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Archive for the ‘Church Conflict’ Category

When I was a pastor, a friend once approached me at a planning meeting and informed me, “Jill (who wasn’t a team member) is mad at you.”

My initial response was not, “Why is she mad at me?”

It was, “How many people has she told?”

Looking away, my friend used both fingers to count, and then replied, “Ten.”

At that point, I asked, “What did I do to upset her?”

My friend replied, “You didn’t say hi to her one Sunday.”

How was I supposed to respond to such a complaint?

I know some pastors who would have said, “Thank you, friend, for bringing this situation to my attention.  I will contact Jill as soon as possible and try and straighten this whole thing out.”

But I had learned a different … and far healthier … way to handle matters.

If Jill was upset with me, the onus was on her to contact me.  Isn’t that what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15?

“If your brother sins against you, go and reprove him in private.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

My response?

“Please tell Jill that if she’s really upset with me, she needs to tell me personally.  Otherwise, I will assume this isn’t an issue she really cares about.”

Jill never did contact me about that issue.

One of the characteristics of an unhealthy family is that family members fail to speak directly with the spouse or parent or child or sibling they’re upset with.

Instead, they share their feelings with other family members, but never with the object of their discontent.

A common scenario is that Brother Bill tells his Mother Mary that he’s upset with Sister Susie, but Bill never tells Susie directly.

And in many families, as soon as Bill leaves the house, Mary tells Susie what Bill told her.

But that kind of behavior doesn’t just happen in families … it also happens in churches … especially during major conflicts.

Nearly eight-and-a-half years ago, I called a meeting of our entire congregation to announce the resignations of the official church board as well as the associate pastor.

I didn’t want to make those announcements, but somebody had to do it, and as senior pastor, I was the logical choice.

Because the board members and associate pastor had resigned, their viewpoints and opinions should not have carried much, if any, weight with the congregation.

By resigning, they had forfeited their right to speak.  As church conflict expert Speed Leas observes:

“It is understandable that someone who is hurt, not helped, or bored by what is going on in a congregation may choose to leave it.  Indeed, it is understandable that one might choose to leave as a protest, hoping to influence the future policy or staffing.  However, it is not appropriate that once having abandoned the responsibility of running and paying for a church’s ministry, one should have equal weight in telling those who are maintaining it how to run it.  The right to confront an organization’s leadership comes with being responsible for its future.  Therefore, it is important to consider members’ current commitment when they advise what should be done in the future or complain about what has happened in the past.”

But there was someone in the church who had spoken with individuals from the former board as well as the ex-associate.

In my book Church Coup, I called him George.

George decided to stand up in the meeting and speak for the board members and the associate pastor.

In fact, he recited a litany of charges against me, charges he claimed came directly from the mouths of those seven former leaders.

But George’s behavior raised all kinds of problems:

Did the board members give George permission to speak for them?  How would the church know?

Did the associate give George permission to speak for him as well?

How accurately was George conveying their “charges?”  He wasn’t reading a letter from any of them but was rattling accusations off the top of his head.

If people needed evidence or clarification, how well could George represent those leaders?

There’s a word for George’s actions.  He was engaging in hearsay.

No one could verify the validity of George’s charges because he was speaking for people who were absent.

What if the board members or associate had lied to George?

What if George had misinterpreted what they were telling him?

And what if I wanted to respond to those charges?  How could George continue to speak for them?

And was George aware that this was the first time I had ever heard most of those complaints?

Speed Leas comments:

“It is difficult to be in contact with partners who have left the scene.  Sometimes people just drop out; they stop attending or participating in any church functions.  But other times they stay at home and participate by telephone.  Other people then come to the meetings bearing the grievances of dissatisfied persons who are not present to convey their views accurately and responsibly.  This kind of behavior is difficult and annoying to deal with.  Anonymous or relayed communications stay at the point where they began. . . . One bishop I know insists that the participants at conflict meetings only speak for themselves.  He strongly encourages them to make ‘I think,’ or ‘I believe,’ or ‘I know’ statements rather than remarks such as ‘Some people have said’ or ‘A lot of people are upset’ or ‘I am speaking for those who have spoken to me and are afraid to speak out.'”

The more anxious families become, the more they slide into dysfunction.

And the more stressed church families become, the more dysfunctionality becomes the norm.

When a conflict is about something unrelated to the pastor, he can present biblical ground rules for communication and encourage all parties to practice them.

But when the pastor becomes the target of a conflict, he cannot publicly advise the church on how to handle matters.

For a church to survive a public assault on their pastor, the congregation needs one or more godly, sensible individuals to stand up assertively to define what healthy and unhealthy behavior looks like.

Is there anyone like that in your church right now?

Let me encourage you.

If you’re upset with another brother or sister in Christ … even if they’re a leader … you have five options:

*Let it go.

*Tell the Lord alone.

*End the relationship.

*Leave the church.

*Speak with the person directly.

It’s okay to consult with a wise believer provided they can be trusted … but even after such a consultation, you’re still left with only five choices.

And if you’re asked to represent others in public, gently defer … or you’ll be caught in a triangle between two parties.

In Luke 12:13, someone came to Jesus and asked Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus responded, “Okay.  Just give me your address and I’ll go speak with him right now.”

No, Jesus didn’t do that!

Instead, He asked this question:

“Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

Even Jesus stayed out of family squabbles and relational triangles.

If the Son of God was unwilling to speak for others, we should follow His example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

I have a pastor friend who reads this blog, and periodically, he tells me that most board members who participate in the termination of an innocent pastor do it out of ignorance rather than malice.

In other words, they think they know what they’re doing, but they really don’t.

He may be right.

Sadly, I have experienced personal hatred and wrath from some board members over my 36 years of church ministry, so I know firsthand that some pastor-board conflicts result from unbridled bitterness.

But certainly not all do … and much of the time, pastoral terminations are handled badly simply because members of the official board don’t know what they don’t know.

So let me share with you four things that most church boards don’t know when they’re thinking about terminating their lead shepherd:

First, they don’t know the biblical process for dealing with the pastor’s shortcomings.

Every believer … and every church leader … needs to study Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 in great depth.

Jesus tells His followers what to do if a spiritual brother (or sister) sins … especially if that sin is committed against someone personally.

Jesus says in verse 15:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

Jesus is speaking here about personal sin, not church policy.

And He doesn’t exclude pastors, board members, and church staffers from His directive.

I believe that if someone has a personal issue with the pastor, they need to speak with him directly, and if they have a policy issue with him, they should speak with anyone who makes the policy … which is usually made by members of the church board.

Let me apply verse 15 specifically to pastors:

“If your pastor sins against you … by telling an offensive joke, by failing to greet you one Sunday, by getting visibly angry while playing basketball … go to him personally and privately and share with him what you have seen or heard him do.  Do not involve others at this stage.  If your pastor agrees with your view and asks forgiveness, your relationship has been restored, and there is no need to involve anyone else.”

If someone thinks the pastor drives an expensive car … or that he shouldn’t mention his vacations from the pulpit … or that he should dress better when he preaches … then that person either needs to speak with the pastor personally … pray about the situation … or let it go.

But this isn’t how most Christians handle their feelings about their pastor’s humanity, is it?

No, they share their feelings with their family and friends … especially their church friends … and usually, the pastor’s alleged shortcomings are dissected while he himself knows nothing about these discussions.

And as people talk, they share their own personal criticisms or grievances against the pastor, and before you know it, the pastor seems like Satan incarnate.

This is probably the single greatest sin a congregation can commit against its pastor: to indict, judge, and sentence him for his mistakes without ever speaking with him personally.

In fact, I’d say that most of the time, the sin of not obeying Matthew 18:15 is a far greater violation than the petty offenses a pastor has supposedly committed.

The official board … and the top staff members … need to insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first whenever someone has a personal grievance against their shepherd.

The pastor needs to teach this verse to the key leaders in private and the congregation in public, but then those leaders need to enforce the practice of Matthew 18:15 on the entire church family … or the pastor’s ministry will be in constant jeopardy.

Please note: Matthew 18:16 (involving one or two others) only applies if the first encounter with the pastor doesn’t work out, and Matthew 18:17 (involving the entire congregation) only applies if the first two steps haven’t worked.

And yet, in many churches, Jesus’ first step in Matthew 18:15 is ignored, and the board permits individuals to jump right to telling others and telling the church.

I know pastors who resigned voluntarily because the church board didn’t protect them from complaints made by members of the congregation.

And all the board needed to do was insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first.

These verses are often mentioned in church constitutions/bylaws as a way of resolving church disputes.

If a board doesn’t obey these verses when they’re having problems with their pastor … or somehow find a way to skip around them … many people will suffer.

Second, they don’t know that the faster they proceed, the more mistakes they’ll make.

If a pastor is guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or a criminal offense – The Big Three – then yes, the church board needs to act with a degree of haste.

But most of the time, pastors aren’t guilty of The Big Three, so if the board and pastor are struggling in their relationship, the board can devise a reasonable long-term process that’s fair to both the pastor and the church.

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke believes that when church leaders are struggling with their pastor, they should give him twelve to fifteen months to make any necessary changes.  If the pastor hasn’t or won’t change, then he’s subject to being terminated after at least one year.

This allows the pastor to seek personal counseling … go for continuing education … find a coach or mentor … or put out his resume.

And many times, within that year, the pastor has time to make good decisions, and the issue has resolved itself.

But when just one or two board members become anxious … sometimes because their friends are threatening to leave the church “unless the pastor is dealt with” … their anxiety can spread to others, and within a brief period of time, the board has decided that the pastor has to go.

Rather than work a process and live with the anxiety, they overreact emotionally … claim that God is behind their feelings … and fire the pastor to relieve their anxiety.

When the pastor finds out that the board has abruptly decided to terminate him … especially if they haven’t given him any time to make changes … the board’s anxiety is passed on to the pastor, who may become panicked, depressed, and desperate … and justifiably so.

(Please remember that pastors aren’t angels, they’re human beings.)

In such cases, the breakdown in relationship doesn’t lie with the pastor, but with the board.

The older a person gets, the harder it is for them to change.  People do change as they age, and pastors can change, too … especially as they rely upon the power of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

But people usually need time to change.

In 1990, I reinvented my approach to ministry.

My basic personality remained, but I learned new approaches to leadership, worship, evangelism, growth, giving, administration … and many other pastoral tasks.

And when I changed, my ministry changed … for the better.

So I know it can be done … and in my case, nobody made me change.  The desire came from within.

I think church boards give up on pastors way too fast … and they often do so without ever having spoken with the pastor in a direct way about their concerns.

And that’s not the pastor’s fault.

Third, they don’t know how important a generous severance agreement is when they pressure the pastor to resign.

Let me say this loud and clear:

A pastor is not a standard employee.  A pastor is someone called by God.

It’s taking longer and longer to hire a pastor today.  From the time the search team in your church started looking for a new pastor, to the time they hired your current one, how long did things take?

One year?  Two years?  Longer?

Before a pastor is called to a church, he usually receives a formal letter of call.  And that letter usually says, “We believe that God has called you to our church at this particular time.”

Included with that letter of call is a document specifying the pastor’s salary, housing allowance, retirement funds, medical insurance, and ministry expenses, among other things.

And in a sense, the relationship of a pastor and a church is very much like a marriage.  The pastor leaves his old way of life and commits himself to that church 100% … and trusts them to take care of him and his family.

When I left Arizona in 1999 so I could assume a position at a church in Northern California, I left my son behind (and it about killed me emotionally).  We sold our house.  I left my stepfather and mother and sister and other family.  I left friends behind.

I moved nearly 800 miles away because God had called me to that church … but at least I was moving from one church position to another.

But the greatest nightmare any pastor has is to be forced out of his church position without any other position waiting.

In case any board members are reading this article, let me distinguish two kinds of pastors:

First, there’s the pastor who has disqualified himself from ministry because he has committed a major offense.

Second, there’s the pastor who is being asked to leave a church because his gifts and personality no longer match what the board feels the church needs.

Even though the pastor was called by God to your church years ago, that doesn’t mean he’s entitled to a lifetime appointment.  Unlike college professors, pastors should not be given tenure.

But why punish the pastor and his family financially because circumstances have changed since the pastor came to the church?

If you believe that God called your pastor to your church, then if you want him to leave, you must believe that God is calling him away … even though he probably has nowhere to go.

Then you need to give him a generous separation package. 

He gave up his whole life to come to your church.

He doesn’t have another source of income.

And he hasn’t been spending his time at your church taking courses to do something else with his life.

He’s been “all in” with your church … and now he needs you to be “all in” with him.

If you don’t give him a generous package:

*You may put great stress on his marriage because his wife will feel like she needs to support the family financially.

*You may embitter his children … regardless of their age.

*You may send your pastor into the depths of emotional despair.

*You may force him to tap into his retirement account prematurely.

*You may very likely end his ministry career.

It’s the same thing as a husband divorcing his wife without offering her any alimony or child support.

Trade the pastor a generous separation package for a unifying resignation letter.

When I left my last ministry in 2009, I encouraged everyone to stay at the church … and I reiterated that when I preached my last sermon.

My sentiments were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in future donations to that congregation.

But if you mistreat the pastor by offering him a skimpy separation package, the word will get around … no matter how careful you are … and your church will lose many people and a lot of money.

Probably tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.

Fourth, they don’t know that many people are more committed to their pastor than they are their church.

Let me share with you three things that will happen if you force an innocent pastor from office:

*There will be a general sense of anxiety and unease in your congregation.

This can be alleviated somewhat by weekly updates from the church board, but it may last for many years.

And if you’re able to secure a good interim pastor … especially an intentional interim … that will help as well.

But every Sunday, when people come to church and don’t see their former pastor, many will wonder, “Why isn’t our beloved pastor preaching this week?  I wonder how he’s doing?  I wonder why he really left?  And I wonder if someone pushed him out.”

And that anxiety can last for months, if not years.

*Many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church … regardless of the reason.

To keep people in the church, some boards decide to blame the pastor’s departure completely on him … and some even manufacture charges against him.

Some even place a gag order on everybody … especially board members and staff members.

Such heavy-handed tactics rarely work, and aren’t consistent with the holy life that God requires of all His followers.

So expect that many of your best attendees … volunteers … and givers will leave the church … not altogether, but slowly.

And when that happens:

*Expect that you will have to cut back on your ministries.

You may not have enough money to pay some of your key staff members.

You may have to cut back one of your worship services.

You may not be able to fund some of your annual events.

A friend of mine came to a church of 50 people.  Three years later, the church stood at 150.  The board pushed him out, and the church reverted to 50 people once again.

Those 100 additional people were more loyal to the pastor than to the church, so they all left.

And most church boards don’t know that.

Several years ago, I recounted my story to one of the world’s leading experts on churches.  When I finished my narrative, he said, “How’s that church doing today?  It’s probably not doing very well, is it?”

Most churches that push out an innocent pastor never fully recover.

I began this article by mentioning a pastor friend.  After he was terminated by the church board … after a Sunday service, no less … the leaders may have thought, “Now we can do what we want around here!”

A few years later, that church went out of existence.

_______________

How can board members learn what to do when they’re having problems with their pastor?

*They can read a book … but I’m unaware of any such book right now.

*They can attend a seminar … but I’m unaware of anyone who is doing them.

*They can contact their denomination or local district … but they usually offer little help except to try and convince church leaders to keep giving money to the denomination.

*They can contact an expert in pastor-church conflict … a consultant, a conflict manager, an interventionist, a mediator … and they’re often of great help … but you have to pay them well.

Two pastors have told me that my material on pastor-church conflict is “the best on the internet.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not.

But accessing my articles doesn’t cost anything financially … and you can pass them on to others.

If I can help you with your situation, please let me know by emailing me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you lie to me once, you’ve sinned.

If you lie to me twice, you’re a liar.

You’ve established a pattern.

It’s difficult to confront liars because they usually cover their past lies with new ones.

I once worked with a church staff member who seemed to enjoy lying.

Several people came to me and said, “So-and-So lied to me.”  They were very upset and wanted me to do something about his fibs.

I tried talking to this leader to see if I could discern any untruths coming from his mouth, but he was really good at covering things up.

So I decided to take my time and see if I could catch the leader in a lie myself.

One day a few weeks later, someone who worked with this person requested a private meeting with me.  They shared information that, if true, could only result in the dismissal of this staff member.

I took two full days to investigate some of the charges the informant made … and the most serious ones turned out to be accurate.

If I brought verbal charges to this staffer, I knew what what happen: he would just deny … or explain away … the charges … just like he did with everything else.

I needed air-tight evidence that he had lied before I could confront him.

Fortunately, I was able to get that evidence in the form of an email from a key person in a Christian organization.

I called the staffer into my office … asked him some questions … asked him if he stood by his answers … and then handed him the email contradicting what he had just told me.

He lied twice to my face … and it was tragic watching him try and explain away his falsehoods.

He left the church soon afterward.

One family in particular drew close to this staff member, and when he left, I suspected they were upset with me.

And sure enough, a few years later, they were in on the attack to force me to leave.

I can only imagine the lies he told about me on his way out the door.

_______________

When a church conflict becomes a contest, some churchgoers start lying.

On occasion, a pastor will float a lie or two about his enemies, but most of the time, people lie about the pastor instead.

In fact, when some people want to force out their pastor, they will lie about him indiscriminately as a way of getting others to join their cause.

And by the time the pastor finds out that people are lying about him, critical mass has been reached, and so many people believe the lies that the pastor has to resign.

This is what happened in my case seven-and-a-half years ago.  There were so many lies going around about me that (a) I didn’t know where they came from, (b) I didn’t know what was being said, and (c) I didn’t know how to counter the lies.

In a very real sense, I was lied right out of the church.

Because Jesus didn’t do anything wrong, the only way His enemies could destroy Him was to lie about Him.

And because many pastors try and lead godly lives, the only way their enemies can destroy them is to lie about them.

*The lies must sound plausible or people will quickly discount them.

*The lies must be plentiful in case the pastor is able to debunk one or two of them successfully.

*The lies originate from those who hate the pastor and want revenge against him … otherwise they would sit down with the pastor in love and speak to him directly.

*The lies leak out from unlikely sources at inopportune times.

*The lies multiply once the pastor leaves the church to prevent any future influence he might have.

Several months after we left our last church, my wife and I went to lunch with a woman who had been very kind to us.

She told me that rumors were swirling around that I had had an affair and that my wife had had an affair as well.

At first, my wife and I both laughed.  She’s the only woman I’ve ever kissed, and I’m the only man she’s ever kissed.

Besides that, my wife worked on the staff with me, and we drove to and from work together in the same car … the only car we had.

And we worked right across the hall from each other.

So we both knew the affair talk was balderdash … but evidently there were some who believed it … and others who were perpetuating it.

This information greatly saddened me, but it was also an indication that Satan – “a liar and the father of lies” – had established a firm foothold in that congregation.

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People lie because it works.  And when they’re caught, they’re often able to lie their way out of trouble.

I accept the fact that there are liars inside local churches today.

But I pray they aren’t on church staffs … or on church boards … or in church pulpits … or any other places of influence … because lies destroy people, families, and congregations.

I once knew an associate pastor who worked for a pastor I knew quite well.

This staff member wanted to get rid of someone in the church he didn’t like … so he lied about him.

When the pastor found out that his associate had lied, he called him into his office … verified all the facts … and then told the associate, “You know what to do.”

The associate instantly resigned.

That’s how we used to handle church leaders who lied.

How should we handle them today?

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Pastor Henry felt all alone.

Along with his wife and two sons, Henry had just received an invitation to become the next pastor of Grace Church, a thousand miles from his last ministry.

Henry and his wife Mary surveyed the congregation when they initially visited the church but couldn’t seem to find anyone they might want as personal friends.

But one morning during his first week, Henry received a call from Bret, a longtime member who told Henry he’d come by the church at 11:30 to take his new pastor out to lunch.

Exhausted from the move, Henry was glad that someone was taking the initiative to get to know him.

Bret took Henry to an expensive restaurant, telling his pastor all about the community, the church … and the previous pastor.

In fact, Bret told Henry a lot about the previous pastor.  Pastor Mark was a good preacher who led the church through a time of unparalleled growth.  This information made Henry feel insecure.  How could he hope to compare favorably with a predecessor he didn’t know and might never meet?

But Bret didn’t just recite the previous pastor’s virtues.  Bret also slammed Pastor Mark’s leadership in many aspects of ministry, and told Henry that Mark was pushed out of office due to his shortcomings.

Henry felt better as he realized that Pastor Mark wasn’t perfect, but had his own issues.

And then Bret told Henry, “You know, I’m so glad you’re here.  You’re just what this church needs at this time.  And whatever you need, I’ll be glad to help.”

As Bret drove Henry back to the church, the new pastor felt a bond developing with his new friend.  “Finally, somebody believes in me” he thought.

Over the next several months, Bret and his wife Hope invited Henry and Mary to their home for dinner.  The two couples quickly hit it off and became best friends.  They went to movies together, ate in each other’s homes, and saw each other nearly every week.

Six months later, when it came time to suggest names for elders, Henry recommended that Bret be considered.  The others on the nominating team remained strangely silent, not saying yes or no.  Henry backed off.  Two others were selected instead.

For the next several years, the two families got along famously … and everybody at church knew it.

One Tuesday night, Hope called Henry and asked him to come over right away.  When Henry arrived, he found Bret in a foul mood.  According to Hope, Bret had been drinking and had verbally and physically abused his wife.

Henry did not like what he was hearing.

An hour before the next meeting of the official board, Henry met with Jeff, the board chairman, and asked Jeff what he knew about Bret and Hope.

Jeff was reluctant to say anything.  After all, everybody knew that the two families were tight.

But Henry insisted, and Jeff finally said, “Bret has a drinking problem, and he refuses to get help for it.  Bret wants to be on the church board, but we can’t let him because, in Paul’s words, he is ‘given to drunkenness,’ ‘violent,’ and ‘quarrelsome.'”

Henry suddenly felt very foolish.

Jeff went on, “Pastor, I don’t know how to say this right, but your relationship with Bret and Hope is causing some people in this church to question your judgment.”

After the board meeting, Henry went home and told Mary what Jeff had said.  Mary and Hope had become very close, but Hope had never shared with Mary anything about Bret’s drinking … or any other weaknesses they had.

Several weeks after visiting Bret’s house, Henry started noticing that Bret and Hope were no longer attending services.  Henry thought about contacting Bret, but he knew such a conversation would drain him of much-needed energy to run the church.

A couple months later, chairman Jeff called Henry and told him that a campaign was underway to remove Henry from office.  When Henry asked Jeff who was behind the campaign, he was told, “Bret and his wife Hope.”

Henry’s heart sank.

As a longtime member, Bret had developed friendships with many people in the church over the years, and he had a good idea who he could influence to join his “throw out the pastor” team.

Henry decided to ask Jeff a question that he had never asked before: “When Pastor Mark was forced to leave this church, who was most responsible for his departure?”

Without hesitation, Jeff answered, “Bret and Hope.”

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Insecure pastors … and there are thousands of them around … often compare themselves to other pastors … especially their predecessors.

A wise pastor quietly gets to know the previous pastor so he can (a) form his own opinions about his personality and ministry; (b) learn about that pastor’s influence and tenure firsthand; and (c) tap into that pastor’s wisdom concerning key junctures in that church’s past.

A foolish pastor rejoices when the previous pastor is denigrated, thinking it makes him look good by comparison.

But the same person who criticizes the previous pastor will eventually criticize the current one.

And the same person who supported the previous pastor will eventually support the current one as well.

Many years ago, I learned the wisdom of Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

Pastors need to choose their church friends carefully, or the friends they latch onto early in their ministry make turn to bite them later on.

_______________

I once met a man (I’ll call him Peter) who had served as the senior pastor of a church I had known my entire life.  That church’s first pastor lived two houses down from my house, and I went to school … and later church … with his children.

My uncle, aunt, and cousins had attended that church as well.

Years later, I made many friends in that church.

And eventually, I was called to be on their staff.

While Peter and I were talking, I shared with him some conflicts that occurred during my time in that church … conflicts that became so embedded in that church’s culture that they later affected Peter’s ministry.

I could tell that Peter had an enlightened understanding of what happened to him in that church.

Why don’t more new pastors contact their predecessors and gain that wisdom and understanding up front?

Could it be because of people like Bret and Hope?

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Many years ago, I attended a Taylor-Johnson Temperamental Analysis seminar with Christian author, counselor, and professor H. Norman Wright.

Wright, who taught at Talbot where I went to seminary, shared great insights into human behavior during that seminar … and I’ve never forgotten them.

The Taylor-Johnson test indicates how an individual scores regarding nine personality traits.

When my wife and I had premarital counseling, for example, our counselor pointed out that while Kim scored high in social interaction, I scored low … meaning that she might want to attend social events that I’d prefer to skip.  (And that conclusion has proven correct over nearly 42 years of marriage.)

The test also measures traits like lighthearted/depressive, dominant/submissive, and self-disciplined/impulsive.

But Norm Wright told seminar participants that out of all the traits, the most important one was called objective/subjective.

The objective/subjective trait measures how a person interprets life events.  Do they see what’s happening around them accurately or inaccurately?

It’s my considered opinion that when it comes to church conflict … especially conflicts that involve the lead pastor … that several key individuals … on the official board, on the staff, or in a faction … grossly misinterpret the pastor’s behaviors and motives.

Let me give you an example.

In my second pastorate, I found an old box of hymnals in a back room of the church gymnasium.  They weren’t the current hymnals we were using, nor the previous generation of hymnbooks, but the generation before that.

Nobody wanted them … not even the local rescue mission.

I thought to myself, “I’m going to make a unilateral decision and toss these hymnbooks.”  So I threw them in the church dumpster and buried them deep.

But the following Saturday, at a workday, my all-time greatest antagonist somehow found those hymnbooks.  (I should have thrown them out at home.)

His conclusion?

I wasn’t throwing out old hymnbooks … I was throwing out the old hymns!

And that’s what he started spreading around the church … which angered some of the seniors, who loved those old hymns.  (I do, too.)

Whenever a pastor is accused of wrongdoing but is innocent of the charges, there are usually several people who misinterpret what the pastor said or did.

And based on their faulty thinking, they conclude that the pastor has to go.

But the truth is that such people think emotionally rather than logically.  They substitute feelings for facts, are driven by fear and anxiety, and read their own past traumas into the current situation.

Let me share with you some scenarios where a pastor’s actions or words can be misinterpreted by his opponents:

*Sometimes a pastor makes a statement during a sermon … his opponents interpret that statement in the worst possible light … and before night falls, that misinterpretation has spread to many others.

*Sometimes a pastor announces a change that’s going to be implemented at the church … his opponents hear the opposite of what he intended … and resistance begins to form.

*Sometimes a pastor’s car isn’t in its usual spot at church … his opponents conclude that he’s not working … and the charge begins to circulate that he’s lazy.

*Sometimes a pastor buys a new car or takes a nice vacation … his opponents conclude that he’s making too much money … and before long, he’s charged with being materialistic rather than spiritual.

*Sometimes a pastor is seen talking with the same woman on several occasions … his opponents begin to gossip … and before long, they’re insinuating that he’s having an affair.

This is why every church needs several people on the board and staff who are both fair-minded and, in the words of Jesus, “Judge with righteous judgment.”

Let me offer several ways a pastor can combat these highly subjective people:

*Keep them out of leadership … and watch how prospective leaders handle themselves when they hear bad news.

*Ask several believers with good judgment to report to the pastor any baseless charges that are going around the congregation.

*Keep the board chairman and key staffers informed of any false accusations that may be floating around.

*Devise a biblical process for handling charges against the pastor … have the board approve the process … and have the pastor preach on that process initially and refer to it periodically.

*When the pastor is under attack, he needs to vow that he will not resign unless a biblical process is used to test the charges against him.

I have discovered in my own life and ministry that when it comes to others, I’m very objective and demonstrate good judgment.

But when it comes to the way I view myself, I can plunge into subjectivity rather quickly.

Because pastors can become highly subjective at times … especially when they’re under attack … they need to surround themselves with objective leaders.

Especially when they decide to throw out the old hymnbooks.

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When a husband and wife aren’t getting along … and they can’t seem to resolve their issues … they may seek out a third party: a counselor.

When an employee feels she’s been wronged by her employer … and she’s tried but can’t resolve the issues inside her company … she may seek redress from a third party: a judge.

But when people in a church are in conflict and they aren’t able to resolve matters, what do they do?

They usually choose up sides … exonerate themselves … demonize their opponents … put their heads down … and attempt to bulldoze their way to victory … even if it splits their church wide open.

There is a better way.

Church conflict expert Speed Leas, in his brilliant manual Moving Your Church Through Conflict, believes there are five levels of conflict in a local church.

Leas says that conflict at levels one through three can be resolved by God’s people within their local church.

But when a conflict escalates to levels four and five, the conflict cannot be resolved inside the church.  It’s gone too far.

The church needs outside intervention instead.

But in my experience, the great majority of Christians resist that idea.

Years ago, I served as pastor of a church where we were being cheated by a building contractor.  He was billing us for his work … we’d pay him … but then rather than pay his sub-contractors, he’d divert the funds to other projects he had.

The sub-contractors were naturally upset that they weren’t being paid and came to us for the money … but we’d already paid the contractor.

We held a board meeting, and it was a bit tense because I wanted us to go to an attorney, while someone else felt it would be a waste of time.

I understand the sentiment: “Look, this is our problem, so we need to be the ones to solve it.  All we’ll do is make the attorneys richer.”

But sometimes, the biggest barrier to resolving a conflict is our pride.  We just don’t want to admit that someone else knows how to handle matters better than we do.

According to Leas, a conflict at Level Four has the following characteristics:

*Each group stops talking with the other, even when they’re in the same room.

*Each group is convinced that the other party “won’t change.”

*Each group no longer wants to win … they want to hurt the other side.

*Each group takes on an air of self-righteousness: “We’re right … they’re wrong.”

*Each group uses threats and demands against the other.

*Each group takes the stance: “Either he/they leave(s) or we will.”

When a conflict reaches Level Five, one side wants to destroy their opponents.

At Level Four, a faction may want their pastor to leave.

At Level Five, they want his position … his health … his family … and his career decimated.

I have been on the receiving end of both Level Four and Level Five conflict, and in both cases, the opposing group left the church.  In the first case, the conflict died down.  In the second case, the conflict got worse.

If a church is having a conflict, the chances are great that the pastor has become involved somehow.  Either he’s perceived as “the problem” or he hasn’t yet “fixed the problem.”  And the anxiety around the church becomes so great that people begin to wonder, “If our pastor is this incompetent or this useless, why should he stay?”

So when a conflict hits Level Four … or if it quickly leapfrogs to Level Five … the church board needs to seek outside intervention as soon as possible.

Here are five reasons to seek outside help:

First, the current church leadership has been unable to resolve the conflict at Levels One, Two, or Three where it’s much more manageable.  If they can’t manage things at the lower levels, they’ll never be able to manage matters at the highest levels.  They need an outsider.

Second, many church leaders have either been in their church for many years, or their present church is the only one they’ve ever known.  They’re so immersed in their present church culture that they don’t know how pastors and boards in other churches handle conflict … but an outside interventionist almost assuredly does.  He will help them broaden their thinking.

Third, pastors and church leaders can become so anxious and stressed about a conflict that they think they’re going crazy.  They become so irrational that all they want to do is get the conflict over with.  An outside interventionist comes in with a clean slate … no emotional investment … and a neutral approach that seeks the good of the church as a whole, not just the pastor, board, or a vocal faction.

Fourth, pastors and church leaders usually lose control of the process when a conflict erupts in their congregation.  An outside interventionist can remind everyone of what Scripture says, what the church constitution/bylaws say, and what secular law says about how Christians are to treat one another.  The interventionist can set ground rules for behavior and remind people when they have crossed the line.

Finally, the interventionist can teach the leaders … and by extension, the congregation … new skills, processes, and resources for managing conflict in the future.

Let me share my story along this line.

Seven-and-a-half years ago, I found myself in the worst conflict of my 36-year ministry career.  I didn’t know which Christian leaders to contact, so I contacted everyone I knew outside my denomination.

The name of a Christian leader popped into my head … someone who had once commended me on an article I wrote in a Christian magazine … so I looked him up online and made a phone appointment with him.

He had been a pastor … a district executive … and a denominational president.  Later on, I found out he was considered to be the best-networked evangelical leader in Southern California.

We had a two-hour conversation.  He gave me more valuable counsel over the phone that day than the other sixteen leaders I contacted combined.

He later became my mentor … and my friend … giving me hours of his valuable time, and advising me at key times when I needed to make a major decision.

My conversation with that leader was free.  He recommended I speak with the head of the consulting firm that he worked for, so a few hours later, I did.

After about a 45-minute conversation, the consulting head told me, “Jim, we need to get someone to your church as soon as possible.”

The next day, our church had been assigned a top Christian leader.  The following weekend, he dropped everything to fly to our area and help facilitate the conflict.

How much did he cost?

Think $5,000 to $10,000.  The better the interventionist, the more they cost.  If someone says they’ll do it for free, they’re probably not very good.

What did he do?

*He met with me and heard my side of things.

*He met with the church staff and interviewed them.

*He met with a group of church leaders and helped formulate strategy for two congregational meetings.

*He later met with both my wife and me.

*He stayed in constant contact with a transitional leadership group.

*He attended the two public meetings and became so incensed that he stood up after the second meeting and scolded the congregation.

*He did investigative work and uncovered a plot originating outside the church designed to force me out of office.

*He wrote a report and gave one copy to me and one to each of the transitional leaders.

*He told me that I had a future in ministry and made recommendations to the transitional leaders for a realistic severance package.

And he did it all in five days.

Who should a church hire as an interventionist?

I recommend … along with many other Christian leaders … that you don’t seek outside help from your denomination, at least initially.

Most denominational leaders aren’t trained in conflict intervention.  Even though they’ll make a pretense of acting neutral, any decisions they make will most likely be political.

And they usually recommend that the pastor leave the church, even if he is innocent of any and all charges.

If you do use denominational services, only go to them if every other avenue fails.

Here are some ideas about hiring an interventionist:

*Contact Peacemaker Ministries.  They often have trained interventionists and mediators in many communities, including former pastors and attorneys.

*Contact the executive pastor of a megachurch.  It’s nearly impossible to make contact with the lead pastor of a huge church, but you can often contact other staff members, like the executive or an associate pastor.

*Contact the seminary your church knows best, or the one you graduated from.  I was able to speak with a professor from my seminary who had extensive knowledge of church transitions and was able to give me valuable feedback.

*Contact Christian leaders who do this for a living, like Peter Steinke with BridgeBuilder.  I’ve had training directly from Steinke, and he focuses on the process that congregations should use to resolve conflicts rather than resolving matters by himself.

*Contact someone like me … a former pastor who has credentials in conflict management.

Two additional ideas:

First, make sure that you allow representatives from both sides to interview a consultant before he’s hired.  Don’t hire someone and then try and impose that person on the other side.  That will create even more conflict!

Finally, do your best to follow the consultant’s recommendations.  I’m amazed when a church hires a conflict consultant and then completely ignores his report.  How arrogant … or stupid … is that?  This usually happens in situations where either the pastor or the board is faulted in some way by the consultant and those leaders refuse to believe that they might be the problem.

By the way, when my church hired an attorney many years ago, that attorney … and someone else from his firm … not only saved our church … they also helped us settle a lawsuit that was eventually filed against us … and we settled for pennies on the dollar.

That incident completely changed my outlook on attorneys.

And hiring that consultant in 2009 changed my outlook on hiring church outsiders as well.

Is it possible that your church needs an outside interventionist?

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I ran into a little incident outside my bank yesterday that illustrates why some Christians create conflict in their churches.

My wife and I are buying a house, and while it’s a joyful time in some respects, it’s also very stressful.

Suddenly, we have to meet other people’s deadlines: producing bank statements … scanning documents … signing disclosures … scheduling an inspection … paying for an assessment … and figuring out how to turn brown dirt in the front and back yards into something attractive yet low-maintenance.

Yesterday, after several days of waiting, I finally received the go-ahead I needed to complete a financial transaction involving the house.  I promised someone I would send her the money by a certain time in the late afternoon, and I drove to the bank to finish the task with a few minutes to spare.

Only when I got to the bank, the teller … whom I have never met … told me in a “you’re stupid” tone that the deadline for completing the transaction had passed several hours before, and that I would have to come back this morning instead.

I felt the stress level rise quickly inside me.

As calmly as I could, I went to my car … called the woman who expected the funds … apologized to her for not sending them … backed up slowly … and began driving out of the parking lot.

As you leave the bank, there’s a lane on the right just past the building where cars can appear out of nowhere.  I always approach that small intersection cautiously.

And it’s a good thing I did, because a lady (I use that term loosely) came flying around the corner and nearly hit my car.

I froze … and then got out of my vehicle.

The driver pulled into a space in front of the bank, saw me, pointed right at me, and yelled, “MOVE ON!”

I loudly said, “You almost hit me!”

Then she used a creative combination of vulgar terms and yelled again, “MOVE ON!”

I wanted to move on, but I had to make my point, and I was so upset that the words weren’t coming.

Finally, I blurted out, “When you’re driving through a parking lot, SLOW DOWN!”

She used the creative combination again, and then threatened to call the police on me.  I told her, “Go ahead.  I’ll tell them what a bad driver you are.”

I got back in my car and drove away, not feeling real good about the encounter I had just experienced.

As I drove toward home, I thought to myself, “That person (she wasn’t a lady) was driving recklessly, and she’s probably had similar near-misses before … and she’s trained herself to act like a bully when she violates other people’s rights.”

Okay, that bit of psychoanalysis made me feel a tiny bit better.

But then I reflected on my own behavior, and I asked myself, “Why did I feel it necessary to confront that bully in the parking lot?  Why didn’t I just move on?”

Most of the time, I do.  In fact, I’ve trained myself to let most things go on the road.  It’s just not worth it.

But I know why I did it: right now, I am on emotional overload … my stress level is super high … and I lack a measure of self-control.

Now let’s think about some Christians in your church.

Let’s take Frank.  Frank is in his mid-60s.  In the past four months, he has undergone the following experiences:

*He’s been outsized at work and realizes his career is probably over.

*His work problems drove up his blood pressure so he’s now taking medication for that … and the medication has some strong side effects.

*Frank’s wife has recently been having memory problems, and Frank is worried that she might have … you know.

*One of Frank’s daughters recently separated from her husband, and she’s been coming over a lot more … sometimes staying the night.

So when Frank comes to church on Sunday mornings, he longs for an encounter with God.  He comes with a spirit in turmoil.  He hopes to depart with a spirit of peace.

But what happens instead?

*The music is pounding and seems louder than ever before.

*The announcements drag on and on … and several events are coming that Frank would like to attend, but he doesn’t have the money.

*The pastor’s message contains references to current movies that Frank would never see because he believes they’re immoral … but the pastor seems to love them.

*After the service, Frank hears that two of his best friends have left the church because they don’t like the music or the pastor’s preaching.

And Frank suddenly feels very much alone … in his own congregation.

Frank came to church highly anxious, hoping that God and His people would calm him down … but just the opposite happened.

And right now, Frank can’t handle his emotions.  He needs to talk to somebody about how he’s feeling.

He’d like to talk with the pastor, but he hasn’t been there long.  Frank doesn’t know him very well, and he’s afraid he’ll blow his top and end up a sermon illustration someday.

He’d like to express his displeasure to the music director, but doesn’t think it would do any good.

He’d like to talk to his wife, but she’s struggling to remember anybody’s names right now.

So when Frank gets home from church, he calls his friends who just left the church.

His friends rattle off a list of complaints … mainly about the pastor … and then Frank shares his grievances with them.

And before anyone knows it, a campaign to force out the pastor has begun.

Because this is where division begins in a church: when people begin to pool their complaints with one another rather than speaking directly with the person they’re upset with.

I’ve never tried to get rid of a pastor before, and I wouldn’t want to be a part of any campaign that had that as its goal.  I’d leave the church before I tried to push anyone out.

Yes, like the woman in the bank parking lot, some professing Christians are bullies.  They want to run the church their way … or else … and they will use threats and demands (they work well in churches that pride themselves on how loving they are) to intimidate the pastor.

But many churchgoers who end up causing trouble aren’t bullies … or even immature believers … but are ordinary believers who have been undergoing extraordinary stress in their lives.

They bring that stress with them to church, and if something at church adds to their anxiety, they start complaining … usually the first indicator that conflict is about to erupt.

Rather than dealing directly with their behavior, the pastor and/or key leaders might ask such people about their personal, family, and work lives instead:

*How is your husband or wife doing right now?

*How are your children doing?

*How are things at work?  How does that affect your career?

*How are you doing spiritually right now?  Emotionally?  Financially?

*How can we pray for you specifically?

*How can our church family assist you right now?

Many believers who end up creating havoc come to church highly stressed … become even more anxious when church doesn’t alleviate their anxiety … and finally decide to eliminate the source of their “church anxiety” … their pastor.

I don’t excuse it.

I do understand it.

And maybe … just maybe … understanding such anxiety can help church leaders address the concerns of “the anxious among them” in a more caring and compassionate manner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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