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Archive for the ‘Fighting Evil’ Category

I’ve recently been doing an intensive study of Numbers 16 … the story of Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron.

Korah and three of his colleagues … along with 250 community leaders … decide that they don’t want to follow Moses’ leadership anymore.

Why not?

The group approaches Moses and Aaron and says in Numbers 16:3: “You have gone too far!  The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them.  Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

Translation: “There is nothing special about you two leaders.  We are just as holy as you are.  So why are you always telling us what to do?  We’re not going to take it anymore!”

Moses and Aaron were old men.  It’s possible that Korah was much younger and felt he could do a better job at overseeing priestly duties than Aaron could.

But as the story proceeds, it’s obvious that God sides with Moses and Aaron and opposes the attempted coup.

Most church conflicts begin because a group inside the church believes that they know how to run the church better than the official leadership … usually the pastor.

Their attitude is, “We’re more spiritual than the pastor … we’re smarter … we’re more resourceful … we’re more in touch with the congregation … so we should be running the church rather than him!”

Whenever these conflicts arise in churches … and they arise all the time … most people miss the best way to resolve the conflict.

The question is not, “Who is best qualified to lead this church?”

The question is, “Who did God call to lead this church?”

Moses told the coalition in Numbers 16:11: “It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.”  They thought they were rebelling against two human leaders, but Moses says, “No, by rebelling against God’s leaders, you’re really rebelling against the Lord.”

Moses goes on in Numbers 16:28, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea.”  Then he proposes a test to determine who is on God’s side and who is not.

Early in my ministry, I inherited a church board full of wonderful men … all except for Don.

Don wanted to take our church back to the 1950s – even though it was the late 1980s – and he wanted us to reinvent ourselves into a small, Midwestern church … even though we were located in California.

I was trying to take the church forward, while he insisted we go backward.

Don had not been called by God to pastor a church … but he was called by friends to lead a rebellion.

Don had not been formally trained in biblical interpretation or pastoral ministry … but he knew something about politics and power.

Don had not been given the spiritual gifts of leadership or teaching … but he didn’t need those gifts to subvert his pastor.

Don had not been ordained to gospel ministry … but that didn’t matter to him.

Don held secret meetings … listed all my faults, including those of my wife and children … and then demanded that I resign.

The elders of Israel supported Moses and stood by him … and the elders in our church did the same.

Don’s group quickly left the church … started their own church a mile away … and used our church as their mission field.

But a year later, their church folded.

God had called Don to be a dock worker, not a pastor.

And He had called me to be a pastor, not a dock worker.

God had called Moses to lead Israel, not Korah.

And He had called Korah to be a Levite, not the leader of a nation.

Many church conflicts could be resolved if God’s people would take some time to read Scripture … do some reflection … and ask this question:

Who did God call to lead this congregation?

If the answer is Moses … follow him.

If the answer is your pastor … follow him.

But if you follow Korah … or Don … things aren’t going to work out for you … guaranteed.

All you’re going to do is hurt a lot of people … including you and your family.

If your pastor isn’t leading or preaching or pastoring like he could be … then pray for him … and love him … and listen to him … and support him … as long as he follows the Lord.

That’s far better than watching the ground open up and swallow you and your family whole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Imagine that you own a business.  You have ten employees.

Because business hasn’t been going well recently, you have to lay off two workers.

Eight employees are loyal and work hard.  Two have conspired to attack you behind your back and don’t do much of anything.

Your decision is a no-brainer, right?

Now imagine that you’re a board member in a congregation of 200 adults

Ten individuals … meaning five percent of your congregation … have abused, slandered, and attacked your pastor to the point that he has resigned.

As a church leader, what are you going to do about it?

If you follow the New Testament, the decision is simple for you and your fellow board members:

Confront the troublemakers and give them a choice: either repent of your sin or leave the church.

Those who are truly spiritually-oriented will repent.  Those who aren’t will leave the church kicking and screaming … but if you mean business, they will leave.

But how often do board members confront those who pushed out their pastor?

Hardly ever.

Why not?

It could be because board members:

*don’t think the troublemakers did anything wrong.

*are afraid of the troublemakers.

*are friends with the troublemakers.

*are ignorant of the New Testament’s directives on divisive individuals.

*know the New Testament’s directives but choose to ignore them.

*leave the thankless task to an interim pastor.

*reason, “We need all the attendees, donors, and volunteers we can get … even if they are troublemakers.”

*are so exhausted after the pastor’s departure that they don’t even consider confronting anybody.

However … there is a price to be paid for failing to confront the troublemakers, and it’s a high price indeed:

Many of your church’s spiritual, healthy, and valuable people will leave.

Imagine these two scenarios:

Lisa had been away from church for years, but she came back to the Lord because of Pastor Bill.

She rarely missed his sermons … joined a small group … discovered her spiritual gifts and began serving in a ministry … and became a generous giver.

But every Sunday when she comes to church now, she sees five troublemakers sitting together, and she says to herself, “Those are the people who pushed out my pastor.”

If she confronts them, she’s liable to blow her top.  So she stays silent … and simmers … and assumes that nobody ever addressed the troublemakers.

Going to church eventually becomes such an unpleasant experience that she leaves the church for good.

Paul received emails from the troublemakers denouncing Pastor Bill on a regular basis.

At first, the notes made him feel important, but after a few weeks, they upset him and made him feel like a traitor, so he began deleting them without reading them.

But Paul knows the troublemakers were telling twisted lies about Pastor Bill, and he wonders why they seem to be immune from correction.

When it’s time for the church to vote on new board members, two troublemakers are nominated, and Paul feels sick inside.

How can he attend and support a church where the people who attacked and slandered his pastor have been placed into leadership?

So Paul slips out the back door … and never attends that church again.

Dr. Leith Anderson is one of America’s foremost pastors and thinkers.  I had the privilege of taking my last Doctor of Ministry course with him at Fuller Seminary.  In his book Leadership That Works, Anderson writes about the failure of church leaders to discipline church troublemakers:

“The result is that the church keeps the dissenters and loses the happy, healthy people to other churches.  Most healthy Christians have a time limit and a tolerance level for unchristian and unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.”

Do church leaders know that when they ignore divisive behavior they are alienating the very people they need to make their church productive?

If leaders don’t confront the troublemakers, the following things will happen:

*Church morale will plunge.

*Many of the pastor’s supporters will leave.

*Giving will take a dive.

*The church’s heart will be cut out.

*The troublemakers will stay around to cause trouble again.

*The church may never recover.

*God will withhold His blessing until the leaders do what is right.

It’s happening all over America:

When a group attacks their pastor, the troublemakers stay, and many solid Christian people leave.

Doesn’t sound like a good deal, does it?

Then why does it happen so often?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes I just don’t understand God … and maybe it’s a good thing I don’t.

Because if God shared some of His powers with me for a day – a frightening thought – I’d start zapping certain people.

Several politicians blatantly lie to the American people on television?

Zap … one of them has a heart attack on camera.

A Hollywood producer makes a film touting the virtues of perverted sex?

Zap … the cast and crew come down with a mysterious illness, killing half of them.

A board member begins spreading false rumors designed to force his pastor’s resignation?

Zap … he can’t speak for six months.

It’s long been my opinion that if God meted out a little instant divine judgment here and there, far more people would obey His commands … and take Him more seriously.

The Lord certainly did this sort of thing in both Testaments … both to unbelievers and believers:

*When Lot’s wife hesitated to fully obey the Lord, she was buried under an avalanche of salt.

*When Korah and his buddies rebelled against Moses, the earth opened up and they fell to their deaths.

*When Achan stole forbidden plunder from Ai, he was instantly executed.

*When Zechariah failed to believe Gabriel’s announcement of John’s birth, Zechariah was struck dumb until his son was born.

*When Ananias and Sapphira claimed to have given the entire proceeds of their property sale to the Lord – but kept back some income for themselves – God struck them both dead.

*When King Herod Agrippa heard the crowd yell, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man,” Luke writes, “Immediately because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

In Scripture, God doesn’t zap every sinner … or every sin … or else everybody but Jesus would have died.

No, He zaps people on rare occasions … and we don’t know His criteria … but everybody standing nearby goes, “Uh oh, I better do what God says from now on!”

Couldn’t we use just a little bit of that today?

I have a theory that an increasing number of people don’t believe in God because they see little or no evidence of His judgment on sin.

*They see musical celebrities engaging in simulated sex on stage … and getting away with it.

*They watch televangelists distort Scripture and harm people’s lives … and nothing happens.

*They hear about priests who take advantage of young boys … and they’re transferred to other parishes.

So many people in our day keep pushing the envelope … and walking toward degradation … all the while defying God by inwardly saying, “God, if You’re really there, You’ve got to punish that behavior!”

But there’s no punishment … and no zapping … just silence.

So many people conclude, “God must not exist … or if He does, He’s certainly powerless.”

Let’s be honest:

*I don’t mind if God zaps big sins … as long as He lays off my little ones.

*And it’s okay if God zaps people I don’t know … just so He lays off people I do know.

*And I don’t care if God zaps people for specific sins … just so He doesn’t zap me for mine.

*And it’s all right if God zaps unbelievers instantly … just so He gives believers plenty of time to repent.

But then we read 1 Peter 4:17-18:

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'”

Many of us assume that when judgment does break out on our world, God will zap unbelievers first, and partially protect believers.  Certainly Revelation 6-19 lends credence to this argument.

But Peter’s words indicate that when God does shift into “judgment mode,” He may very well start with His own people first … and we’re in no hurry for that to occur.

I heard this statement years ago: “God’s judgment may be slow, but it’s sure.”

For the most part, I agree with that sentiment.  God doesn’t deal with most sins instantly … even though He will deal with them eventually.

But I’m still baffled … and sometimes disappointed … that He doesn’t deal with everyone’s sins more quickly.

Yes, I understand that He’s not willing for any to perish, and for all to come to repentance.

But if He meted out a little justice on television, or took out a few key politicians while caucusing … and the judgments could directly be tied back to Him … wouldn’t more people believe in Him?

Maybe … or maybe not … and that’s why it’s good that I’m not God.

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Tomorrow is Halloween.  I loved Halloween as a kid.  I don’t love it anymore.

Why not?  As I described in my book Church Coup, events occurred on Halloween four years ago that changed the way I view the day forever.

Simply put, in the midst of a church conflict, my family was spiritually attacked on October 31.  I witnessed the attack, along with several others.  It was frightening … custom-designed … and very, very real.

The intent?  To destroy my family and my ministry.

In the book, I chose not to reveal the details of the attack which did not originate from humans, but from the enemy of our souls.

Satan is real.  He hates God the Father …  Jesus Christ … Jesus’ church and followers … and even you.  If the devil and his hordes cannot keep a person from following Jesus, they will seek to neutralize or even eliminate that believer’s impact so that Christ’s kingdom cannot advance through them.

If you’re courageous enough to keep reading, let me share a story that I left out of my book.

__________

Kim and I had seen Satan at work in Silicon Valley nearly twenty years before.  Santa Clara County has a much larger array of agnostics and atheists than almost anywhere in the United States, so it’s a spiritually resistant area.  We were launching a new church in a warehouse located at a busy intersection when our family suddenly began to receive obscene phone calls at home.  An anonymous caller continually left menacing messages taken from a Three Stooges short or a movie.

One time, the caller left a message taken from the soundtrack to the film The Poseidon Adventure.  Gene Hackman plays a minister trying to lead survivors out of a large ship that had capsized.  Ernest Borgnine’s character says to him at one point, “I’ve had just about enough out of you, preacher.”  That very quotation from the lips of Borgnine’s character was left on our machine!  When I consulted with Dr. Ed Murphy, a worldwide expert in spiritual warfare, he surmised that someone had put a curse on our church.

Dr. Murphy writes about this issue in The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare:

“Cursing is not used in the Old Testament with the Western idea of swearing or speaking dirty words.  Cursing in the Old Testament is a power concept meant to release negative spiritual power against the object, person, or place being cursed.  This is true even when God does the cursing.  In fact, most curse expressions in Scripture refer to God’s action or the action of His servants in accordance with His will.  It is God releasing His power or judgment.  That is why I call it negative spirit power even when activated by God.”[1]

Dr. Murphy continues:

“Many believers have been victims of the curses of the Enemy pronounced by the Enemy’s power workers…. Such curses, to be most powerful, are ‘worked up’ by invocations to the spirits and satanic magic.  They are overcome only by the greater power of God.  Sometimes God does not automatically overcome those curses on our behalf, however.  We are to learn the world of spirit power curses and break them ourselves.  Thus the importance of group spiritual warfare praying.”[2]

After our grand opening, our church quickly became the second largest Protestant church in our city, but we constantly sensed there were strong spiritual forces working against us.  When our warehouse church found itself between leases, the owner forced us to move out, and in the process, we lost one-third of our attendees overnight.  It was only then that I discovered that some illicit activities had been occurring at the intersection where our church was located.  The massage parlor diagonally across the intersection from us was the scene of a host of immoral sexual activity, and our immediate area had become a haven for drug dealers.  When our church moved into that warehouse, we were invading Satan’s territory.  No wonder he fought us so hard the whole time we were there!

Our church moved to a high school five miles away and I eventually scheduled a series of messages on controversial issues.  The night before I was scheduled to speak on A Christian View of Homosexuality, all hell broke loose in our home and church.  Without going into detail, the spiritual warfare I experienced before I gave that message was so real that I could almost smell sulfur – and I did give the message.  But I was so attacked the night before that I felt compelled to write a resignation letter because I sensed that my wife and I had become special targets of Satan.  While I never submitted the letter to the board, I resigned a few months later because, for the first and only time in our lives, our marriage had become severely strained due to events at church.

__________

There are several more stories in the book that discuss the spiritual warfare that new church experienced.  It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  While I’ve sensed the influence of Satan at various junctures during my 36-year church career, the occasions I’ve just described represent the two worst attacks I’ve experienced.  Satan and his minions tend to leave pastors and churches alone when the mission is muddled, few people are converted, and the church fails to make inroads into the community.  But when a church penetrates the spiritual Red Zone – to use a football analogy – the evil one begins to target the quarterback (pastor) with blitzes and cheap shots designed to knock him out of the game … all the more reason why the quarterback needs a skilled and determined line to protect him.

This is a good time of year to remember that while Satan is real and powerful … our God is more powerful still.

Jesus gave Paul a mission in Acts 26:17-18.  It’s ours as well: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

Our Lord and Savior told Paul that Satan is real … that he has power … that he wants people to remain in spiritual darkness … that he wants people to wallow in an unforgiven state … but that he has already been defeated at the cross.

But we cannot defeat Satan by fighting each other.  Fellow believers are not the enemy.  The enemy is the enemy.

Let’s unite together and fight him instead.


      [1] Dr. Ed Murphy, Handbook of Spiritual Warfare (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 442.

      [2] Ibid, 444.

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I’ve had it up to here with all the lying.

In fact, it’s getting to the point where I don’t know who to believe anymore.

Allow me to explain.

I’m currently reading a biography of a famous sports figure.  This superstar had an agent who had represented him for 8 years.  When the superstar wondered how hard the agent was working on his behalf, the agent spent an entire day with his client, spreading mounds of relevant documents on the dining room table.  At the end of the evening, the superstar hugged his agent.

Not long afterwards, the superstar fired his agent … and then began to “spread the word that he was an ineffective, immoral, pathetic, snake of a man.”

One by one, nearly all of the agent’s famous clients dropped him.  With his reputation in tatters, the agent’s career was finished.  He eventually lost his home, sold most of his possessions, and contemplated suicide.

All because of a lie.

Lies are powerful things.  For some reason, people are quick to believe bad news about someone …  especially someone in a position of power.

CEOs, executives, and leaders of all types are routinely lied about … and that includes pastors.  You wouldn’t believe the lies that have been told about me … or maybe you would.

But aren’t God’s people to be purveyors of truth?  Isn’t Jesus our Lord the One who said, “The truth shall set you free?”

Yes and yes.

But when a major conflict invades a church, some people start lying.  Peter Steinke, in his book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, writes that when a conflict “regresses to a forceful competition,” then:

“Lying increases, taking many forms – half-truths, withholding information, inflating statistics and bloating claims, fabricating events, releasing publicly that [which] was to be private, double talk, and false attributions.”

But why would any Christian lie?

To get their way.  To win a conflict.  To defeat their opponents.

But isn’t lying wrong for a Christian?

Yes.  The ninth commandment (“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”) stands for all time.  Since God does not lie (Titus 1:2), and 1 Peter 2:22 reminds us that Jesus never lied (“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth”), God’s people are expected to be people of truth – even if the rest of the world lies.

But in all too many cases … when Christians want to win and make somebody else lose … they resort to lying.

I’ll give you an example.  I know a man who pastored a large church.  Some conflict began to surface inside his congregation.  This pastor told me that a woman wrote a letter to everyone in the church stating that the pastor did not believe several essential doctrines of the Christian faith.  The woman’s statement was 100% false, but the pastor ended up resigning … and a Christian leader (whose judgment I trust) told me that this pastor is among the best Christian leaders in his part of the country.

But he never pastored a church again.

While God cannot lie, Satan routinely lies.  In Jesus’ words, the devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  The very phrase “devil” means “slanderer.”  It’s Satan’s nature to lie.

When truth permeates a congregation, God prevails.  But when lying becomes prevalent, Satan prevails.

Let me make a strong statement: when people in a church lie to get rid of their pastor, they are inviting Satan to take control of their church.

Such people no longer trust God because they no longer trust truth.  They can’t push out their pastor unless they lie about him … so they lie … and unfortunately, all too often, the lies work.

Why?  Because Christians are naïve and gullible?

Maybe.  But the main reason that Christians believe lies is because they are unwilling to check and see whether the statements about the pastor are true or false.

Let’s say that I attend First Church and that after a year, I become a member.

One day, I hear a rumor from a friend that the pastor has stolen church funds, and has used those funds to build an expensive cabin in the mountains.

What should I do with that information?

I should not instantly believe the rumor.  Instead, I need to ask some questions:

*I need to ask my friend, “Who did you hear this from?  How reliable is the source?”  I need to be skeptical at this point.  There may be another agenda at work.

*I need to contact both a board member and a staff member and tell them, “I’ve heard this rumor about the pastor.  What light can you shed on this for me?”

*I need to contact the pastor and say, “There’s a rumor going around that you’ve stolen church funds and have used those funds to build a cabin.  Is this true?”

If I just take my friend’s word for it, then my friend controls me.  If my friend leaves the church over the rumor, then I may contemplate leaving.  If my friend jumps on the “push out the pastor” bandwagon, I will be tempted to do the same.

So I need to gather facts from others as well.  Even if my friend seems credible, I need to contact several church leaders – as well as the pastor – to find out if the rumor is true.

Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”

You can’t believe the first thing … or the first person … that you hear.  Why not?

Because you may be believing a lie.

If Satan assigned ten big liars to every church, but every Christian checked out the veracity of the lies before believing anything, the liars would all leave in disgrace.

But if all the liars have to do is float a lie … and it’s instantly believed … then Satan wins, and at least in that church, Jesus temporarily loses.

Seymour Hersh is a famous (liberal) journalist who laments the fact that government officials and journalists in America continually tell lies.  In a recent interview, Hersh said, “The republic’s in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple.”  We live in a culture full of lies, and sometimes it’s hard to know who’s telling the truth.

I don’t like to be lied to, and I will never support any politician – of any party – who lies to me.  Lying may work in the short-term, but it erodes trust over time.  But we almost expect politicians to lie, don’t we?

But God expects that His people will be people of truth … even when there’s a conflict involving a pastor.

Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us that there are seven things that God hates, including “a lying tongue,” “a false witness who pours out lies,” and “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

Did you catch that?  God hates lying and division among His people.  Do we hate lying like He does?

Sometimes I wonder.

Nearly 40 years ago, I knew someone who served on the staff of a church.  From all indications, he seemed to be a good man.

This staff member wanted to get rid of someone in the church that he didn’t like.  Sadly, the staff member resorted to lying to get his way.

When the pastor did some investigating, he called the staff member into his office … asked him some questions … and caught the staff member in a lie.

The pastor said to him, “You know what to do.”

The staff member instantly resigned.

That’s the way we used to handle lies in the church.  There was always a price to pay.

But today?  In all too many cases, when professing Christians lie to remove someone … especially a pastor … from office, nothing happens to the liars.

And in almost every case where an innocent pastor is forced to resign, you can trace the campaign against him back to Christians who lied about their pastor.

If we’re going to advance the kingdom of God in our generation, Jesus’ church needs to be characterized by truth.  We need to adopt a zero tolerance policy about lying … especially about pastors.

And if we catch people lying about pastors … because the consequences of such lies can be catastrophic for the church’s future and the pastor’s career … we’ve got to come down hard on the liars.  They need to repent … even in front of the entire church … if we want God’s blessing.

But if we coddle the liars … and make excuses for them … and let them into key leadership positions … God help us.

Years ago, I decided that I want 5 words to summarize my ministry: HE TOLD US THE TRUTH.

May every follower of Jesus have that same desire.  As 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.”

Not two bodies … one.

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Several weeks ago, I was invited to attend an all-day Doctor of Ministry class at my seminary.

The first half of the class dealt with turning around a church, while the second half focused on conflict resolution.

As I came to understand, turnarounds often require conflict resolution.

Our instructor – a veteran pastor and conflict resolution practitioner – told us that in one church, 14 leaders were involved in sexual immorality.

You read that right: 14.

If there is a God … and if He is holy as Scripture indicates … and if He longs to bless His people … then how could He bless that church?

He couldn’t … and only a process involving individual and corporate repentance and reconciliation could help that group turn things around.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), including pastors, governing leaders, staff members, and average churchgoers.

When we confess our sins to God as individuals, He forgives us every time (1 John 1:9).

But sometimes churches tolerate the sins in their midst, and in those cases, God cannot and will not bless that church until they deal with those sins.

Having been in church ministry for nearly four decades, I’ve seen some sins that churches rarely deal with.  Let me list a few of the ones I’ve witnessed:

First, many churches do not protect their pastor from attacks.

While serving in my third staff position, my pastor was mercilessly assaulted verbally.  The attacks were undeserved, cruel, and personal.

My pastor called to tell me that he was so upset by these attacks that he couldn’t study for his Sunday message.  It was open season on him.

So I asked the deacon chairman if I could attend their next meeting.  I said, “Your pastor is under attack.  If you have a problem with something he’s doing or saying, then tell him yourself.  But if not, you need to protect him from these attacks.”

The deacons voted 5-2 to do something to protect their pastor … and then did nothing.

But the deacons weren’t the only ones responsible.  The malcontents became bold with their complaints and spread them throughout the church.

If just a few of the people who heard the complaints had challenged them … or reported them to the pastor or various board members … or to several of the opinion makers in the church … this whole sorry episode could have been avoided.

My pastor was never the same after he endured the attacks … and the after effects stayed with the church for years.

Just as Israel in the wilderness sinned by complaining against Moses and Aaron, so too thousands of congregations cannot move forward until they admit:

“Lord, forgive us for sinning against our pastor by not protecting him from slander and character assassination.”

Second, many churches tolerate … and even revel … in malicious gossip.

My first pastorate was in a small church in Silicon Valley.  It didn’t take long for me to size up what happened if certain women didn’t like what their pastor did or said.

There were four middle-aged women who had plenty of time on their hands.  The locations of their houses roughly formed an invisible square.

They talked on the phone a lot … and seemed to delight in running down people at every possible opportunity.

For most of my ministry life, I have tried to apply the truths of Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 to gossips:

“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you – for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.”

In other words, since I’ve said unkind things about others, I need to be gracious when others are unkind toward me.

But one woman in particular could be nasty.  She didn’t just talk about other people – she tried to destroy them with her tongue.

All I had to do was listen to the way she talked about others to know how she talked about me.

Since these women were more than twice my age, my wife and I tried to love on them as much as possible.

But church leaders … most of them males … knew how destructive these women were, yet would not speak to them about this issue.

It’s not necessarily a sin to talk about others … but it is a sin to talk about them maliciously.

For that reason, many churches need to admit:

“Lord, forgive us for tolerating malicious gossip in our midst.”

Third, some churches tolerate sexual immorality.

I was once a staff member in a church where sexual immorality was rampant.

Let’s just say that some of the activities at church parties weren’t condoned by Scripture.

When this behavior finally leaked out, I couldn’t believe it … because many of the participants were leaders and teachers … and even people who had led and taught me.

This misbehavior had to be known by many people … but people maintained silence for a long time.

When somebody finally spoke up and told the pastor, he took immediate action … and the perpetrators all left the church.

But how can God bless a church where key leaders are fooling around with impunity?

Some churches need to confess:

“Lord, forgive us for tolerating sexual immorality in our midst.”

Fourth, most churches don’t take Christ’s Great Commission seriously.

If it’s true that only 15% of all churches are growing – and that 85% of churches are stagnating or declining – it’s easy to see why:

Most churches exist only for themselves.

I recently held some conversations with a church in another state.  They claimed they wanted to reach out to unbelievers in their community but refused to make any changes in their worship service.

But if and when guests do visit, they can immediately sense that the service is designed for those who are already there … and that they are excluded by default.

And if they feel that way, they won’t be back.

I honestly believe that most Christians either think there isn’t a hell or that the unbelievers they know aren’t going there.

And since nobody is spiritually lost, let’s just make church for us!

And that’s how most churches act.  They’re stuck in survival mode because they don’t take Matthew 28:18-20 seriously.

But most churches need to admit:

“Lord, forgive us for being apathetic toward lost people … and empower all of us to bring people to Christ.”

Finally, some churches need to deal with painful memories.

I’m currently reading a book by Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander called Extreme Church Makeover.

The subtitle tells it all: “A biblical plan to help your church achieve unity and freedom in Christ.”

The authors state that most churches try to ignore their past, but “if leaders sweep repeated offenses under the rug, they will soon trip over them.”

They observe: “If the leaders bury the painful past and refuse to discuss it, they cut themselves off from God’s blessings for today and tomorrow.”

They go on: “Some of Satan’s favorite deceptions are that darkness is safer than light, that hidden things are better not discussed, and that pain has no permanent resolution.  Misguided leaders see painful church memories as something embarrassing that should be ignored, thus allowing the sores to fester instead of heal.”

Many families have experienced a traumatic event in their past.  They refuse to discuss it because they don’t want to relive the pain.  But those painful memories linger in the minds of sensitive family members.  The family remains quietly or openly fractured until they finally face their past and seek healing … which usually requires some degree of confession and forgiveness.

Church families often behave the same way.

Anderson and Mylander ask:

“Is it really possible that Satan can take advantage of a church corporately because of painful memories?”

They go on: “We believe he can.  It is not the memory itself that gives the enemy an advantage over us, but rather the lack of forgiveness. . . . because refusing corporate forgiveness allows Satan to have access to the church.”

I have only scratched the surface of sins that churches in our day tolerate.  (Read Jesus’ words to the churches in Revelation 2-3 for some eye-opening divine evaluations.)

What are some church sins that you’ve noticed?

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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Have you ever taken a spiritual gifts inventory to discover which gifts God has given you?

Twenty-some years ago, I took the inventory that came with the Network material created by Willow Creek Church.

My primary gift?  Teaching.

My second gift?  Prophecy.

When I took the class “Discovering Your Ministry Identity” at Fuller for the Doctor of Ministry degree, my spiritual gifts inventory produced exactly the same results.

While I’ve always tried to use my teaching gift in love, that prophecy gift makes me seem outspoken, stubborn, and almost obnoxious at times.

I understand that when women feel strong emotions, they usually feel them from the top of their head to the tips of their toes.

That’s how I feel when I see wrongdoing in Jesus’ church.

It doesn’t matter if nobody is listening (or reading), or if I don’t use politically correct terms, or if I need to take a swipe at the behavior of Christian leaders on occasion … I have to speak out.

In fact, I’m not being true to either God or my giftedness if I remain silent.

That’s why I care so much about the involuntary termination of innocent pastors.  In fact, more of us need to speak up and say, “This is wrong and has got to stop.”

Enter Kent Crockett’s book Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd.

While much of Crockett’s book overlaps with my book Church Coup, I love his fresh approach to the subject.

Let me share a few more quotes from his book:

“The devil is unmistakably the instigator of secret plots.  Nowhere in the Bible do we read about God calling for His people to meet secretly and plot the ousting [of] a pastor.  Instead, every instance in the New Testament of plots and secret meetings pertains to ungodly religious leaders who attacked God’s Son and His followers.”

While reading through the Psalms in The Message, I came upon Psalm 64 this morning.  David writes about his enemies:

They keep lists of the traps

they’re secretly set.

They say to each other,

“No one can catch us,

no one can detect our perfect crime.”

The Detective detects the mystery

in the dark of the cellar heart.

My friend Charles Chandler, executive director of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, taught me that when leaders or churchgoers plot to force out their pastor, they will insist on strict confidentiality from the pastor when they inform him of their plans … and that the pastor does not have to comply with their wishes.  As Crockett states, “Satan loves to plot evil schemes under the dark veil of secrecy against God’s messengers …. It’s just too easy for these thugs to concoct stories or exaggerate incidents to discredit the pastor’s ministry and ruin his reputation.”

This paragraph made me both angry and sorrowful:

“The abusers will often approach your friends, trying to persuade them to come over to their side.  They’ll misrepresent the situation, distort the facts, and say, ‘Let us tell you our side of the story.’  If your friend is gullible or has a weak backbone, he or she will cave in to their exploitation, instead of standing up for what’s right.  It’s worth repeating – never underestimate the incredible power of a slanderer to alter people’s thinking.”

I believe that slander is the number one weapon in Satan’s arsenal against pastors.  When half-truths, innuendos, and exaggerations are piled one on top of another, too many Christians choose to believe the “charges” rather than ask, “How do you know these charges are true?” or ask, “What kind of biblical process has been used to uncover this information?”

And the first thing anyone who hears such charges should do is contact the pastor immediately and ask him whether the charges are true.

In his chapter “The Silent Majority,” Crockett laments churchgoers who passively allow their pastor to take a beating without coming to his defense:

“Your supporters understand these antagonists are determined to run you off, and they prefer to stay out of the line of fire when it happens.  When the faction begins persecuting you, the depth of your supporters’ spiritual walk will determine which position they’ll take and which side they’ll choose.”

There are friends from my last ministry who have told me how sorry they are that they did not speak up for me when I was being publicly accused of wrongdoing.  I have never blamed them for remaining silent because it’s rare for Christians to publicly support their pastor when he’s under attack.  But I do believe them when they say that they will never let this happen again.

Unfortunately, too many believers are fooled by the following tactic.  Pastor Mike Johnston stated that he and his wife were friends with a woman for 25 years … and that she pledged loyalty to them … but then:

“I failed to take into account the slander factor, which is the exponential power a phantom allegation proclaimed through an alliance of troublemakers.  These particular pastor abusers banded together and fed her misinformation, which she never challenged.  Since the accusers kept repeating their lies, it convinced her that they must be telling the truth.  Without asking me to respond to their charges, she swallowed the bait, reneged on her promise, and joined their team.  After three months of unreturned phone calls, it became painfully evident our lifelong friend wanted nothing more to do with us.”

Guess what?  The enemy used the same tactic on Jesus, Stephen, and Paul.

I once had a teacher at Biola named Mr. Ebeling.  He was quite a character, but he used to utter the same phrase over and over:

“If Christians would just read their Bibles!”

The enemy’s strategy against pastors is clearly delineated in Scripture … but when he springs his trap, many people take his side and drive out their pastor.

Let’s put a stop to this evil once and for all!

Are you with me?

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a term … but I don’t know how it made its way into my head.

The term is “institutional truth.”  (If you can find a clear definition of the term, please send it to me.)

This term provides a partial explanation as to why some churches end up treating their pastors – and sometimes other employees – so poorly.

To illustrate this idea properly, let me share with you a story that happened more than two decades ago to a pastor I once knew.  (I will use aliases throughout this story.)

Pastor John and his wife were called to Trinity Church, a church that had been declining for some time.  Through John’s preaching and personal charisma, Trinity began to grow at a rapid rate.  In fact, news of Trinity’s growth spread to the church where I was serving, which was several hours away.

One summer, I was attending a Christian conference back east, and when I picked up my rental car, I saw Pastor John and his wife at another rental counter … but all the cars had been rented.  I immediately introduced myself to them and offered to drive them to the conference.

During the two-hour drive to conference headquarters, we became fast friends.

While driving, I casually mentioned my interest in pastoral termination and church conflict.  John and his wife seemed intrigued by some of the ideas that I shared with them.

We saw each other several other times during the conference, and I sensed I had developed an ongoing friendship with this couple.

Not long afterwards, I heard rumblings that all was not well at John’s church.  Some of the pioneers were beginning to complain loudly that they didn’t like John or the way he did things, even though both attendance and giving had significantly improved.  These complaints begin making their way to other churches … including the one that I served as pastor.

One day, I visited our district office, and a secretary told me all about the conflict from her perspective.  Her view was that Pastor John was causing trouble in that church … which she used to attend.  The evidence?

Her friends were upset.

Back at my church, a board member named Harry had a different take on the conflict.  He was good friends with Don – a board member from the “troubled” church – and Don fully supported his pastor.

One night, at a board meeting at Trinity, Pastor John arrived to find the district minister sitting across the table from him.  The district minister had been meeting with Trinity’s board members who all wanted their pastor removed from office.

Someone pushed a letter of termination in front of the pastor’s face.  The letter demanded that Pastor John resign immediately, turn in his keys, clear out his office, and never set foot on the property again.

Pastor John told me later that he stared at the letter for 45 minutes before reluctantly signing it.

However, there is more to the story … because the board waited until Don was away and absent before they staged their coup.

When Don found out what happened – and that the district minister was involved in pushing out his pastor – Don and many of his church friends were extremely upset.  They thought the church was going well!

Over the next several months, I was visited by Pastor John, Don, and Stan, a Trinity member who had moved into our neighborhood.  Stan wanted to find out if there was a connection between the district office and the church office, so he filed a lawsuit to find out the truth.

Oh, my.

I spoke with all the parties involved, trying to understand the conflict better.  (I had no official role except as a pastor interested in resolving the conflict.)

I knew and liked the district minister … and the district’s attorney … and Pastor John … and Don, the board member who didn’t attend that infamous meeting.

I also knew a lot about what happened at that meeting because Don began sending me and his friend Harry official board documents … including the minutes of the meeting where the pastor was terminated.  (And I still have them.)

Both sides had made mistakes, but neither side would admit them … and some information going out about the conflict publicly consisted of outright falsehoods.

I witnessed institutional truth up close and personal, and I did not like what I saw.  Here is what I learned:

First, institutional leaders almost never admit they’ve made any mistakes.  The board at Trinity did wait until Don was absent before removing their pastor … and they did involve the district minister … and they did concoct some deceptive explanations when they made their announcement about the pastor’s departure the following Sunday.

I am not in a position to say that they purposely lied about anything … but I never heard anyone from the district’s side acknowledge that they had committed any errors.

In Scott Peck’s book People of the Lie – a book I’ve read several times – his closing chapter states that government institutions (and he uses the military as an example) never admit that they’ve done anything wrong, even when they’re caught red-handed.  In fact, we’re seeing this principle at work right now in our own government with several scandals that have just been revealed.

Why is this?  Because it is the job of institutional leaders to advance the mission of their organization and defend it at all costs … and if they publicly admit they’ve done something wrong, they’re afraid they’ll lose people’s confidence and (a) donations will take a hit, and (b) they’ll be reprimanded, disciplined, or even removed from office.

But if God is a forgiving God … and His grace covers all our sins … then why can’t Christian leaders admit that they make mistakes?   Doesn’t the gospel apply to leaders as well as non-leaders?

Second, institutional leaders prefer to blame problems on convenient scapegoats.  When Don revealed that the church board had aligned themselves with the district office to push out his pastor, Don became the scapegoat instead.

He was blamed for all kinds of things, and because he held a national office with the denomination, attempts were made to remove him from office.

Most pastors and church leaders lined up behind the district office, which resulted in attempts to discredit Don.

And I got caught in the crossfire, too.

Harry, the board member from my church who was friends with Don, went to the district minister and told him to his face that he never should have been involved in removing his successor.  I told my district minister the same thing, only in a much kinder way.

I wasn’t trying to remove him from office … after all, every leader makes mistakes … but I couldn’t play political games and act like it was all Pastor John’s fault, either.

Pastor John undoubtedly made some errors in judgment as well, especially when he sent a letter to every church in the district insinuating that the district minister was corrupt.  But the district minister was a good man not normally given to playing politics, and I felt that John’s letter went too far.

Third, institutional leaders who do not support their institution 100% are considered subversive.  I could not support the district minister’s actions completely.  Know why?  Because Trinity was the church he had pastored for several decades!

And I believe that it is unethical for a pastor to become involved in removing his successor.

Because I questioned the actions of the district minister, I was branded by some as being disloyal to the district … and some people wrote me off from that moment on.

It’s not that I was disloyal to the district office – it’s that I was more loyal to the truth.

Some top-level leaders felt that since I wasn’t vocally supportive of the district minister, that meant I was standing behind Pastor John instead.

And they especially felt that way when Pastor John quoted from a study I had done about pastors leaving our district.

Since I was becoming persona non grata inside our district, I called the President of our denomination and told him what happened from my perspective.

He told me that I hadn’t done anything wrong … and that he was good friends with Pastor John and felt he was being unfairly blamed for things he didn’t do!

This was the point at which I asked myself:

Must I look the other way and remain silent when I see wrongdoing?

Must I tow the party line and cast blame on people that I think have legitimate complaints?

Must I support an institution completely even when I believe its leaders have done something wrong?

Must I view every conflict through institutional eyes …  or am I allowed to view conflicts through biblical eyes?

In my opinion, I was asked – along with many other pastors and church leaders – to believe in institutional truth … which states:

*Those who lead the institution are always right.

*Those who criticize the institution in any way are always wrong.

*Those who fail to protect and advance the institution will be ignored, slandered, or intimidated.

*While it is never permissible for an individual to criticize the institution, it is permissible for the institution to criticize and even destroy its critics.

What do you think of this idea of “institutional truth?”

How have you seen it play out in your church, denomination, or even your company?

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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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Did you know there are individuals in our churches who seek to destroy pastors?

There is a term for such people: “clergy killers.”

I first heard the phrase used by Dr. Lloyd Rediger in an article promoting his book Clergy Killers which was published in the late 1990s.

The late Dr. Rediger was an ordained Presbyterian minister, a pastoral counselor, a church consultant, and the author of books on clergy burnout and toxic congregations, among others.

In 2011, when I learned that Dr. Rediger lived in the Southwest, I contacted him about the possibility of meeting someday.  However, he told me he couldn’t meet because he was busy working on a film about the clergy killer phenomenon.

The film has now been released, and it’s called Betrayed: The Clergy Killer’s DNA.

My wife and I recently viewed the 90-minute film in its entirety … hitting the pause button along the way to discuss what we had just heard.  (I can be annoying that way.)

The film features unscripted interviews with pastors, psychiatrists, and Christian leaders who seek to expose what they say has been “the best kept secret in the Church.”

And these leaders hail from evangelical, mainline, and Roman Catholic congregations.

Those who are interviewed discuss the motivations of those who attack clergy … our need to label this kind of behavior as “evil” … the viciousness of the attacks … the role of Satan and spiritual warfare … and the heavy cost that clergy killers exact on pastors, their families, and congregations.

In fact, clergy killers consider themselves to be on a mission: to destroy a pastor at all costs … regardless of how much the CK hurts others.

The film not only exposes people who attempt to harm their pastors, but also indicts churchgoers who allow this “emotional terrorism” to happen without doing anything.

I encourage you to order this film and watch it with other believers.  It’s one of the best things you can do to keep your church healthy … and to protect your pastor from unwarranted attacks.

In fact, if you’re in a small group, I encourage you to show the film sometime and discuss it afterwards.

You can order the film from the following website (and they’ll send it right out):

http://www.betrayedthemovie.com

It’s one of the best moves you can make to protect your pastor … and your church … from clergy killers.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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