Archive for the ‘Jim’s Ten Favorite Articles’ Category

Today is the 72nd birthday of America’s greatest living songwriter, Bob Dylan.

One of the measures of Dylan’s brilliance is that many of his greatest songs (like “Up to Me,” “Blind Willie McTell,” “Foot of Pride,” and the incredible “Cross the Green Mountain”) never appeared on any of his official albums.  In fact, I enjoy listening to his unreleased music from The Bootleg Series (1991) or Tell Tale Signs (2008) as much or more than his released songs.  (I’m blessed that both my wife and my daughter-in-law like Dylan’s music.)

In 1963, two boxers met for a match at Dodger Stadium: World Featherweight champion Davey Moore and challenger Sugar Ramos, who knocked Moore out in the tenth round and won by a technical knockout.

After the fight, Moore spoke with reporters, complained of headaches, fell unconscious, was taken to the hospital, and died four days later of brain damage.

Later that year, a young Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Who Killed Davey Moore?”  If you’ve never heard it before, it will definitely make you think.  You’ll find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvLFOCMbHHE

Who was responsible for Moore’s death?  The referee?  The crowd?  The manager?  Gamblers?  Boxing writers?  Ramos?

Each verse of the song is a protest from each of the above six parties … and each verse ends with these words:

“It wasn’t me that made him fall, no, you can’t blame me at all.”

The implication of Dylan’s song is that somebody played a part in Moore’s death.  Dylan doesn’t just indict Ramos … he indicts everybody who had the opportunity to stop the carnage, but didn’t.

Dylan even quotes Ramos as saying, “Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill,’ it was destiny, it was God’s will.”

In other words, let’s blame God for everything!

In the same vein, when a pastor is forced to leave a church, who is responsible for his departure?

After a pastor’s last Sunday, when churchgoers stop their whispering and start speaking more forthrightly, they often blame the pastor completely.  Examples:

“He didn’t seem happy here.  He should have left three years ago.”

“He never should have come here in the first place.  He was the wrong man for the job.”

“He was too well educated for this congregation.  He never spoke on our level.”

And on and on and on …

Maybe every pastor who leaves a church prematurely is 100% to blame … but somehow, I doubt it.

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Sanhedrin called a secret emergency meeting.  In typical fashion, they overreacted to Jesus’ miracle and misinterpreted its meaning.  John 11:47-48 reports their discussion:

“What are we accomplishing?  Here is this man performing many miraculous signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Then Caiaphas, the high priest that year, suggested a solution: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Caiaphas nominated Jesus to be Judah’s scapegoat … to blame the Roman-Jewish troubles completely on Him … and then none of the Sanhedrin would have to claim responsibility for any of their nation’s current problems.

To paraphrase Dylan’s song: “Who Killed Jesus Christ?”  We can identify many possible culprits:

*The traitor among the Twelve.

*The politician Pilate who let the mob have their way.

*Every person in the crowd who cried out for Jesus’ death … and every person who failed to call for His release.

*The Roman soldiers who arrested Jesus in Gethsemane.

*The disciples who deserted their Master when He needed them the most.

*The Sanhedrin which violated its own rules because they hated Jesus so much.

*The devil who was pulling strings behind the scenes … as the film The Passion of the Christ so clearly delineates.

So who is to blame when a pastor leaves?

Let’s admit that there are times when a pastor’s personal misconduct disqualifies him from church ministry.  Maybe the pastor was discovered to be a persistent gambler … or an unrepentant womanizer … or a hopeless drug addict.  According to Alan Klaas, personal pastoral misconduct accounts for 7% of all forced terminations.

I would hope that even if a pastor was guilty of immoral behavior, those around him would still try and restore him spiritually and even vocationally rather than try and destroy him.

But Klaas says that 45% of the time, a minority faction causes a pastor to leave involuntarily.  Notice: it’s 6 1/2 times more likely that a small group of vocal churchgoers pushes out a pastor than that their pastor sinned his way out of the church.

In a typical case of forced termination, the following parties may share some responsibility for the pastor’s ouster:

*The chairman who sided with his board buddies rather than back his pastor.

*The staff member who rebelled against his pastor’s directives and aligned himself with board members.

*Churchgoers who knew the identities of plotting members but never passed on that information to their pastor.

*The district minister who took the side of disgruntled members rather than a pastor called by God.

*Regular attendees who loudly criticized everything their pastor said and did rather than quietly leave the church.

*Christians who blamed every church problem on the pastor rather than defending him or supporting him.

Who pushed the pastor out?

Maybe the board chairman helped … as did a staff member … along with various churchgoers … and the district minister … and chronic critics … and some ordinary members.

This is by far the most common scenario … much more likely than blaming the pastor for everything.

Bob Dylan was right.  When Davey Moore died, there was plenty of shared responsibility to go around.

And when most pastors leave a church unwillingly, it’s rarely their fault completely.  (When the church did well, was he alone entitled to all the accolades?)

Rather than taking the political perspective of the Sanhedrin (which tried to blame everything on one person), let’s adopt the more mature viewpoint of that 22-year-old folksinger from Minnesota (who held multiple parties responsible for a tragedy) and ask:

“How did I contribute to the pastor’s departure … and how can I make things right?”

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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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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A wise old pastor once warned me to avoid “the kiss of death.”

The kiss of death for a pastor isn’t administered by a woman … or a governing board … or a government agency.

No, the kiss of death occurs when a pastor resigns his position without anywhere else to go … because when churches are looking for a pastor, they prefer to call one who is already serving in a church rather than one who is in secular work or unemployed.

I nearly experienced the kiss of death in my second pastorate.

The church I served as pastor was the result of a merger between two churches … and I had led one of those churches.

The church board and I went on a retreat in the mountains.  We evaluated the entire ministry, including ways to improve everything we did.

This included the music ministry.

The board agreed to allow a band of young men to play for our services on Sunday mornings and evenings.

(The mother of the board chairman liked the band so much that when she died, she requested they play at her memorial service.)

However, when we made this change, I warned the board in advance that some people weren’t going to like it.

And I was right.

One middle-aged couple in particular became incensed about the music.  The wife refused to come to church.  Her husband eventually stayed home as well.

One year later, this antagonist contacted my district minister to complain about me.  By this time, he had gathered together a small but vocal contingent of people who viewed me as the antichrist.

One night, my district minister and I had a conversation in which he recommended that I resign to keep the peace in the church.

However, the entire board had told me that if I resigned, they would all resign along with me … leaving the church in the hands of the antagonists … who didn’t have a collective clue as to how to run a church.

Fortunately, the board stood with me … but the district leadership wilted.

For years, this scenario has played itself out in thousands of churches:

*The district leaders of a denomination hold a training time for pastors.

*The pastors are encouraged to institute changes in their churches so they will grow numerically.

*The changes always involve taking risks … and such risk-taking always angers some attendees.

*Those attendees who are angry about the changes don’t speak directly with their pastor about their feelings.

*Instead, they go around the pastor and form a faction inside the church designed to oust the pastor … threatening to boycott services and withhold giving unless their demands are met.

*In the process, someone in their group calls the district minister and complains to him about the pastor, intimating that the pastor is so divisive and/or ineffective that he should be removed from office.

*The district minister listens to the complainers, ends up taking their side, and then recommends that the pastor resign to keep peace in the church.

That’s exactly what happened to me 25 years ago.

Here’s the problem, however.  For any church to grow:

*The pastor needs to assume leadership.

*Leadership involves taking risks.

*Risk-taking always provokes change.

*Change always provokes anxiety and even anger.

*And those reactions are always aimed at the leader … in this case, the pastor.

*If the pastor receives support from the church’s governing board, he will survive and the church has the best chance for success.

*The pastor also needs support from his “superior,” whether that’s a district minister or a bishop.

*But if either the board or the district collapses on the pastor, he may be forced to resign.

I’ve recently been reading an insightful and motivating book on denominational leadership at the district level.

It’s called Hit the Bullseye by former denominational executive Paul Borden.

Borden says that district leaders need to become coaches for pastors, who need to become better leaders in their churches.

And if this occurs, Borden writes about district leadership:

“We are also willing to confront those congregations and congregational leaders (the emotional terrorists) who for years have chewed up pastors and spit them out.  We have confronted both pastors and congregations even though it has cost the region the loss of financial support.”

That last statement takes great courage to implement.  One of the reasons district leaders side with a church over against their pastor is to keep donations to the district flowing.

Borden continues:

“Finally, we are adamant about not letting the region be used to promote congregational triangulation, which allows laity to condemn pastors anonymously.  If any lay leaders call the region to complain about their pastor those leaders are told they must first confront their pastor before we will become involved in offering assistance, if that is required.”

Borden goes on to say that “congregational transformation will create tremendous conflict in dysfunctional, dying churches” and that “the worst thing that can happen in the midst of such conflict is mediation, since the conflict is more about the transfer of power and who will lead the congregation, than individuals or groups not being able to get along.”

Let me tell you one reason why so many churches aren’t growing and so many pastors are ineffective.

It’s because pastors instinctively know that for a church to grow, they’ll have to take risks … and if they do, they may very well end up standing alone without any support … because many Christian leaders will not stand up to emotional terrorism.

Will you?

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Bullying has become a huge problem in our country.

Parents bully children.  Brothers bully sisters.  Bosses bully employees.  Teachers bully students … and students bully teachers.

Have you seen the video of the middle schoolers in New York state who bullied a 68-year-old bus monitor as she rode home on the school bus?  Disgraceful.

Churches have bullies, too.  And there’s a sense in which church bullies are the worst of all because we don’t expect that kind of behavior in church.

How can one detect a church bully?

A bully demeans others by picking on weaknesses and calling people names and making demands.  If you don’t do what a bully wants, he or she threatens to hurt you in some fashion.

I once knew a bully who tried to intimidate me in board meetings.  He went right after me every chance he could.  He wanted power and sensed that I was slowly taking it from him.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to take him on because others did that for me … but it could have gotten nasty.

Church bullies often get their way because they sense that no one has the guts to take them on.  They know that Christians value “being nice” and that if they aren’t nice, they can get their way more often.

Believe me, it works.

This is why Christians – especially leaders – have to learn to face down the bullies.

It’s biblical.

In 3 John 9-10, John the apostle writes:

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So if I come, I will attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.”

Diotrephes was a church bully.

He “loves to be first” … he wanted to control the decision making.

He “will have nothing to do with us” … he didn’t recognize John’s authority as an apostle.

He was guilty of “gossiping maliciously about us” … attacking John verbally, probably disparaging his apostolic credentials.

He “refuses to welcome the brothers” … visiting leaders and teachers sent by John.

He “stops those who want to do so” and “puts them out of the church” … excommunicating John’s representatives.

Wow!  This guy really had issues.

Diotrephes’ misbehavior was threatening the very existence of that church.  Can you imagine challenging the authority of John, the Apostle of Love?

How did this Apostle of Love propose to deal with this church bully?

“So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing …”

John was going to face him down … maybe with the help of church leaders, or the congregation itself … but John was going to meet Diotrephes at high noon.

He was going to confront him … maybe publicly, maybe privately … but he was going to stop the bullying.

John may have been hoping that this warning would cause Diotrepehes to run for the hills.  If we had 4 John, maybe we’d find out what happened.  (We’ll have to wait for heaven for the thrilling conclusion.)

Sometimes a pastor has to face down a bully.

I once served in a church where an ex-policeman was griping about everything.  He griped about the music.  He griped about the youth.  He griped about the neighbors.

Part of me felt sorry for him because he was no longer a policeman … but he had morphed into the church police.

Because nobody dealt with him, he became bolder and bolder with his griping.  This went on for several years.

Finally, a new pastor came, and he tried to work with this man, but nothing worked … and he couldn’t tolerate the behavior any longer.

He finally ordered the man to leave the church … and he left.

He faced down the church bully … and the church was better off for it.

Last year, I had breakfast with an ex-pastor who told me what happened at his former church.

There were people in the church who were terrorizing the pastor, and the church board didn’t know what to do to stop things.

Wisely, the pastor hired a consultant, who met with the board and told them what to do:

You have to go and face down the bullies.

The board members just looked at each other.  The bullies were their friends.

The consultant barked, “Now!”

The board members got in their cars and did what they should have done months before.

Stephen Brown is one of my favorite Christian communicators.  He’s half-crazy, but that just adds to his appeal in my book.

Anyway, in his classic book No More Mr. Nice Guy!, he tells a story about a pastor who was being bullied by a parishoner … and the pastor couldn’t take it anymore.  The man gave a large amount of money to the church and had many relatives in positions of leadership.  Brown’s friend believed that he would divide the church if he confronted him.  Brown told his pastor friend:

“Invite this man to your study and say, ‘I have had it up to my ears with you.  Before this meeting is over, one of us is going to resign.’  Then tell him all the things he has been doing to hurt the church.  Tell him, ‘This is not your church or my church, this is God’s church, and He will not allow you to act in this manner anymore.’  Then tell him that you are God’s agent to make sure that he doesn’t.”

In some cases, this tactic might backfire.  In the case of Brown’s friend, it worked.  His pastor friend called two days later and said:

“Steve, you wouldn’t believe what happened.  The church member who has been giving the church all the trouble asked if I would forgive him.  He said that he knew he had a problem and asked for my help.  Not only that, he said that if I would give him another chance he would be different.  Not only that, his two brothers came in and thanked me for what I did, and said that I was the first pastor in twenty years who had had the courage to do what needed doing.”

I can’t guarantee this tactic will work in every case, but if you’ve tried everything else, it’s certainly worth a try.

Because of church bullies, I’ve endured sleepless nights … worried myself sick … threatened to quit church ministry … and turned myself into an emotional wreck, all because nobody – including me – would face down the bullies.

It’s time we started doing just that.

Go … now!

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Ever make excuses for those who misbehave?

I do – all too often.

It’s not something I readily do with strangers.  If someone cuts me off in traffic, I’m liable to hurl some anger in the driver’s direction.  There’s no excuse for being uncivil – and downright dangerous – in my driving world.

But if someone I know and care about wrongs me, I tend to search for ways to excuse their behavior.

“I’ve called her twice, but she hasn’t called me back.  She must be busy.”

“He promised to be here by 4 but hasn’t arrived yet.  It’s probably due to traffic.”

“He borrowed my tools and said he’d get them back to me by now.  He’s probably forgotten.”

Sometimes making excuses for others might be termed sensitivity.  We put ourselves in someone’s place and imagine how life might be if we were them.  We certainly understand what it’s like to be so busy that we fail to return calls or return items that people have loaned us.

But sometimes, we make excuses for people when we shouldn’t … because we’re unwilling to utter one simple phrase:

“What they did or said to me was wrong.”

And we might add, “And there’s no excuse for their behavior.”

When I was 16, my first job was working at a butcher shop.  I came in for a couple hours every day and boned meat, cutting myself repeatedly with sharp knives.

I was supposed to arrive at work by 4:00 pm sharp, but sometimes I arrived a minute or two late.  When I tried to explain why I wasn’t there on time, my boss would say, “I don’t want excuses.  I want reasons.”

I had plenty of excuses … but few good reasons why I was late.

We all have plenty of excuses for our own misbehavior, don’t we?

“I’m grouchy today because I stayed up late last night.”

“I didn’t go to the bank because there’s too much going on in my head right now.”

“I swore at her because she made me mad.”

“I haven’t accomplished anything this week because I can’t get motivated.”

Comedian Steve Martin used to say there were two words that would get you out of any predicament:

“I forgot.”

When you’re 16, there might be excuses for using excuses, but when you’re 31 or 47 or 58, it rings hollow.

We have to learn to say:

“You’re right.  I told you I’d pick up the clothes at the cleaners and I didn’t.  I’ll go do that right now.”

“I messed up and shouldn’t have said what I said.  Will you forgive me?”

“Please accept my apologies for ignoring you yesterday.  It was wrong of me to do that.”

“I feel like offering you an excuse right now, but the truth is that I blew it.  Let me make it up to you.”

Whenever we mess up, the healthy way to handle things is to admit it in an appropriate fashion … without taking too much responsibility (“It’s all MY fault!”) or denying any responsibility (“He did it.  It’s all HIS fault!”)

And hopefully, when we sincerely apologize for our mistakes, those we have hurt will grant us forgiveness.

And we need to use the same principle when others make mistakes … because making excuses for the behavior of others is not the way of Jesus.

In Luke 17:3, Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”

But most of us read the verse like this: “If your brother sins, excuse him.”

Why?  Because we’d rather make an excuse for someone’s behavior than rebuke or confront them.

We explain away what they did so that we don’t have to do or say something uncomfortable that might risk the relationship.

Our culture has mastered this art of excusing people:

“He acts like that because he’s the middle child.”  (That might explain a few things, but every misbehavior?)

“She throws things because she was raised by her aunt.”  (Does that mean she’s going to throw things for the rest of her life?)

“He yells at people because he can’t help himself.”  (He can’t help anybody if he keeps yelling like that.)

“She overspends to compensate for her sad life.”  (But plenty of sad people don’t overspend.)

In fact, every biblical command (love your neighbor as yourself … do not judge … pray without ceasing … do not repay anyone evil for evil) implies that the hearer has both the ability and the responsiblity to carry out the command.

Would God ask us to do what we can’t do?

Every person comes to a point in their life when they’re either going to remain a child or grow toward adulthood.

They key is to take responsibility whenever you mess up … and to hold others accountable whenever they mess up.

Christians need to master the art of the apology (“I was wrong – will you forgive me?”) as well as the art of holding others accountable (“I love you, but you crossed a line when you said that”).

And when people admit they’ve done wrong, it’s not our job to excuse them, but to forgive them.

Let me share a relational secret with you.  When someone you care about misbehaves … or hurts you with a comment … or does something you believe is wrong … address it right then and there.

Don’t wait three months, work up your courage, and then address it.  Deal with it in the moment … or try and let it go.

In Matthew 16, when Peter tried to warn Jesus not to go to the cross, Jesus didn’t wait a year and then say to Peter, “You know, Peter, you really hurt me with that remark about the cross.”  Instead, Jesus dealt with it immediately.

Jesus did this consistently throughout His ministry.

Think about it: if we addressed people’s misbehavior immediately, would we proceed to excuse it later on?

What are your thoughts about this topic?

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My pastor was under attack.

He couldn’t sleep.  He couldn’t study.  His personality turned inward.

He was a wreck.


Years ago, in my third church staff position, a small group of vocal members began to criticize the church’s pastor … who was also my supervisor.

Their main claim?  That he didn’t preach often enough, an indication that he was lazy.

35 years ago, many Protestant churches had:

*Sunday School

*Sunday morning worship

*Sunday evening service (with youth group meetings before or after)

*Wednesday night prayer meeting

That’s a lot of teaching time to fill!

My pastor’s main gift was shepherding – not teaching – so he utilized a team of teachers on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.  I was happy with the arrangement because I enjoyed hearing others speak … and because I got to speak once a month as well.

I can’t recall what set off the grumbling, but many of us started feeling heightened anxiety around the church campus.  One night, someone caught me in the parking lot and told me that 10% of the church was going to leave if the pastor didn’t start preaching on Sunday nights.

Now what would you do with that information?

Some Christians would keep it to themselves.

Some would tell family and friends from the church.

Some would throw in their lot with the 10%.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I had a friend in the church – a man who went on to become an evangelist – and he and I discussed the situation.  We decided to visit the most influential man in the church … a layman known for his teaching, integrity, and straight talk.

My friend and I sat in his living room and said something like this, “There are people in this church who are attacking the pastor.  They are threatening to leave if he doesn’t start preaching on Sunday nights.  The pastor is devastated by this news and seems paralyzed to do anything about the situation.  What can we do to help him?”

Looking back, I don’t know whether or not this man was supportive of the pastor, but we had to take the risk.

He told us, “Gentlemen, when Paul talked about troublemakers in the church, he named names.  Who are these people?”

Wait a minute.  If we mention the names, isn’t that gossip?  Aren’t we tattling?  Couldn’t we get in trouble if we said too much about what was happening?

And some of those people were our friends.  How could we single out friends like that?

But this man was right.  Paul did name names – along with John, the apostle of love:

Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.  1 Timothy 1:19-20

Their teaching will spread like gangrene.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth.  They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.  2 Timothy 2:17-18

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm.  The Lord will repay him for what he has done.  You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.  2 Timothy 4:14-15

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.  3 John 9-10

With biblical precedent upholding us, my friend and I divulged the names of the troublemakers we knew about – especially the ringleaders.

I learned an important lesson that day.  Sometimes church powerbrokers are successful in making threats and demands because nobody has the courage to identify them by name.

Think about this:

Last night, my wife and I watched a recently-produced film on Solomon’s life.  The film opens with King David near death – but he hadn’t yet chosen his successor.

So one of David’s sons engaged in a pre-emptive attempt to be anointed as king –  in league with David’s top general.

Their names?  Adonijah and Joab.

Not “one of David’s sons” – but Adonijah.

Not “a high-ranking military officer” – but Joab.

They were both executed for committing treason against David’s choice for king … Solomon.

One of Jesus’ 12 disciples betrayed him.

His name?  Judas from Kerioth.

Not just “one of the Twelve” – but Judas.

Before anyone could finger him, Judas took his own life.

Paul wrote in Romans 16:17:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.

If you’re in a church, and you hear that someone is plotting against your pastor … do something about it.

Warn the pastor.  If you sense the board is supportive, talk to the board member you know and trust best.

Believe me, the pastor and/or board may have no idea of any division inside the ranks.  Your information may give them time to head off an attack before it ever takes place … or give them a key piece of information they lacked.

If you know that an individual or a group is planning on “going after” your pastor, speak to someone in authority – even if the plotters are your friends.

Because if you don’t, your church will eventually experience months of tension, division, and ugliness.  Friends will separate, donations will plunge, and people will leave.

If you know something, tell somebody!

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sinsJames 4:17

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There’s an old adage: “Never follow someone successful.”

It was hard for Steve Young to follow Joe Montana, or for Steven Tyler to follow Simon Cowell, or for Robert California to follow Michael Scott.  (I’m still lamenting that move.)

And it’s hard for some pastors to follow a predecessor as well.

Pastors are affected by their predecessors because (a) the way the previous pastor left the church, and (b) the shape in which he left it directly impacts the current pastor’s success – at least for the first few years.

When I arrived at my first church, I was their fourth pastor in five years.  While I met the first and second pastors, I never met my immediate predecessor.  Evidently he was only at the church for a year and then was unceremonially dismissed.  (I heard it had something to do with the way he acted at a bowling alley one night.)

For the next 16 1/2 years, I didn’t have to deal with any predecessors.

But a few years later, I was called to a church and served on staff right alongside their pastor for a while … and then he retired and became my predecessor.

What was my responsibility toward him?

I believe my job was to express gratitude publicly for his ministry, defend him if anyone criticized him, and make sure we remained on good terms … although as the church turned over, fewer people knew who he was.

What was his responsibility toward me?

I believe his job was to pray for me, support my ministry publicly, and to send any critics back to me without listening to their complaints.

If a pastor’s ministry is a failure, would that make his predecessor sad?

If a pastor’s ministry is successful, would that make his predecessor joyful?

The answer to both questions is, “It all depends.”

When Saul knew that David would succeed him as Israel’s king, he became jealous and tried to assassinate David several times.

But the biblical pattern is for a predecessor to support his successor.  Think Moses and Joshua, Eli and Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, and John the Baptist and Jesus.  (In fact, John said about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”)

Why?  Because the kingdom matters more than its personalities.  Advancing God’s kingdom is everything.

Back in the late 1970s, the king of late-night talk shows, Johnny Carson, began taking Monday nights off.  (He had done 5 90-minute Tonight shows for years and was worn out, even when the show went to its current 60-minute length.)

Johnny invited a variety of guest hosts on Monday nights – David Brenner, Joan Rivers, and John Denver among them.

If you were Johnny Carson, would you want those hosts to succeed or fail?

The audience responded favorably to the guest hosts, which might have angered some Hollywood icons … but Johnny was thrilled.  Why?

In an interview, Johnny said, “When the show does well, I do well, and it makes me look good.”

Think about that long and hard.

Now let’s come back to pastors and their predecessors.

Let’s imagine you’ve been a pastor for 25 years.  You’re worn out.  You leave your church behind and do something else.

A new pastor eventually succeeds you.  Do you want him to succeed or fail?

If he succeeds, the kingdom looks good and advances.

If he fails, the kingdom doesn’t look as good and stalls.

Which would you prefer?

Wouldn’t a godly man want his successor to succeed rather than fail?

And wouldn’t he do everything he could to insure his success?

Then why do so many pastors behave in the opposite fashion?

Not long ago, I spoke to a Christian counselor who deals with wounded pastors for a living.

He told me that too many pastors undermine their successors.

They listen to the criticisms of former parishoners, giving their complaints legitimacy.

They agree with the criticisms of staff members, emboldening them to resist their current pastor.

They criticize their successor themselves, forcing people to choose between them.

While the ex-pastor may never witness the division that his interference causes, his involvement may negate much of the good that he did at that church – but few churchgoers have the courage to say, “Knock it off and go away.”

You might be wondering, “Is this really an issue?”

Yes … and I have the scars to prove it.

What do you think about this issue?

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I shared a meal recently with a widely-respected Christian leader.

He told me why he eventually quit supervising pastors for a living.

In his view, too many pastors are stupid, and “you can’t fix stupid.”

To my knowledge, there aren’t any studies out there as to how many pastors are wise and how many aren’t.  My guess is that the vast majority of pastors are spiritually mature and possess great wisdom.

But my friend’s comments made me wonder:

What are the qualities of a stupid pastor?

First, stupid pastors think they know it all.

They come into a church with the attitude: “I know everything about the Bible and the gospel and church growth, so I don’t need to learn anything from anyone in this church.”

They don’t want to learn about a church’s uniqueness, or its past, or its community, or its people.

In fact, they purposely choose to ignore all of that.

They could learn from Christian authors, or neighborhood studies, or ministry mentors, or church consultants, but they don’t need anyone else’s help.  They already know what to do … and then proceed to show that they know nothing at all.

That’s stupid.

Second, stupid pastors do ministry by themselves.

They don’t believe that anyone in the church can do ministry better than they can.

They teach better than anyone.  They lead better.  They pastor better.  They cook better, they watch nursery kids better, they work with youth better.  Their motto is: “Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you.”

Because they think they’re superior to others, they gradually come to control everything in the church.

In the process, they devalue the biblical role of spiritual gifts and act like they’re the entire church body … or at least, its head.

That’s stupid.

Third, stupid pastors are insensitive.

They say the wrong thing to the wrong party at the wrong time – but they think they’re being authoritative or clever or witty when they’re really being obnoxious.

And the problem is … they have no idea how they come across … and they don’t care.

Rather than building bridges between people, they construct walls … and they’re surprised when those they’ve offended leave the church.

That’s stupid.

Fourth, stupid pastors surround themselves with equally stupid people.

Here is what I read from Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 in The Message this morning:

Here’s a piece of bad business I’ve seen on this earth,

An error that can be blamed on whoever is in charge:

Immaturity is given a place of prominence,

While maturity is made to take a back seat.

I’ve seen unproven upstarts riding in style,

While experienced veterans are put out to pasture.

It’s one thing for a pastor to choose his own ministry team.  It’s another for him to ignore the wisdom of spiritually mature individuals because he’d prefer to serve with hangers-on who need him to feel valuable.

That’s stupid.

Fifth, stupid pastors attempt to superimpose a model onto their current church.

A wise pastor comes to a church, and studies its history, and its leadership, and its community.

He solicits ideas about a church’s future from its people and leaders.

But too many pastors come to a church, ignore its uniqueness, put their head down, and try to turn that church into another church they know about.

A pastor may as well try turning his wife into a former girlfriend.  Ain’t gonna work.

It’s good to have church models, but a pastor needs to spend a long time studying his current church before he knows which model might work best.

But too many pastors think they know best … and try and turn First Church into North Point West or Saddleback North.

That’s stupid.

I’m just getting warmed up, but I’d like to hear from you.

What do you think stupid pastors are like?

And what should churches do with them?

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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The following post is meant to be interactive.  Along the way, I have included some questions that I’d like to have you answer for your own benefit.  Compare your responses to what actually happened in the story.  Thanks!

Yesterday I read a true story about a church that faced a terrible situation.  The story comes from church consultant Peter Steinke’s book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times.  I do not wish for anyone to be upset by this story, so please know ahead of time that the story turns out favorably for all.

Here’s what happened:

A young girl in a church accused her pastor of molestation.  Two leaders, Tom and Diane, met privately with the pastor to notify him of the charge.  By state law, they had to report the charge to a governmental agency.

The pastor shook his head and quietly responded, “I have never touched her.  Never.”

1.  Which option would you recommend for the pastor if you were Tom or Diane?

  • Stay and fight the charge.
  • Take a leave of absence.
  • Resign immediately.
  • Hire an attorney.

Which option did you select?

Tom and Diane recommended that the pastor take a leave of absence.

However, the pastor eventually decided against that option because he felt it indicated guilt.  He told the leaders, “I need to clear my name, but I don’t want to drag the church through this for months.”

Tom and Diane knew they had to inform the congregation of the charge, and when they did, a group of members thought the pastor should resign.  The leaders of the church were warned that most cases like this one are based in fact.

2.  What should the leaders do now?

  • Insist that the pastor stay and fight.
  • Encourage him to take a leave of absence.
  • Recommend that the pastor resign.
  • Let the process play itself out.

Which option did you select?

The leaders decided to let the process of justice go forward and stand behind their pastor until the legal system made the next move.

The leaders also decided that they would meet every week for prayer followed by a sharing time where they would openly discuss what they were thinking.

Tom shared that he believed the pastor was innocent.

Diane wondered how stable the girl was based upon the fact that her parents had gone through a terrible divorce two years earlier but had now jointly hired a lawyer.

Another admitted that she was being pressured by other members to withdraw her support for the pastor.

The pastor told the leaders that he would hold no resentment if anyone felt compelled to withdraw their support from him.

One leader chose to resign.

Marie, another leader, stood solidly behind the pastor because she had been falsely accused of something at her own workplace.

A few anxious leaders turned against the pastor and condemned him.

3.  If you attended those weekly meetings, what would you as a leader do now?

  • Insist the pastor stay and fight.
  • Encourage him to take a leave of absence.
  • Recommend that he resign.
  • Let the justice process run its course.

Which option would you select at this point?

The leaders chose the last option once again.

Fourteen weeks later, the charges against the pastor were suddenly dropped.

4.  What should Tom and Diane do now?

  • Verbally berate every person who doubted the pastor’s innocence.
  • Encourage all the doubters to return to the church.
  • Shame those who didn’t stand with the pastor.
  • Just turn the page and move on.

Which option did the leaders select?

They decided to personally contact anyone who doubted the pastor (or the leaders) and welcome them to return to the church – no questions asked.

5.  What did the leaders of this church do that was so unique?

  • They stood behind their pastor whether he was innocent or guilty.
  • They ignored almost everything the congregation told them.
  • They waited for the truth to come out before making a judgment.
  • They took the easy way out.

Which option did you go with?

The third statement best reflects the mindset of this church’s leaders: they chose to let the justice system take its course before deciding the pastor’s future.

According to Steinke, many people facing these conditions become what psychologists call “cognitive misers.”  They instinctively draw either/or conclusions: either the pastor is innocent or he’s guilty.  Either the pastor is good or he is bad.

But the leaders of this church are to be commended for not letting anxiety make their decision for them.  When certain people were calling for the pastor’s resignation – and even staying home from services until he left – the leaders stuck to their original decision and let the legal system do its work.

The pastor’s job, career, and reputation were all saved.

The church’s reputation and future were preserved.

The decision of the leaders was vindicated.

Why?  Because the leaders chose to make their decision based on truth rather than (a) unity, (b) politics, (c) groupthink, or (d) anxiety.

Let me quote Steinke on this issue fully:

“Nowhere in the Bible is tranquillity preferred to truth or harmony to justice.  Certainly reconciliation is the goal of the gospel, yet seldom is reconciliation an immediate result.  If people believe the Holy Spirit is directing the congregation into the truth, wouldn’t this alone encourage Christians who have differing notions to grapple with issues respectfully, lovingly, and responsively?  If potent issues are avoided because they might divide the community, what type of witness is the congregation to the pursuit of truth?”

In other words, the church of Jesus Christ does not crucify its leaders just because someone makes an accusation against them.

Think with me: if unity is more important than truth, then Jesus deserved to be crucified, didn’t He?

The accusations against Jesus caused great distress for Pilate, resulting in turmoil for his wife and animosity between Pilate and the Passover mob.

The Jewish authorities had to resort to loud and vociferous accusations to force Pilate to act.

The women around the cross wept uncontrollably.

The disciples of Jesus all ran off and deserted Him in His hour of need (except John).

Jesus’ countrymen engaged in mocking and taunting while witnessing His execution.

Who caused Pilate, the Jewish authorities, the women, the disciples, and the Jewish people to become angry and upset and depressed?

It was JESUS!  And since He disrupted the unity of His nation, He needed to go, right?

This is the prevailing view among many denominational leaders today.  If a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, and some people in the church become upset, then the pastor is usually advised to resign to preserve church unity, even before people fully know the truth – and even if the pastor is totally innocent.

In fact, there are forces at work in such situations that don’t want the truth to come out.

That is … if unity is more important than truth.

But if the charges against Jesus – blasphemy against the Jewish law and sedition against the Roman law – were false and trumped up, then Jesus should have gone free even if His release caused disunity in Jerusalem.

The point of Steinke’s story is that leaders – including pastors – need to remain calm during turbulent times in a church.  There are always anxious people who push the leaders to overreact to relieve them of their own anxiety.

If Pilate hadn’t overreacted … if the mob hadn’t … if Jesus’ disciples hadn’t … would Jesus still have been crucified?

Divinely speaking: yes.  It was the only way He could pay for our sins.

Humanly speaking: no.  What a travesty of justice!

20 centuries later, Jesus’ followers can do a better job of handling nightmarish accusations against pastors.

Instead of becoming anxious, they can pray for a calm and peaceful spirit.

Instead of making quick decisions, they can make deliberate ones.

Instead of aiming for destruction, they can aim for redemption.

Instead of holding up unity as the church’s primary value, truth should be viewed that way.

If the pastor in this story had been guilty of a crime, then the leaders would have had to agree on a different course of action.  Sadly, these things do happen in our day, even in churches.

But in this case, the leaders stood strong and did not let the anxiety of others – or their own – determine the destiny of their pastor and church.

They opted for truth instead, and the truth will set you – and everyone else – free.

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There is a problem in Christian churches that I keep hearing about.  It’s not an issue that most of us think about very often, if at all, but it’s one that demands attention if the kingdom of God is to advance in our day.

How loyal should staff members be to the senior/lead pastor?

Throughout my more than three decades in church ministry, I’ve viewed this issue from both sides.

As a staff member, I did not always agree with the senior pastor, and I served under five of them.  Sometimes I didn’t like what he said from the pulpit.  Other times I disagreed with his private assessment of the direction the church needed to go.  One pastor I worked with worked way too hard.  Another hardly worked at all.

Being the Number Two Man in each of these churches placed me in a position of trust.  I saw and heard things that few other people knew about.

But that was the whole point.  I was hired for those positions because the lead pastor felt he could trust me, and I always believed it was my job to reciprocate that trust.

This was especially a problem when someone from the church tried to “triangle” me into a problem that they had with the pastor.

In one church, a man approached me and made a threat against the pastor.  I was uncertain if he wanted me to join his cause or pass the message on to the pastor himself.  When our conversation was finished, he knew that I would not join his cause.

How could I ever do that?  In all five churches, the pastor chose me to serve alongside him, and I chose to serve with him as well.  In my mind, we were a team – as long as I kept doing my job.

In each situation, I worked for the pastor, and the pastor worked for the board.  I did not work for the board, and the pastor did not work for me.

While I privately had reservations about some of the things my pastors did and said, I kept those to myself.  He needed to know that if everyone in the church turned on him, he’d have at least one person standing by his side.

So when I became a pastor myself, I was able to see the pastor-staff relationship from both sides.  But the staff members – none of whom had ever been a pastor themselves – were only able to see the relationship from their side.

And some of them made choices that eventually demonstrated their disloyalty.

Let me give you an example of the kind of problems that pastors are having today with staff members – especially associate pastors.

Jack has been the pastor of a church for three years.  At first, he was able to juggle all the leadership, administrative, teaching, counseling, and pastoral duties, but the church gradually grew to the point he couldn’t handle things anymore.  Both Jack and the governing board agreed that they should hire an associate pastor as soon as possible.

So the board appointed a search team, and since there weren’t any suitable prospects inside the church, the team eventually recommended several candidates from the outside to Jack, who settled on one in particular.  Since the top choice had some concerns about coming to the church, Jack engaged in a sales job that proved successful.

While still in sales mode, Jack welcomed the associate to the church and spoke glowingly of the church’s future and the way the associate could make a difference with his gifts.  And at first, that’s exactly what happened.

But just a couple months after the associate’s arrival, Jack began to notice some things that bothered him.  For starters, the associate had a habit of showing up late on Sundays – and then he’d leave as soon as the last service was done.  Jack believed it was important for all staff members to mingle with the congregation on Sundays, but the associate just wasn’t doing it.

So Jack spoke to him about it.  The associate promised to change, but a couple weeks later, he was doing the same thing.

In addition, the associate left a mess everywhere he went.  If he used a room for a meeting, the next person to use the room would complain that they had to spend 15 minutes cleaning up before they could arrange the room the way they wanted.

Once again, Jack spoke to the associate directly and swiftly, and the associate promised he would change, but a few weeks later, he reverted to his previous behavior.

Now every staff member has their flaws.  Some are messy with rooms but incredibly effective with people.  Others hang out at the church all day but never get anything done.

The wise pastor – conscious of his own failings – has to decide which issues he’s going to press and which he’s going to let go.  He has to both model and set the boundaries.

And he has to treat all staff members with fairness.  If he requires all staff members to show up at 8:15 am on Sundays, then the associate needs to show up at 8:15 as well – because if he shows up at 8:50 instead, the pastor will hear about it from the other staff members – guaranteed.

As the months went by, the pastor spent a lot of time with the associate pastor, discussing the church’s future and trying to plug holes in the ministry.  It appeared as if the two of them had negotiated their differences and were working well together.

But after the pastor returned from a vacation, he discovered that the associate had allowed people to do things that the senior pastor expressly forbade.  So the senior pastor sat down with the associate to discuss what happened.  During their time together, the associate demonstrated insubordination and defiantly said that his decisions were correct and should not have been questioned.

The senior pastor was shaken.  While the associate deserved to be fired, the pastor realized that he’d need board support to take that action.  If the board backed him up, the senior pastor knew that some people would leave the church and that momentum would grind to a halt – at least for a few months.  But if the board didn’t back up the pastor, wouldn’t that just empower the associate all the more?

So for the time being, the lead pastor did nothing but pray and seek counsel from colleagues outside the church.

But while the senior pastor waited for divine wisdom, the associate went on the offensive.

Knowing that the senior pastor would have to go to the board to dismiss him, the associate contacted several board members that he sensed were on his side and told them he was having trouble with the lead pastor.  He told these men that he couldn’t sleep, that his wife was barely functioning, that his kids were feeling the stress, and that he was thinking about leaving the church because of the senior pastor.

This is the point at which the entire future of the church is at stake.

If the board members take the side of the associate pastor, the senior pastor’s future in that church is in serious jeopardy.

If the board members take the side of the senior pastor, the associate pastor’s fate is probably sealed as well.

The best decision for the church is for the board members to support the senior pastor.  If they do, the associate won’t have many options left.  He can either apologize to the senior pastor and vow to fully support him or make plans to leave the church.

The worst decision for the church is for the board members to support the associate pastor.  If they do, then they have betrayed their senior pastor and their decision will eventually manifest itself.  If the senior pastor comes to a board meeting to discuss his problems with the associate, the board members who met with the associate will either fail to support their pastor or veto any recommendation for dismissal.

Protestant churches are designed for the lead pastor to work closely with the church’s governing board.  In most cases, staff members – including the associate pastor – work directly for the senior pastor and do not attend board meetings.

The senior pastor is the key to everything.  He must get along with both the board and the staff.

But if staff members form covert alliances with other staff or board members against the senior pastor – that church, and its entire leadership structure – is in serious trouble, and ripe for a satanic invasion.

I do not pretend to offer easy answers for these situations.  Sometimes if the key players pull back and look at matters more objectively, they can work things out.

But these situations are usually about one thing, and one thing only: who is in charge of the church?

I’ll write more about this issue in my next article.

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