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Archive for the ‘Conflict with the Pastor’ Category

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

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

He was devastated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was thrilled!

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

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

But I’ve never liked the cover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I learned two things from his email:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how this plays out in real life:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Bob quits.

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

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

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

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

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

At least I still have my integrity.

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, they should fight back.

Let me share three examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, he fought back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m awful at it.

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

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

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

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Why take a break from writing?

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

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

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

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

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

Until then …

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This last space is reserved for my mother and stepfather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But most of the time, they don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where church conflicts begin to mushroom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because the author was a coward.

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

And how can I answer them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, that should be the case regardless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is one of the complaints:

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

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

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

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

She remembered the bump … he didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The church board cannot be that group.

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

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

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

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

*They think narrowly, not broadly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how this usually works:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe is both shocked and heartbroken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was unforgiven.

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

What do you think of my wishes?

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

After that, I lost contact with him.

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

Who killed him … and why?

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

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

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

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

In my case, there were four main parties:

*the church board

*the associate pastor

*a faction of disgruntled churchgoers … including some charter members

*my predecessor and his Fan Club

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

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

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

But disgruntled leaders find each other much more quickly.

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

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

Why not?

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

They wimped out.

This is a huge problem in our churches.

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

They tell their friends instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

They told my predecessor.

They told the associate pastor.

They told their wives.

They told their friends.

They told key leaders.

They just never told me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

I consulted with:

*church friends

*staff members

*former board members

*influential people inside the church

*church consultants

*seminary professors

*Christian counselors

*a Christian conciliation expert

*other pastors

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

I had to put the puzzle pieces together to:

*accurately assess responsibility

*avoid making similar mistakes in the future

*try and eliminate the cloud over my last ministry

*help my wife to heal

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

*be able to sleep at night

_______________

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

Maybe.

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

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

Yes, Lord … more of this … please.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

After that, I lost contact with him.

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

Who killed him … and why?

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

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

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

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

In my case, there were four main parties:

*the church board

*the associate pastor

*a faction of disgruntled churchgoers … including some charter members

*my predecessor and his Fan Club

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

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

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

But disgruntled leaders find each other much more quickly.

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

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

Why not?

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

They wimped out.

This is a huge problem in our churches.

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

They tell their friends instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

They told my predecessor.

They told the associate pastor.

They told their wives.

They told their friends.

They told key leaders.

They just never told me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

I consulted with:

*church friends

*staff members

*former board members

*influential people inside the church

*church consultants

*seminary professors

*Christian counselors

*a Christian conciliation expert

*other pastors

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

I had to put the puzzle pieces together to:

*accurately assess responsibility

*avoid making similar mistakes in the future

*try and eliminate the cloud over my last ministry

*help my wife to heal

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

*be able to sleep at night

_______________

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

Maybe.

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

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

Yes, Lord … more of this … please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The first time I interviewed to become the pastor of a church, I met a church crank.

He remained a thorn in my side for years.  Know anyone like that?

The deacons of a small church in Sunnyvale, California, received and reviewed my resume, and one Sunday night, the chairman called and asked me if I could preach at their church the following Sunday.

I said yes.

So my wife and I flew to San Jose and were picked up by the chairman, who drove us to the elementary school where the church met.

Inside a brown classroom, I met four deacons … all of them at least sixty years of age.  The chairman was 74.  The others were all over 60.

And I was just 27.

A deacon I’ll call Warren stood out because of his booming voice and his burly appearance … and as I would soon find out, he had quite a temper.

The sermon went well the following day … the people loved us … I preached a candidating sermon the following Sunday … and the church voted to issue me a call, which I accepted.

Little did I know it, but over the next few years, I would have many off balance encounters with Warren, even though his wife … twenty years his junior … was a delightful person.

For years, Warren had been a pastor in a small coastal town in Northern California.  He once told me that tapes of his sermons were circulating around the world.

But Warren wasn’t in church ministry anymore because he had been divorced.  I never learned the circumstances.

Every Sunday morning at our church, Warren made announcements before everyone went to Sunday School.  But one Sunday, Warren acted and spoke bizarrely … and I noticed his wife wasn’t with him.

When I got home from church, I called her … and she told me she was divorcing Warren … and shared with me some startling information.

When it became evident that Warren’s wife was serious about divorcing him, I couldn’t let him remain a deacon.  While I didn’t know why his first marriage had fallen apart, his second marriage was crumbling right before our eyes.

I spoke with the other deacons, and they reluctantly agreed with me: Warren had to step down from the board.

That was one of the hardest meetings of my life.  Warren was more than twice my age.  He had been a pastor for years.  And now I had to go to his house and tell him that he needed to step down from the board where he served with his friends.

To his credit, Warren seemed to understand.

But six months later, his deacon friends lobbied for me to reinstate him, telling me that he had “suffered enough.”

Although I didn’t want to, I reluctantly permitted Warren to return as a deacon … and lived to regret it.

Over the next few years, Warren did the following things:

*One Wednesday night, I taught on the resurrection of Jesus, and stated that it couldn’t be proven scientifically, which is true.  Warren stood up and yelled loudly, “Then we’re all wasting our time here!”  And he opened a heavy classroom door and slammed it … hard … and then left the school.  We all sat there in shock.  When we spoke later, he confessed that I was too good a theologian to make a reckless statement.

*Another time, I was reading a book on discipleship by British theologian David Watson, and included a quote from the book in a newsletter article.  Warren called me at home and lit into me about my use of that quote.  I had to calm him down before explaining what I meant.

*When our church rewrote our doctrinal statement, I included a section about the death and resurrection of Christ.  Warren angrily confronted me after a service because I had left out Christ’s burial!  (I left out the appearances as well … but only for brevity.)

*One Sunday night, our church held a business meeting, and Warren thought a certain woman had just criticized him publicly.  He stood up and yelled at the entire congregation when he was really upset with her.  Later that week, I had to tell him that if he didn’t apologize to the entire congregation the following Sunday night, he couldn’t be on the board anymore.  He apologized … sort of.

*The former deacon chairman was also the song leader on Sunday mornings and evenings.  He became angry with me over a petty issue and asked to come to a board meeting to complain about me.  He brought along a witness: Warren.  (The next day, the song leader left the church, but Warren stayed.)

*Although Warren eventually stopped being a board member, he did teach a Sunday School class for seniors.  One Sunday morning, I was sitting in the church office and could hear Warren teaching through the wall.  He was ripping things our church was doing … things I had full board approval to do … but Warren didn’t like them, and let his fellow seniors know what he really thought.

*Before I knew it, that seniors class began making demands … and their primary demand was that I should no longer be the pastor.  The board at that time all stood behind me, and the seniors left the church and started a new church in a school a mile away … with Warren as their pastor.  (He wasn’t their pastor for long, and the church disbanded within a year.)

But what Warren really wanted to do was return to some form of paid ministry, either as a pastor or a missionary.  He applied to many Christian organizations, but they all turned him down.  He married for the third time, but those two divorces, which he had to disclose on any application, killed his chances for employment.

Since he was out of options in the larger Christian community, I wonder if he wanted to take me out … hoping that somehow, people would turn to him as pastor.

Warren wasn’t necessarily a church bully, but he was a church crank.

And church cranks have the following characteristics, among others:

*They become known for their incessant, uncontrollable complaining.

*They become irritated over issues that don’t bother anyone else.

*They view themselves as leaders while few others do.  (Who wants to follow a crank?  You’ll just have more crankiness.)

*They have no idea how they sound or look to others.

*They make people anxious and even afraid.

*They sometimes make complaints that become contagious.

*They don’t intend to undermine their pastor but end up harming him anyway.

*They apologize enough to maintain their standing in the church.

Without doubt, Warren was a church crank.

What should pastors do with church cranks?

Let me share four ideas:

First, pastors should let cranks know how to register complaints.

Charles Spurgeon used to tell the cranks in his church to write down their complaints so he could better deal with them.  Of course, nobody wanted to do that!

Over the years, I devised a simple policy about complaints:

*If your complaint is about the pastor personally, then speak to him personally before you do anything else.

*If your complaint involves church policy, then speak to anyone who makes policy … usually members of the official board.

A pastor can’t command cranks not to complain, but pastors can insist that a crank’s complaints be directed to the right person.

And if the crank won’t follow the complaint policy, then he or she must be confronted and disciplined … or the crank may someday try and take out the pastor.

Second, pastors should encourage mature churchgoers to confront cranks about their behavior.

When I was in my late twenties, I was correcting a church leader twice my age … and it wasn’t easy or natural for me.

I needed church leaders and Warren’s friends to sit down and speak with him about his behavior … but either they were too afraid of him or they were afraid a confrontation might end their friendship with him.

So it fell to me as the pastor by default.

My father-in-law told me many times, “Jim, if there is any confrontation that needs to happen in your church, you’re going to have to do it.  Laymen won’t confront laymen.”

But they might … if their pastor asked them to do so.

When an older man keeps making a fool of himself inside his congregation, it may be because nobody had the courage to confront him earlier in his life.

But by the time a crank is in his sixties, how much he is really going to change?

Third, pastors need to watch their backs when cranks are around.

Because Warren usually came to me personally whenever he was upset about something, I never suspected that he would go underground and try to take me out as pastor.

But in the end, that’s exactly what he did.

Pastors can give cranks some attention, but you can’t give them too much because they’ll just want more … and because they’ll drain a pastor of energy.

Since a pastor can’t be omnipresent on a church campus, I should have asked a board member to monitor Warren’s behavior on Sundays.

We could have confronted him proactively from a position of strength rather than defending ourselves against him from a position of weakness.

Finally, church cranks usually leave a mixed legacy.

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about Warren recently, but while I can easily remember tough encounters with him, I can only recall a couple of times where we really got along.

I tried spending time with Warren.  One time, I visited the elementary school classroom where he served as teacher.  Another time, we drove to Mount Hermon together for a men’s retreat.

But I never knew when he would explode for no reason at all.

When Warren died, I was not asked to conduct his funeral, and I’m glad I wasn’t asked.  I don’t know what I would have said!

Maybe he said some encouraging words to me at times.  Maybe he told me that he was praying for me.  Maybe he told me, “That was a great sermon” after I preached.  Maybe he put his arm around me and said, “Jim, I’m so glad you’re our pastor.”

Maybe he did all those things … and more.

It’s just that I don’t have any recollection that he ever did.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they did.

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God rest his soul.

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

Getting rid of the leader at all costs.

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

But I was exonerated … twice.

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

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

But some people could not allow those verdicts to stand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just another Christian cover up.  Business as usual.

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray that happens more often.

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

As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

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One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed.  A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Deuteronomy 19:15

Nothing hurts a pastor more than false accusations.  Nothing even comes close.

Several years ago, I spoke with a small church pastor who told me his story.  There was an opening on the finance team for one person, and somebody volunteered for the job.  The pastor did not want this person to serve, but after a while, this individual appointed himself to the position … and then began reviewing financial records that went back many years.

The finance person found small checks that were written to the pastor that did not include any notation.  The pastor said he was paid for doing non-pastoral work outside his normal duties.  The finance person claimed the pastor had embezzled funds … and then contacted the local authorities.

As you can imagine, the situation did not end well, and the pastor was forced out of office.  The pastor and his wife were devastated, not just by the lies, but by the fact the congregation did not defend them effectively.

Pastors have to deal with various kinds of false accusations.  Let me share five common ones:

First, there is hearsay. 

This occurs when someone who didn’t see or hear the pastor commit wrongdoing firsthand makes serious accusations against him anyway.

To a large degree, I am no longer in church ministry because someone stood up in a public meeting and made accusations against me that he did not witness himself.

An attorney was present on the stage and had to know that the accusations were hearsay.  He should have said, “Do you have firsthand knowledge of these accusations?  If not, please sit down or you are guilty of telling untruths.”

But the attorney went silent … as did the rest of my supporters … because they were more stunned by the accusations (nearly all of them blatantly false) than by the fact they couldn’t be corroborated.

I really think that pastors need to take time when they teach to condemn hearsay.  If you’re going to make an accusation against a pastor, that’s serious business.  You better have seen or heard something yourself and be willing to go on the record.  Telling church leaders or an entire congregation, “Well, I heard from a reliable source that the pastor said this or did that” should never be allowed in a church … but it is … all the time.

It certainly wasn’t allowed in ancient Israel (Deut. 17:6-7) … nor in the early church (Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:17-19).

There has to be more evidence than that.

Notice in Deuteronomy 19:15 that not only is hearsay not allowed among God’s people, but a single witness to a crime or offense is insufficient testimony to convict anyone either.  At least two or three witnesses are required.  Yes, that’s a high standard, but it’s divinely-ordained … and provides valuable protections for the accused.

Second, there are rumors.

During my first year in college, a rumor began circulating in my church that I was no longer getting along with a friend.  Since I had a day off, I decided to see if I could track down the source of the rumor.

I visited several people unannounced one day … told them the story I had heard … and asked them what they knew about the rumor.  When the day was done, I could not track down the source of the rumor.

Jesus called Satan “a liar” and “the father of lies” in John 8:44.  I honestly believe that some rumors do not have a human point of origin but are started by the devil and his angels … who probe a congregation for “a false witness who pours out lies” and “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (Proverbs 6:19).  How this is done I do not know.  That it is done I know all too well.

Most pastors quickly learn who the gossips are in their church … and they don’t trust them with any valuable information.

In my first pastorate in Silicon Valley, there were four older women who didn’t work and who spent a lot of time together on the telephone.  Those four women had too much power because they could make or break their pastor with their words.

Reminds me of Adele’s song Rumour Has It:

All of these words whispered in my ear,
Tell a story that I cannot bear to hear,
Just ’cause I said it, it don’t mean that I meant it,
People say crazy things,
Just ’cause I said it, don’t mean that I meant it,
Just ’cause you heard it,
Rumour has it

Third, there is misrepresentation.

When I began my ministry in one church, a board member asked to meet with me to find out what my plans were for the church’s future.  During our two hours together, it was evident that we did not agree on the church’s direction.

A few days later, I discovered that this board member had dinner with some church friends and completely distorted things I had said to him.  He heard what I said emotionally but not accurately.

What should I have done: confront the man about his lies or choose not to trust him again?

I opted for the latter approach (it would have taken an independent investigation and multiple interviews to prove what he said), and in the end, it proved to be the correct one.

How could I trust him again?  I couldn’t.

In the end, he turned on me with a vengeance with a power play designed to make him look like a victim.

After this man left the church in a huff, a woman came up to me the following Sunday and said, “It’s a shame you and So-and-So couldn’t get along.”

I bit my tongue.

After years in ministry, my wife and I came up with a policy: I won’t speak for her and she won’t speak for me.

People often came up to her on Sundays and either (a) told her something so she would tell me or (b) wanted her to explain something I had said or done.  She always had the same reply: “I can’t do that.  You’ll have to talk to him yourself.”

That way, she didn’t misrepresent me, and I didn’t misrepresent her.

Rather than speaking for others … no matter how well we know them … church leaders have to let people speak for themselves.

Fourth, there is exaggeration.

In my book Church Coup, I quoted church conflict expert Speed Leas:

“A person being charged or condemned by others should have the right to know what those charges are and [have] an opportunity to respond to them.  Denying this opportunity plays into the hands of real or potential manipulators, allows untrue or distorted information to be circulated and establishes a precedent that the way to deal with differences is to talk about rather than to talk with others.  I have also found it true that individuals who talk about others out of their presence tend to exaggerate their charges, believing they will not be quoted.”

Read that last sentence again.

Let’s imagine that I’m upset with my pastor about something, and I tell two friends over Sunday lunch how I feel.  One of my friends then tells the wife of a board member, and a few days later, that board member calls me on the phone and wants to hear what I said directly from me.

If I want to hurt the pastor or persuade the board member to become an ally, I may dress up my charge a little bit … and then ask the board member to keep everything I said “confidential.”

The board member should refuse.

Why?

Because it’s often the “confidential charges” that end up forcing out pastors from church ministry … because the pastors don’t know (a) who is making the charges against them, (b) what the charges are, and (c) aren’t given the ability to hear them firsthand so they can explain or defend themselves.

The charges spread across the church like wildfire, and by the time the pastor hears them for the first time, key leaders and members have already turned against him … without ever hearing his side of things.

Someone once made a strong charge against me that resulted in an investigation … which I welcomed.  When my accuser recounted their story, the person made three exaggerations that I was able to refute.  I’m convinced this person didn’t exaggerate to hurt me … they knew I’d share my side of things … but to save face because the accusations themselves were so flimsy.

If I could choose one major sin that churches commit when a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, it’s not giving the pastor due process to face his accusers and defend himself. 

And for some reason, the more some people exaggerate a pastor’s offenses … or how he made them feel … the less likely it is that the pastor will be given a forum for explaining his actions.

So, in many churches, exaggerating charges against a pastor pays off … but it never should.

Finally, there is speculation.

Speculation occurs when God’s people aren’t given enough information about a pastor … especially why he’s under attack or why he’s departed.

When I left my last church nearly nine years ago, I did not share with the congregation the specific reasons why I was leaving.  The board members and associate pastor had all resigned weeks before, and they were out there pounding on me pretty good, but the vast majority of the church did not know why I had left.

So people began making things up.

The worst rumor was that my wife was having an affair and that I was having an affair.  My wife was on staff and worked down the hall from me.  We had one car and rode together to church and back every day.  We were then and are now madly in love with each other … even after 43 years of marriage.

Who started that speculation … and who allowed it to pass through the church without correction?

I believe that when false accusations spread through a church, the official church board has the responsibility to protect the pastor … his family … and the church by refuting those accusations as quickly and as clearly as they can.

This should be done both if the pastor is still ministering in that church or if the pastor has recently departed.

If a pastor is truly innocent of the charges going around about him, and the board refutes those charges, they are not only protecting the pastor’s reputation and future livelihood … they are also protecting their own congregation.

Because the longer a pastor serves in one place, the more the pastor and the church become identified together, as in “That’s Pastor Bill’s church.”

Because if Pastor Bill is forced out of office … the church may eventually collapse.

_______________

I’ve dealt with five types of false accusations against a pastor.

But what should God’s people do with false accusers themselves?

Moses put it this way in Deuteronomy 19:16-20:

If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time.  The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother.  You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.

Let me make five quick observations:

First, malicious witnesses have always existed among God’s people.  They’re in every culture … and in every church.  Whether it’s to get attention or to get revenge against someone, they will destroy individuals and families if their charges are automatically believed.  But according to Scripture, they must first be tested.

Second, God mediates His judgment to human leaders, in this case, “the priests and the judges.”  In our day, this would likely refer to the official board.  These individuals may be fallible, but God uses them anyway.

Third, the judges must investigate a witnesses’ charges and determine if the witness is truthful or lying.  If a witness proves to be lying, then they are to receive the same punishment the accused would have received.

Why don’t we ever do this in our churches?  Why are the false accusers … and those who have successfully destroyed a pastor’s reputation … allowed to not only stay in a church, but sometimes be promoted to even greater leadership positions?

What is wrong with us?

Some Christians say, “Oh, we need to forgive each other so we can all move on.”  But to forgive false accusers when they’ve never been confronted or repented of their sin?  Read Jesus’ words in Luke 17:3-4 where He talks about not forgiving certain people.

Fourth, God considers false accusations … not just against a leader, but against anyone in His covenant community … to be evil … and He says it twice.  It is evil to lie about someone … to harm their reputation … and in Israel’s case, lying about someone could result in the death of the accused.  (See Deuteronomy 17:6-7.)

Finally, if God’s people would institute a process like this, maybe we’d have far fewer false accusations among God’s people … and directed toward God’s leaders.  “The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.”

“Never again will such an evil thing be done among you.”

How I love those words.

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