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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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Of making many books there is no end … Ecclesiastes 12:13

Several years ago, a few days after leaving my last pastoral ministry, I spoke on the phone with a Christian attorney who was assisting me with some documentation.

During our conversation, I mentioned to him that I planned to write a book about the events surrounding my departure from the church.

He offered one short phrase in counsel: “Just make sure you tell the truth.”

With my recently-published book Church Coup, I did my best to tell the truth from my perspective.

Let me ask and answer three questions about the writing of the book:

1.  How did people react when you told them you were writing a book?

I received so many different reactions:

*Skepticism.  Most of us have a hard time believing that anyone we know would become a published author, so some people said, “That’s nice” or “Send me a copy when you’re done” – but they weren’t sure I’d ever finish.

However, because anyone can self-publish nowadays, that book can be published … you just have to pay for the privilege.

*Discouragement.  One Christian leader – whom I greatly admire – told me candidly that if I wrote a book on the forced termination of pastors, it wouldn’t sell.

To verify that, a Christian literary agent told me that a major Christian publisher turned down an offer by a bestselling Christian author to write a similar book years ago.  He also told me my book was too long.  (So I cut it from 450 pages to 290.)

*Competitiveness.  I told one Christian leader that I was writing a book … and he proceeded to tell me about a book he had written that sells 5,000 copies every year.

I liked the attitude of another leader better.  When I told him about my book, he told me about a book he had written about an issue in his family … and offered to give me one from the trunk of his car.

*Encouragement.  One Sunday morning at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Arizona, my wife and I stopped after the service to chat with Dr. Mark Moore, who had just become the church’s teaching pastor.  When I told Dr. Moore about the book, he asked me to send him a copy when it was finished.  I felt inspired after talking with him.

But the greatest encouragement I’ve received came ten years ago from Dr. Archibald Hart from Fuller Seminary – one of my very few Christian heroes.  (I keep a framed copy of the comments he made on the post-seminar paper I submitted for his class.)  When I wrote in that paper that I felt compelled by God to write, he jotted down, “I’ll be praying that God will not release you from these commitments!”

What’s interesting to me is that many people from my previous church knew that I was writing a book – I announced it repeatedly for months  and even released a few excerpts on this blog – but no one ever asked me not to write anything.

2.  Why did you write on the forced termination of pastors?

*Because I felt compelled by God to write it.  Paul spent three years in the Arabian desert (Galatians 1:17-18).  I’m not sure what he did there or how he lived, but God used that time to prepare Paul for greater ministry.

In the same way, Church Coup was written almost exclusively in several desert locations.  The Lord gave me time to pray, reflect, and work in relative solitude.  I could not have written any book if I was still pastoring.

*Because I wanted to bring meaning to my father’s death.  There is a sense in which a particular church killed my father, who resigned his position as pastor in June 1965.  He died on February 9, 1967 – more than 46 years ago – after several months of suffering from pancreatic cancer.  He went through such a horrendous conflict in that church for two years that I believe the stress compromised his immune system.

My wife never met her father-in-law.  My kids never met their grandfather.  My sister barely remembers her own dad.  But I will never forget him … and I want what happened to him to help others, which is why Chapter 12 begins with his story.

*Because I’ve cared deeply about the forced termination of pastors for decades.  35 years ago, I served as youth pastor in a church in SoCal that voted their pastor out of office.  Although I was not integrally involved in the conflict, I was lobbied by both sides, and I watched in disbelief as Christians acted like the world they were supposedly trying to convert.

Since then, I’ve collected books on the topic, spent countless hours discussing the problem with pastoral colleagues (and anyone who would listen), and thought long and hard about how pastor-board/congregation impasses should be handled.  In fact, 25 years ago, a Christian attorney and I began writing an article on how these situations could be addressed in an optimal way.  While I still have the article, we never published it.

*Because I did my doctoral work on church antagonism.  I had already read scores of books and articles for my dissertation, so why not build on what I had already done?

*Because I wanted to give meaning to a conflict I experienced firsthand.  With my background and passion for the issue of forced termination, how could I not write about it when I went through the experience myself?  Through the years, God has uniquely prepared me to write about this single issue.  If I died today, at least I’ve left behind something that might help Christian leaders and churches in the future.

I’ve asked myself, “What have I learned by going through this crisis?  How can I help other pastors, governing leaders, and congregations?  How can we handle these tragedies in a more biblical manner?”

3.  What kind of reactions do you hope the book inspires?

Some people have already read the book and shared with me their feelings of anger, sadness, empathy, and horror.  I dare not try and program people’s responses, but my prayer is that readers might sense:

*Humility.  During a conflict, it’s okay to disagree with others.  It’s okay to hold firmly to a position.  But too many people in a conflict quickly demonize those who disagree with them … and that attitude leads to destruction.

Humility means there’s a possibility that I’m wrong … or that I may have exaggerated wrongdoing in others … or that I may have overreacted to protect my image or my feelings.

And more than anything, humility may mean that I need to break from the party line and admit, “I crossed some spiritual and moral lines during this conflict.  Please forgive me.”

I pray that all of us – including me – can say to the Lord, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

*Change.  In the book, I try and challenge some of the conventional wisdom about conflicts in churches when it doesn’t square with Scripture.

The old paradigm said that if a few people charged a pastor with wrongdoing – especially members of the church board – then the pastor should automatically resign to keep the church united.

But then I read that Jesus was accused of wrongdoing all the time, but He didn’t resign as Messiah.  And Paul was incessantly criticized by the church in Corinth, but he kept on serving faithfully.

In fact, while reading the Bible, I discovered that Moses, Jesus and Paul constantly responded to their critics and stayed in their positions rather than walking away from God’s call.

Of course, there is a time when a pastor should leave a church – and it’s not always when the pastor wants to go.  But if and when that ever happens, it must be handled in a Christian manner – with grace, truth, humility – and especially redemption.

And when people attempt to push out their pastor, they may not be doing the work of God.

*Wisdom.  I subtitled the book A Cautionary Tale so that the reader can learn from both the wise and foolish decisions that were made during the conflict.  And I quoted multiple times from the best congregational conflict experts possible.  Since there’s little in print on the issue of forced termination, I wanted to make a small contribution to the literature on the subject.

I’ve preached hundreds of sermons, many of them on cassettes that I’ve stuffed into boxes in my garage.  Nobody has ever asked to listen to even one of them.

But maybe through this book, the church of Jesus Christ can make some small headway in combatting this plague of forced termination in our churches.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  Romans 14:19

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Here is the second half of the introduction to my recently-published book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict.  I sign all the books that are ordered from my website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org   You can also purchase the book from Amazon and other retailers.

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While there are fascinating studies on the forced termination of pastors, Christians need to hear more stories about this tragedy that happens behind closed doors.  Yet pastors are afraid that if they tell their stories publicly, they will look foolish, rehearse their pain, sully their reputations, and damage their chances for future employment. So except for rare forays into the light, the involuntary dismissal of hundreds of pastors every month has escaped the notice of most Christians.  Because most books on conflict are aimed at pastors and church leaders, my hope is to enlighten and empower lay people as well to ensure that conflicts involving pastors or staffers are handled in a just, deliberate, and biblical manner.

I may be violating some unwritten rule that says, “What happens in church stays in church.”  Wouldn’t it be better for our careers and mental health if my wife and I refused to look back, learned from our mistakes, kept our mouths shut, and advanced full-speed ahead?  But I believe it’s a greater evil to remain silent.  What kind of a New Testament would we have if Paul had been mute about the problems in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Crete?  We have learned so much from those churches and their blunders.

Part of me wants to travel back in time and prevent my father’s forced exit.  If I could help him with that situation, would he still be alive today?  Although that notion may be unrealistic, I have sensed God calling me for years to do something to limit (and even eliminate) the unchristian practices that are inherent in forcing an innocent pastor to leave a church.  Wouldn’t it advance the kingdom to prevent this tragedy from happening to other pastors and churches?

Let’s acknowledge that troubled pastors do exist. Some have character disorders or a narcissistic bent.  Others are control freaks.  A few are lazy.  Some can even be tyrants.  There are pastors who should be terminated – and even leave pastoral ministry altogether.  But Alan Klaas, who investigated the causes of pastoral ousters in different Christian denominations, concluded that in 45 percent of the cases, a minority faction caused the pastor to leave, while “only seven percent of the time was the cause the personal misconduct of the minister.”[iii]

I have written this book with three purposes in mind.  First, I want to share my side of a conflict as forthrightly as I can.  Several weeks after the conflict surfaced, I sat in two public meetings and did not respond to any of the charges leveled against me.  Three years later, I am able to articulate my responses with greater perspective.  Others have differing views as to what happened, and that’s fine.  This is not the final version of what happened in 2009, but my version as I experienced it.  While the conflict occurred, I took careful notes, generated and received scores of emails, interacted with key players, and interviewed congregational experts.

Next, I want to seek redemption for what we’ve experienced.  Rick Warren says that our greatest ministries emerge from our greatest sufferings:

“God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others . . . . The very experiences that you have resented or regretted most in life – the ones you’ve wanted to hide and forget – are the experiences God wants to use to help others.  They are your ministry!  For God to use your painful experiences, you must be willing to share them.  You have to stop covering them up, and you must honestly admit your faults, failures, and fears.  Doing this will probably be your most effective ministry.”[iv]

While my wife and I are unimportant in the larger Christian community, maybe our willingness to share honestly about a painful experience will turn out to be our “most effective ministry.”

Finally, I want to prevent these kinds of conflicts from happening altogether.  My prayer is that by reducing the fifty-day conflict to slow motion, God’s people will be able to identify key junctures and learn from both the wise – and foolish – decisions that were made.  I also pray that believers will institute safeguards so that a similar conflict won’t invade their churches.

It is not my intent to seek revenge on those who hurt us.  Although it took time, my wife and I have forgiven them and wish them God’s best in the days ahead.  But for this story to help others, it must be reported with authenticity and emotion.  My goal is to let believers know how quickly a conflict can spiral out of control and to recommend ways to handle matters that go against our feelings but are consistent with Scripture.

Because I come from a tradition where mostly men are considered for ordination, I will use terms that reflect that reality, although I greatly value the contributions women make in ministry.

Except for members of my immediate family, I have used aliases throughout this book to protect the identity of the individuals involved. I have also avoided naming my former community or church – but all the events related in this story are real to my knowledge.

May God use this book to help his people treat pastors and staff members with greater dignity and respect so they can serve him passionately and productively until Christ returns.

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Over the course of many months, I’ve posted a few excerpts on the blog from my new book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict.

Since the book has now been published, I thought I’d post a few more excerpts.  The following is from the book’s introduction (with the formatting altered).

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Did you know that hundreds of pastors are forced to leave their churches every month?

Christians rightly lament the persecution of believers worldwide, but they are being terrorized by secular authorities or religious extremists.  But in far too many cases, pastors and their families are being mistreated in local assemblies by their spiritual brothers and sisters – and the toll keeps escalating.

If a group in a church attacks their pastor and he is forced to resign, the consequences are tragic for everyone involved. The pastor may leave church ministry for good. That church’s reputation will be sullied.  Some believers will flee their church.  Friendships will end.  Outreach will stop cold.  And the evil one will dance.  I’ve seen it all my life.

When I was a boy, my father felt pressured to resign as pastor from a church he founded, even though he was innocent of any major offense.  He died twenty months later at age thirty-eight, leaving behind a homemaker wife who didn’t drive, two sons (ages thirteen and ten), and a five-year-old daughter who has only vague recollections of the father she lost.

During the ensuing years, the pastors of the churches I attended were subjected to similar pressures.  In my early teens, one pastor abruptly resigned in the middle of a church meeting.  My next pastor was forced to resign after five years of ministry.  In my second staff position, the pastor was voted out of office in another contentious public meeting.  And in my next staff position, the pastor was verbally threatened until he lost the will to serve.

When I became a rookie pastor, I learned that my predecessor had been forced from office after just one year of ministry.  When our church merged with a sister church two years later, the other church’s pastor was forced to leave.  Five years after the merger, a disgruntled churchgoer formed an alliance with a faction inside that church and pressured me to resign – but the board stood by me and that group left to form their own church nearby.

The next decade went so well that I hoped that I’d finally outlasted any ecclesiastical opponents. And after becoming the pastor of an impactful church entering the millennium, I entered the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary and wrote my dissertation on dealing with church antagonists using a biblical model informed by family systems theory. After studying how powerbrokers operate in a church, I thought I had finally come to a place where peace and understanding reigned.  But sadly, I was mistaken.

In the autumn of 2009, after my wife and I returned from a mission trip to Eastern Europe, our church’s governing leaders stunned us by making drastic decisions.  Seven weeks later, I resigned as pastor because too many people believed a litany of false allegations.  We were not guilty of heresies, immoralities, illegalities, or any major offenses.  While we both had made minor mistakes in our ministries, we were treated like we had committed ecclesiastical felonies.

As I have related our story to family, friends, and colleagues, I have learned how frequently this kind of situation is replicated in local churches.  While there are unique features to our story, the template for forcing pastors from their positions has remained the same for decades, if not centuries.  Forced exits have become so common in American churches that Rediger writes:

“Abuse of pastors by congregations and the breakdown of pastors due to inadequate support are now tragic realities. This worst-case scenario for the church, one that is increasing in epidemic proportions, is not a misinterpretation by a few discontented clergy.  Rather, it is a phenomenon that is verified by both research and experience.”[i]

Guy Greenfield, who was forced out of his position as pastor in his early sixties, comments:

“This problem is a growing phenomenon. Numerous publications of observations and research indicate that it is in fact a major problem approaching crisis proportions.  Talk to any group of ministers, and you will hear stories of tragedy and heartache. In recent years I have interviewed a considerable number of former ministers, now in secular work, and nearly everyone I talked with told me a similar story that resulted in forced termination. Many of them are now cynical, bitter, angry, and discouraged. Most tell me they will never return to a full-time paid church position.  Their wounds continue to be painful.”[ii]

While pastors have always faced the possibility of forced termination, the problem has been growing steadily worse, which is why wounded pastors are flocking to specialized ministries that offer professional assessments, intensive counseling, and peaceful retreats.

For the past three years, my wife and I have been living hundreds of miles from the church we once joyfully served.  We’ve asked ourselves, “How did we get here?  Why did we lose so many friends so quickly?  What did we do to contribute to our exile?”  What’s ironic is that I possess a good-sized library on managing and resolving church conflict, and I think I understand the field fairly well.  Yet part of me continues to engage in self-reproach because I didn’t see the conflict coming – and neither did our church family.  The whole experience still seems surreal.

___________________

I’ll share the other half of the introduction next time.  If you’d like to purchase the book, you can obtain a signed copy from my website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org or you can spend a little less and secure the paperback or e-book at Amazon’s website at http://www.amazon.com/Church-Coup-Jim-Meyer/dp/1624199321/ref=dp_wl_cart1?ie=UTF8&colid=EWNKS64TGXCT&coliid=IN8XJYN9467QW

Thank you!


[i] G. Lloyd Rediger, Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations under Attack (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 1.

[ii] Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 15.

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