Archive for the ‘Fighting Evil’ Category

During my second pastorate, there was an older couple in our congregation who came to abhor me.

We got along very well … at first.

This couple … I’ll call them Ron and Dolores … moved from the Midwest to Silicon Valley in the early 1980s.  They came to our church because of its Swedish roots … and because they liked its denominational affiliation.

Ron became a board member.  Dolores immersed herself in women’s ministry.  They became established leaders.

And then I became their pastor.

Ron wanted me to love the denomination as much as he and his wife did.  So he made it possible for me to attend a week of meetings at the denominational seminary in Minnesota … during the last week in January.

Ron arranged for me to stay with his son and his family.  I borrowed Ron’s heavy winter coat … and I needed it for the -19 degree weather with the -35 wind chill in St. Paul.

But a short time later, Ron and his wife became enraged with some of the decisions that I made as pastor.

They wanted a nice, safe church where they could enjoy friendships … practice their Swedish customs … and remake our church into the wonderful Midwestern church they’d left behind.

But that wasn’t my vision for the church at all.

I wanted the church to reach people for Christ and grow … which wasn’t on Ron’s agenda.

We began to clash on all kinds of things … especially the music on Sunday mornings.

When I first came to the church, Ron and Dolores sang “Out of the Ivory Towers” as a duet on a Sunday morning … in Swedish.

After I was there a while, I didn’t ask them to sing anymore.  (They were awful.)

And to top things off, I encouraged and championed a worship band made up of younger guys.  (This was the mid-1980s.)

While the band had the full blessing of the church board (Ron had termed out by then), Ron and his wife hated the band.

And even more, they couldn’t stand the direction I was taking the church … away from their beloved Swedish roots.

Dolores eventually quit coming to church.  I tried talking to Ron … who still seemed friendly … but he couldn’t control his wife’s rage.

Eventually, they both quit coming to church … but their anger was spilling over to others.

I knew I had to confront them.

I set up a time to meet with them, and told them casually that I’d be bringing along a board member.

They told me I could come alone, but that I could not bring that particular board member.

I consulted with my district minster, who told me that I should not meet with Ron and Dolores alone.  Instead, I needed to bring along one or two witnesses.

Finally, on a Thursday night in March, two board members went with me to Ron and Dolores’ house.  We did not have an appointment.

They let us in, and then unloaded on us.

After a little while, Dolores got up unannounced and started doing the dishes while leaving the three of us to dialogue with Ron.

The evening did not go well.

During this time, I consulted with Dr. Ed Murphy, one of the world’s foremost experts on spiritual warfare, about the conflict I was having with this couple.

Dr. Murphy told me, “Whatever you do, get them out of the church and off the rolls as quick as you can.”

For the next year, Ron and Dolores looked for another church, while keeping their friendships in our church.

I thought, “Good, they’re gone.  Now we can get some things done.”

But one Sunday, I got up to speak, and Ron was sitting twenty feet away from me … with his arms crossed … and his gaze cemented on my face.

And that’s when I knew the hatred had started.

Ron began spreading discontent … gathering malcontents … and holding secret meetings … all in an attempt to push me out as pastor.

He became the worst antagonist I’ve ever had.

And in the end, he and his wife became full of blind hatred.

Hatred is a cancer in our culture and our churches.

And sadly, some churchgoers have a special hatred for their pastor.

The problem in Christian circles is that most people – including pastors – refuse to believe that other Christians are even capable of such hatred.

So we naively allow such people to wreak havoc in our churches … and only realize our mistake until it’s too late.

So let me share with you five characteristics of the Christian hater in hopes that we can recognize the signs and take action to save our pastors … and our churches:

First, the Christian hater doesn’t like the pastor personally.

*They don’t like the way he looks.

*They don’t want to hear the pastor preach.

*They don’t want to shake his hand after the service.

*They don’t like the pastor’s wife or children.

*They don’t like those who do like the pastor.

In fact, they wish the pastor would just go away … forever.

It’s okay not to like another Christian … even a pastor.  But if you don’t like your pastor, wouldn’t it be better to find a church where you do like the pastor?

Because as long as you can’t stand your pastor, your attitude will rub off on others … making them choose between their pastor and their friendship with you.

Ron and Dolores liked me at first … then they hated me.

When the hatred started, they should have left, severed all ties, and never returned.

But their hatred was enabled by their friends, which included some key leaders.

Second, the Christian hater keeps a list of complaints against the pastor.

And every time they see or hear the pastor, they add to that list.

This is how my father left church ministry more than fifty years ago.

One Sunday, a woman began writing down some complaints she had about my pastor-dad during a worship service.  A friend saw the list and added a few complaints of her own.

Before long, that list grew much longer … even though the issues were all petty.

The list makers turned on my father and eventually ran him out of the church.

Making such a list is a sign of hatred … as is adding to the list yourself … as is asking others to add to the list.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love “keeps no record of wrongs.”

Love does not keep a list of a person’s foibles, faults, or failures.

But hatred sure does.

Ron and Dolores eventually began holding secret meetings with others in the church.

They wrote down as many of my faults as they could think of on the front and back of a green sheet of lined paper.

That list was a silent confession of hatred.

And when you list someone’s faults, you’re trying to do one thing: devalue them so you can destroy them.

Third, the Christian hater can’t hide their negative feelings.

When a hater comes to church, they don’t laugh with abandon.  They don’t smile freely.  They don’t look joyful.

And you can see it on their face.

The hater is also ready to gush out all their bitter feelings against their pastor.

If the hater goes out after the service for lunch, he or she won’t be able to stay silent for very long.

At some point during lunch, the hater will let begin attacking the pastor verbally.  No matter how hard they try to restrain themselves, their hatred will spill out.

Genuine hatred is very difficult to control … and to camoflauge.

The hater usually gives himself or herself away.

A board member kept me informed on what Ron and Dolores were telling others about their pastor.  The board member even crashed one of their secret meetings.

Ron and Dolores knew that the board member supported me completely, but they emptied their verbal guns when he was around anyway … giving away enough of their playbook so we could later counteract their actions.

Haters can’t help themselves.

Fourth, the Christian hater tries to convert others.

When you hate someone, you’re usually in the minority … or all alone.

And there’s nothing worse than hating someone on your own.

So most haters either look for other haters or try and convince their friends to hate someone as they do.

It’s no secret that I don’t like NBA player LeBron James.  While he’s incredibly talented, I find him to be arrogant and childish.  I have always rooted against him and his teams.

During the recent NBA playoffs, I didn’t have anyone to emote with about LBJ, so I found a group on Facebook called LeBron James Haters United … and sent a link they did to another person who dislikes LBJ.

I don’t represent any danger to LBJ or his worshipers.

But when someone inside a church hates their pastor, there’s a very real possibility that they will spread their hatred to others.

That’s what Ron and Dolores did.  Before the dust settled, 25% of our people left the church with them.

They formed a new church … composed of people who hated me.

That was their foundation.

Finally, the Christian hater wants to destroy the object of their hatred.

Thirty years ago, my former denomination held their annual meetings in the Silicon Valley city where my family lived.

My wife headed up a children’s program that met upstairs … and I helped her as much as I could.

But downstairs, Ron was doing his best to destroy me.

Ron had prepared literature about his new church that he passed out to people as they entered the convention center.  It was a violation of protocol … nobody ever promotes their church to the exclusion of others at such meetings … but he didn’t care about that.

And while he was promoting his church, he was vocally criticizing the church he left … and its pastor.

I was horrified.

Due to his hatred, Ron couldn’t stop trying to hurt me.

Leaving the church with his wife wasn’t enough … they had to take others with them.

Forming their own church wasn’t enough … he had to try and hurt my church in the process.

Various pastors came to me and told me what Ron was doing.  When I protested to the leaders of our district, they asked, “What can we do?”

Eventually, a pastor friend took all of Ron’s literature … when he wasn’t around … and threw it in a trash can.


A few months after the convention meetings, Ron’s influence had disappeared.  The church he founded died after a year, and the people scattered to other churches … although nobody returned to our church.

Ron’s wife died a horrible death on an interstate highway a few years later.  Ron later moved back to the Midwest, remarried, and then died himself.

I tried not to hate Ron and his wife in return.  In fact, a few years after their church disbanded, Ron and I met in a hospital, and had a productive conversation.

We can’t stop people like Ron and Dolores from hating their pastor.

But pastors and church leaders can take action so that the haters find themselves isolated and either choose to repent or leave a congregation.

Haters are aggressive individuals.  They go on the offensive.  Once they get started, they’re tough to stop.

But for the sake of our churches, our pastors, and the gospel … we have to try … and must succeed.






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

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

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

And sometimes, he lied just for fun.

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

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

Welcome to the world of the “Christian” sociopath.

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

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

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

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

*This person is sometimes vengeful about perceived injustices.

*This person has superficial and short-lived relationships.

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

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

The Johnsons then make the following statements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think long and hard about that statement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound like any church scenarios you might be familiar with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third, sociopaths are twice as lethal as narcissists.

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

Dr. Stout writes:

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

She then writes:

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

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

Am I scaring you yet?

Finally, sociopaths almost never change.

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

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

But they are experts at blaming others for their messes.

Inside the church, a sociopath tends to:

*hide in the darkness and avoid the light.

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

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

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

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

*avoid any pathway of forgiveness and reconciliation.

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

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

And that means two things:

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

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

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

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

I get that.

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

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

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

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

How did it all turn out?

My guess is that they left quite a mess behind.

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Of the 450 or so blog posts that I’ve written, this is one of my favorites.  It’s based on the film High Noon starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly and is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.  If you’ve never seen it, I encourage you to check it out … I saw it offered on Netflix the other night … and to ponder its relevance for the Christian church.

Toward the end of the last millennium, the American Film Institute produced a list of the Top 100 Films of All-Time.  Since I was unfamiliar with most of them, I systematically visited the local video store and checked out as many as I could.

One of those films was High Noon – now listed by the Institute as the 27th greatest film ever.

Last night, through the magic of Roku, my wife and I watched the film again.

Gary Cooper stars as Marshal Will Kane.  (My brother John has lived for years in Montana on land once owned by Gary Cooper.)  As the film opens, it’s Kane’s wedding day.  He’s marrying Amy (played by Grace Kelly).

But as they’re ready to leave on their honeymoon, Kane and his wife learn that the dreaded Frank Miller has been released from prison … and is coming to town on the noontime train … to wreak vengeance on the marshal who put him behind bars.

As evidence of this fact, Miller’s brother and two cohorts ride through the middle of town toward the train depot while all the townspeople scatter.

Marshal Kane is advised to hightail it out of town with his bride and not look back.  After all, a new marshal is scheduled to take over the next day.  Let him handle the Ferocious Four.

Kane is torn.  On the one hand, everybody’s telling him to leave town with Amy … so that’s what he does.  But five minutes outside town, he turns around and goes back, telling Amy that they’ll never be safe if he doesn’t confront Frank Miller and his boys now.

As I watched the film with fascination, I saw many parallels between the way people reacted to the conflict inside their town and the way churchgoers respond to open conflict at their church:

First, everyone feels anxious when a group’s leader experiences an attack.

The opening scenes of High Noon show a town that’s been rejuvenated.  The people of the town are having fun and laughing.

But when Ben Miller (Frank’s younger brother) and his two buddies ride through town, everybody gets off the street and hides.

The town became a happy place because of the work done by Marshal Kane.  He’s the one who cleaned up the streets and made the place safe for women and children.

But as anxiety rises in the town, people begin to engage in self-preservation.

When a group – and it’s always a group – attacks a pastor, the entire church senses something is wrong.

Sometimes people can tell a pastor is under attack because he’s no longer himself.  He lowers his head, doesn’t smile, and seems jittery.

Other times, people start to hear rumors about the pastor – or charges by people who don’t like him.

And as anxiety begins to spread around the church, people start heading for the tall grass.

Second, a leader under attack needs reinforcements.

Marshal Kane was a tall, strong man who knew how to handle a gun.  But would he prevail in a showdown with four experienced gunmen?

Probably not – so Kane began asking the townspeople for help.  He asked men whom he had once deputized.  He asked the guys in the local saloon.  He even interrupted a church service and asked the congregation if a few men would volunteer to assist him.

After all, if 8 or 10 men stood shoulder-to-shoulder next to Kane, then maybe Frank Miller and his gang would see they were outnumbered and just ride out of town.

No pastor attacked by a group in a church can survive unless he has reinforcements.

Maybe some staff members are willing to stand with him … or the entire governing board … or some former leaders … or a group of longtime friends.

If the associate pastor stands with the pastor … along with the board chairman … and a few other key leaders, the pastor may have enough support to turn back the Gang of Gunmen.

But without that support, the pastor … and possibly the church … are toast.

Third, most people bail on their leader when he needs them the most.

This is the heart of the film.

Amy, the marshal’s new bride, runs away from her husband when they return to town because she’s a Quaker and doesn’t want to see any killing.

The guys in the saloon prove worthless.

The people in the church discuss helping their marshal … then decide against doing anything at all.  (The pastor says he doesn’t know what to do.)

And Marshal Kane can’t convince any of his deputies to help him.  One who said he’d stand by his leader runs when he discovers nobody else will help the marshal, and the current deputy is angry with Kane because he wasn’t selected to be marshal after Kane’s tenure.

Kane even goes to see a former girlfriend … and she announces she’s leaving town, too.

Over 25 years as a solo or senior pastor, there were attempts to get rid of me on three separate occasions.

The first two times, the board stood with me.

The last time, most of the staff and a group of current and former leaders stood with me.

But when most pastors are threatened, everybody bails on them.

Why is this?

Because people aren’t informed?  Because it’s not their fight?

No, it’s usually because those who stand beside their pastor when he’s under attack end up enduring the same vilification that the pastor receives … and few are willing to suffer like that.

Finally, the only way to defeat the attackers is to stand strong.

After Frank Miller came in on the noon train, he and his boys left for town to carry out their plan: kill Marshal Kane.

At the same time, Kane’s former girlfriend climbed onto the train … along with his wife Amy.

When Amy hears shots, she instinctively bolts off the train and heads for town.

When she gets there, her husband has already killed two of the four gunmen.

While the drunks in the saloon nervously wait … and Kane’s friends hide in their homes … and the congregation down the road prays … Amy, of all people, defends her husband.

And in so doing, she saves his life … and their future together.

When a group attacks a pastor, they have one of two goals in mind: defeat him (by forcing him to leave) or destroy him (by ruining his reputation and damaging his career).

Because most pastors are tender souls, he usually has just two chances to emerge victorious after such a showdown: slim and none.

Even if the pastor wilts while attacked … and most do … the attackers can be driven away – and even eradicated – if the pastor has just a few Amys on his side.

While we have several incidents in the New Testament where a spiritual leader is corrected (Paul opposed Peter to his face in Galatians; Aquila and Priscilla instructed Apollos in Acts 18), we don’t have any incidents in the New Testament where a group of believers tries to destroy their spiritual leader.

So let’s do our best to eliminate this ecclesiastical plague in the 21st century.

With the Gang of Four lying motionless on the town’s streets, the townspeople come outside and cheer Amy and Marshal Kane … who drops his badge onto the street and leaves town for the final time.

Once upon a time, pastors would endure an attack in one church … then go to another church, where they’d be attacked again … then do the same thing several more times.

In our day, most pastors are leaving ministry after the first attack.

If High Noon ever comes to your church, don’t just talk or pray.  If your pastor is being unfairly accused, be willing to fight with him.

Because if he leaves town, the Gang of Four will end up in charge.

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While working in my garage a few days ago, I couldn’t help but hear the music coming from one of the houses across the street.

The music was loud … pounding … and vulgar.

Very, very vulgar.

The man who lives in that house is the father of many children.  His kids were outside playing … hearing those horrible lyrics … and it bothered me … a lot.

One might even say that those lyrics vexed me.

I felt the same way yesterday while walking down the main street in our neighborhood.  A man was sitting in his vehicle … a rap song cranked up to harmful levels … the song filled with references to four-letter words and the repetition of the term “chainsaws.”

He was parked on the street … waiting for his child to get out of school … right next to a sidewalk where children walk home.

I’ve been noticing recently that I’m becoming increasingly vexed by things that I’m seeing and hearing in our culture … and at times, I don’t know what to do about it.

Sometimes I’m vexed by things that probably don’t bother other people.

For example, when I grew up, and a basketball player hit a long jump shot, he might slap hands with a teammate, or point at him, but that would be it.

Nowadays, when some guys hit layups, they scream at the top of their lungs and pound their chest.

That vexes me … but it’s more a matter of personal style.

However, I suppose that I’m primarily disturbed by various forms of immorality that almost everyone once considered to be wrong … but now are celebrated.

Take the Grammy Awards, for example.

I am passionate about music.  And for several decades, I looked forward to watching the Grammys every February.

But several years ago, after watching another onstage display of outright paganism … along with a visible mockery of the Christian faith … I stopped watching the Grammys.

They’re just too vexing to my spirit.

The same goes for the upcoming Academy Awards.  I used to enjoy watching them.  Now I can’t.

Just too vexing.

All the hoopla about the Fifty Shades of Grey movie vexes me, too.

No, I didn’t read the book.  (In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until a couple of weeks ago.)  And I could never see a film like that.

But a prominent Christian … a famous NFL quarterback … tweeted several days ago that he saw the film and thought it was great.

Influential Christians recommending evil … that vexes me, too … as does lying.

I took my car in for an oil change several months ago to a repair shop that I’ve frequented.  The technician told me that I needed a new tire … and I was positive that I had just purchased that same tire several months before.

So I took my car to another place that specializes in tires, and the technician told me that my tire was just fine.

I was vexed.

When someone lies to me, I become extremely vexed, which is why I can’t even watch certain politicians on television.

Those who have openly, blatantly, and arrogantly lied to the American people – regardless of their party affiliation – vex me no end.  (Wasn’t it the Who who sang, “We won’t get fooled again?”)  What guarantees do we have that their next utterances won’t be full of lies, too?

Whenever these politicians come onto my television screen, I can’t remain calm, so I either mute the sound or flip to another channel … only returning when they’ve disappeared.  (Am I the only person who does this?)

And then … there’s Bruce Jenner.

Several years ago, a friend gave me a framed cover of Sports Illustrated featuring Jenner from the summer of 1976.  A signature of Jenner appeared just below the cover.

I watched Jenner win a Gold Medal in the Decathlon during the 1976 Olympic Games.  One would have thought that he was a “man’s man.”

But now, he wants to become a woman … and the headlines in a national magazine state that he’s finally happy.

Doesn’t that vex you?

And what in the world should I do with the Jenner cover and signature?  (It’s been in storage, not on my wall.)

Some of you might be thinking, “Jim, you really have some issues.”  But I claim biblical support for some of my feelings.

Dr. Luke tells us that when Paul first visited Athens … he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16).

Just this morning, while looking for a new place to take my car for an oil change, I walked into a shop office I saw advertised online.

The heavy smell of smoke repulsed me … but the large statue of Buddha vexed me.  And I can’t do business where I’m vexed.

In fact, whenever I’m vexed in spirit, I think of 2 Peter 2:7-9.  Peter writes about Abraham’s nephew Lot and highlights him as an example of a righteous man vexed by an ungodly culture:

… and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment …

While living in Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot was “distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men.”

I can relate.

There are many things I love in this world.  But more and more, I’m finding myself longing for another home … a place of purity and grace … where my spirit can enjoy rest, not torture.

As a kid, one of my favorite gospel choruses was called This World is Not My Home.

One of the lines in that song stated, “And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

Am I feeling the way I do because of my age … my experiences … my theology … or because of the Holy Spirit?

I’m not sure … but I do know that feeling vexed isn’t unusual for a Christian.

In fact, let me ask:

What vexes you these days?




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I recently ran across a book on church conflict, antagonism, and pastoral termination that was new to me, although it was first published in 2010.

It’s called When Sheep Attack by Dennis R. Maynard.  Dr. Maynard has been in church ministry for 38 years.  He once served as the pastor of a church in Houston that is the largest Episcopal church in the United States.  He has also served as a consultant to more than 100 churches of various denominations in the United States and Canada.

Dr. Maynard conducted a study of 25 pastors who had been forced out of their churches.  At the time they were attacked, each pastor was leading a dynamic and growing congregation.  In other words, these were all highly competent individuals.

After examining the data, Dr. Maynard came to the following conclusions:

“We can no longer afford the luxury of denying that there are dysfunctional personalities in congregations that want to hurt clergy.”

“The methods used by the antagonists to attack clergy and divide congregations follow an identifiable pattern.”

“The impact of these attacks on clergy, their families and the congregations they serve is devastating.”

“Ultimately, in order to neutralize the work of the antagonists all the ‘players’ in the congregational system must work together.”

Dr. Maynard then made the following points, followed by my comments:

We are dealing with a generation that believes they are the authorities in all areas despite the fact that they have no training or experience.”

There are handfuls of people in every church who believe they know how to lead, preach, administrate, and shepherd better than their own pastor.  There’s just one problem: God hasn’t called them to church ministry.  But believing themselves the most important individuals in their church, they set out to force out their pastor by any means necessary.

“Antagonists … thrive on being critical.  They enjoy conflict.  They have extremely controlling personalities.  They get their feelings hurt easily and turn those hurt feelings into anger, bitterness, resentment and ultimately revenge.  They are bulldozers fueled by a tank full of grudges.”

I remember one man who left our church in a huff.  He tried to negotiate his way back by demanding that I give him access to me 24/7.  I couldn’t do it.  He was full of rage.

“Every clergy person reported that they inherited an ‘untouchable staff member often in the guise of an active retired clergy or a retired rector [pastor]’…. They are untouchable because of the political alliances they’ve made with the ‘right people’ in the congregation.”

This is the first time I’ve ever read such a statement, but it makes perfect sense.  Some staff members always survive because they’re far more political than spiritual.

“Would it surprise you to know that in my consultations more often than not it was the active or retired pastoral associate that was the chaplain to the antagonists intent on tearing down the rector?  If not, then it won’t surprise you to learn just whom the antagonists wanted to be named as the next interim or possibly permanent rector.”

The current associate pastor is likely to become “chaplain” to the antagonists and be their choice as the interim or next pastor.  My experience resonates with this statement.

“Antagonists … have no interest in dialogue, compromise, forgiveness or reconciliation.  Their goal from the beginning is the removal and often the destruction of the rector.”

How very sad.  Those who oppose the pastor refuse to use biblical or relational means of resolving their differences with their pastor.  Instead, they demand that he leave the church.

“The antagonists refuse to deal with their own flaws by demanding perfection in their priest.  As long as they are able to stay focused on the priest’s failure to achieve their impossible standards they don’t have to consider their own.”

The other night, I asked a longtime pastor friend why pastors are breaking down at such an alarming rate.  He believes the problem is perfectionism: the pastor demands perfection of himself, and the congregation demands perfection of their pastor.  What a toxic and unbiblical combination!

“Every priest reported that the experience of being attacked by the antagonists had a negative impact on them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Their descriptions ranged from battle fatigue to severe illnesses.  Most all reported suffering from depression.  Others described the emotional impact as feeling broken, defensive, withdrawn, fear, panic, a loss of creativity, energy and profound sadness.”

Amen to the above description.  I’ve been there.  In my case, I wasn’t suicidal … I just wanted to vanish.  I spoke with a well-respected veteran Christian leader recently who told me he’s surprised by how long it takes pastors to recover after they’ve been beaten up.  It doesn’t take months … it takes years.

“The majority of the clergy reported that both they and their spouses had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and have had to continue in treatment for years after the experience ended.”

I wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD, but my wife was.  I’m haunted during the day by what happened to me.  She’s haunted at night.

“Every congregation experienced negative repercussions when the priest left the parish.  The negative impact on the parish was seen immediately.  Attendance and giving decreased dramatically.  Membership declined and program growth became stagnant to non-existent.  Empty pews at Sunday worship and declining parish collections were the most noticeable consequences.  On average, 28% of the worshippers left these parishes and united with another.  19% left the parishes completely and have yet to return to that parish or any other.”

Based on the aftermath after a pastor’s removal, how can we conclude that these antagonists are doing God’s work?  It’s obvious that they’re serving someone else.  I now believe that many of them are either very immature believers … regardless of how they appear to others … or unbelievers.

“It should be clearly agreed at the beginning that if the governing board initiates the dissolution of ministry action, the rector shall receive a minimum severance package.  Depending on the size of the parish this should be a minimum of eighteen months and for larger parishes where the job possibilities for a removed priest are fewer it could go up to five years salary and benefits.”

Some churches that toss out an innocent pastor offer no severance agreement.  Others offer three to six months.  Maynard lobbies for at least 18 months because it can take that long for dismissed pastors to find a new ministry.  If a church board doesn’t want to pay such a severance, then they should work matters out with their pastor.

“It is the wise rector that uses an outside consultant…. The majority of the clergy in this study did employ a consultant.  In none of the twenty-five cases was a consultant able to stop the antagonists from achieving their goal.”

In my situation, I used a consultant.  He flew to our community, interviewed staff, witnessed attacks firsthand, exposed the plot against me, wrote a report, and helped negotiate a severance agreement.  But the knowledge that consultants could not stop the antagonists freezes me in my tracks.

“Any senior pastor caught in an irresolvable conflict should not hesitate to consult an attorney.  The majority of the clergy surveyed did employ an attorney.  Most felt the need to do so to protect themselves and their families.  Several reported that their attorneys did advise them that they had legal grounds to sue their antagonists for slander and defamation.”

Most pastors aren’t comfortable doing this, but if they plan to continue a ministry career, and if they love their family members, this step is essential.  I hate to say this, but inside their churches, pastor under attack usually have zero rights, so they need to know their rights as an American citizen.

“… the biggest red flag of all.  If such a staff person has played an active role in the removal of a previous senior pastor, then they need to be removed by the appropriate authorities before a new senior pastor is even announced.” 

If a staff member – regardless of who it is or how long they’ve been in the church – cannot support an innocent senior pastor, that staff member needs to resign and leave the church rather than be allowed to undermine the pastor from the inner circle.  The longer a Judas stays among the disciples, the more destruction he or she will cause.

“The overwhelming majority [of the twenty-five pastors surveyed] began new ministries as professional interim ministers.  For clergy that have been attacked by antagonists, it appears that interim ministry may just be the best avenue for them to pursue.”

Most pastors who have been attacked have to be well-connected to find another church ministry … and be younger than 55.  Without a PhD, pastors can’t even teach in a Bible college.  The interim pathway is beneficial for those who want to keep leading and preaching, but the lifestyle involves travel that separates the interim from his kids and grandkids, friends, support system, belongings, and house.

“Those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome will most likely be plagued by nightmares for the greater portion of their lives.  All our participants, spouses and children now have a more cynical attitude toward the Church and people.  Most all confessed to continuing to have problems trusting others.  The loss to the Church of spouses, children and lay members that formerly were faithful and enthusiastic about their lives in the Church is a damning judgment on the work of the antagonists.” 

A longtime Christian leader told me that going through this experience is like suffering a concussion as a National Football League player.  Once you’ve suffered one, you remain in protective mode because you don’t want to suffer the disorientation of undergoing another one.

“If the antagonists begin directing their attacks toward your spouse or children, employ an attorney and make it known that you have employed an attorney.”

Some pastors who are removed from their positions later experience divorce.  Many pastors’ kids quit going to church and abandon their faith for good.  If a pastor can stop direct attacks upon his family members using legal means, then he needs to do so.

Dr. Maynard’s book is relatively brief (137 pages), concise, and true to church life.  He covers much more material than I could possibly hope to share here.  I recommend it highly.

My prayer is that Christian leaders wake up to the reality of sheep attacking their shepherds – and do something about it – so that far fewer pastors and believers sit on the bench until Jesus comes.

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In his well-written, insightful, and practical book Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd, my friend Kent Crockett relates many true stories about pastor abuse.  Here’s a sampling of these stories told by actual pastors:

“Some unyielding deacons and angry members didn’t like my ideas of reaching out to people who don’t know Christ, so they forced my resignation.  In my final business meeting, I told the congregation, ‘I believe the Lord is leading me to step down and resign as pastor, effective immediately.’  As soon as I said that, about fifteen people who had opposed me stood up, started applauding, and shouted, ‘Hallelujah!  Praise God!’  In the two years I had been their pastor, they had never clapped in church or shouted praise to God.  In fact, they had always opposed displays of emotion in the worship service.  I hadn’t even seen them smile until I resigned and then they all had big grins on their faces.”


“The deacon board chairman came to see me one evening.  He never called to set up an appointment, but just showed up unannounced clutching his gripe list.  The deacon asserted that he represented a ‘growing’ number of disgruntled people who were angry with me, and had appointed him as the liaison of church solidarity.

With seeming delight, he claimed that other members were ‘flooding’ him with concerns about me, although he wouldn’t disclose names because he wanted to ‘protect their identities.’  I later proved his list was contrived and his alleged ‘growing’ number was actually a small group the deacon had recruited.

Casting gentleness to the wind, the deacon tore into me with outlandish accusations.  When I asked what specifically I had done wrong, the deacon sidestepped the issue.  He wasn’t interested in repairing and restoring fellowship, so I refrained from further discussion.  Since I wouldn’t bow to his intimidation, the deacon started a false rumor about me.  Because of the misery I suffered at the hands of this cruel deacon, I resigned as pastor.”


“That small group got against me.  They started lying.  They said I was a gambler.  And then they attacked my wife.  When they can’t get anything on the minister, they go after his wife or his children.  Only by suspending the bylaws were they able to fire me.”


“In one year, 27 ministers in my district were forced to resign their pastorates, without charges of wrongdoing, unethical behavior, or immorality.  Many because they were causing growth.  Most cases it was the power bloc that ran the church that had them removed.  Many have lost their pastorates, many their reputations and many have lost their enthusiasm about staying in the ministry.”


“As I reflect on 35 years of ministry, I realize that many of my former colleagues are no longer pastors.  Somewhere along the line, they left their ‘calling’ and undertook a different path for their lives.  Reflecting on my friends who used to be pastors, I realize that they are now a majority.  Those, like me, who have stayed in ministry are actually the minority.  The attrition rate has been high and the cost to souls is astronomical.

The majority of my acquaintances encountered such turmoil and situational conflict (from church members) that they felt they could not continue to pastor.  Congregations overwhelmed my pastor friends with unrealistic expectations, negative criticism and misplaced anger.  Some congregations even assumed the perfect pastor was ‘out there,’ so their fallible pastor was terminated.”


Let me make four brief observations about these stories:

First, these stories are not an anomaly – they are all too typical.  While the names of the pastors, church leaders, and congregations are all different, the patterns of pastoral abuse remain the same across the board.

I saw a quote recently from a denominational executive.  He said that when a pastor started telling him his termination story, the denominational leader could accurately predict the entire aftermath.

Since there are patterns to pastoral abuse, the Christian community must band together and stop this evil.

Second, the inability of Christians to get along – especially with their pastor – negates the gospel of reconciliation.

Jesus told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, “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” (John 13:34-35).

Jesus didn’t say, “Love the people in your group only.”  He didn’t say, “Love everyone in your church but your pastor and his family.”  Three times in these two verses, He commands His followers to “love one another” … and that includes the pastor and his family.

When believers visibly love each other, Jesus says, then “all men” will notice that “you are my disciples.”

But when believers avoid each other and hate each other, the world concludes, “The Christian faith doesn’t work.”

As 1 John 4:20 states, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

Third, the pastor’s enemies almost always slander him to force his resignation.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but how can professing Christians blatantly lie about their spiritual leader?

Did Jesus ever lie about a spiritual leader?

Did Paul?

Did Peter … or John … or James … or Luke?

Who in the New Testament has a reputation for lying?


Then how can those who claim to follow Jesus … who is the Truth and always spoke the truth … join hands with the evil one?

How strong is your case against a pastor if you have to use exaggeration and innuendo and false statements to get rid of Him?  Isn’t that the same tactic that was used on Jesus?

I wish churches had trials and the liars could be exposed for everyone to see.

Why aren’t we exposing the liars?

Instead, after the pastor leaves, they end up on the church board.

Here’s what I read yesterday during my quiet time:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his evil deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:20-21).

Finally, believers need to give control of their church back to Jesus Christ.

Doesn’t Colossians 1:18 say that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church” and that “in everything he might have the supremacy?”

We don’t read that any pastor is “the head of the church,” nor the church board, nor the charter members, nor a particular faction.

Instead, we read that Jesus is the head of the body.

Maybe churches should have an annual service where the leaders and congregation acknowledge that “Jesus is the head of this church” and not any specific individual or group.

Let’s be honest: too many people are fighting for control of a church when it isn’t theirs to begin with.


I don’t mean to sound cynical, but after reading the above stories … and many more like them, not only in Kent’s books, but in other books on church conflict … I have one unanswered question:

How can people who use slander and hatred to destroy their pastor really be Christians?

What do you think?








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Today is Halloween.

Five years ago on Halloween … 1826 days ago … my wife and I were attacked by the devil.

I’ve never experienced such powerful spiritual warfare in all my life.

Not every Christian … or Christian leader … believes that Satan is alive and doing his best to negate the advance of God’s kingdom.

But put me down as a true believer.

Jesus believed in Satan.  He told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31).

Peter believed in Satan, calling him “your enemy” and comparing him to “a roaring lion.”  His aim is to look for “someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

John believed in Satan.  He states that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” and that “the Son of God appeared … to destroy the devil’s work” (I John 5:19; 3:8).

Paul believed in Satan.  He told the Corinthians that Satan might try to “outwit us.  For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11) and that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Jesus … Peter … John … Paul.  When it comes to spiritual authority, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Not only did the Son of God and three of his apostles believe in Satan … each one had met the enemy themselves.

Some days fade with time.  But October 31, 2009 will always remain in my consciousness because of what happened spiritually that day.

That Saturday morning, I consulted with two church experts … met with the church board briefly … met with my wife … watched in horror as she was spiritually attacked … called a friend to assist me in praying for my wife … called the paramedics for assistance … called family members for encouragement and prayer … tried to arrange for a special speaker the next day … met with my daughter … then plunged into an emotional abyss.

All on Halloween … the night of our biggest outreach event of the year … normally led by my wife … who was prevented from attending.

A wise Christian leader told me that he receives more calls concerning church conflict in September and October than any other time of the year.

Is this because churches are making financial plans for the next year … or because Satan’s henchmen are turned loose around Halloween?

Let me share with you three ways that Satan attacked my wife and me during our 50-day conflict:

First, Satan sent fear like we had never experienced it before.

We jumped when the phone rang … when we received an email … when there was a knock at the door … and when we opened the mail.

We even felt afraid inside our own house.

The fear was irrational.  We tried praying it away … commanding it away … running away from it by leaving the house … but the fear remained.

Why were we afraid?

Because some people we thought were our friends had turned against us, and we didn’t know who was in what camp.

In most cases, we still don’t.

I know mentally that Jesus defeated Satan on the cross, and that he has only a “short time.”  But all my theology was put to the test during that time span.

The fear was so great that both my wife and I just wanted to vanish.  In a very real way, we had been “negated.”

And I suppose the worst part of all is that we became afraid to have any contact with the people who attacked us … people who had once been our friends.

Fear creates distance … makes you want to flee … harms your psyche … and stabs your heart.

God is not the author of confusion or fear, but those are both Satan’s specialties.

The fear was real but not of God.

Second, Satan incessantly and falsely accused us of offenses we had not committed.

Pastoring has its challenges, but I think being lied about is the worst thing I’ve experienced in ministry.

All my life, I’ve been careful with money … with women … with the truth … and with power.  While I’ve been tempted to do wrong … just as Jesus was … I’m thankful that I’ve resisted the wrongdoing that leads to scandal.

Then suddenly, some people started making allegations about me.  Each one hurt.  And each one was false.

But I didn’t know who was making them … I didn’t have any forum for answering them … and the longer I waited to respond, the more people believed them.

And when the lies reach critical mass, you’re toast, even if you’re innocent of every single charge.

This is a huge flaw inside Christian churches.  When a pastor is accused of various offenses, he has no fair and just process … or forum … to dispel the charges.

And Satan knows this all too well.

This shouldn’t surprise us.  Jesus labeled the devil “a liar and the father of lies.”  Jesus said that “when he lies, he speaks his native language” (John 8:44).

Whenever a pastor who is under attack contacts me, I ask him to tell me about the lies.  They’re always present.

After my wife and I left the church, a torrent of accusations circulated about us, and many people believed them because we weren’t around to defend ourselves.

I’m sure we only heard a few of the charges, but the ones I heard were deeply troubling, and completely malicious.

And nobody had the courage to ask us about those accusations to our faces.

The only way Satan can get rid of a godly, competent, effective pastor is to lie about him.  When the lies are repeated over and over again, people believe them.

And the evil one is behind it all.

Third, Satan sent the conflict in an attempt to destroy our church.

When Jesus speaks to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2,3, He mentions Satan by name when speaking to four of the churches.  Satan was working in those fellowships even when believers weren’t aware of his presence.

If you had asked me several weeks before our conflict surfaced if Satan was circulating throughout our congregation, I would have said, “Probably not.”

But I was wrong.

Our church was located in one of the most unchurched parts of the United States.  Our church was the largest Protestant church by far in a city of 75,000 people … and the most we averaged in a single year was 466.

Slowly but surely, the other churches in town had been attacked, and one by one, they either imploded or folded.

In 2009, I suppose it was our turn to be attacked.

But Satan didn’t choose to attack us through city government, or the planning department, or the neighborhood.

No, he chose to attack us from within.

I may be wrong, but I don’t believe that anyone inside the church wanted to ruin my ministry career.  They just wanted me to leave and never return.

But Satan did want to end my career, and because of my age, that’s precisely what happened.

I’ve written this several times before, but I need to say it again:

When professing Christians attack their pastor, they are attacking their church at the same time.

Aim to destroy (not lovingly confront) the pastor, and you will destroy your church.

Good people will leave.  Donations will shrink.  Outreach will stop.  Morale will plunge.  New believers will get hurt.

It will take years to rebuild your church.  Is that what you really want?

A pastor friend who reads this blog told me that he was ousted for no good reason from a church he had served for many years.

Five years later, the church folded.

Who won … Satan or God?

There are two practical keys to defeating Satan’s influence in your church:

First, always tell the truth about spiritual leaders, including your pastor. 

Never overreact.  Never exaggerate what you’ve heard.  Never believe information that can’t be verified.

Stay calm.  Be accurate.  Remain skeptical.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

During a major conflict, truth becomes a casualty.  Only the naïve believe the first thing they hear.

Second, never aim to destroy your pastor or your church. 

Don’t hold secret meetings.  Don’t join a mob.  Don’t harm the pastor’s reputation.  Don’t “run him out of the church.”

Watch that righteous anger.  Hang around godly people.  Listen to all sides of the issues.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 are still in The Book: “Don’t you know that you yourselves [the church] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple [the church], God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”

Destroy God’s church, and God will destroy you.  I didn’t say it … I’m just pointing it out.

My wife and I have not been defeated.  We are still serving God, though not in church ministry.

Because I did not want Satan’s lies to get the last word, I wrote a book about our last church experience called Church Coup.

I stand behind every word that I wrote.  No one has contacted me to challenge anything in the book.

And God has called me to expose Satan’s strategy which can be summarized in 11 words:

Satan seeks to destroy churches by using deception to destroy pastors.

Please … do not let him win in your church.















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I recently read an article about a pastor who is well-known in his region.

This pastor was accused of unspecified offenses and placed on paid leave … a humiliating experience.

The governing board immediately called in an outside investigator.

The leaders promised that when the investigation was over, they would make a complete disclosure to the congregation.

Two weeks later, the pastor was exonerated.  When he re-entered the pulpit, the congregation gave him a standing ovation.

I was glad that the pastor was cleared of the charges against him.  And I was glad that the church launched an immediate investigation into those charges.

But what the article never stated was what happened to the pastor’s accusers.

If the issue revolved around some kind of possible financial impropriety – say, a questionable expense account purchase – then maybe the accusation came from a church financial officer who was just doing their job.

But if the accusation was made maliciously and recklessly – as is often the case – then what should church leaders do to the accuser?

There are at least three possible options:

First, do nothing. 

The accuser made their charge.  The charge was investigated.  The charge was thrown out.

End of story.

Maybe it’s wisest to let the whole matter die out.

The accuser stays in the church … maintains any leadership position they may have … and the church carries on as before.

But if the accusation was malicious or reckless, then congregational life came to a halt … and the pastor’s career was in jeopardy.

If I were a church leader, I’d be uncomfortable doing nothing to the accuser.

Second, forgive the accuser and move on.

My guess is that most people in that church eventually learned the nature of the accusation … but may never have learned the name of the person who initiated it.

The tendency in Christian churches is to forgive people unilaterally without confronting them in any way.

In this case, the leaders in the church’s inner circle undoubtedly knew who made the accusation against the pastor.

In the future, they might feel uncomfortable in the accuser’s presence, or wonder if he or she might someday accuse them of something ominous.

But in spite of that, most church leaders will just “let things go” and not pursue any kind of justice against a false accuser.

And once the pastor was exonerated, he may not have wanted to press any kind of charges against the accuser as well.

Just forgive and forget, right?

But is this biblical?

Finally, ask the accuser to repent or leave the church.

There are two primary biblical passages that deal with making accusations against another person:

*Deuteronomy 19:15-21 in the Old Testament.

*1 Timothy 5:19-21 in the New Testament, which specifically deals with accusations against elders and pastors.

It’s so serious that Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:22 that the investigative process should be carried out “in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels” and that Timothy is to “keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

It’s a grave matter to accuse a spiritual leader of a serious offense.

The Timothy passage has its roots in Deuteronomy 19 where we’re told “a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Please note that verses 18 and 19 say that if an accuser “proves to be a liar” after “a thorough investigation” has been done, then “do to him as he intended to do to his brother.”

If the accused was going to be arrested, then arrest his accuser.  If the accused was going to be stoned, then stone the accuser.

Moses concludes, “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.”

What’s “the evil?”  What’s “an evil thing?”

It’s making a malicious and false accusation against another person … especially a spiritual leader.

Many churches state in their governing documents that congregational members can sign a petition to make charges against their pastor.  But those same documents state that if the petition signers are unsuccessful in their attempt to oust the pastor, then they either have to relinquish any offices they hold or leave the church.


Because they’ve tried to lie about their pastor in order to get rid of him.  The purpose of deception is destruction.

If accusers make charges against their pastor, and an investigation is done, and the charges are not true, then the congregation should be informed that the pastor is innocent of the charges made against him.

But the work of the governing board is not complete.  They need to meet with the pastor’s accusers and give them a choice:

“You need to repent of your false accusations before this church body, or you need to leave the church immediately.  What are you going to do?”

 I know someone who has served as an interim pastor in many churches.  After he came to a church, he’d do some investigative work, and if the previous pastor was pushed out, he’d find out who did it.

He’d call that person into his office and hand them a written confession.  Then he’d say to them, “This Sunday, one of us is going to read this confession in front of the congregation.  If you don’t do it, I will.  What are you going to do?”

I don’t know why it is, but too many Christian leaders … maybe most … will carry out a biblical process only so far.

If the pastor is pushed out of office, in their mind, that’s the end of it.  Time to secure an interim, form a search team, and find another pastor.

But because the leaders never address the false accusations made by certain people, the leaders … and the congregation … and the pastor who left … never gain a sense of closure.

And the lies are never “purged” from the congregation, but linger on in the church’s memory and soul.

The biblical process from Deuteronomy and 1 Timothy isn’t about personal retribution but about corporate health.  Christian leaders cannot allow other believers to lie about pastors with impunity.

Sadly, some accusations against pastors are true.  A distinct minority of pastors do things that disqualify them from ministry, and those pastors should be given the opportunity to repent and/or leave their churches as well.

But some professing Christians … for whatever reason … seem to take delight in gossiping about their pastor … and trying to destroy his reputation, ministry, and career.

If our churches continue to do nothing to the false accusers, how will we ever convince the world that Jesus is the truth?















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Someone recently sent me a notice stating that a church volunteer who worked with youth had been arrested for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a minor.

The person who sent me the notice knows both the church and the volunteer and said that a key staff member had been warned about this particular volunteer but chose to take no action.

Every church deals with potential intruders that violate healthy boundaries.  In his book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, Peter Steinke lists the following common boundary violations in churches:

*accusing someone without reasonable cause or without initially talking to the accused

*disregarding guidelines, policies, and procedures

*humiliating people publicly or privately

*using verbal pressure to intimidate

*holding others hostage by threats or demands

*enlisting others to attend secret meetings

*labeling others with emotionally-packed words

*speaking on behalf of others, as if they know what the other is thinking

*telling different accounts or sharing different information, depending upon the hearers

*attaching fear to issues to control others

These behavioral “viruses” are constantly trying to invade congregations, which is why every church needs a strong immune system.

Steinke writes:

“Everyone’s body is equipped with proof of identity – that is, cells in our body have the same chemical combinations.  It’s as if they wear identical costumes.  Viruses also have a distinct chemical costume.  The immune system keeps cells that are bona fide residents separate from illegal aliens.  In immunology terminology, the immune system learns to distinguish ‘self’ from ‘nonself.’  Once an intruder is spotted, the immune system compares it against the rogues’ gallery of known pathogens.  If tipped off by resemblances, the immune system arrests and eliminates the intruder.  Sorting out self from nonself, the immune system says: ‘Red blood cells, good guys.  Skin cells, part of us.  Okay.  Virus … no good.  Toe.  Keep.'”

Steinke says that just as we find intruders in the human body, so we find intruders in churches:

“Lacking self-regulation, these individuals may act where they have no authority, say things that have no ground in truth, complain to everyone else except those who can do something about the situation, or place themselves in a position to control the nomination process.”

Steinke then compares the body’s immune system to immune systems in churches.  Usually the immune system is composed of a few key leaders who:

*serve as sentinels and provide the frontline of defense.

*sense when something is out of balance or troubling.

*see things firsthand and possess knowledge not widely known.

*realize that if something isn’t done, the church could pay a heavy price.

*constitute the “first responders” and sometimes must work hard for others to believe them.

After 36 years in church ministry, I’ve discovered that a congregation’s immune system may reside inside:

*the pastor.

This is especially true when a church is small.

During my first nine years as a pastor, when the church body was invaded by a violator, I was usually the one who initially addressed the issue and sought the help of other leaders.  While I didn’t like dealing with invaders, I knew what could happen if someone in authority failed to act as an immune system.

Most pastors cannot function as an immune system by themselves, but they may be the only ones who can point out the violations and the dangers of not acting.

*the official church board.

Most churches are as healthy as their boards.

In one church I pastored, the chairman and I made joint decisions on how to handle intrusions, and the church stayed healthy for years.

In another church I pastored, the chairman didn’t work with me.  One time, we had an inappropriate intrusion into our body, and I asked the chairman to write a letter and deal with the issue.  The letter he wrote was so incoherent that it wasn’t sent … and the body quickly became ill.

*a staff member.

I know a megachurch where a single staff member serves as the immune system for the entire staff.  He stays in touch with everyone … investigates any charges against staff members … and has earned the authority to make decisions regarding staff.  Not surprisingly, he’s been the pastor’s right-hand man for years.

*an individual of great wisdom and stature.

If someone had asked me during my last pastorate where the church’s immune system was located, I would have said, “The church board.”  And for much of my time there, that’s where the immune system was located.

But it took me a long time to realize that one individual in particular (a former board member I’ll call Robert) really activated the immune system.

One time, I was having trouble with a staff member who was resisting making changes we had both agreed upon.  The staff member was engaged in passive-aggressive behavior and modeling resistance.  It looked like an invasion of the body was imminent.

I called upon Robert, and we worked together to bring the body back to health.  But I couldn’t have done it alone … and he probably could have done it by himself!

But when Robert and his wife moved away, he took the church’s immune system with him, and the body was ripe for invasion.

It’s not any fun being a key part of a church’s immune system.  Dealing with invasions of the body is a behind the scenes, thankless task.

But every healthy church has a healthy immune system, usually composed of several individuals.

Who composes the immune system in your church?




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Winston Churchill is one of my few heroes.

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When Time named their Person of the Century in 1999, they gave the award to Albert Einstein, truly a great man in a century dominated by scientists.

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But without Churchill, we might be living under a Nazi flag.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting some Churchill sites, including Blenheim Palace (his birthplace and boyhood home) in England, the nearby churchyard in Bladon (his final resting place), and the underground Cabinet War Rooms in London, from where he coordinated the British fight against Hitler’s Germany.

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Right now, I’m reading William Manchester’s second volume on Churchill entitled The Last Lion: Alone 1932-1940, and I’m continually drawing parallels between the way Sir Winston viewed the Nazis and the way churches deal with antagonists.

The First World War was horrendous, resulting in 885,138 combat deaths for England and 2,050,897 deaths for Germany – not counting wounded soldiers.  When the Allied Powers drew up the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, they threw the book at Germany, demanding financial reparations totaling $442 billion in today’s currency (Germany made their last payment on October 4, 2010), forcing them to disarm, and making them take full responsibility for the war.

While the German leaders at the time tried to cooperate, Hitler and his cronies began their slow rise to power.  Hitler telegraphed much of what he did – through his autobiography Mein Kampf, his speeches, and various interviews.

After he became Chancellor of the Reich in 1933, Hitler charmed diplomats from countries like England, assuring them that he was rebuilding the German military only for defensive purposes.  Still gun-shy 15 years after the end of World War 1, the nations of Europe – and their leaders – chose to believe him.

All the while, Hitler was training young men to be soldiers, cranking out munitions at a non-stop pace, and putting together a top-flight air force, the Luftwaffe.

There were British citizens inside Germany who knew exactly what Hitler was doing.  But when they sent their data to the Foreign Office in London, they chose to ignore the facts, convincing themselves that Hitler’s military buildup had no relevance for England.

But Churchill knew better.

While still a member of the House of Commons, Churchill had been banished from any top leadership posts in His Majesty’s Government.  Whenever he rose to speak in the House, his views were ridiculed because he was relegated to being a Backbencher.

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But Churchill had a friend who lived near his Chartwell home who consistently delivered hard data about the Fuhrer’s real intentions.  Churchill had to be careful with the information because if he shared too much in public, politicians and journalists would demand to know where he obtained it.

Let me share with you four parallels between how England viewed Hitler and how many churches view conflict:

First, most people are conflict-avoiders.  The British did not wish to fight any country so soon after the Great War, a conflict that the United States entered late in the game.  And even when Hitler conquered Poland and bombed London, our country publicly remained isolationist.  (We didn’t officially enter World War 2 until Pearl Harbor.)

Most of us act the same way.  If there is a conflict in our family, we avoid it as long as we can.  If there is a shouting match between politicians on television, we turn the channel.  And if there is conflict at church, we look the other way or deny that it’s happening.  After all, we reason, it’s not my fight.

The truth is, even if it is our fight, we’ll do almost anything not to fight – and that emboldens certain people.

Second, there are usually signs that conflict is brewing.  The increasing number of German soldiers and munitions – along with the expelling of Jews – was a clear indication that something ominous was about to occur on the Continent.  Conflict almost never erupts without warning.  Those whose eyes are open can usually connect the dots.

During the message time at our church yesterday, we saw a video interview of a father and mother.  Their son had been acting strangely but they had no idea what was wrong.  As it turned out, he was on drugs, eventually taking both ecstasy and heroin.  The signs of drug usage were there, but this couple – who prided themselves on having a harmonious, loving family – refused to admit that their son could be involved with any mind-altering substances.

Denial in the face of evil can lead to destruction, not life.

Something similar happens in church life.  We don’t want to believe that the pastor is immersed with pride, or the youth pastor is getting too close to that Jr. High girl, or that board member has destructive intentions.  While the warning signs are there, we don’t act on them.

If the problem is within your authority, deal with it as soon as possible, using Matthew 18:15-20 as a guide.  If the problem lies within someone else’s purview, inform them quickly.  If you see something that concerns you, speak up and take action!  Delay leads to defeat, not victory.

Third, call evil for what it is.  The first time I heard about Adolph Hitler was when I was five years old.  (Hitler had committed suicide only fifteen years earlier.)  The atrocities he committed were still fresh on everyone’s mind, bolstered by The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by journalist William L. Shirer in 1959 (the longest book I’ve ever read besides The Bible).

When I entered fourth grade, our class saw a lot of newsreels of Hitler.  We saw him making speeches.  We saw the torchlight parades in Nuremberg.  We saw the Nazis burning books (at what is now a peaceful little park in East Berlin, shown in the photo below) and the Jews being fed into ovens.  We saw images of evil that never left my innocent little brain.

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And much to the credit of my teachers, we learned how Hitler came to power, fooled his own people, and disguised his true intentions to the world.

In other words, we learned how to detect evil before it openly surfaced.

Please hear me: evil isn’t confined to dictators.  You will find evil in churches, too.  And not just evil actions; people can be evil.

How can you tell who they are?

They never admit they do anything wrong.  They blame all problems on other people.  They disguise their real intentions and lie about others – especially leaders.

Their ultimate goal?  The destruction of church leaders so THEY can be in control and call the shots.

Scott Peck wrote about such people in his book People of the Lie.  It’s a chilling read.  Lloyd Rediger has also written about such people in his book Clergy Killers.

Hitler was evil.  Sadly, a handful of church people are evil, too.  I hope no one like that is in your church, but evil people have been known to infiltrate churches.

I’ve met a few.  Have you?

Finally, Christians have to be willing to fight evil.  Whenever Hitler bombed London, businessmen and families headed for shelter, especially in the depths of the British subway system known as the Tube.  They ran from evil.

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But the British war planes couldn’t hide in the Tube.  It was their job to take on evil – and they did so nobly.  We might not be living in a free country if the British hadn’t confronted Nazi evil in their own backyard.

No Christian should go looking for evil in a church.  Churches have enough hyper-critics.  But when evil rears its ugly head, and it’s obvious there are people bent on destroying the pastor or other leaders, evil must be resisted – and defeated.

Evil cannot be appeased.

A few weeks ago, I caught The Two Towers – the second film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy – on television.  At the end of the film, as Frodo is nearly possessed by the ring’s evil, he says, “I can’t do this, Sam.”  In what is probably my favorite speech in any movie, Sam replies:

“I know.  It’s all wrong.  By rights we shouldn’t even be here.  But we are.  It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.  The ones that really mattered.  Full of darkness and danger, they were.  And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.  Because how could the end be happy?  How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?  But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.  Even darkness must pass.  A new day will come.  And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.  Those were the stories that stayed with you.  That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.  But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.  I know now.  Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going.  Because they were holding on to something.”

Frodo asked wearily, “What are we holding onto, Sam?”

Sam replied, “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo … and it’s worth fighting for.”

Churchill would be proud.


Although I wrote this post several years ago, I thought I’d repeat it and add to it because there is so much evil in the world today.  Thank you for reading!

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