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Archive for the ‘Church Conflict’ Category

In the fall of 2009, my wife and I went on a missions trip to Moldova with three other people.  After spending several days in London to recuperate and see some sights, Kim and I traveled north to Wales, Keswick, Edinburgh, and York before returning home.

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Whenever I look at photos from that trip, this little voice tells me, “The whole time you were away, the church board back home was plotting to end your ministry.”

As I’ve recounted in my book Church Coup, the official board met with me on October 24, 2009 and announced a decision designed to end my tenure at the church I had served effectively and faithfully for 10 1/2 years.

Talk about an “October surprise!”

Forty-three days later, I resigned, and preached my final sermon a week later.

I’ve been through many tough times in ministry, and managed to overcome each situation with God’s help.

But not this time … because the spirit in the church had changed.

When I refer to such a “spirit,” I’m talking about an atmosphere … a climate … a mood that I could feel … though others may not have sensed it.

In fact, one way of looking at that fifty-day conflict is to identify the spirits that drove some to push out their pastor.

As I’ve listened to the stories of many pastors and church leaders since my departure, I’ve learned that these spirits are usually present before a pastor is forced to resign … as well as during any extended conflict.

As I see it, there are at least seven spirits that drive a church coup:

First, there’s the spirit of resistance.

For years, we were the largest Protestant church in our city of 75,000 people … by far … excellent numbers in a city with only three decent Protestant churches at the time.

But an underground resistance movement… fueled by someone outside the church … slowly expanded and reached a crescendo by the fall of 2009.

Most of my time as pastor, both my leadership and preaching were well-received … but near the end of my tenure, things had changed.

Resistance is the feeling a pastor senses that certain leaders and members are no longer following his leadership.

I first started detecting resistance when we started a building program around 2002.  I let the congregation have input on both the architect’s drawings as well as our fundraising plan.

And every vote involving the building was unanimous.

We lost about eight percent of our people during that time, and two individuals in the inner circle tried to sabotage the project.

As a leader, I never forced my ideas on people.  I made proposals, stated my case, asked for input, addressed objections, called for an official decision, and then moved forward.

If various individuals didn’t like my proposals, they had many opportunities to voice their displeasure in public.

But they didn’t … they went underground instead.

By the time 2009 rolled around, I could feel the resistance, especially when I preached.  To quote Phil Collins, there was “something in the air.”

No matter what I did – perform a wedding, conduct a funeral, propose a change – there always seemed to be pushback.

Especially from the church board.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not please them.  They never told me I was doing a good job.  They never tried to encourage me.  I always felt like I was on trial.

And their resistance started wearing me down.

Second, there’s the spirit of bitterness.

Regardless of church size, it only takes seven to ten people to force a pastor out.  If that minority is determined to oust the pastor … and are willing to use the law of the jungle … they often succeed.

Some people were angry with me because I took positions contrary to theirs on matters like baptism … women in ministry … outreach events … worship style … you name it.

A handful shared their disagreements with me and we worked things out.  Most told everyone but me about their anger and pulled others into their web.

For example, as our new worship center neared completion, I created seven principles for the way we were going to run our worship services.  I went to the church board and gained unanimous approval for those principles.

But a woman on the worship team disagreed vehemently.  She began complaining about me to anyone who would listen, to the point that the board chairman had to intervene.

I invited her into my office, listened to her concerns, explained my position, thought we had an understanding, and assumed that was the end of it.

Until she started complaining again.

A few months later … having caused much division … she and her family left the church.  It hurt.  I thought we were friends.

I’m unsure if she ever forgave me.   And when people feel and express bitterness toward their pastor, that bitterness spreads, and eventually wears a pastor down … and can tear a church apart.

And all too often, the bitterness morphs into a vendetta.

Third, there’s the spirit of hypocrisy.

A hypocrite is a play-actor … someone who acts one way in public but another way in private.

While hypocrites act in a spiritual manner outwardly, they are completely different people inside.

Pastors can sense those individuals and families who aren’t behind them.  You try and move toward them, and love on them, but sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

There was a couple in that church who had been there since the church started.  No matter what, I just couldn’t seem to connect with them.

Let’s call them Bo and Jo.

I ministered to them when there were deaths in their family.  I intentionally sought them out for conversation after services.  They were cordial but rarely warm.

I knew they were good friends with my predecessor but tried to ignore that connection.  After all, what could I do about it?

Eight days after the conflict started, the entire church board resigned, and a week later, we held two already-scheduled congregational meetings designed to announce the board’s departure.

After 24 years of leading healthy congregational meetings, all hell broke loose that Sunday.  A few members became unglued and publicly sided with the board.

After the second meeting, Bo came up to me and said, “I’m praying for you, brother.”  I looked at him and said, “Are you, Bo?”  (I knew he stood against me.)

A friend later told me that Jo was crying in the ladies room because she was afraid that I wasn’t going to be kicked out as pastor.

Before I resigned, I was informed that Bo and Jo played a crucial role in forcing me out.

Jesus knew who the hypocrites around Him were and called them out.  I sensed who some were but never knew what to do except keep them out of leadership.

If you don’t want me as your pastor, there’s a simple solution: leave the church.

But people like Bo and Jo don’t want to leave.  They want their pastor to leave instead … even if he isn’t guilty of any major offense … because in their minds, it’s their church, not his church.

And, of course, they know best.

And because hypocrites are experts at playing a part, pastors may not know who they are, so they can’t proactively work things out with them.

Fourth, there’s the spirit of cowardice.

When it comes to interpersonal squabbles at church, most Christians are cowards.

If they’re personally offended by someone, they don’t approach the person who hurt them as Jesus instructed in Matthew 18:15 … they complain to their network instead.

This is especially true when it comes to pastors.

Whenever someone had the courage to tell me directly they were upset about something, I always thanked them for speaking with me personally … but it rarely happened … not because I’m scary, but because people find it uncomfortable to confront their pastor.

But sometimes, what people are thinking and feeling about their pastor is based on inaccurate information … and God’s people may not want to hear the truth.

Last year, I heard about a church where someone accused the pastor of stealing a small amount of money.  Instead of speaking with the pastor privately, this individual reported the pastor to the authorities, and then told many others in the church about his accusation.

As the charges bounced around the congregation, some felt emboldened, and added their own personal gripes about the pastor to the mix.

The pastor was driven from office even though the evidence clearly showed he had done nothing wrong.

His career was destroyed over a lie.

Christians become cowards when:

*board members are upset with the pastor but never tell him how they feel.

*members allow false accusations about their pastor to spread.

*everybody is afraid to confront the ringleaders who initially attacked the pastor.

*people who know the truth won’t share it for fear of being vilified.

If God’s people would just grant their pastors the protections Scripture offers them in Deuteronomy 19:15-21, Matthew 18:15-17, and 1 Timothy 5:19-21, we could put an end to the epidemic of pastoral terminations once and for all.

But that will require a spirit of courage that is sadly lacking in most congregations… and it requires working hard to disintegrate the groupthink that grips so many.

Fifth, there’s the spirit of gullibility.

Many years ago, I began an Easter service by announcing that the President of the United States had suddenly resigned.

After hearing gasps all over the room, I exclaimed, “April Fool!”

If I tried that today, someone would check out the news on their smart phone before I ever got to “April Fool.”

But churchgoers who often check out the facts regarding the news rarely check out negative information they hear about their pastor.

If I was a regular churchgoer and I heard a serious rumor about my pastor, I would want to know:

*the original source of the rumor.

*who is spreading the rumor.

*who they’ve been talking with.

*how solid their information is.

*the views of different staff and board members.

If I believe the first thing I hear, then I’m really gullible.  And if I pass on that information without verifying it, I could well be passing on a lie … and destroying both my pastor and my church.

But wise, mature, discerning Christians check out the veracity of what they hear before they do anything else.

Yet in all too many churches, people hear negative information about their pastor … instantly believe it … spread the story to others … and then can’t revise the narrative because it will make them look bad … so they continue to perpetuate half-truths and outright lies.

During our conflict, after board members resigned, they and their wives jumped on their phones and called as many people as possible.  (A friend from out-of-state told us who called her and what was said.  Why call her?)

When I was telling my story to my ministry mentor several years ago – a former pastor and denominational president – this is the point at which he said, “Jim, I am so sorry.”

It’s one thing for people who hate their pastor to spread vicious rumors about him.  It’s another thing for good Christian people to believe them … especially when the pastor has a decade-long track record of integrity.

What hurts more than anything is that most people never bothered to pick up the phone to hear my side of the story.

The week before I resigned, Satan attacked my family in a horrible way.  Few people know the story.  I’ll spare you the details.

During the attack, I received a phone call from a newly-elected board member who told me about the latest charge against me.  He told me the source of the rumor … where that person heard it from … and exactly what they were saying.

Because he called, I was able to snuff out the rumor with facts, which I’m sure he passed on to the other new members.

I could have snuffed out all the rumors if people had just contacted me … and I still can … but by this time, nobody cares.

Don’t the conquerors write the history?

Sixth, there’s the spirit of blindness.

By blindness, I mean that a pastor’s attackers believe they see his faults clearly.

They just can’t see their own.

Let’s modify Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:3-5 a bit:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your pastor’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your pastor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your pastor’s eye.”

Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1 (with one modification) are also appropriate here:

Brothers, if your pastor is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

God’s Word does not say that you are to watch your pastor’s life and then tell others about every little thing he may have done or said wrong.

No, Scripture says that before you deal with those caught in sin, you should first “watch yourself” to make sure you have a humble, loving approach so you can restore the wayward person.

And if you don’t first “watch yourself,” you aren’t qualified to address anyone’s sin.

Whenever a pastor is pushed out of a church, there are usually a few narcissists and sociopaths involved.  People who have these personality disorders never admit they do anything wrong at home … at work … or on the road.

They bring that same mentality to church, and when they sense their pastor is vulnerable, they move in for the kill … and never feel badly about the part they play.

What’s amazing to me is that many churches allow such spiritually blind people to be their leaders.

Finally, there’s the spirit of destruction.

There is a spirit behind these seven spirits … and it’s not the Holy Spirit of God.

As Ephesians 2:2 specifies, it’s “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” … Satan.

As I say quite often, Satan has invaded a church when two factors are present: deception and destruction.

Or we might say … deception leading to destruction.

Jesus said in John 8:44 that Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning” … and He was addressing His comments to spiritual leaders.

When a pastor has done something wrong, those in a church controlled by the Holy Spirit will gently and lovingly confront him with the goal of restoring him spiritually and even vocationally.

But under similar circumstances, those influenced by Satan will harshly and hatefully condemn him with the goal of destroying him both personally and professionally.

Instead of identifying Satan’s work in their own lives, such people gleefully detect satanic influence in their pastor.

As Neil Young sang, “I don’t feel like Satan, but I am to them.”

My wife and I could not only sense Satan’s influence during the conflict … we could taste and feel it.

It’s something you never forget.

After the church board resigned, I hired a church consultant … with the assistance of five well-respected congregational leaders.

After interviewing some leaders, and witnessing two horrendous congregational meetings, the consultant wrote a report where he exonerated my wife and me and faulted others.

Then a nine-person team from the church looked into the charges against us and publicly announced that we were not guilty of wrongdoing.

But one year later, the tables had turned, and friends sadly informed me that my reputation inside the church had been decimated.

The verdicts of the consultant and nine-person team no longer mattered.  My opponents had to win.  I had to be destroyed.

The hit job on me was so complete that after I left the church, not one person – including family, friends, or colleagues – felt that I should ever pastor again.

After 36 years, my church ministry career was over.

_______________

Several months after I resigned and moved to another state, I had a conversation with a church consultant from the Midwest.  I kept asking him, “Why did these people … who claimed to be Christians … act the way they did?”  Because I could never act that way toward anyone else, I couldn’t get my head around it.

The consultant told me, “Jim, the opposition to your ministry was probably there for years, but you didn’t see it because people covered it up well.  When you were attacked, their true feelings came spilling out.”

_______________

I’m going to end this article by quoting Galatians 5:19-23:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hated, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Which terms best represent those that try and force out their pastor?

Hint: it’s not the second group.

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While cleaning out some boxes kept in storage yesterday, I ran across a photo taken of me at an event from my last church … and I instantly felt a twinge of pain inside.

Then I started to feel sadness behind my eyes … like I wanted to cry but couldn’t.  That feeling lasted for about half an hour.

I’ve had these feelings for years now, and I don’t like them.  They come upon me at unexpected times, especially when I focus too much on the conflict that propelled me out of church ministry seven years ago.

Even though I’ve written extensively about pastoral termination and church conflict over the past six years – having written nearly 525 articles – I haven’t written much about the feelings that a pastor has after he’s been forced out of office.

While I can’t speak for every pastor who goes through this horrendous experience, maybe it would be helpful to describe what’s healthy … and unhealthy … after a pastor undergoes termination.

So offering up my own experiences as a model, let me share five emotions that I experienced in the aftermath of my departure from ministry in 2009:

First, I was shocked by the viciousness some people demonstrated to get rid of me. 

Some people I served as pastor did everything in their power to destroy my position as pastor as well as my reputation.

And I mean destroy.

There is no way to sugarcoat what they did or said.  These professing Christians intended harm toward me, their pastor.

It was revenge … and personal.

Only I didn’t know then … and don’t know today … what I did or didn’t do to illicit such hatred from them.

That shock lasts a long time.  In many ways, I’m still not over it.

I never preached with a hateful tone nor a hateful manner, so those feelings did not originate with me.  They either came from an internal or external source.  My guess is that they came from someone outside the church who fanned the flames of anger inside the church.

The attitude of these people was not, “We disagree with your views on several subjects,” nor, “We think you’ve lost effectiveness and should go.”

No, their attitude was, “We hate you, Jim, and we want you to leave and never come back.”

These were people who professed to love Jesus, His Word, and His people … so how could they demonstrate such rage against their pastor who had served them faithfully for 10 1/2 years?

I have no idea.

When I was nineteen years old, I became a youth pastor.  One night, after finding out that two of my former Sunday School teachers were involved in sexual immorality, my pastor told me, “Jim, don’t ever be shocked by what Christians do.”

Over the years, I’ve tried not to be.

But sometimes, I still am.  Sometimes, the whole conflict invades my soul without warning, and I shake my head and say to myself, “I could never, ever treat a pastor the way I was treated.”

If I’m shocked at anything today, it’s that not even one person responsible for pushing me out has ever apologized for their actions.

Second, I engaged in a lot of self-reproach.

I have this really unhealthy habit of believing bad things people say about me while ignoring the good things.

It’s not so much a self-esteem issue as it is blaming myself for not being perfect.

So when the church board attacked me privately … and their allies attacked me publicly … I figured that I must be who they said I am: a horrible person and pastor.

Nearly every charge made against me was a partial or complete falsehood, and I knew that at the time, but I still blamed myself for not being everything they wanted in a pastor.

Whenever someone severely criticized me, I used to tell myself, “How arrogant of me to think that I can please all 400 adults in this church.  I can’t, and nobody else can, either.”

That’s a healthy way to view criticism.  But when your critics all align together, and pool their complaints, and fire them off into the ether, it’s natural to think, “They must be right.  I must be a colossal bozo.”

That’s why going to counseling was so important for both me and my wife.  We needed an outside, objective, different perspective.

We saw two counselors: one who practiced a few miles from that church, and another who practiced in another state.

Both told me the same thing: the way you were treated was wrong, and your critics failed to demonstrate any love or redemption, the tip-off that your opponents were not very spiritual.

Let me quote from Dennis Murray in his book Healing For Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack:

“The attack on you is not information about you.  It is information about the handful of ringleaders who organized the battle…. Healing begins by recognizing that you did the right thing.  You were blessed with an incredible ‘manure detector’ that allowed you to see exactly what was happening.  You have been blessed with a perceptive intelligence that allows you to distinguish truth from lies.  Your intuition is highly developed and you were able to separate fact from fiction.”

Although I still don’t know why my attackers hated me so much, I no longer blame myself for the conflict, and realize that while I made mistakes in ministry, nothing I did justified the way I was treated.

Third, I experienced a normal amount of depression.

Dr. Archibald Hart is the best teacher I’ve ever had.  He taught “The Pastor’s Personal Life” class in Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program.  (And he told me that he would put my book Church Coup on his reading list.)

Dr. Hart believes that whenever you’re depressed, you need to find the core loss, and only then will you start to recover.

My wife and I lost so much after my resignation: my position, my income, my reputation, our house (it was underwater and was sold in a short sale), our church family, our credit rating, and worst of all, most of our friends.

That’s a formula for depression.

When my wife and I attended a Wellness Retreat sponsored by The Ministering to Minister’s Foundation the month after our departure, Dr. Charles Chandler and his colleagues stressed the importance of both going to counseling and taking antidepressants to aid in recovery.

Fortunately, my wife and I were both already doing those things.

After we left our last ministry, we moved to another state 750 miles away.  For months, I could either explode in anger or break into tears at the drop of a hat.  I spent weeks just walking around the neighborhood where we lived, wondering how I could ever pastor a church again.

My core loss?  In my view, I had lost my identity as a person … and in a very real sense, was lost both vocationally and personally.

Which means that to go forward, I would have to reinvent myself vocationally.

Here’s what I’ve learned about depression after a forced departure:

*Whenever I returned to the community where my previous church was located, I would become increasingly anxious and afraid.  I can no longer get anywhere near it.  It’s poison to my soul.

*Whenever I took a trip out-of-state, my depression lifted, probably because I felt safe.

*Whenever I’ve talked about my situation in public – like in a workshop for Christian leaders – I feel fine.

*Whenever I write a blog, I rarely feel sad because I’m trying to help others by engaging in something redemptive.

*When I wrote my book Church Coup, and had to look at documents that were created during the conflict, I could feel my intestines tie into knots.  If it’s a difficult book to read, imagine how painful it was to write.  (This is probably why there are very few books written by pastors about their own forced terminations.)

*When I became an interim pastor three years after leaving my last ministry, I felt great most of the time … except when I was drawn into several conflicts.

I’ve been asked if I’m willing to do any more interim work, but right now, the answer is “no.”  Whenever I even imagine myself serving at a church, the pressure behind my eyes builds again, and I start feeling a large degree of anxiety.

For me, healing involves working, and being involved in ministry … just not church ministry.

Fourth, I am completely open about every aspect of the conflict.

Years ago, I determined that I would be a pastor who would express his humanity and describe his feelings if it would be redemptive.  I grew up with pastors who never let us know who they were or what they felt strongly about, and I didn’t want to be like them.

So when the Lord allowed me to go through a 50-day conflict of which I was the focus, I resolved that I was going to make things redemptive by sharing what happened to me so that I could help others.

Many pastors have who been pushed out of their churches don’t want to talk about what happened to them with anyone.  They keep it all inside … for whatever reason.

Maybe they don’t want to relive it.  Maybe they don’t want to dwell on the past.  Maybe they figure they can’t change what happened.

Or maybe it’s all just too painful.

My ministry mentors are leaders like Archibald Hart, Bill Hybels, and Stephen Brown … men who are authentic and transparent about their feelings and failures.

So if someone wants to talk about our conflict, I’m glad to engage.  If someone wants to steer away from the topic, I’ll follow their lead.

Several months ago, I learned that someone who had supported my ministry during the entire time I was at my last church turned against me after I left … and she surely wasn’t the only one.

It hurt me for a moment, but then I figured, “Why should this bother me?  I can’t straighten out everybody.  Besides, the next time we’ll see each other is in heaven, so she can only hurt me if I let her.”

But I felt that sadness behind the eyes again, and had to wait for it to subside.

To write my book, I had to engage in hours of personal ruminating as well as many interpersonal conversations.  My hope was that by writing a complete account of what happened … with commentary from conflict experts … I could put the entire situation behind me.

Writing the book did help a great deal.  I don’t have to revisit any major events mentally because I’ve already recorded them.

I would say this: being open about what happened to me probably wrecked any chance I have of returning to church ministry someday, but it’s made me much more empathetic and effective in helping pastors who have undergone this horrendous experience.

And I think that’s a great trade-off.

Finally, I have felt a strong sense of isolation.

I love Sherlock Holmes, whether it’s Doyle’s original stories, the episodes filmed for Masterpiece Theatre in the 1980s, or Benedict Cumberbatch’s current take on Holmes.

Holmes was a consulting detective which means that people who wanted help with a problem had to seek Holmes out directly.  They came to him … he didn’t go to them.

When I was a pastor, people emailed and called me for help during the week. They made appointments for my counsel.  They sought me before and after services.  As an introvert, I loved it when people came to me for help.

I was a somebody at church.

But when you’re no longer a pastor, you suddenly feel like a nobody at every church you visit.  And God help you if you tell the pastor that you’re an ex-pastor who would like to use his spiritual gifts to make a difference.  Most of the time, you will be perceived as a threat and shunned just for saying that much.

The Christian community simply does not know what to do with its former pastors.

My wife and I live in a desert community.  We have many business clients but no real friends in the area.  We are not only each other’s best friends … we are each other’s only friends.

We do have some family around: 60 miles away … 75 miles away … 330 miles away … and 490 miles away.

And we do have some good friends we see several times a year.

But it’s not the same as when you have church friends that you see several times a week because they live in your community.  We’ve tried going that route, but so far, it hasn’t worked.

In case you’re wondering, I love my life right now.  The Lord retired me early, and I enjoy working with my wife, seeing our grandsons, watching sports, and going to concerts and ballgames.

It hasn’t been an easy road, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

This Monday marks seven years since the beginning of the conflict that pushed me out of church ministry.  As I do every year, I’ll be writing a special blog about that experience and including some things I’ve never shared before.

If I can help you or a loved one who has undergone a church attack, please let me know.  Either leave a comment on this blog or write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

Sometimes reaching out to someone who understands is the best way to start your recovery.

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This past weekend, while doing some work around the house, I was plagued by some ministry memories I thought I had long forgotten.

But the more I tried to push them down, the more they flooded my soul, and the only way I know to be rid of them is to write them down and share them.

So here goes …

Nearly 30 years ago, I pastored a church in Santa Clara, California … the heart of Silicon Valley, south of the San Francisco Bay.

Early in 1988, my all-time worst antagonist … a man I’ll call Bob … had returned to the church after a year’s absence.  He ended up leading a rebellion against me for two primary reasons: he and his wife didn’t like our change in worship music (which the board unanimously supported) and some of the seniors griped to Bob that I didn’t care about them (if you knew them, you’d understand).

About twenty percent of the congregation ended up following Bob out of our church.

Rather than attend existing churches in the area, those refugees formed their own congregation in a school about a mile from our property … and used our church as their sole mission field.

A pastor who had left his church due to moral failure ended up doing a lot of guest speaking at that new church.

Even though their attendance was meager, Bob contacted the district minister with the stated goal of having his new church admitted both into the district and the denomination.

When I found out about Bob’s intent, I told the district minister, “If you recognize that renegade church, we will pull our church out of the district.”

And I meant it.

It just so happened that the denomination’s annual meetings were being held at the new Santa Clara Convention Center that June … just a few miles from our church … and my wife Kim had volunteered to lead the early childhood program.

I chose to serve with my wife and to help with her program for the upcoming annual meetings.

The festivities opened on a Wednesday night, and the facilities were spectacular.  The early childhood program was located on the second floor, and that’s where I stayed that first night.

But someone quickly brought me some bad news.

Bob was in the lobby of the convention center handing out literature to pastors and delegates inviting them to his new church!

This was a complete breach of protocol.  It just wasn’t done.  The meetings were all about churches as a whole, not any one church in particular.  Nobody went to the annual meetings and publicized their church at the expense of others.

Those who brought me this news also told me that Bob was not only publicizing his church, but taking verbal shots at me … the pastor of the only denominational church in Santa Clara … while I was serving God in a room upstairs.

Later that day, I found our district minister and asked him what he was going to do about Bob’s breach of protocol.

His reply?

“What can I do?  I don’t have the authority to do anything.”

As far as I was concerned, that was the wrong answer.

I spoke with several of my pastoral colleagues, and they were appalled that Bob was passing out literature about his church … and that the district leadership was allowing it to happen.

Finally, a long-time pastor scooped up all of Bob’s literature (he wasn’t in the lobby at the time) … threw it out … came to me … and slapped his hands together as if to say, “That will take care of that.”

I don’t know how Bob reacted when he discovered that his literature had disappeared.  Maybe he blamed me … maybe not.

But that incident is a microcosm of how denominations treat pastors when they’re assaulted by conflict:

First, many denominational leaders secretly hope that certain pastors and churches fail.

Bob was a formidable opponent.  He wanted to turn our church back to the 1940s and 1950s.

I couldn’t reason with him, and neither could anyone on our board.  He was a bully, and he was going to attack me until I resigned.

Several months before, my district minister had even recommended that I quit because of Bob’s attacks.

But I didn’t leave.  I stayed … forcing Bob and his minions to depart instead.

I couldn’t figure out why my district minister wasn’t more supportive … until a pastoral colleague clued me into what was really happening.

My friend told me that district leaders wanted both me and our church to fail so they could take over the property … sell it … and use much of the proceeds to plant new churches.

Most denominational churches insert a clause into their governing documents that states that if the church dissolves, the property reverts to the denomination.

Although our church property sat on less than two acres, land in Silicon Valley at that time sold for one million dollars per acre.

What better way to secure a windfall than to force me out and take over the church?

If you’re skeptical that denominational officials do things like this, let me assure you … they do.

And in my case, I’m positive that’s what was happening.

Second, many denominational leaders claim they lack the ecclesiastical authority to resolve conflicts involving pastors.

This is precisely what my district minister told me: “I don’t have the authority to take any action toward Bob.”

Fine … maybe the DM didn’t have any official authority to deal with him.

Many denominational executives claim that they can’t interfere in the life of a congregation because churches are autonomous … that is, they govern themselves without any outside interference.

But let me tell you … when a district minister wants to interfere in a church situation and get rid of a pastor … he will.

My district minister at that time went back to his previous church, advised the board on how to get rid of their current pastor, and was present when the board demanded the pastor’s resignation.

Not only was it a total breach of ethics, he was also violating that church’s autonomy by interfering … and his influence led to a lawsuit.

In my case, I wanted someone to exercise moral and spiritual authority.

After all, what good is ecclesiastical authority if it doesn’t translate into moral and spiritual decisions?

Thank God, several of my fellow pastors did take action against Bob’s sabotage efforts … and I was grateful for their courage.

But if you’re looking for principled action, look away from the district office … because denominations are far more political than they are spiritual.

Finally, many denominational leaders are more interested in building their denomination than advancing Christ’s kingdom. 

This was certainly true in our district.

I went to Talbot Seminary (now School of Theology), a non-denominational school.  While there, I gravitated toward books written by British scholars like John Stott, J. I. Packer, Michael Green, F. F. Bruce, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Those guys were my heroes.

I tried to think broadly, read widely, and view Christ’s kingdom internationally.

But when I started becoming involved with my church’s denomination, I was appalled at how narrow their thinking was.

For example, I served for several years on the district’s education committee.  One day, I asked the chairman if I could invite Pastor Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa to speak to the pastors in our district.  (I knew a pastor on that committee who was saved at one of Calvary’s concerts.)

At the time, Calvary Chapel may have been the largest church in the United States, and certainly was among the most influential churches anywhere in the world.

One of my best friends worked at Calvary with Pastor Chuck and I thought it would be great to have someone from outside the denomination talk about leadership.

My friend asked Chuck if he would speak for us, and Chuck said yes, so I went back to the chairman of the committee to deliver the news.

The chairman asked a district official if Chuck could come and speak.  The official said that Chuck couldn’t come because there were plenty of denominational personnel who could speak to the leaders without going outside our own group.

Pretty lame excuse, if you ask me.

That same district official later criticized me for going to Talbot even though choosing a denomination wasn’t even on my radar when I selected a seminary to attend.

A lot of pastors at this point might say, “Okay, this group may identify its denomination with the kingdom of God, and they’re obviously mistaken, but I’ll suck it up, play the game, schmooze the right people, and maybe move up the ladder someday.”

But I can’t do that.

My wife and I have been watching the TV show Blue Bloods on Netflix.  If you haven’t seen it, Tom Selleck plays Frank Reagan, the police commissioner of New York City.  (And if you aren’t aware of this, Reagan’s family openly talks about their Catholic faith and often says grace before eating … a rarity on television.)

When faced with a dilemma, Reagan always wants to do the right thing.  He always chooses principles over politics.  He hates phoniness … meaningless social events… and speaks his mind at all times.

That’s me … and that’s why I resonate with Frank Reagan so well.

But I was never comfortable in my denomination.  I was the wrong ethnicity … went to the wrong seminary … thought outside the box … and could not turn a blind ear to wrongdoing.

Many years ago, that district was holding a meeting one Saturday at my best friend’s church.  I dutifully put on my suit (this was the early 1990s), got in my car, and drove down the expressway toward the church.

About a mile down the road, I thought to myself, “I hate these meetings.  I don’t want to go … so why am I going?”

I turned around … went home … and never went to another one again.

My wife applauded me.  She said, “You always come back from those meetings depressed.”

She was right … and I hate being depressed.

Fast forward 15 years.

In our last church, out of 400 adults, only seven people cared about our church’s affiliation with that denomination.  Only seven.

One night, at a board meeting, a board member asked me what it would take to leave the denomination.

I told him that I didn’t want that to happen on my watch.

My wife later told me, “You made a mistake.  You should have taken the church out.”

She repeated that same sentiment to me this past weekend.

But I didn’t want to do it.  I thought I could just ignore them indefinitely.

When major conflict surfaced in my church in 2009, I discovered that my former district minister – who never once contacted me personally over a five-year period – was integrally involved in getting rid of me … even though he liked to claim, “I can’t interfere in local church conflicts.”

My wife was right … I should have led the church out of the denomination years before.

If I had, maybe I’d still be a pastor today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How much do you like to play chess?

One summer, between eighth and ninth grades, I played 97 games of chess with an older friend.  As I recall, I won 49, he won 45, and there were three stalemates.

Since he was in the high school chess club and knew all my tricks, I had to prepare myself for long games, which meant that I had to learn how to set up a defense to protect my key pieces, especially the King and Queen.

In the same way, a church needs to learn how to protect their pastor(s) from attack, and to prepare a long-term defense plan.

In my last article, I mentioned five ways that church leaders can protect their church from the inevitability of internal conflicts.  (You can access that article by clicking on the green link above and to the left of the title.)

Let me share the last five ways with you:

HOW CAN YOU STRENGTHEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM OF YOUR CHURCH?

Sixth, create a special document that specifies how to handle conflicts with the pastor (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Tim. 5:19-21).

Most churches lack this document.  If your church decides to create a Conflict Resolution Group, this could be among their first assignments.

It should be biblically-based, conform to labor law, be consistent with the church’s governing documents, and aim to treat the pastor fairly and justly.

If an individual, a leader, or a group in the church makes accusations against a pastor, the governing board should determine the severity of the charges:

*Forgive citations: these are petty, personal issues people have with the pastor (Prov. 19:11; Matt. 23:23-24).  The board should say, “This is such a silly charge that you either need to forgive the pastor, pray for him, or let this go.  We won’t pursue this any more.”  The great majority of accusations against a pastor fall into this “citation” category.

*Confront misdemeanors: this is where the pastor hurt or offended someone personally or where he committed a minor offense while carrying out his ministry (Luke 17:3-4).  The proper way to deal with a minor offense is to speak with the pastor directly about it.

*Investigate felonies: this involves serious charges against the pastor, especially involving heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior (Deut. 19:15-21).

If the pastor is accused of a felony, the board should do an investigation and (a) gather evidence; (b) meet with witnesses; and (c) decide if the charges are legitimate or illegitimate.

If they are illegitimate, the accusers should ask the pastor for forgiveness or leave the church, and the board should insist on this.  If the pastor’s accusers don’t admit they’re wrong, they’ll just create more charges down the road.

If they appear to be legitimate, the board should set up a meeting between the accusers and the pastor.  The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

Once this meeting is held, the board must decide the future of the pastor and his accusers in the congregation. Aim for restoration first (Gal. 6:1), removal last.

Seventh, remind leaders that conflict is likely to break out at certain predictable times:

Much of the time in church life, the pastor and staff know that conflict will surface at specific times.  For example:

*When the pastor/leaders are initiating change.  This is because church leaders have taken a long time to study the changes but they haven’t allowed enough time for people to share feedback and adjust to the changes themselves.

*Easter/Christmas seasons.  This is primarily because everyone wants their church to look good on the major Christian holidays and this causes people to become highly anxious.  It’s also because people bring their own personal stress over the holiday to church.

*Budget time.  This is because the annual church budget determines a church’s values and priorities (“Oh no, the youth ministry budget got slashed while the pastor’s slush fund was doubled”) and because people become anxious about the church’s ability to reach their targeted income.

*When changing the worship service.  Despite the fact that the New Testament never mentions even one Sunday morning worship service … and therefore, churches are free in the Lord to plan their own … some people will react negatively and emotionally to any change that they and their friends do not like.

*The addition of a new generation.  How many churches have made specific plans to reach Millennials?  What is your church doing to reach them?  Just think about the changes you’d have to make … and envision the conflict those changes would provoke.

*The addition or removal of staff.  “Why did we hire him?  I don’t like the guy.”  “Why did they let Pastor Brian go?  He was always very nice to me.”  Those statements alone speak volumes as to how churchgoers view staff members.  While I loved adding new staff, I hated letting anybody go because most of the fallout would be directed at me as pastor.

*When the church is shrinking.  This is because people don’t want to invest their time, energy, and money in a sinking ship … and because some will pin the blame for decline on one person: the lead pastor.

*When the church is growing.  This may sound surprising, but many pastors are ousted because they were too successful.  Many churchgoers … especially long-time leaders … would rather be large fish in a small pond than smaller fish in a larger pond.  And when they discover that some of their power is to be shared or taken away by new people, they often rebel.

Eight, practice openness about official church matters while maintaining confidentiality concerning the issues in people’s lives (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-9; 6:12-19).

During a major conflict, church leaders usually stay tight-lipped and say little or nothing to churchgoers about what’s happening.

But I believe that leaders should share as much as they can, not as little as possible, because as the saying goes, you are as sick as your secrets.

*Your church should have at least one congregational/business meeting annually.  The purpose of this meeting is for the church to vote on new board members and next year’s budget.

*Your congregation should also schedule periodic informational meetings (like a town hall meeting) where the pastor and church leaders can provide updates and receive feedback without the pressure of any voting.  Two meetings a year sounds reasonable.

*The pastor, staff, and board should be transparent with church members about everything that involves the church as an institution: attendance, weekly giving, the budget, and policies. Membership has its privileges.

*Everyone in the church should know how to contact the key leaders.  Their pictures should be on a wall someplace, and their email addresses should be published.

*The church board should report to the congregation in some fashion as often as the lead pastor has to report to the board.  You can’t have an accountable pastor and an unaccountable board.  It’s a scenario for disaster.

I learned this adage for church leaders from Dr. Archibald Hart: “We don’t have secrets, we do keep confidences.”

Ninth, practice periodic “conflict drills.”

My wife and I run a preschool in our home, and once a month, we have to do a fire drill.  (In fact, we just did one within the past hour!)  When the alarm sounds, the children must exit through the front door … even if they have one shoe on and one shoe off … and walk to the fire hydrant along the rim of our cul-de-sac as a meeting place.

In the same way, a pastor and a governing board should run one or two “conflict drills” every year … unannounced … so both parties can evaluate how they handle conflict.

Here’s an example:

*A board member hears that several church leaders are openly complaining about the pastor.

*The board member contacts the complainer and says: “If you are upset about policy matters, please speak with anyone who made the policy (usually board members). If you are upset with the pastor personally, please speak with him directly, pray for him, or let it go.  Otherwise, we’re not going to entertain your complaints.”

*The board determines the severity of the complaint (citation, misdemeanor, felony) and acts accordingly.

*Consult with the Conflict Resolution Group and make sure that the ten principles and the governing documents are followed.

*The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

*The pastor/board contacts (a) a church consultant; (b) a conflict manager; (c) a Christian mediator; (d) a denominational executive for counsel.

*The board makes a decision and announces it to the appropriate parties.

Create your own steps if you’d prefer, but I believe that periodic conflict drills can be a lifesaver for a congregation.

Tenth, implement these five biblical principles for preventing church conflict:

*Talk directly to those you’re upset with rather than telling others about them (Prov. 11:13; 16:28; 18:8; 20:19; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:13; James 4:11-12; 3 John 9-10).

*Share your frustrations with the appropriate spiritual leader rather than complaining indiscriminately (Num. 14:1-4; Luke 15:1-2; Phil. 2:14; Jude 16).

*Refuse to allow people to drag you into a dispute between two parties (called “triangulation”) (Luke12:13-14; 22:1-6).

*Deal with offenses as they arise rather than collecting them and dumping them on someone (called “gunnysacking”) all at once (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 13:5; Eph. 4:26-27).

*Report those who attack and conspire against church leaders (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10-11).

Since implementing any or all of these ten immune system strengtheners is a lot of work, a pastor would be well-served to implement one or two of them every year.

If the pastor doesn’t initiate ideas like these, when a major conflict surfaces – especially if the pastor is attacked – the law of the jungle is likely to take effect.

Depending upon the level of emotion involved, people may choose sides … define enemies … ignore Scripture … and do anything and everything to remove their pastor from office.

In the process, the church will be destroyed for the foreseeable future, and can only survive intact if there’s a resurrection years later.  Not pretty.

Which of my suggestions resonate with you?

 

 

 

 

 

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I recently conducted a workshop at the Christian Leadership Training Association Convention in Pasadena, California, on the topic, “Strengthening Your Church’s Immune System.”

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The goal of my workshop was to present ten practical ideas designed to prevent most conflicts in Christian churches.

A severe conflict can damage a church, its leaders, and its people for years.  The trauma of a major conflict wreaks havoc with personal relationships, church budgets, pastoral careers, and spiritual lives.

So long before a church experiences serious conflict, the pastor and church leaders should discern, model, teach, and implement healthy, biblical behaviors for resolving differences.

And the best way to manage and resolve conflicts in churches is to prevent them before they escalate.

For a church to grow today, a pastor must initiate change … which involves taking risks … which provokes anxiety in some people … which leads to complaining … which usually focuses on the pastor … which can lead to antagonism, plots, secret meetings, accusations, demands, threats, church splits, forced resignations, and ultimately, a decimated congregation.

I believe that pastors must implement these strategies over time to protect their churches form internal attacks – as well as the pastoral position – or a major conflict can wipe out a congregation for years.

HOW CAN YOU STRENGTHEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM OF YOUR CHURCH?

First, identify and communicate why your church exists and where it is going.

Many of the conflicts I experienced in my first ten years of pastoral ministry were related to our church’s direction … or lack thereof.  I had a mental picture of where I wanted those churches to go but I didn’t articulate it clearly and concisely, and consequently, major conflict resulted on two occasions.

Your mission is your church’s overarching purpose, the reason you exist.

Your vision is your church’s preferred future by a certain date; the direction you’re going.

Let me share four thoughts about mission and vision – and I have done what I’m suggesting:

*Utilize a bottom-up approach.  Let the people of your congregation have input into the creation of your mission and vision statements.  Avoid using a top-down approach where the pastor rams through his ideas without congregational buy-in.

Start by asking your congregation four open-ended questions on a handout, such as:

  1. What do you like about our church?
  2. What are our strengths as a congregation?
  3. Where can we improve?
  4. What should our church look like in five years?

Reserve 10-15 minutes during a worship service to do this.  Let people write whatever they want.  Ask them to turn in their surveys anonymously.

Then choose a mission/vision team to compile the responses.  Ask the team to meet, maybe on a Saturday morning.  Share the responses.  Look for patterns.  Create draft statements.

Let the pastor refine the language.  Send the statements back to the mission/vision team for further input.  When the process is complete, the board should officially approve the statements.

*Create compelling statements.  Make them shorter rather than longer.  The trend today is to have mission statements that are ten words or less so they can be remembered.

“Loving Jesus and others” is boring and vague.  “To transform our families and communities for Jesus” is exciting and unifying.  Make them simple but somewhat edgy.

*Announce the statements to the church in final form. Post them everywhere: your lobby, website, bulletin, classrooms.  The pastor must refer to them often … at least once a month.

*Every consequent decision will flow from your mission/vision statements which may relieve as many as 90% of your church’s “problems.”  Those who don’t like the direction – because they wanted to turn your church into Lakewood West or Saddleback North – will be forced to get with the program or leave the church.

Yes, some churches grow without those statements, and some churches that have mission/vision statements never go anywhere.  But people want to know, “What’s the plan?”  Growth is intentional, not accidental.  Without a clear direction, your church will drift.

Second, choose only leaders (pastor/staff/board) who follow and embody Scripture (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

It’s well-known in evangelical circles that church leaders should be biblically-qualified according to Paul’s lists in the Pastoral Epistles.  But selecting leaders of high character doesn’t prevent a church from experiencing a horrific conflict.  I know all too well.

*It is crucial that every leader embrace the church’s mission and vision statements.  My failure to nail this down was a primary factor in why major conflict surfaced in my last ministry.  I assumed that board members were with me without ever asking them directly.  Board members can smile when their pastor is present and stab him in the back when he’s absent.

*It is essential that prospective leaders are interviewed (maybe by the pastor and board chairman) and that after they take office, receive training (at least quarterly) and undergo periodic evaluations.  (Either every major leader should be evaluated or nobody should be evaluated.)

*The pastor should check with the financial secretary and make sure that any prospective board members are regular, generous givers to the ministry.  The pastor can do this by asking the person who knows the givers and their amounts, “Just let me know if this person is a stingy giver … an average giver … or a generous giver.”  Believe me, you don’t want any stingy givers on your board because they will tend to shoot down budget increases and special projects because they won’t want to give themselves.  You only want regular givers handling church finances.

*It is better to have nobody than the wrong person in leadership.  Why?  Because it can take a long time to get rid of the wrong person … and there is a price to be paid for doing that.

*It is better to have just a few qualified leaders than any non-qualified leaders.  If the church’s governing documents state that you need to have a minimum of seven board members, but you can only find four that are qualified, just go with four.  If you don’t, the other three “fill-ins” will kill you.

Third, ask your leaders to study and summarize the biblical principles for conflict resolution.

I believe that the lead pastor in a church must take the initiative to prevent major conflicts from surfacing.  One way to do that is to hold regular meetings involving every key leader in your church: staff members, board members, ministry team/committee leaders, small group leaders … and to broaden the ownership base by making the group larger rather than smaller.

The meetings can be held monthly or quarterly … maybe after the last service on Sunday morning, which means you’ll have to provide lunch … but it’s essential that they be held.

This article I wrote several weeks ago describes the process of formulating these principles:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2016/04/21/preventing-a-major-conflict-in-your-church

The aim of such a process is to create a one-page document stating Ten Principles for Resolving Conflict at _________ Church that should be posted in many rooms all over the church.  (Just try and envision the rooms where conflict surfaces, like the church office, the associate pastor’s office, the board room, the kitchen … you get the idea.)

Fourth, create a Conflict Resolution Group inside your church of at least three strong, wise, and healthy individuals.

The reason I advocate a CRG is because when a pastor is attacked, there are usually some board members and/or staff members who are involved in trying to oust the pastor.

And when this happens, they almost always use shortcuts to expedite his departure.

They ignore Scripture … the church’s governing documents … labor law … and common decency because they have their eye on one goal: the pastor’s speedy exit … and they are anxious until “the deed is done.”

*The CRG’s job is to make sure biblical principles and processes are followed whenever a conflict surfaces, not to determine an outcome.  They make sure that the pastor is treated justly and fairly at all times.  They watch over the entire congregation, but engage in special surveillance over the board and staff.

*CRG members should be voted on by the congregation, making them accountable to the whole church.  If the board appoints the CRG, it can just disband the group should the board plan to take action to force out the pastor.  But if the CRG reports to the congregation, the board and staff may think twice about railroading the pastor unfairly.

*Terms should be for 1-3 years.  Consider especially former board members … retired pastors … and people who work in human resources.

*Make provision for them to receive training, such as that offered by Peacemaker Ministries in Colorado Springs.  Their website is http://peacemaker.net

Realize that Peacemaker University at its lower levels centers upon how to resolve conflicts between two individuals.  I have taken their course on coaching people to resolve conflicts.

*The penalty for violating the CRG’s directives is church discipline and possible expulsion.  For example, there might be a statement in the church’s governing documents that if the CRG rules that the board didn’t use the approved process for dealing with the pastor, the board could be suspended or must resign en masse.  The CRG cannot function effectively unless they can recommend discipline to the congregation.

Fifth, update your church’s governing documents (constitution/bylaws) every five years.

As churches change, their governing documents should keep pace.  While I believe that church constitutions and bylaws should be slaves, not masters, whenever a conflict breaks out, the leaders and congregation must abide by the latest version.

*Insure that your governing documents align with your ten principles for resolving conflict. (Covered under the third step above.)

*Make sure you specify the pathway to remove the pastor from office and to remove troublesome board members and staff members as well.

*If a major conflict ever breaks out, some people will become so reactive that they will resort to “the law of the jungle” to win.  If your governing documents are clear, they may think twice.

*If your church is ever sued, and a judge takes the case, the judge will decide for the party that most closely followed the governing documents.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but it can be implemented over time.

In fact, let me go further: if a pastor plans on making changes in his congregation, he should implement as many of these strategies as possible first.

The best time to prepare for war is during a time of peace.

I’ll share the remaining five ways to strengthen your church’s immune system next time.

 

 

 

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Several years ago, I preached a sermon on the topic “Resolving Conflict Biblically” at a church several communities away.

When I was done speaking, a woman in her mid-80s – who had attended a prominent California church for most of her life – told me, “I have never heard a sermon on the subject of conflict in my entire life.”

Now maybe she was ill or away on the Sundays that her pastor spoke about conflict, or maybe all his sermons fused together in her mind.

But I happen to know that her former pastor – one of America’s best-known Bible teachers – experienced a major conflict in his church before he eventually resigned.

The best churches experience major conflicts.  In fact, I still agree with this adage that I heard years ago: “Small churches have small problems, while big churches have big problems.”

Regardless of your church’s size, it’s almost certain that your congregation will experience a severe conflict within the next ten years … and about a 40 percent chance that you’ll suffer through a major conflict within the next five … unless your church is ready when that conflict strikes.

But sadly, most churches aren’t ready for a major conflict.

Maybe they’re in denial, thinking, “We’re such a nice group of Christians that nothing horrendous could happen here.”

Or they’re thinking, “Our constitution and bylaws specify what to do if conflict breaks out, so we’re adequately prepared.”

Or they’re thinking, “Our leaders are such godly individuals, they will handle any conflict expertly” … not realizing that church leaders are often the source of major conflicts.

There isn’t a lot written on how to prevent major conflicts in church life.

That’s why I’m doing a workshop for Christian leaders next week called “Strengthening Your Church’s Immune System.”  I’ll be talking about ten ways that a church’s leaders can prepare for and prevent major conflict from even happening in their congregation.

Let me share with you one of the ten steps I’ll be presenting next week … and it takes a bit of work.

I believe that the lead pastor in a church must take the initiative to prevent major conflicts from surfacing.  He should allow people to share feedback and even disagree about matters without, at the same time, letting them start a bloodbath.

One way to do that is to hold regular meetings involving every key leader in your church: staff members, board members, ministry team/committee leaders, small group leaders … and to find reasons to make the group larger rather than smaller.

So if feasible, I’d invite their spouses as well.

The meetings can be held monthly or quarterly … maybe after the last service on Sunday morning, which means you’ll have to provide lunch … but it’s essential that they be held.

During one of those meetings, here’s what I would do if I were the pastor:

First, I would prepare a 3-4 page document for each person listing every New Testament reference – word for word – on church conflict. 

Maybe throw in some verses from Proverbs on the tongue as well.

Don’t ask people to look the verses up in their Bibles.  It takes too long … people have different versions … and you want all the relevant verses gathered in one place.

So the pastor should do the work for them.  Write out Matthew 18:15-17 … 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 … Titus 3:10-11 … 3 John 9-10 … in chronological order.

Second, I would ask the leaders to divide into groups without their spouses. 

The fewer people in each group, the more each person will have to interact with Scripture themselves … and that’s what you want.  Aim for five people per group.

I would have at least as many groups as there are pages.  For example, if you hand out five pages of verses, make sure you have at least five groups.

If you have 50 leaders present, then make ten groups with five individuals in each group.

Third, I would ask each group to appoint a leader … and for group leaders to ask for volunteers to read the verses.

My last few years as a pastor, I always asked for people to volunteer as readers.  Some people can’t read very well, and others become anxious when asked to do something in a group.  You want people to feel comfortable going through this exercise.

Fourth, after the verses have been read, ask each group to summarize the verses on their page in five principles. 

This should take 15-20 minutes per group.

Then starting with page 1, ask each leader to appoint a spokesperson to present their five principles to the entire group.

Fifth, the pastor should ask someone ahead of time to record each principle word for word on newsprint and hang each sheet on the wall. 

This isn’t busy work … it’s documentation.  In fact, the pastor should store the newsprint somewhere safe in case someone ever challenges the wording of the principles.

Sixth, after all the reports, the pastor should ask the entire group questions like:

*Can we summarize the teaching of Scripture concerning conflict resolution in one sentence?

*Which verses that you studied stand out to you?

*How well do you personally carry out these principles in your own life?

*Why do we have such a hard time dealing with conflict?

*How realistically can we follow the teaching in these verses in 2016?

*How well does our church follow Scripture when it comes to conflict resolution?

Seventh, after that discussion, the pastor should do two things:

*Ask someone to collect all the newsprint sheets and give them to the pastor directly.  The pastor should consider reproducing everything written down word for word on the church website.  This not only shows the leaders that their words are taken seriously, this also shows the congregation that the church takes Scripture seriously when it comes to conflict.

*Then reserve time on the agenda of the next board meeting – or call a special Saturday board meeting – and ask the governing board as well as members of the church staff to summarize the biblical teaching on conflict resolution in ten principles.

(The board and staff should do this because they are ultimately the guardians of both the congregation and the pastor … and because they are sometimes the sources of potential trouble themselves.)

When that’s complete … maybe at the next board meeting … three more things need to happen:

Eighth, the pastor makes sure that those ten principles for resolving conflict are posted in key places all over the church.

This includes the rooms where staff meetings, board meetings, finance team meetings and other key meetings are held.

Ninth, the pastor then schedules a brief series – maybe two sermons – on those ten principles, letting the congregation know, “This is how we handle conflict around here.”

And every year – possibly before the annual meeting – the pastor should preach another brief series on biblical conflict resolution.  Call it internal insurance.

Finally, the pastor schedules time every six months to review the principles with the staff, the board, and the key leaders. 

This doesn’t have to take long, but it has to be done.

Some people might say, “But Jim, if a severe conflict does break out, some people will become so emotional that they will ignore those principles, so aren’t these principles really worthless?”

No, they aren’t worthless.  God gave those principles to us, and He never gives His people anything that isn’t of value!

But even if some people become irrational during conflict, there are others in the congregation who will view matters in a more biblical and rational fashion, and you want the more logical people to deal with the more emotional ones.

Let me give you an example of how these principles can help once they’re posted:

Imagine that you’re in the church library after a Sunday service, and a woman saddles up to you and says, “Listen, a few of us are meeting for lunch today to discuss the latest changes that the pastor is trying to impose on our church.  If you want to join us, we’re meeting at Olive Garden at 1:00 pm.”

Instead of answering her directly, you take her by the hand, waltz her over to the north wall, show her the list of ten principles for resolving conflict biblically, and say to her, “Look at principle number seven.  It says, “If you are upset about a policy, please speak directly with any member of the church board.  [They set policy along with the pastor.]  And if you are upset with the pastor personally, please speak directly with him.”

You then ask this person, “Are you upset with a policy?  Then you need to speak directly with a board member … maybe the one you know the best.  But if you’re upset with the pastor personally, you need to speak with him directly.  Which is it?”

If the person says, “I’m upset with the policy,” then ask the person, “Which board member will you speak with about this issue?”

If the person says, “I’m upset with the pastor,” then ask them, “When will you be speaking with the pastor about this issue?”

If the person says, “Forget it.  I thought you were a friend, but you aren’t,” I’d say to them, “These ten principles summarize how we handle conflict around here.  If you don’t comply, I will report you to the pastor and the church board and tell them what you’re planning to do.  It’s your call.”

The beauty of this approach is that these principles:

*are based on Scripture.

*have been devised by all the key leaders in the church.

*have been ratified by the governing board and staff.

*have been presented to the church through the pulpit.

*have been posted all over the church facility.

*can then be enforced by all of God’s people.

If you follow this plan, I can’t guarantee that you’ll never experience a major conflict in your church.

After all, when some people are intent on committing murder, they can be hard to stop.

But I can guarantee that if you do this, the plotters will know that they’re violating Scripture and the culture of their church … and that will take all the fun out of plots against the pastor … secret meetings … and playing politics.

If you can manage major conflict in your church, that might allow your church to do what Jesus called it to do:

Fulfill His Great Commission in your community.

 

 

 

 

 

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While watching television this morning, I saw a commercial I’ve seen scores of time before.

It was an ad for Wounded Warriors Project, including photos of American military veterans who have been severely injured during combat and are struggling to lead normal lives.

With the concerned face and deep voice of country singer Trace Adkins inviting viewers to support WWP financially, I’m sure these commercials are providing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue to help our vets in need … which is really wonderful.

But did you know there are thousands of former and current pastors who might also be termed Wounded Warriors?

Many of you do know … some of you may not.

I mention this because last week, I posted an article called “19 Things I’d Rather Do Than Attend a Church Board Meeting.”  Although several Christian leaders told me they resonated with what I’d written … including a seminary professor and well-known author … one person … whom I do not know … left this comment:

Articles on congregational and pastoral leadership written in bitterness following a painful dismissal are not particularly insightful or productive.  This one is no exception.”

(My policy is to let comments stand, even when they’re negative.  I don’t edit them, and only a handful of times have I chosen not to approve comments because I felt they made the writer look bad.)

Let me make several observations about this comment – which is atypical of the ones I normally receive – which will give me the opportunity to make some clarifications about my writing ministry:

*I tried to write an article that contrasted my previous calling as a pastor with my current job, which is serving with my wife caring for children in our home … and I made the point that at this point in my life, I prefer what I’m doing right now.

*As those who know me or my previous church situation knows, I wasn’t dismissed as pastor.  I chose to resign because my wife was attacked as a way of forcing me to quit … an entirely different dynamic than usually occurs.  That may be a “forced resignation,” but it wasn’t a “painful dismissal.”

*Even though I wrote a book about that 50-day conflict … and even though I refer to it on occasion in my blog … I usually write as if people are coming to my blog for the first time.  This means that I sometimes will repeat myself … and risk boring my faithful readers … but I want my readers – especially pastors and their wives who have gone through a forced termination – to know that I understand what they are going through and that I feel their pain.

*I’m not bitter about what happened.  I accepted my destiny long ago.  I have no desire to hurt any of my detractors for what they did … I forgave them years before … nor to harm my former church in any way.  But I am wounded, and always will be.  How could I not be?  My career in church ministry ended after 36 years!  But I’m just one of thousands of God’s servants who have suffered similar mistreatment – like David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus – and were changed by the experience.

*The list of “19 Things” was tongue-in-cheek and presented in an ironic manner.  My sermon prep teacher warned our class years ago not to use irony when we preach because many people don’t get it.  It’s still true … but I still enjoy using it … even though I risk being misunderstood.  Maybe I could have written that article better.

*My main takeaway from this comment was, “I don’t want to hear anything about the dismissal of a pastor from a congregation or the way he feels afterward.  If I hear anything … regardless of the person’s experiences or motives … I will label it sour grapes.”

It’s this last observation that I’d like to address for a few moments.

When I started my blog in December 2010, and when my book Church Coup was published in March 2013, I made a conscious decision: to be willing to share in detail an attempt by a few people from my former congregation to force me out of my pastoral position.  I also chose to share how I felt about it at the time … and to try and make a dent in the epidemic of forced terminations in Christian churches today.  (I’d like to think that I’ve succeeded somewhat based on the thousands of views I’ve received for my article “If You Must Terminate a Pastor” as well as the number of pastors, board members, staff members, and laymen I’ve counseled over the past few years.)

I didn’t share everything that happened … it would have made the book much longer … and I intentionally left out parts that might make some individuals look bad.  In fact, I spent six hours with an attorney reviewing the book’s contents so that I was telling my story accurately rather than wreaking revenge.

I knew that the book would never be a Christian bestseller, although I’ve sold more copies than I thought I would.

I assumed that some Christian leaders would severely criticize me for revealing information that normally stays hidden inside a congregation, although I masked the church’s name … the city where it’s located … and the real names of those who wished me harm.  However, while I’m ignorant of what has been said about my book in private, few leaders have criticized me to my face, and many have thanked me for writing and getting the issue out into the open.

I shared how I felt about the conflict because I’m not a programmed robot; I’m a real person with real feelings.  A Christian counselor told me, “If you want to help others, don’t ever forget how you felt when you were going through your conflict.”  Some Christians are uncomfortable reading about how a pastor feels after a forced exit … and someday I’ll speculate on why that is … but I will continue to inject emotion into my writing because it takes too much effort to suppress it.

Some Christian leaders view forced terminations both cynically and politically.  Their attitude is, “You were pressured to resign.  You lost, your opponents won.  That’s just the way it goes.  Shut up about it now.”  I am troubled by that attitude because it guarantees that forced terminations – along with all the damage they cause – will continue unabated in Christian churches … although I certainly don’t want to bleed all over the place whenever I write!

The Christian community as a whole does not want to hear about pastoral termination or to hear from its victims.  We’d rather banish such pastors … call them “losers” … and tape their mouths shut.

Many years ago, a prominent Christian psychiatrist – who had counseled hundreds of pastors who had experienced a forced exit, along with their wives – wanted to write a book about the subject.  He pitched it to a major Christian publisher … and they turned him down.  The assumption was, “Who wants to read about pastors who have been terminated?”

The Christian community wants to keep this issue buried because (a) it’s poor marketing for the Christian faith; (b) it exposes glaring weaknesses in congregational life; (c) it reveals hatred and bitterness among church leaders; and (d) it negates the power of the gospel to reconcile relationships.

But don’t Christians believe in redemption … even for ex-pastors?

Can’t we learn something significant from the stories of those who have been forced out unjustly?

Why would we want to silence such pastors?

What are we as Christians afraid of?

Wouldn’t the wider Christian community benefit from an honest discussion of this issue?

Because when a forced termination is handled poorly … and they usually are … forces are unleashed in a church that people can’t control … and those forces damage lots of people … as well as their church’s future.

This is the 491st blog post I’ve written.  On occasion, I’ve written about baseball … music … travel … even cemeteries! … and I’ll do more of that in the future.

But I know why people come to my blog in the first place: because I deal with the topic of pastoral termination … in all its many ramifications … and in an authentic and thorough fashion.

When I was in the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary, my focus was on church conflict.  My editor couldn’t believe the examples I used in my dissertation because she wasn’t aware of what goes on in Christian churches behind closed doors.

But God has called me to this ministry, and I will continue to speak up … and speak out … as long as He gives me breath.

Thank you for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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