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.”