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Archive for the ‘Conflict with Church Board’ Category

When the pastor called me out of the blue, I knew I could help him … even though his church board had treated him horribly.

After years of faithful service in a church of 500 people, the board had fired their pastor … without warning … without reasons … and without any severance.

He was devastated.

I don’t know how he found me, but I was glad he did … and I’d like to think that he was relieved to find somebody who understood.

That’s been my ministry for the past eight years … helping pastors who have been attacked … or pastors who have been forced out … or board members who have asked for help dealing with their pastor … or churchgoers who have watched their pastor being treated unjustly.

If anybody wants my help in the future, I will be glad to counsel them in any way I can.

But this is the 600th article that I’ve written … most of them on pastoral termination … and I’m going to take a break from writing … maybe for a long time.

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When I wrote my book Church Coup, I asked some Christian leaders to read it, and I received the most help from Dr. Charles Chandler, founder of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation.

Charles called me when I was climbing Bunker Hill in Boston, and I tried to absorb every correction he was telling me while my wife walked ahead.

One of the things he told me was, “Your book isn’t going to sell well.”  So right from the start, I knew that my book would have a limited audience.

It’s sold more than the average Christian book, for which I’m grateful, but I knew it would never be a best seller.  A Christian book agent told me that for the book to sell in any great quantities, I’d have to cut it to 150 pages … and I knew he’d edit the life out of it.  (It ended up being 291 pages of text plus footnotes.)

So I ignored his counsel and wrote the book I wanted to write, self-publishing it with Xulon in the spring of 2013.

I also purposely broke a few writing rules … according to Turabian … in the book.

And I edited the book myself, eventually finding only two errors … and one of them was a place that I didn’t mean to mention.

I submitted the proofs to Xulon in March 2013 and had no idea when the book would actually be published.

The following month, my wife and I were having lunch with our son Ryan and his wife and Ryan said, “Dad, your book has been published.  I saw it on Amazon.”  (Ryan now works for Amazon as a senior software analyst.)

I was thrilled!

It was also exciting to see my first review on Amazon, from Shelli Rehmert … a pastor’s wife in Kansas … who has become a wonderful online friend.

Every year, Xulon asks me if I want to keep the book on Amazon and elsewhere, and every year, I write them a small check to keep it published.  Although I have never made much money on the book … think $3 to $4 a copy … I’m pleased that I sell a few books every quarter … and that I once sold fourteen books over a three-month period in the UK!

But I’ve never liked the cover.

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I started writing this blog eight years ago, and had no idea how it would be received.

My son Ryan advised me to write three times a week to start, and told me that my writing would most likely attract critics who would attack me unmercifully.

But I didn’t find that to be the case.  Thankfully, I’ve received well over 95% positive comments, so the few nasty ones haven’t bothered me very much.

It’s a niche blog … and a narrow niche at that.  Most Christians don’t care about the topic of pastoral termination unless it happens to their pastor or one they know and like … and even then, most churchgoers won’t do any research on the issue.

My book will gradually fade away, but many of my blogs will stay online for years.

For example, I once had 696 views of one article in one day.

While serving as an interim pastor in New Hampshire, I wrote a blog one morning called “Pastors Who Overfunction.”  The words came quickly … I barely edited it … and sent it into the ether to be published.

Before I knew it, someone put a link to the article on the Gospel Coalition website … the only time, to my knowledge, that has ever happened.

But that article hasn’t been viewed much since then.

I wrote one recently called, “My Pastor is a Dictator!”  Seems like that article receives views nearly every day now … but it didn’t do well when it was first published.

I’ve always believed that if I write something, and it meets a need, people will find it.

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My blog “If You Must Terminate a Pastor” has been viewed more than 24,500 times.  I don’t know how many pastors or board members have accessed it, but I’d like to think that one article has stopped a lot of boards from harming their pastor, his family, and their church.

Just yesterday, there were 30 views on my article “Lying in the Church” and 24 views on the article “Why Give a Terminated Pastor a Severance Package?”

I’ve sensed that some people recommend an article to others, accounting for a more than average number of views in a day, and I’d like to think that some articles have been read by all the members of a church board before they’ve confronted their pastor about something.

In my last ministry, I wrote out my sermons word for word, and then published them on the church website.  One ex-pastor didn’t like what I said about him in a sermon and wrote me to set the record straight, which I did on the website.  (It was too late to correct my sermon since it had already been delivered.)

I learned two things from his email:

*First, when you quote from someone’s book, don’t leave the book in your garage and summarize it from memory.  Dig it out and know what it says for sure!

*Second, when you tell a story about a well-known Christian leader, more often than not, don’t use his name in your blog … or he, his wife, or someone he knows may challenge what you wrote … not because you said anything wrong, but so there isn’t anything negative about the person online.

That pastor had been forced to resign from his church because of adultery, and my guess is that he was trying to assess his reputation online.

So when I’ve told stories about most people, I’ve chosen not to name names.  If anyone wants to know who I’m talking about, and they write me, I’ll tell them … and provide any backup necessary … but I don’t want to hurt anyone needlessly.

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However, one topic that I’ve tackled fearlessly on occasion is the pathetic assistance that denominations give their pastors when they’re under attack.

And the reason I’ve been bold enough to do this is that I don’t need or want any kind of assistance from any denomination anywhere.

I am not saying that denominations don’t do any good.  Of course they do!

But when it comes to helping pastors who are under attack … they’re usually useless.

Here’s how this plays out in real life:

Pastor Bob is called to a church of 100 people.  He wants the church to grow.

He attends some local and national denominational meetings, and several speakers talk about the importance of reaching people for Christ.  Bob is excited.

Then Bob attends a local event, and his district minister talks about the importance of local church evangelism and church planting.  Bob starts catching the vision!

He goes back to his church … draws up some growth plans … sells them to the church board … and begins implementing steps to reach their community for Christ!

Two years later, the church has grown to 150 … at which point some of the church pioneers begin to attack Pastor Bob personally.  They begin making ultimatums: either Bob leaves or they leave.

(When people are under stress, they think narrowly, and usually come up with only two options: fight or flight.  If I have just one piece of advice for church boards when they’re struggling with their pastor, it would be this: refrain from taking any action against your pastor until your board has taken the time to think broadly … creating many options for how to resolve the conflict … rather than narrowly … creating only two options: either he goes or we go.)

Bob assumes that his DM, who has painted himself as a “pastor to pastors,” will back him up for doing the very things the denomination has wanted him to do: reach people for Jesus.

What Bob doesn’t know is that the pioneers have already contacted his district minister to complain about him.

Devastated, Bob doesn’t know who to confide in … so he contacts his DM … who listens to everything Bob says … and then shares what Bob has said with the pioneers.

With the DM’s blessing, the pioneers push for Bob’s resignation.  When Bob contacts the DM for help, the DM tells him, “Bob, there are too many charges against you being made inside the congregation for you to stay.  I think you need to resign.”

So Bob quits.

His wife is forced to become the family breadwinner.  His kids don’t want to attend church ever again.  Bob plunges into depression, convinced his ministry career is over.  He can barely function for months.

Most of the people at his former church believe the false charges being made about Bob and drop all contact with him.  And the denomination provides zero assistance … except for recommending a veteran pastor to Bob’s former church … someone who has a safe personality but has never seen any growth in his previous three churches.

Welcome to Business as Usual in America’s Denominations … where mediocrity is rewarded and success is punished.

The stuff I saw going on behind the scenes in my former denomination was so sickening that I wanted nothing to do with them anymore.

And for pulling away, I was labeled a malcontent … a label I’ve proudly worn for years.

At least I still have my integrity.

Years ago, I severed all ties with my denomination: medical insurance … retirement … you name it.

I’m not very good at playing games, but I’m in good company.

Jesus wasn’t good at playing games, either.  (If Jesus pastored a church in 2018, do you think He’d join a denomination?)

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For years, whenever a pastor in an evangelical church has been under attack, there’s a consensus among Christian leaders that the pastor should resign to keep the church united and to keep the peace.

Some pastors should resign … but many pastors shouldn’t.

Instead, they should fight back.

Let me share three examples:

First, I met a pastor a few years ago at the Christian Leadership Convention in Pasadena who told me his story.

As a young man, this pastor went to a church in New Hampshire, and he quickly found out that a certain influential woman ran the church … her way.

She had run out the previous few pastors, and she intended to run out the new one as well.

Only this young man was determined that she was going to leave, not him.

It was a battle, but the woman finally left the church … and the pastor enjoyed a prosperous ministry for the next 23 years!

Seminaries don’t tell pastors about people like that woman, and denominations act like they don’t exist.

Second, I attended a church in Arizona where the church’s senior pastor told me this story himself.

As the church was growing, four staff members decided to rebel against their pastor.  They not only didn’t want to work for him anymore … they wanted him to quit.

They began spreading rumors throughout the church … rumors designed to force him out.

The pastor didn’t wilt.  He didn’t resign.

Instead, he fought back.

He called a public meeting of the congregation … and when he did, three of the staffers instantly quit.

The pastor sat in a chair onstage for hours on a Sunday afternoon and answered every question anybody in the church had about the attacks.

And when he was done, he was the undisputed leader of the church … and the church grew to become one of America’s largest churches.

Would that have happened if the pastor had quit under fire?

Third, I spent a lot of time on the phone with a pastor from the East Coast.  He was being attacked by a faction inside the church that wanted him to quit.

It took some time, but the pastor stayed, and his opponents left.

He wrote me recently and is still doing well.  I encouraged him to write a book about his experiences.

When Jesus was attacked by the Jewish leaders, He always fought back.  He didn’t resign the first or the tenth time He was criticized.  Read John chapters 5-9 if you don’t believe me.

Yes, Jesus finally surrendered His life at the cross because it was “His time.”

But if we took all the disputes He had with the Jewish leaders out of the Gospels, they would at least be cut in half, wouldn’t they?

Somebody needs to write a book about how Jesus handled opposition … and He never quit just because people were against Him!

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For the past eight years, my favorite thing to do has been to hear the stories of pastors who have gone through the heartache of a forced termination.

Dr. Archibald Hart loves to say that whenever he hears that someone is depressed, he gets excited because he knows he can help them!

Because of my unique background, training, experiences, and research, I feel the same way as Dr. Hart.

When I hear that someone has gone through a tough time at their church, my attitude is, “I’d love to hear your story because I know I can help you!”

Most of the time, I hear the stories on the phone.  I’ve had pastors call me, but I’ve also been contacted by their wives, their sons, and their daughters as well.

On occasion, I’ve met people in restaurants to hear their stories.  One time, a megachurch pastor and his wife drove from Arizona to spend four hours with me at a local Coco’s.  I know I helped him because his board bought more than twenty copies of my book!

If we haven’t yet connected, I’d love to hear your story, too.

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But pastors aren’t very good about telling their stories.

Pastors tend to be private people when it comes to their own fears and insecurities.  Because a pastor will tell a story about himself in a sermon, many people assume that their pastor is a transparent and open person, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Pastors feel pressure from their congregations to be more spiritual than they really are … to act like better leaders than they know how to be … and to preach truths from Scripture that they haven’t really lived out.

In other words, pastors … like most people … are obsessed with their images.

And when a pastor is attacked and forced out of his position … he’s scared to death that his image as a spiritual person … a leader … and a preacher … has been ruined forever.

Based on my experience, I would venture a guess that about 90% of all pastors try hard to please their congregations … cooperate with their denominations … and get along with everybody in the Christian community.

If the average pastor attended a conference, and the keynote speaker didn’t believe in the Trinity, the average pastor would say, “I didn’t agree with him on everything, but he made a lot of good points.”

But I’m in the 10% that would say, “That guy’s a heretic!  If he’s wrong on the Trinity, how can he be right on anything else?  And who invited that guy, anyway?”

Somewhere along the line, a pastor has to make a decision.

Let me quote the apostle Paul in Galatians 1:10:

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I’m more comfortable being in the 10% group than the 90% group … but the price I pay is that I often don’t feel like I fit in the larger evangelical world.

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A few years ago, I had lunch with a mentor, someone who knows practically everyone in the evangelical world.

I asked him, “Let’s say you know a church here in Southern California that is going through a severe conflict.  Who would you recommend to help them?”

I wanted him to give me the name of someone whom I could meet with and learn from.

Instead, he pointed his index finger at me and said, “You.”

God gave me the ability to do this ministry.  What I lack is the ability to do self-promotion.

I’m awful at it.

After a few months, I hope to compile some of my best blog articles, edit them, organize them in a logical way, and publish them in book form.

My prayer is that such a book could help a lot of pastors and church leaders who are in conflict with each other.

Maybe if I scrub it of any mention of denominations, it will sell a little better.

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Why take a break from writing?

*I just turned 65, and I’m doing some self-assessment right now about my future.

*Besides working sixty plus hours every week, my wife wants to start taking college classes again, which means more of the load of our preschool will fall on me.

*After 600 articles, it feels like I have said about all I can say on the topic of pastoral termination.

*Part of me doesn’t want to focus on the hurts of the past anymore.  My own forced termination happened nine years ago this month.  I’d like to forget about it … at least for a while.

I will write again.  I love to write.  And if a large church conflict rears its ugly head … like the situation with Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Church this past year … I may share my thoughts again through this blog.

Until then …

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This last space is reserved for my mother and stepfather.

As far as I know, only my mother and stepfather have read every article that I’ve written.

They may have missed a few, and that’s fine with me, but they’ve given me the impression that they’ve read them all.

My dear wife, who is 100% behind my writing, has read most of what I’ve written … even if I have to read an article to her!

I thank God for the support I’ve received from so many people, but especially my mother June, my stepfather Carlton, and my wife Kim.

And whether this is the first article of mine you’ve read, or you’ve read many others, thanks for reading!

You’ve helped me fulfill a life’s dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Before you blow out the candles, make a wish.”

How many times have we heard that phrase repeated at someone’s birthday party?

Few people track such wishes.  Nobody writes them down and revisits them in the future to see if they’ve come true.

Well, I have some wishes for the people of God, and I will write them down.

My wishes involve the way pastors and their opponents … official boards, staff members, church factions … interact with each other when they’re in conflict.

Here are my seven wishes for churchgoers who are in conflict with their pastor:

First, I wish that churchgoers would speak directly to their opponents.

But most of the time, they don’t.

If I’m an average church attendee, and I’m upset with my pastor, I probably won’t tell him how I feel.

Instead, I’ll tell my spouse … several church friends … and someone on the board or staff.

I’ll talk to people who are safe rather than the pastor who seems … unsafe.

And since most pastors are sensitive individuals, they usually don’t speak directly to a leader or a member that they’re upset with, either.

And yet Jesus instructed His followers in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

This may be one of Jesus’ least-obeyed commands.

Jesus uses the phrase, “Just between the two of you.”

This means if the pastor is upset with the board chairman … the youth leader is upset with the pastor … the office manager is upset with the women’s team leader … the church treasurer is upset with the associate pastor … the person who is upset should speak directly with the person who is upsetting them so as to resolve the conflict.

There is no need to involve others first.  If I involve others in my conflict, I’m triangling them into my situation so that they can alleviate my anxiety.

But if I don’t follow Jesus’ words, some people who don’t need to know about the conflict now do, and some will take my side … even against their pastor.

This is where church conflicts begin to mushroom.

But they would die a quick death if churchgoers would speak directly to those they’re upset with.

Second, I wish pastors would speak regularly about biblical conflict resolution.

When I was in Jr. High, I played a lot of chess.  One of my goals in each game was to have each major piece defended by at least two other pieces.

Pastors need to think the same way … to put together a strategy for defending their church when the inevitable conflicts come … and they will come.

A wise general prepares for war during times of peace.  If war comes, and you’re unprepared … it’s too late.

So within two years of a pastor’s arrival, he needs to tell his congregation … on a Sunday morning(s) … what God says in the New Testament about conflict resolution among believers.

The pastor needs to say, “This is the way we’re going to handle conflict around here … and we’re not going to handle conflict in these ways.”

A friend told me recently about a pastor at his church who stood up on Sunday and read aloud some of the petty comments that people wrote on their response cards about him and his ministry … ranging from how he dressed to the volume of the music.

I commend that pastor for having the courage to do that.

I believe a pastor has a responsibility to his congregation to tell them how he expects them to behave.

For example, I had a policy for years that I would not read anonymous notes.  I told the office manager to ignore them and throw them out.

One time, she told me, “No, you need to read this.  It’s important.”  But since the author didn’t sign his or her name, I didn’t care what it said.  Why not?

Because the author was a coward.

How can I weigh the complaints … and their merit … if I don’t know who made them?

And how can I answer them?

Knowing what I know now, I’d take that note with me into the pulpit, read some of it, and then tell the congregation why an anonymous note is counterproductive.

That’s just one of a hundred things a pastor can do to train his congregation on how to handle conflict in a biblical, healthy manner.

If the benefits are so great … and they are … then why don’t more pastors do this?

Third, I wish that church leaders would devise a process for conflicts with the pastor before it’s ever needed.

When it comes to conflict with the pastor, there are four kinds of churches:

*There are churches that have nothing in writing about how to handle conflicts with their pastor.

Over the past seven years, I have been shocked as to how many pastors/leaders have told me that they don’t have any governing documents at all.

They don’t have a church constitution … church bylaws … nothing.

So when a conflict breaks out between the pastor and church leaders, they don’t have any guidelines in writing that can steer their behavior … meaning the law of the jungle takes over.

*There are churches that have governing documents in writing but they don’t specify how to handle conflicts with the pastor.

These governing documents were originally written to cover best-case scenarios, but to be effective, they need to cover worst-case scenarios instead.

The documents need to answer the question, “If our pastor’s behavior becomes questionable, or a group of people are upset with him, how should we handle matters?”

*There are churches that include something in writing about how to handle conflicts with their pastor, but church members ignore those guidelines.

My guess is that this is true of the vast number of churches in America.  They have the documents … they just don’t follow them.

But if they ever end up in court, those who follow the documents will prevail, and those who ignore them will lose.

In fact, that should be the case regardless.

*There are churches that have guidelines about pastor-church conflict and follow those guidelines should the need arise.

I once wrote an article about a church that did everything right in the way they dealt with their pastor’s wayward behavior.  They did such a good job that even the pastor admitted in public that the board had done everything correctly.  Here’s the article:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2016/04/15/removing-a-pastor-wisely/

My guess is that less than ten percent of all Christian churches in America do things correctly when they consider removing a pastor from office.

But if a biblical process is discerned from Scripture … and if that process is followed … a church’s leaders will both treat their pastor fairly and give their church the best possible future.

Fourth, I wish that pastors who are accused of wrongdoing were allowed to face their accusers.

I once spent several hours with a pastor who shared with me why he was forced from office after only two years.

Here is one of the complaints:

A woman stated that at a church social event, the pastor walked past her and bumped her, and that this bothered her greatly.

She did not speak with the pastor about it at all.

Two years later, when the church called in a consultant to investigate charges against the pastor, this woman came forward with her complaint.

The pastor could not recall the incident because nobody said anything to him at the time.

She remembered the bump … he didn’t.

But this was one of four charges the church used to get rid of the pastor … and then the consultant became the interim pastor.  (Oh, yes.)

But was “the bump” incident the pastor’s fault … or the woman’s fault for not saying anything about it at the time?

I shared a story in my book Church Coup about how important it is for a pastor to be able to face his accusers.

In my second pastorate, a man named Jim … whom I loved … was angry with me about several issues.  The issues weren’t all his … he was collecting grievances for others … but Jim spoke his mind, so others gave him their complaints.

Instead of asking to meet me with alone first, Jim went straight to the board chairman and was invited to the next board meeting.

Jim brought a list of seven complaints against me.  I can’t remember most of them, thank God.

But knowing Jim was coming, I asked the chairman before the meeting if he would do two things for me.

First, after Jim made each complaint, I asked the chairman if he would ask Jim, “Where’s your evidence for that?”

Second, I asked the chairman if I could answer each charge after Jim made it rather than letting Jim recite his whole list.

It’s fun to make charges against a leader.  They sound so plausible and foolproof when you’re talking to family and friends.

But I answered each charge calmly and completely, and by the time Jim got to the last charge, he knew he was licked … and called the next day to tell me he was leaving the church.

Had Jim gone directly to the board with his charges, without letting me respond, the board would have engaged in a massive perversion of justice.

But to their credit, they let me respond after each complaint … and the process itself showed Jim how much he had overreacted.

When pastors are accused of various sins and misdeeds, they have the right to know who is making the charges and what is being said … and they have the right to do that in the presence of their accusers.

Either do it inside a board meeting … or the inside of a courtroom under oath.

But when pastors aren’t given this right, the fallout can squarely be blamed on the church board for not following due process.

Fifth, I wish that every church would create a Conflict Resolution Group (CRG).

If a pastor and a church board are struggling with each other, the chances are that one or both parties will resort to church politics to defeat their opponent and get their way.

But when conflicting parties do that, everybody will eventually lose … especially the congregation.

For this reason, I believe it’s essential that there’s an independent group in the church whose sole job it is to make sure that a biblical, predetermined process is carried out whenever there’s a conflict.

The church board cannot be that group.

If a board becomes anxious or upset about their relationship with their pastor, the board usually begins to engage in process shortcuts.

*They don’t share with their pastor any concerns they have with him.

*They don’t let the pastor defend himself against any charges.

*They devise a process designed so they will win and the pastor will lose.

*They think narrowly, not broadly.

*They ignore Scripture … avoid their governing documents … shirk labor law … and focus on the end result: getting rid of their pastor.

Because it’s so common for church boards … and factions within a church … to take shortcuts, every church needs a group that directs and monitors the process that the board uses in dealing with their pastor.

I’ve written about the CRG before in articles like this one:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2014/04/07/a-proposal-for-limiting-pastoral-terminations/

Churches usually choose board members because they meet the biblical qualifications for leadership, but when a pastor-board conflict erupts, board members often think too narrowly and engage in the fight or flight response … and ignore due process.

I believe that some group in the church has to hold them accountable for working the steps correctly.

Sixth, I wish that local denominational leaders would stand for righteousness rather than church politics.

Here’s how this usually works:

Joe becomes the pastor of Grace Church.  His first two years go well.  Church attendance increases by 50% … the church adds two staff members … and plans are drawn up for a new building.

The church grows because it’s reaching new people … but in the process, some of the oldtimers feel neglected and begin pooling their complaints against Joe.

One of the oldtimers, Fred, has served on the Trustee Board of the local denominational office.  He knows the district minister … and calls him to complain about Joe.

A year later, Joe is being attacked by several board members … two staff members … and a faction of twenty people, mostly composed of people who have been in the church since its inception.

In his desperation, Joe calls his district minister for help … assuming the DM will pray with him, encourage him, and support him.

Instead, the DM tells Joe that he should resign as pastor to keep the peace.

Joe is both shocked and heartbroken.

If Joe was really Jesus, and Fred was really Judas, the DM would still insist that Joe be crucified.

The DM has been trained to think, “That church can always get another pastor, but if I don’t support them, they might leave the district, and there goes their money … and part of my salary.”

So many DMs tell their pastors, “I’m a pastor to pastors.”  No, you aren’t … not if you betray your guys when they need you the most.

Paul Borden has been the DM of a local denominational district for many years.  I don’t know what he’s doing now.

In his book Hitting the Target, he takes a completely different view of things … one that’s rooted in righteousness, not politics.

For years, Borden has supported his pastors who are under fire … especially if he’s been working with a pastor, and the pastor is being attacked because he’s trying to reach people for Christ.

I was part of a very good denomination for decades, but if I had to do it again, I’d become the pastor of a non-denominational or independent congregation instead.

Why?

Because the great majority of the decisions made by denominational leaders aren’t made on the basis of Scripture, but politics, pure and simple.

A pastor is better off not expecting any help from his DM than expecting it and not getting it.

Finally, I wish Christians would learn to forgive each other rather than holding grudges.

We live in a graceless culture.  Write one non-PC thing on Twitter, and your life … or career … could be over.

And I’m sensing that our churches are becoming equally graceless as well.  We Christians are so hard on each other.

In my last church, there was a staff member who was upset with me, but I didn’t know why.

This staff member and his wife had been criticizing me to others in the church … especially a prominent church leader.

Finally, this leader set up a meeting between this staff member and me.

For two hours, the staff member made all kinds of charges against me.  Thankfully, I can only remember two of them.

In one case, he accused me of doing something that the church leader present had done.

In another case, I apologized to him for saying something I shouldn’t have said.

But that was it: even though he had a litany of charges to make against me, I was only conscious of one thing I had done wrong against him.

His list of my perceived sins destroyed our relationship, which is almost always what happens when people create and recite such a list.

Why didn’t he bring things up as they occurred rather than pouring out all his complaints against me at once?

And why did the church leader … who knew what was coming … allow the staff member to act that way?

The whole process wasn’t about “clearing the air” or reconciliation … it was about revenge, pure and simple.

When I went home that night, I wanted to quit the ministry … and then the staff member’s wife called.  She wanted to meet with me the following morning and dump her load on me as well.

I told her yes … thought about it all night … consulted with the board chairman … and then told her no.

I wasn’t going to go through that hell again.

When this couple finally left the church, I knew I wasn’t forgiven … and I knew they would spread their feelings to others.

I forgave them over and over for things they said and did that showed they weren’t supportive of our ministry … but how did they treat me in the end?

I was unforgiven.

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In many ways, these seven wishes encompass what my ministry has been about over these past eight years.

What do you think of my wishes?

And do you have any wishes of your own when it comes to pastor-church conflict?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I recently watched a TV show where a little girl found her single mother right after she had been murdered.  The case went unsolved for years.

Ten years later, that girl had become a young woman, but she still wanted to know … indeed, had to know … who killed her mother and why.

The show explored this idea: Is it better just to accept a tragedy and move on?  Or can a person only move on when they know who and what caused the tragedy?

One of the great tragedies in Christian circles is the high number of pastors who are forced out of their churches every month.

It’s safe to say that at least 1,500 pastors leave their positions every thirty days … hundreds of them due to forced termination.

In a minority of cases, the pastor did or said something to accelerate his exit, such as embezzling funds … committing sexual immorality … using a controlling, dictatorial style … or engaging in a moral or criminal felony.

But in the vast majority of cases, a faction inside the church conspires to target their pastor by plotting together, manufacturing charges, circumventing procedures, and then forcing his resignation.

After a pastor has undergone such a painful experience, how much time and effort should he invest in finding out who wanted him out, and why?

_______________

There is no easy answer to this question.  Maybe this story can shed some light on the options.

Three decades ago, I had a pastor friend who was forced out of his church after nine years.  A faction in the church falsely accused his teenage daughter of doing something wrong.  The faction insisted the girl apologize in front of the entire church, and the pastor resigned to protect her.

As was my custom, I called him immediately and listened to his story.

I asked him one day, “How many pastors from our district have contacted you?”  (There were 85 churches in our district.)  He told me, “You’re the only one.”

A year after he left, we met for lunch.  He knew the name of the person most responsible for his departure … someone well-connected inside the denomination … but he did not know why he was targeted.

I gave him a book on forced termination … one of the few available in the 1980s … and after reading it, my friend told me, “Now I know why they got rid of me.”

After that, I lost contact with him.

Years later, I opened up the San Francisco Chronicle one morning and there was a front page story about my friend.  He had left the pastorate behind and pioneered a new approach to ministering to patients with HIV.

I was proud of him … not only for overcoming the pain from his past, but for directing his energies toward helping others.

_______________

Let me draw four lessons from my friend’s story:

First, most pastors have a good idea of the key players involved in their departure.

The pastor usually knows the board members … staffers … key leaders … and regular churchgoers who don’t like him.

The pastor may not know how their spouses or children are involved … nor the exact number of people who want to see him gone.

But most pastors know the identities of most of the individuals who are out to get him.  (And if he doesn’t, his wife surely knows.)

In my friend’s case, he told me the name of the man who was most behind his departure.  I have always remembered it.

In some cases, that’s all the pastor needs to know.  In other cases, the pastor needs to know more … a lot more.

_______________

When I was forced out of my position as senior pastor nine years ago, I knew the board members were involved, and within two weeks, I discovered that the associate pastor and the previous pastor also played a part in my professional execution.

Over time, friends inside the church informed me of specific individuals who either joined the plot or applauded my departure.

I needed to know the names of those people so I could unfriend them on Facebook … purge them from my mailing list … or avoid them if and when I returned to the city where the church was located.

As it was, I still made some mistakes in trusting people I shouldn’t have trusted.

Some pastors might say, “Since I can never know the names of everyone who was against me, I’ll just cut off all contact with everyone from that church.”

But I chose not to do that.  I had developed friendships over my 10 1/2 year tenure that I wanted to keep, so I maintained a small level of contact with specific individuals.

The most supportive group turned out to be the people who had once attended the church but had moved away before the fireworks began.  Most didn’t even want to know who pushed me out or why.

In fact, my wife was contacted by one of those individuals this past week, and he asked her to become a key leader in a new missions organization.

But I think it’s important that a pastor identify the individuals most responsible for pushing him out of ministry … not to reconcile (almost nobody who conspires to get rid of a pastor wants reconciliation) but to avoid them socially … forgive them unilaterally … and relinquish them into the hands of a just God.

Second, most pastors don’t know the real reasons for their departure.

In the case of my pastor friend, I suspect that some in the church thought he was too rigid in his convictions.  He was very outspoken about his likes and dislikes, and even made me wince one time when he visited our church and criticized the Christmas tree in the back!

But I suspect that his unwillingness to play games may have been a contributing factor in his departure.  My friend made his decisions on the basis of righteousness, not politics or denominational priorities.

In many cases, the real reason why a faction goes after a pastor is that they just don’t like him.  He’s not “our kind of guy.”

But another reason why the faction doesn’t like their pastor is that they can’t control him.

After reading the book I gave him, my friend thought he knew why the faction targeted him … and maybe he was right.

But a lot of pastors never find out … and I think they should.

What if you keep repeating the same mistakes in church after church?

_______________

Maybe the film Murder on the Orient Express can help us understand the “why question” better.  (I’ve seen three versions of the story on film, and each one is captivating.)

The famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is traveling on the Orient Express train when a snow storm blocks the train’s progress.  During the night, a shadowy passenger is stabbed to death.

Who killed him … and why?

In the end, Poirot discovers that nine different people put a knife into the passenger’s body … each for a different reason.

That’s often what happens when a pastor is forced from office.  The plotters may circulate various public reasons why the pastor has to go, but they don’t share those reasons with others because it might make them look petty or unspiritual.

For example, I remain convinced that hatred and personal revenge are behind more terminations than we could ever imagine, but no self-respecting believer is going to admit those sins.

So there are public, group reasons for eliminating the pastor … and a host of more private, individualistic reasons.

In my case, there were four main parties:

*the church board

*the associate pastor

*a faction of disgruntled churchgoers … including some charter members

*my predecessor and his Fan Club

I might also add a fifth group, composed of a few former staffers and people who had left the church.

I believe that each party had a different motive for taking me out.  The associate pastor’s complaints were not those of my predecessor, and his complaints were different than those of the board.

It’s always amazed me … you can have a church of a thousand people, but if two people don’t like their pastor, they will inevitably find each other.

But disgruntled leaders find each other much more quickly.

Third, most leaders never tell their pastor why they think he should leave.

As I wrote above, my pastor friend did not know the real reason why some people wanted him to leave the church.

Why not?

Because church leaders – specifically the church board – never told him to his face.

They wimped out.

This is a huge problem in our churches.

When people are upset with their pastor, they don’t tell him anything directly.

They tell their friends instead.

As some churchgoers pool their complaints, they get organized … hold secret meetings … create a list of charges against their pastor … and rope in sympathetic board members or staff members.

The pastor is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced … usually without his knowledge.

And then one day, the board chairman tells the pastor that he has a choice: resign with a small severance package or be fired without any severance at all.

And all the while, no one has the guts to tell the pastor what he was doing wrong or how he could correct his behavior.

Maybe it’s just human nature for people to criticize an authority figure secretively, but it’s cowardly for people to create charges against their pastor without ever telling him what they’re unhappy about.

After all, pastors can’t read minds … so how can they change their behavior if they don’t know what they’re doing wrong?

_______________

Over the years, I had to fire several staff members.  I hated doing it, and viewed it as a failure on my part, believing that I didn’t hire them wisely or manage them effectively.

I hired one staff member, and a few weeks later, he disappeared for two weeks without telling me a thing.  When he returned, we sat down for a chat, and he told me he had every right to go on vacation without my approval or knowledge.

After I fired him, a leader asked me, “What took you so long?”

But when I fired someone, they knew exactly why I let them go.  They may not have agreed with me, but they didn’t have to guess why they were no longer employed.

In my case, the official board never formally sat down with me and expressed any concerns about my character or my ministry to my face.

They told my predecessor.

They told the associate pastor.

They told their wives.

They told their friends.

They told key leaders.

They just never told me.

And when the board fired my wife, they never spoke with her, either … telling me to go home and tell her that she had been terminated.  (I told them that two of them needed to meet with her, and later that week, they did.  But shouldn’t they have done that on their own?)

My wife and I just finished watching the fourth season of Line of Duty … a superb police procedural show from Great Britain about a police unit dedicated to rooting out corruption among law enforcement officers.

When the AC-12 unit has compiled enough evidence, they call in the officer in question, present him or her with all their evidence … and let the person respond after each piece of evidence is presented (including surveillance photos).

That’s the way it should be in our churches … but most of the time, things aren’t done that way.

The pastor’s detractors take shortcuts instead … ignoring their church’s governing documents, avoiding Scripture, and working around labor law.

The single biggest mistake the board made with both my wife and me is that they did not bring their concerns to us personally.

We could easily have rebutted most of them … and if we were wrong, we would have admitted it and asked for forgiveness.

But when you start with a desired outcome, you’ll circumvent a fair and just process … every time.

And by doing so, you violate the rights of the accused to alleviate your own anxiety.

Finally, most pastors wish they could reconcile with their accusers.

A new pastor succeeded my pastor friend in the late 1980s.  I shared several meals with him.

I don’t remember the details, but the new pastor invited my friend back to the church.  Some in the church apologized for the way they had treated my friend, and asked for his forgiveness, which included the major power broker.

This only happened because the new pastor discerned that unless he dealt with the church’s past, they might not have much of a future.

I was reminded this past week of another situation where a megachurch pastor was accused of having an affair with a woman in his church based on circumstantial evidence.  (This pastor taught a theology class I had in college and was considered a great communicator.)

When a new pastor came to that church – and he was someone I had heard preach – he eventually invited the pastor back and the church reconciled with him.

How I wish that would happen every time an innocent pastor is forced to leave a church!  But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard of this being done.

If the church board had just talked to me honestly before making drastic decisions, we could have worked things out.  I might have taken time off, or looked for another ministry, or renegotiated my job description, or shuffled the staff around.

But they never talked to me directly, talking to others instead.  They triangled their pastor by siding with his opponents.

Reconciliation only works when both parties care more about winning over the other party than winning at all costs.

_______________

Since the board never discussed their concerns with me directly, I had to use alternate methods to find out the real story.

And if I didn’t find out, I would be forced to guess for the rest of my life why I was pushed out … and such speculation often ends in torture and misery.

So I discreetly talked to people inside and outside the church.  I wrote down everything that seemed relevant.

I consulted with:

*church friends

*staff members

*former board members

*influential people inside the church

*church consultants

*seminary professors

*Christian counselors

*a Christian conciliation expert

*other pastors

To this day, I believe that I made minor mistakes in my ministry … the same kind everyone makes … but that I did not commit any major offense against the Lord, the church, or anyone else.

I had to put the puzzle pieces together to:

*accurately assess responsibility

*avoid making similar mistakes in the future

*try and eliminate the cloud over my last ministry

*help my wife to heal

*see if I had any future in Christ’s church

*be able to sleep at night

_______________

Could my pastor friend have succeeded in his hospital ministry if his former church had never called him back for a time of reconciliation?

Maybe.

But what a blessing it was for him to return to his former church, listen to the apologies of those who tried to harm him, and grant forgiveness to the entire church body.

As some people write on Twitter, “More of this please!”

Yes, Lord … more of this … please.

 

 

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I recently watched a TV show where a little girl found her single mother right after she had been murdered.  The case went unsolved for years.

Ten years later, that girl had become a young woman, but she still wanted to know … indeed, had to know … who killed her mother and why.

The show explored this idea: Is it better just to accept a tragedy and move on?  Or can a person only move on when they know who and what caused the tragedy?

One of the great tragedies in Christian circles is the high number of pastors who are forced out of their churches every month.

It’s safe to say that at least 1,500 pastors leave their positions every thirty days … hundreds of them due to forced termination.

In a minority of cases, the pastor did or said something to accelerate his exit, such as embezzling funds … committing sexual immorality … using a controlling, dictatorial style … or engaging in a moral or criminal felony.

But in the vast majority of cases, a faction inside the church conspires to target their pastor by plotting together, manufacturing charges, circumventing procedures, and then forcing his resignation.

After a pastor has undergone such a painful experience, how much time and effort should he invest in finding out who wanted him out, and why?

_______________

There is no easy answer to this question.  Maybe this story can shed some light on the options.

Three decades ago, I had a pastor friend who was forced out of his church after nine years.  A faction in the church falsely accused his teenage daughter of doing something wrong.  The faction insisted the girl apologize in front of the entire church, and the pastor resigned to protect her.

As was my custom, I called him immediately and listened to his story.

I asked him one day, “How many pastors from our district have contacted you?”  (There were 85 churches in our district.)  He told me, “You’re the only one.”

A year after he left, we met for lunch.  He knew the name of the person most responsible for his departure … someone well-connected inside the denomination … but he did not know why he was targeted.

I gave him a book on forced termination … one of the few available in the 1980s … and after reading it, my friend told me, “Now I know why they got rid of me.”

After that, I lost contact with him.

Years later, I opened up the San Francisco Chronicle one morning and there was a front page story about my friend.  He had left the pastorate behind and pioneered a new approach to ministering to patients with HIV.

I was proud of him … not only for overcoming the pain from his past, but for directing his energies toward helping others.

_______________

Let me draw four lessons from my friend’s story:

First, most pastors have a good idea of the key players involved in their departure.

The pastor usually knows the board members … staffers … key leaders … and regular churchgoers who don’t like him.

The pastor may not know how their spouses or children are involved … nor the exact number of people who want to see him gone.

But most pastors know the identities of most of the individuals who are out to get him.  (And if he doesn’t, his wife surely knows.)

In my friend’s case, he told me the name of the man who was most behind his departure.  I have always remembered it.

In some cases, that’s all the pastor needs to know.  In other cases, the pastor needs to know more … a lot more.

_______________

When I was forced out of my position as senior pastor nine years ago, I knew the board members were involved, and within two weeks, I discovered that the associate pastor and the previous pastor also played a part in my professional execution.

Over time, friends inside the church informed me of specific individuals who either joined the plot or applauded my departure.

I needed to know the names of those people so I could unfriend them on Facebook … purge them from my mailing list … or avoid them if and when I returned to the city where the church was located.

As it was, I still made some mistakes in trusting people I shouldn’t have trusted.

Some pastors might say, “Since I can never know the names of everyone who was against me, I’ll just cut off all contact with everyone from that church.”

But I chose not to do that.  I had developed friendships over my 10 1/2 year tenure that I wanted to keep, so I maintained a small level of contact with specific individuals.

The most supportive group turned out to be the people who had once attended the church but had moved away before the fireworks began.  Most didn’t even want to know who pushed me out or why.

In fact, my wife was contacted by one of those individuals this past week, and he asked her to become a key leader in a new missions organization.

But I think it’s important that a pastor identify the individuals most responsible for pushing him out of ministry … not to reconcile (almost nobody who conspires to get rid of a pastor wants reconciliation) but to avoid them socially … forgive them unilaterally … and relinquish them into the hands of a just God.

Second, most pastors don’t know the real reasons for their departure.

In the case of my pastor friend, I suspect that some in the church thought he was too rigid in his convictions.  He was very outspoken about his likes and dislikes, and even made me wince one time when he visited our church and criticized the Christmas tree in the back!

But I suspect that his unwillingness to play games may have been a contributing factor in his departure.  My friend made his decisions on the basis of righteousness, not politics or denominational priorities.

In many cases, the real reason why a faction goes after a pastor is that they just don’t like him.  He’s not “our kind of guy.”

But another reason why the faction doesn’t like their pastor is that they can’t control him.

After reading the book I gave him, my friend thought he knew why the faction targeted him … and maybe he was right.

But a lot of pastors never find out … and I think they should.

What if you keep repeating the same mistakes in church after church?

_______________

Maybe the film Murder on the Orient Express can help us understand the “why question” better.  (I’ve seen three versions of the story on film, and each one is captivating.)

The famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is traveling on the Orient Express train when a snow storm blocks the train’s progress.  During the night, a shadowy passenger is stabbed to death.

Who killed him … and why?

In the end, Poirot discovers that nine different people put a knife into the passenger’s body … each for a different reason.

That’s often what happens when a pastor is forced from office.  The plotters may circulate various public reasons why the pastor has to go, but they don’t share those reasons with others because it might make them look petty or unspiritual.

For example, I remain convinced that hatred and personal revenge are behind more terminations than we could ever imagine, but no self-respecting believer is going to admit those sins.

So there are public, group reasons for eliminating the pastor … and a host of more private, individualistic reasons.

In my case, there were four main parties:

*the church board

*the associate pastor

*a faction of disgruntled churchgoers … including some charter members

*my predecessor and his Fan Club

I might also add a fifth group, composed of a few former staffers and people who had left the church.

I believe that each party had a different motive for taking me out.  The associate pastor’s complaints were not those of my predecessor, and his complaints were different than those of the board.

It’s always amazed me … you can have a church of a thousand people, but if two people don’t like their pastor, they will inevitably find each other.

But disgruntled leaders find each other much more quickly.

Third, most leaders never tell their pastor why they think he should leave.

As I wrote above, my pastor friend did not know the real reason why some people wanted him to leave the church.

Why not?

Because church leaders – specifically the church board – never told him to his face.

They wimped out.

This is a huge problem in our churches.

When people are upset with their pastor, they don’t tell him anything directly.

They tell their friends instead.

As some churchgoers pool their complaints, they get organized … hold secret meetings … create a list of charges against their pastor … and rope in sympathetic board members or staff members.

The pastor is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced … usually without his knowledge.

And then one day, the board chairman tells the pastor that he has a choice: resign with a small severance package or be fired without any severance at all.

And all the while, no one has the guts to tell the pastor what he was doing wrong or how he could correct his behavior.

Maybe it’s just human nature for people to criticize an authority figure secretively, but it’s cowardly for people to create charges against their pastor without ever telling him what they’re unhappy about.

After all, pastors can’t read minds … so how can they change their behavior if they don’t know what they’re doing wrong?

_______________

Over the years, I had to fire several staff members.  I hated doing it, and viewed it as a failure on my part, believing that I didn’t hire them wisely or manage them effectively.

I hired one staff member, and a few weeks later, he disappeared for two weeks without telling me a thing.  When he returned, we sat down for a chat, and he told me he had every right to go on vacation without my approval or knowledge.

After I fired him, a leader asked me, “What took you so long?”

But when I fired someone, they knew exactly why I let them go.  They may not have agreed with me, but they didn’t have to guess why they were no longer employed.

In my case, the official board never formally sat down with me and expressed any concerns about my character or my ministry to my face.

They told my predecessor.

They told the associate pastor.

They told their wives.

They told their friends.

They told key leaders.

They just never told me.

And when the board fired my wife, they never spoke with her, either … telling me to go home and tell her that she had been terminated.  (I told them that two of them needed to meet with her, and later that week, they did.  But shouldn’t they have done that on their own?)

My wife and I just finished watching the fourth season of Line of Duty … a superb police procedural show from Great Britain about a police unit dedicated to rooting out corruption among law enforcement officers.

When the AC-12 unit has compiled enough evidence, they call in the officer in question, present him or her with all their evidence … and let the person respond after each piece of evidence is presented (including surveillance photos).

That’s the way it should be in our churches … but most of the time, things aren’t done that way.

The pastor’s detractors take shortcuts instead … ignoring their church’s governing documents, avoiding Scripture, and working around labor law.

The single biggest mistake the board made with both my wife and me is that they did not bring their concerns to us personally.

We could easily have rebutted most of them … and if we were wrong, we would have admitted it and asked for forgiveness.

But when you start with a desired outcome, you’ll circumvent a fair and just process … every time.

And by doing so, you violate the rights of the accused to alleviate your own anxiety.

Finally, most pastors wish they could reconcile with their accusers.

A new pastor succeeded my pastor friend in the late 1980s.  I shared several meals with him.

I don’t remember the details, but the new pastor invited my friend back to the church.  Some in the church apologized for the way they had treated my friend, and asked for his forgiveness, which included the major power broker.

This only happened because the new pastor discerned that unless he dealt with the church’s past, they might not have much of a future.

I was reminded this past week of another situation where a megachurch pastor was accused of having an affair with a woman in his church based on circumstantial evidence.  (This pastor taught a theology class I had in college and was considered a great communicator.)

When a new pastor came to that church – and he was someone I had heard preach – he eventually invited the pastor back and the church reconciled with him.

How I wish that would happen every time an innocent pastor is forced to leave a church!  But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard of this being done.

If the church board had just talked to me honestly before making drastic decisions, we could have worked things out.  I might have taken time off, or looked for another ministry, or renegotiated my job description, or shuffled the staff around.

But they never talked to me directly, talking to others instead.  They triangled their pastor by siding with his opponents.

Reconciliation only works when both parties care more about winning over the other party than winning at all costs.

_______________

Since the board never discussed their concerns with me directly, I had to use alternate methods to find out the real story.

And if I didn’t find out, I would be forced to guess for the rest of my life why I was pushed out … and such speculation often ends in torture and misery.

So I discreetly talked to people inside and outside the church.  I wrote down everything that seemed relevant.

I consulted with:

*church friends

*staff members

*former board members

*influential people inside the church

*church consultants

*seminary professors

*Christian counselors

*a Christian conciliation expert

*other pastors

To this day, I believe that I made minor mistakes in my ministry … the same kind everyone makes … but that I did not commit any major offense against the Lord, the church, or anyone else.

I had to put the puzzle pieces together to:

*accurately assess responsibility

*avoid making similar mistakes in the future

*try and eliminate the cloud over my last ministry

*help my wife to heal

*see if I had any future in Christ’s church

*be able to sleep at night

_______________

Could my pastor friend have succeeded in his hospital ministry if his former church had never called him back for a time of reconciliation?

Maybe.

But what a blessing it was for him to return to his former church, listen to the apologies of those who tried to harm him, and grant forgiveness to the entire church body.

As some people write on Twitter, “More of this please!”

Yes, Lord … more of this … please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today is the anniversary of a day that changed my life forever.

Nine years ago this morning, after returning from a mission trip overseas, I entered the office of the church I served as pastor for an 8:00 am meeting with the official board.  We were supposed to discuss our plans for the next year’s budget.

Instead, the board announced that they had terminated our most valuable staff member: my wife.  Their sole charge against her was that she had overspent her missions and outreach budgets by a wide margin.

But she wasn’t their eventual target.  I was.  The board didn’t have enough evidence against me that they could take to the congregation for a dismissal vote, so they went after her instead, assuming I’d resign if she did.

I’ve recounted the story of the fifty-day conflict that ensued in my book Church Coup (which may be the most detailed and complete account of a pastoral termination ever written).  I revisit the story in this blog every October 24.  As one of my advisors told me, “You never want to forget what it felt like to go through that awful experience.”

The purpose of telling my story is for pastors, board members, and churchgoers to learn what to do and what not to do during a conflict with the pastor.  I am not telling my story to garner sympathy or to gain followers.  By relating my experiences, I still hope to teach.

So let me share some snapshots of what I experienced over the seven weeks of the conflict.  Many stories are outtakes from my book while some are based on information I received after the book was published in the spring of 2013.

After more than 35 years in church ministry … I still can’t believe the following events happened to me … but they did.

_______________

The board told me that they would give my wife a choice: she could resign or be fired.  They said they felt so strongly about their decision that they were all willing to resign, the implication being that if she didn’t resign, they would.

And the following week, because she didn’t resign, they did.  (To this day, I wonder who advised them to try that tactic.)

If she resigned, that would take the pressure off them … and that was her initial reaction: to just quit.

But when she thought more clearly, she didn’t believe she had done anything wrong … and she was positive she had not overspent the amount the board claimed.

So she didn’t quit immediately, as the board hoped she would.  We both decided to wait and see if we could discover the truth behind their decision first.

Kim’s dad (a former pastor and Christian university professor) told her, “If you didn’t do anything wrong, don’t quit.”  A Christian counselor who had advised us for years told me, “If she resigns, that would be a lie.  Make it a battle.”

We didn’t want to make it a battle, but the board had not made enough of a compelling case for my wife to say, “You’re right, I messed up, I will resign.”  We needed more information.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought the church board would take such drastic action.

But they did.

_______________

For years, my wife worked for a pace setting company in Silicon Valley, and she sometimes had to fire employees … but always by the book.  She was upset with the board because they had not followed any kind of protocol.  She kept telling me that her rights had been violated.

Several months ago, my wife visited that company again, and briefly told her story to the organization’s founder and president, who agreed that my wife had every right to sue the church/board for wrongful termination.

On the one hand, Paul commands Christians not to sue other Christians in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.  I get that.

On the other hand, too many Christian organizations … especially churches … do violate the rights of staff members and pastors when they terminate them … and they do deserve to be sued.

But the separation of church and state usually protects such churches.

I wish some churches would be sued successfully … if only to teach church leaders to use biblical procedures … and due process … when they’re thinking about terminating pastors and staff members in the future.

Because if those same leaders were treated in a similar fashion at their workplaces, they would probably sue the pants off their companies.

_______________

On the night after the board met with me, they convened a meeting of the church staff to announce my wife’s termination.  Not only did the board add several more charges to their list, but such a meeting was probably illegal.

An advisor who later became my mentor told me that in our state, if my wife had been in a secular company, she could have sued them for four to six million dollars for telling her co-workers why they had fired her.

Five nights later, when my wife finally met with two board members at my request … so they could tell her to her face why they had terminated her … she told them that she could sue them for the way they had handled things.  This wasn’t merely an emotional outburst … this was based on the careful way she fired employees for years at that Silicon Valley company.

A former board member from that church told me emphatically over a period of years that the board violated the church constitution and bylaws when they terminated my wife.  The governing documents clearly stated that staff members could only be fired upon recommendation of the senior pastor to the official board.  When the church voted to approve those documents, my wife was already a staff member.

One night, while walking along the Bay on a very dark night, I ran into another former board member who told me it was going around that my wife and I were planning on suing the church.  It wasn’t true … we weren’t planning on suing anybody … but many churchgoers believe the first thing they hear without confirmation.

The church board totally bungled the way they handled things, and when my wife called them on it, we became the bad guys … and had to be destroyed.

All too often, this is the way Christians handle their conflicts.  We’re godly … they’re ungodly.

_______________

When my predecessor retired and left the church in December 2000, he and his wife moved to another state.  But they eventually moved back to California … and settled in the very city my wife and I have made our home the past six years.

My predecessor became the president of a parachurch group, and that group’s founder also lived in our city at the time.  The founder told me that several years before 2009, while they were playing golf, my predecessor told him that he was going to return to the church I was pastoring.  The founder told him, “No, you can’t do that!”  But my predecessor seemed determined.

This information tells me that the plot to get rid of me went back months … if not years … before the board acted against my wife.  As a megachurch pastor who knew my predecessor told me eleven days after the conflict surfaced, “You have no idea how much you have been undermined.”

That same pastor told me that he had heard my predecessor make the exact same charges against my wife using the exact same terms that the board used.  To what extent did my predecessor formulate or refine the charges against her?

Because my predecessor had been in ministry for years, his counsel seemed legitimate to the board.  They most likely trusted him without questioning his motives or strategies.

But in the process, the previous pastor clearly violated pastoral ethics … which the board undoubtedly knew nothing about.

A year after I left, guess who returned to the church to preach at the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services?

That’s right … my predecessor … who had his fingers in the church board, the church staff, and the congregation for many years.

God rest his soul.

_______________

I’ve never given a moment’s thought to returning to my former church.  I served there ten-and-a-half years, resigned, and left it for good.  How wrong would it be for me to interfere in the church’s governance so many years after leaving?

Why did my predecessor even want to return?  My guess is that his Fan Club were telling him that things at the church were really bad and that only he could save the church.

In fact, several years before the conflict surfaced, I heard a report attributed to my predecessor that our church was losing attendees … when the opposite was true … and I informed the church board of the rumor without naming its source.

But we had grown steadily and were the largest Protestant church in our city.  We had a positive reputation for miles around.  We had built a new worship center.  My wife and I had both been keynote speakers at the area Sunday School Convention.  In our community, where a church of 150 stood out, we were like a megachurch.  A Navy chaplain once told me that when he was stationed near India, and knew he was going to move to our community, someone recommended that he attend our church.

Why did things seem so bad to a tiny group of people?  Because they didn’t have positions of power … and that was intentional on my part.  They were not behind our mission and vision.  They were not behind me as their pastor … and I knew it.  They were able to serve … just not in positions of influence.

But they thought that because they were founding members, they deserved preferential treatment.

One time, my predecessor visited the campus and told me that a woman from our church was calling him constantly to complain about me.  I figured as much.  While I was pleasant around her, I couldn’t let her be a leader because I didn’t trust her.

And I felt the same way about some of my predecessor’s other fans.

When people once held power in a church, but no longer do so, they will sometimes do anything to get that power back … even if they have to violate half the New Testament to do it.

_______________

One woman did her best to disguise her opposition to me, and I had to interact with her on a regular basis.  After a while, pastors develop a sixth sense about such people.

After the board and associate pastor resigned, I called two public meetings of the congregation to announce their decisions.  During one of the meetings, a friend went into the women’s restroom and this woman was crying because, she said, she was afraid they weren’t going to get rid of me.

After we left, this woman openly bragged about how she and some others in the church worked the plot that sent us packing.

I could never plot against a pastor.  I’d leave the church first.

God calls a pastor to lead and teach.  He doesn’t call anyone to force out an innocent pastor.  So why is it so easy for many Christians to join a coup against the person that God called?

If you have a good answer, I’d like to hear it.

_______________

The primary charge against my wife concerned finances.  I continue to maintain that the numbers that were verbally announced to me at the board meeting had been massaged.

For example:

*My wife had committed funds to some vendors for our annual Fall Fun Fest on Halloween … but we hadn’t yet held the event to recoup any of our expenses.

*As I mentioned in my book, several thousand dollars were mistakenly sent overseas … and undoubtedly counted against her mission budget … when she had nothing to do with that decision.

*When my wife was putting together a team for a mission trip to Eastern Europe, we had to buy the plane tickets in advance … and one person backed out.  We tried, but weren’t able to recoup the funds for one leg of his journey.

*When our mission team flew to Moldova, we brought along extra suitcases filled with items for poor people and the vulnerable children … but even though we were told in advance by an airline executive that we wouldn’t have to pay extra for each leg of our journey, we were overcharged for the suitcases anyway.

My wife or I could have explained these decisions had we been given the opportunity … but no one on the board asked us or the bookkeeper anything about these expenses.

The budgets of two unrelated ministries were thousands of dollars in the red … but to my knowledge, no one ever addressed those deficits with the leaders that managed those budgets.

No, my wife … our most effective staff member … was singled out for special mistreatment.

In the spring of 2009, I went to the board and asked for funds to visit two churches in Southern California to learn about their multi-venue services.  The board approved those funds … and then they were charged to the worship budget without the leader’s knowledge or consent … sending his pristine budget into chaos.

Were other unrelated expenses charged to my wife’s budgets without her consent or knowledge?

When I finally asked for the board’s accounting, I received something incoherent from the bookkeeper.  When my wife asked to see the board’s numbers, they did not give them to her.

When my wife finally met with the bookkeeper a month after the conflict surfaced … and the board members had all quit … the numbers told a completely different story.  When a nine-person investigative team examined matters a month after that, they concluded that “there was no evidence of wrongdoing” on our part.

Was the financial charge against my wife a bluff to prompt us both to resign?

_______________

Someone made a public charge that I mismanaged church finances.  That was an outright lie.

What’s ironic is that even after the conflict erupted … and even after I left the church … I was still a central person concerning church finances.

*When the board refinanced the loan for the worship center, I had to sign the document.  If the credit union had known the board’s plans, they might not have approved the refinancing.  When companies make loans to organizations, they want to know in advance that the leadership is going to remain stable.

I wonder what the board told them about their pastor’s long-term prospects?

*During the conflict, the church bookkeeper stopped by my house once or twice a week so I could sign checks, which I’d do on top of her car on the street.

*Months after I had left the church, I was still the key person concerning the church’s credit cards.  The bookkeeper was still contacting me, asking me to call the company and give them directions.

If I had really mismanaged funds, would I have been able to do any of those things?

When a pastor mismanages funds at church, it’s often because his own financial house is in disarray … but our personal finances were and are pristine.

It’s so easy to throw general charges around without being specific and without doing it to the face of the accused.

_______________

When the composition of a church board changes, it can throw the entire congregation off-balance.

For years, I had worked with three men on the board who were all older than me.  We had been through a lot together.  I trusted them, and their actions indicated that they trusted me.

One moved away about six months before the conflict surfaced.  He was the person who always had my back.  The other two termed out but stayed in the church.

Had even one of those men still been on the board, the coup never would have taken place.  They would either have stopped it or exposed it.

In the end, the new board in 2009 was composed entirely of people younger than me.  They lacked the experience and maturity of the older men … one of whom had experienced a church split years before in another church and would never have tolerated the tactics used by my opponents.

Someone on the board ended up leading the coup.  I always knew his identity.  May God forgive him for all the lives he harmed in his attempt at personal payback.

_______________

The board never attempted anything resembling restoration.  It was all about punishment.  As Charles Chandler from the Ministering to Ministers Foundation told me, the board members were personalizing matters.

As a Christian counselor asked me, “Where’s the redemption in all this?”

There wasn’t any pathway to redemption.  Coups don’t involve restoration.  They can be bloody or bloodless, but they are always about one thing.

Getting rid of the leader at all costs.

If you can show me where in the New Testament we find such behavior commended, I’d be grateful.

I’ve been searching for years … and I still can’t find it.

_______________

Wherever you find deceit and destruction, you find Satan.  Jesus called him “the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning” in John 8:44.

Based on some of the stories I’ve heard, I don’t believe Satan is centrally involved in every church conflict.  Some believe that he is.  I don’t.

I look for deceit and destruction.  Someone in ministry suggested adding “doubt” to the calculus as well.

There was definitely deceit in our conflict.  There were a lot of falsehoods going around: exaggeration, character assassination, misrepresentation, false allegations … it was all there.

And there was a lot of destruction as well.  Satan’s aim in most church conflicts is to destroy the pastor’s well being … reputation … and career … but ultimately, to destroy the church itself.

Although I was not personally destroyed, my effectiveness for future ministry was.  I don’t claim to know if that was the aim of anyone in the church.  Maybe so, maybe not.

But I do know this: Satan gained a foothold in the lives of too many of God’s people in that church.  Hatred and two-faced hypocrisy are not from God.

_______________

Most pastors who are forced out of a church are never exonerated.  Their reputations are ruined, at least inside their former church.

But I was exonerated … twice.

The first time, a consultant the transition team and I hired during the conflict issued a report that the board had acted “extremely and destructively” and that my wife and I had been abused.

The second time, an investigative team of nine people from inside the church claimed that “there was no evidence of wrongdoing” on our part.

But some people could not allow those verdicts to stand.

When I left the church in December 2009, I was told that 95% of the church supported me.  A year later, I was told that support was down to 20%.

I don’t know the truth of either percentage.  But I do know that throughout 2010, there was a whispering campaign inside my former church to pin the blame for the entire conflict on me.

When an interim pastor (a friend of my predecessor’s) came to the church several months later, he convened a meeting of the old and new boards, and made everyone who knew the truth about the conflict promise that they wouldn’t discuss it with anyone.  So when people attacked my reputation, those leaders were told not to counteract any lies and to remain silent.

But what about the people who were spreading falsehoods inside the church?  Why didn’t anyone warn them to stop destroying the reputation of their previous pastor?

Because unity is based on truth … not lies … such diversions do nothing to heal people’s souls.

Even though I urged people to stay, scores of people eventually left the church and either changed churches … changed faiths … or sat at home for years because nobody had the guts to tell the church the truth about what happened.

Just another Christian cover up.  Business as usual.

_______________

One day, I met with the rookie district minister to share my side of the conflict.  He listened politely and later helped reveal the part my predecessor played in the coup.

Several years later, when I was in New Hampshire, the DM called me out of the blue one Sunday morning to tell me that “I respect you and admire you.”

While that was nice, there was evidence to the contrary, so I didn’t know what to think.

But I had once served in the same church as an executive from that same denomination, and when he heard about the conflict … not from me … he told a friend, “[The church] owes Jim an apology.”

While I would welcome any kind of apology, nobody has ever apologized to me for their role in forcing me out of office.

Because if I’m innocent, they’re wrong … and I’ve learned that many, if not most, Christians hate to admit when they’re wrong.

_______________

This is the last blog article I plan to write on what happened to me in 2009 unless there is some major future development.

The accusations against Judge Kavanaugh brought back a truckload of hurtful memories because the same tactics used against him were used against us.

My wife and I live in Southern California and are content with our lives.

We live about an hour from our son, his wife, and our three grandsons.  I wouldn’t trade being near them for anything in this world.

Our daughter – who was so strong for her dad and mom during the conflict – still lives in the Bay Area and leads a fruitful life.  We love her dearly.

God gave me a ministry to pastors and board members who are going through conflict, and I’m grateful for all the people I’ve been able to help.

Just last year, I advised a pastor from the East Coast who was able to beat back his own church’s coup attempt.  He stayed … and his opponents left.

I pray that happens more often.

I’ve written 596 blogs over the past eight years.  I plan to write four more and then take a break … maybe a long one.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

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The recent revelations about Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago have resulted in a renewed call for pastors to be more accountable for their professional and personal behavior.

There are cons and pros to this idea.

On the con side, pastors are usually independent individuals who resist being micromanaged by others.  It’s part of the appeal of ministry.

And if there are attempts from inside a church to micromanage a pastor, it’s likely that pastor will update his resume and begin looking for another position … quickly.

But I believe it’s reasonable for a pastor to be accountable to the official board and the congregation as a whole, and that this accountability should last for a pastor’s entire tenure in a church.

Here are five areas a pastor needs to be accountable for:

First, the pastor needs to be accountable for his time.

The first pastor I worked for was my future father-in-law, and he told me that if a pastor works hard his first year, nobody will question his work ethic after that.

Looking back, the only counsel I would give a young pastor is this: during your first year, show up to every church meeting and event you possibly can.  Be seen.  Let your people know who you are.

After a while, they will start telling you, “Slow down.  Go home.”

During my second pastorate, I worked a lot of hours.  The board chairman just happened to live in a house on the other side of the fence from the church parking lot so he could tell when I was at church.

One night, he called me on the phone and said, “I see your car.  Go home to your family.”

My guess is that story got around.

During my first ten years as a pastor, I kept meticulous records of the hours I worked … and I can’t recall anyone challenging me on my work ethic.

It does happen, however.  I know a pastor who worked less than twenty hours a week, and he was fired by the congregation, largely for being lazy.

But I don’t think that’s true for most pastors.

If a board wanted to make a big deal about the amount of time I worked as a pastor, I would say, “I will let you see my hours as long as you agree to pay me overtime for every hour over forty that I work.”

Or maybe I wouldn’t … but I’d sure want to say that!

Most pastors work hard.  I tried to work a fifty-hour week, and many pastors do more than that.

Just a side comment: should a pastor and church staff be paid for working on Sunday mornings?

I know some say, “We aren’t going to count our work on Sundays as hours.  Our people volunteer their time, and so will we.”

But I think that’s unfair.  Most pastors and staff members are paid not only to show up on Sundays, but to do their best work then.  You mean a pastor should preach his sermon for free?

I always told my staff members to count Sunday mornings as hours, and I’d do it again.  The workman is worthy of his/her hire.

Second, the pastor needs to be accountable for managing church funds.

I believe a pastor should keep a safe distance between himself and church money.  Don’t count the offering … don’t let people give you checks or cash … and don’t throw big parties and charge it all to the elders discretionary fund.

I usually had minimal dealings with church finances:

*I was given a ministry expense account and managed those funds precisely.

*I had input on the disbursement of benevolent funds.

*I signed checks … along with the bookkeeper … and occasionally pulled out a check if I thought the expenditure was foolish.

*I obtained church credit cards for key staff members so they didn’t have to use money out of their own pocket and wait weeks for reimbursements.

If someone tried to give me their offering, I’d lead them to a slot outside the church office that led directly to a safe.

There are two areas above all that will ruin a pastor’s ministry: sex and financial mismanagement.

I also believe that a pastor needs to let his church know that he is at least a tither.  It’s not a violation of Matthew 6:1-4 to let people know that you practice what you preach.  Whenever I preached on giving, I brought along my checkbook, and told the congregation that if anyone wanted to know how much I gave to the church, I’d be glad to show them.

Only one person ever took me up on it … my son Ryan!

The way a pastor manages his personal finances is usually a tip-off on how he manages church finances.

So to what degree should the official board or a group in the church know about the pastor’s personal financial life … especially any indebtedness?

Third, the pastor needs to be accountable for the church’s mission and vision.

The mission is why your church exists.  It’s something you work toward but can never obtain.

The vision specifies where you want your church to be within a certain period of time … say five years.  The vision always emerges from the mission.

Put succinctly, the pastor should be held accountable for this simple three-word question:

What’s the plan?

In my last church, I was blessed to know a woman who did missions and visions for secular companies.  She facilitated our process expertly.

I chose around ten people to be members of a Vision Task Force.

One Sunday, we ended the service early and gave everyone in the congregation a five question, open-ended survey.   The surveys were then distributed to members of the task force who read them and summarized their batch in writing.

We then held a meeting … summarized all the input from the congregation in writing … and assigned several people to create mission and vision statements based on congregational input.

We eventually nailed down our statements … had them approved by the official board … presented them to the congregation … and they went on all our publications.

And everyone had input.

That was the easy part.

After that, I had my marching orders, and needed to be held accountable for how well we were fulfilling those statements.

Sadly, in the end, my wife and I stayed true to those statements, while newer leaders ignored them and tried to take the church in a different direction.

That’s why we eventually left that congregation.

When a church drifts … or declines … it’s often because the pastor has stopped promoting the mission and vision.

In that case, he either needs to get with the program … or the church needs a new pastor.

Fourth, the pastor needs to be accountable for church staff.

Don Cousins was Bill Hybels’ right-hand man for the first eighteen years of Willow Creek Church’s existence.  Twenty-five years ago, he was hired to be a consultant for our new church in Silicon Valley.

One day, we were talking about church staff, and Cousins asked me, “So Jim, are you a self-starter and a responsible person who does things without being told?”

I told him, “Yes.  That’s definitely who I am.”

Cousins replied, “But Jim, not everybody is that way.”

I didn’t have any trouble being accountable to the church board or the congregation for my ministry, but I sometimes had trouble holding staff members accountable for their ministries.

What’s tough is that when a pastor is doing his ministry … like preaching … he can’t see or hear what the children’s director or the youth pastor is doing on Sundays.

A pastor has to rely on three main sources for that information:

*what the staff member says about his/her own ministry

*what other staff members say

*what the parents/youth/members say about that staff member

When I took his leadership class at Fuller Seminary, Leith Anderson told our class, “It’s important to take your time to choose the right staff members because if you don’t, it takes at least a year to get rid of them and then you have to pay them to go away.”

I had mixed success with office managers … better success with children’s directors … and not as much success with youth directors.

I brought a written report to every board meeting, and in that report, I wrote down whatever I felt the board needed to know about those staffers.

While I was accountable to the board, the staff was accountable to me.

I met with staff members as individuals every week … held a weekly staff meeting that I took very seriously … and always intervened if I was concerned someone was going off course.

I tried to manage … not micromanage … but roughly half the time, staffers just didn’t work out … and I usually blamed myself for their failures.

As long as the pastor keeps the board informed on how things are going with a wayward staff member, he probably won’t be blamed if things don’t work out.

But if there was a major problem with a staffer, I not only told the board about it, I asked for their wisdom … or else I was going to be held completely accountable for a staff member’s misconduct.

Finally, the pastor needs to be accountable for getting along with people.

As an introvert, it sometimes takes me a while to warm up socially, but once I get going, I’m hard to turn off, as my wife can attest.

I’ve always done well one-on-one with people, like with hospital visits or counseling.  And I do pretty well in groups, especially when I’m in charge.

And I usually did a good job with people who were a bit different, probably because I felt a lot of empathy for them.

But I didn’t have much time for those who were arrogant or who used intimidation to get their way.

And I resisted people who tried to use worldly wisdom to do ministry.

Every pastor has to deal with not only difficult people, but also people who disagree with him because they think they know more than he does about ministry … and those are usually the people whose complaints reach the official board.

It’s easy to hold a pastor accountable for how he treats most people.  You can watch him on a Sunday morning or at a social event and draw lots of conclusions about his interpersonal skills.

But what about those times when the pastor is alone with an individual and that person claims that the pastor mistreated them?

How do you hold a pastor accountable for those occasions?

_______________

The cry arising out of Willow Creek is that the elders should have held Hybels better accountable for his interactions with various women.

This is a really tough topic, and I don’t pretend to have answers for every concern.

Let me make three quick observations:

First, the primary person to hold a male pastor accountable is his wife.

If a pastor is flirting with women at church … or treating some women better than others … or singling someone out for special attention … most people won’t notice.

But the pastor’s wife … if she’s around … surely will … and she needs to let her husband know how she feels about it!

A pastor sometimes meets with women – alone (like in counseling) or in groups – and his wife isn’t around to observe his interactions.

In such cases, the pastor’s wife has to rely upon her husband’s faithfulness, or the observations of others.

One time, I asked two pastor friends of mine if a woman had ever come on to them.  Both said no, which was my experience as well … and my guess is that it’s the experience of the great majority of pastors today.

But sadly, there are many stories to the contrary … and too many pastors who have come on to women as well.

Second, the church board needs to respond quickly to any complaints about the way their pastor treats women.

My sense is that the elders at Willow did this when there were rumors about Hybels having an affair in 2014.  Maybe their investigation wasn’t as thorough as it needed to be, and maybe Hybels resisted being completely accountable in certain areas.

But the impression I’ve received from the accounts I’ve read is that the elders moved swiftly to deal with the issues they knew about at the time.

The official board has to do this or the pastor could be crushed by the rumor mill.

But … if a governing board delves too closely into the life of their pastor – especially in a megachurch – that pastor may either threaten to resign or start looking for a new ministry.

Sometimes a board can start investigating a pastor concerning one issue and find other issues that concern them … even if the pastor is innocent.  From the pastor’s perspective, why put up with it?

Too much scrutiny is also an indication that the board doesn’t trust the pastor … and if it continues, the pastor may choose to throw in the towel … which leaves the entire ministry in the hands of people who aren’t ready for that level of leadership.

Accountability?  Yes.  Micromanaging?  No.

Finally, a pastor should never abuse the trust God puts in him.

When Potiphar’s wife enticed Joseph to sleep with her, Joseph said in Genesis 39:9, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

Joseph was single … Potiphar’s wife was married … but Joseph felt that if he succumbed to her charms, his greatest sin would be against God … even though he also mentioned sinning against Potiphar.

Both God and Potiphar trusted Joseph with Potiphar’s household and his wife.  Joseph resolved to honor that trust forever.

Every pastor should do the same … but some strike out instead.

My wife and I once visited a megachurch three times.  The third time we went, we walked out in the middle of the service.  Something there was seriously wrong.

It later came to light that the pastor was counseling a woman to leave her husband and to be with him.  I have a copy of the lawsuit the couple filed against the pastor, and his behavior – if true – was about as depraved as a pastor can get.

It later came out that some people knew about the pastor’s behavior but didn’t do anything to stop it.

The Lord trusted that pastor with a large church … full of many women … and he abused that trust with at least one.

And if there was one, could there have been others?

“How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

_______________

Next time, I’m going to talk about various ways that a pastor can be accountable to the official board and to the congregation.

 

 

 

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One of the most common complaints that church leaders have about their pastor is this one:

“He acts like a dictator.”

This complaint usually states that the pastor:

*spends money without authorization

*makes major decisions unilaterally

*withholds valuable information from key leaders

*verbally abuses staff members

*threatens people who try to confront him

*doesn’t listen to people’s concerns or complaints

*becomes angry easily

All too many pastors want to run the church their way … and they will take down anyone who tries to oppose them.

The difference between leaders and dictators:

*Leadership requires collaboration.  A pastor who is a good leader has to make presentations for various projects to the church board, staff, and other key leaders to seek their approval.

But a pastor who is a dictator bypasses that collaboration and makes major decisions unilaterally … and then expects key leaders to support him fully.

*Leadership requires ownership.  In my last church, we built a new worship center, a project that eventually cost about two million dollars.  The building team worked on the plans.  The church board handled the financing.  The staff gave their input at every turn.  We asked the architect to stand before our congregation and present his plans … allowed people to ask questions … and then held a meeting where people shared their input.  We later listed every word people said on the church website which let everyone know we took congregational input seriously.

We needed broad ownership in decision making so that we could have broad ownership when we asked people to give toward the building.

But a pastor-dictator will bypass as many of those steps as possible.  He and a few of his buddies inside the church will do most of the work … and then expect people to buy in with their finances … and things usually won’t go very well.

*Leadership requires patience.  I once heard a prominent pastor say that it takes four years to make a major change in a church.  A good leader will devise a process where he charts a clear course … people’s complaints are heard … their objections are answered … and change is not rushed.

But a pastor-dictator is always in a hurry.  He doesn’t want to give the complainers any kind of forum because they might waylay his plans.  He doesn’t want to devote any time to answering objections because he’s thought things through and that should be good enough for everyone else.  The dictator thinks it’s his church far more than it’s the people’s church.

*Leadership requires love.  I once knew a pastor who took a ministry class in seminary.  The professor told his students you have to “love the sheep” and then “lead the sheep.”  My friend approached the professor after class and said, “That was really great … you have to lead the sheep then love the sheep.”  The professor said, “No, you have to love the sheep and then lead the sheep.”  Big difference!

The pastor who is a true leader loves his people and then leads them.  He motivates them by recommending ministries that are in their best interests.

But the dictator doesn’t even lead his people.  He manipulates the congregation into doing what are in his own best interests.  He bulldozes them … threatens them … and sends out the signals, “I alone know what is good for this church.”

To quote Paul Simon, such an attitude “sure don’t feel like love.”

*Leadership requires humility.  The leader’s attitude is, “I believe this is the direction God wants us to go as a church.  I’ll need your help along the way.”

But the dictator equates his own wishes, words, and plans with the will of God … and to question him is to doubt the Lord Himself.

If you’ve read my words …

What can you do about a pastor who is a dictator?

First, realize that most pastors who have adopted a dictatorial leadership style are rarely going to change. 

Such pastors have enjoyed at least some success with their style which is why they keep using it.  But whether it’s a personality flaw, or a narcissistic bent, or a defense mechanism, most dictators never change.

You can plead with them to become more collaborative … threaten to leave the church … or send them for counseling … but it won’t do any good.

I have never known a dictatorial pastor to alter his modus operandi.  Have you?

Now if a pastor has exercised a collaborative style, and temporarily becomes dictatorial, that’s different.  Sometimes a pastor senses that unless he pushes a project hard, nothing’s going to happen.  I had to do that at times, but if people called me on it, I backed off and tried to reset matters.

In this article, I’m talking about pastors who have demonstrated unilateral dominance from Day One.

Second, realize that dictators will keep going until someone tries to stop them.

Once a dictator has momentum, that person will continue to use their domineering style because they’re getting results.

And if nobody ever calls them on their tactics, they’ll just keep using them.

The only way to stop a dictator is to stage some kind of an intervention.  Let them know that what they are doing is counterproductive to the leadership and the congregation.

Much of the time, church leaders will tell me, “He’s a dictator, but boy, is he a great Bible teacher!  He really knows the Word!  Our people love his teaching!”

But sometimes, good teachers make lousy leaders.  Many Bible teachers would rather spend all their time researching, writing, and delivering messages than doing anything to improve their leadership skills.

If so, let the pastor teach … and get someone else on board to lead the church.

Third, realize that dictators sow the seeds of their own destruction.

Once you’ve woken up to the fact that your pastor is a dictator, know that a Day of Reckoning is bound to occur … and maybe soon.  Godly, gifted, intelligent people rebel inwardly against dictator-pastors … and if they conclude that things won’t change, they’ll quietly head for the exits.

Here is what will happen:

*your best leaders will leave the church first

*key ministries will be curtailed due to a lack of volunteers

*staff members will be laid off due to lack of funds

*those remaining will be the passive takers, not the active givers

*the dictator-pastor will then jump ship as soon as he can

This may not sound kind, but it’s better to take out the dictator before the death spiral occurs than to do nothing and watch your church slowly die.

Finally, the only way to deal with a dictator is to defeat them.

That means you’re going to have to fight them for control of the church.

And if you do engage them, I guarantee it’s going to get nasty … and bloody … and people are going to get hurt … including you and your family.

For this reason, if you’re in a church with a dictator as pastor, it’s preferable that you and your family quietly look for another church.

But if you’re determined to stay, you’re going to have to deal with your pastor … and there are ways to do this that are consistent with Scripture and the Christian faith.

If I was a board member, and I felt that the pastor had to go to save the church, I’d take the following steps:

*Call a special meeting of the official board away from the church campus.

*Express your concern about the way the pastor has been operating.  Share real-life examples.

*Go around the room and let each board member share how they feel about the pastor.  If the pastor has strong support, and you can’t convince them of your position, mentally make plans to leave the church.  YOU CAN’T DEAL WITH A DICTATORIAL PASTOR UNLESS YOU HAVE FULL BOARD SUPPORT.  If you do have full board support, then:

*Take time to pray and read Scripture together.  Ask God for His guidance … and for courage.  Confronting a dictatorial pastor will be among the hardest things you will ever do.

*Consult your church’s governing documents.  Hopefully there’s a section that lays out how to hire and fire a pastor.  If not, obtain the governing documents from three other churches that are governed like yours and summarize their process in a few steps.  Then write out what you believe are the best practices for terminating a pastor and adopt them as a board.

*Do not make a laundry list of all the pastor’s shortcomings.  That’s destructive.  Instead, focus on the one or two areas that concern you the most … no more than two.  (People can’t change in multiple areas of their lives.)  Come up with several examples under each area of concern.  You’re going to share these concerns with the pastor.

For example: “Pastor, whenever we ask you to give a report of your activities at the monthly board meeting, you just say, ‘Everything’s fine.’  But we need much more information than that!  We’d like you to bring a one or two page written report to every board meeting so we know specifically what you are doing.”

That’s a reasonable request.  (I brought a written report for years to every board meeting.)  But the dictator usually resists such accountability.

*Prayerfully ask two people to meet with the pastor to express the board’s concerns.  If possible, the chairman should be one of those people.  (Otherwise, the pastor will wonder, “Does the chairman know about and agree with this confrontation?”)

*Ask the pastor to meet the two board members at a neutral location, like a restaurant, rather than in the pastor’s study or someone’s home.  While you want privacy, it’s harder to make a scene in public.

*Give the pastor a choice.  Tell him, “We love you and we’re happy for you to remain our pastor, but we need to see the following changes in your life and ministry or else we will take further action.”  Then share with him how you want him to behave in the future.  If he becomes angry, wait until he calms down.  If he storms off, you’ll have to meet with him again.  Tell him that if he leaves the meeting and contacts his supporters, you will recommend to the board that he be dismissed immediately.

*The pastor has four options at this point:

First, he can act like you’ve never met and continue operating as usual.

Second, he can contact his supporters, tell them about the meeting, and thereby institute an all-our war within your congregation.  YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR THIS POSSIBILITY.

Third, he can agree to make the changes you’ve suggested … in which case the board has the right to monitor his progress.

Finally, he may outwardly comply with the board’s wishes while starting to search for a new job.

I can’t give you a flow chart for what might happen under each option, but these kinds of situations can become unpredictable fast!

Let me share with you the single best way of dealing with a dictator-pastor.

Don’t hire one in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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