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Which two areas in a local church have the greatest potential to catapult a pastor out of ministry?

According to church conflict expert Dr. Peter Steinke, those two areas are money and sex.

When I first became a pastor, I was unprepared for the value placed on money in the local church.  In fact, I can’t recall even one word being devoted to the topic in seminary.

But the quickest way for a pastor to be pushed out the door is for him to mess up – even in a small way – on church finances.

Let me share with you seven brief thoughts I’ve learned about pastors and church finances:

First, the pastor’s personal finances need to be in pristine order.

A pastor needs to watch his spending and his indebtedness very carefully.

Although they shouldn’t, some people watch the kind of car the pastor drives and the kind of house in which he lives … and if they think he’s being excessive, they will rip into him behind his back.

One famous pastor bought a cabin in the mountains with income unrelated to his church ministry, but a vocal minority howled about it, and it became a factor in his eventual departure.

I remember hearing another time about a pastor who had a gambling problem.  As I recall, he finally gambled away his house … and soon afterwards, his career.

My wife and I have lived by a budget for most of our married life.  We both have set allowances every month, and we can spend those funds however we like, but each of us is accountable to the other for every other expenditure.

I check my bank accounts online nearly every day and balance my checkbook at the same time.  At any given moment, I know exactly how much money we have and how much we have to spend.

Because when it comes to personal finances, I hate being surprised.

In 36 years of ministry, I can’t recall a single time that anyone criticized me in the area of personal finances.  I’m sure some did, but their comments never got around to me.

But realize this: people assume that church funds are managed the way the pastor manages his own funds.

This area is crucial because of the next lesson:

Second, the pastor must give generously to his local church.

By generously, I mean at least a tithe, and preferably beyond a tithe.

I don’t know if he still does this, but for years, whenever he preached on giving, Pastor Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church would invite people up to the front after his message so they could view his checkbook and see how much he gave to the church.

Following his example, I did this for years, but my son Ryan was the only person who ever took me up on it!

If a pastor isn’t giving at least a tithe to his church, he can’t speak with integrity on the subject, and that will come through in his preaching.

The day after the conflict broke in my last church seven years ago, I preached on the story of the widow’s mite from Mark 12:41-44.  I was so rattled that I forgot my tithe check at home.  Between services, I drove home, wrote my usual check, returned to the church, and dropped the check in the offering … then shared that story during the second service.

I don’t believe that if a pastor tithes, his church will automatically do well financially, but I do believe that if a pastor doesn’t tithe, his church won’t do well financially.

And there are always a few people in the church who know the truth about the pastor’s giving, especially the money counters and the financial secretary.  During anxious times within the congregation, if even one financial person tells someone else about the pastor’s giving patterns … well, let your imagination run wild!

Third, the pastor should never handle people’s donations: period.

In my last ministry, people would sometimes come up to me after the service – especially people on the worship team – and tell me, “Hey, Jim, I wasn’t able to put my donation in the offering today.  Will you take care of this for me?”

I always told each person the same thing, “No, I don’t handle money, but let’s go together and you can put your donation in the drop safe.”

We had a slot carved out of the wall next to the church office where people could insert their donations.  They went down a chute and instantly fell into a safe.

I treated other people’s money like poison.  I didn’t want anything to do with it.

In that way, it would be difficult to accuse me of stealing someone’s donation, whether by cash or by check.

Years before, at another church, someone once slipped fifty dollars in cash under my door.  Whoever put the money there didn’t identify themselves or the purpose of their gift.

When I mentioned it to the finance team leader, I thought he’d hand me the money.  Instead, he immediately deposited it in the offering … and his actions protected my financial reputation.

Fourth, the pastor needs to make sure that people’s donations are protected by safeguards.

I once knew a married couple who scooped up the Sunday offerings, took them home, counted them together, and then deposited the funds in the bank the following day.

This practice was a carryover from the previous administration, and when I found out about it, I quickly put a stop to it.

Another time, a law enforcement officer in our congregation told me that after the offerings were taken in each service, a woman took the proceeds, walked several hundred feet by herself, and then locked the money away until after the service.  He told me, “It’s dangerous for her to carry those funds by herself.  What if someone knows her route, hits her on the head, and steals the money?”

I didn’t think about things like that because I was preaching when she made her walk, but his comment spurred me to make sure that she was accompanied by at least one other person … preferably a strong man.

We eventually devised a system that started with donations … ended with the bookkeeper writing checks … and covered everything in between.

For example, we always made sure to have three people counting money.  If one person counts the offerings, they might be tempted to embezzle funds.  Even two people working in concert could engage in embezzling.  But when there are three money counters, embezzlement almost never occurs.

Fifth, the pastor must communicate that the church budget is a servant, not a master.

Let’s say that you have a family budget, and that you have a category marked “household repairs.”  You just fixed your garbage disposal for $200 so you have little money left for other problems.

But then your refrigerator begins to leak water, and after calling out a friend, he tells you, “Your refrigerator is shot.  You need another one.”

Since the “household repairs” category has been depleted, are you going to wait months to buy a refrigerator?

No, you’ll move heaven and earth to buy one right away, regardless of the budget category.  Your family NEEDS a refrigerator.

Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with a handful of board/finance people who act like the church budget is a master.  If a category becomes depleted, they’ll say, “I’m sorry, but we just don’t have funds for that item until next year’s budget.”

Church budgets should be as flexible as possible.  Yes, God’s people need to learn to live within their means, and yes, some items and repairs can wait, but there are times when a church will limp along unless it replaces the copier or fixes that leaky toilet in the men’s room.

One of the great things about not being a pastor is that I don’t have to consult the bean counters anymore.

Sixth, the pastor needs to realize that money flows toward the most effective ministries.

In my last ministry, my wife was our church’s outreach director for nearly nine years, and she knew how to get things done.

One Saturday night early in her tenure, we had a big feast on the lawn outside the worship center.  The place was packed, we had gondola rides on the lagoon adjoining our property, and the mayor and his wife even stopped by for a visit.

My wife’s vision and passion to reach people became contagious.  One couple in particular began donating large amounts of money directly to her ministry through the offering.

Some on the board were very upset about this development.  They wanted to ask the couple to give to the general fund instead.

While I understood their viewpoint, I pointed out that if the couple was told where to give the funds, they might stop giving altogether.

During our entire time in that church, funds flowed easily toward the outreach and missions ministries because that was the primary area that God was blessing.

But there were other ministries that weren’t as well funded … mostly because nobody was very excited about them.

I still believe this basic principle: money flows toward the ministries … and churches … that God is blessing.

Finally, the pastor needs to monitor the financial systems privately but stay away from the money publicly.

If there’s a breach in the financial systems of a church, the pastor may very well be blamed, even if he had nothing directly to do with a violation.

For that reason, the pastor needs to make sure that his church does everything in the financial realm properly, because if he doesn’t, it may be his head that rolls.

About ten years ago, a prominent megachurch here in Southern California suspended the senior pastor because of financial irregularities involving a staff member.  The pastor knew nothing about the staff member’s sloppiness, yet the pastor was scapegoated and eventually forced to resign.

I believe that a pastor’s involvement … at least in a small or medium-sized church … extends even to who the money counters are.  Whenever my last ministry needed a new money counter, I would make a list of potential volunteers.  We needed someone who was committed to the ministry … had a lifestyle of integrity … and who would keep their mouth shut about who gave how much.

Those people aren’t always easy to find, but they are worth waiting for.

At home, I’m hands on with the money: budgeting … keeping records … transferring funds … paying bills online … the works.

But even though I could handle the funds directly inside a church, it’s crucial that I delegate those duties to others who are optimally qualified or else I will be viewed as a control freak.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I was pastoring a new church in Silicon Valley.  We had the location, the staff, and the ministry for growth, but in that resistant environment, the ministry was not growing as fast as I wanted … and that included the finances … which made me anxious and even fearful at times.

One night, during our midweek worship time, the Lord spoke to me in an audible voice … the only time I ever remember this happening.

His word was just for me.  The Lord said, “You take care of the ministry, and I will take care of the money.”

And He did.

The Lord wants all of His shepherds to know that taking care of the money is a huge part of taking care of the ministry.

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It was one of the spookiest sights I have ever seen.

A few years ago … while waiting for my car to be repaired … I found myself walking across a bridge over a major freeway.

And below me … as far as the eye could see … I saw hundreds of police cars … with their headlights on … driving slowly but uniformly toward the cemetery where a fellow officer … who had been gunned down a few days before … was soon to be buried.

The sight of all those police cars was eerie … but also impressive … because the officers were saying to each other … and to the world:

“What happened to my fellow officer could have happened to me, and in life, or in death, we stand together as one.”

We’re seeing the same outpouring of unity and solidarity today after twelve police officers were shot last night in Dallas … and sadly, five of them have died.

I just wish that pastors felt the same way toward each other … but for some reason, they often don’t.

Inside the local church, Paul commands believers to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

And in 1 Corinthians 12:26, Paul writes, “If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

When Christians act this way toward fellow believers inside a congregation, it’s like heaven on earth.

But for some reason, many pastors of congregations don’t tend to act this way toward their fellow pastors.

I’m not saying they never act that way.  I’ve met some pastors who are gifted at pastoring their peers, and at times I’ve been the recipient of their grace.

But when a fellow pastor suffers … especially if he’s under attack or has been forced out of his church … most pastors won’t even bother to pick up the phone and contact that pastor personally.

And in many cases, they’ll hear something through the grapevine about that pastor’s departure and assume the rumors are true without bothering to check with their hurting brother directly.

As I wrote in my book Church Coup:

“Why don’t pastors demonstrate more concern for their colleagues who experience forced exits? Maybe pastors have enough happening inside their own churches to reach out to peers, or they wouldn’t know what to say to a colleague, or they don’t want to become embroiled in another church’s issues. But my guess is that most pastors don’t want to associate with anyone they perceive as a loser. If you’re forced out of a church, the perception is that you must be incompetent, immoral, or ignorant of church politics.  There is something wrong with you, not the church, and if you were smarter, you wouldn’t have such problems. For example, I recently heard a seminary professor refer to a leadership structure he utilized when he was a pastor, stating that he never really had a major conflict with a congregation over two decades of ministry.  Translation: If you handled matters my way, you wouldn’t have any conflict.”

Let me offer three suggestions along this line:

First, I wish that pastors met together more often.   

Many years ago, when I pastored a church in Silicon Valley, pastors were invited to a monthly luncheon sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals.  I went to as many of those gatherings as I could.  They were held in various churches and often had meaningful speakers.

It was a chance for pastors to get to know each other … be exposed to other ministries … pray together … and root for each other.

But at least in my community, such meetings don’t occur.

I suppose that district/denominational meetings have taken their place in many locales, and that’s fine, but there’s often an underlying competition among denominational pastors that I didn’t find with the NAE group.

But it’s not always great when pastors meet together.

Thirty years ago, I heard the great J. I. Packer … author of Knowing God and numerous other books … speak at the Congress on Biblical Exposition in my hometown of Anaheim, California.

As he looked out among the throng of pastors, he said, “You know, pastors are a lot like manure.  When they’re all spread out, they do a lot of good, but when they all get together, it’s one big stink.”

There’s a lot of truth in Packer’s words.

Second, I wish that pastors could be honest with each other.

Many years ago, I went to a major church conference at one of America’s largest churches.  During lunch, pastors sat together at large, round tables that seated ten people.

I was looking forward to meeting some pastors from around the country, but when I sat down, two pastors were doing all the talking … and talked for the entire lunch hour.

Nobody else said anything.  Nobody else asked even asked a question.  These guys had the floor, and everyone else was irrelevant.

I’ve had that kind of experience with pastors before.  In fact, one time a few years later, I became visibly upset when one pastor did all the talking at another pastor’s event … and we spent the rest of our time discussing my concerns.

It’s true, so I’m going to say it: many … not all … but many large church pastors are arrogant jerks.  They have no time for pastors from smaller congregations.  They view them negatively … and you can feel it when you’re around them.

In fact, I once read a book where a Christian leader wrote that if you’re pastoring a church of 250 people, you’re wasting your life.

By contrast, I once put together a group of pastors that met every month for lunch.  One was a megachurch pastor … several others pastored medium-sized churches … and I probably pastored the smallest church in the group, but over the years, we came to trust each other with our feelings and our dreams … and when we needed to, we met with each other individually.

In fact, the megachurch pastor once told me something at one of those lunches that turned my entire ministry around.

Years ago, I heard Christian professor, counselor, and author Norman Wright make the following statement: “Everyone needs someone with whom he can be weak.”

I don’t know why, but pastors are terrible at demonstrating weakness toward each other … and yet the entire book of 2 Corinthians is written from the point of view of a Christian leader sharing his weaknesses … and for that reason, is probably the New Testament book I read the most.

I’m drawn to Christian leaders who share their weaknesses … like Bill Hybels, who for years was my favorite preacher … and I’m repulsed by leaders who never share their weaknesses … because I believe they’re phonies.

And sadly, there are all too many of those pastors around … and that phoniness pulls us apart rather than brings us together.

Finally, I wish that pastors would stand together across generations.

Several years ago, there was a national convention for pastors held not too far from where I live.  In fact, the convention was held at a hotel where my wife and I have stayed before.

But the convention blew up … and hasn’t been reactivated … largely because the younger pastors rebelled against the older Christian leaders.

W. A. Criswell was the pastor of First Baptist Dallas for decades.  He considered Rick Warren to be his son in the faith … and Warren considered Criswell to be a spiritual father.

But Criswell was from the builder generation … and Warren was a boomer … and there was usually a mutual respect between pastors from both those generations.

But for years, I have seen that respect missing between boomer and buster pastors.

My wife and I are catching up on the TV show Blue Bloods via Netflix, and one of the great things about the Reagan family … who are all in law enforcement … is that everyone in the family meets for Sunday lunch together.

And four generations are represented.

The discussions around the table are authentic and emotion-filled … but often enlightening.

But if anyone attacks a Reagan outside that house, the other Reagans stand up and support each other.

I wish pastors would act the same way.

Many years ago, I heard Stuart Briscoe … one of my favorite preachers … tell about the time he spoke to a group of policemen.

He quoted from Romans 13:4 and applied this verse to his audience:

“For he is God’s servant [minister] to do you good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.  He is God’s servant [minister], an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Briscoe told those officers, “I am a minister, but you are a minister as well …” and then he went into his talk.

Yes, police officers can learn some things from pastors … but when it comes to standing together … no matter what … pastors have a lot to learn from police officers.

And if pastors could learn to stand together in practice … maybe, just maybe … we could advance Christ’s kingdom significantly.

 

 

 

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Thirty-some years ago, I had a late-night discussion with a Christian leader outside my church office in Silicon Valley.

I don’t remember the leader’s name, but I’ve always recalled a story he told me late that evening.

This leader had a friend who was a former pastor, and his friend told him, “I served as pastors in various local churches over several decades, and looking back, it was all a waste of time.”

During a pastor’s more cynical times, he may feel that way, but the truth is that pastors do much more good than they’ll ever know.

Let me give you an example.

This past week, I read about a bill that is pending in the California legislature.  The bill seeks to strip all faith-based colleges and universities in California that interweave academics with religious doctrine of their exemptions.  According to World magazine, which reported on this story, this bill “would force Christian schools to relinquish their fidelity to Scripture as a distinguishing characteristic of their institutions or risk lawsuits for religious and sexual discrimination.”

If passed, only seminaries would be eligible for exemptions.

(My wife and I live in California for two primary reasons: first, our two adult children live here, along with our two grandsons; and second, we have a large network of friends here. Otherwise, we’d live somewhere else, especially with all the garbage that emanates from the capitol 500 miles to the north.)

What struck me most was not the bill, but a response from a Christian university official.  Here’s the quote from World:

“We are not willing to forego our biblical and covenantal convictions regardless of what laws are passed,” William Jessup University President John Jackson told me. “Jessup continues to believe we are to submit to Scripture and operate in accordance with the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights that includes the First Amendment providing for freedom of press, association, and religion.”

That was a clear and unequivocal response from a Christian college president.  Good for him!

Dr. Jackson also happened to be a kid in my youth group forty years ago.

He was only in the group less than a year, but I remember that he was smart, funny, and for a kid of fifteen, liked girls a lot!

Several years after I left that church, we had lunch, and although that time went well, I lost track of him … but later heard that he was the pastor of a megachurch in Nevada.

Didn’t surprise me one bit.

I don’t take any credit for Dr. Jackson’s ascension to the top spot in a Christian school.  That was due to his parenting, his professors and mentors, his own hard work, and the blessing of God upon his life.

In his case, I’m privileged to hear that he’s been placed in a position of trust in Christ’s kingdom.

There’s another person whose exploits I do follow.

Sheri was a girl in my last youth ministry.  Because we didn’t have anyone who was musically talented, Sheri secured a guitar, learned how to play, and led the youth group in singing praise songs.

I lost track of her more than thirty years ago, and wondered if she was still following the Lord, only to discover that she heads up the children’s ministry in her church, about which she shares Facebook posts several times a day.

Sheri recently wrote an article on Facebook mentioning different leaders who have influenced her life, and I was deeply touched to be included.

So often, pastoring is like watching a parade.  People come … stop for a moment … and then move on.

But on occasion, you hear that someone you taught or mentored is still following Christ, and making an impact … and there’s no greater feeling than that.

Because I am no longer a pastor, I don’t have an influence upon any Christian institution.

But just by being faithful, the Lord used me to touch the lives of people like John and Sheri … and they are now doing their best to advance Christ’s kingdom.

I don’t know why it is, but God often hides the good that His servants do from them.

Back in the late 1980s, I went through a time of doubt and darkness about my role as a pastor, and I clung tenaciously to one verse in particular: Galatians 6:9, where Paul writes:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

When you’re a pastor, you want to see lives changed instantly … you want to see your church grow steadily … and the slowness of ministry can be extremely frustrating.

In fact, that slowness can make you so weary that you’re tempted to give up … and even turn you a bit cynical.

But as J. I. Packer once wrote, spiritual work is slow work.

Instead, Paul advises, “There is a harvest of changed lives ahead, but it’s not going to happen when you want it to happen … it’s going to happen when God wants it to happen.  So keep leading … keep teaching … keep loving … because you never know whose lives God is going to change … and you don’t know when or how He’s going to bless.”

For all you know, someone you’re ministering to right now may just become a church staff member … a megachurch pastor … or a Christian university president.

Even if you’re in a ministry that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere very fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Several years ago, I preached a sermon on the topic “Resolving Conflict Biblically” at a church several communities away.

When I was done speaking, a woman in her mid-80s – who had attended a prominent California church for most of her life – told me, “I have never heard a sermon on the subject of conflict in my entire life.”

Now maybe she was ill or away on the Sundays that her pastor spoke about conflict, or maybe all his sermons fused together in her mind.

But I happen to know that her former pastor – one of America’s best-known Bible teachers – experienced a major conflict in his church before he eventually resigned.

The best churches experience major conflicts.  In fact, I still agree with this adage that I heard years ago: “Small churches have small problems, while big churches have big problems.”

Regardless of your church’s size, it’s almost certain that your congregation will experience a severe conflict within the next ten years … and about a 40 percent chance that you’ll suffer through a major conflict within the next five … unless your church is ready when that conflict strikes.

But sadly, most churches aren’t ready for a major conflict.

Maybe they’re in denial, thinking, “We’re such a nice group of Christians that nothing horrendous could happen here.”

Or they’re thinking, “Our constitution and bylaws specify what to do if conflict breaks out, so we’re adequately prepared.”

Or they’re thinking, “Our leaders are such godly individuals, they will handle any conflict expertly” … not realizing that church leaders are often the source of major conflicts.

There isn’t a lot written on how to prevent major conflicts in church life.

That’s why I’m doing a workshop for Christian leaders next week called “Strengthening Your Church’s Immune System.”  I’ll be talking about ten ways that a church’s leaders can prepare for and prevent major conflict from even happening in their congregation.

Let me share with you one of the ten steps I’ll be presenting next week … and it takes a bit of work.

I believe that the lead pastor in a church must take the initiative to prevent major conflicts from surfacing.  He should allow people to share feedback and even disagree about matters without, at the same time, letting them start a bloodbath.

One way to do that is to hold regular meetings involving every key leader in your church: staff members, board members, ministry team/committee leaders, small group leaders … and to find reasons to make the group larger rather than smaller.

So if feasible, I’d invite their spouses as well.

The meetings can be held monthly or quarterly … maybe after the last service on Sunday morning, which means you’ll have to provide lunch … but it’s essential that they be held.

During one of those meetings, here’s what I would do if I were the pastor:

First, I would prepare a 3-4 page document for each person listing every New Testament reference – word for word – on church conflict. 

Maybe throw in some verses from Proverbs on the tongue as well.

Don’t ask people to look the verses up in their Bibles.  It takes too long … people have different versions … and you want all the relevant verses gathered in one place.

So the pastor should do the work for them.  Write out Matthew 18:15-17 … 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 … Titus 3:10-11 … 3 John 9-10 … in chronological order.

Second, I would ask the leaders to divide into groups without their spouses. 

The fewer people in each group, the more each person will have to interact with Scripture themselves … and that’s what you want.  Aim for five people per group.

I would have at least as many groups as there are pages.  For example, if you hand out five pages of verses, make sure you have at least five groups.

If you have 50 leaders present, then make ten groups with five individuals in each group.

Third, I would ask each group to appoint a leader … and for group leaders to ask for volunteers to read the verses.

My last few years as a pastor, I always asked for people to volunteer as readers.  Some people can’t read very well, and others become anxious when asked to do something in a group.  You want people to feel comfortable going through this exercise.

Fourth, after the verses have been read, ask each group to summarize the verses on their page in five principles. 

This should take 15-20 minutes per group.

Then starting with page 1, ask each leader to appoint a spokesperson to present their five principles to the entire group.

Fifth, the pastor should ask someone ahead of time to record each principle word for word on newsprint and hang each sheet on the wall. 

This isn’t busy work … it’s documentation.  In fact, the pastor should store the newsprint somewhere safe in case someone ever challenges the wording of the principles.

Sixth, after all the reports, the pastor should ask the entire group questions like:

*Can we summarize the teaching of Scripture concerning conflict resolution in one sentence?

*Which verses that you studied stand out to you?

*How well do you personally carry out these principles in your own life?

*Why do we have such a hard time dealing with conflict?

*How realistically can we follow the teaching in these verses in 2016?

*How well does our church follow Scripture when it comes to conflict resolution?

Seventh, after that discussion, the pastor should do two things:

*Ask someone to collect all the newsprint sheets and give them to the pastor directly.  The pastor should consider reproducing everything written down word for word on the church website.  This not only shows the leaders that their words are taken seriously, this also shows the congregation that the church takes Scripture seriously when it comes to conflict.

*Then reserve time on the agenda of the next board meeting – or call a special Saturday board meeting – and ask the governing board as well as members of the church staff to summarize the biblical teaching on conflict resolution in ten principles.

(The board and staff should do this because they are ultimately the guardians of both the congregation and the pastor … and because they are sometimes the sources of potential trouble themselves.)

When that’s complete … maybe at the next board meeting … three more things need to happen:

Eighth, the pastor makes sure that those ten principles for resolving conflict are posted in key places all over the church.

This includes the rooms where staff meetings, board meetings, finance team meetings and other key meetings are held.

Ninth, the pastor then schedules a brief series – maybe two sermons – on those ten principles, letting the congregation know, “This is how we handle conflict around here.”

And every year – possibly before the annual meeting – the pastor should preach another brief series on biblical conflict resolution.  Call it internal insurance.

Finally, the pastor schedules time every six months to review the principles with the staff, the board, and the key leaders. 

This doesn’t have to take long, but it has to be done.

Some people might say, “But Jim, if a severe conflict does break out, some people will become so emotional that they will ignore those principles, so aren’t these principles really worthless?”

No, they aren’t worthless.  God gave those principles to us, and He never gives His people anything that isn’t of value!

But even if some people become irrational during conflict, there are others in the congregation who will view matters in a more biblical and rational fashion, and you want the more logical people to deal with the more emotional ones.

Let me give you an example of how these principles can help once they’re posted:

Imagine that you’re in the church library after a Sunday service, and a woman saddles up to you and says, “Listen, a few of us are meeting for lunch today to discuss the latest changes that the pastor is trying to impose on our church.  If you want to join us, we’re meeting at Olive Garden at 1:00 pm.”

Instead of answering her directly, you take her by the hand, waltz her over to the north wall, show her the list of ten principles for resolving conflict biblically, and say to her, “Look at principle number seven.  It says, “If you are upset about a policy, please speak directly with any member of the church board.  [They set policy along with the pastor.]  And if you are upset with the pastor personally, please speak directly with him.”

You then ask this person, “Are you upset with a policy?  Then you need to speak directly with a board member … maybe the one you know the best.  But if you’re upset with the pastor personally, you need to speak with him directly.  Which is it?”

If the person says, “I’m upset with the policy,” then ask the person, “Which board member will you speak with about this issue?”

If the person says, “I’m upset with the pastor,” then ask them, “When will you be speaking with the pastor about this issue?”

If the person says, “Forget it.  I thought you were a friend, but you aren’t,” I’d say to them, “These ten principles summarize how we handle conflict around here.  If you don’t comply, I will report you to the pastor and the church board and tell them what you’re planning to do.  It’s your call.”

The beauty of this approach is that these principles:

*are based on Scripture.

*have been devised by all the key leaders in the church.

*have been ratified by the governing board and staff.

*have been presented to the church through the pulpit.

*have been posted all over the church facility.

*can then be enforced by all of God’s people.

If you follow this plan, I can’t guarantee that you’ll never experience a major conflict in your church.

After all, when some people are intent on committing murder, they can be hard to stop.

But I can guarantee that if you do this, the plotters will know that they’re violating Scripture and the culture of their church … and that will take all the fun out of plots against the pastor … secret meetings … and playing politics.

If you can manage major conflict in your church, that might allow your church to do what Jesus called it to do:

Fulfill His Great Commission in your community.

 

 

 

 

 

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When a major conflict surfaces in a local church, the pastor usually becomes entangled in the mess … even if he didn’t start it … and even if the conflict doesn’t initially center upon him.

And in too many cases in our day, when the pastor becomes embroiled in a church conflict, those who don’t agree with the pastor’s position seek to force him from office.

Both in my book Church Coup, as well as in this blog, I write a lot about how pastors are negatively impacted by such conflicts.

But pastors aren’t the only casualties.

In fact, the primary casualty resulting from severe conflict may be our message: the Christian gospel.

Paul gives the most complete description of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 when he says that:

*Christ died … and His burial proves He died.

*Christ arose … and His appearances prove He rose.

History tells us that Christ died and rose again.

Faith tells us that Christ died for our sins.

Over in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, Paul tells us that God “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Paul tells us twice within the space of two verses that God has given us [believers] the ministry/message of reconciliation.

Paul’s emphasis in these verses is that God took the initiative to turn enemies [unbelievers] into friends [believers] through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross … and God wants us to share this message of reconciliation with the world.

God wants to reconcile us to Him, but He doesn’t want to stop there.

God also wants those who have been reconciled to Him to reconcile with one another.  Jesus told His followers in John 13:34-35:

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

In His High Priestly Prayer in John 17:21, Jesus made a similar statement to His Father:

“… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Francis Schaeffer, the Christian theologian and philosopher, called Christian unity “the final apologetic.”  The world may be able to argue with our doctrine, but if we love each other authentically, they can’t argue with our community … which is a testimony to the truth of our message.

But the converse is also true: if we don’t love one another … if we backbite and fight and quarrel and separate … then people will not know that we are Christ’s disciples, and the world will not be inclined to believe our message: that the Father sent the Son.

Let me share four ways I have seen the gospel message negated by major church conflict:

First, the bad news of the conflict seems to overwhelm the good news of the gospel.

When a pastor is under attack … when a staff member is engaging in rebellion … when a group threatens to leave the church together … those actions result in negative emotions, and they tend to permeate the entire congregation.

You can feel it when you step onto the campus.

Many years ago, when my wife and I lived in Anaheim, we had the weekend off from our church, so we decided to visit the church behind our apartment complex.

When we entered the worship center, I could sense that something was wrong, even though no one said a word about it.  You could cut the tension with a knife.

The pastor spent the first twenty minutes of the service defensively explaining some changes he wanted to make to the church’s schedule.  Twenty minutes!

Soon afterwards, that pastor resigned … and I never visited that church again … in part because I didn’t want to experience those anxious feelings again.

My guess is that others felt the same way.

Second, people don’t feel like inviting unbelievers from their social network to church during a conflict.

Imagine that you’re ten years old and you’ve invited your best friend to your house one Sunday.

Since your friend lives a few houses down the street, you wait for him in your front yard … but as he approaches, you hear your mother and two siblings verbally fighting with each other in the house.

Do you want your friend to enter your home with all the tension going on?  Probably not … because it’s embarrassing.

In fact, as long as there is the possibility that there’s going to be fighting inside your house, you’re probably not going to invite any friends over at all.

When churches are filled with anxiety and tension, attendees don’t want to invite family, friends, or co-workers over because it’s poor marketing for the truth of the gospel.

Churches don’t grow during times of major conflict … and the gospel message, powerful as it is, falls on rocky ground.

Third, people aren’t attracted to our message during a major conflict.

There is a religious group in our neighborhood that goes door-to-door sharing their message.  My wife and I know some people in this group, and they have tried sharing their faith with us.

But their buildings are tiny … they don’t celebrate Christmas or birthdays … and I can’t point to one thing that I find attractive about their faith.

Why would I want to join their group?

Conversely, many Christian buildings are quite spacious … we do celebrate Christmas and most birthdays … and there are many things that are attractive about our faith.

And yet … who wants to believe our message if it seems to result in people despising each other?

If Christians are going to win people to Christ, we have to embody our message … not only that Christ died for everyone, but also that Jesus wants His people to love one another.

And when the opposite is occurring, people stay away from our churches.

In my last church, my wife always talked about “spreading good rumors.”  For years, the news that come out of our church was positive, inspiring, and uplifting.

But when a major conflict broke out, it was reported to us that someone in city government … speaking about our church … told a friend, “They’re having problems.  You don’t want to go there.”

The power of our message to attract unchurched people was negated by our inability to get along.

Finally, people leave our churches in droves during times of major conflict … and don’t feel like sharing the gospel.

I vividly remember a Sunday during the conflict in my last church when our leaders held two public meetings to discuss some issues that were affecting our spiritual family.

The meeting was hijacked by one person.  He shared a litany of charges against me … most of them untrue … and from that time on, the congregation morphed into something unrecognizable.

After the second meeting, a kind and gentle man came up to me and expressed his sorrow for what I had experienced.

I never saw him again … and he never came back to the church, even though he had attended for many years.

That meeting ended his association with our fellowship forever.

Some tried to stay at the church they called home, but over time, many good people gradually left … some finding a new church home … some not going to church anywhere.

God’s people expect that their church will be a place of love and peace and joy … and when it’s like that, they are open to sharing their faith.

But when their church becomes a place of hatred and war and sadness … people resist sharing their faith because their fellow Christians fail to embody the message of reconciliation.

Yes, I know that disagreements between Christians are normal and can even be healthy in the long run.

But when conflicts spill over boundaries … when people conspire to “take out” their pastor … when God’s people are obsessed with winning at all costs … the greatest casualty may not be the pastor’s job … or the well-being of the staff and official board … or a slide in church donations and attendance.

The greatest casualty of all may be the negative impact on the gospel: that God in Christ came to reconcile sinners to Himself … and that when God’s people love each other, we provide a powerful message to a fractured world.

The question that we should ask when we’re engaged in a major church conflict … but rarely do … is this one:

How will the gospel be impacted by this conflict?

 

 

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“How many times does the Bible mention abortion?”

That was the question my philosophy teacher asked more than 40 years ago at the Christian college I attended.

His answer?

“Zero.”

That startled me.

I had been told by Christian leaders that the practice of abortion … which had just been sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade around the time I took that class in Ethics … was wrong.  So I assumed that somehow … somewhere … the Bible soundly condemned abortion.

But it never does.

This doesn’t mean that abortion is good and right.  But it does mean that we can’t just quote one or two verses condemning the practice, either.  Those verses aren’t there.

I bring this up because I’m always amazed … and sometimes amused … by the fact that some Christians make a big deal out of beliefs and practices that the Bible says little or nothing about.

In fact, some act like because they emphasize a certain doctrine … or a specific practice … that they are enlightened while you are not.

Let me give you some examples.

When I grew up, there were churches that proudly used the following slogan:

WE BELIEVE IN THE BOOK, THE BLOOD, AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH.

I believe in the authority of Scripture … the atoning work of Christ … and the fact that the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus as well.  All three doctrines are taught in the Bible.

But the weight of Scripture lies with the first two … and not necessarily with the virgin birth.

The virgin birth of Christ is mentioned in just three places in Scripture: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25; and Luke 1:26-45.  There are allusions to it in other places (Galatians 4:4) but 25 books of the New Testament never mention it directly.  The virgin birth is true … it’s a biblical doctrine … and it has its place in Scripture and theology … but does that justify a church using a slogan like WE BELIEVE IN THE VIRGIN BIRTH when they could have put so many other beliefs in its place?

By contrast, the second coming of Christ is emphasized much more in the New Testament … more than 300 times!

Let’s look at another issue: speaking in tongues.

Tongue-speaking is mentioned in only three books of the New Testament, and is missing from the other 24.  I have a theory as to why that’s the case, but let’s let that slide right now.

Tongue-speaking is mentioned in Mark 16:17 (the famous extended ending of Mark) but the practice is grouped with picking up snakes with hands and drinking deadly poison, so it’s possible … even likely … that Mark’s ending is not genuine.

Tongue-speaking is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28, 30; 13:1, 8; and chapter 14, where the practice is dealt with extensively.

Tongue-speaking is also mentioned in the Book of Acts, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as one might think.

Acts covers a 30-year period, yet speaking in tongues is only mentioned three times (at Pentecost: Acts 2:3-13; in Cornelius’ house: Acts 10:44-48; at Ephesus: Acts 19:1-7).  Although it’s not mentioned explicitly, tongue-speaking probably occurred in Samaria in Acts 8:14-17 as well.

I believe that the tongue-speaking in Acts is always connected to a new advance of the gospel among a different people group.

In Acts 2, the gospel came to the Jews; in Acts 8, to the Samaritans (half-Jew, half-Gentiles); in Acts 10, to the Gentiles; and in Acts 19, to the intertestamental saints (disciples of John the Baptist).  The evidence that the Holy Spirit had come to each group was that new converts supernaturally and spontaneously spoke in tongues.

So over thirty years of history, there are only three explicit references to tongue-speaking in Acts … an average of one incident every ten years.  And yet some pastors and churches build their whole ministry around a practice that is absent from 88% of the books of the New Testament and that only occurred in Acts on three occasions over three decades.

While I’m at it, let me mention one more practice: raising hands during worship.

The Old Testament mentions raising hands in praise (Psalm 63:4; 134:2) and raising hands in prayer (Ezra 9:5; Psalm 28:2; 141:2; Lam 2:19) a few times.  The emphasis doesn’t seem to be on connecting with God or feeling something during worship but with demonstrating to God and to the worshiper that one’s hands … and by implication, soul … are clean before God during worship.

By contrast, how many times do you think the New Testament mentions lifting hands during worship?

There isn’t a single reference in the New Testament to lifting hands in praise.  Based on the prevalence of this practice in our day, do you find this surprising?

But there is one reference to lifting hands in prayer in 1 Timothy 2:8:

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or dissension.

I have no problem with people raising their hands while singing to the Lord … although some can be distracting and even annoying at times … but when is the last time you saw men (not women) encouraged to lift their hands during public prayer?  And yet that’s exactly what Paul tells Timothy he wants done during public worship.

The weight of Scripture is that lifting hands during worship applies more to prayer than to praise … so why do we emphasize one practice but not the other?

I want to be a biblical Christian, and I assume that you want to be one as well.  For that to occur:

First, we need to pay attention to the number of times Scripture emphasizes a belief or a practice.

Scripture mentions but never emphasizes practices like drinking poison, handling snakes, and baptism for the dead.  I think it’s silly to engage in these practices on a regular basis, or even to build an entire movement around them, but that’s what some have done over the past twenty centuries.

Think about some of your favorite theological hobby horses.  How much does the Bible really say about them?

In some churches, the altar call has become a third sacrament … yet you’ll never find the practice in Scripture.  Or what about the practice of holy laughter that was all the rage not too many years ago?  Or how about the practice of “slaying in the Spirit” (the phrase is never used in Scripture) that so many Christians believe in yet which has virtually no biblical support?  (My daughter once attended a church where her peers were called to the front and then fell over in the Spirit.  When the “prophet” tried to knock my daughter over, she resisted and never went down … and left the church soon afterward.)

Second, we need to emphasize what Scripture emphasizes. 

The Bible mentions prayer … obedience … living a holy life … trusting God … sharing Christ with others … worshiping God … and loving others time after time after time.

These are the kinds of practices that God wants us to build our churches and our lives around.

Sometimes I think that Christians emphasize beliefs and practices that Scripture never mentions because they don’t feel they’re doing a very good job of emphasizing what God emphasizes.

Finally, we may need to rethink some of our beliefs and practices if they aren’t emphasized in Scripture.

Nearly nine years ago, my son and I took a vacation together to the Southern part of the United States.  I had never been to states like Arkansas, the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, and I wanted to say I had at least been to those places.

One Sunday, we found ourselves attending a church on Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee.  The church sang for 42 minutes (yes, I remember details like that), and during the songs, people from the congregation walked to the front, chose a flag from a bin, and while standing between the stage and the pews, waved those flags during the singing time.

I thought the practice was a little odd, so when I got home, I went online and read that some churches engage in a “Banner Ministry.”  I thought the biblical support for the practice was weak, and I still think the whole thing has more to do with pageantry than worship, but I’m not here to say it’s wrong … just not very important.  (I’m still looking for the New Testament verse on the topic … and yes, I know the NT doesn’t mention pews, pulpits, microphones, or video players either.)

There’s much more I can say on this issue of emphasizing what Scripture does, but for now, I’d like to hear from you.

What do you think about what I’ve written?

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Nine years ago, I was preparing to take a brief sabbatical at the church I pastored.

I had just finished the first draft of my doctoral project and sent it to my reader.  I also spent a lot of time trying to prepare church leaders for my absence.

On the Sunday in September before my time away, I was presented with an early pastoral appreciation gift … a very generous check.

Three years later, I was presented with another pastoral appreciation check … six times less than I had received three years before.

Needless to say, I felt … can I say it … unappreciated.

I wrote an article a few years ago on how to appreciate your pastor.  Now I’d like to write one on why you should appreciate your pastor.

Since October is Pastor Appreciation Month, let me share with you five reasons why churchgoers should appreciate their pastors:

First, your pastor said “yes” to God’s call.

When I was a staff member in a church four decades ago, one of the deacons continually gave me a hard time.  When I asked my pastor how to interpret his behavior, the pastor told me that this deacon had been called by God into ministry, but had told God “no,” and had always felt guilty about his decision.

But every pastor – including yours – has said “yes” to the call of God.

When you submit yourself to that call, you don’t know in advance what it means … where you’ll live … how much money you’ll make … or what kind of leaders you’ll have to work with.  So answering God’s call is an act of supreme faith.

In addition, that call usually involves receiving formal training for ministry, usually from a seminary.

In my case, it took me five years to earn my Master of Divinity degree because I had a full-time job when I was in school.  I left seminary debt-free, but many pastors are still paying back student loans they assumed during their seminary days.

Your pastor has sacrificed himself and his family to serve at your church.

Can you appreciate your pastor for that?

Second, your pastor probably works extremely hard.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica:

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.

The first quality that Paul highlights in verse 12 is “those who work hard among you.”

Pastors work hard.  It’s not just the number of hours they work every week – usually more than 50.

It’s the intensity and the unpredictability of the work as well.

Pastoral work is intense because most pastors want to do their work perfectly.  They want to preach great sermons … counsel people so their problems are resolved … run the staff with efficiency and productivity … see their prayers for the sick and dying answered … and do it all without making a mistake.  (Because when they do, they’re liable to hear about it.)

Pastoral work is also unpredictable because pastors don’t have set schedules.  They don’t work 8-5 jobs.  They have to be available when people need them … when they aren’t working … which means nights and weekends.  In fact, I once heard Charles Swindoll say that churches whose pastors work several nights a week don’t tend to keep them.

My wife and I run a successful business together right now, and even though we work a combined 110-120 hours a week, we feel like we’re semi-retired because we have our nights and weekends free.

But in pastoral ministry, you have to work multiple nights a week … respond to emergencies on your day off … and do it all without knowing when you’ll have any “down time.”

In fact, you feel like you’re never off work, and that you’ll never finish working.

During my last ministry, I eventually wore down physically and emotionally because I couldn’t manage the ragtag schedule I felt was expected of me.

But somehow, your pastor is managing his schedule … doing his job … and showing up every Sunday.

Can you appreciate your pastor for that?

Third, your pastor has to endure a lot of internal flak.

Flak comes to a pastor in various ways: from notes written on welcome cards … emails he receives first thing Monday morning … anonymous letters … angry phone calls … and people who ask, “Pastor, can I come see you in your office?  I have something I’d like to discuss with you.”

During a pastor’s second or third year, the critics tend to come out in full force.  Sometime between years four and five, they coalesce and make their move, giving the pastor a subtle … or clear … ultimatum: “Either you leave or we will.”

According to church conflict expert Speed Leas, when a conflict hits this level, it cannot be resolved internally.  The pastor and/or board must bring in an interventionist from the outside to resolve the conflict, or the church … and the major players … may be damaged for a long time.

And most of the time, the church tries to resolve it internally … and fails.

Surprisingly, if pastors survive such an attack, they don’t quit their position or find another career … they just keep going … and some will have their best years ahead.

Nearly thirty years ago, I spoke to the president of my denomination on the phone about the possibility of moving to another church.  He told me that no matter where I went, I would have to pay a price.  Churches won’t grow if they don’t change … but when the pastor tries to institute change, he’ll be vilified by those who like things the way they are.

You’re probably not aware of it, but your pastor receives a lot of criticism, yet shows up every Sunday with a smile and a word from God.

Can you appreciate your pastor for that?

Fourth, your pastor experiences intense external opposition.

The less effective your pastor is, the more Satan will leave him alone.

The more effective your pastor is, the more Satan will target him for destruction.

Years ago, I saw a Christian film called Whitcomb’s War (which predated Frank Peretti’s book This Present Darkness).  A small church called a new pastor to lead them.

When the pastor started setting up his office, a group of demons gathered in the basement and planned their strategy to defeat him.

I don’t think we should attribute every conflict in a church to Satan.  After all, human beings must bear responsibility for their own actions.  But whenever deception and destruction are involved (John 8:44), Satan’s minions are definitely present.

Satan usually doesn’t defeat a pastor all at once.  Instead, he wears the pastor down over time until he’s tired of the fight and needs to move off the front lines.

But most pastors stay on the front lines anyway because that is where God placed them.

Can you appreciate your pastor for that?

Finally, your pastor has persevered through many discouraging days.

During my second pastorate, I was so discouraged that I wanted to quit every other Monday.

I read where Dallas Seminary professor Howard Hendricks said that he threatened to resign so many times that he finally wrote out a resignation letter and kept it in his desk.

That’s how I felt.  Little that I did worked out.  Most of what I tried bombed.  In fact, I became so depressed I could barely function.

I felt like quitting.  But what else was I going to do?  Like Bill Hybels used to say, we’ve been had.

I didn’t know it then, but my best days were ahead of me … and all the lessons I’d acquired in my first nine years of relatively unsuccessful ministry prepared me for the next twenty years of very successful ministry.

Many times, Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9 have helped me keep going:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Your pastor is still serving.  He has hung in there and hasn’t given up.

In fact, he’s your pastor.

Can you appreciate him for that?

How will you show or tell him?

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