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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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The Lord has done some remarkable things in our lives over the past fifteen months.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I lamented the fact that we would have to sell our house and move.  We had no idea where to go.

But the Lord prompted a former chairman of the church board and his wife to invite us to stay at their place in Surprise, Arizona, which we did for more than two months.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I were so disoriented that we did not understand all that had happened to us or how to move on with our lives.

But the Lord put me in contact with Dr. Charles Chandler from the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, and Kim and I attended a Wellness Retreat in Tennessee that put us on the road to recovery.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I knew that we would be leaving our wonderful church family behind, a prospect we dreaded.

But the Lord led us to a fantastic church (after visiting many not-so-fantastic ones) where we love the music, the preaching, their outreach orientation, and especially the way they do missions. (Kim is taking a class called Perspectives and absolutely loves it.)

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I thought that she might never visit or minister in Kenya again.

But the Lord arranged for a church in Georgia to seek Kim’s help in starting a ministry in Nairobi, and Kim was able to visit Kenya last May – while that church has invested thousands of dollars into the ministry of a pastor friend there.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I were emotionally shattered and spiritually exhausted.

But the Lord led us to a wise and caring counselor, and He has slowly been rebuilding our strength.  While it may take some time for us to be 100%, we’re at a much better place than we were.  Several people have commented that it’s good to see us smiling again.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I realized we would have to place our house up for sale, even though it was severely underwater financially.

But the Lord brought us a friend who proved to be a loving, persistent, and tireless realtor.  Although we sold the house four times before the short sale transaction was completed, we are forever in her debt.

Fifteen months ago, the former board of our church treated us in a manner we will never fully understand.

But the Lord used the next board to pray for us, encourage us, and let us know that we were still loved, and for that we will be forever grateful.

Fifteen months ago, to be honest, life didn’t seem worth living.

But the Lord has been refining us to the point where we are looking forward to whatever He has in store for us in the days ahead.

Fifteen months ago, we were looking backwards, trying to figure out what in the world happened to us and our church family.

But the Lord has turned our heads around so we are increasingly looking forward to what He has for us in the future.

Fifteen months ago, my wife and I knew that we would have to leave our positions at a church that we loved (and still love) very much.  We had no idea what else we might do because we felt that God had called us to local church ministry.

But the Lord helped Kim secure a job last summer at a charter school district office, and with her help, we are ready to launch a ministry for pastors and their families who have suffered in church ministry.  In fact, we hold our first board meeting next week.

And the Lord continues to do amazing things in our lives.  Because Kim’s work commute takes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes each way, we knew we’d have to move toward her workplace when our current lease expired.

After enduring many frustrating experiences in trying to find the right place to rent, we discovered that our church had online classified ads.  We went to their website and found a fun place to rent (the walls in each room are painted a different color) in an unusual neighborhood.  We also discovered that our landlord went to my high school and that her step-mother was in my graduating class!

I have been passionate about pastoral conflict issues for more than 35 years, and now the Lord has called me to assist pastors who have suffered abuse, especially those who have experienced forced exits.

That’s why we’re launching our new ministry, Restoring Kingdom Builders.  If the Lord can help us rebuild our lives after undergoing life-shattering experiences, then He can use us to touch wounded pastors and their families.

Will you join us in praying that God will continue to use us for His glory?

I wonder what is in store for us – and for you – in the next fifteen months.

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Dear Readers,

I want to thank all of you who have been kind enough to read my blog since I started it about seven weeks ago.  Today I passed 1,000 views, and I’m very excited about that!

When you start doing something like this, you have no idea whether it will reach anyone, so I’m grateful for your encouragement and comments.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the car while talking with Kim about an issue relating to conflict … and she’ll stop me and say, “Write a book!”  While I am doing that, I’m also writing these little pieces, not only to help others, but also to keep Kim from going crazy.

If you have a topic you’d like covered that relates to church conflict and pastors, please feel free to pass it along.  I love challenges!

And if you aren’t yet a subscriber to the blog, I invite you to do so – and to invite others to subscribe as well.  Let’s be subversive together!

My son Ryan put the blog together for me, and he’s working on the website as well, so I’ll let you know when that’s finished.  I am extremely grateful to him.  I guess buying the family a Mac IIsi computer when he was thirteen has finally paid off.

I’ve got scores of topics to write on, so if you’ll keep reading, I’ll keep writing.  Thanks again!

For a More Peaceful and Just Church,

Jim

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Have you ever looked back on your life and wished you had taken a different path than the one you chose?

Humanly speaking, I should have turned down the first invitation I received to become a pastor.  After graduating from seminary, I was ordained by my home church.  A few months later, I was invited to speak at a small church in Silicon Valley.  I was in my late twenties and the church was mostly composed of seniors – not exactly a recipe for church growth!

In the five years that church had been in existence, I was their fourth pastor.  The previous pastor was forcibly terminated after he became angry at a church bowling party.  If I had to do it all over again, I would have contacted him and asked him directly why he had been fired.  At least I would have gotten both sides of the story.

But I didn’t contact him, the church called me as pastor, and I accepted.  Before long, my family of three left Orange County for Santa Clara Valley.

Those were the days when a pastor was still expected to do home visitation, so every Thursday night, one of the deacons and I visited people from the church- only there weren’t many people in the church.  So the deacon suggested that we visit the people who left the church when the previous pastor was fired.  Not a good idea.

Sometimes we’d set up an appointment, other times we’d make cold calls.  The people we visited tried their best to be polite, especially when the deacon introduced “our new pastor” to them, but the whole exercise was a colossal waste of time.  We’d stay for an hour or so, but it was obvious that none of the people we visited ever intended to return to the church.

Why not?  Because they liked the previous pastor and the church board had fired him.

Those poor people looked lost.  They didn’t sound very enthusiastic about their faith (if they ever did) and they weren’t very excited about going to church (if they were going anywhere at all).  When the board fired the pastor, they ended up damaging a lot of people who viewed the pastor as someone special in their life.  And while this may sound borderline heretical, that pastor represented God to them.

Yes, some pastors are too incompetent to be in the ministry, and yes, some eventually disqualify themselves by their sinful lifestyles and harmful actions.  But if a pastor must be released from ministry, the way he’s released will indicate whether (a) he and his family, (b) his church friends, (c) new believers, and (d) new members continue to follow Christ and/or continue attending any local church in the future.

Last Saturday down in Tucson, a lone gunman tried to assassinate a member of the United States House of Representatives.  While she is still clinging to life (and we pray for her complete recovery), we sadly realize that his actions did not just damage his target, but harmed many innocent bystanders, entire families, and even our whole nation.  The assassin may not have intended to harm others but he did so all the same.

I beg you: if you are ever involved in the termination of a pastor or staff member – either as a board member or a church member – make sure the process is done biblically, graciously, slowly, and redemptively.

That’s why I’m starting our new ministry Restoring Kingdom Builders.  One of my goals is to educate as many Christians as I can about the devastating effects of forced exits on pastors, their families, and the congregations they leave behind.  We as Christians can handle these situations so much better than we do.

I would appreciate your prayers for our new ministry.  And if I can answer any questions for you about church conflict or the forced termination of pastors, I would be happy to do so.  May the Lord richly bless you!

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One of the best-kept secrets in the Christian world involves the forced termination of pastors and staff members.  There are few books published on this topic (Why I Stayed by Gayle Haggard being an exception) because they don’t tend to sell and because the issue deals with the dark side of the church – not exactly great marketing material for the Christian faith.  Occasionally a story is published in a journal for pastors, but that’s about it.

Most pastors prefer to keep quiet about what happened to them because there is a stigma attached to pastors who are forced out of their positions, whether the pastor was guilty of sin or innocent of wrongdoing.  In addition, those who have experienced this particular malady find that few people really want to hear their story, which involves a lot of angst and anger.  Pastors need to tell their stories to heal, but often can’t afford to pay a counselor and usually have no idea where they can turn for assistance.  The truth is that almost nobody knows how much a forced-out pastor has to suffer except their spouses, ultra-loyal friends and family members, and a handful of counselors.  But since our best statistics indicate that at least 1,300 pastors are forced to leave their pastorates every month in this country, thousands of qualified and gifted pastors are suffering quietly but intensely all around us.

When I tried to do my own study on this issue many years ago, I was castigated by several denominational officials who believed I was trying to cause trouble.  But I just wanted to know if the denomination tracked the victims of forced termination (they didn’t) and if they had any ministry to help those who went through this awful experience (they don’t).  It always seemed ironic to me that while denominational leaders encourage pastors to take risks so their churches will grow numerically, if those risks don’t work out, and the pastor is forced to leave, those same denominational leaders end up distancing themselves from that pastor.

More than a year ago, I was given a choice at the church I had served as senior pastor for nine years.  I was told by key leaders that 95% of the church was behind my ministry and that only a small group stood against me but that it would take five years of fighting to deal with the determined opposition (which was assisted and validated by a party outside the church).  A pastoral colleague with a strong personality urged me to stay and fight, but the conflict had already taken its toll on my family, so I elected to walk away and keep the church as unified as possible.

When that happened, I didn’t know – and few Christians do – what such an experience does to a pastor.  Here’s a partial list:

*You feel like a pariah, not only in the body of Christ, but in the culture at large.

*You try visiting churches but find you can’t sing the praise songs because you wonder how good God really is.

*You realize that many of the people you once counted as friends in your former church have turned their backs on you.

*You discover that some of your best friends don’t want to be around you because they’re weary of hearing about the pain you’re experiencing.

*You find yourself becoming increasingly isolated from others because you don’t know where you fit anymore.

*You have no idea how to answer the question, “So what do you do for a living?”

*You find that you cannot function without anti-depressants.

*You no longer know who to trust among family, friends, and ministry colleagues because too many people have already flipped on you.

*You hear wild rumors about why you really resigned even though they’re patently untrue.

*You wish you could truly reconcile with those who hurt you but realize you will probably never see them again, so …

*You do your best to forgive them, but there are times when you can’t seem to let things go.

*You are forced to leave your community because you don’t want to run into those who have conspired to destroy your life and ministry.

*You cannot find another church ministry – even when you’re healed – because most search teams won’t consider a pastor who was forced to leave a church, regardless of the reasons.

*You cannot bear to attend Christmas Eve or Easter services at another church because those were your favorite services at which to preach – and you wonder if you’ll ever have that opportunity again.

*Your spiritual gifts are sitting on the shelf, atrophying day by day.

*You regretfully un-friend anyone from Facebook who is married to – or friends with – one of your antagonists.

*Your marriage becomes either stronger or strained, depending upon the care you gave it before termination.

*You feel like God is through with you … but you still have to earn a living.

*You discover that you are vastly unqualified for most secular jobs due to your pastoral training and experience.

*You find that you can’t share your faith because you aren’t very excited about it anymore.

*You praise God for anyone who sends you an email or a card because it means you haven’t been totally abandoned.

*You honestly wonder if God still loves you.

*You learn that those who conspired to push you out of the church are proud of what they did.

*You discover a vast underground network of other pastors who have been through the same experience – and that the template used to force them out is the same one used to force you out.

*You become aware that the people who tried to destroy you aren’t your real enemies but that they were simply instruments of the enemy of your soul.

*You aren’t suicidal, but like Elijah under the juniper tree, you wish God would just take you home.

*You left your community with your house underwater financially, and because you were forced to sell at a loss, your credit has been decimated.

*You find that if you’re going to survive financially, you have to start all over in a different profession – and that starting over is more difficult than you ever imagined.

There’s more I could list – a lot more – but you get the picture.

When the average person loses a job, they still retain their friends, their church home, their career, their house, and their reputation – at least initially.  But when you’re forced to leave a church as a pastor, you may very well lose everything I just mentioned overnight – and the accumulation of all those losses is absolutely overwhelming.

That’s why my wife and I are launching a new ministry called Restoring Kingdom Builders.  Even though I’ve researched this area of conflict for years – and did my doctoral work on it – I had to actually experience the pain firsthand to truly be qualified to help others.  Rather than becoming bitter about what happened to us, we hope to take what we’ve learned and use our experiences to prevent these situations from happening to others.

Now that you know a little more about the repercussions of forced termination on pastors, what can you do to help restore them and their families to ministry?  Let me know what you think.  Thanks!

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