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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