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Archive for the ‘Conflict with the Pastor’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

The story also hit the pages of the Chicago Tribune:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many pastors could survive such scrutiny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, according to Bill Hybels:

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

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

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

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

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

The following questions are based purely on speculation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not?

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

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

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

Let me state this clearly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Paul asked the Corinthians:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was a pastor, a friend once approached me at a planning meeting and informed me, “Jill (who wasn’t a team member) is mad at you.”

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

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

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

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

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

How was I supposed to respond to such a complaint?

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

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

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

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

My response?

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

Jill never did contact me about that issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my book Church Coup, I called him George.

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

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

But George’s behavior raised all kinds of problems:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if George had misinterpreted what they were telling him?

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

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

Speed Leas comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anyone like that in your church right now?

Let me encourage you.

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

*Let it go.

*Tell the Lord alone.

*End the relationship.

*Leave the church.

*Speak with the person directly.

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

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

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

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

No, Jesus didn’t do that!

Instead, He asked this question:

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

Even Jesus stayed out of family squabbles and relational triangles.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you’re always afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Were they ticked off at a staff member?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preaching is a funny thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third, when someone falsely accused me of wrongdoing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that possibility can make any pastor paranoid.

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

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

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

Good diction?  That was the best she could say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The manuscript demonstrated preparation … and required exact wording.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, when churchgoers told their previous pastor about me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a stupid, insensitive comment that was.

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But someone else did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

She finally found someone with two doctoral degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was between the Lord and my wife and me.

Let me ask this question of you:

What else causes pastoral paranoia?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

She asked me to forgive her.

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

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

But I’ve always remembered that encounter.

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

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

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

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

Paul tells us four things in these two verses:

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

*It’s possible to be angry without sinning.

*We are commanded to resolve our anger before nightfall.

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

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

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

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

So God’s counsel to all of us is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he couldn’t have chosen a worse time.

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

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

That’s a sacred time for a pastor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This young man confessed his wrongdoing to the young woman.

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

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

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

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

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

He is married with five sons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sproul continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate it when that happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s actually pretty funny.

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

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

My supporters went silent as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me share four possible reasons:

First, they lack pertinent information.

The pastor knows he’s under attack.

The pastor’s family knows.

The church board assuredly knows.

The church staff probably knows.

The pastor’s attackers definitely know.

The attacker’s allies usually know.

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

Why not?

Because the attacks originate and are perpetuated behind closed doors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, they become overwhelmed by the attackers’ passion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, we were not given a gag order.

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

Very few.

We did receive flowers a few times.

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

We had a few people come to our door unannounced.

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

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

Most stopped contacting us.

It felt like we were under house arrest.

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

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

But I felt isolated from the congregation I loved.

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

People … even friends … avoided me.

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

I felt like an outcast in my own congregation.

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

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

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

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

Just imagine.

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

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

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

So you do nothing.

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

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

I get all that.

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

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

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

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

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

First, note what the documents say about church discipline.

Second, note what they say about removing a pastor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not advocating making angry threats.

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

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

In fact, I’d want to know:

*Are you basing your process on Scripture or business?

*Are you trying to restore or remove the pastor?

*Are you using a loving or a harsh approach?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not?

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

First, I am the wrong age.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*We built a new worship center.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God I didn’t end up there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I do.

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Third, I couldn’t afford it financially.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth, our grandsons trump everything else.

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

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

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

Grandchildren trump everything … for me, even church ministry.

Finally, my soul is one conflict away from devastation.

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

I quickly told him what had occurred during those days:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’ve had enough.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the interviewer asked MacArthur this question:

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

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

That happened to you…

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

Let me make four observations about what MacArthur says:

First, no pastor is exempt from leadership betrayal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur confessed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was my loyalty repaid?

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

MacArthur survived his mutinies.  I did not.

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

Third, loyal pastors cannot understand disloyal leaders.

In the interview, MacArthur said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth, nothing hurts a pastor more than false accusations.

John MacArthur said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I just surrendered.

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

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

They don’t want justice.  They want revenge.

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

How has he done it?

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

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

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

May we learn from their example.

 

 

 

 

 

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