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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.  Humanly speaking, they got away with it.  In fact, some were later rewarded and given places of leadership.

One of the last places an accused pastor can find “justice” is inside a local church.

In Deuteronomy 19:15-21, a false witness in ancient Israel was given the same punishment that would have been granted the 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.  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 a pastor, a friend once approached me at a planning meeting and informed me, “Jill (who wasn’t a team member) is mad at you.”

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

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

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

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

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

How was I supposed to respond to such a complaint?

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

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

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

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

My response?

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

Jill never did contact me about that issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my book Church Coup, I called him George.

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

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

But George’s behavior raised all kinds of problems:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if George had misinterpreted what they were telling him?

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

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

Speed Leas comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anyone like that in your church right now?

Let me encourage you.

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

*Let it go.

*Tell the Lord alone.

*End the relationship.

*Leave the church.

*Speak with the person directly.

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

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

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

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

No, Jesus didn’t do that!

Instead, He asked this question:

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

Even Jesus stayed out of family squabbles and relational triangles.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The late 1960s band Buffalo Springfield (featuring Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and present-day Calvary Chapel pastor Richie Furay) didn’t last very long, but they had one big hit song to their name: “For What It’s Worth.”

Describing an encounter with police on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, the final verse says:

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you’re always afraid

Step out of line, the man come, and take you away

Those words encapsulate not only how it feels to be caught in a mass protest, but also how it feels to be the pastor of a church in the 21st century.

It is possible for a pastor to love the Lord and his congregation and yet feel emotionally insecure and even petrified at times.

Or as a famous Christian leader once said in an interview, “I’m always running scared.”

As I reflect on my 36 years of church ministry, I can identify at least six occasions when I felt a degree of pastoral paranoia:

First, when somebody came up to me and said, “Pastor, I need to make an appointment to talk to you about something.”

People would usually say that before or after a Sunday service, and my first reaction would be, “Did I say or do something to offend them?”

I’d ruminate over our relationship and see if I could guess why they were coming to see me.

*Were they angry with something I said in a sermon?

*Were they upset with a leadership decision I’d made?

*Were they ticked off at a staff member?

*Were they upset with the way the church was managing funds?

There were times when I tried so hard to guess their concerns that I couldn’t sleep.

But more than 90% of the time, I’d guess wrong.  As Tom Petty sang, “Most things I worry about, never happen anyway.”

They usually wanted to talk to me about their spouse, or their kids, or their boss, or a friend … and they didn’t have anything negative to say to me.

But on a few occasions, someone did come in with guns blazing … and those times … however rare … stayed with me for years.

And they tended to impact every subsequent occasion when someone told me, “Pastor, I need to talk to you …”

Second, when I didn’t hear any encouraging words after a sermon.

Preaching is a funny thing.

Sometimes I’d prepare what I thought was a great message, and hardly anybody would comment on it afterward.

Other times, I’d come to the pulpit feeling dry and uninspired, and I’d receive many uplifting comments afterwards.

In my last church, I spoke to 300+ adults every Sunday.  If just two people said something positive about a message, I felt that I had done my job.

But if nobody said a word, I’d feel like a failure … and would start to wonder, “Am I losing it?”

When I first started preaching, I stood at the door and greeted everyone after the service was done.  I came to hate that time because (a) some people would avoid me altogether, (b) some people would say perfunctory things (“good message, pastor”), and (c) I couldn’t take much time to listen or pray with people.

So after a while, I stopped engaging in the “glorifying the worm” ceremony (in the words of Joe Aldrich) and just stood at the front where I had time to listen to people or pray with them after the service.

Since traffic was flowing out of the worship center … not toward the front … it was natural that I wouldn’t hear most people’s thoughts after a message.

But based on a lack of information, I sometimes wondered, “Could my preaching days be over?”

Third, when someone falsely accused me of wrongdoing.

In baseball, it’s still true that “three strikes and you’re out.”

But in church ministry, it’s increasingly true that just one strike can cause the termination of your position … and your career.

Someone once accused me of doing something that I did not do.

I did something … someone became angry … and then they attached a label to my behavior that completely misrepresented my actions.

The church board became involved, and although they didn’t declare me guilty, it felt like I had a cloud over me for years.

Because if somebody wanted to hurt me, all they had to say was, “Did you know that Jim was guilty of _______________?”

And if I was one of the last ones to hear the accusation … as can happen with pastors … my ministry … and possibly my career … could have been over.

Pastors are aware that people talk about them all the time.

When you’re first in ministry, it bothers you a great deal.  But the longer you’re in ministry, the more you expect to be discussed … and even dissected.

But when you’re slandered … and every pastor is lied about to some degree … the official board needs to use a fair and just process to evaluate those accusations … or they might choose to take the easy road instead.

The easy road involves telling the pastor, “We’re sorry, but even though you may be innocent of the charges going around the church, so many believe them by this time that we don’t see how you can stay and pastor this congregation.”

The knowledge that just one devastating false allegation can end a pastor’s ministry forever is enough to make even the most godly man shake in his boots.

And that possibility can make any pastor paranoid.

Fourth, when an influential Christian leader came to hear me preach.

During my first pastorate, an older pastor and his wife visited our Sunday service one morning.

After the sermon, the pastor’s wife shook my hand at the door and said, “Good diction.”

Good diction?  That was the best she could say?

Around the same time, our district minister … a popular preacher in his own right … visited our church and heard me preach on repentance.

He praised my message up and down … and later told me, “You’re the best preacher in Northern California.”

The truth was somewhere in between.  I was a better preacher than “good diction” but definitely not “the best preacher” for miles around!

As a pastor, if an influential Christian leader was visiting my church the following Sunday, I preferred not to know about it ahead of time.

Because if I did, I was liable to over-prepare my sermon and not be myself.  A pastor does his best preaching when he’s relaxed in the Lord.

The office manager at one of my churches had a father who was a seminary professor.

One Easter, he came to visit, and came up to me after the service and said, “Great message!”

The more “good dictions” a pastor gets, the more paranoid he becomes in the pulpit.

But the more “great messages” he gets, the less paranoid he becomes.

But as every pastor knows, you’re only as good as your last sermon.

Fifth, when I was making a controversial statement in a sermon.

The trend back in the 1980s and 1990s was for a pastor to write out a manuscript of his sermon.

The manuscript demonstrated preparation … and required exact wording.

The trend today is for a pastor to speak without notes, and although I can do that, I prefer to have structure when I speak … or I’m afraid I’ll just ramble on and on.

Over time, I learned that the more controversial the topic, the more precise … and even diplomatic … I had to be with my words … or I might needlessly offend the very people I was trying to instruct.

As my hearers can attest, I never shied away from anything controversial.  Just preaching the Bible is controversial enough!

But I often wondered, “Who might be offended by this sermon?”

During my final year, I gave a sermon celebrating sex inside marriage from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.  I received a terrific response from some people, but some seniors were so upset with me that they promised to boycott the rest of the series on marriage.

The best pastors are bold when they preach, but when people protest against you for preaching the Word of God … that can make you paranoid.

Finally, when churchgoers told their previous pastor about me.

During my last pastorate, my predecessor visited our church one time, and while we were talking, I discovered that he knew all about the false accusation I mentioned earlier.

I tried to explain what happened from my vantage point, but I’m uncertain how much he believed me.

Then he told me, “So-and-so calls me all the time to complain about you.”

It wasn’t a surprise.  I figured that was the case.

So to what degree could I trust my predecessor and So-and-so after that?

There was a group of people in that church who were more loyal to my predecessor than to me.

Some held leadership positions when he was pastor, but for biblical reasons, I could not let them be leaders.

So they constantly called or emailed him, and when he came to town … which he did a few times a year … they would get together.

And, in many ways, those people were responsible for pushing me out as pastor.

An older man came up to me one time and said, “I drove up to see (your predecessor) recently.  We talked about you!”

What a stupid, insensitive comment that was.

And over time, such comments can make a pastor wonder if there’s a plot to get rid of him.

And in my case, there was … and my predecessor was heavily involved.

_______________

This article isn’t meant to be the last word on pastoral paranoia, but merely a starting point.

There are two extremes that pastors must avoid when it comes to paranoia:

If a pastor trusts everybody, his ministry could be over.

John writes about Jesus in John 2:24-25, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.  He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.”

Jesus did not arrive in public and loudly proclaim, “Hey, everybody, I’m the Messiah!”  No, He gradually revealed that information only to select individuals … and only as they were able to grasp it.

He reserved certain actions and words for The Twelve but not the multitudes.  There are things about a pastor his congregation never needs to know.

Share the wrong thing with the wrong person … and your ministry could be history.

But if a pastor stops trusting everyone, then his ministry will eventually die.

A pastor has to trust his inner circle.  If he can’t, his ministry won’t last very long.

Jesus trusted His inner circle … Peter, James, and John … to the point where only they observed Him feeling “sorrowful and troubled” … and only they heard Him say, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:37-38).

For whatever reason, Jesus didn’t want His other eight disciples to witness His emotional distress in Gethsemane.  He was willing to be transparent with only three.

During my last ministry, I trusted very few individuals with my innermost thoughts and feelings.

Several people proved trustworthy, and as far as I know, they have kept my confidences to this day.

But someone else did not.

I remember two extended conversations I had with a key leader.  I shared with him some struggles I was having, and later on, that information was used against me.

Since I shared that information only with him, I knew where the leak originated.

I’m reminded of the old joke about the three preachers who met and decided to confess their sins to each other.

The first preacher said, “I really struggle with alcohol.”

The second preacher admitted, “I really struggle with lust.”

The third preacher exclaimed, “I really struggle with gossip, and I can’t wait to tell others about you two!”

Since all too many of God’s people struggle with gossip, it’s best if pastors share their innermost thoughts and feelings with only a handful of trustworthy individuals … preferably from outside his congregation.

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In my fifth year of pastoral ministry, I sank into a deep depression because the ministry was not going well.

My wife was greatly concerned for my well-being.  I was barely functioning.

She told me she was going to find me a Christian counselor.  I told her, “Just find the best-educated person you can.”

She finally found someone with two doctoral degrees.

I drove 35 minutes each way to see him twice a week for four months.

I never breathed a word about my counseling visits to anybody in the church other than my wife.

Christians have a way of panicking when they hear their pastor is hurting.  It’s unrealistic, but many churchgoers need a pastor who is always strong and even superhuman.

And when they hear the pastor isn’t doing well emotionally, they easily imagine the worst.

Years later, after I overcame that depression, I felt comfortable sharing my counseling experience both while preaching and in writing so I could help others to lessen the stigma of going for counseling.

While it was important that I become more emotionally healthy, neither the church board nor the congregation needed to know the process God used to help me become functional again.

That was between the Lord and my wife and me.

Let me ask this question of you:

What else causes pastoral paranoia?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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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