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Archive for the ‘Church Coup Excerpts’ 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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I just dropped a final payment and a sharply-worded letter in the mailbox to my former cable company (let’s call them Corrupt Cable) a few minutes ago.

Last April, Corrupt bought out my previous cable company (which I was very happy with) and immediately began alienating their new customers.

The bills were higher than they had been.  When I called customer service – which I did every month – the reps would tell me I owed one amount, but the subsequent bill would be larger.

When my bill in July was double what the customer rep said that I owed in June, I immediately cancelled (I was on a month-to-month contract) and contacted another company, which came the next day and exceeded my expectations with their professional attitude and performance.

I called Corrupt’s customer service again, asked how much my final bill was, and sent in that amount.  But Corrupt later billed me twice the amount the rep said I owed.

That was it for me.  I sent Corrupt management a strongly-worded two page letter along with a check for the amount the rep said I owed.  Corrupt countered with a letter threatening my credit if I didn’t pay them the remaining balance immediately.

I have never written the word “Corrupt!” on a check before, but I just did.

Now here’s the deal: I don’t want to hurt Corrupt’s CEO or force him from office.  I don’t want to destroy the company or its shareholders.

I just don’t want to think about them or talk about them anymore.  I am done with the Corrupt Cable Company forever.

But in many churches, when someone becomes upset with the pastor, they want to hurt him.  They want to target him.  They want to force him from office.

And they want revenge.

It’s my contention that many pastoral terminations are really the result of one or more church leaders seeking retribution against their shepherd.

More and more, I’m hearing stories of pastors and staff members who are forced out of their positions, and when they’re done sharing, I say to them, “You know what this sounds like to me?  Revenge.”

Let me share with you a composite of situations I’ve heard about firsthand.

Tom (who is now in his early 60s) has been the lead pastor of New Life Church for fifteen years.  The church has grown steadily and has a weekend attendance of 1100 people.  Tom and the board hired an associate pastor named Joe five years ago, and the first several years went well, but over the past two years, Joe has made Tom’s life a living hell.

Joe (who is in his mid-40s) is surrounded by family and friends who think that he’s a better leader and preacher than Tom and that he’s more culturally relevant.  Joe’s wife has been especially vocal in this area.

Some members of Joe’s group (which numbers about thirty) have started to make snide comments about the church and its leadership on social media.  Though they don’t mention Pastor Tom by name, it’s obvious they’re aiming their barbs at him.

By contrast, when Pastor Joe does anything in public, he’s praised on Facebook and Twitter by the FOJ Brigade.

At this point, the ideal solution is for the official board to intervene and tell Joe that (a) he still works for Pastor Tom; (b) he needs to tell his supporters to knock off their social media campaign; (c) if Joe has any concerns, he should discuss them with Tom first; and (d) any deviations from their instructions will result in Joe’s dismissal.

But because most church boards are afraid of conflict, and because some board members like Joe more than Tom, this solution isn’t likely to be implemented.

If Pastor Tom does nothing, he’s going to be driven from his position within a short while, because Joe’s followers are starting to smell blood.

But if Tom goes to the board and enacts too heavy-handed an approach, some board members will turn on him and back Joe instead.

So Tom decides that he will talk to Joe in private first.  Tom will tell Joe what he’s seeing with his attitude and ask Joe what he plans to do about it.

Tom’s plan doesn’t work and, in fact, upsets Joe greatly.  Ten minutes after their meeting, Joe is texting and calling his group, telling them, “How dare the pastor talk to me like that!”

Tom comes out of their meeting dazed and confused, while Joe calls a couple of board members that he senses are sympathetic and negatively exaggerates both Tom’s tone and words.

The verdict?  Pastor Tom can’t get along with the staff (even though he gets along with everybody but Joe) and he can’t get along with important people (like Joe’s followers).

So Tom has to go.

I wrote the following paragraph in my book Church Coup:

“I have a theory about the mentality of those who seek to target a pastor they don’t like. Because they sense that what they’re doing is wrong, they have to (a) exaggerate any charges to the level of a capital crime; (b) find others who agree with them to alleviate their guilt; (c) justify their actions by convincing themselves it’s for the common good; and (d) work up their hatred so they follow through with their plan. While this progression sounds like the kind of diabolical rage one might find in politics or war (or the prelude to a murder), the last place we’d expect to find such irrationality is inside a church.”

Over the next three months, Joe’s revenge against Tom manifests itself in five ways:

*Joe lets scores of people know – both directly and through his minions – that Tom should no longer be the pastor at New Life.  Joe details Tom’s inadequacies for anyone who will listen, including veiled swipes at his age.  As news spreads through the church underground, people add their own grievances against Pastor Tom to Joe’s list.  Some people start saying that if Tom doesn’t leave, they will.

*The church board absorbs Joe’s complaints against Tom and calls a special meeting to deal with the conflict.  Since nobody on the board has a clue how to handle matters, the easy way out is to dismiss Tom, even though he isn’t guilty of any major offense.  Because the board lacks any impeachable offense, they decide to justify their actions by “gunnysacking” Tom – listing as many faults and petty offenses against him as they can create in a single meeting.  They come up with seventeen reasons why Tom must leave but make a pact they won’t tell Tom anything.

*Keeping Joe informed at every turn, the board then ambushes Pastor Tom at their next regular meeting and informs him that he has a choice of resigning (with a small severance package) or being fired (without a severance package).  When Pastor Tom asks for the charges against him to be read, the board declines.  When Tom pleads for them to let him defend himself, they refuse.  The charges against Tom are merely a smokescreen for personal hatred.  When Tom becomes upset, they add that to their list.

*Pastor Tom resigns and receives a three-month severance package.  However, he’s told he must (a) clear out his office (and all his books) in two days; (b) turn in his keys immediately afterward; (c) never set foot on the church campus again; (d) not discuss his dismissal with anyone or his severance will be curtailed; (e) cut off all contact with everyone at the church.

*After Tom’s resignation is read to the congregation, Joe and his minions want to make sure that Tom’s supporters (at least 95% of the congregation) won’t cause any future trouble, so they spread rumors that (a) he was having an affair; (b) he was using drugs; and (c) he had trouble in previous churches that never came to light.  Several of Joe’s supporters also call the local district office and exaggerate the charges against him to make sure that no church in the denomination ever hires him again.  The district minister complies.

Some quick observations:

First, this whole situation was handled politically, not spiritually.

When revenge is involved, church politics rule.  It’s all about maximizing power … counting noses … denying the pastor due process … and checkmating him personally and professionally.  It may not look or sound like revenge, but it is.  Where’s the Bible in all this?

Second, the church board wimped out.

Had I been on New Life’s board, I would have recommended that Pastor Joe be confronted for challenging Pastor Tom’s authority.  If he wouldn’t repent, I would recommend his dismissal instead.  Tom didn’t do anything wrong; Joe did.  And it’s far easier to get a new associate than a new lead pastor.  But the board went with the squeaky wheel rather than any semblance of fairness or righteousness.

Third, the church lacked a predetermined process for handling complaints against the pastor.

Every church needs such a process.  It automatically kicks in whenever dirt starts being thrown at the pastor.  Because church boards often operate politically, I believe that another group in the church needs to monitor this process: a CRG (Conflict Resolution Group).  It’s not their job to make decisions about a pastor’s future.  It’s their job to make sure that the board and the church treat the pastor fairly: according to Scripture, the church’s governing documents, and the law.  And if the CRG’s directives aren’t followed, the entire board should be asked to resign rather than the lead pastor.

Fourth, treating Pastor Tom badly will come back and bite the church … hard.

Yes, people will leave the church, even if they never find out the details surrounding Tom’s departure.  But more than this: unless Pastor Joe and the complying board members repent, do you really believe that God is going to bless New Life Church in the future?  If so, you and I worship a different God.

Finally, God seeks redemption for His leaders, not revenge.

Allow me a personal word.  When I left my last church ministry nearly seven years ago, the entire church board resigned because they initiated a coup that failed.  They wrote and signed a resignation letter that was cruel and demeaning and intended to provide me with the maximum amount of pain.  (I have read it only three times.)  They obviously were upset with me about some issues, but they never sat down and talked with me about them.  Instead, they concocted a plan designed to checkmate me at every turn, and when their plan backfired, they left enraged.

There was never any attempt at restoration or redemption.  It was all about retribution and revenge.

Several weeks ago, I found out that two couples from my former church who had been friends for forty years severed their friendship over the way I was treated.  One couple bought into the gunnysacking charges the board made against me, while the other couple – which never heard from me directly – defended me to the hilt based on the pettiness of the charges themselves.  While this new information made me sad, I thought to myself, “This is what happens when people seek revenge against their pastor.”

When church leaders hear complaints about their pastor, they have two options:

First, they can lovingly bring the charges to their pastor’s attention, let him face his accusers, ask him for explanations, and remain open to his staying.  That’s redemptive.

Second, they can angrily spread charges behind the pastor’s back, refuse to let him face his accusers, insure that he’s not permitted any kind of defense, and remain determined to get rid of him.  That’s revenge.

We all know these verses, but they’re a good reminder during such times:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17,19,21).

What are your thoughts on what I have written?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Twenty-five years ago, I found myself in one of the most precarious positions I’ve ever faced as a pastor.

The church I served in Silicon Valley had been struggling, and I became convinced that we needed to start over: a new church, with a new name, in a new location, with a new ministry.

This vision meant that we had to sell our church property and find a new place to meet … almost simultaneously.

After receiving congregational approval, we sold the property outright to The Salvation Army (some people must drop more than coins into those Christmas kettles) and after looking at more than thirty buildings, our leaders found a temporary place to meet … but we needed a conditional use permit first.

When we went to the planning commission, they turned us down on a 4-2 vote.

We were stunned.

Now we had to appeal to the City Council … I had to lead the effort … and I had never done anything like that before.

I pulled out all the stops.  I called everyone and anyone who might be able to help.  I even called the city manager of a prominent city nearby and picked his brain on how to proceed.

Then it came time to prepare packets for Council members and contact them individually.

I met with the mayor in his office.

After our presentation to the Council, we won a unanimous 7-0 vote.  It was one of the great moments of my life!

The elders of that church and I had a lot to learn after our defeat before the planning commission … and after we did our homework, God blessed us with a favorable decision.

But when a church board is having trouble with their pastor … and if they’re thinking about forcing him to leave … the last thing many boards do is ask outsiders for counsel.

Why don’t boards ask for counsel?

*Some board members think, “We have to keep everything confidential.  We don’t want anyone to know what’s happening between us and the pastor.”  They may be concerned about their own reputations … that they won’t be perceived as competent managers or peaceful believers.

*Others boards think, “We don’t need any outside counsel.  Just look at the composition of this board: a CEO, an attorney, a salesman, two small business owners, a school principal, and an accountant.  We’re all professionals.  We know what to do with wayward employees.”

*Still others think, “I suppose we could contact an outside consultant, but we know more about our church and our pastor than that person ever will.”

*The pastor probably knows who could be contacted for counsel, but the board won’t be inclined to consult with his network.

*And because of the nature of the conflict, the board can’t ask the pastor for help … even though he might be able to help them more than anybody else.

There are several problems with this kind of thinking among board members:

*For starters, a church is not strictly a business.  While it shouldn’t be run like a bad business, the purpose of a church isn’t to make money or reward investors, but to transform people’s lives spiritually.  Just because board members have experience in the “real world” doesn’t mean they understand the unique dynamics inside a congregation.

*Many people in a church view their congregation more as a family than a business.  Their relationships … including their relationship with the pastor … are on their frontal lobes far more than the church’s budget or buildings.  Most people will view a board-pastor clash negatively … no matter how the board frames it … because it will disrupt that “family feeling.”

*Although pastoral terminations are an increasingly common occurrence in the Christian community, the great majority of churchgoers … including board members … have never experienced the aftermath of a termination before.  They may feel that they can control the narrative and keep everyone in the church united, but they are woefully unprepared for the unpredictable events that happen after the pastor leaves.

For example, I was once thinking about firing a staff member, so I consulted with an experienced pastor.  He told me, “Well, after you let this person go, you’ll have three tough months, and then things will revert to normal.”  But when a board dismisses a pastor, they might experience three tough years … or their church may never recover.

*Outside experts may not know much about “our church” and “our pastor,” but those who have studied even two or three terminations know infinitely more than those who have never experienced even one.

Those who contact me most often are pastors under fire … pastors who have just been terminated … and board members who are having trouble with their pastor – including those who may be thinking about forcing him to resign.

While asking questions about each situation, I am constantly amazed at how many church boards think they know what they’re doing even though they’re only consulting with themselves.

Allow me to share my experience from six-and-a-half years ago.

The conflict I experienced in my last church surfaced in October 2009.  At that time:

*I had been a pastor for 35 1/2 years … 10 1/2 years in that same church.

*I had a longtime interest and passion in church conflict and pastoral termination.

*I had watched three of the pastors I served under as a staff member suffer attacks.  One resigned under fire, while another was voted out of office.

*I had an extensive library on conflict and termination which I knew well … and that library grew significantly when I wrote my doctoral project.

*I had a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary with an emphasis on church conflict.

And yet, in the week following the surfacing of the conflict, I contacted 17 Christian leaders, asking for their counsel … including seminary professors, church consultants, megachurch pastors, and former board chairmen.

Why did I do that?

*I needed to know what was really going on.  I thought I knew, but I wasn’t completely sure.

*I was too close to the situation to see things objectively.  I needed the advice of people who could see both the conflict and my situation dispassionately.

*I needed to know what my next moves should be … and what I shouldn’t do or say.

*I also needed to know what might happen inside the congregation over the next few days.  For example, here’s what I wrote in my book Church Coup about a conversation I had with a church consultant who has since became a mentor:

“Wilson said that when the board met with the staff … that was a serious offense in our state.  If the board had acted in a similar fashion in a secular organization, the aggrieved person could have sued them for millions of dollars. Wilson also asked if I was pastor of the church founded by Norman, and when I confirmed that I was – and that the communication between us had become sparse – he wrote: ‘Does not surprise me on Norman – and I have a hunch that THEY have dialed him in!’ Wilson predicted that if the board resigned, thirty to fifty people would also leave with them, and those who were in touch with the Holy Spirit (especially those with the gift of showing mercy) would later tell me that they knew something was wrong but couldn’t put their finger on it.”

I then recounted another conversation:

“Later that morning, I had a conversation with someone (I’ll call him Richard) who runs a Christian consulting firm. Richard immediately asked me about the personal and vocational lives of the board members. He believed that what was happening in their private lives had a direct bearing on how they were handling church matters. Richard stated that many boards are struggling with three primary issues in our day: they experience fear because God is not big enough for them; they struggle with stewardship because they believe the church is ‘all about us’ and not a lost world; and they struggle with faith. Satan has figured out how to defeat us by using power as an aphrodisiac. Richard suggested that one way we could seek redress was through arbitration.”

Before a church board tries to force their pastor to quit … or fires him outright … they should consult with the following individuals:

*A labor attorney to make sure they’re “dotting their i’s” and “crossing their “t’s” legally.  This should also involve a thorough discussion of any relevant passages on pastor-church conflict in the bylaws.

*A biblical expert … maybe a seminary professor … who can tell them what Scripture does and doesn’t say about terminating a pastor.

*A church consultant who is well-versed in pastoral termination who can (a) help the board decide if the pastor needs to be corrected or fired, and (b) walk the board through how to take action so there is minimal harm done to the pastor, his family, and the congregation.

*Several experienced pastors who either know what it’s like to be under fire or who have undergone termination themselves.  Listening to such pastors will give the board increased sensitivity.

What about denominational executives, like a district minister?

Probably 90% of the time, they’ll side with the board instead of the pastor because (a) they just want the conflict to go away, (b) they don’t have a clue how to resolve matters, and (c) they just want to keep the money flowing from the church to district coffers.

What about contacting a former pastor from that church?

Most boards don’t know about the rivalries and jealousies between pastors from the same church.  For that reason, I don’t recommend this approach.

What about contacting a board member from a church that already terminated a pastor?

If the termination was just and handled thoughtfully … maybe.  But if the termination blew up in the board’s face … why go there?

How about contacting a Christian mediator?

If a board decides to go this route, they need to interview the mediator, and let the pastor interview him as well.  The board cannot force a mediator down the pastor’s throat … and vice versa.

What are the benefits of a board seeking outside counsel?

*The board learns better how pastors think.  For example, pastors are often thinking “outreach,” while board members are thinking “maintenance.”  How tragic to force out a pastor who is just trying to take Christ’s Great Commission seriously.

*The board expands their thinking from “let’s get rid of the pastor” to “we need to keep our church healthy during this process.”

*The board learns about the pitfalls and land mines involved in terminating a pastor.

*The board will hear differing approaches … giving them better options from which to choose.

*The board will learn how their own emotional reactions can blind them to reality.

*The board will learn the importance of giving the pastor a fair and just severance package if they choose termination.

Why don’t boards seek thorough and experienced counsel more often?

*Pride.  They don’t think they need any help.

*Consulting with outsiders takes time, and some board members are so anxious that they just want to get things over with.

*The board usually doesn’t have a budget for seeking outside help, but good counsel isn’t cheap.  Yet spending $5,000 to $10,000 now may save the church hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years.

*Many boards are too incompetent to know that they aren’t competent.

Where does God factor into all this?

I left this issue until last because, in my view, many boards that struggle with their pastor don’t consult with God and then do His will … they ask God to bless their decisions and then move full speed ahead.

And that’s why God doesn’t bless them when they move to remove their pastor.  They never asked God what they should do … they told God what they were going to do instead.

Personally, I think much of the time, the board wants to fire the pastor because they aren’t used to praying for him … they’re just used to complaining about him.

But if they really met and prayed for their pastor, do they expect that anything would change?

And if they don’t pray for him, what does that say about them?

 

 

 

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I love the fall.  It’s my favorite time of year.

But I don’t like the last eight days of October.

Because on Saturday, October 24, 2009, at an 8:00 am board meeting, events were set in motion that forced me to leave a church I had loved and served for 10 1/2 years.

In case you’ve stumbled upon this blog for the first time, my name is Jim, and I was a pastor for 36 years.  I’m a graduate of Biola College (now University), Talbot Seminary (now School of Theology), and Fuller Seminary, where I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree in church conflict in 2007.

For many years, I pastored the largest Protestant church in a city of 75,000 people.  We built a new worship center on our small, one-acre campus and successfully reached people who weren’t going to church.

But six years ago this week, I went through a horrendous conflict that ultimately led to my resignation.  I wrote a book about my experience called Church Coup.  The book was published in April 2013 and is on Amazon if you’re interested.

Since that conflict, I’ve written 475 blog posts, most of them on pastoral termination.  And over the past few years, I’ve written a special blog whenever October 24 comes around.  Call it self-therapy.

I feel great liberty in discussing this topic openly because (a) I will never be a pastor again, and (b) I have already lost nearly all of my friends from that church.

This year, I’d like to ask and answer seven questions about my experience in hopes that my story might give greater perspective to the issue of pastoral termination in the wider Christian community.

Why do you think you were pushed out as pastor?

There are multiple answers to this question.

Financially, after two great years, our church had a rough year in 2009.  The shortfall wasn’t anybody’s fault.  We were behind budget all year, but we had plenty of funds in reserve to carry us through.

There was no need to panic.  But some people became overly-anxious, and began to overreact to a situation that nearly every church was experiencing that year.

We also had a church board with the wrong combination of individuals.  They were all good people, but three were new to the board, and everyone was younger than me, so we lacked veteran leadership.  The board member who always had my back moved away, and two other seasoned laymen were on hiatus from the board.

So there wasn’t an experienced, calming influence in the group.  I believe the board interpreted some things I said in the worst possible light, overreacted to the financial shortfall, and chose a course of action designed to rid them of anxiety but that ended up causing great harm to many people, including the board members themselves and half the church staff.

Three Christian leaders later told me that for years, I had been undermined by a prominent ex-leader who had left the church years before.  I knew it was taking place, and could pinpoint those who were being influenced, but without proof, I chose to ignore the behavior.  This ex-leader advised the church board during the conflict, but his counsel backfired.

Then the mob mentality seized the congregation.  There were all kinds of charges thrown at me, and enough people believed them that I couldn’t stay.

I counsel pastors and church leaders about the conflicts in their congregations, and the situation that I experienced ranks in the Top 5 Worst Conflicts I’ve ever heard about.  A former pastor and seminary professor told me, “You’ve been to hell and back.”

I’m still coming back.

What impact has the conflict had on you and your family over the years?

I’ve always done my best to be authentic … to share how I really feel … yet to do so with love and civility.  Although I will continue that practice, I’m doing so with much restraint.

*I wonder why God didn’t protect my wife from being spiritually assaulted.  I watched helplessly as my wife … who has done more good for the cause of Christ than most of my detractors put together … was attacked in a brutal and destructive fashion by the enemy.  She was diagnosed with PTSD and told not to work for one year.  I would gladly have taken bullets for her, but she took them for me instead.

*I wonder why the generous and gracious congregation that I served for years turned into a place of betrayal, false accusations, and character assassination overnight.  The mercy, grace, and love of God vanished from the congregation, as did forgiveness and truth.  People who attended the church after we left told me that the church was never the same after the conflict occurred.

*I wonder why we still find it hard to trust churches as institutions.  Over the past six years, my wife and I have had three church homes (18 months in one church, 18 months in another church, 3 months in a church I served as an interim).  We’ve also spent nearly three of those years looking for a church home.  We’ve probably visited close to 75 churches during that time span (we visited another new church last Sunday) but have felt uncomfortable in most Christian churches.  Will that discomfort ever go away?

*I wonder why we’ve had to suffer so much financially.  When the conflict broke out, our personal finances were pristine, and we owned a house.  We’ve rented six places since then, and my wife and I will have to work well past full retirement age just to survive in the future.

What impact has your book Church Coup had?

When I wrote the book, I wanted to make a contribution to the field of church conflict and pastoral termination and believe that I’ve done that.

The book has sold several more times than the average Christian book, and I’m pleased with the number of reviews I have on Amazon.  However, I’d like to remove the lone one-star review because I don’t think the reviewer read the book at all.

Dr. Archibald Hart from Fuller Seminary told me he would include the book in the reading list for his classes at Fuller.  A colleague from Pennsylvania quoted from my book in his Doctor of Ministry project.  A pastor I’ve never met has recommended the book to church leaders.  It’s a niche book, but those who need it will find it.  (I spoke on the phone yesterday with a church leader who told me that he wished he had found the book sooner so he could have used it during his church’s conflict.)

I once met with a sales rep from a Christian publisher.  He told me that I’d need to shorten the book to 150 pages for it to be stocked in Christian bookstores, but I’m glad I wrote the book I wanted to write … although I wonder why there are more than 20 used copies on Amazon!

Have you heard from any of the people you mention in the book?

Just a handful.  I think that the conflict we endured was so painful that nobody wants to relive it.

*Some of my detractors have read the book but don’t seem to recognize themselves.

*Most people decided on the narrative they wanted to believe years ago, so the book changed few people’s minds.

*If I had published the book six months after I’d left my last church, it might have had a positive impact, but because I waited more than three years, most people had moved on emotionally.

*I had already cut ties with 80% of the people I mentioned in the book, so little that I wrote affected those friendships.  I didn’t write a book and then lose friends; I lost friends and then wrote the book.

Have any of your detractors made contact with you?

No.  There were nine people most responsible for trying to force me out, and not one has ever contacted me directly.  One did relay a message to me indirectly through a friend.

Another detractor was a friend for 22 years.  He had attended my ordination and even signed my certificate.  We have never spoken since he involved himself in trying to undermine me.  I’ve been told on good authority why he tried to push me out but I’ve never revealed that information publicly.  Although his backroom maneuverings temporarily succeeded, scores of people were harmed by his efforts.

In some termination situations, the church board loves the pastor personally, but feel he needs to leave for the church’s benefit.  In other situations, the pastor is doing a good job, but someone on the board despises the pastor personally, and that hatred spreads to others – usually including the church board – which uses “official charges” as a smokescreen for personal hatred.

Six years after the fact, I remain convinced that the attempt to push me out was personal and motivated by revenge.  I did not do anything rising to the level of official termination nor did I deserve how I was treated after 10 1/2 years of faithful service.  While it feels good to say that, I’ve had to endure a myriad of false charges, most surfacing after I left the church … and my guess is that most people who said cruel things had no idea their words would get back to me.

Some people from my former church read this blog when I first came out.  My guess is that almost none of them read it anymore.

I don’t want to hurt people the way they hurt me.  I have a story to tell, and I’m going to do so as often and as long as God uses it.  But I’m not going to mention anybody’s name in public.

In my blog, I usually don’t reveal the names of people whose stories I recount because I don’t want their names to pop up in a search engine.  If anybody really wants me to identify someone, and it’s appropriate, I will do so privately.  For example, a friend recently wrote me and asked for the names of the experts who advised me on when to terminate the pastor of a declining church.  I felt comfortable sharing that information with him because he’s trustworthy, but I’m very careful with names … unless I mention someone that I admire.

What were some of the charges against you?

In consultation with respected church members, I hired a church consultant who came to the church for a weekend.  He interviewed staff, met with the transition team, and attended two public informational meetings.  He later told me that those meetings were among the worst he has ever seen, so he witnessed the destruction firsthand.

He wrote a report stating that my wife and I had a future in ministry and that certain members had acted “extremely and destructively.”

Two Sundays after my wife and I left the church for good, a 9-person team publicly stated that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on our part.

But that just made some people angrier.  They had to win … even if it meant destroying the reputation of their former pastor.

Let me share just one example of a charge that was floating around my last church.

Before that board meeting on October 24, my wife and I had traveled to Eastern Europe on a church-sponsored mission trip, but someone was telling people that we hadn’t paid for our share of expenses.

After the mission part was over, our team flew to London to rest and see the sights for several days.  (Nearly all mission teams do something similar.)

We put all of the charges for our hotel and meals in London on the church credit card.  Then when our team returned home, the charges would be converted from British pounds to American dollars (there’s usually a lag in this process) … the charges would be divided up among various team members … and we’d all reimburse the church for our personal expenses.

This was standard operating procedure whenever a mission team went overseas.

But we didn’t find out the charges for more than a month.  As soon as we found out, we reimbursed the church immediately.

But one of my detractors was running around telling people that we never paid the church back for those charges … implying that we stole money from the church … and God only knows how many people believed that.

Do you see how subtle such accusations can be?

There are other charges floating around in the ether that I’ve heard about that are just as false.  They have caused my wife and me great sorrow over the years.

Here’s what bothers me: the charges were circulating around the church long before I heard about them or had the chance to respond to them.  People were leaking information and trying to impugn my character without ever giving me a chance to respond.  There was no forum made available where I could answer the charges made against me … and this happens in most churches.  It’s one of the least attractive truisms in Christian ministry.

I could never treat anyone else that way, especially a pastor.  Could you?

When the charges began circulating, I needed to know who was making them and exactly what they were saying.  Then I should have been given the chance to respond, and the charges should have been dismissed.

The problem was … and is … that when people are trying to destroy you, they will continually find charges to throw at you until you leave.  And after you leave, they manufacture new charges designed to alleviate their own guilty consciences, to make them believe that their mistreatment of their pastor was justified.

Where do we find this kind of practice in the New Testament?

We don’t.

What have you learned about pastoral termination over the past six years?

I probably had an average amount of conflict over the years in that church as exemplified by the fact that I never seriously considered resigning.  I worked hard to resolve every issue and conflict that came my way.

But then a conflict surfaced … and “ended” … in just 50 days.

Yet during those 50 days, I went through a wide range of experiences – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – so I have both a broad and deep range of firsthand understanding about pastoral termination.

Let me recommend three practices that are biblical and that a church’s leaders must institute whenever a pastor is under attack:

*Whenever a pastor is publicly charged with wrongdoing, he needs to answer his detractors publicly and quickly or people will assume he’s guilty.

I was publicly accused of some charges in two informational meetings 15 days after the conflict surfaced.  I was told by our church consultant (who attended both meetings) that I could not answer any charges made against me, and I promised him that I wouldn’t.  But when I didn’t respond to the charges, some people assumed they were true.

If I had to do it over again, I would have listed the accusations made against me and responded to them in writing after those meetings had concluded.  If people tried to argue with me after that, I probably wouldn’t have responded further.  But when I didn’t say anything at all, I was pronounced “guilty” in many people’s minds.  To many people, silence = guilt.

*Church leaders need to do their best to protect the reputation of their previous pastors. 

Sad to say, there is a stigma in Christian circles concerning pastors who have undergone a forced termination.  Even though it’s 6 1/2 times more likely that a pastor is pushed out because of a faction in the church than his own sinful conduct, the Christian community tends to turn its back on its wounded warriors.

To this day, I’m shocked and disappointed that leaders in my former church allowed my reputation to be trashed during the year after I left.  Some might have answered charges against me privately, but it needed to be done publicly and firmly.  One person in particular allowed the charges to be spread.  May God forgive him.

*An unjust pastoral termination hurts not just the pastor and his family, but can damage a church for years to come. 

Doesn’t David admit in Psalm 32 that he suffered physically and spiritually until he acknowledged his sin to God?  Doesn’t this same principle apply to churches as well?

There were attempts after I left to smooth over what happened, but no one was given the opportunity to repent for their part in assaulting their pastor.  In my opinion, a church can never fully heal until its leaders reveal the truth about what really happened and allow people to confess to wrongdoing.  Until that happens, the memory of that conflict is hidden in its walls … and will assuredly damage its soul.

I realize that some people are going to say, “Methinks he doth protest too much.”  Maybe so.  But I’ve sensed God calling me to be transparent about the events that happened to me so I can help those He brings my way.

If you or a pastor you know is presently under attack, and you could benefit from an understanding ear and some counsel, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and we can either converse via email or set up an appointment on the phone.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  1 Peter 5:10

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My wife and I recently watched a television show where a soldier who had seen combat overseas was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder back home.

The soldier kept reliving an attack upon an enemy compound, leading him to believe, for example, that a routine thunderstorm outside his house was really caused by enemy fire.

I’ve seen these kinds of shows before, but what struck me during this episode was the real source of the soldier’s pain.

After reenacting events, it came out that the soldier was torn up inside because he saw his commanding officer accidentally kill a fellow soldier … and nothing in his training had prepared him for that moment.

He couldn’t comprehend how a leader on his side could take the life of a colleague.

Only when the truth came out was the soldier finally able to start the healing process …. and sleep through the night.

In churches all across our land, pastors and their family members are suffering emotional and spiritual trauma, even to the point where some have been diagnosed with PTSD.

For example, I recently read an article about a pastor’s son in his early teens.  Because this young man couldn’t handle the attacks upon his father any more, he contemplated suicide by standing above a river … and nearly jumping in.

What causes such trauma for pastors and their family members?

It’s not criticism.  Pastors get used to that.

It’s not having people disagree with you.  Pastors automatically factor that into their ministries.

It’s not watching people leave the church.  Pastors know that they need “blessed subtractions” from time-to-time.

No, what causes trauma is when professing Christians – especially Christian leaders – relentlessly assassinate their pastor’s character, seeking to destroy him at all costs … and the congregation lets it happen.

Why is that traumatizing?

Because pastors teach their congregations to love one another … to work out their differences … to treat each other with dignity and respect … and to realize that we’re all made in God’s image.

But when the pastor is treated like he’s a criminal … or evil … or demonic … there is nothing in his theology or his experience he can draw upon to make sense of things.

Pastors cannot fathom how Christians – including church leaders – can act like non-Christians inside God’s holy church.

When I wrote my book Church Coup, I removed the following quotations because of space, but I thought I’d share them with you now:

__________

Dr. Shelley Rambo is professor of theology at Boston University.  In her recent book, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, Dr. Rambo challenges Christian leaders to think about trauma survivors in a theological way.  Citing Dr. Rambo’s work, columnist Anthony Bradley explains:

A traumatic event is not like a death of a loved one or being rejected by a friend.  Instead, it involves activities that were life-threatening, either physically or in one’s perception, creating a sense of unrecognizable fear, utter helplessness, or horror.  Rambo points out that trauma is a wound that ‘remains long after a precipitating event or events are over,’ and it ‘exceeds categories of comprehension’ related to an event.  Trauma is an encounter with death that exceeds the human capacity to take in and process the external world.  In fact, because of trauma, what one knows about the world is shattered.  What is true and safe are ruptured . . . . Life is not the same anymore.  The trauma interprets life for the sufferer.[1]

__________

Did you catch that?  “What one knows about the world is shattered … the trauma interprets life for the sufferer.”

I know pastors who were forced out of their churches who experience similar trauma nearly every day.  They ask me, “When will my suffering end?  When will I be whole enough to serve God again?”

__________

Bradley continues:

Surviving post-trauma is a life of navigating one’s way through a minefield of triggers that remind the sufferer of the traumatic event or events.  Triggers can lead to random bouts of sobbing, irregular and disturbed sleep patterns, outbursts of anger, depression, anxiety, loss of hope, loss of interest in things once loved, thoughts of suicide, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, as well as running away from thoughts, conversations, people, places that might arouse traumatic memory.  Because trauma survivors re-experience the event in ways outside of one’s control, healing is not a matter of believing the right things about God.  Or getting the gospel right.  Time does not heal traumatic wounds.  Traumatic memory is something only God can heal.  The Holy Spirit must empower trauma sufferers to re-imagine their future . . . . Those limping around in life after experiencing trauma need people who love them enough to realize that they may never ‘get over it’ and that their on-going struggle does not represent weak faith.[2]

__________

In our case, my wife was diagnosed with PTSD by a counselor.  My wife and I are familiar with the triggers:

*Christmas and Easter

*visiting a worship center laid out like our former church

*seeing a random comment on Facebook by a one-time opponent

*running across a photo showing the faces of people who betrayed you

*trying to explain for the umpteenth time why you are no longer in church ministry

*reading our situation into a TV show or movie plot

*noticing what David wrote about his enemies in the Psalms

Several months ago, I gave a copy of my book to a family, who passed it on to a family member who had once been a pastor, but was forced out of his church.

His response after reading the book?  “I am glad to learn that I am not alone.”

It’s one of the most common responses I receive from pastors.

People sometimes ask me, “Are you healed now?”

My answer is always the same: I feel much better, but I will probably never fully get over what happened 52 months ago … and I know I am not alone.

Why not?

Because there is nothing so traumatic as knowing that fellow Christians are intentionally shooting to harm you.

May God forgive each one.

[1] Anthony Bradley, “When Trauma Doesn’t Heal,” World Magazine Online, 4 May 2011; available from http://onlineworldmag.com; Internet.

[2] Ibid.

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When I first became a pastor in my late twenties, I was appalled at how many pastors in our district were forced to leave their ministries because they were opposed by a handful of antagonists.

As a rookie pastor, I met on a monthly basis with the district minister and other area pastors for lunch, and whenever I heard about a pastor who was forced to resign, I wanted to know why it happened and how he was faring, especially since I had become friends with some of those pastors.  The dominant impression I received was that each minister resigned because “he had it coming” and that lay leaders reluctantly handed out the treatment he deserved.

For example, one pastor in our district told his congregation in frustration that they “didn’t give a damn” about a certain issue, but because the pastor used the word “damn” in a public meeting (not a church service) some leaders believed that he had disqualified himself from service.  But I wanted to know why he used that language.  When I first entered the district, this pastor took a special interest in me, and if he became so incensed that he used emphatic language inside church walls, then maybe some detractors pushed him over the edge.

Another pastor friend was forced to leave his church because his daughter had been falsely accused of an offense and he resigned to protect her.  (The truth came out sometime later.)

But in district circles, we rarely heard about unhealthy congregations.  Instead, the implication was that if a pastor was forced out of office, you could trace his departure to something he did or said wrong.  The very presence of conflict indicated his guilt.  It’s like saying, “Caiaphas is furious; the Pharisees are incensed; Pilate is anxious; the mob is unruly.  Who is responsible?  It must be the fault of that man hanging on the center cross.”

So early in my career, I learned how district leaders viewed pastors who experienced a forced exit.  The pastor was usually blamed for whatever conflict occurred.  Upon hearing the news that another colleague had resigned, I would call that pastor and ask him why he left, and every man was transparent enough to tell me.

Then I’d ask, “How many other district pastors have called to express their concern?”  The answer was always, “You’re the only one.”  As I recall, in my first several years as a pastor, seven colleagues were forced to leave their churches, and every one told me I was the only minister who called, which broke my heart.  I later did a study of pastors in our district and discovered that out of sixty pastors that had departed, fifty were no longer connected to the denomination.  I felt so strongly about this issue that I wrote an article for our denominational magazine titled “Who Cares for Lost Shepherds?”

Why don’t pastors demonstrate more concern for their colleagues who experience forced exits?

Maybe pastors have enough happening inside their own churches to reach out to peers, or they wouldn’t know what to say to a colleague, or they don’t want to become embroiled in another church’s issues.  But my guess is that most pastors don’t want to associate with anyone they perceive as a loser.

If you’re forced out of a church, the perception is that you must be incompetent, immoral, or ignorant of church politics.  There is something wrong with you, not the church, and if you were smarter, you wouldn’t have such problems.

For example, I recently heard a seminary professor refer to a leadership structure he utilized when he was a pastor, stating that he never really had a major conflict with a congregation over two decades of ministry.  Translation: If you handled matters my way, you wouldn’t have any conflict.

But this sentiment seems arrogant to me.

Jesus wasn’t crucified because he was unhealthy but because the political and religious leaders of his day were spiritually rebellious.

Paul wasn’t chased out of European cities because anything was wrong with him but because his hearers were hostile toward the gospel.  (Were all Paul’s problems with the churches in Corinth and Galatia his fault?  Doesn’t he usually place the responsibility for church troubles at the feet of the whole church rather than single out certain leaders?)

It’s popular to say, “If the team isn’t winning, fire the coach,” but some pastors have led their churches to growth and yet are forced to leave because the powerbrokers feel less significant as the church expands.

While a small percentage of pastors deserve termination, the great majority who are involuntarily sacked have done nothing worthy of banishment.  [David] Goetz recommends that denominations keep better records of forced exits to identify repeat-offender churches and suggests that denominations discipline churches that slander or abuse their pastors.

__________

This is an excerpt from my book Church Coup which was published a year ago by Xulon Press.  The book describes a real-life conflict that happened nearly five years ago in my last church ministry.

I wrote the book to describe how a major conflict feels from the pastor’s side and to suggest a multitude of ways that such conflicts can be avoided.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can buy a hard copy or download the e-book from Amazon.com.  Just click on the picture.

http://www.amazon.com/Church-Coup-Jim-Meyer-ebook/dp/B00C3G9EQA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397165832&sr=1-1&keywords=church+coup

Thanks for reading!

 

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Tomorrow is Halloween.  I loved Halloween as a kid.  I don’t love it anymore.

Why not?  As I described in my book Church Coup, events occurred on Halloween four years ago that changed the way I view the day forever.

Simply put, in the midst of a church conflict, my family was spiritually attacked on October 31.  I witnessed the attack, along with several others.  It was frightening … custom-designed … and very, very real.

The intent?  To destroy my family and my ministry.

In the book, I chose not to reveal the details of the attack which did not originate from humans, but from the enemy of our souls.

Satan is real.  He hates God the Father …  Jesus Christ … Jesus’ church and followers … and even you.  If the devil and his hordes cannot keep a person from following Jesus, they will seek to neutralize or even eliminate that believer’s impact so that Christ’s kingdom cannot advance through them.

If you’re courageous enough to keep reading, let me share a story that I left out of my book.

__________

Kim and I had seen Satan at work in Silicon Valley nearly twenty years before.  Santa Clara County has a much larger array of agnostics and atheists than almost anywhere in the United States, so it’s a spiritually resistant area.  We were launching a new church in a warehouse located at a busy intersection when our family suddenly began to receive obscene phone calls at home.  An anonymous caller continually left menacing messages taken from a Three Stooges short or a movie.

One time, the caller left a message taken from the soundtrack to the film The Poseidon Adventure.  Gene Hackman plays a minister trying to lead survivors out of a large ship that had capsized.  Ernest Borgnine’s character says to him at one point, “I’ve had just about enough out of you, preacher.”  That very quotation from the lips of Borgnine’s character was left on our machine!  When I consulted with Dr. Ed Murphy, a worldwide expert in spiritual warfare, he surmised that someone had put a curse on our church.

Dr. Murphy writes about this issue in The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare:

“Cursing is not used in the Old Testament with the Western idea of swearing or speaking dirty words.  Cursing in the Old Testament is a power concept meant to release negative spiritual power against the object, person, or place being cursed.  This is true even when God does the cursing.  In fact, most curse expressions in Scripture refer to God’s action or the action of His servants in accordance with His will.  It is God releasing His power or judgment.  That is why I call it negative spirit power even when activated by God.”[1]

Dr. Murphy continues:

“Many believers have been victims of the curses of the Enemy pronounced by the Enemy’s power workers…. Such curses, to be most powerful, are ‘worked up’ by invocations to the spirits and satanic magic.  They are overcome only by the greater power of God.  Sometimes God does not automatically overcome those curses on our behalf, however.  We are to learn the world of spirit power curses and break them ourselves.  Thus the importance of group spiritual warfare praying.”[2]

After our grand opening, our church quickly became the second largest Protestant church in our city, but we constantly sensed there were strong spiritual forces working against us.  When our warehouse church found itself between leases, the owner forced us to move out, and in the process, we lost one-third of our attendees overnight.  It was only then that I discovered that some illicit activities had been occurring at the intersection where our church was located.  The massage parlor diagonally across the intersection from us was the scene of a host of immoral sexual activity, and our immediate area had become a haven for drug dealers.  When our church moved into that warehouse, we were invading Satan’s territory.  No wonder he fought us so hard the whole time we were there!

Our church moved to a high school five miles away and I eventually scheduled a series of messages on controversial issues.  The night before I was scheduled to speak on A Christian View of Homosexuality, all hell broke loose in our home and church.  Without going into detail, the spiritual warfare I experienced before I gave that message was so real that I could almost smell sulfur – and I did give the message.  But I was so attacked the night before that I felt compelled to write a resignation letter because I sensed that my wife and I had become special targets of Satan.  While I never submitted the letter to the board, I resigned a few months later because, for the first and only time in our lives, our marriage had become severely strained due to events at church.

__________

There are several more stories in the book that discuss the spiritual warfare that new church experienced.  It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  While I’ve sensed the influence of Satan at various junctures during my 36-year church career, the occasions I’ve just described represent the two worst attacks I’ve experienced.  Satan and his minions tend to leave pastors and churches alone when the mission is muddled, few people are converted, and the church fails to make inroads into the community.  But when a church penetrates the spiritual Red Zone – to use a football analogy – the evil one begins to target the quarterback (pastor) with blitzes and cheap shots designed to knock him out of the game … all the more reason why the quarterback needs a skilled and determined line to protect him.

This is a good time of year to remember that while Satan is real and powerful … our God is more powerful still.

Jesus gave Paul a mission in Acts 26:17-18.  It’s ours as well: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

Our Lord and Savior told Paul that Satan is real … that he has power … that he wants people to remain in spiritual darkness … that he wants people to wallow in an unforgiven state … but that he has already been defeated at the cross.

But we cannot defeat Satan by fighting each other.  Fellow believers are not the enemy.  The enemy is the enemy.

Let’s unite together and fight him instead.


      [1] Dr. Ed Murphy, Handbook of Spiritual Warfare (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 442.

      [2] Ibid, 444.

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