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Archive for the ‘Conflict with Church Staff’ Category

From time-to-time, I receive emails from churchgoers whose pastors resigned suddenly.  These concerned individuals want to know what, if anything, they can do about their pastor’s unexpected departure.

Someone wrote me recently asking that very question.  This is how I responded (with some slight modifications):

_______________

Thank you for writing.  I’m sorry for what happened to your pastor.  It’s happening a lot these days.

I’m going to suggest some things you can do that are perfectly within your rights as a longtime church attendee.  More than anything, YOU WANT TO DETERMINE IF THE PASTOR RESIGNED VOLUNTARILY OR IF HE WAS FORCED TO RESIGN.

*Contact the pastor and/or his wife directly.  Ask them what happened.  Write down what they say for accuracy.  If the pastor signed a severance agreement, he may not be able to discuss anything until the agreement expires.  If he didn’t receive a severance agreement, he should be able to speak freely, although some pastors believe they’re being divisive if they say anything about their departure.  (I don’t hold that particular viewpoint.)

*Find a copy of your church’s governing documents: the constitution and bylaws.  Find the section on removing a pastor from office.  (Some churches don’t have any governing documents, while others don’t have a section on removing a pastor.)  Familiarize yourself with the key sections of those documents.

*Contact a member of the governing board of your church, whether they’re called elders, deacons, trustees, the church council, or something else.

*Ask the member you know best, “Which process did the board use that led to our pastor’s resignation?”  It’s not time to ask about any charges that might have led to the pastor’s exit.  Just focus on the process.

*Tell the board member you’ve contacted – or the entire board in writing – that you would like a written copy of the process that the board used to deal with the pastor.  My guess is that most boards won’t have one in writing, but you’re doing them a favor by asking them for it anyway.  They will be forced to think through the steps they used to secure the pastor’s departure.  Since board members are usually voted into office by the congregation, the board needs to account to the congregation for how they treated the pastor.  (And in congregationally-run churches, the pastor is voted on by the church as well.)

*If the board resists, don’t threaten or make demands.  Just tell them that you’d prefer not to take things further.  You just want a copy of the process.  If they can’t or won’t produce it, then they may be hiding something.

A couple I know well told me that the board in their previous church forced out their pastor.  Soon afterwards, due to feedback from the congregation, a board member stood up at the end of a Sunday service and told the body that the board wasn’t going to talk about why the pastor left and so people needed to stop talking about it.

My friends left that church soon afterwards … and I would have done the same thing.

A church board doesn’t need to tell their congregation everything about why their pastor left, but they do need to tell them enough.  Most parishioners love and trust their pastor, and if he suddenly leaves, the board needs to be as forthcoming as possible to keep people’s trust.  The quickest way to lose it is for them to say nothing.

This is why I recommend asking the board for a copy of the process they used.  It doesn’t ask them to violate any matter that is strictly confidential.  It just asks them to recite the steps they used.  However, if they won’t reveal the process, or you sense they operated by the law of the jungle instead, your board members may be trying to cover up their role in you’re pastor’s departure.

*Compare the process they used to (a) the governing documents; (b) Scripture; and (c) labor law in your state.  There are many articles on my blog that deal with the scriptural way to correct or remove a pastor.

*If a bully was involved in pushing out the pastor, and the board felt pressured by the bully, he/she won’t show up on the written process.  But even if that’s the case, the board is still responsible for their decisions and actions.

*Ask around discreetly.  Find people in the church’s inner circle who know what happened.  Contact them directly.  Ask them why the pastor resigned.  Make sure their information comes from a reliable source.

*Ask questions of the right people, but refrain from offering your own opinions.  If anyone wants to know what you’re doing, just say you’re trying to learn what happened.  Assume that when you offer your opinion, you will be quoted and whatever you say will get back to the board.  While no one can stop you from asking questions, they can and should stop you from forming a faction or making outrageous statements.

Sometimes a pastor may appear to be godly and gracious in public, but is nasty and mean in private.  Sometimes the board will ask such a pastor to change his behavior but he will refuse.  Sometimes a pastor resigns because he’s had an affair, or because he’s a tyrant.  It’s hard to know who a pastor really is when parishioners only see and hear from him for an hour or two every week.

The church board may act independently of the congregation, or they may have received complaints against the pastor from certain key members.  Board members can become incredibly anxious when important leaders or longtime friends threaten to leave the church unless the pastor is sacked.

Sometimes the pastor hasn’t been getting along with a staff member or a key leader and he’s pushed toward the exit as people choose sides.  Many years ago, I attended a church where the pastor fired a popular staff member and soon afterwards, the pastor himself was forced to quit.  In cases like these, the board doesn’t want to talk about the issues because they don’t want to reveal the names of those who weren’t getting along with the pastor.

Keep a written record of the questions you ask and the answers you receive.  It is not divisive to try and find out what happened.  It is divisive to form a faction, use it as a power base, and begin to issue threats and ultimatums.  You should be allowed to have your say but not your way.

Once you’ve absorbed what I’ve written, feel free to respond or ask questions.  I hope I’ve been helpful!

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Out of all the types of conflict I endured during my 36 years in church ministry, I had more trouble with paid youth leaders than anyone else.

Whether they were called youth ministers … pastors … directors … or student ministry directors, I often struggled in my working relationship with them.

Did I try and micromanage them?

No.  I served three pastors as a youth pastor, and none of them micromanaged me, so I made sure to give them plenty of space to develop their own ministries.

Did I insist they work unreasonable hours?

No.  I expected that they would work a minimal number of hours, but I’ve never been a workaholic, and didn’t expect staff members to outwork me.

Did I yell at them in anger?

No.  I never yelled at any staff member.  There were times I felt like screaming, but by the grace of God, I kept it together.

Did I confront them unreasonably?

No.  Most of the time, if I had a concern or a question about their ministry, I’d walk down the hall and speak with them personally and directly in their office.

I tried to convey several basic expectations whenever I worked with a paid youth leader:

*I expect you to carry out our church’s mission and vision statements.

*I expect you and your adult leaders to attend at least one worship service on Sundays.

*I expect you to be present during office hours … which you set.

*I expect you to be present during staff meetings.

*I expect you to let me know what you’re doing in your ministry.

*I expect you to let me know of any potential problems with youth or their parents.  If you inform me right away about any possible blowback, I will back you to the hilt.

*I expect you to fight for your viewpoint on any area where we disagree, but once I’ve made a decision, I expect that you will abide by it.

Those seem like simple guidelines, don’t they?

Yet I was amazed at how often they were violated.

Most of the time, conflict occurred because the youth leader viewed himself as a pastor equal in authority to the lead pastor.

*The youth leader had his own congregation: the youth group.

*The youth leader had his own staff: adult volunteers.

*The youth leader had his own office and computer.

*The youth leader carried out ministry in specific church rooms.

*The youth leader ran his own budget and planned his own events.

*The youth leader was viewed as “our pastor” by his adult volunteers and young people.

But the youth leader didn’t like having to be accountable to anyone … much less the lead pastor.

I saw this latter point demonstrated over and over again.

*One youth leader went on vacation for two weeks without asking my permission.  He had only been on the job for two months.

*One youth leader told me he no longer believed in our church’s mission/vision.

*One youth leader not only let his adult volunteers skip worship services, but started a home church with them without telling me.

*One youth leader purchased expensive equipment for youth ministry … then kept the equipment at his house.

*One youth leader shared a large room with other ministries, but refused to clean up after using it … even when I asked him to do so repeatedly … upsetting the rest of the staff.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Over time, paid youth leaders created a big headache for me.

On the one hand, everyone expected us to have a thriving youth ministry … especially the parents of middle school and high school parents.

On the other hand, I had to restrain myself from firing several leaders … even though they deserved it … because it takes a long time to find another one.

One time, we had a youth leader whom I really liked.  He was getting ready to graduate from seminary, and I offered him a job after graduation.  The youth group wasn’t big enough to support a full-time person, so I asked him to lead the youth and do some teaching for adults (teaching was his primary spiritual gift), but he refused.

Either he was going to work exclusively with the youth, or he wasn’t going to work at all.

I suspected that he didn’t want to be accountable to me as his supervisor, so I let him walk.

But after he left, boy, did I hear about it!

One parent … with whom I had always gotten along … raked me over the coals in an email, telling me that something was wrong with our church because we couldn’t seem to hold onto youth leaders.

The ensuing search took about a year.  After reviewing nearly 200 resumes, we brought eight different candidates to the church.

Either the youth didn’t think they were cool enough … or they made a bad impression on the staff … or they lacked solid character … or something wasn’t right.

Under pressure, we finally hired someone the kids thought was cool … but one of the adult volunteers came to me a year later and poured out instance after instance of unethical behavior … right at the beginning of the summer.

I took two days to investigate the charges.

Evidence in hand, I confronted the youth leader … who didn’t see anything wrong with anything he had done.  In fact, he later told me that I was the problem.

The youth leader deserved to be fired.  Immediately.  I asked pastor after pastor, “If this person did these things at your church, what would you do?”

Everyone said, “Fire him.”

But that meant that all the events the youth had planned for the summer would be cancelled because we didn’t have anyone else available who could step in.

Against my better judgment, I let him stay … and he ripped me to shreds in private … and a few months later, he finally resigned and left the church.

When I was a pastor, I suffered more sleepless nights over staff issues than anything else … and the majority of those times involved paid youth leaders.

Let me share four conclusions I’ve reached about lead pastors working with paid youth leaders:

First, most young spiritual leaders do not share the values of their pastor/supervisor.

A professor from my seminary told me that since many new students come to the school without a basic sense of morality or ethical behavior, the school puts them through a morality/ethics orientation class when they first arrive.

A Christian counselor told me that our culture is raising a generation of sociopaths who can’t distinguish right from wrong.

I noticed a pattern among several of the youth leaders I supervised: it was okay for them to cut ethical corners as long as they got the job done.

In their world, the ends did indeed justify the means … but not in my world.  (Is it okay for a youth pastor to use four-letter words on youth outings … or to drive well over the speed limit with youth in the car … or to trade equipment bought by the church without anyone’s permission?)

These scenarios raise a key question: should the pastor/supervisor adjust himself to his staff members, or should the staff members adjust themselves to their supervisor?

I stand in the latter camp, but my guess is that most young leaders are in the first camp.

Second, many in the Buster Generation act like they already know everything.

I believe that the Boomer Generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) were willing to learn from the previous generation (the Builders).

For example, Rick Warren (a Boomer) considered W. A. Criswell (a Builder) to be his father in the faith.

And when I was a youth pastor, I certainly obeyed my Builder pastors and submitted to their authority.

Maybe I’m wrong … or overgeneralizing … but I just haven’t seen the Buster Generation (those born between 1965 and 1983) wanting to learn nearly as much from the Boomers.

In fact, I’ve often said that the Busters act like world history began the day they were born.

I saw this attitude most often during staff meetings.  When a ministry dilemma came up, I’d share with the staff what I’d learned about an issue over the years, including mistakes I’d made.

The other staff members were usually appreciative, but many times, I watched the youth leaders roll their eyes and act like, “I don’t need to hear this from you.”

My kids are both Busters, and they’ve told me, “Dad, not everyone in our generation is like that.”  But sadly, all too many are.

I remember reading an article in a Christian magazine about ten years ago where the children of Boomer parents who attended my university severely criticized the way their parents’ generation did ministry … and these were kids in their early twenties.

Paid youth leaders can bring that same mindset into their relationship with their pastor.

Third, many in the Buster Generation hate the institutional church.

I can’t speak for Millennials here .. just for Busters.

Most of the youth leaders I knew did not like the structure of a local church.

They were happy to collect a salary from their church … while inwardly rebelling against it.

There are things that I don’t like about the institutional church as well.  Sometimes we’ve adopted a business model and superimposed it over the local church … and then tell people they have to support the institution with their attendance, time, and money.

That kind of mentality can drain the life out of a local church.

But I had one youth leader tell me that he didn’t believe in the institutional church anymore and that he was looking at other models instead.

That’s fine with me if you accompany that statement with your resignation … but not if you stay inside the church and undermine what we’re doing … which he did.

This disdain for structure and organization may explain why so many younger people choose missions over local church ministry.

I finally began telling rebellious youth leaders, “Look, if you just want to hang out with the youth, and you want nothing to do with the church as a whole, then take an offering every week among the youth, and whatever they put in will be your salary.  But as long as this church is paying your salary, you need to have some connection with the church as a whole.”

Finally, a church that finds a good youth leader should hold onto him for dear life.

I once asked a veteran youth pastor, “What should I look for in a potential youth person?”

He replied, “They have to love the Lord … and they have to love kids.”

I once knew a man who led the youth ministry at one of Orange County’s top churches.  As I recall, he was there for several decades … well into his fifties.

For a long time, I wondered, “How can the church employ someone that old?”

But he worked hard … he loved the kids … and his character was solid.

I don’t know the average tenure of a youth leader anymore, but it’s probably still less than a year.

Yet I subscribe to the axiom, “It is better to have no one than the wrong person.”

It’s tough being a youth leader.  You have to account to more people than anybody else in the church.

In one church where I worked with youth, I was accountable to the senior pastor … the Christian Education Committee chairman … the committee as a whole … the parents of the youth … and anybody who wanted to take a potshot at me.

With a youth group of 100 kids, I was out every Sunday night … every Wednesday night … most Friday or Saturday nights … and all while I was writing a seminary thesis … finishing work for my degree … trying to pay attention to my wife … and caring for our newborn son.

One December, I was out fifteen straight nights.  In the end, I couldn’t keep the pace, and longed to be a pastor somewhere … anywhere … with much less to do.

In my case, I was using youth ministry as a steppingstone to becoming a senior pastor … and I was very upfront about it.

But if you can find someone called to youth ministry who loves Jesus … loves kids … has a solid character … and willingly submits to one supervisor (usually the lead pastor) … then grab him … keep him happy … and never let him go.

Based on the way I was trained, I don’t know what I could have done differently with the various youth leaders I worked with.

I liked them personally.  I tried to spend time with them.  I listened to them.  I fought for them to be treated well.

And yet in the end, my efforts were never reciprocated … and I was often undermined.

My wife told me, “Jim, you’re too nice, and they’re taking advantage of your niceness.  You need to be tougher with them.”

Maybe she was right.

But I also have reason to believe that I was a father figure to most youth leaders, that they had trouble getting along with their own fathers, and that they projected those troubles onto me.

A former missionary once told me, “We could win the world for Christ if missionaries could just get along.”

A corollary might be, “We could have far healthier and better churches if pastors and their staff members could just get along.”

And in my case, that refers specifically to youth leaders.

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I once served with a church leader who struggled to tell the truth.

In the words of children, I could have told him, “You lie like a fly.”

He lied about his credentials.  He lied to cover up wrongdoing.

And sometimes, he lied just for fun.

Two of his fellow leaders approached me separately about his lack of truth telling.  They knew he was lying and didn’t want to work with him anymore.

But by then, lying for him was a way of life.

Welcome to the world of the “Christian” sociopath.

According to Dr. W. Brad Johnson and his son Dr. William L. Johnson in their book The Pastor’s Guide to Psychological Disorders and Treatments, a person with anti-social personality disorder – or sociopathy – has the following characteristics:

*This person seems charming and likeable initially, making a favorable impression.

*This person is soon found to be, in the words of the Johnsons, “manipulative, deceitful, and willing to do almost anything to achieve their own ends.”

*This person proves to be irresponsible, unreliable, and impulsive.

*This person is sometimes vengeful about perceived injustices.

*This person has superficial and short-lived relationships.

*This person is disloyal, insensitive, and even ruthless.

*This person disregards societal rules and does not believe the rules apply to them.

The Johnsons then make the following statements:

“In the church, pastors should be alert to two major manifestations of this disorder.  The first type of antisocial is the smooth, personable, charming person who manipulates and exploits others subtly – often without detection – for some time.

“The second type is the belligerent, antagonistic, and overtly criminal antisocial type.  This parishioner will have a clear criminal history, arouse fear in others, and be viewed as unpredictable and dangerous.  The difference between the two may be emotional intelligence or social polish.”

We might say that the first person mentioned above is a sociopath with a small “s.”  The second person is a Sociopath with a large “s.”

Churches are pretty good at not tolerating any Sociopaths in their midst … but they aren’t as good at identifying and dealing with the sociopath … or as one expert called this person, the “sociopath lite.”

Back in September 2001 … less than two weeks after 9/11 … I took “The Pastor’s Personal Life” class taught by Dr. Archibald Hart for my Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary.

During a break, I told Dr. Hart that I was dealing with a church leader (not the person I mentioned above) who had some of the symptoms of a sociopath.  This person kept making the same mistakes over and over again, and when I confronted him about his behavior, he just laughed it off and refused to change.

Dr. Hart shared with me the single best description of a sociopath I’ve ever heard.  He said, “They don’t feel any anxiety before they do wrong and they don’t feel any guilt after they’ve done wrong.”

Think long and hard about that statement.

A great secular book about this issue is Dr. Martha Stout’s book The Sociopath Next Door.  (It’s available as a Kindle book on Amazon.)  Dr. Stout claims that 4% of our population – or 1 in every 25 adults – has this condition.  Speaking to the sociopath, she writes:

“When it is expedient, you doctor the accounting and shred the evidence, you stab your employees and your clients (or your constituency) in the back, marry for money, tell lethal premeditated lies to people who trust you, attempt to ruin colleagues who are powerful or eloquent, and simply steamroll over groups who are dependent and voiceless.  And all of this you do with the exquisite freedom that results from having no conscience whatsoever.”

How does all this relate to church ministry?  Here’s Dr. Stout again:

“Most invigorating of all is to bring down people who are smarter or more accomplished than you, or perhaps classier, more attractive or popular or morally admirable.  This is not only good fun; it is existential vengeance.  And without a conscience, it is amazingly easy to do.”

How does the sociopath pull off this kind of internal sabotage?

“You quietly lie to the boss or to the boss’ boss, cry some crocodile tears, or sabotage a coworker’s project, or gaslight a patient (or a child), bait people with promises, or provide a little misinformation that will never be traced back to you.”

These statements from Dr. Stout are all too real among members of my extended family.  A female family member married a man who hid this condition well … until he radically changed right after the wedding, making her life a living hell for months.

The month after I left my last ministry nearly seven years ago, my wife and I attended a Wellness Retreat in Tennessee.  The resident psychiatrist was Dr. Ross Campbell, author of many books including the classic How to Really Love Your Child.

Dr. Campbell told us that he had counseled hundreds of pastors and wives who had gone through the pain of a forced termination, and from his experience and research, the individual most responsible for “taking out” a pastor has sociopathic personality traits, someone he termed a “sociopath lite.”

This individual feels powerless in life and senses an opportunity to exercise power in the church.  Since these people have different values from the pastor – and those values are cleverly disguised – this individual uses terroristic tactics like intimidation and manipulation, and the pastor is usually no match for such an individual.

Dr. Campbell observed that it takes a sociopath lite twelve months to break down a pastor and turn people against him.  During this time, the pastor becomes so depressed that he can hardly function.  These individuals make their plans in secret and attack when least expected, usually when a pastor returns from a trip.

Sound like any church scenarios you might be familiar with?

In a nutshell, sociopaths want to win, and will use any methods necessary to get their way.  It shouldn’t surprise us that sociopaths gravitate toward politics where lying, manipulation and winning are usually rewarded.

But sociopaths also like to be near the center of power in a church, and by using their charm or speaking like an authority, they can convince others to follow them rather than their pastor.

Let me draw four conclusions about sociopaths in the local church:

First, most believers are unable to detect any sociopaths in the body.

The anti-social personality floats through a church largely undetected.  They can develop a following as somebody who is cool as well as someone who sounds like an expert in many fields.

It takes a discerning pastor or a psychiatrist/psychologist/counselor to spot a suspected sociopath, and most people lack the training to do that.

We don’t want to label people prematurely because when we assign someone a label, we may unwittingly choose to avoid or destroy them, and that’s not what Christians are about.

But the discerning leader can say, “That person seems to have the symptoms of a sociopath, and for that reason, we’re going to monitor them carefully.”

Just realize that only a trained professional can make a definitive diagnosis, but since people with anti-social personality disorder rarely go for counseling, sometimes all that a pastor can do is guess at a preliminary diagnosis.

Second, you can’t allow sociopaths into church leadership.  Period.

If a sociopath joins the church staff, he or she will eventually try and turn the staff against the pastor. Better to fire them and take the heat than let the staff member destroy the staff and later the church.

If a sociopath is elected to the church board, that individual will eventually try and turn the rest of the board against the pastor.

It might take a year or two, but they will lead an attack against the pastor … and manipulate other leaders to do his bidding.

To quote the current Geico commercials, “It’s what you do.”

This is why a pastor needs to have veto power over prospective board members.  The discerning pastor will think to himself, “There is no way in God’s universe that I am going to let that person into this church’s inner circle.”

But if the pastor can’t discern the sociopath lite, or lets him/her into leadership anyway, he’s signing his own death warrant.

Third, sociopaths are twice as lethal as narcissists.

Most narcissists are not sociopaths … but most sociopaths are narcissists.

Dr. Stout writes:

“Narcissism is, in a metaphorical sense, one half of what sociopathy is.  Even clinical narcissists are able to feel most emotions as strongly as anyone else does, from guilt and sadness to desperate love and passion.  The half that is missing is the crucial ability to understand what other people are feeling.  Narcissism is a failure not of conscience but of empathy, which is the capacity to perceive emotions in others and so react to them appropriately.”

She then writes:

“Sociopaths, in contrast, do not care about other people, and so do not miss them when they are alienated or gone, except as one might regret the absence of a useful appliance that one had somehow lost…. where the higher emotions are concerned, sociopaths can ‘know the words but not the music.’  They must learn to appear emotional as you and I would learn a second language, which is to say, by observation, imitation, and practice.”

In other words, sociopaths are morally and spiritually hollow inside.  They lack core convictions.  When they’re out in public, they take their behavioral cues from others because they don’t have an internal sense of morality or appropriateness.

Am I scaring you yet?

Finally, sociopaths almost never change.

Because they lack a conscience, they never sincerely admit that they’ve done anything wrong.

Sociopaths won’t go for counseling because in their minds, they’re fine the way they are.

But they are experts at blaming others for their messes.

Inside the church, a sociopath tends to:

*hide in the darkness and avoid the light.

*blame the pastor for whatever is going wrong in the church.

*serve as the hidden ringleader of the faction determined to oust the pastor.

*go after the pastor not for any spiritual reason, but just because he or she can.

*ignore the church’s governing documents and Scripture in attacking the pastor.

*avoid any pathway of forgiveness and reconciliation.

*engage in retribution for even the smallest of offenses … including going after the pastor for not letting the sociopath become a leader.

When I spoke with Dr. Hart fifteen years ago, he told me the only way to deal with a sociopath inside the church is to marginalize them.

And that means two things:

Once you’ve identified their behavior, make sure to monitor them closely, and never … ever … ever let them become leaders.

Because if you do, you will regret it … and so will many others … because you will not be able to appeal to the sociopath with Christian principles and values.

They have their own value system … and only they know what it is.

There are experts inside the Christian community who prefer not to label people.  They don’t like the idea that we can call someone a “sociopath” because that term infers that the person can’t change … and, these people believe, God can change anyone.

I get that.

These Christian experts prefer to train congregations, leaders, and pastors to be healthy, and in the process, to handle any church sociopaths lovingly but firmly.

The problem is that all too many Christians, churches, and pastors usually give up so much ground to sociopaths that by the time they’re detected and dealt with, they’ve already done enormous damage to the cause of Christ.

Because sociopaths lack a conscience, I believe they bring unrepentant evil right into their church family … and no church can thrive when evil is brazenly present.

Have you ever met anyone you suspected was a sociopath lite inside a church?

How did it all turn out?

My guess is that they left quite a mess behind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they want revenge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Tom has to go.

I wrote the following paragraph in my book Church Coup:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some quick observations:

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

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

Second, the church board wimped out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on what I have written?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When a pastor is forced out of his position – either by the official board or by a church faction – he is often blindsided.

If it’s the board, they demand that he resign immediately, or else be fired.

If it’s a faction, they lack the authority to terminate him unilaterally, so they make demands – like threatening to leave the church or withhold their giving – unless the pastor quits.

When a pastor is ambushed, it feels like a form of betrayal, and it usually is.  Many pastors have shared with me how devastated they were when they were surprised by leaders they trusted.

But in retrospect, there are usually warning signs of trouble ahead that the pastor missed, either because he didn’t want to see them or because his mind was focused instead on ministry objectives.

Let me share with you seven warning signs that a pastor is in trouble … and these come from my own experience:

First, the pastor stops hearing that he’s doing a good job.

Early in my ministry in my last church, people told me all the time what a great job I was doing.  I remember one man who lobbied to get on the church board just so he could raise my salary.  At times, the praise was almost embarrassing.

But toward the end of my tenure in that church, I heard almost nothing positive about my ministry.  For weeks, nobody told me that they appreciated any of my sermons, which was unprecedented in my ministry there.

The lack of positive comments negatively affected my morale.  Although I was trying to serve God … not just people … I liked knowing that I was effective, and when I didn’t hear anything, I wondered if I should continue.

Second, the pastor notices heightened attempts to control his ministry.

In my last ministry, I worked in collaboration with the church board for about 90% of my tenure.  I didn’t tell the board what to do, and they didn’t tell me what to do.  We had a great working relationship.  They trusted me … I trusted them … and that’s how it had always been over my entire 36-year ministry career.

But over my last year, the board stopped trusting me, and I stopped trusting them.  They starting micromanaging the money and, by extension, the ministry, and began making unilateral decisions outside of meetings and imposing them on me inside of meetings.

I’m sure that in their minds, they were just taking their responsibilities seriously, but they weren’t collaborating with me in any meaningful way, which I resented.  It’s like I wasn’t even there.

When the board starts micromanaging the pastor’s time … or his expenses … or the church calendar … or a budget that’s already been approved … the board is trying to control the pastor … and this may mean that the ultimate control weapon – the pastor’s ouster – may be just around the corner.

Third, the pastor discovers that people who haven’t been friends are becoming friends.

This was something that my wife noticed more than me.  She told me that board members who barely knew each other at the beginning of the year were now hanging out together socially and using affectionate terms like “bro.”

I knew the source of some of these friendships – a Bible study for men that met at the church on Monday evenings.

That same night, I always met with our programming team – the group that planned the worship services.  On occasion, I’d walk upstairs and ask one of the men in the study if he could participate in a future service.

Looking back, many of the men who conspired to take me out were in that Bible study.  I am not saying they used their time to plot my demise.  I am saying that the study helped them form a bond that made it easier for them to run me out.

Fourth, the pastor experiences more external opposition than ever before.

I remember performing a wedding for a couple outside the church at a seaside resort and investing 32 hours of my time in that endeavor.  Yet for the first time in my ministry career, I didn’t receive an honorarium … and I am positive the DJ, wedding hostess, resort, and caterer were not financially stiffed.

I also conducted a memorial service for an elderly man in our church who had died.  I met with his daughter and told her I’d be doing the same kind of service I had done years before for her mother, and she approved.  But ten days after the service, the daughter’s husband called and reamed me out for preaching the gospel in my own church and demanded that I apologize to him for doing so … which, of course, I didn’t do.

I remember asking myself, “What is in the air right now?  It’s open season on me.”  It’s like people weren’t praying for me anymore and that Satan was able to attack me directly.

Fifth, the pastor experiences more internal opposition than ever before.

There was a lady in our church I had known for years, and she asked if her son could be married in our worship center.

Even though our worship center was just a few years old, I had only conducted two weddings there, and they were both on the small side.

If someone was going to be married inside our worship center, I wanted to make sure that the couple were both Christians and that the wedding would be performed by an evangelical minister.

This lady told me that her son was a Christian, and that a pastor from out-of-town would be conducting the ceremony.

Since this was to be our first large-scale wedding in the worship center, I consulted with the associate pastor on this matter.  Since I was going away on vacation, I asked him to verify that the couple were both Christians and that the pastor was an evangelical and, if everything checked out, to contact the future groom’s mother with our approval.

When I returned from my trip, the associate unilaterally cancelled the wedding without verifying anything.

The lady from our church … who was normally a very calm and pleasant individual … wrote me a blistering email of condemnation (evidently wedding invitations were being printed) … and I took the hit without ever revealing the decision by the associate pastor.

Knowing her contacts inside the church, I’m sure that my name was dragged through the mud for weeks.

Sixth, the pastor notices staff members becoming resistant and rebellious.

I was a staff member in five different churches, and I know how much it meant when the pastor trusted me to do my job and wasn’t always trying to micromanage me.

So that’s how I tried to treat members of the church staff … and at one time, we had as many as ten in my last church.

I inherited four staff members from my predecessor … I kept them all on … and I eventually had trouble with three of them.

I met with them regularly as individuals.  We had a weekly staff meeting.  I was always available for consultation or support.

But the word began to circulate among the staff, “If you’re having any trouble with Jim, just talk to the church’s founding pastor.”

And when those staff members did, they become resistant and rebellious.

We only fired one of them, but several others should have been fired because their actions declared, “I don’t have to listen to you anymore.”

Near the end, I was talking one day with a staff member who became angry and started accusing me of “coddling people” who weren’t Christians.  It was totally unlike him … but I found out later that he was in contact with my predecessor … someone he had never met when he was hired.

When staff members and board members plot against the pastor, he doesn’t want to believe it … but it’s often a sure sign that both groups want more power … and that the pastor must go if they’re to gain it.

Finally, the pastor senses that church leaders no longer support the church’s mission.

I believe strongly in Jesus’ Great Commission to “make disciples of all the nations.”  His charter for us isn’t to increase attendance … add people to the membership rolls … get people to join a denomination … or steal sheep from other churches.

Jesus’ charter is for His people to bring people to Christ … to baptize them … and to teach them from His Word … and that means learning how to share Christ with unbelievers and to bring them to your church.

Regardless of what they say, God’s people almost always want their church to be a place where their needs and the needs of their family are met … and yet the only way to win many unbelievers to Christ is to put their needs ahead of the needs of church members.

I had worked hard over the years to help our church become outreach-oriented – and the church board had always complied – but the last board I worked with didn’t support that mission … and I could give countless examples.

When the mission becomes about “us” rather than “those without Christ,” the pastor’s effectiveness will be limited … and he may be through.

I’ve listed seven signs that a pastor is in trouble, and I could have listed many more.

What signs have you seen?

 

 

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A pastor friend recently send me his thoughts after an article I wrote on pastor-board conflict:

“I understand that the pastor has to have some level of accountability and I agree that this needs to be in place however; where is the level of accountability for the board??!!!  Why does the board get such freedom to govern as they see fit, and the pastor bend at their beckoning call?  When I first came into ministry 14 years ago, I was an idealist and wanted to touch lives, help as many people as I could, and set the world on fire for Jesus.  I still have fire for Jesus, but my flame for what happens behind the scenes in churches has grown very dim.  What I have discovered in my pastoral career is pastors who go into a pastorate full of desire and passion, many times must go through a board to get permission to do things in ministry.  The pastor may be the public figure, but the board runs the church with little to no accountability!!”

I’ve thought long and hard about this issue since my friend sent me his comments.  Here are five thoughts on this issue:

First, every church leader needs to be accountable to someone outside his/her group.

This means that:

*a ministry team leader should be accountable to a pastor … a staff member … or a board member.

*a staff member should be accountable to a higher-ranking staffer or the lead pastor.

*the pastor should report to someone … presumably the official board.  (If you want a miniscule church or a church split, make the pastor directly accountable to the congregation.)

*the board should account to another person/group as well, possibly depending upon who selected the board members.

When Paul laid out the qualifications for overseers/elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, he meant for Timothy and Titus to select those leaders.

In our day, that’s probably the equivalent of the lead pastor choosing the board members, which seems awkward because then he’s choosing his own supervisors!

As pastor, I always had veto power over board candidates, and used it often, though I probably let a few slip through the cracks that I shouldn’t have.

But churches ruled by congregational government usually vote on or verify the board members in an annual election.  It’s almost always a rubber stamp because I’ve never heard of any board candidate being voted down.  Most people simply don’t know enough about the leaders who are nominated to reject them … a flaw in our systems.

Second, this “accountability system” doesn’t work in actual practice for official boards.

I served in eight churches over a 36-year period in churches that espoused congregational government.

*The pastor was always accountable to the official board.

In my case, I submitted a written report to the board at every monthly meeting for years and years.  I knew that I was accountable to the board for all that I said and did.  If a board member had an issue with me, they knew they could speak with me directly or ask me a question in the presence of the other board members.  Because I kept the board current on my decisions and activities, I never had major problems with any boards until my last year in church ministry.

*The staff were always accountable to the lead pastor or the associate.

When I had just one or two staff members, they were always accountable directly to me as pastor.  When I had as many as ten staff members, most were still accountable directly to me, although I later asked several staffers to report to the associate pastor … a mistake on my part.

*The board was accountable to the congregation on paper … but rarely if ever reported anything to the church body as a whole … which gradually makes them feel as if they’re accountable to no one but themselves.

Third, the lack of board accountability is likely a major reason why so many pastors are forced out of office in our congregations today.

Think about this: who should the official board in a church account to?

Possible answers:

*Some might say, “The board is directly accountable to God Himself.”

But then why can’t the pastor be directly accountable to God as well?  As Pastor Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa used to ask pastors, “Who do you work for … the Lord or the board?”

But knowing human nature, most Christian leaders would say, “Since pastors occasionally go off track, they require immediate human accountability as well as ultimate divine accountability.”

If pastors require some level of human accountability, shouldn’t board members as well?

*Some might say, “Individual board members should be accountable to each other or to the board as a whole.”

But then why can’t staff members be accountable to each other rather than the pastor?  And why can’t the youth pastor account to other staff members rather than the lead pastor?

This might work at first, but over time … if board members are only accountable to themselves … they’ll go off the rails … no matter how “spiritual” they are.

All too many do.

*Some might say, “The official board should account to the congregation as a whole.”

And I agree.

And yet … this is either done rarely or poorly in churches with congregational government.

Why is this the case?

In most of my ministries, I as pastor became the official spokesperson for the board in public.  So when the board made a decision behind closed doors, I either volunteered or was assigned the duty of sharing that decision with our church family.

Sometimes I’d do that during the announcements on Sunday morning … or through an all-church email or letter … or through a handout in the Sunday bulletin.

Much of the time, I was more articulate than the chairman in public … and I had authority and credibility than most board members lacked.

But by always reporting board decisions to the church as a whole, I made a huge mistake … one that most pastors make:

My actions did not communicate to the congregation that the official board was accountable to the church as a whole.

Let’s say that the board decided that all greeters and ushers had to wear yellow shirts every Sunday, and that they wanted me as pastor to announce that decision during the next worship service.

Even if I said, “If you have any questions or comments about this decision, please contact one of our board members,” many people would be more likely to approach me because I’m the one who made the announcement.

It’s like I had an unspoken pact with the board: “You decide … I’ll announce.”

But in my mind, that seemingly insignificant pattern sends a strong message: the church board is not obligated to report their decisions to the congregation.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Fourth, the presumption is that since there is only one lead pastor along with multiple board members, there’s a check-and-balance system already built into board proceedings.

But I would strongly dispute this argument because without their pastor, church boards sometimes make horrendous decisions.

Ten years ago, I took a sabbatical for six weeks, and spent an entire month in Europe.

While I was gone, something unexpected happened at church, and two staff members went to the church board with a proposal that I would not have approved.

I wasn’t around to consult, so the board made a decision … the wrong one, in my view … and when I returned home, I had to try and undo the damage that was created … but my intervention-after-the-fact ultimately made things worse … even though I handled the situation as well as possible.

I’m not saying that church boards can’t make good decisions without their pastor, but they will always make better decisions with him than without him.

But when the board tries to make decisions about their pastor in secret … and without his wisdom and experience … their decisions may be based on business experience or raw emotion (think hatred or revenge) rather than Scripture or the church’s governing documents.

For that reason … and I’m just guessing here … I’d put it this way:

*When the pastor and board make decisions together, they have a 90% success rate.

*When the board makes decisions without their pastor, they have less than a 50% success rate.

Add to that last statement a couple of spiritually immature members … a degree of high anxiety … pressure from influential or wealthy churchgoers … and the feeling of, “If we get rid of the pastor, we’re in charge of the church now!” … and you can see how many church boards can slip into “termination thinking” without knowing the pitfalls ahead.

Finally, there are three possible solutions to the issue of board accountability:

*The board needs to make every decision in conjunction with their pastor.

Not the associate pastor … not a former pastor … not another church’s pastor … but their own pastor.

But if their pastor is guilty of a major offense, then it’s appropriate for them to meet without the pastor and consult outside Christian leaders – at least five, in my view – so the board doesn’t cherry pick someone they know will agree with them.

There is safety in multiple counselors.

*The board is accountable to a Conflict Resolution Group (call them the CRG) for the way they choose to handle conflict … especially anything involving the lead pastor.

I’ve made the case for this in articles over the past few weeks, but the CRG should serve as a watchdog concerning the process that the board uses whenever they engage in conflict management with the pastor, staff, or congregation.

*The board needs to report as many decisions as possible to the congregation as a whole.

In many churches, this is done on an annual basis through a verbal or written report, but this simply isn’t adequate.

If the pastor has to account to the board at every meeting – usually monthly – then why does the board only have to account to the congregation once a year?  Doesn’t that disparity lend itself to abuse?

If board members don’t interact with churchgoers regularly, they will be woefully out of touch, and in effect, minimize their chances of making God-blessed decisions.

Instead, the board should publish edited copies of their agenda before a meeting … and their minutes (edited) after a meeting … to anyone and everyone who wants a copy.  (Some boards post this information on a bulletin board, but I think it’s better nowadays to send the information via email to those who request it.)

Board members also need to publish their email addresses and let people know that they will read and respond to churchgoer concerns promptly.

The very act of being accountable on a monthly basis will keep board members on their ecclesiastical toes … help take stress off the pastor … and make for a more harmonious and productive church.

And if the board ever has to dismiss the pastor, they will already have a delivery system in place for reporting to the congregation.

There is nothing worse than a board never reporting to the congregation for a year or more … and then trying to establish accountability when they announce that the pastor has left the church.

This is one reason why all hell breaks loose after a pastor leaves: the board doesn’t have a track record of credibility with the congregation.

And what many, many boards do … sad to say … is to lie about the pastor … and destroy his reputation … as a way of covering up how badly they handled the conflict.

I’d love for what I’ve written to be the beginning of an honest conversation with my readers.

What works and doesn’t work for you in what I’ve written?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How much do you like to play chess?

One summer, between eighth and ninth grades, I played 97 games of chess with an older friend.  As I recall, I won 49, he won 45, and there were three stalemates.

Since he was in the high school chess club and knew all my tricks, I had to prepare myself for long games, which meant that I had to learn how to set up a defense to protect my key pieces, especially the King and Queen.

In the same way, a church needs to learn how to protect their pastor(s) from attack, and to prepare a long-term defense plan.

In my last article, I mentioned five ways that church leaders can protect their church from the inevitability of internal conflicts.  (You can access that article by clicking on the green link above and to the left of the title.)

Let me share the last five ways with you:

HOW CAN YOU STRENGTHEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM OF YOUR CHURCH?

Sixth, create a special document that specifies how to handle conflicts with the pastor (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Tim. 5:19-21).

Most churches lack this document.  If your church decides to create a Conflict Resolution Group, this could be among their first assignments.

It should be biblically-based, conform to labor law, be consistent with the church’s governing documents, and aim to treat the pastor fairly and justly.

If an individual, a leader, or a group in the church makes accusations against a pastor, the governing board should determine the severity of the charges:

*Forgive citations: these are petty, personal issues people have with the pastor (Prov. 19:11; Matt. 23:23-24).  The board should say, “This is such a silly charge that you either need to forgive the pastor, pray for him, or let this go.  We won’t pursue this any more.”  The great majority of accusations against a pastor fall into this “citation” category.

*Confront misdemeanors: this is where the pastor hurt or offended someone personally or where he committed a minor offense while carrying out his ministry (Luke 17:3-4).  The proper way to deal with a minor offense is to speak with the pastor directly about it.

*Investigate felonies: this involves serious charges against the pastor, especially involving heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior (Deut. 19:15-21).

If the pastor is accused of a felony, the board should do an investigation and (a) gather evidence; (b) meet with witnesses; and (c) decide if the charges are legitimate or illegitimate.

If they are illegitimate, the accusers should ask the pastor for forgiveness or leave the church, and the board should insist on this.  If the pastor’s accusers don’t admit they’re wrong, they’ll just create more charges down the road.

If they appear to be legitimate, the board should set up a meeting between the accusers and the pastor.  The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

Once this meeting is held, the board must decide the future of the pastor and his accusers in the congregation. Aim for restoration first (Gal. 6:1), removal last.

Seventh, remind leaders that conflict is likely to break out at certain predictable times:

Much of the time in church life, the pastor and staff know that conflict will surface at specific times.  For example:

*When the pastor/leaders are initiating change.  This is because church leaders have taken a long time to study the changes but they haven’t allowed enough time for people to share feedback and adjust to the changes themselves.

*Easter/Christmas seasons.  This is primarily because everyone wants their church to look good on the major Christian holidays and this causes people to become highly anxious.  It’s also because people bring their own personal stress over the holiday to church.

*Budget time.  This is because the annual church budget determines a church’s values and priorities (“Oh no, the youth ministry budget got slashed while the pastor’s slush fund was doubled”) and because people become anxious about the church’s ability to reach their targeted income.

*When changing the worship service.  Despite the fact that the New Testament never mentions even one Sunday morning worship service … and therefore, churches are free in the Lord to plan their own … some people will react negatively and emotionally to any change that they and their friends do not like.

*The addition of a new generation.  How many churches have made specific plans to reach Millennials?  What is your church doing to reach them?  Just think about the changes you’d have to make … and envision the conflict those changes would provoke.

*The addition or removal of staff.  “Why did we hire him?  I don’t like the guy.”  “Why did they let Pastor Brian go?  He was always very nice to me.”  Those statements alone speak volumes as to how churchgoers view staff members.  While I loved adding new staff, I hated letting anybody go because most of the fallout would be directed at me as pastor.

*When the church is shrinking.  This is because people don’t want to invest their time, energy, and money in a sinking ship … and because some will pin the blame for decline on one person: the lead pastor.

*When the church is growing.  This may sound surprising, but many pastors are ousted because they were too successful.  Many churchgoers … especially long-time leaders … would rather be large fish in a small pond than smaller fish in a larger pond.  And when they discover that some of their power is to be shared or taken away by new people, they often rebel.

Eight, practice openness about official church matters while maintaining confidentiality concerning the issues in people’s lives (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-9; 6:12-19).

During a major conflict, church leaders usually stay tight-lipped and say little or nothing to churchgoers about what’s happening.

But I believe that leaders should share as much as they can, not as little as possible, because as the saying goes, you are as sick as your secrets.

*Your church should have at least one congregational/business meeting annually.  The purpose of this meeting is for the church to vote on new board members and next year’s budget.

*Your congregation should also schedule periodic informational meetings (like a town hall meeting) where the pastor and church leaders can provide updates and receive feedback without the pressure of any voting.  Two meetings a year sounds reasonable.

*The pastor, staff, and board should be transparent with church members about everything that involves the church as an institution: attendance, weekly giving, the budget, and policies. Membership has its privileges.

*Everyone in the church should know how to contact the key leaders.  Their pictures should be on a wall someplace, and their email addresses should be published.

*The church board should report to the congregation in some fashion as often as the lead pastor has to report to the board.  You can’t have an accountable pastor and an unaccountable board.  It’s a scenario for disaster.

I learned this adage for church leaders from Dr. Archibald Hart: “We don’t have secrets, we do keep confidences.”

Ninth, practice periodic “conflict drills.”

My wife and I run a preschool in our home, and once a month, we have to do a fire drill.  (In fact, we just did one within the past hour!)  When the alarm sounds, the children must exit through the front door … even if they have one shoe on and one shoe off … and walk to the fire hydrant along the rim of our cul-de-sac as a meeting place.

In the same way, a pastor and a governing board should run one or two “conflict drills” every year … unannounced … so both parties can evaluate how they handle conflict.

Here’s an example:

*A board member hears that several church leaders are openly complaining about the pastor.

*The board member contacts the complainer and says: “If you are upset about policy matters, please speak with anyone who made the policy (usually board members). If you are upset with the pastor personally, please speak with him directly, pray for him, or let it go.  Otherwise, we’re not going to entertain your complaints.”

*The board determines the severity of the complaint (citation, misdemeanor, felony) and acts accordingly.

*Consult with the Conflict Resolution Group and make sure that the ten principles and the governing documents are followed.

*The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

*The pastor/board contacts (a) a church consultant; (b) a conflict manager; (c) a Christian mediator; (d) a denominational executive for counsel.

*The board makes a decision and announces it to the appropriate parties.

Create your own steps if you’d prefer, but I believe that periodic conflict drills can be a lifesaver for a congregation.

Tenth, implement these five biblical principles for preventing church conflict:

*Talk directly to those you’re upset with rather than telling others about them (Prov. 11:13; 16:28; 18:8; 20:19; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:13; James 4:11-12; 3 John 9-10).

*Share your frustrations with the appropriate spiritual leader rather than complaining indiscriminately (Num. 14:1-4; Luke 15:1-2; Phil. 2:14; Jude 16).

*Refuse to allow people to drag you into a dispute between two parties (called “triangulation”) (Luke12:13-14; 22:1-6).

*Deal with offenses as they arise rather than collecting them and dumping them on someone (called “gunnysacking”) all at once (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 13:5; Eph. 4:26-27).

*Report those who attack and conspire against church leaders (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10-11).

Since implementing any or all of these ten immune system strengtheners is a lot of work, a pastor would be well-served to implement one or two of them every year.

If the pastor doesn’t initiate ideas like these, when a major conflict surfaces – especially if the pastor is attacked – the law of the jungle is likely to take effect.

Depending upon the level of emotion involved, people may choose sides … define enemies … ignore Scripture … and do anything and everything to remove their pastor from office.

In the process, the church will be destroyed for the foreseeable future, and can only survive intact if there’s a resurrection years later.  Not pretty.

Which of my suggestions resonate with you?

 

 

 

 

 

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