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Archive for the ‘Conflict with Church Staff’ Category

Over the past six years, I’ve heard many heart-wrenching stories about pastors being attacked by church leaders.

One pastor of a large congregation was fired without warning and without any severance.

Two pastors were falsely accused of stealing money from their churches.  In both situations, their attackers brought in law enforcement.

One man served three churches as pastor … and was forced out of all three.

And I’ve heard about many coup attempts, either by the board or the associate pastor.

Out of all the stories I’ve heard, ours is still among the top three worst conflicts.

(You can read Part 1 of this article by clicking on the green link above the title on the left.)

Once allegations have been made against a pastor, he has to trust whatever process was already in place to allow him a fair hearing, or his position … and maybe his career … are toast.

The length of our conflict was exactly fifty days from the board meeting on October 24, 2009 until our last Sunday on December 13.

When the board met with me in October, they attempted to checkmate my wife and me in various ways.

One avenue they used … and it’s used by most boards that attack their pastor … was to impose a gag order on me in the name of “confidentiality.”

The board tells the pastor that they don’t want him discussing their concerns with anyone else.  That’s how they control you.

The board told me to keep matters private (they never asked me), but I never agreed to any confidentiality because I knew it was a trap.

But the biggest trap of all was the board’s threat to quit.  They said, “We’re all willing to resign over this issue … and we’ll give Kim the choice of being fired or resigning.”

But the strong implication was that if she didn’t resign, they would all resign instead.

Why did the board issue such an ultimatum?

I can only guess.

I don’t know exactly how many pastors, staffers, board members, and churchgoers I’ve worked with over the past six years, but I still haven’t heard any stories about a board that threatened to resign en masse.

In my 36 years of church ministry, I never issued even one ultimatum in a meeting.  It’s a power move.

If I said, “I must get my way, or I’ll quit,” someone might respond, “Then we want your resignation tomorrow morning.”

One pastor friend told me he would have said, “I’ve had enough of this.  You want to resign?  Let’s have your resignations right now.”

Not one of the many boards I served with over 25 years as a solo or senior pastor ever would have pulled such a stunt.

The board’s threat wasn’t spiritual in any way.  They didn’t leave any room for discussion or negotiation.

The board had arrested, judged, and sentenced my wife without meeting with her directly or letting her respond to their charges.

And they never made their case to me.

I was told verbally that my wife had overspent her budgets, and when I asked for a figure, I knew it was way overblown.

The signal that the board wasn’t playing fair is that they didn’t prepare a list of her spending for me.  As the pastor … and a board member … wasn’t I entitled to see it?

The night of October 24, the board met with several staff members, and added two charges to their list.

Five nights later, when two board members met with Kim (at my request) to explain their actions, they added even more charges.

Why wasn’t the overspending charge enough?

If a pastor is caught having illicit sex in a hotel room, that’s all you need to fire him.  You don’t need to say, “And you were rude at a board meeting three months ago” as well.

So why add charges?

When Kim didn’t resign immediately after the board made the overspending charge, they had to add charges to force her to quit.

And that was not only cruel, it was also a form of retribution.

There is no justification for the way the board acted.  They violated the church constitution which clearly stated that the senior pastor had to recommend the termination of any staff member to the board before anyone could be dismissed.

Someone was pushing matters … hard … so Kim would resign of her own accord.

And the expectation was that when she quit, I would quit as well.

_______________

Several years after the coup attempt, I asked someone inside that church, “What are the chances that the board was really after Kim and not me?”

Their reply: “Zero.”

So if the board wanted me to resign, why didn’t they come after me directly?

Because, in my view, they didn’t have anything impeachable they could use against me … not even my minute-long rant … and certainly nothing they could tell the congregation … so they went after my wife instead.

As someone on the inside later told me, they viewed us as a single entity … Jim/Kim, if you will.  (If you nail Kim, you nail Jim.)

Even though we didn’t work together very often, we did … and do … love each other very much … even though I quickly corrected her whenever she stepped out of line … something I did in the car and at home (and with a level of scrutiny no other staff member had to endure)!

Five days after that October 24 meeting, Kim still had not quit.  We both sought outside counsel, and were told, “If Kim doesn’t think she did anything wrong, and she resigns, that would be a lie.  Let the board fire her instead.”

But the board didn’t want to fire her, because they would have endured the wrath of most of the congregation.  They had to make it look like she resigned herself even though they had already “terminated” her.

At this point, I’m going to pull a veil over what happened next to Kim.  Let’s just say that Satan attacked her in a brutal fashion, and that I feared for her very life.  She was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Her suffering was the primary reason I eventually resigned.

After the dust settled, I was able to forgive people for what they did to me, but found it extremely difficult to forgive those who had hurt Kim … not only because she is my wife, but because she was the person who best exemplified our mission.

If the board had only followed Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 instead of business practices, matters might have turned out much differently.

Because six days after the October 24 meeting … the day before Halloween … the associate pastor resigned.  And the day after Halloween … the entire board resigned.

Looking back, what was the single most difficult matter for you?

It was having people I thought were my friends turn on me without waiting to hear my side of the story.

The associate pastor turned on me … as did the entire board … as did my predecessor.  That’s eight Christian leaders.

And I was told by someone on the inside that I could have survived the board’s departure, but that the associate’s betrayal ultimately did me in.

Their approach wasn’t biblical … spiritual … loving … or redemptive.  In fact, it felt like hatred.

It was devastating to know that false narratives were circulating around the congregation.  Based on my personal character and ministry history, most people had to know they weren’t true.

Every time I saw someone on the campus after that, I wondered, “What do you know?  Are you for me, or against me?”

I knew who some of my opponents were.  It was no surprise.  But when long-time friends turn on you … it’s heartbreaking.

After the board resigned together, they should have stuck to their initial narrative.

But they didn’t.  Allegation after allegation leaked out from those leaders as justification for their departures even though they had never discussed those issues with me personally.

Their attitude seemed to be, “That charge isn’t gaining traction.  Let’s try another one.”

The aim of my detractors was to destroy my reputation, and they didn’t seem to care how they did it.

And I had no forum in which to defend myself.

When churchgoers hear accusations against their pastor, but he doesn’t answer the charges, they assume the accusations are true.

And that’s when the pastor loses most of his church friends.

Dennis Murray writes: “Antagonists see themselves as saving the parish from a pastor that could more accurately be labeled a reprobate.  They are equally determined that their fellow parish members and all the folks in the greater community see things their way.  In order to establish bragging rights they try to control the story.  They need to do so by making sure that their target does not have any opportunity for rebuttal.”

When the “fire Kim” plan backfired, the “destroy Jim” plot was put in its place.

And it worked well.

I didn’t get my side out until I published my book more than three years later … and by then, my viewpoint was irrelevant.

If I had to do it over again, I would have written out the allegations I had heard … responded to each one on paper … and then made sure that my supporters distributed them throughout the church after I left.

That might have stopped some of the lies that were circulating about me … but, of course, my detractors would have just created new ones.

One day, I received an anonymous letter in the mail.  It demanded that we both RESIGN.  Kim and I were both scheduled that night to meet with the newly-elected board, and I gave the letter to someone who tried to determine who sent it … although he never did.

Kim met with the new board … they even prayed for her … and I met with them afterwards to announce my resignation.

We both appeared to be stubborn at times in our interactions with top leaders, but our seeming intractability wasn’t personal obstinance.  Instead, we were both completely committed to the church’s outreach mission which had been approved eight years before.

On my last Sunday, I urged the church to keep its outreach orientation.

But as soon as we left, our ministries were dismantled and the church quickly flipped back into maintenance mode.

What lessons have you learned from this experience?

Let me share four lessons as they relate to a church’s mission:

If a church really wants to reach its community, that mission must stay on track at all times.

Kim and I had learned this lesson at our church in Silicon Valley.

The staff, board, and key leaders were completely behind the mission of reaching lost people … on paper and in practice.

That commitment created incredible purpose, synergy, and power … and for that reason, that will always be my favorite church.

But during 2009, the commitment to mission was on paper among the board and associate pastor, but it wasn’t being carried out in practice.

There were people who rallied around us because of the board’s actions.  They were the ones who had made the church grow for years.  They served selflessly and gave generously.

By contrast, most of the board members had little to do with the church’s success, and four of the six did not serve in any extra-board capacity.

After creating great damage, the board and associate ran away.

But Kim and I didn’t run.  We waited until a new board was elected … until an investigation was completed … until we were offered separation packages by the new board … and until we had one last Sunday to say goodbye and offer people closure.

If staff members aren’t on board with a church’s mission, they should resign.

Can you imagine how it felt to have the outreach director fully committed to the mission while the associate pastor wasn’t?

It created friction between them.

The associate knew that he wasn’t in sync with the mission.  He told me near the end of his tenure that he should have resigned a long time before.

Why not fire staff who resist the mission?

I know someone who pastored a megachurch for years.  He fired a staff member, and the board instantly rehired him.  The pastor quickly resigned.

When there is conflict between the pastor and a staff member, boards sometimes stand with the senior pastor, and sometimes stand with staffers … and no one can predict which way they’ll lean.

One of my biggest regrets is that I let the associate pastor wiggle his way onto the church board in a non-voting capacity.

Kim warned me what would happen if I let that occur.  She was right.

When the board attacks the pastor, they attack the mission as well.

Pastors know that it’s difficult to convince a church to be outreach-oriented on paper, much less in practice.

When a church calls a pastor, they are looking for someone who fits their culture and community.

If it’s true that only 15-20% of all churches are growing … and that 80-85% are stagnating or declining … then forcing out a growth pastor can be suicidal for a church’s future.

What are the chances that the church will hire another pastor who has the training and experience to do successful outreach?

The odds aren’t very good.

A congregation can find scores of pastors who will pursue maintenance, but it’s challenging to find someone who understands reaching a community.

And once outreach is killed off, it can take years to resurrect it … so many churches end up wandering in the wilderness instead.

When the mission has been surrendered, the pastor has to leave.

If a church’s leaders want to change the mission, they need to go through the pastor rather than around him.

The board could have told me, “We don’t want to do outreach ministry anymore.  It requires too much risk-taking … it costs too much … and it’s creating too much conflict.  We want to be a church that reaches Christians instead.  That’s how we really feel.”

Had they been that explicit, I would have quietly looked for another ministry and then departed.

I came to the church because I only wanted to pastor an outreach-oriented congregation.  Having spent years spinning my wheels in churches going nowhere, I could never go back.

_______________

As you’ve read my story, please don’t feel sorry for me or for my wife.

The Lord catapulted us out of ministry because He knew that the outreach sentiment among the leaders had changed and that we couldn’t be in a church like that anymore.

As I’ve said on many occasions … we left at the right time … just not in the best way.

Did we make mistakes?

Of course.  Even the best pastors and staffers do.

But to this day, I maintain that we never committed any major offenses, and certainly nothing that merited the mistreatment we received.

In fact, many of the offenses we were later charged with had to do with how we handled the 50-day conflict, not how we handled our ministries.

Why revisit the coup eight years later?

*It’s a way of cleansing my soul.  Pastors who experience a forced termination are afraid to discuss it with anyone, much less write about it.

But I’m here to say, “I understand what you’ve gone through and how you’ve been feeling.  And the more you discuss it, the more quickly you will recover.”

If I can help you or someone you know with a coup attempt or a pastoral attack, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org.  I love hearing people’s stories … and I know I can help.

*I want pastors and Christian leaders to read my account … both on this blog, and in my book … and ask, “How would we handle a similar situation?  What would we do differently?  Let’s create or strengthen procedures that are biblical, just, loving, and redemptive.”

I spent hours with the pastor of a megachurch and his wife last year, and they bought copies of my book for their top leaders to read and discuss.  I felt humbled and honored by their actions.

*I want my friends to know why I’m no longer in church ministry.

It takes pastors one to three years to recover from a “sheep attack,” and much of that recovery is emotional.

Three years after leaving my last church, I became interim pastor of a wonderful church in New Hampshire.

After I returned to California, my director wanted to send me to another church back east, but after Kim and I spent four days there, we decided against it.

I spoke with my ministry mentor the day after we returned home.  After I told him what happened over those four days, he said, “Jim, if you and Kim go there, it will permanently damage your souls.”

Our souls were already damaged.

Thank God He specializes in healing damaged souls.

 

 

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“You never need to explain yourself to anyone.  Your true friends don’t require an explanation.  And your enemies won’t believe anything you say.”  Dr. Dennis Murray, Healing For Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack

On October 24, 2009 – eight years ago today – a coup was attempted at the Bay Area church I had pastored for nine years.

The official board consulted with … and likely collaborated with … the church’s founding pastor (my predecessor) to push me out as pastor.

Somewhere along the line, the associate pastor signed onto the coup, along with churchgoers who were loyal to my predecessor.

Even though I wrote my book Church Coup (published in 2013) as a cautionary tale, I revisit the conflict on this blog every October 24 to see if my perspective has broadened and deepened.  (If you’d like a more detailed description of what happens inside a church when a pastor is attacked, my book – which is on Amazon – may be of interest to you.)

I have no desire to convince my detractors that they behaved unwisely or even cruelly, so this article is not aimed at them, but I am including information I’ve never shared before.

This time, I’ve decided to answer eight questions about the conflict, and hope that my responses will provide insight into coup attempts involving other pastors.

We’ll do Part 1 today, and Part 2 in two days.

What was the coup really about?

I believe the coup was really about stopping the church’s mission, which was designed to reach people without Christ.

When I was hired as associate pastor in June 1999, the senior pastor – a friend for years – wanted me to continue his efforts to reach unchurched people.

We served together eighteen months, and then he retired and I became senior pastor.  (The congregation had approved me as senior pastor-elect seven months before.)

Over time, I had earned solid credentials.

I had been the senior pastor of an outreach-oriented church in Silicon Valley for seven years and had served as teaching pastor of a similar church.  I had also received extensive training from Willow Creek and Saddleback Churches.

My wife had undergone the same kind of training and had served alongside me at the Silicon Valley church.  When it came to outreach-oriented ministry, we both knew what we were doing.

So I wasn’t changing the church’s charter, but clarifying it … expanding it … and furthering it.

Several months after I became pastor, I invited Dr. Gary McIntosh – one of the foremost experts on growing churches in the world – to lead a series of workshops for our leadership team, and 43 people came.  The time with Gary was extremely productive.

We also had a professional facilitator inside the church oversee the creation of our mission and vision statements … starting with congregational input, and ending with board approval.

So I received wide support for our mission during my first few years, which enabled the church to grow numerically in a highly resistant community and to construct a new worship center.

But toward the end of my tenure, the mission was being sabotaged from within.

Who was sabotaging the mission?

We hired an associate pastor in early 2007 who told me before he was hired that he wanted to be in an outreach-oriented church, but after he arrived, he began to resist the mission because it made him too uncomfortable.

We called a husband-wife team as our youth directors a few years before that, but long after they were hired, they confessed that they didn’t believe in the mission, either.

It was difficult serving alongside key leaders who weren’t with us … and their lack of support eventually became obvious.

For years, I received my greatest support from the official board, and our church grew to become the largest Protestant church in our city.

And with that support, I was able to overcome most staff resistance.

But as 2009 approached, we lost three key board members.  All three men were older than me.  All three supported me fully.  And all three constantly had my back.

As we added new board members, every one was younger than me and involved in business.  I naively assumed they were all behind our outreach mission.

On paper, they were.  In practice, they weren’t.

They began viewing the ministry through “maintenance eyes,” not “mission eyes” … and in my view, had a “money comes before ministry” mentality.

But the one person most committed to an outreach-oriented church was my wife Kim.  I could always count on her.

How did the conflict about mission lead to your departure?

I once had a conversation with a pastor friend whose church was growing rapidly.  He told me, “There are many people in this church who are trying to change our direction so we only reach Christians, but I can’t let that happen.  You have to keep the mission of reaching people for Christ front and center or the church will go off track.”  His comment always stuck with me.

For most of my time in that church, both the leaders and the congregation were solidly behind the mission.

But as we got deeper into 2009, my wife and I were continuing to go in an outreach direction, while the associate and the board were going in an opposite direction … without any formal discussion.

Let me share one story to illustrate this polarization.

As the summer of 2009 ended, we had a part-time staff member in charge of small groups.  She did a great job, putting together thirty groups at one point.  But when she moved away, the small group ministry fell to the person originally hired to oversee it: the associate pastor.

Only he had never been in a small group in his life.

Every year, we announced that year’s groups at a small group fair.  The leaders would stand behind tables and present their groups to interested parties.  People would sign up at the tables and write down their phone numbers/email addresses.

In an outreach-oriented church, the leaders contact those who signed up. We reach out to them.

But the associate pastor vehemently believed that those interested should call the leaders instead … and then accused me of “coddling” people when I disagreed.

I wasn’t coddling anybody.  I wanted the maximum number of people in those groups because that’s where real life change happens in a congregation.  And the best way for people to join a group is for someone to invite them.

But the staff member with zero small group experience thought he knew better than the pastor with more than twenty years of small group experience … and that ministry began to collapse.

And that’s how my last year at the church went.  Resistance, sabotage, passive-aggressive behavior … and I could feel it.

And when that kind of climate develops, you’re going to make some mistakes … and every one will be recorded and counted against you.

Just for the record, those who resisted my leadership were all in contact … and later collaboration … with my predecessor.

When did matters finally come to a head?

The year 2008 was the best year our church ever had.  We had 785 people on Easter Sunday … had nine Sundays over 500 people … and enjoyed our highest average Sunday attendance ever … all on a one-acre campus that was nearly invisible from the street.

You might recall that 2009 was a difficult year economically, and after two years of generous giving in our church, we were about five tithing families short of meeting our budget, which caused great anxiety on the board.

Even though Kim had made plans for outreach events and two mission trips, the board set up procedures designed to slow or limit those activities.  Most of the staff were frustrated by the board’s micromanagement, but the board expected me to keep the staff in line.

I wanted to start a third service to reach a younger demographic, and so with board approval, eleven of us – including two board members and two staff members – visited two churches in Southern California to learn how to add that service.

After many months of work, the board turned down my proposal for a third service at a special meeting, and it became evident that we weren’t in sync.

On paper, our church was still outreach-oriented.  In practice, it was starting to flip backwards.

At the next regular board meeting, we started at 6:00 pm and were still going strong by 10:00 pm.

About 10:10 pm, the chairman stated that the church budget was frozen for the rest of the year and that nobody should even ask for more funds.

I was shocked.  Nobody had discussed this with me in advance, but it was clear that the board had colluded together in making this decision.

Trying to be conciliatory, I told the board that I had already announced to the congregation that we were going to produce a special drama for our upcoming anniversary called A Divine Comedy.  We had already obtained the script and were in the process of holding auditions.  The play was going to cost some money, but if we couldn’t find it in the budget, then I told the board, “I’ll ask several people with the gift of giving to donate the funds.”

The chairman responded to my comment by saying, “No.”

What?  The board was telling the pastor that he couldn’t raise money?

I should have calmly asked, “What do you mean, the budget is frozen?  Who made that decision?  When was it made?  Why wasn’t I included?”

Instead, I lost it.

I don’t know how long my rant lasted … maybe a minute? … but I told the board that it wasn’t fun working with them anymore and that the staff didn’t want to take any risks because the board had started micromanaging them. (Managing them had always been my job, not theirs.)

After the meeting, I spent a long time conversing with the chairman.  I felt awful about the way I had reacted … and knew that everything I told him would quickly get back to the others.

I immediately sought out a counselor to find out why I had reacted so badly.  After hearing me and testing me, he concluded, “You are severely burned out and headed for a breakdown.”

(Why did I burn out?  The construction of the worship center … finishing my doctoral program … and dealing with board and staff resistance all took their toll on me.)

After sharing this story with a pastor friend, he told me, “Jim, you had every right to be angry.”

I told him, “Maybe so, but I got too angry.”

Many pastors lose it in a board meeting on occasion, but in twenty-five years as a pastor, I never had.  In that church, I had a nine-year track record of remaining calm in meetings, but now I had messed up.

I felt like a colossal failure.  I never became angry after that, but I know my rant was used against me.

A more mature board might have met together and said, “Jim seems to be under great stress right now.  He’s meant so much to this church.  Something is troubling him, and we need to find out what it is.  Let’s send two board members to meet with him and see how we can help him overcome his frustration so we can all work together in harmony.”

But that’s not what happened.

In the end, the board never spoke with me about that night again.  They should have.  I was too embarrassed to go to them.  I wanted them to speak with me as a sign of love.

Instead, they did something else.

They waited until we were overseas on a mission trip … and then went after my wife.

Why did they go after your wife?

Kim is an amazing woman … maybe too amazing.

And she does a lot of good … maybe too much good.

The board hired Kim in 2001 as full-time outreach director after a search process produced twenty possible candidates.  Kim was the only person to survive the first round.  She was hired on merit because she knew more about outreach ministry than any other applicant even though others had more formal education.

(One time, we let a major outreach group use our facility for a training meeting.  Kim walked into the room and heard the leader using her material.  They had stolen it from her outright, but that shows how much her approach was valued.)

Kim was the best leader in our entire church.  She had vision … passion … charisma … a great work ethic … and a heart that beat for lost people.  As our mission statement put it, she loved to “share God’s unconditional love.”

In fact, several months before October 24, a board member told Kim, “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to this church.”

She learned people’s names.  She learned about their families and problems.  She recorded what she heard and used that information to help people become assimilated into church life.  She started new ministries … recruiting and training leaders to take them over.  She shared her faith everywhere.

And she did it all with contagious enthusiasm and a smile.

She was the most indispensable person in the entire church … including the pastor.

But she made a few enemies along the way because she believed so strongly in our church’s outreach orientation … and because, in my view, some individuals were jealous of her influence.

On October 24, the board told me they had terminated Kim’s position effective immediately because, they said, she had overspent her budgets.

When I asked how much she had overspent, I was given a number verbally.  I should have asked for written documentation, but I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I did ask for it three days later, but received nothing coherent.  Kim then asked for the documentation again two days later when she met with two board members, but was given nothing.

Was it all a bluff?

The bookkeeper later met with Kim and determined she had overspent her budgets by a negligible amount … light years away from the number I was given at the October 24 meeting.  A nine-person team from inside the church later investigated all charges and concluded there was no evidence that either Kim or I had committed any wrongdoing.

At that October 24 meeting, the board told me to tell Kim that she had a choice: she could resign or be fired.

And then the chairman made a statement I still can’t believe: the board felt so strongly about their decision that they were all willing to resign.

_______________

I’ve answered five questions so far, and will be responding to the final three questions in two days.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In my last blog, I wrote “an open letter to pastor terminators.”

The letter was a composite of stories I’ve heard over the years about the damage that members of the church board have caused pastors and staff members they’ve forced out of office.

One friend wrote me on Facebook and asked, “Would you send it?”

If I thought it would do any good, yes, I would send it.

But the odds are that it wouldn’t.

_______________

It’s been nearly eight years since I left my last church ministry.  Two weeks from today, I’ll be writing my annual article about the church coup I experienced.

Throughout the past eight years, I’ve had this fantasy: that one day, just one of the individuals most responsible for pushing me out would contact me and apologize for their actions.

Sometimes, when I go to the mailbox, I wonder if there will be a letter of confession from one of my opponents inside.

It’s never happened.

Sometimes, when I pick up the phone, I wonder if one of the perpetrators is calling me to say, “Oh, Jim, what we did was so, so wrong.  Can you ever forgive us?”

It’s never happened.

I wrote a book called Church Coup about what happened from my perspective.  I have written hundreds of blogs about the problems of pastoral abuse and termination.

The damage the terminators caused was unfathomable.  I lost my job … income … career … reputation … house … and many, many friends.

A nine-person team investigated the charges against me and concluded that “there was no evidence of any wrongdoing.”

But I was lied right out of the church.  It’s the only way “they” could get rid of me.

I was wronged … severely wronged.

But is anybody ever going to admit their part in the conflict to me?

Almost certainly not.

_______________

So would I send a letter to specific terminators, hoping they would have a “come to Jesus” moment and apologize for their actions?

Pastor Guy Greenfield tried to do just that.  In his excellent book The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks, Greenfield writes:

“When I was pressured to retire early in my last pastorate by the machinations of a small group of antagonists, I wrote each one a lengthy personal letter describing how I felt about what they did to me, my ministry, my marriage, my family, my health, and my future.  I tried to be honest without being harsh.  I felt they needed to know that they had hurt me deeply.  Not one of them wrote in response, called me, or came by for a visit.  Not one said he was sorry.  Therefore, I had to move on with my life, shattered though it was, and start over somewhere else.”

Greenfield made the first move toward reconciliation.  He followed Jesus’ instructions in Luke 17:3-4:

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

In essence, Greenfield rebuked those who hurt him.  They didn’t repent … at least, not to him personally.  Should he then forgive them?

Yes, he should forgive them unilaterally, and he did.  He writes:

“For my own sake, I needed to forgive them even though none said he was sorry.  I tried to do that even though it took me a long time.  I wrote a note to each that I was forgiving him of his mistreatment of me, knowing it would be a process rather than something instantaneous.  I had to do it for myself.  I did not expect reconciliation, but I did need to be free of my resentment.  I did not expect sorrow or repentance from them in order to forgive them.  I made a distinct decision not to seek revenge.  There were several things I  could have done, but I chose not to do any of those vengeful acts.  I could not afford to put my future happiness in the hands of those people who made me so miserable by their abuse of me.”

Greenfield exercised unilateral forgiveness.  He “let go” of his anger, resentment, and desire for revenge.  And that’s all he could do.

Because whenever a pastor or staff member are unjustly terminated, biblical reconciliation … or bilateral forgiveness … as outlined by Jesus in Luke 17:3-4 almost never takes place.

_______________

On a rare occasion, I will hear the perspective of the “other” side … from a board member who tried to get rid of a pastor and later felt badly about it.

A friend once told me that his father was instrumental in pushing out his pastor, and that it haunted him for the rest of his life.

I suspect there are other board members and lay antagonists who later were horrified when they realized that their words or actions had destroyed their pastor.

When my father was pushed out of his last pastorate, a woman whose hurtful words had gone viral cried out in a public meeting, “I never meant for it to come to this.  I crucified the man!”

But those kinds of confessions are all too rare.

_______________

It’s amazing to me.  To become a Christian, a person must confess their sins to the Lord and request His forgiveness, which He always grants.

To remain a Christian, a person must continually confess their sins to the Lord … as 1 John 1:8-10 specifies … and again, the Lord promises He will always forgive.

But when those same professing Christians severely wound the person and position of someone God has called to serve their congregation, they stop looking at any sins they might have committed and only see the sins of their pastor/staffer.

They completely exonerate themselves and just as fully blame the person they’ve driven from office.

In the words of Jesus, they’re focused on the “specks” in their pastor’s life while ignoring the “planks” in their own lives (Matthew 7:3-5).

I have a friend who occasionally holds meetings after a pastor has been forced out.  He gathers together the leaders of the church … places an empty chair at the front of the room (signifying the presence of Jesus) … asks for a period of silence … and then lets the leaders say whatever comes to their mind.

There is often a time of confession as people finally admit to others that they did indeed play a part in getting rid of their pastor … and harming their local body as well.

Maybe, since the deed was done with others, confession can only come in concert with those same people.

_______________

I’ve long since given up hope that anyone who meant to harm me will ever admit it to me.

If they did … since I have already forgiven them unilaterally … I would joyfully forgive them on-the-spot.

But I realize it’s unlikely to happen.

In his wise book Healing for Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack, Dr. Dennis Maynard writes the following:

“Before we can reconcile with another we have to know that they are truly sorry.  We need to hear their words of repentance.  We need to know their contrition is genuine.  To reconcile with those who are not truly contrite is to excuse their offense as though it never occurred…. We are basically giving them permission to hurt us again.  We need to hear the person who hurt us take responsibility for their behavior.”

Maynard then continues:

“Those that target clergy are oblivious to the pain they cause others.  They have actually deceived themselves into believing they have done the right thing.  They are consumed with their public image.”

He then writes something both remarkable and scary:

I have not found a single case of an antagonist seeking to reconcile with the pastor they targeted for destruction.  True repentance would also include trying to undue the damage that their conspiracy of lies brought on their pastor…. Some will rationalize their acts of sin and evil as righteous and justified…. Reconciliation is simply not an option.  To do so would be to fail to hold them accountable for the pain they have caused.  We cannot reconcile with them, but for our soul’s sake we still must forgive them.”

I have a theory that the people who target an innocent pastor for termination have surrendered themselves … at least temporarily … to some sort of dark force.  You can’t be a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led individual and go after your pastor with a vengeance.  Kindly show me one place in the New Testament where God blesses that kind of behavior and I’ll eat my words.

_______________

I now live some 500 miles away from my former church.  I cannot envision ever visiting the church again for any reason, and I have vowed never to visit the city in which the church is located, either.

There is just too much pain involved.

I accept the fact that even successful ministry tenures end.  Casey Stengel won ten pennants in twelve years for the New York Yankees – including five World Championships in a row from 1949-1953 – and even he was forced out after the Yankees lost the World Series in 1960.

But to get rid of a leader, God’s people often throw away their Bibles and engage in satanic shortcuts … adopting the strategy of deception leading to destruction (John 8:44).

Since they can’t force their pastor to resign any other way, they start spreading lies about him.

Lies designed to harm his reputation.  Lies designed to cause others to call for his dismissal.  Lies designed to create pain for him and his family.

And that decision … to get rid of a leader at all costs … is guaranteed to cause the leader … his family … his supporters … and their congregation … immense heartache for many years to come.

_______________

The reason that I wrote this article is to encourage the pastors and staffers who have been forced out to:

*accept that the church of Jesus Christ handles these situations horribly … so you aren’t alone.

*accept what happened to you as being part of God’s overall plan.

*accept that you will never fully reconcile with those who caused you harm.

*accept that you can and should forgive each person who hurt you unilaterally.

*accept that God still loves you and wants the best for you.

So will those who terminated you ever repent for what they did to you?

It’s highly unlikely.

After Judas betrayed Jesus, our Savior let him go.

We need to follow His example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A pastor I knew for more than twenty years died last week.

For years, AA was my friend.

My first exposure to him was at Biola College when he came and spoke in chapel one Thursday morning in Crowell Hall.

AA pastored a church in Fresno and shared with students that radio ads helped his church to grow … then proceeded to play one such ad on a tape recorder.

Years later, on Veteran’s Day in 1980, my church in Garden Grove called an ordination council for me.  AA … who was now pastoring a church of the same denomination in central Orange County … signed my certificate after the examination, although I don’t recall his presence that day.

Fast forward six years.  One afternoon, I was sitting in the office of our district minister when he told me that AA was coming to Oakland to pastor one of the oldest churches in the district.  I wondered, “Why would anyone leave the beauty of Orange County for the ugliness of downtown Oakland?”

But AA went to that Oakland church, and using his entrepreneurial gifts, he sold some church land and started a new church in a beautiful area just a few miles away.

Right before Christmas in 1986, our district held their annual Christmas party at Mount Hermon Conference Center.  I was asked to do a humorous reading of The Night Before Christmas in the style of an expository preacher and it went well.  Afterwards, AA came up to me and suggested we have lunch together.

A few weeks later, we sat in a restaurant near his church overlooking a lagoon (a place I would later eat at dozens of times) and shared our ministry wounds together.  In the process, we became fast friends.

I invited AA to my church in Silicon Valley one day.  The church wasn’t doing well … we’d had a merger four years before that imploded … and I wanted his opinion on our prospects.

He surveyed our campus and quickly said, “I wouldn’t come here” which hurt a bit.

But he also read an article I wrote on “lost shepherds” and told me that it was good and that he knew the editor of the denominational magazine and would recommend that it be published, which is eventually what happened.

One day, I was speaking by phone to the president of our denomination, and he suggested that I put together a group of pastors in my area for support.  Our first meeting was at a Sizzler in Hayward, and over the next few years, our group of five met nearly every month for lunch.  AA was in that group.

For several years, those pastors and their wives met at AA’s home in early December for a Christmas dinner.  He and his wife were very hospitable.  We enjoyed other social events with those couples over the years as well.

I invited AA to speak to our leaders at my church in Silicon Valley, and he in turn had me speak at a men’s breakfast and a stewardship banquet at his church.

In the summer of 1997, I knew I was going to be leaving my church in Silicon Valley, so AA invited me to speak to his church on a Sunday morning.  The time went well, and AA said he wanted to hire me as his associate pastor, but things didn’t work out at the time, and I ended up at a friend’s church in Arizona instead.

But in the fall of 1998, AA began sending me emails, wanting to know if I’d consider becoming his associate pastor.  He planned on retiring and wanted to choose his successor.  After combing through 85 resumes, AA and the board couldn’t find anyone suitable.

I sent him five reasons why it would be good to work together, and five reasons why it wouldn’t work.

He answered all five objections.

Kim and I flew to Oakland on a Friday.  That night, we went out for dinner with AA and his wife, and we had a great time together.  But one of the board members was so upset about the possibility of my coming (he never even met me) that he instantly resigned.  (He wanted a Union Seminary grad instead!)

My wife and I met with the board the following morning, and things went well enough that I soon returned and spoke on a Sunday.

The board offered me the job of associate pastor, and I eventually accepted.  I did not call myself to that position … God called me … because I initially didn’t want to go.

Because our daughter Sarah was in high school, I agreed to start my ministry on June 1, 1999, so she could finish her junior year in Arizona.

In January 2000, AA announced to the church that he would be retiring the following December.  By this time, I had served at the church seven months, and except for one critic … a board member … I felt I got along great with everyone.

The following April … nearly a year after I came to the church … I asked the board to have the congregation vote on me as senior pastor-elect.  The vote was 76-4 … 95% approval.

AA began to pull back on his ministry a bit, and I began to assert myself more.  One day, as we walked past the open field on the church property, AA told me, “That’s where you will build a new sanctuary someday.”

In the fall of 2000, AA and his wife took a trip to New England, and while they were there, my primary critic resigned his position at the church and openly took shots at me.  When he returned home, AA fully supported me, which made matters disappear quickly.

That same critic began spilling board secrets in public, including the fact that the board had agreed to give AA a generous financial gift upon his retirement.  The church was holding its annual congregational meeting in November, and AA was worried that some oldtimers would publicly object to the gift and that he might not receive it.

I shared with AA and the board how to nullify any objections with the congregation, and the meeting passed without incident.

During the eighteen months that we worked together, AA and I got along very well.  We may have disagreed about certain issues … we’re very different people with very different styles … but I don’t recall one time where we had even a single unpleasant conversation.

And during the fourteen years that we knew each other, I considered AA to be one of my closest friends.  In fact, had I died before him, I wanted him to conduct my memorial service.

After he left the church and moved to Arizona, I did my best to maintain contact:

*Whenever I referred to AA in public, I spoke of him in positive terms and with gratitude.

*Whenever I spoke with his friends within the church … including four staff holdovers … I was conscious that anything I said might get back to him … and it sometimes did.  In fact, AA once told me that a certain individual called him all the time to complain about me.

*Since AA had family in our community, he visited the area a few times a year.  At first, he’d contact me and we’d get together, but after a while, he’d come into town and meet with people from the church without telling me, which made me suspicious.

*He and his wife visited the church a few times after he retired, and things seemed to go well … until the Sunday when I stood up to preach and noticed that AA and his wife were sitting by themselves next to a couple who were angry with me about an issue that had no resolution.

*I interviewed AA about two incidents that happened during his tenure as pastor that led to conflicts and included them in my doctoral project for Fuller Seminary.

*AA became president of a parachurch organization.  Our church supported him financially as a missionary and hosted one of their meetings in the church library.

*I invited AA to speak at the dedication of our new worship center in October 2005.  I also presented him and his wife with a letter of appreciation and a plaque for all they had done for the church.

But during his message, AA made a derogatory comment about me … one that most people wouldn’t have noticed … and I knew something had changed.

Then one man inside the church sent a bizarre email to one of our staff members stating that I needed a mentor and that AA should come back to the church as my associate pastor.  I called the man and tried to set him straight, but it began to dawn on me: AA is telling at least some people that he regrets leaving and wants to come back to the church.

After he retired, AA and his wife lived in Arizona … then Southern California (ironically, in the same city my wife and I live in now) … then in a city in Northern California.

Somewhere along the line, I knew I was being undermined and that anything I did or said that AA’s friends didn’t like would end up being shared with him … and quite possibly, be wrongly interpreted.

I had three options:

*Engage in an investigation into AA’s conduct.  But who would do it?  How would anything change?  What good would come from it?

*Confront AA about his behavior.  But what if he denied everything and then told people I was insecure and paranoid?

*Ignore his behavior and continue building the church … which is what I did.  But what if the undermining gained critical mass?

The church was doing well.  The attendance and giving nearly doubled during my tenure.  We built a new worship center where every vote by the congregation was unanimous.  We were the largest Protestant church in our city by far and had a great reputation in the community.

Fast forward ahead four years.

In the fall of 2009, I heard that AA and his wife were living in a house owned by former church members on weekends … only 500 feet from our church campus.

Only AA never told me.

Intentional or not, he now had a base of operations near the church to hear any complaints against me … just like Absalom listened to complaints about his father David at the gates of Jerusalem.

Only people weren’t bringing any complaints to me, so I didn’t know what they were or who might be upset with me.

I didn’t know it at the time, but AA not only had his fingers in the congregation … he had his fingers in the church staff, and especially in the church board.

In October 2009, a conflict broke out with the church board, and a few weeks later, I chose to resign.

The night I told church leaders that I was going to leave, I was told by the church consultant I had hired that AA had been meeting with the six members of the church board about me.  I don’t know who initiated contact, or how many times they met, or whether the board wanted AA to be their next interim/senior pastor … although a top Christian leader told me that was the plan.

That consultant exposed the plot and wrote a report stating that AA should not be allowed to return to the church in any capacity.

After years of friendship, my good friend had completely flipped on me.

_______________

I never learned what I did or didn’t do … or said or didn’t say … to cause AA to conspire to force me out of my position and eventually end my pastoral career.

Although I can venture some guesses, I’m not very good at mind reading.

I can’t recall our final conversation, but found it telling that he never contacted me after I resigned and left the church, even though I wrote a book about the conflict (Church Coup) and have written more than 500 blogs … most of them about pastor-church conflict.

Several years ago, I went to his Facebook page, and noticed that he was friends with nearly every single person who stood against me in my final days, including former board members and staffers.

In England, they call that a Shadow Government.

I have no idea when or where AA’s memorial service will be held … or if it’s already been held … and I’m certain that I won’t be asked to speak.

So I thought I’d write a blog about the man I knew.

I’ll always be grateful that he wanted me to become his associate pastor and eventually succeed him as pastor.  By every measure, the church did quite well over the next nine years.

And I’ll always be grateful for his friendship … his counsel … his support … and all the good times we had.

Rest in peace, Andy.  I forgive you.

See you in glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you lie to me once, you’ve sinned.

If you lie to me twice, you’re a liar.

You’ve established a pattern.

It’s difficult to confront liars because they usually cover their past lies with new ones.

I once worked with a church staff member who seemed to enjoy lying.

Several people came to me and said, “So-and-So lied to me.”  They were very upset and wanted me to do something about his fibs.

I tried talking to this leader to see if I could discern any untruths coming from his mouth, but he was really good at covering things up.

So I decided to take my time and see if I could catch the leader in a lie myself.

One day a few weeks later, someone who worked with this person requested a private meeting with me.  They shared information that, if true, could only result in the dismissal of this staff member.

I took two full days to investigate some of the charges the informant made … and the most serious ones turned out to be accurate.

If I brought verbal charges to this staffer, I knew what what happen: he would just deny … or explain away … the charges … just like he did with everything else.

I needed air-tight evidence that he had lied before I could confront him.

Fortunately, I was able to get that evidence in the form of an email from a key person in a Christian organization.

I called the staffer into my office … asked him some questions … asked him if he stood by his answers … and then handed him the email contradicting what he had just told me.

He lied twice to my face … and it was tragic watching him try and explain away his falsehoods.

He left the church soon afterward.

One family in particular drew close to this staff member, and when he left, I suspected they were upset with me.

And sure enough, a few years later, they were in on the attack to force me to leave.

I can only imagine the lies he told about me on his way out the door.

_______________

When a church conflict becomes a contest, some churchgoers start lying.

On occasion, a pastor will float a lie or two about his enemies, but most of the time, people lie about the pastor instead.

In fact, when some people want to force out their pastor, they will lie about him indiscriminately as a way of getting others to join their cause.

And by the time the pastor finds out that people are lying about him, critical mass has been reached, and so many people believe the lies that the pastor has to resign.

This is what happened in my case seven-and-a-half years ago.  There were so many lies going around about me that (a) I didn’t know where they came from, (b) I didn’t know what was being said, and (c) I didn’t know how to counter the lies.

In a very real sense, I was lied right out of the church.

Because Jesus didn’t do anything wrong, the only way His enemies could destroy Him was to lie about Him.

And because many pastors try and lead godly lives, the only way their enemies can destroy them is to lie about them.

*The lies must sound plausible or people will quickly discount them.

*The lies must be plentiful in case the pastor is able to debunk one or two of them successfully.

*The lies originate from those who hate the pastor and want revenge against him … otherwise they would sit down with the pastor in love and speak to him directly.

*The lies leak out from unlikely sources at inopportune times.

*The lies multiply once the pastor leaves the church to prevent any future influence he might have.

Several months after we left our last church, my wife and I went to lunch with a woman who had been very kind to us.

She told me that rumors were swirling around that I had had an affair and that my wife had had an affair as well.

At first, my wife and I both laughed.  She’s the only woman I’ve ever kissed, and I’m the only man she’s ever kissed.

Besides that, my wife worked on the staff with me, and we drove to and from work together in the same car … the only car we had.

And we worked right across the hall from each other.

So we both knew the affair talk was balderdash … but evidently there were some who believed it … and others who were perpetuating it.

This information greatly saddened me, but it was also an indication that Satan – “a liar and the father of lies” – had established a firm foothold in that congregation.

_______________

People lie because it works.  And when they’re caught, they’re often able to lie their way out of trouble.

I accept the fact that there are liars inside local churches today.

But I pray they aren’t on church staffs … or on church boards … or in church pulpits … or any other places of influence … because lies destroy people, families, and congregations.

I once knew an associate pastor who worked for a pastor I knew quite well.

This staff member wanted to get rid of someone in the church he didn’t like … so he lied about him.

When the pastor found out that his associate had lied, he called him into his office … verified all the facts … and then told the associate, “You know what to do.”

The associate instantly resigned.

That’s how we used to handle church leaders who lied.

How should we handle them today?

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When a pastor or staff member leaves a church under duress, they usually discover – weeks or months later – that most churchgoers from their former congregation seem to have forgotten that the leader ever existed.

More than 90% of the congregation never contacts the leader again – not via phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, or any other means of communication.

The leader is left wondering, “What happened to all my friends and colleagues?  Why aren’t they reaching out to see how I’m doing?  Did I mean so little to them?”

I felt this way when I left my last position as senior pastor 7 1/2 years ago.  Thankfully, there were a few churchgoers who kept in contact with me, but I never heard from most of them again.

After devoting myself completely to that church for more than a decade, it hurt to think that so many people – whom I considered good friends – would abandon me so quickly.

But maybe there are good reasons why God’s people don’t contact their former leaders again.

Here are seven possibilities:

First, most of us gradually forget about people – even friends – that we no longer see.

Mrs. Coleman was the first great teacher I ever had.  She taught me in third grade.  After that year, I never saw her again.

Darryl was my youth pastor in my late teens.  He helped me love and know Scripture.  He moved to Colorado, then to Texas.  I haven’t seen him in 40 years.

My father-in-law mentored me in church ministry for decades.  I last saw him five years ago.

I know a handful of people who seem to stay in contact with everyone they’ve ever known, but most of us aren’t that way.  People come and go in our lives.

That’s just the way life is.

I’m appreciative of the influence that Mrs. Coleman, Darryl, and my father-in-law had in my life.  I think of them fondly.  But since we are no longer in proximity to one another, we’ve all moved on.  (And I think Mrs. Coleman died a long time ago.)

It’s just something we have to accept.

Second, many Christians are used to pastors/staffers coming and going.

The longer a person has attended church, the more transitions they’ve witnessed.

Before I entered my teens, my family attended a church where the senior pastor resigned … the Christian Education director was fired … and the next pastor was forced to resign prematurely.

At the next church I attended, the founding pastor resigned … the youth pastor left … an interim pastor came and went … another youth pastor left … the church called a new pastor … another youth pastor left (me) … an associate was hired … and then he resigned.

If you’re a veteran Christian, you might get worked up about one or two of those departures, but if you make a federal case about each one, you’ll die of a heart attack.

In baseball, there’s an adage that managers are hired to be fired.  Many baseball fans express outrage after a well-loved manager is released, but their anger soon dies down, and fans come to accept things as they are.

The same thing happens in Christian circles.

And after a while, each succeeding departure is just par for the course.

Third, many Christians relate to paid church leaders as short-term friends.

I learned this one the hard way.

At my last church, I became friends with a man roughly my age.  He had been a professional athlete with one of my favorite teams.  We went to several ballgames together and had a great time.

Every Sunday, he’d give me a big smile and come over and shake my hand during the greeting time.  After I preached, he’d hang around and let me know I hit a home run.

Before I moved away, I went to visit him one last time at home.  Several nights later, he sent me an encouraging text.

Two years later, I contacted him, told him I was going to be in the area, and asked him out to breakfast.

It turned out to be one of the most awkward hours of my entire life.

He never asked me one time how I was doing.  Instead, he talked all about his family and the church’s new pastor.  (Shortly afterward, my friend and his family left the church.)

I thought our friendship would last for years, but in the intervening months, it had gradually died.

While it hurt me at the time, looking back, I didn’t nurture that friendship because I didn’t want to hear how the church was doing without me.

I’ve learned that while pastors and staffers view some churchgoers as friends, those same people probably view their leaders not as lasting friends, but as short-termers.

Fourth, some Christians no longer feel responsible for a pastor/staffer who has left.

Their attitude is, “As long as Pastor Joe or Youth Pastor Steve is paid by this church, I am duty bound to support them, pray for them, encourage them, and befriend them.  But if they take off, they are no longer our responsibility.  Now it’s up to their new church or their new boss to watch over them.”

When you’ve given so much of yourself to a congregation, this attitude can seem a little cynical.  But in the long run, it’s probably healthy.

For example, over the course of my 36-year ministry career, I probably had 25 or so staff members serve under my leadership.  Although we were on good terms when we parted, in most cases, I’ve lost contact with them … and they’ve lost contact with me.

When Judas left the Twelve, Jesus still loved Him … He just didn’t feel responsible for him anymore.  I am not comparing departing pastors/staffers to Judas the turncoat, but I am comparing Jesus – the Ultimate Caregiver – to many churchgoers today.

Once a church leader has resigned, the majority of Christians won’t initiate contact anymore.

Fifth, some Christians have bought into negative rumors about the departing leader.

I think it’s despicable to spread half-truths and malicious gossip about a former pastor/staffer after they’ve left a church, but it’s done all the time.

The template goes like this:

“I wonder why So-and-So really resigned?”

“Well, I’ve heard that they mismanaged funds … were having an affair … could no longer recruit volunteers … lost the confidence of the church board … upset other staff members … weren’t working very hard …”

And the list goes on and on.

Here’s the problem: if you think that a former pastor/staffer really did mismanage funds or have an affair, are you going to reach out to them or write them off?

You’re probably going to write them off as some kind of defective Christian leader.

I don’t think I’ve told this story before, but several years after I left my last ministry, I was talking with a friend who had left the church (on good terms) before I did.

Eight months after my departure, this friend flew to the new area where my wife and I lived and spent a few days with us.  This friend posted some photos on Facebook of us together … and was instantly unfriended by more than 40 people from our former church.

Why did that happen?  Maybe it has to do with the next possibility:

Sixth, some church leaders either spread negative rumors or fail to correct them.

Imagine that you’re an average interim pastor.  Your ministry as a pastor was never all that successful, but you’ve been called to a church where the previous pastor’s ministry was very effective.

You ask around, “Why did the previous pastor leave?”

If you’re a secure individual, you’ll try and hear all sides.

If you’re insecure – or feel inferior to the previous pastor in some way – you may covertly rejoice in anything negative you hear.

So when people come to the interim and ask, “Do you know why the previous pastor left?”, the insecure interim will respond, “I’ve heard that …”

And after the interim leaves, the next pastor may do the same.

In addition, as rumors circulate among the saints as to why the previous pastor left, even if the interim knows the truth, he will often do nothing to correct them.

Why not?

Because he wants the congregation to forget about the previous pastor altogether so he can look good by comparison.  He wants to loosen the bonds between the previous pastor and the people so he can influence them instead.

Does this stuff really happen in supposedly godly local churches?

Yes … all the time.

And sadly, since this information comes from a “man of God,” many people believe whatever he says … hook, line, and sinker.

Finally, some churchgoers feel rejected when their pastor or a staffer leaves.

When a pastor/staffer leaves a church, some people assume that the leader left of their own free will.

Maybe yes, maybe no.

My guess is that many churchgoers … especially new believers and those on the fringe … don’t know how churches operate, so when they hear that a leader has departed, they assume that the leader wanted to leave … and this makes them feel abandoned at some level.

Although I sensed that I needed to leave my last ministry, I was told that I could have stayed.  Since I chose to leave, is it possible that some churchgoers felt that I had abandoned them?

Of course.

A few years ago, I had breakfast with the president of a seminary overseas and he told me, “We Christians don’t handle transitions very well.  We need to do a better job.”

What’s hard for many of us is that when a church hires us, they act very Christian.  But when they let us go, they almost seem satanic.

I long for the day when God’s people act like Christians whether they’re hiring or firing leaders.

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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 your 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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