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While sweeping the kitchen floor yesterday, it came to me that I’ve been in a really good place emotionally for the past several years.

After serving as a pastor for 36 years, I was forced out of my last congregation in the fall of 2009.  Of the scores of stories I’ve heard about pastors being terminated since my departure, mine still ranks among the top three worst stories I’ve ever heard.

Despite ten-and-a-half years of successful ministry, my wife and I were abused … slandered … hated … and shunned, especially during our last few weeks at the church and in the months following.

And yet today, I feel completely healed, to the point that I don’t think about those events much anymore.

What kind of stages does a terminated pastor go through to experience recovery?

Let me offer six stages … three today, three next week … and these ideas are mine alone:

Stage 1: Shock

As recounted in my book Church Coup, my fifty-day conflict began on a Saturday morning with a regularly scheduled board meeting.  The board and I were supposed to finalize the church budget for 2010 … only the board made an announcement ultimately designed to push me out of my position.

I was shocked that:

*the board had been plotting while I was overseas.

*two board members who had been supporters were involved.

*the board didn’t hear my side of the story before making drastic decisions.

*they thought they could lead the church better than I could.

*they acted like they knew what they were doing when they really didn’t.

My disbelief continued when I asked the board for documentation of the offenses they claimed had been committed … but they never produced anything coherent.

I thought I knew the six members of the board pretty well, but I was dismayed to discover I didn’t.

And I was especially shocked because I didn’t see the conflict coming.

But most of all, I found it hard to believe that Christian leaders would treat their pastor of more than a decade in such an unjust fashion.

What do I mean by “unjust?”

A pastor is treated unjustly when church leaders violate Scripture … the church’s governing documents … and labor law in their attempts to force him out of office … and when they do it all with a cold, calloused attitude lacking in compassion.

When I talk with pastors who have been forced to leave their churches, they resonate best with that last statement: that they would be treated so unjustly by professing Christians.

The shock lingers on … for months … sometimes years.

The more sensitive you are, the longer it lasts.

You never forget the moment you’re told that someone you loved suddenly died.

And you never forget the exact time a board member tells you, “Your tenure as the pastor of this church is over.”

Stage 2: Searching

After the shock wore off a little, I had two primary questions I needed answers to:

*Who was in on this plot?

*What are they saying that I did wrong?

I wanted to know the “who” before I discovered the “what” because most of the time, the “who” determines the “what.”

For example, if you told two women, “Jim did this … can you believe it?”, one woman might say, “That’s terrible!” and the other woman might say, “That’s nothing!”

It’s often how people interpret the information they’re given that determines whether they oppose or support their pastor.

So who wanted me gone?

I pretty much knew the answer to that question:

*people who wanted our church to have closer denominational ties.

*a handful of individuals I wouldn’t let into church leadership because they didn’t meet the biblical qualifications.

*people who had close ties with my predecessor and longed for his return, even though he had officially retired nine years beforehand.

*a small contingent who didn’t think my wife should be a staff member, even though she made the church go.  (I maintain to this day that some women were jealous of her success and hated her because of it.)

*people who didn’t like the church’s longstanding outreach orientation and wanted to pare down the church so they could better control it.

In a few cases, some people fit all five categories.

Some people weren’t comfortable with the church’s size anymore because they became small fish in a larger pond.  They felt more significant years before … and wanted to feel that way again.

What did they say I did wrong?

There are two sets of answers to this question … what they said while I was still at the church and what they said after I left.

While I was still at the church, the main issue was that my wife was on the church staff … and seemed to have too much influence.

And after that infamous board meeting I mentioned above, I was accused of deviating from the way the board wanted the conflict handled.

What did they want?

My wife’s resignation, followed by my own.  (And I’m convinced the board would not have offered me any kind of reasonable separation package.)

But neither one of us was going to leave voluntarily until the board made their case to our faces.

Two board members met with my wife … at my request … but they failed to convince her to resign.

And they never accused me of doing anything wrong to my face … only behind my back.

Months after I left, I was told that a small group in the church wanted to remove me from office, but they knew they couldn’t win the required vote so they decided to attack my wife instead.

That’s valuable information to have.  It’s hard enough for a pastor to leave a church under pressure … but if you don’t know why you were pushed out, you’ll spend months … if not years … blaming yourself when you don’t know the truth.

And then after I left, I was accused of all kinds of wrongdoing.  You name it, I supposedly did it.

For example, several people of influence claimed that when we built our new worship center, we should have paid for the whole thing in cash.

That would have been nice, but that wasn’t the position of the church board at the time.

Even though we raised more than half the funds, the church voted unanimously to take out a reasonable mortgage for the remaining balance.

And when I was pastor, we had plenty of people and plenty of income to pay that mortgage.

The company that loaned the church the money wanted to make sure that I had no plans to leave the church … that I was going to stay and keep the church stable.

I gave my word that I would stay … but after I was forced out, attendance and giving eventually went down … and from what I understand, the church had some challenges paying that monthly mortgage.

And some claimed that was 100% my fault.

But to this day, nobody has ever convinced me that I did anything worthy of leaving.

If anything, people’s false accusations were designed to make themselves feel better, even though they railroaded an innocent pastor.

Faultless?  No.  Flawed?  Yes.

But guilty?  No.

This stage … trying to figure out who opposed you and why … is so painful that many pastors never work through it.

It’s like being married for years to someone, and then they want you to leave the house … without any explanation.

For me, I wanted to know the truth, painful as it might be, so that I could heal.

Stage 3: Panic

There are two primary kinds of panic after a pastor has been terminated:

*Emotional panic

*Economic panic

Emotionally, you feel rejected.  Months or years before, the congregation voted you into office, and people were glad you came.

But now some … or many … are equally glad you’re gone.

When a pastor is pushed out of a church, there is usually betrayal involved … and nothing hurts more than that.

Someone you worked with … someone you trusted … someone you socialized with and prayed with … suddenly switched sides and joined forces with those who wanted to take you out … and you didn’t know when or why they flipped.

It could be the board chairman … the associate pastor … the church treasurer … or the head of men’s ministry.

Eleven of His disciples stuck with Jesus in the Garden.  Only Judas switched sides.

But how that must have devastated Jesus!

When I was a kid, I betrayed a friend, and couldn’t believe what I had done.  From that moment on, I determined that if someone was really my friend, I would stay loyal to them no matter what … and that included the five lead pastors I served under.

So to this day, I can’t understand why betrayal came so easily to some adults.

Why did they have to hold secret meetings?  Why didn’t they speak with me face to face?

Economically, a pastor depends upon the donations from people inside his church … and when he’s forced out of office, those donations disappear.

If a pastor is given enough severance … a minimum of six months … then he can methodically put together a plan to rebuild his life.

But if he’s only given three months … or less … the combination of emotional rejection and economic deprivation can cause him unbearable stress.

If the pastor has sufficient savings … if his wife has a job with a solid income … if he has skills that he can quickly use in the marketplace … his panic will lessen.

But most pastors are living paycheck to paycheck, and if they’re given a token severance … or none at all … they feel as if they’re in real trouble.

Why do terminated pastors feel such panic?

Because they trained and studied for years … went through the ordination process … sacrificed financially … gave their all to their congregation, trusting that they would care for their pastor … and then found themselves kicked to the curb.

My wife and I now run a business where we invoice our clients every month.  We provide a service, and they pay us for that service.  And when our clients fall behind on their payments, we remind them of their obligations.

But to have your income depend completely upon donations, as I did for 36 years … it takes great faith to believe that God will take care of you through His people.

And when it all turns south, it can cause even the best of pastors to become alarmed.

I will share the next three stages next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back in the 1990s, I read a little sidebar in Leadership Journal written by Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  I recounted this story often over the ensuing years.

Hybels wrote that he briefly visited the church campus for a rehearsal one week night.  The next morning, he received a note in his box from a church groundskeeper.  The note said, “Bill, when you visited last night, you parked in an area that’s off limits to everyone.  Just wanted you to know.”

Instead of lashing out at him, Hybels commended his corrector and told his Leadership audience, “I need to be an example, not an exception.”

And for decades, Pastor Bill from Willow has been an example of Christian leadership … until the recent revelations that may indicate inappropriate conduct on his part toward at least seven women.

There’s much we don’t know about what happened between Hybels and the women who have gone public with their concerns.  Maybe more revelations will surface in the coming days.  And I must confess … it’s difficult to analyze this situation from a distance.  But many people I know have been talking about it … with strong reactions on all sides … and I’ve learned a lot by listening to their observations.

I have no inside or additional information … just my own perspective about this situation.

Willow Creek June 14-15, 2005 006(I’m adding a few photos I took from Willow in 2005 to break up this article.)

Let me pose and attempt to answer four questions about the Willow “train wreck”:

First, what do you think about the accounts of impropriety from various women?

At first, like many people, I didn’t want to believe the charges against Hybels.  We don’t have any video of Hybels’ individual encounters with these women, so they initially fall into a “he said, she said” category.  But when seven women share their stories, and patterns emerge from their narratives, the similarities are most likely true.

*The accounts told by various women go back as far as the mid-1980s through at least 2011, so Hybels can’t claim they all happened when he was younger (and didn’t know the boundaries) nor when he was older (and his judgment was worn down).  The accounts spread over nearly three decades seem to indicate a pattern of behavior.

*The accounts are too detailed and concrete to be dismissed as a conspiracy.  What dismays many of us is that the allegations don’t sound like the Hybels that thousands of us respected.  I have a friend whose wife was in Hybels’ youth group and she says he never would have acted like these women claim he did.  Did something change over the years?

*I can’t wrap my head around why Hybels liked to tell select women how attractive or sexy they were, but Willow’s leaders have had a track record of focusing on the outward appearance of their public leaders.

Twenty-five years ago this month, someone who used to attend Willow hired one of Hybels’ former top leaders to serve as a consultant for our new church.  One of the consultant’s recommendations was to keep those who weren’t “in shape” off the stage, especially if they were singing or acting in a drama.  When I unwisely tried to implement this “Willow value,” a good couple immediately left the church, and I alienated one of the elders as well as some others … and I’ve regretted it ever since.

Maureen Girkins, former publisher from Zondervan, says Hybels told her that “she’d be more successful if she tried to be sexier.”  A Christian leader might think that, but to say it aloud?

*Several women mentioned that Hybels told them how unhappy he was at home.  Many of us in ministry know that the pathway to an affair starts with both the pastor and another woman sharing their marital unhappiness with each other.  It’s dangerous territory.  Why did Hybels, of all people, take that risk?

I attended the first International Conference at Willow in June 1994.  Hybels met with a group of pastors one afternoon and told us that he was in counseling for some “junk” from his past and that he and his wife were in counseling as well.  He was very transparent about his problems even though he and Lynne had written their marriage book Fit to be Tied the previous year.

I think it’s safe to say that this ministry couple had ongoing struggles in their relationship, although that’s not uncommon.

*As Christianity Today noted, “Hybels pressured women into spending time alone with him.”  This sounds like more than mentoring.  He comes off as a man who needed a friend, someone who could understand him.  I’m not trying to minimize his actions … just trying to figure out what he was after.  Was he looking for a listening ear or a wifely upgrade?

*Was anyone else disturbed by several accounts of staffers telling various women that they were “Hybels’ type?”  When a Christian leader gets married, shouldn’t his wife be “his type” from that moment on?  If this detail is true, it sounds like something that would happen in middle school, not in one of the nation’s largest churches.

Hybels wrote books with the following titles, among many others: Christians in a Sex-Crazed Culture; Honest to God?; Descending Into Greatness; and Character: Who You Are When No One’s Looking.  Right now, those titles look a bit ironic.

Willow Creek June 14-15, 2005 007

Second, if these accounts sound plausible, why did Hybels vehemently deny them all?

I can only guess.

Bill Hybels is the most transparent and vulnerable pastor that I’ve ever heard.  At the large-group gathering of pastors at the 1994 Conference, someone asked Hybels how he could be so transparent.  His answer?  He said something like, “It takes too much energy to hide things.”  While I enjoyed the creativity of Willow’s services … their core value of “people matter to God” … and the excellence with which they did everything … I was most impressed with the leadership’s authenticity, which sprang from their senior pastor.

So if Hybels was guilty of any of the infractions presented by these women, I would have expected him to confess, “I did say that … I didn’t do that … I may have done that.”

But that’s not what he did.  Instead, he initially issued a blanket denial, both to his congregation (including an online video) and to the Chicago Tribune, where he said:

“I want to speak to all the people around the country that have been misled … for the past four years and tell them in my voice, in as strong a voice as you’ll allow me to tell it, that the charges against me are false. There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.”

Why the initial denials?

*Is is possible there is a “megachurch morality?”  Let me share what happened to me eight years ago.

Seven months after I left my last ministry, I was still pretty raw emotionally.  A friend set up a meeting between me and a megachurch pastor.  We spent an hour in his office together.

At one point, the pastor told me a story … which I have since forgotten … but he then told me, “If you share this story with anybody else, and it gets back to me, I will deny it.”

I didn’t forget that statement.

That’s not the kind of thing a pastor with integrity would say.  He was telling me, “If what I’ve just shared resurfaces, I will tell a lie.”  It just rolled off his tongue like it was no big deal.

Is it possible that some megachurch pastors have a “I will protect my reputation and that of my church” at all costs mentality … even if it means lying?  Is this how they stay in power?

I admit this question is based on one incident … but it makes me wonder.

One of my mentors … a man I respect as much as anyone … recently told me that the entitled and privileged in the evangelical world constitute “one sicko sick system.”  I lack his knowledge of what happens on the inside of a very large church, so I’m unsure what to think.

*Is it possible that Willow had a “buddy culture?”  Jodi Walle was John Ortberg’s executive assistant at Willow for seven years.  She writes in this piece on her website (www.jodiwalle.com), “There was probably a naïve ‘buddy’ culture that didn’t place enough emphasis on male vs female.  It shows that Bill was possibly more relaxed and felt too comfortable with women …”

Yes, some of the accusations might have occurred in the context of a “buddy” culture, and Walle wrote her piece before the April 21 revelations from Christianity Today.  But Zondervan publisher Maureen Girkins certainly wasn’t part of that culture.

But the women must have been equally relaxed with Hybels to run with him alone or to visit his hotel room when summoned.  Yes, he held a degree of power over some of them, but didn’t they think twice about such arrangements?  What was wrong with saying, “I’m not comfortable doing this or being here?”

*If Hybels had admitted publicly to any kind of wrongdoing, how would his confession(s) have been received?

Let’s go back to when Hybels’ accusers first went public.  If Hybels had said at that time, “Look, I didn’t use my best judgment in these situations, and I want to apologize to these women personally, and if necessary, in the presence of the elders.”

What would have happened?

I don’t know.  My hope is that upon hearing Hybels’ confession, each woman would have forgiven him completely, and that would have settled the matter.

But what if Hybels and/or the elders feared that if he admitted any wrongdoing … no matter how small … there would have been calls for his termination or resignation?

If Hybels had admitted some degree of culpability … and it somehow became public … he had no way of knowing what the aftermath of his admission might be.  What if someone refused to forgive him and sought revenge instead?

It’s easy to say, “Well, he shouldn’t think about the consequences.  He should just admit his sin and take his lumps like a man.”

But Hybels wasn’t the pastor of an average church, but the leader of one of America’s most influential churches … one that’s become a movement … with an association of churches … and one that trains thousands of leaders.

In a very real way, Hybels was Willow to tens of thousands of people … but if Hybels went down, Willow and all its ministries would be negatively affected … possibly for years.

None of us can say how those admissions would have been used.  Hybels had to have his eye on his succession plan and planned retirement, and knew that in the present cultural climate, even a private admission on his part about a sensitive issue could go public and put Willow and its Association in jeopardy.

I am not saying that Hybels chose to lie.  And I am not saying that he was even conscious that he had done anything wrong.  (It’s easy to rationalize a host of misbehaviors if you’ve been operating under a “buddy culture.”)

But he and the elders had to know that in this particular area … misconduct toward women … it doesn’t take much for people to coalesce against a common opponent … and for the target of their wrath to become toast.

We all watched the dissolution of Mars Hill Church several years ago.  A church of 14,000 people and its satellite campuses vanished into nothingness seemingly overnight.

Willow may be constructed on a more robust foundation, but in today’s climate … especially with the viciousness of social media … anything is possible.

To Hybels’ credit, he finally made the following statements to his church on the night of his resignation:

“… I realize now that in certain settings and circumstances in the past I communicated things that were perceived in ways I did not intend, at times making people feel uncomfortable.  I was blind to this dynamic for far too long.  For that I’m very sorry.”

He continued:

“… I too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.  I was, at times, naive about the dynamics those situations created.  I’m sorry for the lack of wisdom on my part.  I commit to never putting myself in similar situations in the future.”

This is a good start.  As the elders listen to the stories of other women, and as Hybels goes through a time of reflection, let’s pray that this conflict can be eventually resolved.

Willow Creek June 14-15, 2005 017

Third, how should Christians view the organized effort to damage Hybels?

More than eight years ago, a small, vocal group inside the church I served wanted to force me out as pastor.  They didn’t have anything on me, so they went after my wife … who was on the staff … instead.  (These events are recounted in my book Church Coup.)

From the moment the accusations against my wife surfaced, I knew that I would end up leaving.

I brought in a church consultant who did some interviews and attended two congregational meetings.  As a former pastor, he knew instinctively what the opposition was trying to accomplish, and spelled it out in his report.  He contained the damage and helped me negotiate an exit package.

But most of my supporters didn’t think matters were all that serious.  Some were trying to figure out how I could stay while addressing the concerns of the opposition.

But my opponents weren’t in a negotiating mood.  They had organized a plan to push me OUT … and the signs were all there.

I don’t know how much opposition Hybels had from within Willow, or whether anybody currently on the staff or elders wanted his scalp.

But I know the signs, and I don’t believe the group effort involving John Ortberg was just after repent/prevent … trying to get Hybels to repent so they could prevent others from being hurt.

In my view, they wanted to damage his reputation as well.

I have a pastor friend who believes that it takes a megachurch pastor like John Ortberg to confront a megachurch pastor like Bill Hybels.  And because I don’t understand “megachurch morality,” my friend may be right.

My friend also believes that Ortberg had nothing to gain by becoming involved in this situation, although I surmised some possibilities in my article from March 28.

But I’m looking for a biblical precedent here, and having a hard time seeing it.  As apostles, Paul and John took on troublemakers inside churches by name, even though they weren’t present in those churches … but does Hybels fit that category?  And has Ortberg been given the authority of an apostle in today’s Christian community?

Something just doesn’t feel right to me about this.

Several thoughts:

*Division inside a congregation begins when churchgoers pool their grievances against a common opponent … usually the pastor.  I throw my two complaints into the mix … you toss in your four … and pretty soon, we have a list of twenty-four grievances against the pastor … and our twenty-four look twelve times worse than my original two.

Now the pastor is a bad guy who has to go because he committed twenty-four offenses!

In the process, I allow myself to be triangled … to take responsibility for your pain … rather than encouraging you to work things out between you and your offender.

It’s far, far better … and much more biblical … for God’s people to implement Matthew 18:15-17 before they do anything else:

#Go to the pastor privately and directly (Jesus doesn’t exclude Christian leaders from His words) and try and get him to repent.

#If he won’t listen, take one or two more with you and try again.

#If he still won’t listen, tell the entire congregation.  (At this point, the official church board would probably become involved, and try and speak with the pastor themselves.  If he wouldn’t repent, then they could call a meeting of the church.)

Were these steps followed by each of the initial four women?  I’m not saying they weren’t, but it bothers me in any church that people can latch onto a group that opposes a pastor before they’ve tried speaking with him themselves.  It’s all too easy for a person with one grievance to carry the grievances of others … and it expands the sense of injustice … although it does make people feel powerful.

In my case, no one ever implemented Matthew 18 and came to me directly.  The first time I heard any charges were in a public church meeting … but Jesus doesn’t begin by saying, “If your brother sins against you … tell it to the church.”

More than eight years later, I still feel horribly violated by those public charges … and by that power tactic.  So I can understand how angry Hybels felt when someone started calling pastors and Christian leaders and accusing him of impropriety.

But is it possible that either Hybels or the elders … or both … made it difficult for the women to come forward and share their stories?

*In the Christian community, a pastor’s attackers are rarely confronted or disciplined.  In my last ministry, even though their tactics were not loving or godly, my detractors were not corrected or warned by anyone official.  Humanly speaking, they got away with it.  In fact, some were later rewarded and given places of leadership.

Sadly, over the years, I’ve learned that the last place an accused pastor can find “justice” is inside a local church.

In Deuteronomy 19:15-21, if a witness in ancient Israel accused someone of a crime, and the accused was later exonerated, the false witness was to be given the same punishment as the person he/she accused.  But this rarely happens in the Christian community today.  Those who slander leaders are almost never dealt with.  A pastor who is publicly accused of wrongdoing is assumed to be guilty without any kind of a trial.  Thank God the report of Hybels having a ten-year affair was quickly rebutted by Willow’s elders or Hybels could have been forced out by a lie four years ago.

*Why did Hybels’ accusers need John Ortberg’s assistance to confront Hybels?

Both the secular and evangelical presses have melded the offended women and the Ortbergs (and the Mellados) together.

I’d like to separate them out for a moment.

I can understand how the initial four women felt wronged as they heard each other’s stories.  And I can understand how one or two of them might choose to represent their friends and approach Willow’s elders with their concerns.

But why bring in Hybels’ former colleague John Ortberg?  (I just noticed on Amazon that they co-wrote a book together.)  Or did he volunteer to help them?  And it seems all the more odd because neither Hybels nor the elders seemed to respond to Ortberg’s overtures very favorably … especially when he and his group issued their infamous five demands.  (Why did they think the elders would agree to them?  Or were they just posturing?)

The women may have been naive about how these things work, but Ortberg assuredly knew what would happen once the women’s claims against Hybels went public.  He knows how the game is played.

Jodi Walle, Ortberg’s executive assistant I mentioned earlier, wrote an open letter to him on her website.  She asked him:

“How is it that now you are the one to give women a voice?  We have a voice.  It’s our job to use it.  To be current and to go to someone if they have harmed us.  You have nothing to say about any of it.  If anything, you are part of the problem.”

But she could have added, “I know what you are doing, John.  You are pushing hard so that Bill resigns.”

There’s an untold story as to Ortberg’s motives that we may never know … and yes, I’ve read his explanation online.

But Jodi Walle’s open letter to Ortberg paints a different picture of him than some might imagine.  Yet so far, to my knowledge, nobody has addressed Walle’s revelations publicly.

Read it yourself at www.jodiwalle.com

I find the silence very telling.

Hybels alleges … and I have no reason to doubt him … that someone was calling pastors and Christian leaders about him over the past few years, but that kind of whispering campaign … and it was a campaign … was designed to ruin Hybels’ reputation.

And contacting the Chicago Tribune about the allegations was the coup de grace.  Who thought that was a good idea?

But guess what?  The tactic worked.  It usually does … and Ortberg, as an experienced pastor, had to know that.

Paul Simon once wrote and sang a song called, “Sure Don’t Feel Like Love.”

And contacting Christian leaders privately and going to a secular newspaper “sure don’t feel like love” either.

*There are two main ways of getting rid of a pastor when he has not done something clearly impeachable:

First, you gather together multiple charges.

In Hybels’ case, there has been one primary charge: his improper behavior toward women.  There haven’t been accusations (to my knowledge) of mishandling church funds, for example, but there have been various allegations of sexual impropriety.

Second, you gather together multiple accusers … like in the Bill Cosby case.  

And that’s what happened with Hybels as well.

But the better way … and the biblical way … is for each individual to deal with issues as they arise.

However … two women claimed they did confront Hybels about his behavior.  One was Julia Wilkins from the gym (mentioned in the latest Christianity Today article), and the other was Vonda Dyer (who wrote her own story online).  It took great courage for those women to go to Hybels … in his office … and confront him … but in neither case did the women report anything resembling an apology.

Having been a pastor for thirty-six years, I know how difficult it is for people inside a church to confront their pastor about wrongdoing.  I could probably count on two hands the number of people that came to me personally over the years, so they stand out in my mind … and I’m probably a gentler person than Hybels.

When he denied any wrongdoing, it’s hard for me to believe that Hybels couldn’t recall those confrontations … especially since both women could have escalated matters by approaching Willow’s elders instead.

Conflicts in churches could be avoided and resolved if people would just address matters as they occur … and that’s certainly what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:23-26, and what Paul taught in Ephesians 4:26-27.

The Bible doesn’t give us a specific statute of limitations on confronting those who may have harmed us, but to go back twenty years to complain about a comment the pastor made seems vengeful to me.

There are two surefire ways to destroy a relationship: make a long list of someone’s offenses and recite it back to them … and mention offenses they may have committed that go back many years.

This is the way the world works.  This isn’t supposed to be the way the church works.

I just wonder who is influencing whom.

Willow Creek Conference June 12-15, 2006 172

Finally, how should people handle their complaints against a pastor?

This is my own shorthand formula:

First, overlook citations.  Pastors are human.  They make mistakes.  They wear down.  They get silly sometimes.  They aren’t always at their best.  Not every “offense” is serious.

My wife leaves her shoes all over the house.  Sometimes I trip on them.  I’ve asked her for years to put them away, but her habits haven’t changed.

To get along, I’ve chosen to overlook the shoes.  It’s not that important.  And she’s chosen to overlook some poor habits of mine.

I’m not prepared to say how many of the accusations against Hybels fall into the citation category, but I can think of a few that caused me to say, “Oh, brother.  That’s just piling on.”

They should have been overlooked rather than tossed into the mix.

Second, confront misdemeanors.  When a pastor has hurt someone … and he may not be aware of that fact … the person offended needs to speak with him privately.  Isn’t that what Matthew 18:15 teaches?  The burden is on the one sinned against to initiate reconciliation.

Most offenses that a pastor commits are misdemeanors in nature.  The only way to restore matters is for the offended person to take the initiative and lovingly approach the offender.

I’ve had people confront me about things I’ve said or did that hurt them, and when I did wrong, I apologized and asked for their forgiveness.

But I’ve also had people confront me about things that I didn’t do or say, and I wouldn’t apologize just to make the matter go away.

Many years ago, on Easter Sunday, the church I was serving had just finished the first service.  The worship team met to evaluate that service and make adjustments for the second service.  Out of nowhere, a male vocalist (who had a handicap) accused me of saying something cruel about him.  To his credit, he confronted me right away, but I didn’t say what he thought he heard, nor would I ever have said it.

Yet he demanded that I apologize to him.  But should I have apologized to him if I didn’t say what he thought I did?

Pastors are accused of offenses all the time … a few to their face, most behind their back.  It’s why Paul wrote 1 Timothy 5:19-21.  My guess is that most of the offenses that a pastor is accused of fall into the misdemeanor category … but relatively few people will ever confront the pastor to make things right.

Instead, they sometimes elevate clear misdemeanors to personal felonies.

Third, investigate felonies.  Many years ago, a woman approached me with information about a member of our church staff.  To put it mildly, he was not the person he claimed to be.

I spent two days at home making phone calls and doing research to find out if her allegations were true … and they were.  Then I shared my written documentation with the church board and we created a plan to confront him with two of the allegations.

They were both serious enough to result in termination.

According to Deuteronomy 19:15-21, when a person was accused of a crime in Israel, the judges commissioned and carried out an investigation, then issued their findings.

Sometimes pastors are accused of serious matters, and the official church board has to investigate the charges.

There are three primary areas that should cause church leaders to investigate a pastor’s conduct: heresy, sexual immorality, and criminal behavior.

Sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual intercourse outside marriage all constitute felonies that usually result in the immediate dismissal of a pastor.  By this standard, no one has yet accused Hybels of any ministry felonies.

But … and this is the challenging part … they may feel like felonies to the women involved.  Otherwise, why go public with their accusations?

The elders at Willow launched an internal investigation and then hired an outside investigator to examine the initial charges against Hybels.  One might say that both investigations chose to overlook citations nor cite any felonies.

But it seems obvious now that Hybels committed at least some misdemeanors.  They shouldn’t have been overlooked.

But I believe the moment Hybels’ accusers went public, his ministry at Willow was finished.  That’s the era in which we now live.

_______________

Bill Hybels has a secure place in the history of the Christian church.  He has done enormous good for the kingdom of God, even though many people have questioned or disagreed with his methodologies.

I’d like to recount a well-known verse of Scripture … one that many of us learned as a child:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

I pray for Bill and Lynne Hybels and wish them well in the future.  And I pray that if Hybels sinned against any of the women who have come forward, that he would admit his wrongdoing and ask for their forgiveness.

And I also pray that the evangelical community, Willow Creek, and Hybels’ accusers can someday forgive him as well.

May this situation cause all of us to examine our own hearts and reexamine the way we deal with those who wrong us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Several days ago, a friend sent me a link to a story concerning Pastor Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.

Right now, it may be the biggest story in the Christian community.

For many years, Willow Creek was the largest church in the United States, and is now sixth-largest.

If you haven’t yet read the story, here’s a link to the Christianity Today website:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/march/bill-hybels-misconduct-willow-creek-john-nancy-ortberg.html

The story also hit the pages of the Chicago Tribune:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-willow-creek-pastor-20171220-story.html

In a nutshell, the story states that Hybels – one of the most influential Christian leaders of his generation – has been accused by several women of “a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct.”

To my knowledge, no one claims today that Hybels engaged in sexual intercourse with them.  Several years ago, one woman confided in a top Willow Creek leader that Hybels had a “prolonged consensual affair” with her lasting more than a decade, but she has since written a full retraction, confessing that she “wanted to tear [Bill] and Willow down and get it out of my system.”

But several other women have accused Hybels of “suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms.”

Charges first surfaced in April 2014, and Hybels has undergone two separate investigations since that time: an initial investigation by the elders of his church, and a second investigation by Jeffrey Fowler, an outside, independent investigator.

Hybels is due to retire in six months, and has already named a successor as lead pastor and another person as teaching pastor.

I have read everything I could about this story, including the Christianity Today story above, the Chicago Tribune story, and the written and video statements from Pam Orr, the elder chair at Willow, and Hybels himself.  You can find them here:

https://www.willowcreek.org/en/willow-creek-response-to-local-media

I’ve also read comments from the above stories, as well as many comments on Facebook and Twitter.

For many years, I was an advocate of Willow Creek’s approach to church ministry:

*I attended four conferences at the church between 1990 and 2006.

*I pastored a seeker-driven church in Silicon Valley for many years.  During my tenure there, our church sent twenty-two leaders to Willow Creek for training.

*My last three churches were all members of the Willow Creek Association.

*Although I met Bill Hybels once, he would not remember me.

However … I’ve never been enamored with everything Willow does, and have sometimes found myself perplexed or even upset about some of their policies.

But Willow Creek has always been known for its authenticity and transparency, and it’s the single trait I most admire about the church.

I believe that both Hybels and Willow’s elders have handled this situation in as transparent a fashion as possible.  In both investigations, Hybels was asked to turn over his personal technology devices (which were forensically examined), his emails (many of which were automatically deleted from Willow’s server), personal financial records, personal church records, his calendar, and travel records.

How many pastors could survive such scrutiny?

Some pastors would have resigned before any investigation started so their life wouldn’t be exposed.  Still other pastors might have confessed their wrongdoing before an investigation demonstrated their guilt.

But Hybels endured two thorough investigations, and according to Willow’s elders, did not lead or influence either one.

And let me say … as someone who was once investigated for several days … each day feels like a month.

Jeffrey Fowler, the outside investigator, told the Chicago Tribune: “After looking at thousands of documents, after interviewing 29 people, and doing as much as I possibly could, I concluded that there was no basis for believing that Pastor Hybels had engaged in a pattern and practice of misconduct, and to the extent any specific incident had been raised with me, I concluded that his actions in those instances were not inappropriate.”

But this has not satisfied some of Willow’s former staff members.

The names that keep being mentioned are John and Nancy Ortberg and Jim and Leanne Mellado.  Assuming they are the two couples mentioned in the discussions about Hybels, I’ll just call them The Group.

But John Ortberg is the most prominent leader of the “opposition.”

John Ortberg was a teaching pastor at Willow for many years.  He is presently the lead pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I’ve heard Ortberg speak at a church he pastored in Diamond Bar, California nearly thirty years ago and again at Willow in 1994.  I also had lunch with Ortberg’s predecessor fifteen years ago, so I have some familiarity with his ministry.

When the woman mentioned above claimed that she had an affair with Hybels, the Willow Creek Association Board voted not to conduct an investigation.  Nancy Ortberg and several other Christian leaders resigned from the board in protest … which was their right.

But once they resigned … in my view … they forfeited their right to have any further input into the Hybels situation.

The Ortbergs were no longer Willow employees nor church members.  They may have kept some personal ties, but they officially severed ties with the church.  And as a founding staff member from Willow once taught me, “The way you leave is the way you’ll be remembered.”

When the elders decided to investigate Hybels internally, The Group evidently relinquished control of the situation.

But then Hybels was exonerated, not once, but twice.

But The Group did not agree with the process used … and presumably not the conclusions reached.

In fact, according to Bill Hybels:

“Unfortunately, it has become clear that when the woman retracted her story, the group of former staff members who brought the original allegation then began to reach out to women who are or who have been a part of Willow, asking if any of them have ever had an uncomfortable interaction with me. Without mentioning the woman’s full retraction, they told women that I had an inappropriate relationship that Willow’s Elders had covered up, and they invited the women to share any negative experiences of their own.”

They have now escalated their attacks against Willow’s elders and Hybels himself, to the point that Hybels is convinced they are colluding to destroy his reputation.  Hybels told the Chicago Tribune:

“This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years. It’s time that gets identified.  I want to speak to all the people around the country that have been misled … for the past four years and tell them in my voice, in as strong a voice as you’ll allow me to tell it, that the charges against me are false.  There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.”

Hybels then told his congregation: “The lies you read about in the Tribune article are the tools this group is using to try to keep me from ending my tenure here at Willow with my reputation intact.  Many of these alleged incidents purportedly took place more than [20] years ago. The fact that they have been dredged up now and assembled in a calculated way demonstrates the determination of this group to do as much damage as they possibly can.”

I’m trying to get my head around why a leader like John Ortberg … who was Hybels’ ministry colleague and friend … would do something like this.

The following questions are based purely on speculation:

*Did he and Bill fall out personally when they were both at Willow?  Hybels evidently is not an easy man to work for.

*Did Ortberg secretly hope that he would be named Hybels’ successor?

*Does he view himself as the leader of a rival movement to Willow Creek?

*Has he become a public supporter of the #MeToo Movement, especially inside Christian churches?

*Does he know something from his time at Willow about the way the board protects Hybels regardless of any mistakes he’s made?

*Does Ortberg believe he is the best person possible to represent some of Hybels’ accusers?

*Does he really want Hybels to be exposed so he can repent and be restored?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and Ortberg may not know the answers, either.  He was recently quoted as saying, “This information came to us in a way that was unlooked for, unwanted, and it put us in a terrible situation.”

But a more likely possibility is that when Ortberg took his initial public stand against the elders and Hybels himself, he has tried ever since to show that he’s right and the leaders at Willow are wrong.

In other words, this conflict has degraded into winners and losers.

And if Hybels is declared innocent of all charges, that makes The Group look foolish, if not bad … causing some people to wonder if they’re guilty of fostering division and slander.

At this point, I’d like to share my own story briefly.

Like Hybels, I am now nearing the age of retirement.  I dreamed of retiring while still a pastor.

But in December 2009, I resigned from my pastoral tenure of 10 1/2 years at a Bay Area church because I was lied right out of the church.

I wrote a book called Church Coup if you’re interested in my story.  And I spent a lot of time in the book detailing the steps that lead a pastor to resign under duress.

My predecessor was involved in the coup.  After going into retirement for nine years, he wanted to return to the church … but first had to push me out.

He worked with the board, the associate pastor, and others to get rid of me … and their plot worked.

After I left, a nine-person team investigated the charges against me and concluded that there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

Another pastor succeeded me.  I have never spoken with him nor met him.

But I could never, ever do anything to undermine that pastor.

Why not?

*When I left the church, I left it for good.  I have never returned for any kind of service or event … and I have no plans to do so.

*The church chose its own board members without my input.  They govern the church.  I have no say in what goes on there, and it would be unethical if I did.

*If the church mistreated someone … and many of my friends eventually left in tears or in anger … I might be able to advise them on what to do, but I would never think to advise the board … nor would they want my input.

Let me state this clearly:

It is unethical for a pastor or staff member to interfere with the governance of any church they once served.

God did not appoint John Ortberg to be the elder chair or one of the elders at Willow Creek Community Church.

God appointed him to serve as pastor of a church in the Bay Area instead.  That’s where his authority lies.

He may have some moral or spiritual authority in the wider Christian community, but he has zero authority where he is not welcome.

And his ideas and counsel are not wanted by Willow’s elders.

The most breathtaking part of this entire story are the demands that The Group made to the elders at Willow.  This is from the WC website:

“The two couples made specific demands outlining how they wanted the investigation to unfold and the control that they wanted to have—demands that our Elders deemed unreasonable and unbiblical. These demands included the following:

  • These couples (non–Willow members) would approve the choice of the investigator.
  • The investigation would run the full course of Bill’s adulthood (from 18 years old and ongoing).
  • These couples would be able to choose the witnesses who were interviewed, and all people interviewed would have full indemnification.
  • The investigation reports would all be public regardless of the outcome.
  • These couples would insist that there be a public admission of anything that they (not the investigator or the Elders) deemed inappropriate.”

When my wife reviewed the story the other night, she asked me this question: “Who do the Ortbergs think they are?”

Hybels has been thoroughly investigated twice.  He has been exonerated both times.  Why would Willow’s elders then turn over an investigation to people who seem to want Hybels’ scalp?

The elders of Willow have spoken unanimously.  And they have shared their conclusion as to what’s really going on:

“This small group of former staff members has articulated outright to several people that they believe Bill does not deserve to finish his ministry tenure at Willow well, despite the thorough and conscientious investigative process that has cleared his name. It has become clear to us that they have decided to spread this sentiment through rumors and now through the media. They aggressively shopped the story to multiple media outlets. These actions fail to live up to biblical standards, and they have caused much pain for many people. We have deep sadness over the broken relationships with people we have respected and people we love. We are grieved for Bill and his family. After 42 years of faithfully pastoring you and me, our congregation, and after his family giving sacrificially, this has been painful beyond words for them.”

I’m sure there are people who do not like or agree with their verdict, but it’s time to accept it and for everyone to go home and focus on their own ministries.

From my vantage point … and I could be reading matters wrong … it looks like The Group … which includes Ortberg … is doing everything they can to get Hybels fired.

Let Bill Hybels serve out his last six months in peace.

If Hybels has been lying, the Lord will deal with him … either in this life, or the next life.

If the elders engaged in a cover-up, let God deal with them as well.

God is the Ultimate Judge.  He will right any wrongs.

In fact, God only uses imperfect people, including pastors, elders, staff members, and investigators.

And the longer this controversy goes on, the wider and deeper the breach will become in the body of Christ.

As Paul asked the Corinthians:

Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?  Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.  I Corinthians 6:7-8

For the sake of the gospel and the advancement of Christ’s church … please, let it go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was in high school, there was a girl at my church who liked me … and I knew she did.

Because I didn’t feel the same way, I tried never to say or do anything that would make her think I wanted to be more than friends.

She ended up going to my college, although I didn’t recall seeing her around campus.

One afternoon, as I was getting in my car to drive home, she came running toward me and asked if she could speak with me.

She asked me to forgive her.

She confessed that she had liked me for a long time, but because I didn’t reciprocate, she came to hate me instead … and her hatred was eating away at her so much that she wanted to get rid of it … by telling me how she felt.

I verbally forgave her on the spot, which seemed to help her feel better, and she left with a heavy load removed from her shoulders … and transferred onto mine.

But I’ve always remembered that encounter.

The good: it took a lot of courage for her to track me down at school and speak with me, and I’m sure she felt better after our little talk … but I never saw her again.

The bad: I wish she hadn’t told me that she had hated me for several years.  I started wondering, “Who else hates me but hasn’t told me?”

Scripture encourages God’s people to deal with interpersonal issues as they arise.  Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27:

‘In your anger do not sin’; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Paul tells us four things in these two verses:

*It’s normal for believers to feel anger at times.

*It’s possible to be angry without sinning.

*We are commanded to resolve our anger before nightfall.

*When we let our anger fester, Satan gains an entry point into our lives.

Please note that pastors and church leaders are included – not excluded – in these verses.

Unresolved anger can turn into bitterness, and Satan loves to take one person’s bitterness and disseminate it throughout a family … or a church.

As I often say, division in a church starts when people begin to pool their grievances … usually against their pastor.

So God’s counsel to all of us is:

RESOLVE YOUR ANGRY FEELINGS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE … AND RESTORE BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS AT YOUR FIRST OPPORTUNITY.

If every Christian did this, we’d have fewer conflicts in churches, and fewer pastors would ever experience the heartbreak of a forced termination.

But many … if not most … believers fail to deal with offenses as they arise, so they hoard their grievances – which eats them up alive – and end up passing them on to others.

Bitterness then becomes a cancer that eats away at the joy and effectiveness of people’s lives.

People then tell themselves, “I can’t get rid of my anger until I get rid of the object of my anger” … in all too many cases, the pastor.

Let me share two stories that present opposite ways of handling an issue with a pastor.

The first story involves confronting a pastor immediately about an offense.

One Easter many years ago, a man in my church ended our first service with a performance song.  As the singers and musicians gathered at the front to receive directions for the second service, this gentleman approached me and accused me of saying something derogatory about him right after the service.

I assured the man that I did not say what he claimed, but he was adamant.  (It’s not something I would even think, much less say about another person.)

If I apologized to him, it would be a lie … but if I didn’t apologize to him, I knew he was going to spread my “offense” to as many people as possible.

I’m glad he came to me directly before he said anything to anyone else.

But he couldn’t have chosen a worse time.

I understand that singers and musicians can be very sensitive … especially on a big Sunday like Easter.

But pastors can be sensitive as well … especially right before or after they preach.

That’s a sacred time for a pastor.

I can remember times in my ministry where I was so shook up over something someone said before a sermon that I couldn’t wait to finish my sermon and go home.

One person’s need to “unload” can impact an entire congregation.

So if you do need to speak with your pastor about an issue you feel strongly about … wait until he’s done preaching for the day first … or you might indirectly harm your church family.

Or better yet … calm down … forgive him from the heart … and then either speak with him or let it go.

Dr. Archibald Hart believes that before we confront someone, we should first forgive them, and only then should we confront them.

Because otherwise, we may confront them in anger … as the singer did with me … and we end up making matters worse.

_______________

The second story involves waiting two decades to confront a pastor.

In his book Love in Hard Places, theologian D. A. Carson tells about the time a Christian friend took Carson aside.

The friend told Carson that he wanted a private word with him because Carson had offended him. So the two of them arranged a meeting, and Carson’s friend told Carson about an incident that had happened twenty-one years earlier.

Carson and his friend were having a theological discussion and his friend quoted a few words from an author who had written in French. Because Carson grew up speaking French, Carson repeated the French words after his friend because he was unconsciously correcting his pronunciation.

Carson’s friend didn’t say anything at the time, but several decades later, he told Carson, “I want you to know, Don, that I have not spoken another word of French from that day to this.”

Carson apologized for offending his friend, but upon later reflection, Carson felt “there was something profoundly evil about nurturing a resentment of this order for twenty-one years.”

After all, how can you even remember what happened if the incident occurred so long ago?

Hold onto that last line as you read the next story.

_______________

This is my concern about the “Me Too” movement in our culture right now.

It’s not only in the culture … it’s spread to Christ’s church as well.

WORLD Magazine – a Christian publication – ran an article recently that greatly disturbed me.

Twenty years ago, a twenty-two-year-old youth pastor took a seventeen-year-old high school senior girl on a date.

They parked on a secluded road.  He asked her to do something to him that was wrong.

She started doing it … he realized how wrong it was … and he got out of his car, collapsed, and repeated over and over how sorry he was.

This young man confessed his wrongdoing to the young woman.

He also apologized to the girl’s family and her discipleship group, as well as the church staff and the church leadership.

(Most people … even in ministry … would not speak to as many people as that young man did in admitting what he had done wrong.)

And when he admitted his sin, he lost his job.

(I might add, in that state, seventeen is still an age of legal consent.)

This young man ended up moving to another state and eventually becoming a staff member in another church.  Several decades later, he became a teaching pastor in that same church.

He is married with five sons.

The pastor believes that his sin “was dealt with … twenty years ago.”  He disclosed his sin to the leaders of his former church … to his wife before they married … and to the staff of his new church before joining the ministry.

The woman contends that the original church hid the youth pastor’s specific sin from the congregation and then allowed him to resign without public confession.  She claims they engaged in a “big cover up.”

But the pastor said, “Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with [her.]”

The pastor has been placed on a leave of absence.  There is now an online petition calling for the pastor’s resignation, and a book that he’s written has had its publication date canceled.

Because of the backlash of the Me Too movement, there is now a Christian backlash against this pastor as well.

What does this story tell us about the forgiveness of sin among believers … and pastors?

Maybe the following story can shed some light on this situation.

_______________

In his book Pleasing God, the late R. C. Sproul – one of my favorite theologians – tells the following story:

“When I was in seminary, I was a student minister in a small church.  I insulted the daughter of a woman who was a pillar of the church.  The daughter was deeply offended.  I went to her and apologized profusely.  She refused to forgive me.  I went two more times and apologized literally in tears.  Still she refused to forgive me.”

Sproul continues:

“Eventually, the time came for my monthly meeting with the minister who was my pastoral supervisor.  He was an eighty-five-year-old retired missionary who had spent fifty years in the interior of China and five of those years in a communist prison camp.  He was a man of extraordinary godliness.  I went to him with deep embarrassment for the mess I had made of my first pastoral experience.  I told him what I had done.  He listened carefully and then replied calmly: ‘Young man, you have made two serious mistakes.  The first is obvious.  You should not have insulted the daughter.  The second mistake is this: you should not have apologized three times.  After the first apology, the ball was in her court.  By refusing to forgive you, she is heaping coals of fire upon her head.'”

But … and I know this from firsthand experience … a single person who is angry with a pastor can destroy his reputation and career.

We’re living in the time of “one strike and you’re out … forever.”

Most of the time, if someone tries to destroy their pastor, they will indirectly destroy their church as well.

_______________

When I left my last church in December 2009, I knew what was going to happen.

Everybody and anybody who didn’t like me was going to float their grievances against me to others in the congregation.

Although I made mistakes during my 10 1/2 years in that church … as I did in every congregation … I felt I made far fewer mistakes there than in any church I’d ever served.

And yet, how ironic that soon after I left, I was charged with committing far more mistakes in that church than in all my other ministries combined.

When a pastor is charged with wrongdoing, those accusations may or may not say something about him … but they almost always say something profound about his accuser(s).

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15:

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

_______________

My wife and I just received a bill for nearly a thousand dollars.  It was for medical care that she had received fifteen months ago.

We were very upset about the bill, as you might imagine.

In fact, we were positive we had paid that bill completely.

My wife contacted the medical office, but they said that we owed the money.

When we did some research, we discovered that we did in fact owe the money … but that it took the medical office seven months to send the bill to us.

I hate it when that happens.

And I hate it when somebody hoards a grievance against me … especially when I assume that our relationship is fine … when it isn’t really fine at all.

It’s unbearable for a pastor to ask himself, “I wonder who is going to tell me that they hate me next?”

_______________

Pastors make mistakes, and they need to admit their mistakes … ask for forgiveness … and, if necessary, engage in restitution if it’s required.

But pastors aren’t angels, either, and when they sin and repent, they need to be forgiven … or their career and reputation can be destroyed.

I saw a video last night of a shepherd and his flock.  It’s here:

The flock knocks the shepherd over, but when he tries to get up, another sheep charges at the shepherd and knocks him down.

It’s actually pretty funny.

But what isn’t funny is when a pastor does something wrong … admits it … tries to make things right … and is knocked over by the sheep anyway.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was under attack eight years ago, nearly all of my supporters remained silent.

Someone stood up in two public meetings and rattled off a list of accusations against me … most of which I had never heard before.

It would have been easy for me to knock down each charge, but our paid consultant made me promise I wouldn’t say anything, so I remained silent.

But I wasn’t the only one who didn’t speak that day.

My supporters went silent as well.

As I listen to stories of pastors under attack, I often ask the pastor, “What percentage of people in your church are for you, and what percentage are against you?”

If the pastor thinks that at least 90% of the congregation supports him, that’s a good sign … and indicates that if push comes to shove, the pastor might be able to survive the attacks made against him.

But if the percentage is 75% support and 25% opposition … or worse … the pastor is going to have a tough time hanging on.

In my case, I was told at the time that 95% of the congregation supported me, and only 5% stood against me.  Out of 400 adults, that meant that 380 people were for me, while 20 people stood against me.

But in the end, those twenty won, and I and my 380 supporters lost.

When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, the percentages were greatly reversed.  Most of the people stood against Jesus, while His disciples went silent.

But in our day, the pastor almost always holds the numerical advantage, yet time after time, a small group of people send him packing.

Why do a pastor’s supporters go silent when he’s under attack?

Let me share four possible reasons:

First, they lack pertinent information.

The pastor knows he’s under attack.

The pastor’s family knows.

The church board assuredly knows.

The church staff probably knows.

The pastor’s attackers definitely know.

The attacker’s allies usually know.

But most of the rest of the church doesn’t know.

Why not?

Because the attacks originate and are perpetuated behind closed doors.

So when the pastor’s supporters finally hear about any accusations, the attackers have been discussing matters for weeks/months, while the pastor’s supporters are hearing about them for the first time.

In my case, my closest supporters were off-balance.  When they initially heard the accusations, they lacked prior knowledge that anything was amiss.

Those accusations knock a pastor’s supporters on their heels.  Even if they feel like supporting him completely, they start to ask themselves, “I wonder if those allegations could be true?”

If Satan has a strategy in these situations, it isn’t to make the pastor’s supporters fully believe the accusations.

No, it’s to make them hesitate defending their pastor.

Because when they hesitate, the momentum starts building against their beloved shepherd.

Second, they become overwhelmed by the attackers’ passion.

When people attack their pastor, they come off as confident … certain … and even crazy.

They claim to have information that the pastor’s supporters don’t have … and use the argument, “If you knew what we know, you’d join our merry band.”

The pastor’s opponents have been digging up dirt … talking to each other … and inciting each other to stand resolutely against their pastor for a long time.

So when they finally make their push to push out their minister, the attackers go on the offensive emotionally … and their approach often flummoxes the pastor’s supporters.

And those supporters have to ask themselves, “Why are these people so worked up?  Since they’re so emotional, maybe there’s something to their rantings.”

Nearly forty years ago, I was the only full-time staff member at my church.  A man approached me in the parking lot after the Sunday night service and told me that if the pastor didn’t start changing his behavior, ten percent of the congregation was going to leave the church.

My impression was that he was trying to recruit me to his cause … which was a lost cause … because I fully supported my pastor … even when I didn’t always agree with him.

But I’ll never forget how determined that man was … and such passion does make one think.

Third, they tend to cut off contact with their pastor.

When I was under attack eight years ago, my wife and I were told to stay away from the church campus while a new board was put in place.  (The old board had resigned en masse.)

However, we were not given a gag order.

While we hibernated at home, how many of our 380 supporters reached out to us?

Very few.

We did receive flowers a few times.

We received a few notes that said “we’re praying for you” or “we love you.”

We had a few people come to our door unannounced.

We received a handful of emails asking, “What’s going on here?”

But few of our supporters ever said, “We believe in you” or “we stand with you” or “we will defend you.”

Most stopped contacting us.

It felt like we were under house arrest.

In many churches, when the pastor is under attack, the church board explicitly tells people, “We do not want you contacting the pastor.”

To be fair, a team of five people had been appointed to investigate the charges against me, and I didn’t want to interfere with their investigation.  (And in the end, they eventually told the church that I was not guilty of any wrongdoing.)

But I felt isolated from the congregation I loved.

The worship team rehearsed in the worship center every Thursday evening.  One night, I was scheduled to meet with the new board, but they weren’t ready for me, so I had to hang around the campus … which I hadn’t done for many weeks.

People … even friends … avoided me.

One man came up to me … quietly hugged me … and moved on.

I felt like an outcast in my own congregation.

Church life was going on … but I wasn’t part of it anymore.

When the pastor is under attack, he is the best source of information to counter the charges of his opponents.

But because there’s a cloud hovering over him, most people circumvent him … and lose their best source of information to counter the allegations.

Finally, they don’t know what they’re allowed to say or do.

Just imagine.

Your pastor has been attacked in a public meeting.  You were there.

The charges don’t ring true … but what if they are true?

You’d like to tell your pastor that you’re praying for him, but you don’t want to bother him at home.

So you do nothing.

Yes, you talk to your good friends at church … but in hushed tones, because you don’t know what you’re allowed to say or do.

And you don’t want to make things worse for anybody.

I get all that.

In fact, members of the church board and staff sometimes tell interested lay people that they should stay silent because “you’re being divisive if you talk about this situation at all.”

But when the pastor’s opponents are vocal … and the pastor’s supporters go silent … the board and the staff can become influenced by the noise.

Rather than remaining silent, this is what I tell the pastor’s supporters to do:

*Locate the latest copy of your church’s governing documents … the constitution and bylaws.

Read and mark up the entire document.  Focus on two key areas.

First, note what the documents say about church discipline.

Second, note what they say about removing a pastor.

*Ask the church board/staff/office manager if the church has a special document delineating the process required to remove a pastor.  If so, ask for a copy.

YOU ARE NOT BEING DIVISIVE BY ASKING FOR THESE DOCUMENTS.  THAT’S WHAT A CARING, COMMITTED, RESPONSIBLE MEMBER SHOULD DO.

*If the pastor is under official investigation or discipline … or even if he has already resigned or been terminated … locate and ask a member of the official board or senior staff for a written copy of the process used to deal with the pastor.

I have encouraged many lay people to do this, and a few have been surprised when the board did produce such a document for them.

But others have been incensed when they discovered that the board wasn’t operating by any process … but were making it up as they went along … usually because they had already determined the pastor’s innocence or guilt based on their own feelings or friendships.

*While trying to discover the process being used, if you are stonewalled at every turn, I would inform the board that you will stop attending, serving, and giving until you are given a written copy of the process they are using.

And I would make a big deal about it with your mature friends.

I am not advocating making angry threats.

I am advocating that the official leaders need to know that they are being watched and that they will ultimately need to give an account to the congregation for their decisions.

IT’S A SERIOUS MATTER TO ACCUSE A PASTOR OF WRONGDOING, AND IN TODAY’S CLIMATE, ONE FALSE CHARGE CAN END A PASTOR’S CAREER … OR END A CHURCH’S VERY EXISTENCE.

In fact, I’d want to know:

*Are you basing your process on Scripture or business?

*Are you trying to restore or remove the pastor?

*Are you using a loving or a harsh approach?

Just read 1 Timothy 5:19-21 where Paul discusses the process of investigating charges against an elder/pastor.  Note especially verse 21:

“I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

Paul says, “The Father, Son, and angels are watching what you’re doing so you better do this fairly and wisely.”

Paul says to Timothy, “Make sure church leaders are never guilty of a process crime.”

There are a lot of pastors these days who are engaged in stupid or sinful practices, and some of them need to leave their church … or the ministry altogether.

But many more pastors are falsely accused of wrongdoing, and because church leaders botch the process, they botch the result as well.

Churchgoers need to let their leaders know, “I will be praying that you will make a just and loving decision concerning our pastor, but I expect that you will tell us the process you are using, and, when the time comes, that you will give as full an accounting of your deliberations as possible.”

AND IF YOU DO THAT, YOU JUST MIGHT SAVE YOUR PASTOR … AND YOUR CHURCH.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I once had a friend who was both a lawyer and a pastor.

He started out as a pastor … became a lawyer … and then returned to pastoring.

A prominent Christian leader criticized my friend when he went into law because, he said, “When God calls a man to ministry, he calls him for life.”

Does this mean that a pastor should stay in ministry until death?

When I pastored a church in Silicon Valley, a pastor in my city dropped dead of a heart attack … while preaching.

John the Baptist died at a young age because of his preaching.

Is that what God desires?  For a man God has called to take his last breath while serving Him?

Billy Graham has famously said that he can’t find a retirement age in the Bible, and yet even Dr. Graham (who is 99 years old) finally retired from preaching a few years ago.

I served eight local churches as a youth pastor, teaching pastor, associate pastor, solo pastor, and senior pastor over a period of 36 years.

My ministry began at age 19 when I worked with youth for the summer at my home church.

The Lord gave me many good years of ministry … but some years were rough.

I wanted to quit at age 32 … but I kept going.

I wanted to quit again at age 35 … but I kept going.

I wanted to quit again at age 44 … but I kept going.

And then the Lord “retired” me at age 56 when I was pushed out of my last and most productive ministry.

It’s been more than eight years since I preached my last sermon as a senior pastor.  Even though I wanted to retire … or die … as a pastor, I realize that I will never pastor a church again.

Why not?

Let me give you five reasons … and I’m going to be brutally honest:

First, I am the wrong age.

Most churches are looking for a pastor between the ages of 30 and 50.  My guess is that the ideal age range is 35 to 45.

Due to exhaustion, I searched for another ministry when I was 44.  One of my mentors told me, “You’ll find a church.  You’re at a good age.”

And he was right.  About a month after putting out my resume, I had an interview with a church in Illinois that really wanted me to be their pastor, although I turned them down.

My credentials didn’t seem to be as important as my age.

In my next and final pastorate, I added to my credentials:

*I earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary.

*I pastored the largest Protestant church in our city, averaging 466 in 2008.  (In our part of the Bay Area, that was like a megachurch.)

*Our church grew numerically and had a great reputation throughout the community.

*We built a new worship center.

*We had a staff as large as eleven at one time.

After I left my last church, I applied for several church positions at age 57.

*A church of 100 people rejected me for a solo pastor position within two weeks.

*A slightly larger church was looking for an associate pastor.  They turned me down in five days.

I was probably overqualified for both positions, but my age worked against me.

When a pastor doesn’t have a church, and he’s in his late fifties or early sixties, the best option for him is to become an interim pastor.

Because unless you start a church, almost nobody is going to hire you … unless you are willing to go to the East Coast … where they sometimes lack qualified candidates.

When I realized the reality of the age thing, I decided to look for a position in an older congregation … one in which an experienced 57-year old pastor might seem young.

I found such a church … in Arizona.  They were looking for an associate pastor to do outreach … right up my alley … in a church full of seniors.  I quickly made the top three candidates, but pulled out when they were going to have a beauty contest … bringing all three candidates and their wives to the church over successive weekends.

Besides, they wouldn’t tell me their salary range.

When I sent an email explaining why I was dropping out, I never heard from them again.

Thank God I didn’t end up there.

Second, I can’t put my wife through another church.

My wife Kim served alongside me in every church I pastored.  She was a camp counselor … a youth leader … the Sunday School Superintendent … you name it, she did it.

She became adept at starting ministries … recruiting and training leaders … and then handing a ministry off to them while she started another one.

In our last church, Kim served as our outreach and missions director for eight years.  She made the church go.

BFCC Fall Fun Fest 2008 120

But when she was attacked as a way of attacking me, she suffered greatly … and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome.

If anyone wants to know what Kim went through, we’re very free and open about it … in person … but I won’t describe the pain she experienced either in writing or online.

Being the trooper that she is, Kim would probably support me if a church called me to be their pastor, but I can’t put her through it again.

I believe that my marriage vows supersede my ordination vows … that God calls people to ministry for a season, but that marriage is for life.

I agree wholeheartedly with the words of Proverbs 5:18:

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

And I do.

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Third, I couldn’t afford it financially.

I spent many months trying to find a job in the Christian community:

*I applied for the three church positions described above, but nothing worked out.

*I filled out a 13-page application for a major denomination but never heard from them again.

*I spent hundreds of dollars and invested scores of hours training to become a certified church consultant … only to discover that almost nobody became one.  (In my state, out of 34 people who had completed the training, only one had become a certified consultant.)

*I made some contacts with a group of 20 men who did interim pastoring.  I was fully vetted but nothing opened up … and then was told that I would have to pay 50 dollars every week for a one-hour coaching session via the telephone.  (Then I found out that whenever a position opened up, one of the 20 “good old boys” got it instead.  I was number 21 … the odd man out.)

*I applied for an interim position at a church in the mountains.  They called me to preach and the time went so well that a prominent leader told me I had the job.  But because I didn’t want to live in the mountains, they hired someone else.  (The position paid very little.)

*I finally received training from Interim Pastor Ministries and was immediately assigned to a church in New Hampshire.  It was a very loving, outreach-oriented church, and we’re still friends with some of the people five years later.  But my next interim assignment just wouldn’t open up.

*My director asked me if I was willing to go to churches in Louisiana … Canada … South Dakota … or upstate New York.  I finally ended up flying to a church back east, but it was such a mess that I couldn’t envision doing church ministry anymore.

*I spent three hours being grilled by a bunch of lay leaders at another church that was looking for an interim pastor.  They went with someone else as well.

*While I was trying to find a ministry position, my wife heard about a search for a children’s director at the church where I was baptized as a boy.  We visited there one Sunday and then she applied for the position.  Four months later, she finally emerged as a top candidate.  While we were in New Hampshire, the church flew her out to California for three days of intense scrutiny.  The executive pastor assured Kim that she would be hired before she left, but then wrote her and said that because their senior pastor had just resigned, they weren’t going to hire anyone.

The entire time these events were happening, we were living off the funds from my retirement account.

But as the account dwindled, I realized that if I kept applying for Christian jobs, I would probably end up with no job … and no money.

Through a series of divine events, my wife sensed God calling her to start a preschool in our house.  We began in a rented house in August 2013 and bought a house last April.  The preschool is on the first floor while we live upstairs.  It’s a full-time job for both of us but God has blessed us financially.

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When I was a young man, the hiring process in churches and Christian organizations was much simpler and quicker.  It now takes many months to hire someone.

Forgive me if I don’t want to do it anymore.

Fourth, our grandsons trump everything else.

This is our son Ryan with his wife Vanessa.  They have three boys: Jack (far right), Liam (far left), and Henry (middle).

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If I became a pastor again, I’d probably have to move away and wouldn’t be able to see them.

But when you become a grandparent, you understand this simple rule:

Grandchildren trump everything … for me, even church ministry.

Finally, my soul is one conflict away from devastation.

In early 2013, after spending five days at a church back east that was considering me as an interim pastor, I spoke with my ministry mentor.

I quickly told him what had occurred during those days:

*One man … who owned five fast-food restaurants … ran the church.

*The church had a school next door … and the school held great power over the church.

*The church office was located inside the parsonage … and the basement was so trashed and spooky that I’m convinced there were dead bodies down there.

*One man came up to me and kept hitting me on the arm … hard.  I don’t know why.

*One older leader criticized me severely behind my back.  I later found out that he wanted to become the interim pastor.

*The church’s associate had been touching women and girls inappropriately for a long time … and nobody said anything … until he touched a young teenage girl … who did say something.  The pastor knew about the associate’s behavior and did nothing.

*After the associate left, the pastor asked for a vote of confidence … and was voted out.

That was the church that wanted me to come as interim pastor.

When I told my mentor about it, he said, “Jim, if you and Kim go to that church, it will permanently damage your souls.”

I can’t pastor another church because almost every congregation has one or more dysfunctional church bullies … and if I meet just one more of them, I can’t predict how I’ll react.

So rather than ending up in jail … or the funny farm … or some cult … I’d prefer to keep my soul intact and leave the pastoring to others.

Life has a way of chipping at our souls, but ministry does as well.  To become successful in ministry, a pastor has to become a change agent, and the change process inevitably results in personal attacks against the pastor and his family.

And I’ve had enough.

I’m grateful for the 36 years of ministry God gave me, and I wish I could have served as a pastor until the Lord took me home … or allowed me to retire gracefully.

But I have learned that His plan for me now is to support my wife … play with my grandchildren … do some writing … attend our local church … root for the Giants … and stay as far away from dysfunctional church people as possible.

And I’m having a marvelous time doing those things!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John MacArthur is a famous Bible teacher, pastor, and author.

And he sometimes intimidates me because he seems to be perpetually godly rather than human … and I have a hard time relating to people like that.

Yet MacArthur has certainly played a large part in my spiritual development.

When I was fourteen years of age, I went to Hume Lake Christian Camp for the first time.  John MacArthur was our guest speaker that week.

The first night, he shared about a car accident he once had that changed his life … and he did it with great humor … but his story really got my attention.

Later that week, MacArthur challenged us to read our Bibles every day, and I took his counsel to heart, rededicating my life to Jesus Christ.

When I entered Talbot Seminary (now School of Theology) in 1975, I was well aware of Talbot’s two most famous graduates: MacArthur and Josh McDowell.

MacArthur spoke in chapel one day on the glory of God.  Afterward, my friend Dave and I talked about what made MacArthur such an effective communicator.

To me, it was his authority … his certainty … that he believed what he was telling us with every fiber of his being.

Four years ago, my wife and I finally visited Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, where MacArthur pastors.  I wrote a blog article about our visit which you can read here:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2013/11/25/visiting-john-macarthur/

Several nights ago, this thought kept running through my mind: “I wonder if John MacArthur has any hobbies?”

While searching the internet, I ran across an interview MacArthur gave on his Grace to You radio program in 2004.  If the interview was designed to humanize MacArthur, it certainly succeeded.  The interview can be found here:

https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/80-33/John-MacArthurs-Life-Testimony

MacArthur shared again about the car accident that changed his life … about how he and his wife got together (even though she was engaged to someone else) … about another car accident that nearly took his wife’s life … and how Dr. Feinberg at Talbot reamed MacArthur out for missing the point of a passage when he preached during chapel.

And then the interviewer asked MacArthur this question:

What was the most difficult thing for you as a young pastor?

JOHN: The most difficult thing that ever happens to me, whether it’s when I’m young or old, is disloyalty at the level of leadership. Not because I deserve loyalty, but because disloyalty is so destructive. The hardest thing you’ll ever deal with is false accusation…people who say things about you that aren’t true and undermine people’s trust and confidence and this goes on in my case all the time all over the place. Not so much at Grace Church, anymore. Our people are very loyal. All the critics I’ve outlived. What are they going to bring up that they haven’t brought up in the past, you know. But even beyond Grace Church, there are all kinds of accusations and criticisms that aren’t related to reality made against me. That’s very hard to deal with because I don’t want to be viewed by anybody as unfaithful to the Lord, unfaithful to His Word as an unfaithful Christian. But I think it’s particularly painful at the level of intimacy when you pour your life in investment spiritually into men around you that serve with you and they generate a mutiny against you. That is very hard to deal with…very hard.

That happened to you…

JOHN: Oh, it’s happened several times. Yeah, it’s happened several times. And it’s a shock. You know, your own familiar friend has lifted up his heel against you, the one with whom you broke bread, you know, like the Scripture says about Judas. And I’m loyal. I think the only way to get loyalty is to give loyalty. If somebody in church comes to me and criticized another staff member, they don’t find me a very good listener. I will rise to the defense of all those that are in my care and serve alongside me. People don’t do that because they know they’re not going to get anywhere with me. And I expect in giving that loyalty to receive that back because disloyalty is so harmful to the unity of the church. So that’s always been the hardest thing to deal with. To criticize me personally, is not disloyal. To undermine me and criticize me publicly, behind my back, that’s disloyal.

Let me make four observations about what MacArthur says:

First, no pastor is exempt from leadership betrayal.

If someone asked me, “Can you think of a pastor who has never experienced staff or board disloyalty?”, my guess would have been John MacArthur.

But MacArthur admits … quite candidly … that some men around him generated “a mutiny” against him “several times.”

King David, Israel’s greatest king, knew all about such disloyalty.  He writes in Psalm 41:5-9:

My enemies say of me in malice, “When will he die and his name perish?”

Whenever one comes to see me, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it abroad.

All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, “A vile disease has beset him; he will never get up from the place where he lies.”

Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.

Of course, referring to Judas, Jesus quoted Psalm 41:9 in John 13:18 about their own relationship.

And in 2 Timothy 4:10, 14, Paul mentions two men who betrayed him:

… Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me …

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm … he strongly opposed our message …

If David, Jesus, and Paul all experienced betrayal, then it can happen to anybody … including John MacArthur.

I’m just glad he felt free to admit it.

Second, it’s beyond painful to support leaders fully and receive betrayal instead.

MacArthur confessed:

“But I think it’s particularly painful at the level of intimacy when you pour your life in investment spiritually into men around you that serve with you and they generate a mutiny against you. That is very hard to deal with…very hard.”

My wife and I attended one of America’s largest churches for nearly two years when we lived in Phoenix, Arizona a few years ago.

Three times within six months, I heard the church’s senior pastor talk about a staff rebellion that had occurred nearly fifteen years before.

He was still hurting over what had happened.  Years later, he still couldn’t believe those four staff members would try and push him out as pastor.

I left my last ministry eight years ago.  At one point, we had a staff of eleven people, some full-time, some part-time.

I went to bat for those staff members continually, getting them more money … more vacation time … and even giving part-timers paid vacations.

One staff member made a mistake on his taxes that cost him thousands of dollars, so I went to the board and they covered his mistake financially.

Another staff member literally worked in a closet when I came, so I made sure she came out of the closet and had her own office work space.

How was my loyalty repaid?

Some staff collaborated with my predecessor and I was forced out of office.

MacArthur survived his mutinies.  I did not.

But either way, it’s something you never forget.

Third, loyal pastors cannot understand disloyal leaders.

In the interview, MacArthur said:

“And I’m loyal. I think the only way to get loyalty is to give loyalty. If somebody in church comes to me and criticized another staff member, they don’t find me a very good listener. I will rise to the defense of all those that are in my care and serve alongside me. People don’t do that because they know they’re not going to get anywhere with me.”

Not every pastor is loyal to his staff and board.  I’ve heard some sad stories to that effect.

But the best pastors demonstrate loyalty and expect it in return.  And when the leaders around the pastor collaborate to criticize or take out the pastor, the pastor can’t get his head around it.

I served under five pastors.  In each case, I was the top staff member.

And in each case, I was completely loyal to my pastor.

Did that mean I agreed with everything the pastor said or did?  Absolutely not.

But I wanted each pastor to know that even if everyone in the church turned against him, I would still stand by his side.

So when staff members … and in my last church, board members as well … turned on me, I could not emotionally understand what they were doing.

I still can’t … because it’s something I could never do.

But sometimes I wonder, “Why was it so easy for them to be disloyal?”

Fourth, nothing hurts a pastor more than false accusations.

John MacArthur said:

“The hardest thing you’ll ever deal with is false accusation…people who say things about you that aren’t true and undermine people’s trust and confidence and this goes on in my case all the time all over the place. Not so much at Grace Church, anymore. Our people are very loyal. All the critics I’ve outlived. What are they going to bring up that they haven’t brought up in the past, you know. But even beyond Grace Church, there are all kinds of accusations and criticisms that aren’t related to reality made against me. That’s very hard to deal with because I don’t want to be viewed by anybody as unfaithful to the Lord, unfaithful to His Word as an unfaithful Christian.”

I don’t know what kind of accusations have been made against MacArthur during his long and successful ministry career.

His critics seem to single out his critical tone or his lack of graciousness whenever he deals with controversial issues … and he doesn’t shy away from anything.

In my younger days in ministry, I felt that MacArthur was a bit harsh at times.

But as I’ve gotten older, I thank God for him because he’s one of the few prominent Christian leaders who haven’t compromised or wavered on biblical truth.

What amazes me about the interview with MacArthur is that even though some leaders tried to overthrow him … and that’s the definition of a mutiny … he never quit.  He forged ahead.

You can do that more easily in your thirties, forties and early fifties.  But when a church’s leaders come after you when you’re in your late fifties or early sixties, it’s a different story entirely.

When you’re younger, if you’re “lied” out of your church, you can eventually find another church.  But when you’re older, those same churches won’t even consider you due to your age.

In my last church, I was accused of all kinds of things … especially after I resigned.

But the leaders were cowardly.  Whatever was being said, nobody said it to my face.

To this day, there are probably people who think that I had an affair … that I didn’t really preach the Bible … that I spent so much money that I left the church in massive debt … that I let my wife (who was on staff) do whatever she wanted … that I mistreated staff members … that I wasn’t approachable … and on and on.

When I first heard untrue claims against me, I wanted to defend myself publicly.

But I quickly realized it was futile.  I could not stop the tidal wave of hatred that was washing over the entire congregation.

There was no fair and just forum where I could respond to my critics.

So I just surrendered.

This kind of mistreatment has a name: “mobbing.”

In a church setting, certain leaders bury the pastor with false charges trying to force his departure.

They don’t want justice.  They want revenge.

I’m glad that John MacArthur is still pastoring Grace Community Church nearly fifty years after he began.

How has he done it?

Those who survive in ministry are those who follow Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:21-23:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

And that’s what both Jesus and John MacArthur have done over the years: entrust themselves to Him who judges justly.

May we learn from their example.

 

 

 

 

 

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Greetings!  My name is Jim.

And I care deeply about church conflicts involving pastors … usually with their boards and/or factions in the congregation.

My credentials:

*I have cared about pastoral termination since I was eleven years old and my father was forced out of a church he founded as pastor.

*I have also been a staff member when my pastor was under fire.  In one church, the pastor was voted out of office by the congregation.  In another church, the pastor was threatened by a faction until he lost the will to serve.

*I served as pastor of four congregations.  During my third pastorate, I enjoyed mostly peace.  During my second pastorate, a bully tried to force me out as pastor, but the church board stood with me.  During my last pastorate, I resigned when a small group resorted to abuse to force me out.

*I earned the Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary with a focus on church conflict, studying under Dr. Archibald Hart, Dr. David Augsburger, and Dr. Leith Anderson.  My final project/dissertation was an examination of church antagonism from the New Testament combined with family systems theory.

*I have written the book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict which is available on Amazon.

*I have written 569 blogs, most of them on some aspect of church conflict or pastoral termination.  Some pastors have told me my material is the best available on the internet.

*I have consulted with and advised scores of pastors, board members, and church members over the past seven years in regard to their own conflicts.

My credentials do not make me infallible.  I am learning all the time.  But I have a pretty good idea what constitutes healthy and unhealthy behavior in congregations.

_______________

Based on my knowledge and experience, I wish every church would adopt the following five resolutions concerning their pastor:

First, we resolve to handle conflicts concerning our pastor by consulting Scripture and our church’s governing documents.

Most Christian churches have a statement of faith that says that “The Bible is our authority for faith and practice.”

Faith refers to what Christians believe.  Practice refers to how Christians behave.

Both the Old and New Testaments have plenty to say about what causes conflicts and how to resolve them.  The New Testament in particular contains a host of verses designed to help Christians address, discuss, and resolve the conflicts in their churches.

For just a sampling, look up Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17-20; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 4:25-27; Colossians 3:12-15; 1 Timothy 5:19-21; Titus 3:10-11; 3 John 9-10.

Most church constitutions and bylaws also contain sections that specify how the congregation and/or the official board are to handle conflicts, especially those that involve the pastor.  These sections are usually based on the kinds of biblical passages listed above.  These documents were written when people were calm and rational.

But when people become overly emotional, they often ignore what their governing documents say and resort to the law of the jungle.  And ignoring your governing documents can put your church in legal jeopardy.

Second, we resolve to encourage people who are upset with our pastor to handle matters appropriately, which may involve speaking with him directly.

There are at least five things you can do if your pastor says or does something you don’t like:

*You can let the issue go.

*You can pray that he will change.

*You can discuss your concerns with family and friends from church.

*You can speak with your pastor directly.

*You can leave the church.

My wife and I attend a prominent church in our city.  We enjoy the pastor’s preaching, but I don’t always agree with him.  Several weeks ago, he made some statements that had me puzzled.

What should I do about my feelings?

I chose to speak with my wife on our way home from church.  She agreed with my analysis.

But I then let it go.

I didn’t need to pray that he would change because it was a relatively minor issue.  And I didn’t feel comfortable speaking with him directly because I’ve never met him.  And his statements certainly weren’t worth leaving the church over.

But notice one option I left out: forming a faction … listing all the pastor’s faults … going to a board member or staff member to join your cause … and trying to force the pastor out of office.

It’s not sinful to disagree with your pastor behind his back or to your face.  I know churches where if someone disagrees with their pastor, they’re labeled “divisive.”

That’s hogwash!

Division begins in a church when people get together and pool their grievances, especially when their discontent is focused on their pastor.  And that’s when Satan becomes involved according to Ephesians 4:25-27.

I do believe that if you see or hear your pastor engaged in sinful conduct, you should  address the matter with him directly.  That could involve an email, a letter, a casual meeting, or a formal appointment.

If you know him, that might not be too difficult.

But by contacting him directly, you give him the chance to respond to your concerns without involving others … which Matthew 18:15 commends.

And if you don’t like his answer, you can always escalate matters according to Matthew 18:16.

Third, we resolve to deal with issues involving our pastor as soon as possible.

In healthy congregations, people deal with issues as they arise.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27: “In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

In other words, deal with issues before the sun goes down!

In my third church … the healthiest one I pastored … I said something one time in a sermon that didn’t come out right.

After the service, several people stopped me and asked, “Did you really mean to say _______________________.?”

That’s healthy.  And when I realized what I had said, I laughed!

But in unhealthy congregations, people hoard issues against the pastor to be used at a future date.

When the pastor messes up … as he inevitably will … they compile a mental list of his faults.  And they add to the list over time, sharing their list with others who don’t like the pastor.  (It’s amazing how malcontents find each other, even in large churches.)

After they’ve identified others who feel as they do, they call a secret meeting and present their list of the pastor’s shortcomings.  And then someone in the group says, “How can we let this man be our pastor with all his imperfections?”

Church boards do this as well.  One board member is an Arminian who doesn’t like his pastor’s Calvinistic leanings.  Another board member thinks the pastor doesn’t spend enough time with his children.  And a third board member thinks the pastor doesn’t work hard enough.

Nobody ever discusses their concerns directly with the pastor, but at the right time, those board members may very well vocalize their grievances with each other … minimize the pastor’s strengths while maximizing his weaknesses … and either force him to resign or fire him outright.

And the pastor will wonder, “What in the world did I do wrong?  Why didn’t anybody talk to me about their concerns earlier?”

Fourth, we resolve to let the pastor defend himself against any and all charges.

Jesus defended Himself against the charges made against Him before His crucifixion.  Paul defended himself against Jewish and Roman opponents in the Book of Acts.

So we have biblical precedent for letting leaders defend themselves.

When a Christian leader is charged with a serious offense, letting that person defend themselves is the right thing to do.

Let’s say there are people in your church who suspect that your pastor is having an affair with a staff member’s wife.

And let’s say that someone produces some incriminating evidence against the pastor: a hotel receipt … a photograph … a slimy text message … or footage from a surveillance camera.

Should the board fire the pastor unilaterally?

The board could.  Church boards do it all the time.

But that doesn’t make it right.

I believe the board should meet with the pastor face-to-face … present him with the evidence … and let him have the opportunity to defend himself.

It might take an extra day or two, but so what?  The pastor should be given the opportunity to respond to the charges … or repent for his sinful behavior.

I know a church where the board had clear cut evidence that the pastor was sexually involved with a woman.  They could have fired him outright … but they met with him first … and then the pastor resigned.

But the problem in our day is that boards will often fire a pastor based on allegations or suspicions rather than airtight evidence or reliable witnesses.

And that’s setting a terrible precedent.

I believe the board shouldn’t determine the pastor’s status until they meet with him directly.  And in most cases, the pastor should be able to face his accusers.

Rather than rushing the pastor out the door … and making a host of mistakes … church boards should take enough time to work through a fair and just process.

Finally, we resolve to do everything in our power to work through any issues that we might have with the pastor, viewing termination as a last resort.

The more unhealthy the church, the more the leaders view pastoral termination as a first resort.

The more healthy the church, the more the leaders view termination as a last resort.

Ever know a married couple that wasn’t getting along?  They often have friends who whisper in the ear of the husband or wife, “Just get a divorce.  That’s what I did and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”

But if you’re really their friend, you should ask them, “Have you tried meeting with your pastor or a Christian counselor?  Have you read this or that Christian book?  Have you considered going on a marriage improvement retreat?  Shouldn’t you make a maximum effort to grow your marriage before you throw it away?”

Before tossing a pastor overboard, board members first need to ask themselves:

*Should we ask our pastor to meet with a qualified Christian counselor?

*Should we find a church consultant, a mediator, or a conflict manager?

*Should we ask our pastor to go on a healing or wellness retreat?

*Should we pay for him to attend a workshop or conference that addresses his weaknesses?

*Should we bring in someone who will help our pastor work together better with our board and staff?

The consequences of forcing out a pastor are devastating not only to the pastor and his family, but also to the congregation’s future.  It takes churches two to five years to recover from such a loss … and some never do.

_______________

The goal of making these five resolutions is to “win” over the pastor (Matthew 18:15-17) or to “restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1).

It’s not to humiliate him … or take vengeance against him … or destroy him … but to help him admit his mistakes so he will correct them in the future.

And so he can remain your pastor.

Isn’t this the way you would want to be treated?

 

 

 

 

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As some of my friends know, I’ve been rummaging through our old family photographs recently and posting some of the more interesting pictures on Facebook.

I’ve been startled by how happy I look in photos from forty and fifty years ago.  I had a wide, joyful smile that I exhibited freely and often.

But over time, that smile dimmed … at least, at church … largely because of certain individuals.

Kim and HBF Women Mid-1980s 001

This is a group of eight men from my second church ministry.  Six have gone home to be with the Lord.  George – the gentleman on the far right – is still living.

George and Wendell supported me for years, and when I think of them, I definitely smile.

But three of these men turned against me … and one is my all-time worst antagonist.  (Can you pick him out?)

Then I found this photo of some women:

Kim and HBF Women Mid-1980s 1 001

Two of these women were loyal, faithful supporters, including Bonnie on the right side, but three also turned on their pastor.  My wife Kim (third from the left) was smiling in this photo, but several years later, she wasn’t.

And neither was I.

This article isn’t about church antagonists … I’ve written plenty of blog posts about them … but about a question I’ve often wrestled with:

Should pastors be happy?

During my seven-year tenure at this church in Silicon Valley, I was not only unhappy most of the time … I was downright miserable.

Our church was the product of a merger.  I had read that merger math is 1+1 = 1.  In other words, if you put a church of 80 with a church of 50, you’ll eventually end up with a church of 80 … or 50 … but not 130.

There are many reasons for this: a clash of church cultures … differing ministry philosophies … a duplication of leaders (what do you do with two head ushers?) … varied shared histories … and a pastor who suddenly needs to become acquainted with 80 new people … which makes the group he came over with feel ignored.

My first pastorate was in the Silicon Valley city of Sunnyvale.  We met in a school, but after two years, the city planned to bulldoze it down for new home construction.  We needed a place to go or our ministry would be over.

A sister church (with 80 people) five miles away invited our church (with 50 people) to merge with them … provided that I became the pastor.

I didn’t want to do it, and looked everywhere for another ministry, but at age 29, I had few options, so on the day set as a deadline … October 2, 1983 … I reluctantly signed an agreement.

Our district minister predicted that our church … which averaged 105 people … would have 300 people within two years.

But two years later, most people who came with me from the Sunnyvale church left in anger, and our attendance … and finances … were in free fall.

And as attendance and giving dwindled, I sank into depression.

Every other Monday, I wanted to quit.  Most of the time, it’s because the Sunday before didn’t go well.

The smaller churches get, the more people just want to be cared for.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but carrying out the Great Commission is not on the frontal lobes of most people.

As the church shrank in size, so did my self-esteem and self-confidence.

By the summer of 1986, I was barely functioning.  I was constantly depressed around the house, and my wife finally said, “Jim, you need counseling.  I”m going to find someone who can help you.”  I told her, “Then find the best counselor you can.  I want someone with a string of degrees.”

My wife finally found a Christian counselor with two doctoral degrees.  I visited him twice a week for four months.  If there was something inside me that was keeping our church from moving forward, I wanted to know what it was so I could make corrections while I was young.

After taking all kinds of tests and discussing matters for hours, the counselor told me:

“You have your problems and idiosyncrasies like everybody else, but you’re basically normal.  Your problem is your church.  Get out of it.”

I ended up staying, but I wasn’t any happier.

_______________

During my time in that second pastorate, I found a book that helped me survive those difficult days.

The book is called Coping With Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions by Dr. Archibald Hart.  The book was published in 1984, but its lessons are equally relevant today.

Listen to Dr. Hart’s wisdom:

“Contrary to what many laypersons believe, depression is a major occupational hazard for ministers.  For many ministers, surviving the ministry is a matter of surviving depression.  Mostly the depression is not a positive experience.  It robs the minister of power and effectiveness and destroys the joy of service.”

Dr. Hart continues:

“It is impossible for anyone who has never been a minister to understand the loneliness, despair, and emotional pain that a large number of ministers must bear.  Not a few leave the ministry altogether because of the debilitation of depression.  Others exist in their pastorates in an unhappy, dissatisfied, and disillusioned state rather than leave their churches or change vocations.”

I read various parts of Dr. Hart’s book most Sunday nights before bedtime.  The book kept me going for years.

Why are pastors so susceptible to unhappiness?

Let me briefly offer five reasons:

First, ministry is often both slow and invisible.

Ministry is slow because people change at a snail’s pace, if at all.  The pastor-congregational dynamic usually entails less than an hour on Sundays and is confined to the pastor’s sermon.  The people have limited exposure to their pastor and he has limited exposure to their lives.  The pastor isn’t like Super Nanny who would stay in a family’s home and advise them on how to raise their children.

In fact, most people don’t want their pastor anywhere near their home!

I can recount many people I ministered to who never seemed to change at all.  Maybe God’s Spirit was working in them, but I never saw any visible progress.

Ministry is also slow because like most organizations, congregations change slowly, if at all.  Pastors usually know the direction they’d like the church to go, but they can’t wave a wand and make things happen.  Pastors first need permission from the board … staff … key leaders … and often, the entire congregation.

Pastors become absorbed with attendance and offerings because those are visible emblems of success.  But changed lives are much harder to measure.

Dr. Hart writes:

“People coming into the ministry from other areas of endeavor often say that it is far more difficult to set standards for evaluating their accomplishments in the ministry than it was in their previous employment.  I understand this problem because I experienced a similar one when I moved from engineering into psychology many years ago.  My engineering accomplishments still stand – bridges, reservoirs, buildings, and freeways.  They are easily recognizable, enduring, and satisfying.  But where are my psychological accomplishments?  Sure, there are many – healed hearts, homes and bodies.  But they are not as tangible and easy to pinpoint as those of engineering.  And pastors may find it even harder to identify their accomplishments once they get their eyes off money, buildings, and church attendance.”

When I preached or counseled someone, I knew the Holy Spirit was working … but He didn’t usually make His work evident to me.

Second, I rarely felt like I was done working.

I never finished my to-do list.  There was always one more call to make … one more email to answer … one more hospital patient to visit … one more sermon to research.

And if I didn’t do that “one more thing,” I often heard about it.

Many professions involve similar challenges.  But for me, as for many pastors, we never felt we could hit the “off switch” on our bodies, minds, or spirits.  We always had to be “on.”

For example, in my last ministry, I had to be “on” when I went to the grocery store because I’d always see people from church.  I had to be “on” when walking through the neighborhood … when going to the movies (I once sat next to a board member at an Adam Sandler movie) … when going to the mall … or when going to see the Giants or A’s.  I saw people from church in all of those places.

I remember one Christmas Eve.  We’d held two services at our church, and our family finally went home to open presents and relax.  But at 12:10 am on Christmas Day, I received a phone call from security that one of the doors at church had been left wide open after the second service.  Security couldn’t reach anyone else … only I answered the phone … so I had the privilege of going over to church to walk through the entire facility and then locking the door … something I did many times.

And that stuff happened all the time.

Third, I carried people’s problems around with me.

My counselor told me my greatest strength … and my greatest weakness … is my tenderness.  Wisely or unwisely, I feel what others are experiencing.

While my empathy made me a good pastor, I could not shake off people’s problems very easily.

The larger our church grew, the more varied … and difficult … people’s problems usually became.  For example, around the year 2000, three government inspectors were killed by the owner of a factory.  The story made national news.  The supervisor of those inspectors was supposed to be there that day and would have been murdered along with his colleagues.  This supervisor went to our church and had to speak at the funerals of his murdered colleagues.  I did my best to minister to him, but his sorrow sent me into despair.  How could it not?

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:29:

Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Like Paul, I usually felt what my people were feeling, and carried those feelings around with me for weeks or months at a time … even when I was with family or doing something fun.

Dr. Hart claims that “compassion fatigue” is another term for burnout.  If a pastor doesn’t demonstrate care for people, he comes off like Dr. Ellingham on the hilarious British TV show Doc Martin: rude, surly, uncaring.  But if he feels people’s problems too deeply, he might end up burning out.

Dr. Hart writes:

“The work of ministry, when it is undertaken with great sincerity and earnestness, is bound to open the way to attacks of despondency.  The weightiness of feeling responsible for the souls of others and of longing to see others experience the fullness of God’s gift; the disappointment of seeing believers turn cold and pull away; the heartbreak of watching a married couple destroy each other, unable to utilize love and the grace of God in repairing their broken relationship – all will take their toll on sensitive and dedicated ministers.”

And in the end, they certainly took a toll on me.

Fourth, I never knew who was going to come after me.

Several weeks ago, I ran across a batch of photos taken when the merger mentioned above took place.  The photos were closeups of everyone in the church at the time.  I forgot I even had them.

Jim and Olive Webber at HBF 1983 001

This photo portrays Jim and his wife Olive.  Jim was the board chairman – and head of the search team – in my first pastorate.  Jim believed in me and lobbied hard for me to become pastor.  I’ll always be grateful for his support.

Jim was the “songleader” at the merged church at both the Sunday morning and Sunday evening services.  He led the hymns.  But as he aged, Jim began to lose it.  He started selecting the same songs constantly and repeating the same stale stories.  (“Can you smoke and be a Christian?  Yes, but you’ll be a stinking Christian!”)

One Sunday morning, I asked Jim if he would lead a specific hymn for the Sunday night service.  He refused, telling me that no pastor had ever told him which hymns to select.  I asked Jim again, and he became angry.

He went to the board with seven complaints about me.  For the good of the church, I probably should have sacked him months before, and now he was going after me.  He left the church the next day and I never saw him again until I conducted his memorial service.

This stuff happens all the time in churches.  Someone draws close to the pastor.  The pastor thinks, “This person likes me.  Maybe we can be friends.”  And a few months or years later, this person suddenly attacks the pastor verbally, or wants the pastor removed from office.

I can tell you story after story of men and women I thought were my friends … people I thought I could trust … who ended up betraying me.  In fact, every pastor can tell similar stories.

And it’s hard for a pastor to be happy when he’s constantly wondering, “Which of the people in our church are going to attack me next … and possibly end my job or career?”

 

Finally, I was too much of a perfectionist to really be happy.

I wanted everything the church did to go well … especially those ministries that required my leadership.

When I first took Sermon Prep in seminary, my professor would critique our sermons after we preached.  For years after I took that class, I’d get up to preach on Sunday and hear his voice:

“Don’t look to the left and gesture to the right … your looks and gestures need to match.”

“Don’t tell us that Sandy Koufax was a great pitcher because he threw hard.  A lot of pitchers throw hard and get rocked.  Koufax was great because his fastball moved.  Most people don’t know that, but a baseball fan will.”

“Be careful when you use irony.  Most people don’t get it.”

As a pastor, I heard a lot of voices in my head … the voices of professors, and fellow pastors, and critics … especially critics.

And those voices often prevented me from feeling happy.  They reminded me that my church wasn’t big enough … that our offerings weren’t strong enough … that I always fell short in some area.

If we had two or three Sundays of declining attendance … or poor giving … regardless of how well I’d written or delivered a sermon … I’d feel like a failure.

Even when our church was full … as in the photo below … I often didn’t enjoy it.  Instead, I’d wonder how long the good times would last.

BFCC Worship Center

Dr. Hart writes:

“I once asked a surgeon friend who every day made decisions that could affect the life or death of a patient how he handled the responsibility of his work.  His answer was most illuminating…. He replied, ‘You come to terms very early in your career with your fallibility.  It’s okay not to be perfect and to make mistakes!'”

But when pastors make even a small mistake, there are always people willing to magnify it into something horrendous.  It’s as if they’re saying, “Ha ha, pastor, you’re just like the rest of us!”

And, of course, we are.

_______________

My wife and I run a preschool in our home.  She runs the preschool downstairs, and I handle business matters from my upstairs office.

The Lord has blessed us significantly, and we’ll do this as long as we’re able.

I’m far happier doing the preschool than I was in church ministry:

*I can see children learn and grow much quicker than I ever did adults.

*My wife and I have our nights and weekends free.

*I only carry a handful of people’s problems around with me … usually those of family members or close friends.

*I no longer worry about people attacking me.

*I’m still a perfectionist about some things, but little bothers me anymore.

But in the end, I’m not sure that the happiness of pastors matters to the Lord.

Moses wasn’t always happy.  Neither was David … just read the Psalms.  Isaiah and Jeremiah weren’t all that happy.  And neither was Jesus.

God isn’t looking for happy pastors.  He’s looking for faithful ones.  But even when pastors are faithful, there’s no guarantee they’ll be happy.  Sometimes being faithful means that you’ll be unhappy.

And that’s not a happy thought to ponder.

_______________

By the way, when I took “The Pastor’s Personal Life” class from Dr. Hart for my Doctor of Ministry degree at Fuller Seminary, I wrote him a note at the end of my final paper, telling him that I believed he was a gift to the body of Christ.

I still feel that way.

If you don’t have a copy of Coping With Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions, I urge you to secure a used copy on Amazon.

It just might save your ministry … and your sanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was taking classes at Fuller Seminary for my doctoral degree, I went out early some mornings and ran around various parts of Pasadena.

One morning, I ran across the bridge over the Interstate 210 Freeway and jogged into the parking lot of one of Southern California’s most prestigious churches.

The door to the worship center was open, so I looked inside.  It was huge!

The senior pastor of that church had taught me when I attended Biola.  He later did a weekend retreat for my youth group.

But several years after I peeked inside that sanctuary, that pastor – an absolute master teacher – was forced out of his position after fourteen years of ministry.

The news made the local newspaper, which quoted an attorney from the congregation.  Although the attorney held no official office, he represented “old money” … and the old money people didn’t like the pastor making changes without their approval.

As I recall, more than 4,000 people attended that church, yet a relative handful of disgruntled individuals were able to push out their pastor.

I have seen statistics that indicate that regardless of church size, it only takes seven to ten people to force a pastor to resign.  Other studies say it takes a mere eight to twelve people.

How can such a small group of people determine a pastor’s future?

I don’t claim divine authority for what I’m about to write, but let me take a shot at answering this question:

First, that small group contains at least one determined bully.

In my second staff position, a mean-spirited man was the chairman of the church council … and his wife was the church secretary … so this man’s wife reported to him everything that was going on in the office.

She didn’t like what the pastor was doing … and her husband didn’t, either.

And since the pastor didn’t do what this couple wanted, they decided they wanted him to leave.

Before long, the chairman convinced the rest of the council that the pastor had to go … and the pastor was voted out of office by the congregation.

This man paid me … the only staff member besides his wife … scant attention.  But when he finally did speak with me … only via telephone … he came off as a dominating and demanding figure.

In fact, he was downright scary.

The others on the council were typical churchgoers: nice, kind, mild-mannered, well-intentioned … but their personalities were no match for the chairman.

If the bully hadn’t been the chairman, he would have hounded whoever else was chairman to do what he wanted … so it was easier just to let him run the council.

The pastor … who also had a strong personality … was the only person in the church to challenge the chairman.

But ultimately, the pastor was voted out of office.

My guess is that embedded within the typical group of seven to twelve individuals is at least one person whose personality is so intimidating that few if any Christians will challenge that person to his/her face.

And yes, the bully can be a woman.

But if a church has two or three leaders who are vocally supportive of the pastor’s ministry, such a bully probably won’t challenge them and may leave the church instead.

Second, the bully takes advantage of the natural niceness of Christians.

Let’s say you’ve been invited by a church leader named Hank to a restaurant after the Sunday service.

When you arrive at the restaurant, you’re surprised to see nine other individuals from the church there with Hank.

Hank begins by saying, “Many people are concerned about the changes our pastor is making at the church right now.  I’ve called this group together to see if we can stop the pastor from making these changes.”

If you don’t question or challenge Hank right then and there, you may never be able to do so.

Many years ago, I met with a group of pastors for lunch.  The talk turned to the leaders of our district.  The consensus among the pastors was that those leaders were making our district the laughingstock of the denomination.

One pastor said, “If you want to, I know how to get rid of the leaders.”

I instantly spoke up and said, “I don’t want anything to do with this.”

That ended the discussion.

And that’s exactly what someone … maybe you … need to say to Hank.

But if you and the others hesitate, Hank will lay out his case against the pastor, and the longer group members remain silent, the harder it will be to stop Hank.

And the more danger your pastor … and your church … will experience.

Years ago, Dr. Archibald Hart taught me that Christians need to learn to be assertive without being aggressive.

We need to learn to share how we really feel without getting angry.

But since many Christians equate being assertive with getting angry, we remain silent when we should speak up … and find ourselves subject to manipulation.

Before Hank’s group gains momentum, somebody needs to stop him.

Would you?

I once heard about a board that decided to take out their pastor.  There was only one problem: the pastor’s biggest supporter was also a board member.

So the board waited until that supporter was out of town and then they voted out the pastor.

I have a folder an inch thick about that situation.  It was nasty.

Third, group members feel they are carrying out a special assignment.

The bully makes people feel they’re important because only a few churchgoers have been invited to the meeting.

But what they don’t see is that the bully chose each person because he’s confident they’ll support and implement his/her agenda.

The bully wants to use the group as a base of operations.  He can’t take out the pastor by himself.  He needs others … even if they say or do very little.

My first few months in my last church ministry, I noticed that someone I’ll call Charlie taught a Sunday School class … and that it was constantly growing.

Charlie openly bragged about how large his class was getting … even to me.  I became concerned that Charlie was going to use his class as an operational base to increase his congregational power.

After doing some investigative work, I learned that was precisely Charlie’s modus operandi in two previous churches … before he openly challenged both pastors.

And I remain convinced that Charlie was going to challenge me because he felt he could control those fifty people.

Most church bullies make each person in their group feel valuable.  They will:

*listen to and agree with their complaints against the pastor.

*invite members’ spouses into the group (even if they aren’t believers).

*mix social events with their plotting.

*make group members feel, “Only we can save this church.”

*pay members more attention than the pastor does.

And most of the time, that’s really what’s happening.  While the pastor may have a congregation of hundreds or thousands, the bully has a congregation of ten or fifteen or perhaps twenty people … and by showering them with attention, he can persuade them to do what they wouldn’t normally do.

I survived an attempt to remove me as pastor thirty years ago.  The bully recruited people who weren’t prominent in the church.

After he pulled the group out of the church, two group members died … and their families asked me to conduct their memorial services.

I assumed that since they joined the bully’s group that they hated me, but they didn’t.  They joined the dissident group because they were made to feel special.

Fourth, the group has to secure at least two top leaders to be taken seriously.

If the bully is a board member or a staff member, then he just needs to secure one other board member or staffer to gain credibility.

People can easily write off one leader who goes on the attack.  It’s much harder to write off two or more leaders.

When two or more leaders begin to criticize the pastor openly, some churchgoers … especially those without much experience in congregations … may quickly choose to believe them because they assume they have inside knowledge others lack.

The bully usually looks for three kinds of allies among the leaders:

*The key player in bringing down the senior/lead pastor may be the associate pastor.

If the associate is not 100% loyal, then taking down the senior pastor may be the way for him to get more money … have more say … or become senior pastor himself.

From all the stories I’ve heard over the past eight years, I’d say the leader most likely to turn on the senior pastor is the associate.

I believe that if it can be proven that the associate was involved in trying to take out an innocent senior pastor, the associate should be banned from church ministry for many years.  Trying to remove your superior is a far worse offense than almost anything an innocent pastor has done.

*The bully sometimes tries to recruit former board members who still attend the church.

These board members may have their own ax to grind against the pastor.

The most frequent complaint they have is that they used to be board members, but after the pastor came … and they termed out … they were not asked to serve again.

In my last ministry, a man had once been chairman of the church board.  When I came to the church, he was no longer on the board … I don’t know why.

When I became senior pastor, I didn’t think this man should be a board member because he missed too many Sunday services.  How could he make informed decisions about the church’s future when he was rarely around?

Besides, his wife had a reputation as a first-class gossip.

But later, this man became a key player in forcing me to leave … and I wasn’t surprised.

If I could do it again, I’d make the same decision. Placing him on the board would have been a political decision, not a spiritual one.

*The bully primarily looks for allies on the church board.

I believe that when at least two board members conspire together to target a pastor for removal, they often get their way.

A church board needs to be 100% behind their pastor.  A board can survive one dissident, but usually not two.

Remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7?  He said:

“Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”

If the bully is on the church board, he doesn’t need to persuade the entire group to get rid of the pastor … he only needs to convince one or two others.

And if they add a staff member like the associate pastor, who will stop them?

If they sense other board members are with them, they may call a special board meeting, or go into executive session after a regular meeting … and make sure the pastor isn’t invited.

If they sense other board members aren’t with them, they will try to persuade them outside of official meetings.  And when they sense they have enough support, they’ll make their complaints in an official board meeting … and then:

Finally, the group operates in such an aggressive manner that they’re confident they won’t be challenged.

And this is really why such a group gains power out of all proportion to its size.

They use the following tactics:

First, they verbally attack the pastor personally.

The group criticizes his appearance … his car(s) … his house … his manner … his sermon illustrations … anything and everything is fair game.

Some people in a church might think these things, but proper decorum keeps them from saying them aloud.  But the small group out to get the pastor vocalizes their criticisms.

Complaining is contagious.  Hatred is contagious.

As people openly criticize their pastor, others feel emboldened and add their own grievances to the mix.

Most pastors won’t wilt with this tactic … but they will with this one:

Second, they verbally attack the pastor’s family.

They attack his wife: she works too much or not at all; she’s too prominent at church or too quiet; she’s nice to some women but not others … and on and on.

They attack the pastor’s children: they’re unruly; they’re arrogant; they’re not at church enough; they’re at church too much … and on and on.

The attacks don’t have to correspond to reality.  And there don’t have to be many attackers.

The pastor doesn’t count how many people are making the criticisms because he’s too busy ministering to his wounded wife and children.

When a group attacks the pastor’s family, he has one foot out the door.

Third, they consult the church’s governing documents on how to remove a pastor. 

If they think they have the required percentage to vote him out of office, they’ll try that.

But most of the time, they just bypass the stated process and try alternative tactics.

Fourth, they pass around a petition to address their grievances.

The petition might call for a meeting so the group can air their complaints.  Or the petition might call for the pastor’s removal by the board or in a public meeting.

But everyone who signs that petition will experience a change in status toward their pastor.

In my last church, my wife served for years with a woman she dearly loved.

As the attacks upon me escalated, someone put together a petition and circulated it.  The petition called for an investigation into matters concerning me.

It was a confusing time for many people.  The woman my wife loved signed the petition.  But when she did, her signature ended her relationship with my wife.

Neither my wife nor I ever saw the petition.  Our supporters undoubtedly did.  And over time, they would tell us, “Those who signed the petition are not your friends.”

When people signed the petition, they were switching allegiances from their pastor to the dissidents.

The group circulating the petition knew that.  Those who signed it did not … at least initially.

Finally, they boldly exaggerate charges against the pastor and try to turn others against him … and they usually succeed.

When the pastor’s family is attacked, he has one foot out the door.

But when his integrity is called into question publicly, he’ll start packing his bags.

The only way a pastor can stay under such circumstances is if key members of the staff and board stand up strongly for him and say publicly, “The charges you’re hearing are not true.  I know the pastor well and he is the man you think he is.”

But once the charges gain momentum, most churches lack any kind of process or forum for the pastor or his supporters to rebut the charges … and the pastor gets buried underneath an avalanche of lies and slander.

And then so many allegations float into the ether that they can’t be rebutted … and people who were once the pastor’s supporters call for his resignation.

And somewhere during the entire “get the pastor” process, the devil and his assistants enter the picture and not only try to destroy the pastor … but the church as well.

_______________

The small group that opposes the pastor keeps pushing … keeps trying to recruit individuals to join their cause … keeps spreading exaggerated charges … and keeps the pressure on to remove the pastor … because they have gone too far to stop.

And they have sold their souls in the process.

The only way to stop that small group is for strong Christians to say … loudly and publicly … “What you are doing is wrong.  We won’t stand for this.  You are not only hurting our pastor and his family … you are severely harming our church.  We have worked too hard for too long to let you do this.  Stop this at once!”

But the reason that small group of seven to twelve people often succeeds is that there aren’t enough strong Christians in our churches to stop them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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