pastor’s wayward behavior.  They did such a good job that even the pastor admitted in public that the board had done everything correctly.  Here’s the article:


My guess is that less than ten percent of all Christian churches in America do things correctly when they consider removing a pastor from office.

But if a biblical process is discerned from Scripture … and if that process is followed … a church’s leaders will both treat their pastor fairly and give their church the best possible future.

Fourth, I wish that pastors who are accused of wrongdoing were allowed to face their accusers.

I once spent several hours with a pastor who shared with me why he was forced from office after only two years.

Here is one of the complaints:

A woman stated that at a church social event, the pastor walked past her and bumped her, and that this bothered her greatly.

She did not speak with the pastor about it at all.

Two years later, when the church called in a consultant to investigate charges against the pastor, this woman came forward with her complaint.

The pastor could not recall the incident because nobody said anything to him at the time.

She remembered the bump … he didn’t.

But this was one of four charges the church used to get rid of the pastor … and then the consultant became the interim pastor.  (Oh, yes.)

But was “the bump” incident the pastor’s fault … or the woman’s fault for not saying anything about it at the time?

I shared a story in my book Church Coup about how important it is for a pastor to be able to face his accusers.

In my second pastorate, a man named Jim … whom I loved … was angry with me about several issues.  The issues weren’t all his … he was collecting grievances for others … but Jim spoke his mind, so others gave him their complaints.

Instead of asking to meet me with alone first, Jim went straight to the board chairman and was invited to the next board meeting.

Jim brought a list of seven complaints against me.  I can’t remember most of them, thank God.

But knowing Jim was coming, I asked the chairman before the meeting if he would do two things for me.

First, after Jim made each complaint, I asked the chairman if he would ask Jim, “Where’s your evidence for that?”

Second, I asked the chairman if I could answer each charge after Jim made it rather than letting Jim recite his whole list.

It’s fun to make charges against a leader.  They sound so plausible and foolproof when you’re talking to family and friends.

But I answered each charge calmly and completely, and by the time Jim got to the last charge, he knew he was licked … and called the next day to tell me he was leaving the church.

Had Jim gone directly to the board with his charges, without letting me respond, the board would have engaged in a massive perversion of justice.

But to their credit, they let me respond after each complaint … and the process itself showed Jim how much he had overreacted.

When pastors are accused of various sins and misdeeds, they have the right to know who is making the charges and what is being said … and they have the right to do that in the presence of their accusers.

Either do it inside a board meeting … or the inside of a courtroom under oath.

But when pastors aren’t given this right, the fallout can squarely be blamed on the church board for not following due process.

Fifth, I wish that every church would create a Conflict Resolution Group (CRG).

If a pastor and a church board are struggling with each other, the chances are that one or both parties will resort to church politics to defeat their opponent and get their way.

But when conflicting parties do that, everybody will eventually lose … especially the congregation.

For this reason, I believe it’s essential that there’s an independent group in the church whose sole job it is to make sure that a biblical, predetermined process is carried out whenever there’s a conflict.

The church board cannot be that group.

If a board becomes anxious or upset about their relationship with their pastor, the board usually begins to engage in process shortcuts.

*They don’t share with their pastor any concerns they have with him.

*They don’t let the pastor defend himself against any charges.

*They devise a process designed so they will win and the pastor will lose.

*They think narrowly, not broadly.

*They ignore Scripture … avoid their governing documents … shirk labor law … and focus on the end result: getting rid of their pastor.

Because it’s so common for church boards … and factions within a church … to take shortcuts, every church needs a group that directs and monitors the process that the board uses in dealing with their pastor.

I’ve written about the CRG before in articles like this one:


Churches usually choose board members because they meet the biblical qualifications for leadership, but when a pastor-board conflict erupts, board members often think too narrowly and engage in the fight or flight response … and ignore due process.

I believe that some group in the church has to hold them accountable for working the steps correctly.

Sixth, I wish that local denominational leaders would stand for righteousness rather than church politics.

Here’s how this usually works:

Joe becomes the pastor of Grace Church.  His first two years go well.  Church attendance increases by 50% … the church adds two staff members … and plans are drawn up for a new building.

The church grows because it’s reaching new people … but in the process, some of the oldtimers feel neglected and begin pooling their complaints against Joe.

One of the oldtimers, Fred, has served on the Trustee Board of the local denominational office.  He knows the district minister … and calls him to complain about Joe.

A year later, Joe is being attacked by several board members … two staff members … and a faction of twenty people, mostly composed of people who have been in the church since its inception.

In his desperation, Joe calls his district minister for help … assuming the DM will pray with him, encourage him, and support him.

Instead, the DM tells Joe that he should resign as pastor to keep the peace.

Joe is both shocked and heartbroken.

If Joe was really Jesus, and Fred was really Judas, the DM would still insist that Joe be crucified.

The DM has been trained to think, “That church can always get another pastor, but if I don’t support them, they might leave the district, and there goes their money … and part of my salary.”

So many DMs tell their pastors, “I’m a pastor to pastors.”  No, you aren’t … not if you betray your guys when they need you the most.

Paul Borden has been the DM of a local denominational district for many years.  I don’t know what he’s doing now.

In his book Hitting the Target, he takes a completely different view of things … one that’s rooted in righteousness, not politics.

For years, Borden has supported his pastors who are under fire … especially if he’s been working with a pastor, and the pastor is being attacked because he’s trying to reach people for Christ.

I was part of a very good denomination for decades, but if I had to do it again, I’d become the pastor of a non-denominational or independent congregation instead.


Because the great majority of the decisions made by denominational leaders aren’t made on the basis of Scripture, but politics, pure and simple.

A pastor is better off not expecting any help from his DM than expecting it and not getting it.

Finally, I wish Christians would learn to forgive each other rather than holding grudges.

We live in a graceless culture.  Write one non-PC thing on Twitter, and your life … or career … could be over.

And I’m sensing that our churches are becoming equally graceless as well.  We Christians are so hard on each other.

In my last church, there was a staff member who was upset with me, but I didn’t know why.

This staff member and his wife had been criticizing me to others in the church … especially a prominent church leader.

Finally, this leader set up a meeting between this staff member and me.

For two hours, the staff member made all kinds of charges against me.  Thankfully, I can only remember two of them.

In one case, he accused me of doing something that the church leader present had done.

In another case, I apologized to him for saying something I shouldn’t have said.

But that was it: even though he had a litany of charges to make against me, I was only conscious of one thing I had done wrong against him.

His list of my perceived sins destroyed our relationship, which is almost always what happens when people create and recite such a list.

Why didn’t he bring things up as they occurred rather than pouring out all his complaints against me at once?

And why did the church leader … who knew what was coming … allow the staff member to act that way?

The whole process wasn’t about “clearing the air” or reconciliation … it was about revenge, pure and simple.

When I went home that night, I wanted to quit the ministry … and then the staff member’s wife called.  She wanted to meet with me the following morning and dump her load on me as well.

I told her yes … thought about it all night … consulted with the board chairman … and then told her no.

I wasn’t going to go through that hell again.

When this couple finally left the church, I knew I wasn’t forgiven … and I knew they would spread their feelings to others.

I forgave them over and over for things they said and did that showed they weren’t supportive of our ministry … but how did they treat me in the end?

I was unforgiven.


In many ways, these seven wishes encompass what my ministry has been about over these past eight years.

What do you think of my wishes?

And do you have any wishes of your own when it comes to pastor-church conflict?














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I recently watched a TV show where a little girl found her single mother right after she had been murdered.  The case went unsolved for years.

Ten years later, that girl had become a young woman, but she still wanted to know … indeed, had to know … who killed her mother and why.

The show explored this idea: Is it better just to accept a tragedy and move on?  Or can a person only move on when they know who and what caused the tragedy?

One of the great tragedies in Christian circles is the high number of pastors who are forced out of their churches every month.

It’s safe to say that at least 1,500 pastors leave their positions every thirty days … hundreds of them due to forced termination.

In a minority of cases, the pastor did or said something to accelerate his exit, such as embezzling funds … committing sexual immorality … using a controlling, dictatorial style … or engaging in a moral or criminal felony.

But in the vast majority of cases, a faction inside the church conspires to target their pastor by plotting together, manufacturing charges, circumventing procedures, and then forcing his resignation.

After a pastor has undergone such a painful experience, how much time and effort should he invest in finding out who wanted him out, and why?


There is no easy answer to this question.  Maybe this story can shed some light on the options.

Three decades ago, I had a pastor friend who was forced out of his church after nine years.  A faction in the church falsely accused his teenage daughter of doing something wrong.  The faction insisted the girl apologize in front of the entire church, and the pastor resigned to protect her.

As was my custom, I called him immediately and listened to his story.

I asked him one day, “How many pastors from our district have contacted you?”  (There were 85 churches in our district.)  He told me, “You’re the only one.”

A year after he left, we met for lunch.  He knew the name of the person most responsible for his departure … someone well-connected inside the denomination … but he did not know why he was targeted.

I gave him a book on forced termination … one of the few available in the 1980s … and after reading it, my friend told me, “Now I know why they got rid of me.”

After that, I lost contact with him.

Years later, I opened up the San Francisco Chronicle one morning and there was a front page story about my friend.  He had left the pastorate behind and pioneered a new approach to ministering to patients with HIV.

I was proud of him … not only for overcoming the pain from his past, but for directing his energies toward helping others.


Let me draw four lessons from my friend’s story:

First, most pastors have a good idea of the key players involved in their departure.

The pastor usually knows the board members … staffers … key leaders … and regular churchgoers who don’t like him.

The pastor may not know how their spouses or children are involved … nor the exact number of people who want to see him gone.

But most pastors know the identities of most of the individuals who are out to get him.  (And if he doesn’t, his wife surely knows.)

In my friend’s case, he told me the name of the man who was most behind his departure.  I have always remembered it.

In some cases, that’s all the pastor needs to know.  In other cases, the pastor needs to know more … a lot more.


When I was forced out of my position as senior pastor nine years ago, I knew the board members were involved, and within two weeks, I discovered that the associate pastor and the previous pastor also played a part in my professional execution.

Over time, friends inside the church informed me of specific individuals who either joined the plot or applauded my departure.

I needed to know the names of those people so I could unfriend them on Facebook … purge them from my mailing list … or avoid them if and when I returned to the city where the church was located.

As it was, I still made some mistakes in trusting people I shouldn’t have trusted.

Some pastors might say, “Since I can never know the names of everyone who was against me, I’ll just cut off all contact with everyone from that church.”

But I chose not to do that.  I had developed friendships over my 10 1/2 year tenure that I wanted to keep, so I maintained a small level of contact with specific individuals.

The most supportive group turned out to be the people who had once attended the church but had moved away before the fireworks began.  Most didn’t even want to know who pushed me out or why.

In fact, my wife was contacted by one of those individuals this past week, and he asked her to become a key leader in a new missions organization.

But I think it’s important that a pastor identify the individuals most responsible for pushing him out of ministry … not to reconcile (almost nobody who conspires to get rid of a pastor wants reconciliation) but to avoid them socially … forgive them unilaterally … and relinquish them into the hands of a just God.

Second, most pastors don’t know the real reasons for their departure.

In the case of my pastor friend, I suspect that some in the church thought he was too rigid in his convictions.  He was very outspoken about his likes and dislikes, and even made me wince one time when he visited our church and criticized the Christmas tree in the back!

But I suspect that his unwillingness to play games may have been a contributing factor in his departure.  My friend made his decisions on the basis of righteousness, not politics or denominational priorities.

In many cases, the real reason why a faction goes after a pastor is that they just don’t like him.  He’s not “our kind of guy.”

But another reason why the faction doesn’t like their pastor is that they can’t control him.

After reading the book I gave him, my friend thought he knew why the faction targeted him … and maybe he was right.

But a lot of pastors never find out … and I think they should.

What if you keep repeating the same mistakes in church after church?


Maybe the film Murder on the Orient Express can help us understand the “why question” better.  (I’ve seen three versions of the story on film, and each one is captivating.)

The famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is traveling on the Orient Express train when a snow storm blocks the train’s progress.  During the night, a shadowy passenger is stabbed to death.

Who killed him … and why?

In the end, Poirot discovers that nine different people put a knife into the passenger’s body … each for a different reason.

That’s often what happens when a pastor is forced from office.  The plotters may circulate various public reasons why the pastor has to go, but they don’t share those reasons with others because it might make them look petty or unspiritual.

For example, I remain convinced that hatred and personal revenge are behind more terminations than we could ever imagine, but no self-respecting believer is going to admit those sins.

So there are public, group reasons for eliminating the pastor … and a host of more private, individualistic reasons.

In my case, there were four main parties:

*the church board

*the associate pastor

*a faction of disgruntled churchgoers … including some charter members

*my predecessor and his Fan Club

I might also add a fifth group, composed of a few former staffers and people who had left the church.

I believe that each party had a different motive for taking me out.  The associate pastor’s complaints were not those of my predecessor, and his complaints were different than those of the board.

It’s always amazed me … you can have a church of a thousand people, but if two people don’t like their pastor, they will inevitably find each other.

But disgruntled leaders find each other much more quickly.

Third, most leaders never tell their pastor why they think he should leave.

As I wrote above, my pastor friend did not know the real reason why some people wanted him to leave the church.

Why not?

Because church leaders – specifically the church board – never told him to his face.

They wimped out.

This is a huge problem in our churches.

When people are upset with their pastor, they don’t tell him anything directly.

They tell their friends instead.

As some churchgoers pool their complaints, they get organized … hold secret meetings … create a list of charges against their pastor … and rope in sympathetic board members or staff members.

The pastor is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced … usually without his knowledge.

And then one day, the board chairman tells the pastor that he has a choice: resign with a small severance package or be fired without any severance at all.

And all the while, no one has the guts to tell the pastor what he was doing wrong or how he could correct his behavior.

Maybe it’s just human nature for people to criticize an authority figure secretively, but it’s cowardly for people to create charges against their pastor without ever telling him what they’re unhappy about.

After all, pastors can’t read minds … so how can they change their behavior if they don’t know what they’re doing wrong?


Over the years, I had to fire several staff members.  I hated doing it, and viewed it as a failure on my part, believing that I didn’t hire them wisely or manage them effectively.

I hired one staff member, and a few weeks later, he disappeared for two weeks without telling me a thing.  When he returned, we sat down for a chat, and he told me he had every right to go on vacation without my approval or knowledge.

After I fired him, a leader asked me, “What took you so long?”

But when I fired someone, they knew exactly why I let them go.  They may not have agreed with me, but they didn’t have to guess why they were no longer employed.

In my case, the official board never formally sat down with me and expressed any concerns about my character or my ministry to my face.

They told my predecessor.

They told the associate pastor.

They told their wives.

They told their friends.

They told key leaders.

They just never told me.

And when the board fired my wife, they never spoke with her, either … telling me to go home and tell her that she had been terminated.  (I told them that two of them needed to meet with her, and later that week, they did.  But shouldn’t they have done that on their own?)

My wife and I just finished watching the fourth season of Line of Duty … a superb police procedural show from Great Britain about a police unit dedicated to rooting out corruption among law enforcement officers.

When the AC-12 unit has compiled enough evidence, they call in the officer in question, present him or her with all their evidence … and let the person respond after each piece of evidence is presented (including surveillance photos).

That’s the way it should be in our churches … but most of the time, things aren’t done that way.

The pastor’s detractors take shortcuts instead … ignoring their church’s governing documents, avoiding Scripture, and working around labor law.

The single biggest mistake the board made with both my wife and me is that they did not bring their concerns to us personally.

We could easily have rebutted most of them … and if we were wrong, we would have admitted it and asked for forgiveness.

But when you start with a desired outcome, you’ll circumvent a fair and just process … every time.

And by doing so, you violate the rights of the accused to alleviate your own anxiety.

Finally, most pastors wish they could reconcile with their accusers.

A new pastor succeeded my pastor friend in the late 1980s.  I shared several meals with him.

I don’t remember the details, but the new pastor invited my friend back to the church.  Some in the church apologized for the way they had treated my friend, and asked for his forgiveness, which included the major power broker.

This only happened because the new pastor discerned that unless he dealt with the church’s past, they might not have much of a future.

I was reminded this past week of another situation where a megachurch pastor was accused of having an affair with a woman in his church based on circumstantial evidence.  (This pastor taught a theology class I had in college and was considered a great communicator.)

When a new pastor came to that church – and he was someone I had heard preach – he eventually invited the pastor back and the church reconciled with him.

How I wish that would happen every time an innocent pastor is forced to leave a church!  But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard of this being done.

If the church board had just talked to me honestly before making drastic decisions, we could have worked things out.  I might have taken time off, or looked for another ministry, or renegotiated my job description, or shuffled the staff around.

But they never talked to me directly, talking to others instead.  They triangled their pastor by siding with his opponents.

Reconciliation only works when both parties care more about winning over the other party than winning at all costs.


Since the board never discussed their concerns with me directly, I had to use alternate methods to find out the real story.

And if I didn’t find out, I would be forced to guess for the rest of my life why I was pushed out … and such speculation often ends in torture and misery.

So I discreetly talked to people inside and outside the church.  I wrote down everything that seemed relevant.

I consulted with:

*church friends

*staff members

*former board members

*influential people inside the church

*church consultants

*seminary professors

*Christian counselors

*a Christian conciliation expert

*other pastors

To this day, I believe that I made minor mistakes in my ministry … the same kind everyone makes … but that I did not commit any major offense against the Lord, the church, or anyone else.

I had to put the puzzle pieces together to:

*accurately assess responsibility

*avoid making similar mistakes in the future

*try and eliminate the cloud over my last ministry

*help my wife to heal

*see if I had any future in Christ’s church

*be able to sleep at night


Could my pastor friend have succeeded in his hospital ministry if his former church had never called him back for a time of reconciliation?


But what a blessing it was for him to return to his former church, listen to the apologies of those who tried to harm him, and grant forgiveness to the entire church body.

As some people write on Twitter, “More of this please!”

Yes, Lord … more of this … please.



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