Archive for the ‘About Restoring Kingdom Builders’ Category

Over the past 3 years, I’ve been writing a book on a devastating 50-day conflict that my wife and I experienced in our last church ministry.

The book has now been published by Xulon Press and is titled Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict.

The book is 291 pages long, contains 14 chapters, and has more than 150 endnotes.

Why did it take 3 years?

*Because I wrote 450 pages and had to pare it down.  (You can’t share everything that happened or the book would become unreadable.)

*Because I chose to edit the book myself … and that took twice as long as writing it.

*Because this may be my only shot at writing a book … and I wanted to get it right.

*Because I hoped that the longer I waited, the less painful the recounting of the story would be for everyone involved.

While the first nine chapters are a narrative describing the conflict, the last five chapters analyze what happened and place it in its larger context in the Christian community.

There are models for books like this, such as The Wounded Minister by Guy Greenfield, Too Great a Temptation by Joel Gregory, Why I Stayed by Gayle Haggard, Crying on Sunday by Elaine Onley, as well as the classic Clergy Killers by the late G. Lloyd Rediger.

When I wrote my doctoral dissertation on church antagonism informed by family systems theory, my professional editor could not believe that these kinds of conflicts happen in churches.  Pastors know they occur, as do denominational executives and parachurch leaders, but the average Christian remains unaware of how conflicts begin and are perpetuated.

While pastors and governing boards will profit from the book, I wrote it primarily for lay people, which is why I chose to tell a story.  In fact, I believe that lay people hold the key to preventing and resolving these kinds of conflicts, even when they occur behind closed doors.

Let me make four observations about the book:

It’s personal.  The book is my attempt to share what a pastor goes through when a small minority targets him for removal.  I’m in a unique position to do this because I’ve seen pastors treated this way all my life, starting with my father, who died less than two years after he was forced to resign due to a major conflict in a church he planted.

It’s not possible to lead a large volunteer organization without making occasional missteps, which is why I wrote a chapter called, “Mistakes I Made.”  But I contend that any errors I made were minor and resolvable.  I was not guilty of any major offense and should have been protected against the accusations made against me.

However, some people collected several minor offenses, embellished them, exaggerated their importance, and then accused me of all kinds of wrongdoing.  They chose to elevate their personal agenda over the desires of 95% of the congregation . . . the epitome of selfishness.

While I answer some charges in the book, most could easily have been cleared up if people had simply spoken with me in person.

It’s emotional.  From the beginning, I intended to write a raw book, but after letting some professionals review it, I made modifications.

Because the book rehearses how the conflict affected my wife and me emotionally, there’s a lot of pain involved, which several endorsers noted.  Maybe someday the pain will subside, but from what I understand, it probably never will . . . and not just for us.

That’s why I’ve subtitled the book A Cautionary Tale.  There are lessons we can learn from pain that can’t be learned any other way.

At the eleventh hour, I felt like scrubbing the whole project, but my family cheered me forward.  Why put all that effort into a book and then discard it?  Because I truly don’t wish to hurt anyone or reopen any old wounds.

But if you write about the crucifixion, you have to talk about Pilate, and Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin, and Peter’s denials, and Judas’ betrayal.  There’s no way around it.

So I tried to put as much distance between me and those who attacked me as possible.  I don’t name the church or its community, and I give aliases to those who were integrally involved in the conflict.  Whenever I could advance the narrative without mentioning people by name, I did, and as often as possible, I attribute actions and decisions to groups rather than individuals.

In addition, I purposely tried not to attack anyone either personally or professionally.  While I vehemently disagreed with many decisions that were made, I try to express myself with grace.

A major conflict surfaces a range of feelings that you can’t conceal.  Before and during Jesus’ crucifixion, He experienced sorrow, depression, agony, abandonment, betrayal, and shock.

In the same way – but to a far lesser degree – there is no way to tell this story without relating strong emotions, especially outrage.  Since I’m a thinker more than a feeler, my account is usually restrained – but not always.

It’s prescriptive.  At the end of each of the first 11 chapters, I offer suggestions as to how to prevent these kinds of conflicts from happening in churches.  I offer counsel to pastors, governing leaders, and lay people alike.  The book is not so much a “look how much I suffered” lament as it is an attempt to point out mistakes that were made to help Christian leaders and churches handle these situations better in the future.

Paul wrote letters to 7 churches and 2 ministry leaders in the New Testament.  His letters to Timothy and Titus were for their eyes only.  But books like Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians and Ephesians and Colossians were written to congregations and intended to be read aloud to affect the behavior of entire assemblies . . . and Paul often instructs them concerning how to handle the conflicts in their midst.

There’s so little in print on dealing with these challenges.  So the book’s last chapter deals with the problem of pastoral termination.  I offer prescriptions for eradicating this plague that causes at least 1,500 pastors per month to leave church ministry . . . often for good.

It’s redemptive.  While God did not cause this conflict, He did permit it.  After Joseph encountered his brothers in Egypt, he told them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Much of my ministry in the days to come will be focused on helping congregations prevent these kinds of conflicts.  They are inherently destructive to churches, pastors, boards, and churchgoers alike.  (In fact, there isn’t one instance in the New Testament where churchgoers try to destroy one of their leaders.)

In my introduction, I quote Rick Warren – who is going through his own period of suffering right now – from his bestseller The Purpose Driven Life:

“God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others . . . . The very experiences that you have resented or regretted most in life – the ones you’ve wanted to hide and forget – are the experiences God wants to use to help others. They are your ministry! For God to use your painful experiences, you must be willing to share them. You have to stop covering them up, and you must honestly admit your faults, failures, and fears. Doing this will probably be your most effective ministry.”

This book is my attempt to carry out Rick’s words.  In fact, I felt that God was compelling me to write it.

If you’d like to buy Church Coup, you can order it at our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org

And if you find the book helpful, I’d appreciate it if you would tell others about it.

May God richly bless you, and remember the wisdom of Romans 12:18:

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

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I just posted the 250th blog article I’ve written since December 2010.

It used to be a good day if I had 25 views.  Now I regularly receive 3 times that number, for which I praise God.

I’m not writing about issues for the general Christian public … I’ll let others address those things.

Instead, I want to write about topics that Christians think about but can’t find much guidance on.

I especially want to expose the dark side of church leadership to the light.

I literally have scores of topics I can write about … all I have to do is peruse the terms people type into their search engines to find my blog.

And today, I turned in the manuscript for my book a second time to my publisher.  You’ll know when it’s ready!

My Top 10 all-time most viewed articles are:

1. If You Must Terminate a Pastor (3 1/2 times more views than the second most-read article)

2. Pastors Who Overfunction

3. Secular Songs You Can Sing in Church, Finale

4. When to Correct a Pastor

5. Secular Songs You Can Sing in Church, Part 1

6. When You’re Upset with Your Pastor

7. Pastors Who Cause Trouble

8. Conflict Lessons from War Horse

9. Facing Your Accusers

10. Why I Love London

Like most writers, sometimes I write for myself, and other times, I write to shed light on a problem area.

I can never predict how many times a particular article will be read … but I’m grateful every time someone reads even one.

And that includes you, my friend.

Thanks for reading!

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Once upon a time, there was a king.

The king ruled a land where His subjects felt unsafe … so he searched for another land where they could live.

He found a land nearby and proclaimed himself king.  Shortly afterwards, he built a castle.

Many people enjoyed visiting the castle and listening to the king’s wisdom.

But after many years, the king was getting old.  He looked around for a prince who could succeed him as king.

Many paraded themselves before the king, but he rejected them all.

The king finally chose a prince from another land, who brought along his wife, a princess.  They moved into the castle with the king and queen.

The families of the king and prince got along, and the people rejoiced.

One day, the king said goodbye, and left for another land.  The prince became the new king … his wife the new queen.

The new king loved the people, and they loved him.  Life was good.

But some citizens missed the old king.  They began sending him messages, complaining about the new king … who was not exactly like the old king.

The old king told the new king about these messages, which the new king appreciated because he wanted to be friends with everyone.

As the years passed, some citizens continued to complain to the old king … but this time, the old king did not tell the king about these complaints.

The kingdom grew, and the old castle felt confining, so the king built a new castle, which made the citizens happy.

Because the kingdom continued to expand, the king invited a prince from another land to help run things.  The king and the prince served together well, and the kingdom continued to prosper.

The king convened meetings of the knights of the round table, who provided advice on kingdom matters.  Everybody got along well.

But one day, due to a scarcity of resources, the knights began making decisions without the king’s knowledge.  Life in the kingdom became tense.  The king became frustrated.

The king and queen went on a journey to help people in another land.  When they returned, the knights took the queen and locked her in the dungeon, claiming she had broken kingdom laws.

The knights told the king that the queen must abdicate or they would abdicate instead.

The king was caught in the middle.  While he loved his queen, he also loved the kingdom.  The queen did not believe she had broken any laws and chose not to abdicate.

Meanwhile, friends of the king asked the knights if they could meet to discuss the situation.  The knights said yes …  then no … then yes … then no.

And then one night, the prince left the kingdom, riding off into the night for another land.

The king asked a counselor from a distant land to advise him.  During this time, the queen became very ill, worrying the king greatly.

After threatening to leave several times, the knights finally departed, causing the king to weep.  He loved the knights and could not understand why they put the queen in the dungeon.

Since the king now lacked knights, he asked several citizens to serve as temporary knights and give him counsel.  The king also asked the counselor to come to the castle and give him advice.  The counselor agreed.

The king called a meeting to tell the citizens that the prince and knights had left the kingdom.  When the king made his announcement, he was shocked by the reaction of the people … some of whom now wanted the king banished.

The king stayed in the kingdom, but was asked not to come near the castle so the temporary knights could choose permanent ones.

While the king waited, he and the queen heard rumors that were untrue and hurt them deeply.  Some of the rumors persist to this day.

The rumors were ultimately started by a dragon known for deceit and destruction who had also harmed other castles in the region.

The king decided to leave the kingdom … because he loved his wife and wanted her healthy … and because he loved the kingdom and wanted its citizens to be joyful and prosperous.

The king gave a final speech to the people in the castle.  The king and queen then said goodbye to the people they loved … and still love … very much.

The king and queen journeyed to a distant land to live … and learned more about why they were driven from the kingdom.

They learned that the queen was put in the dungeon so the king would leave the kingdom.

They learned that the charges against the queen were untrue.

They learned that the old king had been working with the knights and prince to banish the king from the kingdom.

They learned that this kind of tragedy happens to other kings in other kingdoms.

So they decided to do something about it.

The king decided to tell his story … consulting with experts … so the knights and citizens of other kingdoms would know what to do whenever parties conspired to banish a king from their kingdom.

The king and queen gained wisdom and strength from their experience.  They made plans to help other kings and knights and kingdoms so they do not have to go through similiar heartaches.

And they hope that everyone in a kingdom will unite to fight the dragon instead of each other.

They ask for your prayers and encouragement in this new endeavor.

And if a similar situation happens in your kingdom, they pray that the knights and citizens follow the constitution of the kingdom rather than make up their own rules.

May your king and kingdom be abundantly blessed until the real King returns.

(Since this is my 200th blog post, I thought I’d do something a little creative.  Thanks for reading!  On to 300 …)

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I received very good news today – news that I did not expect.

More than a year ago, I visited two attorneys in nearby Tempe who had been recommended to me by a Christian leader.  I needed to obtain 501(c)(3) status with the IRS so that donations to my non-profit ministry could be tax-deductible.

These attorneys told me that it would take 6-8 months for the process to be completed, and that the IRS was horrible to deal with.  They said that if I hired them, I’d have to fill out a bunch of paperwork.  Then we’d send it to them, they’d send it back with questions, then we’d give them more information, and on and on.

And on top of that, the whole process would cost several thousand dollars.

These guys really scared me off.  It sounded like dealing with the IRS was like dealing with the devil.  (You know, the Infernal Revenue Service.)

Then last fall, my wife and I attended a retreat for Christian leaders who work with wounded pastors and their wives.  We attended a seminar where the leader told us that he saved money in obtaining his organization’s 501(c)(3) status by doing all the paperwork himself – but it took many months for his group to be granted tax-exempt status.  (As I recall, it took 8 months.)

This whole scenario was a bit frightening to me, I must confess.  While I wanted to get the paperwork done quickly, I also wanted to get it done right.

Surprisingly, I was able to obtain recognition from my state to operate a non-profit ministry within their boundaries, and I was able to do it without paying anyone else to help me.

But I still had that 501(c)(3) thing hanging over my head.

Finally, I prayed over matters, went online, and found a group in another state that claimed they would obtain the tax-exempt status for a certain fee – one I felt was very reasonable.

I contacted them, sent them my governing documents, answered a few questions on the phone – and then waited.  Several weeks later, they sent me my application to the IRS, asking me just to sign the documents and include a check to Uncle Sam.

And they told me that when the IRS wrote me with questions, my job was to route the questions back to my advocates, and they would take care of matters.

This morning, my advocates informed me that Restoring Kingdom Builders has officially received 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS – and the IRS never asked me a single additional question.

And the whole process took less than three months.

This is the final legal step in setting up our ministry – and I’m grateful to God that it’s over!

How many times do we believe that God is calling us to do something, but we’re too afraid to do it?

There are people that I know and love who think I’m crazy to be doing this ministry.  They think I should be doing something else – something more conventional that provides a predictable income.

Maybe they’re right.

But for years, God has been tugging on my heart to be involved in preventing pastoral terminations – and the need is great.

My blog article, “If You Must Terminate a Pastor,” has been viewed nearly three times more than anything else I’ve written.  If you enter “terminate a pastor” in a search engine, my article usually comes up first or second.

There is a great need in Christendom for pastor-church conflicts to be handled in a more biblical and healthy way.

I want to learn, and teach, and consult, and coach, and write, and speak, and make a difference in this field.

Did I ever think I was going to do this?  No, I assumed I would retire as a pastor – and maybe die in the pulpit.  (From a heart attack, not a bullet.)

But God has other plans, and I’m doing my best to walk the path He has for me.

If He clearly leads me to do something else, I will gladly do what He says.

But until then, I am moving down the road at a steady pace.

Thanks for reading my little articles and for your prayers.  They are greatly needed.

And thanks for infusing courage into me when I’ve felt discouraged.  We all need en-courage-ment.

And may I encourage you – don’t be afraid to follow God’s direction, even if you’re afraid.

Because God is bigger than even the IRS.

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Have you ever dreamed of writing a book?

I have.  All my life.

Scores of titles have flowed through my brain.  I can’t recall any offhand, but I rejected them all out-of-hand.

Because most of the time, one question haunted me:

Why would anyone be interested in anything I had to say?

If I was a celebrity, I could sit down with a ghost writer and a dictaphone, and when the manuscript was finished, someone would be assigned to edit it.

If I was a big-name pastor, I could preach a sermon series and turn it into book form a la Chuck Swindoll or Andy Stanley.

If I had an inspirational tale to tell – a shark took off my arm, I went to heaven as a little kid – publishers would approach me asking for the rights to my story.

But I’m not an A-lister, no publisher has requested any of my sermons, and I haven’t been in the ocean in ages.

Besides, I’ve always been concerned that if I did write a book, I’d walk by Barnes & Noble several months later and find it in the bargain section with a remainder mark on it.

In spite of all my doubts, I have authored a book anyway.

In fact, I’m committed: I’ve already made a down payment with the publisher.

Thank God for self-publishing, because my book wouldn’t see the light of day if I had to submit a manuscript to a major Christian publishing house.  You have to be a televangelist, a mega-church pastor, or a perennial bestselling author to get published these days.  Publishers want a certain return on their investment, and in this economy, who can blame them?

In fact, a Christian author told me several months ago that he once worked for a major Christian publisher.  Another author with a proven track record – whom I have met – proposed writing a book about the same issue I’m writing about.

The publisher declined to pursue the idea.

However, I’m praying that my book will gain some attention.  Five words describe it:

*It’s narrative.  I write about a major church conflict that my wife and I experienced firsthand – and let church conflict experts make comments all through the book.  My hope is that lay people especially will read the book because it’s in story form.

*It’s timely.  There are 1,800 pastors leaving churches every month in our country, 1,300 of them involuntarily.  When I share these statistics with people, they are blown away.  We Christians (leaders and lay people alike) can do more to address and resolve this issue – but first we have to shine a light on it.

*It’s long.  My original manuscript was 450 pages in length.  I’ve cut it down to 400 and I’m still trying to pare it down.  When you self-publish, you can pay for an editor or do your own editing.  I’m doing my own, so it takes time – and I don’t want any misspellings or syntactical errors.  But if the book is too long, it will cost more, which will cut down on sales – so I’m taking the knife to it.  It’s just that the knife is dull.

*It’s authentic.  The book describes a real conflict from a behind-the-scenes perspective.  And I have a whole chapter on mistakes that I made.  However, I have changed the names of nearly everyone except for family members.  I don’t even identify the church or the city or state it’s in.

*It’s redemptive.  While I honestly report what happened – and with emotion at times – my overall objective is for Christian leaders and congregations to learn how to handle these situations better.  Shockingly, there is little written for lay people on the subject of church conflict.

So even if I end up number 2,374,981 on Amazon, I still plan on publishing the book.


I thought it would be done last winter … then last spring … then this past summer … and now I’m hoping for two weeks from now.  I’m going through it page by page: sharpening wording, clarifying statements, rearranging material – and deleting stuff.

My publishing agent told me she could print the book in 45 days from the day of submission.  If so, it will be ready by Christmas.  If not, then it will be ready in early 2012.  You’ll be the first to know.

So please pray for God to prompt me to finish the book – and for Him to prepare the hearts of potential readers.

When I was at Fuller Seminary, I took a class with Dr. Archibald Hart.  I wrote a long paper for him, and he encouraged me to write for publication.  He was one of my few heroes before the class, so you can imagine how I feel about him today!

I lack a venue for teaching publicly right now.  Hopefully the Lord will rectify that in the near future.

But I can always write – as long as I have wonderful readers like you.

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I want to thank all of you who read this blog on a regular basis.  Let me share with you some quick updates about how the ministry is going.

First of all, thanks to all of you who read the article “Thoughts on a Scandal” last Friday.  It was the largest number of views I’ve ever had, thanks in part to my friend Kathi Lipp, who linked the article on Facebook.  Kathi is the author of the books The Husband Project, The Me Project, and the almost-published The “What’s For Dinner?” Solution and has, at last count, 2,462 friends on Facebook, some of whom were gracious enough to read the article.

Kim sent the article to Sean Hannity and Mike Huckabee but I haven’t heard anything from them yet!

If you’re interested in Kathi’s Amazon page, here it is: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=kathi+lipp

Next, I had breakfast today with my good friend Chuck Wickman, who just published the book Pastors at Risk.  Chuck was a pastor for 40 years and has been doing research and ministering to pastors who have gone through forced terminations for many years.  He is the founder of Pastor-in-Residence.  His wife’s uncle was John W. Peterson, who wrote gospel songs like Jesus is Coming Again and Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul.

If you’re in a church where the pastor is hurting – or you know of a pastor who has been wounded in ministry – Chuck does a great job of laying out the problems and offering solutions.  You can order the book from Amazon by following this link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=chuck+wickman

Third, I’ve completed the manuscript for my book, and six people are reading and reviewing it right now, with others agreeing to read it as well.  Most of the book is in narrative form with the last one-third of the book analysis.  It is my desire to lead a crusade to stop the forced termination of pastors in churches today.  While we can and should minister to pastors who have already been victimized by this epidemic, we also need to work together at preventing this plague that harms pastors and their families as well as churches for many years.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to my family.

For Father’s Day, Sarah arranged for Kim and me to go and see the Giants and Diamondbacks play at Chase Field here in Phoenix last week.  It just so happens that was the last game the Giants won!  Thanks, Sarah, for being such a blessing to your dad and mom.

Also for Dad’s Day, Ryan and his fiancee Vanessa gave me a framed photo of our son – in a baseball uniform – when he was just two years old.  He also wrote a wonderful note in a card that indicated that he is happy that I’m conducting their wedding two months from today.  I can’t wait for that special day to arrive!

Also for Father’s Day, Kim took me to a special place in Scottsdale yesterday where you can watch a movie and eat a great meal – both at the same time.  I am truly blessed to have such a special woman in my life.  We celebrate 36 years of marriage in early August.

To Sarah, Ryan, and Kim: I love you all so very much!

Kim is going on her fourth trip to Kenya next week, so please pray for her ministry there when you think about her.  Her main ministry is coordinating a conference for pastors, many of whom are very poor.

A few minutes ago, I passed 5,000 views on this blog.  While some bloggers get that many views in one day, I’m still learning about the wonderful world of blogging.  Thanks for reading and for all your comments!

And if you would like me to address an issue involving pastors, churches, or conflict, please let me know.  If you’d like, you can email me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org.

Enjoy a God-blessed week!

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I went to a great seminary.  I loved everything about it: the professors, the books, interacting with fellow students, writing a thesis – just the general environment.  Sometimes the reading got to be a bit much, and at times the incessant papers nearly drove me mad, but I knew what the goal was: a solid Bible education.

We were in seminary to learn the Bible: to preach it, explain it, defend it, apply it.  Our professors knew, loved, and practiced the Word of God.  Being in seminary was a foretaste of heaven.

We didn’t learn much about business in seminary.  After all, we weren’t trying to get our MBAs, but our M.Divs (Master of Divinity degrees).  In fact, when I graduated from seminary after five years, the business world had little if any influence on the local church.

My how times have changed!

If you’re going to pastor an impactful church these days, a seminary education doesn’t seem necessary.  Some people say that what you really need is to take successful business principles and apply them to the church.  Develop your mission.  Cast a vision.  Find your niche.  Market your product.  And evaluate, evaluate, evaluate.

I am not saying that any of the above ideas are wrong.  Pastors can learn from any and all fields.  But in our culture, churches are getting more and more away from what the Bible says and are becoming increasingly enamored with what business says.

I could cite many examples, but one of the most prominent ones concerns the way churches view pastors.

The old paradigm said that a pastor was called by God to love the people and teach the Word.  Loving the people involved practices like counseling, hospital visitation, and praying with people.  Teaching the Word involved disciplines like studying, writing, and delivering biblically-based messages.

The new paradigm says that a pastor is the CEO of a small business, the local church.  You’re not called; you’re hired.  You don’t love the people as much as you lead the church.  You don’t teach the Word as much as communicate a message – one that should continually advance the church’s mission.

It’s all so different.

The reason I bring this up is that many pastors – including myself – were trained at a time when we believed God was calling us to be a pastor, not a CEO.  As some churches grew in size, their pastors became cultural superstars, and a lot of smaller church pastors suddenly felt inadequate.  Most of these large church pastors were using business principles in their churches, so the business way of doing things gradually spread to other churches.

But somewhere along the line, we lost the whole plot.

We now expect pastors to be CEOs, elders to be the board of directors, and money to be the bottom line.

Where’s the Bible in all this?

I bring this up because of my passion for pastors who have been involuntarily forced out of their churches.  How often is the Bible used in such situations?  How often are business practices used instead?

What does that say about our confidence in the relevance of Scripture?

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Pastors and churches can profit from some of the insights and practices of the business community.  But as followers of Jesus Christ, we should go to Scripture first and business second, not business first and Scripture second.

If God’s Word is primary, that changes everything in a local church.

What’s the bottom line in business?  Money.  How about in a church?  Devoted disciples.  The problem is that it’s easier to measure donations than changed lives.

What does a business do when it has hard times?  It cuts expenses.  It lays off employees.  It gets rid of product lines.

What does a church do?  It digs into Scripture.  It gathers together for prayer.  It believes God for great things.

It’s ironic: many Christian leaders believe what Scripture teaches for salvation and spiritual growth but ignore Scripture when business practices dictate otherwise.

Let me give you two examples among many I could cite.

Example one: I had a conversation yesterday with a Christian man.  We were discussing what should be done (if anything) about the people in a church who are wrongfully involved in forcing out a pastor.

My friend’s view is that a church doesn’t need to do anything to these people because God will punish them in His time and way.  He told me the story of an associate pastor who engineered the ouster of the senior pastor.  The associate got cancer and his wife died a horrible death.  His conclusion?  Christians don’t need to address the perpetrators in any way because eventually “God’ll get ’em.”

Where do we find that in the New Testament?

Yes, God will repay all of us according to our deeds in the next life (2 Corinthians 5:10), and the law of sowing and reaping still applies in this life as well (Galatians 6:7).  But would you rather receive correction from God directly or mediated through the leaders of a local church?

As Hebrews 10:29 reminds us, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Instead, the New Testament tells us exactly what to do when those inside a church sin and cause division.  We are to gently and lovingly confront them until they repent.  We are to show them the error of their ways and bring them back to the Lord.  For example, look up Romans 16:17-18; Titus 3:10-11; 3 John 9-10.

Jesus said in Luke 17:3-4, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

There are four action verbs mentioned here: sin, rebuke, repent, forgive.  Jesus lays out the sequence for us.  When someone sins, we rebuke them.  When they repent, we forgive them.  But how often do we follow His way?  Instead, when people sin, we quickly forgive them and dispense with our rebuking and their repenting.

In other words, if I’m the ringleader against my pastor, and I mount a campaign to force him to resign, and he eventually leaves, most people will quickly forgive me even though I’ve sinned.  No one will rebuke me.  No one will insist I repent.  No one will follow Jesus’ instructions.  And, of course, that leaves me wide open to do the same thing again.

Where’s the Bible in all this?

Example two: The church’s governing board is upset with the pastor for something he said.  One of the board members has had it.  He wants to fire the pastor outright.  During the meeting, another board member comes to agree with him.  Several aren’t yet sure, but nobody feels confident enough to defend the pastor.  After talking into the night, the remaining holdouts come around and agree that the board will fire the pastor.  They then agree to meet again to discuss how and when they’ll talk to the pastor and what (if anything) they’ll say to the congregation.

During this whole episode, they never crack open their Bibles.  They never discuss gently rebuking the pastor so he can repent and be restored.  They never ask for his intepretation of the event or let him present any defense.  They never even ask God for His guidance, asking Him to bless their decision instead.

In other words, they handle matters like they were in a seventh floor office at work.

Once again, where’s the Bible in all this?

The mission statement of Restoring Kingdom Builders is 25 words long:

“To begin the healing process for pastors and their families who have experienced forced termination and to teach Christians ways to manage these conflicts biblically.”

Please notice that last phrase: “to teach Christians ways to manage these conflicts biblically.”

Which conflicts?  The ones that involve the forced termination of pastors.

Most clergy-centered ministries in America are focused on the “healing process” for those who have gone through the pain of a forced exit, and my wife and I want to do that as well.  But isn’t it also wise to try and prevent these situations from happening in the first place?

That’s what I want to do.  Will you pray for my wife and me as we begin this ministry?  And when you hear about pastors who have undergone the pain of termination, will you let them know about our ministry?

And while you’re at it, may I suggest a project?  As you re-read the New Testament again, notice how many times the human authors – inspired by the Holy Spirit – make concrete suggestions as to how divisive people in a church are to be treated.  These instructions are always to the leaders or the people of a local church.

While reading Jeremiah 1 in The Message several days ago, I came across a fascinating phrase, especially as Opening Day in baseball approaches this Thursday.  God told Jeremiah (the prophet with whom I have the most affinity), “Don’t pull your punches or I’ll pull you out of the lineup.”

I believe He’s saying the same thing to me.

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I’m ten years old and playing baseball with friends at my school on a Saturday.  The field is muddy because of rain, better conditions for football than baseball.  There’s a collision at home plate involving a friend and me.  He comes up swinging.  So do I.  We each land a few blows on the other’s body.  We’re each covered in mud.  Game over.  Score tied 10-10.

My friends are all surprised that I got in a fight: the pastor’s kid.  As we both walk home, my slop-covered friend and I are yelling things at each other.  Crazy things, hurtful things, things we felt for a moment but later denied we really meant.

I valued my friends – all of them, even the guy I collided with.  Sometime later, we met and made up.  It’s funny – we weren’t related, but we both had the same last name.

I abhor conflict.  Most of us do.  As the above story indicates, too many times in our lives, conflict results in emotional damage, verbal volleys, physical pain, and relational distancing.

Why does conflict scare us so much – especially Christians?

For starters, conflict scares us because it’s unpredictable.  Let’s say I have two co-workers who constantly make cutting remarks to me.  I finally work up the courage to confront each person in private.  The first individual quickly admits his wrongdoing and apologizes.  The second person accuses me of “being soft” and “not being adult enough to take it.”  I’ve reconciled with the first co-worker – but now I’m even more distant from the second one.

While I feel I did the right things, I didn’t necessarily obtain the right results.  There is no one-size-fits-all way of handling conflict because it always involves more than one person.

After more than 35 years in church ministry, I don’t miss confrontations at all.  I’d talk to one staff member about an issue, and he’d rebel on me.  I’d talk to another, and she’d fully understand and cooperate.  Mark Twain said he could live a month on one good compliment.  One bad confrontation can ruin an entire month as well.

Conflict scares us because we don’t know how others will react to it.  But …

Second, conflict scares us because we’re afraid of ourselves.  Most of the time, I’m a pretty mild-mannered person.  I know myself well.  Give me nine scenarios involving conflict, and I can predict with accuracy how I’ll handle each one.

But put me behind the wheel of a car, and let another driver nearly run me off the road, and I can become a different person.  (When my kids were teenagers, they used to chide me for the way I reacted to stupid drivers.  When they began driving, they changed their tune.  There are a lot of dangerous drivers out there!  Of course, I’m not one of them.)

If a car approaches me from the rear and tries to run me off the road … if a driver cuts in front of me with no warning … if a vehicle plows through a stop sign without ever applying the brakes … I don’t know what to do with how I feel.  The other driver has initiated conflict with me (not that’s it’s personal) but then speeds away – and even if I tried to follow the car, how would I communicate with the perpetrator?  (I once knew a high school girl who made little signs and would show them to other drivers when the youth went on missions trips.  Is that the answer?)

My point?  When people threaten my life (and my car with 213K miles on it) I’m anything but a happy camper.  In fact, sometimes my reactions scare myself!  (Am I the only one who feels this way?)  While I’ve learned better how to handle these situations over the years (“Lord, send a CHP officer their way”), I’m still amazed at the depths of fear and rage that can reside even inside a present Christian and former pastor.

Many of us instinctively know that we do not handle conflict well.  Paul wrote about his own “conflict on the outside, fears within” (11 Corinthians 7:5).  Over time, we have to learn how to handle conflict better.

Third, conflict scares us because we avoid it so much.  If someone hurts me with words, I resolve not to say a thing.  If a co-worker ignores me, I decide not to do anything to reconcile.  If a pastor says something really stupid from the pulpit, I choose not to challenge him.

But when we go through life practicing conflict avoidance, we never get better at handling conflict.  Because even when we try and dodge it, it still has a way of finding us.  The way to take the fear out of conflict is to practice getting better at it.

On the Myers-Briggs test, my wife and I are exact opposites.  For example, I’m a thinker, she’s a feeler.  She’s intuitive, I need data.  For years in our marriage, when we fought (and I use that word deliberately), we both learned a little more about the other during our post-combat wrap-up.  Instead of assuming that my conflict style was correct, I’d ask my wife, “How could I have handled that situation better?  How would you like me to talk to you about that issue in the future?”  She would tell me how to approach her and I’d try and do that when we had our next conflict.  (Ten years later.)

You can read all the books you want on conflict (and I’ve read scores).  You can take all the seminars available.  You can even write out all the verses applying to conflict in the NT (as I’ve done).  But the best way to become fearless about conflict is to practice getting better at it rather than running away from it.  View every conflict situation as a learning experience.

Finally, conflict scares us because the stakes are high when it gets out of control.  When conflict goes south in the Middle East, innocent people die.  When conflict goes poorly at work, people lose their jobs.  When conflict goes badly at church, pastors quit, staff are fired, and people leave in droves.  A conflict badly handled can negatively impact our lives for a long, long time – and we instinctively know this.

This is why it’s helpful to know the level of a conflict when we’re going through one.  Speed Leas, my number one go-to conflict expert, believes that there are five levels of conflict.  The lower the level, the better chance we can resolve the issue ourselves.  The higher the level, the more essential it is that we obtain outside expertise.  Leas says that:

Level 1 involves predicaments.  Everyone wants to solve the problem and go for a win-win.

Level 2 involves disagreements.  We look for a tradeoff and want to come out looking good.

Level 3 involves a contest.  We want to win and get out our way.  We form coalitions and scapegoat people.

Level 4 involves fight/flight.  We either withdraw or want the other party to withdraw.  We’ve become enemies.

Level 5 involves punishing people.  We try and destroy people’s careers and reputations.

Most of us handle Level 1 conflicts nearly every day.  We’re not as proficient at Level 2, and it’s getting away from us at Level 3.  We’re so out of our league at Levels 4 and 5 that if a conflict gets to this point, we either fight and get bloodied or run far away.

When matters get to Levels 4 and 5, we need to call for outside professional help, like a consultant or a mediator, or we can destroy individuals, families, and organizations.

I’ll write more about Leas’ levels later, but for now, I encourage you to try and keep conflicts at the lowest level possible.  If we can become experts at handling matters at Levels 1 and 2, then hopefully we’ll rarely if ever have to deal with conflict at Levels 4 and 5.

My big concern is for the way Christians handle (or don’t handle) major conflicts, especially as they relate to the pastor.  While pastors can certainly learn better ways of dealing with conflict, when a conflict is about the pastor himself, he almost always has to step to the sidelines and let others manage things.  If those others are prepared, a church can survive and even thrive in such an environment.  If the leaders aren’t ready – and most aren’t – conflict can have disastrous results.

If a church had a major conflict every week, its people would eventually learn how to resolve issues from a biblical perspective or the church would collapse.  But when a major conflict only occurs once every five or ten years, then people either lack the skills to deal with the issues or forget whatever skills they may have learned.  (This is not a justification for creating more conflicts!)  I’d like to share some ideas with you in the future on how we might do a better job in this area.

One of my goals with Restoring Kingdom Builders is to “teach Christians ways to manage these conflicts biblically,” especially issues surrounding the involuntarily termination of pastors and staff members.  I receive statistics on a daily basis as to how many people are viewing the blog, as well as the terms that people are inserting into their search engines to find me.  One of the most common phrases is “how to terminate a pastor.”  I don’t know if pastors, board members, or lay people are ending up here (probably a combination of all three), but I’m gratified to know that God is using me in some way to help others.  There is a dearth of materials and teaching in this area in the Christian community.

Please join me in praying that God will use our new ministry to bring biblical and healing solutions to the hundreds of American churches every month that are considering forcibly removing their pastor.

May you become so proficient at conflict management that the Lord uses you to bring reconciliation to others!

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Several decades ago, I took a friend to a White Sox-A’s game at the Oakland Coliseum.  (The White Sox won 1-0.)  After the game, while we were stuck in traffic, we both noticed some verbal interplay between a young woman and a car full of guys.  While both parties were in their cars, the guys were yelling at her, she was yelling at them – and there was alcohol involved.  Suddenly, the young woman grabbed a bucket of ice, ran over to the guys’ car, and poured out the ice through the driver’s side window onto the lap of the driver.  She then ran back toward her car, but the guys caught her and began beating her up.

I can’t stand to watch anyone get hit in real life, especially a woman.

Instinctively, I wanted to get out of the car and defend her, but my companion cautioned, “Don’t Jim – she asked for it.”

What would you have done in that situation?

As difficult as it is to watch non-TV people fighting, it’s even more disturbing to watch one-sided combat.  And yet, that’s what Saul of Tarsus did the first time we meet him in Scripture.

The most prominent early Christian outside the apostles was Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit … a man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:5,8).  (How many Christian leaders would be described that way in our day?)  Just like with Jesus, some Jewish leaders made up charges against Stephen, incited a mob against him, held a kangaroo court, and produced false witnesses to trump-up charges.  Unlike Jesus, Stephen was able to mount a vigorous defense of his message from the Old Testament, but the verdict had been decided long before he began speaking.

Sometimes it’s hard to read Acts 7:57-58.  Luke mentions five phrases that indicate that the mob had already made up its minds about Stephen’s guilt.  Note the phrases in italics:

“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”  If a movie was made about what really happened on this occasion, it would be rated NC-17 – or maybe NC-35.

Here’s what I want to know: why didn’t anybody try and stop the mob from carrying out this horrible action?  It was clearly a miscarriage of justice.  It didn’t honor God.  It couldn’t be explained away.  It was wrong.  But according to the text, no one protested this mob action.

And then Dr. Luke slips in a little phrase at the end of verse 58 to introduce us to someone: “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”  Most commentators believe that Saul was more than just an innocent bystander; as Acts 8:1 notes, “Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”

Once again, what would you have done in that situation?

There is no doubt that by not protesting, and by watching the coats of the executioners, Saul’s silent tongue was an indicator that he agreed with Stephen’s guilt, stoning, and death.  I am not saying that Saul could have singlehandedly stopped it.  (Although we don’t know because he didn’t try.)  But somewhere along the line, he made up his mind: Stephen needed to die, and Saul preferred a box seat to doing anything about it.

Saul would feel much differently years later.  In Acts 22:20, while recounting his testimony before another Jerusalem mob, Saul (now Paul) found himself in their crosshairs.  He summed up his actions years before: “And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”  One can sense the regret in Paul’s voice: “I can’t believe I did that.”

This time, because the Romans were in charge of the proceedings, Paul was able to escape the mob and live another day.  But I wonder how many times he was haunted by the fact that when an innocent man of God was being stoned, he stood idly by without registering a protest.

Why bring this up?

I had breakfast this past week with a Christian leader who started a ministry for terminated pastors many years ago.  As we were discussing the statistics of how many pastors leave their churches every month, my friend told me that the latest statistic is 1,800.  When I did a search online, I discovered that the stats being quoted now are that 1,800 pastors leave their churches every month and that 1,300 of that group are involuntarily let go.  That’s a lot of pastors – and churches – in pain.

While I concede that there are pastors who need to leave their churches, the overwhelming majority of these forced exits happen to pastors who have done nothing worthy of being fired.

And in most situations, either a handful of board members (usually three) and/or a small contingent of opponents (less than ten) conspire together to remove the pastor from office.  And when they do so, they exaggerate the charges against him and offer him no defense.

Here’s what I want to know: why doesn’t anybody protest this kind of clandestine behavior?

When there is clearly injustice being perpetrated, why doesn’t even one board member tell the spiritual assassins (called by some “the gang of three”) to knock it off?  Why don’t they threaten to expose them to the congregation?  Why do so many board members suddenly go silent when their more vocal colleagues plan to do evil?

And if matters get to the floor of the congregation, why don’t more people in the church vocally support the pastor?  Why do supposedly strong believers suddenly wilt like Peter rather than stand strong like Daniel?

In other words, why do good Christians so often end up guarding clothes rather than fighting injustice?

When I was a kid, James 4:17 used to bother me.  It still does.  Our Lord’s half-brother writes, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

When you know you should protest … when you know God wants you to speak up … when you know you should walk away from the clothes … but you don’t – that’s sin.

In our new ministry, Restoring Kingdom Builders, I want to empower lay people to speak up when it looks like their pastor is being verbally or vocationally stoned.  I want to share with them specific measures they can take to counteract this plague of forcing called, trained, and godly pastors out of churches and even out of ministry.

Rather than guarding clothes for others, maybe it’s time we say, “Watch your own clothes.  I see what you’re up to, and with God’s help, I’m going to do everything I can to stop it.”

Who’s up for this?  Are you?

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I am excited!  Tomorrow afternoon, our new ministry, Restoring Kingdom Builders, will hold its first board meeting.  We will be making decisions on a mission statement, goals, bylaws, and a budget, as well as making formative plans for our first Wellness Retreat later this year.

RKB is dedicated to educating Christians in the prevention and management of church conflict from a biblical perspective – especially as it relates to pastors – and to beginning the healing process for pastors and their families who experience a forced exit from a church.

It feels like I am starting my ministry life over.

Let me give you a brief recap of my ministerial career – which spans more than 35 years – so you can see how I have been exposed to these issues for most of my life.  (Warning: the following material deals with the dark side of the church.  But I know you can handle it!)

If you read my last blog post, you know that my father was a pastor in Garden Grove, and after two years of conflict (mostly with the governing board), he resigned his position when I was eleven.  Nineteen months later, he died of cancer.  While the stress from the conflict may not have caused his death, it most likely accelerated the cancer’s growth.  Since my dad lacked support from the board and his denomination, he had to suffer alone professionally.  Part of me wants to go back in time and fix that situation, but although I can’t, I can help other pastors who go through similar trials.

When our family finally left, we took refuge in another Orange County church.  When the pastor eventually resigned (for positive reasons), the congregation called a new pastor, who abruptly fired the most popular staff member.  His ministry never recovered.  Years later, I read an article he wrote about that experience, and there was far more conflict in that church than I ever knew.  After he was forced to resign, that pastor became a psychologist on the East Coast.

When my best friend invited me to some special youth meetings at his church (once again, in Garden Grove), I loved the church, and pretty soon, our whole family was going there.  But two years later, the founding pastor resigned under mysterious circumstances.  The church eventually called a former member who had been a medical missionary in Saudi Arabia to be their pastor.  After becoming his youth pastor and later marrying his daughter, my father-in-law was eventually forced out as pastor, too.  (But it had nothing to do with my marriage!)

Largely due to the influence of one of my cousins and her husband, I was later called to be the youth pastor of a church in Orange, California.  Less than a year later, in a messy public meeting, the congregation voted the pastor out of office.  (Now there was a case study!)  That was the church where I learned what not to do.

After seventeen months in that church, I was called to be the youth pastor of another church in Garden Grove.  While my tenure there went well, the pastor was relentlessly attacked and was so emotionally devastated that he could barely function.  After he retired, he never performed any pastoral functions (like weddings or funerals) again.  Although I wasn’t in a position to make things right, I had friends on both sides of the conflict, but I always supported my pastor in public.

After I graduated from seminary, I was called to pastor a small church in the Silicon Valley city of Sunnyvale.  The previous pastor – you guessed it – had been fired after only one year on the job.  After a couple years there, I figured I was next on the board’s “hit list,” but at the eleventh hour, a sister church in Santa Clara invited us to merge with them.  I became the new pastor of the merged church, but only after the pastor from the other church was forced to leave.  (Have you detected a pattern yet?)

Several years into my ministry in Santa Clara, an older couple formed a group with the intent of getting rid of me as pastor.  While they were unsuccessful, we lost 20% of our congregation when they formed a new church only a mile away.

In the meantime, I made friends with many pastors in our district, but six or seven of them suddenly resigned their ministries within a couple years.  When I contacted them, they told me they had been forced out of their churches by either the governing board or a vocal minority.  I was shocked to discover that most of these pastors did not receive an adequate severance package and had been stigmatized.  These pastors also told me – to a man – that I was the only pastor in our district to contact them.  That was three decades ago.

Everything culminated in the late 1980s when the pastor from a prominent district church was unceremoniously forced out of office by his board with help from district personnel.  His dismissal resulted in legal action against both the church and the district.  While the political thing to do was support the district, I knew what really happened (I still have the documentation) and disagreed strongly with the way things were done.  My eyes were opened to the way that politics often trumps righteousness in church circles – and it grieved me greatly.

So I wrote an article for our denominational magazine called “Who Cares For Lost Shepherds?”  Christians like to talk about reaching lost sheep for Christ, but I wondered aloud why so few believers seem to care about pastors (shepherds) that are forced out of churches – especially those who have not committed impeachable offenses.

I also did a study (with the knowledge and consent of district leaders) on what happened to pastors who had left their churches in our district.  I discovered that 50 out of 60 pastors who had left their churches also left the denomination – and there was no way to track how they were doing or where they had gone.  Those pastors just vanished.  That troubled me.  It still does.

My ministry in the 1990s went well.  I served as the pastor of an outreach-oriented church in Santa Clara, but after seven years there, I was worn out and considered going into clergy caregiving.  I had lunch with conflict expert Speed Leas in his home and later attended the CareGivers Forum conference in Colorado, but it wasn’t God’s time for me to be involved in ministering to pastors just yet.

After becoming the senior pastor of a church in California, I entered the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary.  When it came time to declare my topic for my doctoral project, I chose to write on attacks by church antagonists informed by family systems theory.  I reveled in all the researching and writing for the project and learned a great deal about such situations.

For a few years, I taught workshops at an area-wide Christian leadership convention, and my best-attended sessions had to do with conflict in churches.

Then after 10 1/2 years in the same church, I experienced every pastor’s nightmare myself – and I learned even more going through that ordeal.

After moving to Arizona, I asked the Lord what His next assignment was for me.  Good friends suggested that I teach at a Christian college or seminary, or that I become a pastor again, or that I become an interim pastor, or maybe even a church staff member.  But to be honest, none of those positions excited me in the least.  If I ever do return to church ministry, my wife has informed me that I might once again become a bachelor.

Even though it means starting over, the Lord has given me a passion for pastors, their families, and churches that have been wounded by conflict, and I intend to follow His leading and build this ministry until the day He calls me home.

So if you hear about a pastor or spouse who are going through rough waters, encourage them to contact me.  I look forward to ministering to my wounded brothers and sisters in the days ahead.

Thankfully, I have several mentors who have been doing similiar ministries for years, and they are available to me for counsel and encouragement.

Will you pray for Restoring Kingdom Builders?  Please ask the Father:

*that our first board meeting will go well.

*that we can obtain our non-profit and tax-exempt status faster than usual.

*that the Lord will help me finish my book soon.

*that God will send wounded pastors and their spouses our way.

*that God’s people will generously support our ministry.

If you do decide to pray for our ministry, will you let me know?  It would mean a lot to Kim and me to know that you are praying for our ministry as it begins.

Thank you so much for reading my blog.  I’m constantly amazed at how many people look in on it every few days.  May the Lord richly bless you and grant you His peace today and always.

Let’s shed some light on the dark side of the church!

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