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The first time I interviewed to become the pastor of a church, I met a church crank.

He remained a thorn in my side for years.  Know anyone like that?

The deacons of a small church in Sunnyvale, California, received and reviewed my resume, and one Sunday night, the chairman called and asked me if I could preach at their church the following Sunday.

I said yes.

So my wife and I flew to San Jose and were picked up by the chairman, who drove us to the elementary school where the church met.

Inside a brown classroom, I met four deacons … all of them at least sixty years of age.  The chairman was 74.  The others were all over 60.

And I was just 27.

A deacon I’ll call Warren stood out because of his booming voice and his burly appearance … and as I would soon find out, he had quite a temper.

The sermon went well the following day … the people loved us … I preached a candidating sermon the following Sunday … and the church voted to issue me a call, which I accepted.

Little did I know it, but over the next few years, I would have many off balance encounters with Warren, even though his wife … twenty years his junior … was a delightful person.

For years, Warren had been a pastor in a small coastal town in Northern California.  He once told me that tapes of his sermons were circulating around the world.

But Warren wasn’t in church ministry anymore because he had been divorced.  I never learned the circumstances.

Every Sunday morning at our church, Warren made announcements before everyone went to Sunday School.  But one Sunday, Warren acted and spoke bizarrely … and I noticed his wife wasn’t with him.

When I got home from church, I called her … and she told me she was divorcing Warren … and shared with me some startling information.

When it became evident that Warren’s wife was serious about divorcing him, I couldn’t let him remain a deacon.  While I didn’t know why his first marriage had fallen apart, his second marriage was crumbling right before our eyes.

I spoke with the other deacons, and they reluctantly agreed with me: Warren had to step down from the board.

That was one of the hardest meetings of my life.  Warren was more than twice my age.  He had been a pastor for years.  And now I had to go to his house and tell him that he needed to step down from the board where he served with his friends.

To his credit, Warren seemed to understand.

But six months later, his deacon friends lobbied for me to reinstate him, telling me that he had “suffered enough.”

Although I didn’t want to, I reluctantly permitted Warren to return as a deacon … and lived to regret it.

Over the next few years, Warren did the following things:

*One Wednesday night, I taught on the resurrection of Jesus, and stated that it couldn’t be proven scientifically, which is true.  Warren stood up and yelled loudly, “Then we’re all wasting our time here!”  And he opened a heavy classroom door and slammed it … hard … and then left the school.  We all sat there in shock.  When we spoke later, he confessed that I was too good a theologian to make a reckless statement.

*Another time, I was reading a book on discipleship by British theologian David Watson, and included a quote from the book in a newsletter article.  Warren called me at home and lit into me about my use of that quote.  I had to calm him down before explaining what I meant.

*When our church rewrote our doctrinal statement, I included a section about the death and resurrection of Christ.  Warren angrily confronted me after a service because I had left out Christ’s burial!  (I left out the appearances as well … but only for brevity.)

*One Sunday night, our church held a business meeting, and Warren thought a certain woman had just criticized him publicly.  He stood up and yelled at the entire congregation when he was really upset with her.  Later that week, I had to tell him that if he didn’t apologize to the entire congregation the following Sunday night, he couldn’t be on the board anymore.  He apologized … sort of.

*The former deacon chairman was also the song leader on Sunday mornings and evenings.  He became angry with me over a petty issue and asked to come to a board meeting to complain about me.  He brought along a witness: Warren.  (The next day, the song leader left the church, but Warren stayed.)

*Although Warren eventually stopped being a board member, he did teach a Sunday School class for seniors.  One Sunday morning, I was sitting in the church office and could hear Warren teaching through the wall.  He was ripping things our church was doing … things I had full board approval to do … but Warren didn’t like them, and let his fellow seniors know what he really thought.

*Before I knew it, that seniors class began making demands … and their primary demand was that I should no longer be the pastor.  The board at that time all stood behind me, and the seniors left the church and started a new church in a school a mile away … with Warren as their pastor.  (He wasn’t their pastor for long, and the church disbanded within a year.)

But what Warren really wanted to do was return to some form of paid ministry, either as a pastor or a missionary.  He applied to many Christian organizations, but they all turned him down.  He married for the third time, but those two divorces, which he had to disclose on any application, killed his chances for employment.

Since he was out of options in the larger Christian community, I wonder if he wanted to take me out … hoping that somehow, people would turn to him as pastor.

Warren wasn’t necessarily a church bully, but he was a church crank.

And church cranks have the following characteristics, among others:

*They become known for their incessant, uncontrollable complaining.

*They become irritated over issues that don’t bother anyone else.

*They view themselves as leaders while few others do.  (Who wants to follow a crank?  You’ll just have more crankiness.)

*They have no idea how they sound or look to others.

*They make people anxious and even afraid.

*They sometimes make complaints that become contagious.

*They don’t intend to undermine their pastor but end up harming him anyway.

*They apologize enough to maintain their standing in the church.

Without doubt, Warren was a church crank.

What should pastors do with church cranks?

Let me share four ideas:

First, pastors should let cranks know how to register complaints.

Charles Spurgeon used to tell the cranks in his church to write down their complaints so he could better deal with them.  Of course, nobody wanted to do that!

Over the years, I devised a simple policy about complaints:

*If your complaint is about the pastor personally, then speak to him personally before you do anything else.

*If your complaint involves church policy, then speak to anyone who makes policy … usually members of the official board.

A pastor can’t command cranks not to complain, but pastors can insist that a crank’s complaints be directed to the right person.

And if the crank won’t follow the complaint policy, then he or she must be confronted and disciplined … or the crank may someday try and take out the pastor.

Second, pastors should encourage mature churchgoers to confront cranks about their behavior.

When I was in my late twenties, I was correcting a church leader twice my age … and it wasn’t easy or natural for me.

I needed church leaders and Warren’s friends to sit down and speak with him about his behavior … but either they were too afraid of him or they were afraid a confrontation might end their friendship with him.

So it fell to me as the pastor by default.

My father-in-law told me many times, “Jim, if there is any confrontation that needs to happen in your church, you’re going to have to do it.  Laymen won’t confront laymen.”

But they might … if their pastor asked them to do so.

When an older man keeps making a fool of himself inside his congregation, it may be because nobody had the courage to confront him earlier in his life.

But by the time a crank is in his sixties, how much he is really going to change?

Third, pastors need to watch their backs when cranks are around.

Because Warren usually came to me personally whenever he was upset about something, I never suspected that he would go underground and try to take me out as pastor.

But in the end, that’s exactly what he did.

Pastors can give cranks some attention, but you can’t give them too much because they’ll just want more … and because they’ll drain a pastor of energy.

Since a pastor can’t be omnipresent on a church campus, I should have asked a board member to monitor Warren’s behavior on Sundays.

We could have confronted him proactively from a position of strength rather than defending ourselves against him from a position of weakness.

Finally, church cranks usually leave a mixed legacy.

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about Warren recently, but while I can easily remember tough encounters with him, I can only recall a couple of times where we really got along.

I tried spending time with Warren.  One time, I visited the elementary school classroom where he served as teacher.  Another time, we drove to Mount Hermon together for a men’s retreat.

But I never knew when he would explode for no reason at all.

When Warren died, I was not asked to conduct his funeral, and I’m glad I wasn’t asked.  I don’t know what I would have said!

Maybe he said some encouraging words to me at times.  Maybe he told me that he was praying for me.  Maybe he told me, “That was a great sermon” after I preached.  Maybe he put his arm around me and said, “Jim, I’m so glad you’re our pastor.”

Maybe he did all those things … and more.

It’s just that I don’t have any recollection that he ever did.

 

 

 

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Today is the anniversary of a day that changed my life forever.

Nine years ago this morning, after returning from a mission trip overseas, I entered the office of the church I served as pastor for an 8:00 am meeting with the official board.  We were supposed to discuss our plans for the next year’s budget.

Instead, the board announced that they had terminated our most valuable staff member: my wife.  Their sole charge against her was that she had overspent her missions and outreach budgets by a wide margin.

But she wasn’t their eventual target.  I was.  The board didn’t have enough evidence against me that they could take to the congregation for a dismissal vote, so they went after her instead, assuming I’d resign if she did.

I’ve recounted the story of the fifty-day conflict that ensued in my book Church Coup (which may be the most detailed and complete account of a pastoral termination ever written).  I revisit the story in this blog every October 24.  As one of my advisors told me, “You never want to forget what it felt like to go through that awful experience.”

The purpose of telling my story is for pastors, board members, and churchgoers to learn what to do and what not to do during a conflict with the pastor.  I am not telling my story to garner sympathy or to gain followers.  By relating my experiences, I still hope to teach.

So let me share some snapshots of what I experienced over the seven weeks of the conflict.  Many stories are outtakes from my book while some are based on information I received after the book was published in the spring of 2013.

After more than 35 years in church ministry … I still can’t believe the following events happened to me … but they did.

_______________

The board told me that they would give my wife a choice: she could resign or be fired.  They said they felt so strongly about their decision that they were all willing to resign, the implication being that if she didn’t resign, they would.

And the following week, because she didn’t resign, they did.  (To this day, I wonder who advised them to try that tactic.)

If she resigned, that would take the pressure off them … and that was her initial reaction: to just quit.

But when she thought more clearly, she didn’t believe she had done anything wrong … and she was positive she had not overspent the amount the board claimed.

So she didn’t quit immediately, as the board hoped she would.  We both decided to wait and see if we could discover the truth behind their decision first.

Kim’s dad (a former pastor and Christian university professor) told her, “If you didn’t do anything wrong, don’t quit.”  A Christian counselor who had advised us for years told me, “If she resigns, that would be a lie.  Make it a battle.”

We didn’t want to make it a battle, but the board had not made enough of a compelling case for my wife to say, “You’re right, I messed up, I will resign.”  We needed more information.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought the church board would take such drastic action.

But they did.

_______________

For years, my wife worked for a pace setting company in Silicon Valley, and she sometimes had to fire employees … but always by the book.  She was upset with the board because they had not followed any kind of protocol.  She kept telling me that her rights had been violated.

Several months ago, my wife visited that company again, and briefly told her story to the organization’s founder and president, who agreed that my wife had every right to sue the church/board for wrongful termination.

On the one hand, Paul commands Christians not to sue other Christians in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.  I get that.

On the other hand, too many Christian organizations … especially churches … do violate the rights of staff members and pastors when they terminate them … and they do deserve to be sued.

But the separation of church and state usually protects such churches.

I wish some churches would be sued successfully … if only to teach church leaders to use biblical procedures … and due process … when they’re thinking about terminating pastors and staff members in the future.

Because if those same leaders were treated in a similar fashion at their workplaces, they would probably sue the pants off their companies.

_______________

On the night after the board met with me, they convened a meeting of the church staff to announce my wife’s termination.  Not only did the board add several more charges to their list, but such a meeting was probably illegal.

An advisor who later became my mentor told me that in our state, if my wife had been in a secular company, she could have sued them for four to six million dollars for telling her co-workers why they had fired her.

Five nights later, when my wife finally met with two board members at my request … so they could tell her to her face why they had terminated her … she told them that she could sue them for the way they had handled things.  This wasn’t merely an emotional outburst … this was based on the careful way she fired employees for years at that Silicon Valley company.

A former board member from that church told me emphatically over a period of years that the board violated the church constitution and bylaws when they terminated my wife.  The governing documents clearly stated that staff members could only be fired upon recommendation of the senior pastor to the official board.  When the church voted to approve those documents, my wife was already a staff member.

One night, while walking along the Bay on a very dark night, I ran into another former board member who told me it was going around that my wife and I were planning on suing the church.  It wasn’t true … we weren’t planning on suing anybody … but many churchgoers believe the first thing they hear without confirmation.

The church board totally bungled the way they handled things, and when my wife called them on it, we became the bad guys … and had to be destroyed.

All too often, this is the way Christians handle their conflicts.  We’re godly … they’re ungodly.

_______________

When my predecessor retired and left the church in December 2000, he and his wife moved to another state.  But they eventually moved back to California … and settled in the very city my wife and I have made our home the past six years.

My predecessor became the president of a parachurch group, and that group’s founder also lived in our city at the time.  The founder told me that several years before 2009, while they were playing golf, my predecessor told him that he was going to return to the church I was pastoring.  The founder told him, “No, you can’t do that!”  But my predecessor seemed determined.

This information tells me that the plot to get rid of me went back months … if not years … before the board acted against my wife.  As a megachurch pastor who knew my predecessor told me eleven days after the conflict surfaced, “You have no idea how much you have been undermined.”

That same pastor told me that he had heard my predecessor make the exact same charges against my wife using the exact same terms that the board used.  To what extent did my predecessor formulate or refine the charges against her?

Because my predecessor had been in ministry for years, his counsel seemed legitimate to the board.  They most likely trusted him without questioning his motives or strategies.

But in the process, the previous pastor clearly violated pastoral ethics … which the board undoubtedly knew nothing about.

A year after I left, guess who returned to the church to preach at the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services?

That’s right … my predecessor … who had his fingers in the church board, the church staff, and the congregation for many years.

God rest his soul.

_______________

I’ve never given a moment’s thought to returning to my former church.  I served there ten-and-a-half years, resigned, and left it for good.  How wrong would it be for me to interfere in the church’s governance so many years after leaving?

Why did my predecessor even want to return?  My guess is that his Fan Club were telling him that things at the church were really bad and that only he could save the church.

In fact, several years before the conflict surfaced, I heard a report attributed to my predecessor that our church was losing attendees … when the opposite was true … and I informed the church board of the rumor without naming its source.

But we had grown steadily and were the largest Protestant church in our city.  We had a positive reputation for miles around.  We had built a new worship center.  My wife and I had both been keynote speakers at the area Sunday School Convention.  In our community, where a church of 150 stood out, we were like a megachurch.  A Navy chaplain once told me that when he was stationed near India, and knew he was going to move to our community, someone recommended that he attend our church.

Why did things seem so bad to a tiny group of people?  Because they didn’t have positions of power … and that was intentional on my part.  They were not behind our mission and vision.  They were not behind me as their pastor … and I knew it.  They were able to serve … just not in positions of influence.

But they thought that because they were founding members, they deserved preferential treatment.

One time, my predecessor visited the campus and told me that a woman from our church was calling him constantly to complain about me.  I figured as much.  While I was pleasant around her, I couldn’t let her be a leader because I didn’t trust her.

And I felt the same way about some of my predecessor’s other fans.

When people once held power in a church, but no longer do so, they will sometimes do anything to get that power back … even if they have to violate half the New Testament to do it.

_______________

One woman did her best to disguise her opposition to me, and I had to interact with her on a regular basis.  After a while, pastors develop a sixth sense about such people.

After the board and associate pastor resigned, I called two public meetings of the congregation to announce their decisions.  During one of the meetings, a friend went into the women’s restroom and this woman was crying because, she said, she was afraid they weren’t going to get rid of me.

After we left, this woman openly bragged about how she and some others in the church worked the plot that sent us packing.

I could never plot against a pastor.  I’d leave the church first.

God calls a pastor to lead and teach.  He doesn’t call anyone to force out an innocent pastor.  So why is it so easy for many Christians to join a coup against the person that God called?

If you have a good answer, I’d like to hear it.

_______________

The primary charge against my wife concerned finances.  I continue to maintain that the numbers that were verbally announced to me at the board meeting had been massaged.

For example:

*My wife had committed funds to some vendors for our annual Fall Fun Fest on Halloween … but we hadn’t yet held the event to recoup any of our expenses.

*As I mentioned in my book, several thousand dollars were mistakenly sent overseas … and undoubtedly counted against her mission budget … when she had nothing to do with that decision.

*When my wife was putting together a team for a mission trip to Eastern Europe, we had to buy the plane tickets in advance … and one person backed out.  We tried, but weren’t able to recoup the funds for one leg of his journey.

*When our mission team flew to Moldova, we brought along extra suitcases filled with items for poor people and the vulnerable children … but even though we were told in advance by an airline executive that we wouldn’t have to pay extra for each leg of our journey, we were overcharged for the suitcases anyway.

My wife or I could have explained these decisions had we been given the opportunity … but no one on the board asked us or the bookkeeper anything about these expenses.

The budgets of two unrelated ministries were thousands of dollars in the red … but to my knowledge, no one ever addressed those deficits with the leaders that managed those budgets.

No, my wife … our most effective staff member … was singled out for special mistreatment.

In the spring of 2009, I went to the board and asked for funds to visit two churches in Southern California to learn about their multi-venue services.  The board approved those funds … and then they were charged to the worship budget without the leader’s knowledge or consent … sending his pristine budget into chaos.

Were other unrelated expenses charged to my wife’s budgets without her consent or knowledge?

When I finally asked for the board’s accounting, I received something incoherent from the bookkeeper.  When my wife asked to see the board’s numbers, they did not give them to her.

When my wife finally met with the bookkeeper a month after the conflict surfaced … and the board members had all quit … the numbers told a completely different story.  When a nine-person investigative team examined matters a month after that, they concluded that “there was no evidence of wrongdoing” on our part.

Was the financial charge against my wife a bluff to prompt us both to resign?

_______________

Someone made a public charge that I mismanaged church finances.  That was an outright lie.

What’s ironic is that even after the conflict erupted … and even after I left the church … I was still a central person concerning church finances.

*When the board refinanced the loan for the worship center, I had to sign the document.  If the credit union had known the board’s plans, they might not have approved the refinancing.  When companies make loans to organizations, they want to know in advance that the leadership is going to remain stable.

I wonder what the board told them about their pastor’s long-term prospects?

*During the conflict, the church bookkeeper stopped by my house once or twice a week so I could sign checks, which I’d do on top of her car on the street.

*Months after I had left the church, I was still the key person concerning the church’s credit cards.  The bookkeeper was still contacting me, asking me to call the company and give them directions.

If I had really mismanaged funds, would I have been able to do any of those things?

When a pastor mismanages funds at church, it’s often because his own financial house is in disarray … but our personal finances were and are pristine.

It’s so easy to throw general charges around without being specific and without doing it to the face of the accused.

_______________

When the composition of a church board changes, it can throw the entire congregation off-balance.

For years, I had worked with three men on the board who were all older than me.  We had been through a lot together.  I trusted them, and their actions indicated that they trusted me.

One moved away about six months before the conflict surfaced.  He was the person who always had my back.  The other two termed out but stayed in the church.

Had even one of those men still been on the board, the coup never would have taken place.  They would either have stopped it or exposed it.

In the end, the new board in 2009 was composed entirely of people younger than me.  They lacked the experience and maturity of the older men … one of whom had experienced a church split years before in another church and would never have tolerated the tactics used by my opponents.

Someone on the board ended up leading the coup.  I always knew his identity.  May God forgive him for all the lives he harmed in his attempt at personal payback.

_______________

The board never attempted anything resembling restoration.  It was all about punishment.  As Charles Chandler from the Ministering to Ministers Foundation told me, the board members were personalizing matters.

As a Christian counselor asked me, “Where’s the redemption in all this?”

There wasn’t any pathway to redemption.  Coups don’t involve restoration.  They can be bloody or bloodless, but they are always about one thing.

Getting rid of the leader at all costs.

If you can show me where in the New Testament we find such behavior commended, I’d be grateful.

I’ve been searching for years … and I still can’t find it.

_______________

Wherever you find deceit and destruction, you find Satan.  Jesus called him “the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning” in John 8:44.

Based on some of the stories I’ve heard, I don’t believe Satan is centrally involved in every church conflict.  Some believe that he is.  I don’t.

I look for deceit and destruction.  Someone in ministry suggested adding “doubt” to the calculus as well.

There was definitely deceit in our conflict.  There were a lot of falsehoods going around: exaggeration, character assassination, misrepresentation, false allegations … it was all there.

And there was a lot of destruction as well.  Satan’s aim in most church conflicts is to destroy the pastor’s well being … reputation … and career … but ultimately, to destroy the church itself.

Although I was not personally destroyed, my effectiveness for future ministry was.  I don’t claim to know if that was the aim of anyone in the church.  Maybe so, maybe not.

But I do know this: Satan gained a foothold in the lives of too many of God’s people in that church.  Hatred and two-faced hypocrisy are not from God.

_______________

Most pastors who are forced out of a church are never exonerated.  Their reputations are ruined, at least inside their former church.

But I was exonerated … twice.

The first time, a consultant the transition team and I hired during the conflict issued a report that the board had acted “extremely and destructively” and that my wife and I had been abused.

The second time, an investigative team of nine people from inside the church claimed that “there was no evidence of wrongdoing” on our part.

But some people could not allow those verdicts to stand.

When I left the church in December 2009, I was told that 95% of the church supported me.  A year later, I was told that support was down to 20%.

I don’t know the truth of either percentage.  But I do know that throughout 2010, there was a whispering campaign inside my former church to pin the blame for the entire conflict on me.

When an interim pastor (a friend of my predecessor’s) came to the church several months later, he convened a meeting of the old and new boards, and made everyone who knew the truth about the conflict promise that they wouldn’t discuss it with anyone.  So when people attacked my reputation, those leaders were told not to counteract any lies and to remain silent.

But what about the people who were spreading falsehoods inside the church?  Why didn’t anyone warn them to stop destroying the reputation of their previous pastor?

Because unity is based on truth … not lies … such diversions do nothing to heal people’s souls.

Even though I urged people to stay, scores of people eventually left the church and either changed churches … changed faiths … or sat at home for years because nobody had the guts to tell the church the truth about what happened.

Just another Christian cover up.  Business as usual.

_______________

One day, I met with the rookie district minister to share my side of the conflict.  He listened politely and later helped reveal the part my predecessor played in the coup.

Several years later, when I was in New Hampshire, the DM called me out of the blue one Sunday morning to tell me that “I respect you and admire you.”

While that was nice, there was evidence to the contrary, so I didn’t know what to think.

But I had once served in the same church as an executive from that same denomination, and when he heard about the conflict … not from me … he told a friend, “[The church] owes Jim an apology.”

While I would welcome any kind of apology, nobody has ever apologized to me for their role in forcing me out of office.

Because if I’m innocent, they’re wrong … and I’ve learned that many, if not most, Christians hate to admit when they’re wrong.

_______________

This is the last blog article I plan to write on what happened to me in 2009 unless there is some major future development.

The accusations against Judge Kavanaugh brought back a truckload of hurtful memories because the same tactics used against him were used against us.

My wife and I live in Southern California and are content with our lives.

We live about an hour from our son, his wife, and our three grandsons.  I wouldn’t trade being near them for anything in this world.

Our daughter – who was so strong for her dad and mom during the conflict – still lives in the Bay Area and leads a fruitful life.  We love her dearly.

God gave me a ministry to pastors and board members who are going through conflict, and I’m grateful for all the people I’ve been able to help.

Just last year, I advised a pastor from the East Coast who was able to beat back his own church’s coup attempt.  He stayed … and his opponents left.

I pray that happens more often.

I’ve written 596 blogs over the past eight years.  I plan to write four more and then take a break … maybe a long one.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

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One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed.  A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Deuteronomy 19:15

Nothing hurts a pastor more than false accusations.  Nothing even comes close.

Several years ago, I spoke with a small church pastor who told me his story.  There was an opening on the finance team for one person, and somebody volunteered for the job.  The pastor did not want this person to serve, but after a while, this individual appointed himself to the position … and then began reviewing financial records that went back many years.

The finance person found small checks that were written to the pastor that did not include any notation.  The pastor said he was paid for doing non-pastoral work outside his normal duties.  The finance person claimed the pastor had embezzled funds … and then contacted the local authorities.

As you can imagine, the situation did not end well, and the pastor was forced out of office.  The pastor and his wife were devastated, not just by the lies, but by the fact the congregation did not defend them effectively.

Pastors have to deal with various kinds of false accusations.  Let me share five common ones:

First, there is hearsay. 

This occurs when someone who didn’t see or hear the pastor commit wrongdoing firsthand makes serious accusations against him anyway.

To a large degree, I am no longer in church ministry because someone stood up in a public meeting and made accusations against me that he did not witness himself.

An attorney was present on the stage and had to know that the accusations were hearsay.  He should have said, “Do you have firsthand knowledge of these accusations?  If not, please sit down or you are guilty of telling untruths.”

But the attorney went silent … as did the rest of my supporters … because they were more stunned by the accusations (nearly all of them blatantly false) than by the fact they couldn’t be corroborated.

I really think that pastors need to take time when they teach to condemn hearsay.  If you’re going to make an accusation against a pastor, that’s serious business.  You better have seen or heard something yourself and be willing to go on the record.  Telling church leaders or an entire congregation, “Well, I heard from a reliable source that the pastor said this or did that” should never be allowed in a church … but it is … all the time.

It certainly wasn’t allowed in ancient Israel (Deut. 17:6-7) … nor in the early church (Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:17-19).

There has to be more evidence than that.

Notice in Deuteronomy 19:15 that not only is hearsay not allowed among God’s people, but a single witness to a crime or offense is insufficient testimony to convict anyone either.  At least two or three witnesses are required.  Yes, that’s a high standard, but it’s divinely-ordained … and provides valuable protections for the accused.

Second, there are rumors.

During my first year in college, a rumor began circulating in my church that I was no longer getting along with a friend.  Since I had a day off, I decided to see if I could track down the source of the rumor.

I visited several people unannounced one day … told them the story I had heard … and asked them what they knew about the rumor.  When the day was done, I could not track down the source of the rumor.

Jesus called Satan “a liar” and “the father of lies” in John 8:44.  I honestly believe that some rumors do not have a human point of origin but are started by the devil and his angels … who probe a congregation for “a false witness who pours out lies” and “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (Proverbs 6:19).  How this is done I do not know.  That it is done I know all too well.

Most pastors quickly learn who the gossips are in their church … and they don’t trust them with any valuable information.

In my first pastorate in Silicon Valley, there were four older women who didn’t work and who spent a lot of time together on the telephone.  Those four women had too much power because they could make or break their pastor with their words.

Reminds me of Adele’s song Rumour Has It:

All of these words whispered in my ear,
Tell a story that I cannot bear to hear,
Just ’cause I said it, it don’t mean that I meant it,
People say crazy things,
Just ’cause I said it, don’t mean that I meant it,
Just ’cause you heard it,
Rumour has it

Third, there is misrepresentation.

When I began my ministry in one church, a board member asked to meet with me to find out what my plans were for the church’s future.  During our two hours together, it was evident that we did not agree on the church’s direction.

A few days later, I discovered that this board member had dinner with some church friends and completely distorted things I had said to him.  He heard what I said emotionally but not accurately.

What should I have done: confront the man about his lies or choose not to trust him again?

I opted for the latter approach (it would have taken an independent investigation and multiple interviews to prove what he said), and in the end, it proved to be the correct one.

How could I trust him again?  I couldn’t.

In the end, he turned on me with a vengeance with a power play designed to make him look like a victim.

After this man left the church in a huff, a woman came up to me the following Sunday and said, “It’s a shame you and So-and-So couldn’t get along.”

I bit my tongue.

After years in ministry, my wife and I came up with a policy: I won’t speak for her and she won’t speak for me.

People often came up to her on Sundays and either (a) told her something so she would tell me or (b) wanted her to explain something I had said or done.  She always had the same reply: “I can’t do that.  You’ll have to talk to him yourself.”

That way, she didn’t misrepresent me, and I didn’t misrepresent her.

Rather than speaking for others … no matter how well we know them … church leaders have to let people speak for themselves.

Fourth, there is exaggeration.

In my book Church Coup, I quoted church conflict expert Speed Leas:

“A person being charged or condemned by others should have the right to know what those charges are and [have] an opportunity to respond to them.  Denying this opportunity plays into the hands of real or potential manipulators, allows untrue or distorted information to be circulated and establishes a precedent that the way to deal with differences is to talk about rather than to talk with others.  I have also found it true that individuals who talk about others out of their presence tend to exaggerate their charges, believing they will not be quoted.”

Read that last sentence again.

Let’s imagine that I’m upset with my pastor about something, and I tell two friends over Sunday lunch how I feel.  One of my friends then tells the wife of a board member, and a few days later, that board member calls me on the phone and wants to hear what I said directly from me.

If I want to hurt the pastor or persuade the board member to become an ally, I may dress up my charge a little bit … and then ask the board member to keep everything I said “confidential.”

The board member should refuse.

Why?

Because it’s often the “confidential charges” that end up forcing out pastors from church ministry … because the pastors don’t know (a) who is making the charges against them, (b) what the charges are, and (c) aren’t given the ability to hear them firsthand so they can explain or defend themselves.

The charges spread across the church like wildfire, and by the time the pastor hears them for the first time, key leaders and members have already turned against him … without ever hearing his side of things.

Someone once made a strong charge against me that resulted in an investigation … which I welcomed.  When my accuser recounted their story, the person made three exaggerations that I was able to refute.  I’m convinced this person didn’t exaggerate to hurt me … they knew I’d share my side of things … but to save face because the accusations themselves were so flimsy.

If I could choose one major sin that churches commit when a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, it’s not giving the pastor due process to face his accusers and defend himself. 

And for some reason, the more some people exaggerate a pastor’s offenses … or how he made them feel … the less likely it is that the pastor will be given a forum for explaining his actions.

So, in many churches, exaggerating charges against a pastor pays off … but it never should.

Finally, there is speculation.

Speculation occurs when God’s people aren’t given enough information about a pastor … especially why he’s under attack or why he’s departed.

When I left my last church nearly nine years ago, I did not share with the congregation the specific reasons why I was leaving.  The board members and associate pastor had all resigned weeks before, and they were out there pounding on me pretty good, but the vast majority of the church did not know why I had left.

So people began making things up.

The worst rumor was that my wife was having an affair and that I was having an affair.  My wife was on staff and worked down the hall from me.  We had one car and rode together to church and back every day.  We were then and are now madly in love with each other … even after 43 years of marriage.

Who started that speculation … and who allowed it to pass through the church without correction?

I believe that when false accusations spread through a church, the official church board has the responsibility to protect the pastor … his family … and the church by refuting those accusations as quickly and as clearly as they can.

This should be done both if the pastor is still ministering in that church or if the pastor has recently departed.

If a pastor is truly innocent of the charges going around about him, and the board refutes those charges, they are not only protecting the pastor’s reputation and future livelihood … they are also protecting their own congregation.

Because the longer a pastor serves in one place, the more the pastor and the church become identified together, as in “That’s Pastor Bill’s church.”

Because if Pastor Bill is forced out of office … the church may eventually collapse.

_______________

I’ve dealt with five types of false accusations against a pastor.

But what should God’s people do with false accusers themselves?

Moses put it this way in Deuteronomy 19:16-20:

If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time.  The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother.  You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.

Let me make five quick observations:

First, malicious witnesses have always existed among God’s people.  They’re in every culture … and in every church.  Whether it’s to get attention or to get revenge against someone, they will destroy individuals and families if their charges are automatically believed.  But according to Scripture, they must first be tested.

Second, God mediates His judgment to human leaders, in this case, “the priests and the judges.”  In our day, this would likely refer to the official board.  These individuals may be fallible, but God uses them anyway.

Third, the judges must investigate a witnesses’ charges and determine if the witness is truthful or lying.  If a witness proves to be lying, then they are to receive the same punishment the accused would have received.

Why don’t we ever do this in our churches?  Why are the false accusers … and those who have successfully destroyed a pastor’s reputation … allowed to not only stay in a church, but sometimes be promoted to even greater leadership positions?

What is wrong with us?

Some Christians say, “Oh, we need to forgive each other so we can all move on.”  But to forgive false accusers when they’ve never been confronted or repented of their sin?  Read Jesus’ words in Luke 17:3-4 where He talks about not forgiving certain people.

Fourth, God considers false accusations … not just against a leader, but against anyone in His covenant community … to be evil … and He says it twice.  It is evil to lie about someone … to harm their reputation … and in Israel’s case, lying about someone could result in the death of the accused.  (See Deuteronomy 17:6-7.)

Finally, if God’s people would institute a process like this, maybe we’d have far fewer false accusations among God’s people … and directed toward God’s leaders.  “The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.”

“Never again will such an evil thing be done among you.”

How I love those words.

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The recent revelations about Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago have resulted in a renewed call for pastors to be more accountable for their professional and personal behavior.

There are cons and pros to this idea.

On the con side, pastors are usually independent individuals who resist being micromanaged by others.  It’s part of the appeal of ministry.

And if there are attempts from inside a church to micromanage a pastor, it’s likely that pastor will update his resume and begin looking for another position … quickly.

But I believe it’s reasonable for a pastor to be accountable to the official board and the congregation as a whole, and that this accountability should last for a pastor’s entire tenure in a church.

Here are five areas a pastor needs to be accountable for:

First, the pastor needs to be accountable for his time.

The first pastor I worked for was my future father-in-law, and he told me that if a pastor works hard his first year, nobody will question his work ethic after that.

Looking back, the only counsel I would give a young pastor is this: during your first year, show up to every church meeting and event you possibly can.  Be seen.  Let your people know who you are.

After a while, they will start telling you, “Slow down.  Go home.”

During my second pastorate, I worked a lot of hours.  The board chairman just happened to live in a house on the other side of the fence from the church parking lot so he could tell when I was at church.

One night, he called me on the phone and said, “I see your car.  Go home to your family.”

My guess is that story got around.

During my first ten years as a pastor, I kept meticulous records of the hours I worked … and I can’t recall anyone challenging me on my work ethic.

It does happen, however.  I know a pastor who worked less than twenty hours a week, and he was fired by the congregation, largely for being lazy.

But I don’t think that’s true for most pastors.

If a board wanted to make a big deal about the amount of time I worked as a pastor, I would say, “I will let you see my hours as long as you agree to pay me overtime for every hour over forty that I work.”

Or maybe I wouldn’t … but I’d sure want to say that!

Most pastors work hard.  I tried to work a fifty-hour week, and many pastors do more than that.

Just a side comment: should a pastor and church staff be paid for working on Sunday mornings?

I know some say, “We aren’t going to count our work on Sundays as hours.  Our people volunteer their time, and so will we.”

But I think that’s unfair.  Most pastors and staff members are paid not only to show up on Sundays, but to do their best work then.  You mean a pastor should preach his sermon for free?

I always told my staff members to count Sunday mornings as hours, and I’d do it again.  The workman is worthy of his/her hire.

Second, the pastor needs to be accountable for managing church funds.

I believe a pastor should keep a safe distance between himself and church money.  Don’t count the offering … don’t let people give you checks or cash … and don’t throw big parties and charge it all to the elders discretionary fund.

I usually had minimal dealings with church finances:

*I was given a ministry expense account and managed those funds precisely.

*I had input on the disbursement of benevolent funds.

*I signed checks … along with the bookkeeper … and occasionally pulled out a check if I thought the expenditure was foolish.

*I obtained church credit cards for key staff members so they didn’t have to use money out of their own pocket and wait weeks for reimbursements.

If someone tried to give me their offering, I’d lead them to a slot outside the church office that led directly to a safe.

There are two areas above all that will ruin a pastor’s ministry: sex and financial mismanagement.

I also believe that a pastor needs to let his church know that he is at least a tither.  It’s not a violation of Matthew 6:1-4 to let people know that you practice what you preach.  Whenever I preached on giving, I brought along my checkbook, and told the congregation that if anyone wanted to know how much I gave to the church, I’d be glad to show them.

Only one person ever took me up on it … my son Ryan!

The way a pastor manages his personal finances is usually a tip-off on how he manages church finances.

So to what degree should the official board or a group in the church know about the pastor’s personal financial life … especially any indebtedness?

Third, the pastor needs to be accountable for the church’s mission and vision.

The mission is why your church exists.  It’s something you work toward but can never obtain.

The vision specifies where you want your church to be within a certain period of time … say five years.  The vision always emerges from the mission.

Put succinctly, the pastor should be held accountable for this simple three-word question:

What’s the plan?

In my last church, I was blessed to know a woman who did missions and visions for secular companies.  She facilitated our process expertly.

I chose around ten people to be members of a Vision Task Force.

One Sunday, we ended the service early and gave everyone in the congregation a five question, open-ended survey.   The surveys were then distributed to members of the task force who read them and summarized their batch in writing.

We then held a meeting … summarized all the input from the congregation in writing … and assigned several people to create mission and vision statements based on congregational input.

We eventually nailed down our statements … had them approved by the official board … presented them to the congregation … and they went on all our publications.

And everyone had input.

That was the easy part.

After that, I had my marching orders, and needed to be held accountable for how well we were fulfilling those statements.

Sadly, in the end, my wife and I stayed true to those statements, while newer leaders ignored them and tried to take the church in a different direction.

That’s why we eventually left that congregation.

When a church drifts … or declines … it’s often because the pastor has stopped promoting the mission and vision.

In that case, he either needs to get with the program … or the church needs a new pastor.

Fourth, the pastor needs to be accountable for church staff.

Don Cousins was Bill Hybels’ right-hand man for the first eighteen years of Willow Creek Church’s existence.  Twenty-five years ago, he was hired to be a consultant for our new church in Silicon Valley.

One day, we were talking about church staff, and Cousins asked me, “So Jim, are you a self-starter and a responsible person who does things without being told?”

I told him, “Yes.  That’s definitely who I am.”

Cousins replied, “But Jim, not everybody is that way.”

I didn’t have any trouble being accountable to the church board or the congregation for my ministry, but I sometimes had trouble holding staff members accountable for their ministries.

What’s tough is that when a pastor is doing his ministry … like preaching … he can’t see or hear what the children’s director or the youth pastor is doing on Sundays.

A pastor has to rely on three main sources for that information:

*what the staff member says about his/her own ministry

*what other staff members say

*what the parents/youth/members say about that staff member

When I took his leadership class at Fuller Seminary, Leith Anderson told our class, “It’s important to take your time to choose the right staff members because if you don’t, it takes at least a year to get rid of them and then you have to pay them to go away.”

I had mixed success with office managers … better success with children’s directors … and not as much success with youth directors.

I brought a written report to every board meeting, and in that report, I wrote down whatever I felt the board needed to know about those staffers.

While I was accountable to the board, the staff was accountable to me.

I met with staff members as individuals every week … held a weekly staff meeting that I took very seriously … and always intervened if I was concerned someone was going off course.

I tried to manage … not micromanage … but roughly half the time, staffers just didn’t work out … and I usually blamed myself for their failures.

As long as the pastor keeps the board informed on how things are going with a wayward staff member, he probably won’t be blamed if things don’t work out.

But if there was a major problem with a staffer, I not only told the board about it, I asked for their wisdom … or else I was going to be held completely accountable for a staff member’s misconduct.

Finally, the pastor needs to be accountable for getting along with people.

As an introvert, it sometimes takes me a while to warm up socially, but once I get going, I’m hard to turn off, as my wife can attest.

I’ve always done well one-on-one with people, like with hospital visits or counseling.  And I do pretty well in groups, especially when I’m in charge.

And I usually did a good job with people who were a bit different, probably because I felt a lot of empathy for them.

But I didn’t have much time for those who were arrogant or who used intimidation to get their way.

And I resisted people who tried to use worldly wisdom to do ministry.

Every pastor has to deal with not only difficult people, but also people who disagree with him because they think they know more than he does about ministry … and those are usually the people whose complaints reach the official board.

It’s easy to hold a pastor accountable for how he treats most people.  You can watch him on a Sunday morning or at a social event and draw lots of conclusions about his interpersonal skills.

But what about those times when the pastor is alone with an individual and that person claims that the pastor mistreated them?

How do you hold a pastor accountable for those occasions?

_______________

The cry arising out of Willow Creek is that the elders should have held Hybels better accountable for his interactions with various women.

This is a really tough topic, and I don’t pretend to have answers for every concern.

Let me make three quick observations:

First, the primary person to hold a male pastor accountable is his wife.

If a pastor is flirting with women at church … or treating some women better than others … or singling someone out for special attention … most people won’t notice.

But the pastor’s wife … if she’s around … surely will … and she needs to let her husband know how she feels about it!

A pastor sometimes meets with women – alone (like in counseling) or in groups – and his wife isn’t around to observe his interactions.

In such cases, the pastor’s wife has to rely upon her husband’s faithfulness, or the observations of others.

One time, I asked two pastor friends of mine if a woman had ever come on to them.  Both said no, which was my experience as well … and my guess is that it’s the experience of the great majority of pastors today.

But sadly, there are many stories to the contrary … and too many pastors who have come on to women as well.

Second, the church board needs to respond quickly to any complaints about the way their pastor treats women.

My sense is that the elders at Willow did this when there were rumors about Hybels having an affair in 2014.  Maybe their investigation wasn’t as thorough as it needed to be, and maybe Hybels resisted being completely accountable in certain areas.

But the impression I’ve received from the accounts I’ve read is that the elders moved swiftly to deal with the issues they knew about at the time.

The official board has to do this or the pastor could be crushed by the rumor mill.

But … if a governing board delves too closely into the life of their pastor – especially in a megachurch – that pastor may either threaten to resign or start looking for a new ministry.

Sometimes a board can start investigating a pastor concerning one issue and find other issues that concern them … even if the pastor is innocent.  From the pastor’s perspective, why put up with it?

Too much scrutiny is also an indication that the board doesn’t trust the pastor … and if it continues, the pastor may choose to throw in the towel … which leaves the entire ministry in the hands of people who aren’t ready for that level of leadership.

Accountability?  Yes.  Micromanaging?  No.

Finally, a pastor should never abuse the trust God puts in him.

When Potiphar’s wife enticed Joseph to sleep with her, Joseph said in Genesis 39:9, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

Joseph was single … Potiphar’s wife was married … but Joseph felt that if he succumbed to her charms, his greatest sin would be against God … even though he also mentioned sinning against Potiphar.

Both God and Potiphar trusted Joseph with Potiphar’s household and his wife.  Joseph resolved to honor that trust forever.

Every pastor should do the same … but some strike out instead.

My wife and I once visited a megachurch three times.  The third time we went, we walked out in the middle of the service.  Something there was seriously wrong.

It later came to light that the pastor was counseling a woman to leave her husband and to be with him.  I have a copy of the lawsuit the couple filed against the pastor, and his behavior – if true – was about as depraved as a pastor can get.

It later came out that some people knew about the pastor’s behavior but didn’t do anything to stop it.

The Lord trusted that pastor with a large church … full of many women … and he abused that trust with at least one.

And if there was one, could there have been others?

“How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

_______________

Next time, I’m going to talk about various ways that a pastor can be accountable to the official board and to the congregation.

 

 

 

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“If it wasn’t for Jesus, I don’t think I’d have anything to do with the church.”

That was the first phrase uttered by a longtime friend of mine when we met for lunch several weeks ago … and my friend is a successful pastor.

Our meeting preceded another bombshell originating out of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago last week when the two new co-pastors … and the elders … all announced their resignations.

These resignations followed the publishing of an interview by the New York Times with Pat Baranowski, a former personal assistant to Pastor Bill Hybels at Willow.  Baranowski claimed that in the late 1980s, Hybels groped her on several occasions and that they once engaged in oral sex.

My wife and I have had some very animated discussions about these events – as I’m sure my readers have had with others – and we’ve been trying to figure out how these things can happen in one of America’s most prominent and influential churches.

Even though Hybels, his chosen successors, and the governing board have all resigned due to this scandal, there are still many things that I wonder about.

For instance:

First, I wonder if Hybels will ever face his accusers.

From what I understand, ten women have now come forward and claimed that Hybels did or said something to them that either made them feel uncomfortable or violated them deeply.

Assuming these claims are true, I abhor this kind of behavior from anyone … especially from a Christian leader.

But it bothers me that Hybels has yet to face his accusers.

Pat Baranowski made her claims against Hybels in an interview with the New York Times.  Hybels then vehemently denied the charges, again in the Times.

This is the way our culture handles such matters … people at odds talk at each other through the media.  But isn’t the healthier and more biblical way for two parties to speak with each other face-to-face?

(As I recall, in Hybels’ first book, Christians Under Construction, his first chapter was an exposition of Matthew 18:15-17 … focusing on how believers should resolve the conflicts between themselves.)

The only way to avoid a “he said, she said” situation is for both Hybels and Baranowski to speak with each other under controlled conditions … and yet that’s probably an unrealistic proposition due to the pain and fear it would cause Hybels’ former PA.

Hybels has lost his case in the court of public opinion, among Christian leaders in general, and among much of the constituency of his former congregation … and I wonder if he’s aware of that.

But the only way to find out the truth is to get Hybels in a room alone with each one of his accusers … along with others who would monitor and guide the session.

At least three women said they tried confronting Hybels in the past about what he did, but they didn’t get anywhere.

Would they today?

Second, I wonder if Hybels will ever admit any specific wrongdoing.

When King David slept with Bathsheba, and then arranged for the murder of her husband Uriah, it took David a long time to admit his guilt.  Some scholars believe it took at least one year.

Many of us might ask ourselves, “If Hybels is such a spiritual guy, shouldn’t he have admitted his sin by now?”

There are many sins that a pastor can readily admit to, and people will forgive them instantly … sins like anger, envy, and pride.

But most Christians feel very differently about sexual sin … especially when it involves their pastor … and Hybels, of all people, certainly knows this.

There was a prominent evangelical Christian leader/author in the late 1980s who engaged in a nearly year-long affair.  (No, it wasn’t Bakker or Swaggert.)  This leader admitted his wrongdoing and then wrote a book about his “broken world.”  The evangelical community forgave him and after a few years, he was restored and served again as a pastor.

Even though Hybels is now officially “retired” from church ministry, he could have experienced the same kind of restoration had he admitted his guilt immediately.

But the longer he waits to come clean, the more people he’s going to alienate … and the more people may leave Willow.

At this point, Hybels may have concluded, “I’m dead in the water anyway.  Even if I admit what I did, I’ll still be toast in the Christian community.”

And he may well be right.

But I’ll tell you something.  Many Christians … including me … have about had it with megachurch pastors and their power trips.

I read a letter from a former executive pastor at Willow on Nancy Beach’s blog dated August 8, 2018.  He claimed that Hybels and his crew used to refer to “breaking people’s legs” when people saw what was going on at the church.  This former staffer stated that much more is going to come out about the culture at Willow under Hybels.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t take much more of this stuff.

In their resignation letter, the elders at Willow referred to “scarred women” and a “tarnished church.”

And unfortunately, when a megachurch like Willow is tarnished … it can rub off on all the churches that are associated with it.

Third, I wonder about the mentality of some Christian leaders concerning sexual sin.

What I’m going to describe below probably represents a minority position, but it still bothers me greatly.

Many years ago, I became familiar with a pastor in my denominational district who had committed adultery.  The former chairman of his board was a member in one of my churches and told me what happened.

This pastor played tennis every Sunday morning and was not at church when the service started.  The board chairman would pick up the pastor after he played tennis and whisk the pastor to the service so he could quickly clean up and enter the pulpit in time to preach.

The pastor ended up having an affair with a flight attendant which ended his tenure at that church.  My district minister at the time told me that this man “would never pastor again” in our district.

But a friend of mine – a well-connected ex-pastor – told me that even though the sinning pastor had never clearly repented, he should be asked to pastor again because “he is an able man.”

I disagreed with my friend, but he felt that the denomination was short on talented leaders and pastors.

There are some Christian leaders who know that their pastor/leader is engaged in sexual misconduct but choose to maintain silence because they don’t want to stop “God’s blessing” … or their own income.

I also knew about another prominent pastor from my former denomination (I’ll call him Sam) who engaged in sexual sin in one church … was permitted after that to pastor the largest church in our denomination, where it happened again … and then ended up at headquarters, where it happened again.

Back in 1986, I attended our denomination’s annual meetings on the east coast.  On Sunday morning, everyone was asked to break into prayer groups, and I ended up in a group with Sam (who had advised me as a member of my ordination committee) and the top leader of our denomination.  Evidently they were very good friends.

Not long after that prayer time, the news came out that our top leader had also had an affair while in office.  My guess is that he protected Sam because he was a “good old boy” … and that Sam in turn protected him.

Willow’s two co-pastors and elders have resigned because they protected their shepherd even though he had harmed some sheep.  We should give them credit for eventually getting things right.

But I still wonder about the wider Christian community because we still tolerate sexual, financial, and criminal misconduct in a leader if we think that God is blessing that individual and their organization with results.

Fourth, I wonder how God could bless Willow while its pastor was mistreating women.

Back in the early 1990s, Willow Creek was the largest Protestant church in America.  Now it’s the fifth largest.

If their pastor was mistreating women behind the scenes, how could God bless the church while there was “sin in the camp?”

Or as Hybels’ former colleague Nancy Beach recently asked: “How could he [Hybels] have done all this good when there were such dark things happening behind the scenes?”

The assumption I’m making is that the evidences of God’s blessing include increasing attendance, generous giving, spacious buildings, and global influence.

Pat Baranowski stated that her encounters with Hybels took place from 1986-1988.  Hybels just resigned a few months ago.  So for at least thirty years, Willow prospered, even though its pastor had engaged in sexual misconduct with one of his employees.

Why does God allow that?

I do not know.

It may be that God blesses His Word as His servants preach it … or that the gospel transforms people even if the pastor isn’t right with God … or that God rewards churches by His grace, even when they don’t deserve any blessing.

I used to think that large churches were the result of God’s abundant favor, but I don’t think that way anymore.

The single worst thing I’ve ever heard that a pastor did occurred twelve years ago.  A megachurch pastor (let’s call him John) left his position and became the pastor of another church.  A new pastor (let’s call him Kevin) succeeded this pastor.  Kevin’s ministry went very well.  By some accounts, John’s did not.

So John left his new church .. returned to his old church … pushed Kevin out of office … and received the approval of some major Christian leaders in the process.

What John did was not just wrong … it was evil … and yet many Christian leaders chose to look the other way because John was a man of influence whom God seemed to be blessing.

One believer wrote about this situation, “Bodies, bodies everywhere.  [John] does what he wants, when he wants, and credits God for the action.”

That’s the problem, isn’t it?  The leader of the large organization becomes so powerful that most people equate His words and actions with those of God … even if he’s operating out of the flesh.

Finally, I wonder if there are any Christian heroes around anymore.

I have very few Christian heroes left.  It’s easier for me to have secular heroes like Winston Churchill.  Since his life is over … frozen in time … I can admire his accomplishments from afar without being disappointed by his weaknesses … and like all “great” men, he had many.

One of my heroes was a pastor and seminary professor who finally admitted that he had a long-term affair with his secretary.

Another hero was a pastor and author known for his transparency.  He had an affair … became divorced … and remarried his wife.

I loved their books. I may still have them, but I haven’t looked at them since their moral failures became known.

Bill Hybels was a man I admired.  He spoke more boldly on tough topics than any pastor I’ve ever heard.  He used memorable language to describe theological concepts.  I once heard him say we’re all “a colossal collection of moral foul-ups.” That phrase has stuck with me over the years.

He had a passion for lost people, encapsulated in the phrase, “People matter to God.”  I loved hearing him teach on the lost sheep, coin, and son from Luke 15.

I resonated with his preaching more than anyone else in the Christian world.  I stopped listening to him years ago, but never forgot the times I did hear him speak.

My wife and I attended a Leadership Conference at Willow in October 1990.  Hybels gave a message that night called, “The Other ‘S’ Word.”  That word wasn’t “sin” … it was “substitution.”

Hybels told a story about a man who sexually abused a little girl, and then he said something like, “For a crime so vile, someone has to pay.”

Then he went through the entire Bible and showed that God had arranged for a lamb … or a goat … and finally a Savior to pay for our sins because we could not pay ourselves.

That message isn’t just for unbelievers.  It’s for believers, too.

 

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One of the most common complaints that church leaders have about their pastor is this one:

“He acts like a dictator.”

This complaint usually states that the pastor:

*spends money without authorization

*makes major decisions unilaterally

*withholds valuable information from key leaders

*verbally abuses staff members

*threatens people who try to confront him

*doesn’t listen to people’s concerns or complaints

*becomes angry easily

All too many pastors want to run the church their way … and they will take down anyone who tries to oppose them.

The difference between leaders and dictators:

*Leadership requires collaboration.  A pastor who is a good leader has to make presentations for various projects to the church board, staff, and other key leaders to seek their approval.

But a pastor who is a dictator bypasses that collaboration and makes major decisions unilaterally … and then expects key leaders to support him fully.

*Leadership requires ownership.  In my last church, we built a new worship center, a project that eventually cost about two million dollars.  The building team worked on the plans.  The church board handled the financing.  The staff gave their input at every turn.  We asked the architect to stand before our congregation and present his plans … allowed people to ask questions … and then held a meeting where people shared their input.  We later listed every word people said on the church website which let everyone know we took congregational input seriously.

We needed broad ownership in decision making so that we could have broad ownership when we asked people to give toward the building.

But a pastor-dictator will bypass as many of those steps as possible.  He and a few of his buddies inside the church will do most of the work … and then expect people to buy in with their finances … and things usually won’t go very well.

*Leadership requires patience.  I once heard a prominent pastor say that it takes four years to make a major change in a church.  A good leader will devise a process where he charts a clear course … people’s complaints are heard … their objections are answered … and change is not rushed.

But a pastor-dictator is always in a hurry.  He doesn’t want to give the complainers any kind of forum because they might waylay his plans.  He doesn’t want to devote any time to answering objections because he’s thought things through and that should be good enough for everyone else.  The dictator thinks it’s his church far more than it’s the people’s church.

*Leadership requires love.  I once knew a pastor who took a ministry class in seminary.  The professor told his students you have to “love the sheep” and then “lead the sheep.”  My friend approached the professor after class and said, “That was really great … you have to lead the sheep then love the sheep.”  The professor said, “No, you have to love the sheep and then lead the sheep.”  Big difference!

The pastor who is a true leader loves his people and then leads them.  He motivates them by recommending ministries that are in their best interests.

But the dictator doesn’t even lead his people.  He manipulates the congregation into doing what are in his own best interests.  He bulldozes them … threatens them … and sends out the signals, “I alone know what is good for this church.”

To quote Paul Simon, such an attitude “sure don’t feel like love.”

*Leadership requires humility.  The leader’s attitude is, “I believe this is the direction God wants us to go as a church.  I’ll need your help along the way.”

But the dictator equates his own wishes, words, and plans with the will of God … and to question him is to doubt the Lord Himself.

If you’ve read my words …

What can you do about a pastor who is a dictator?

First, realize that most pastors who have adopted a dictatorial leadership style are rarely going to change. 

Such pastors have enjoyed at least some success with their style which is why they keep using it.  But whether it’s a personality flaw, or a narcissistic bent, or a defense mechanism, most dictators never change.

You can plead with them to become more collaborative … threaten to leave the church … or send them for counseling … but it won’t do any good.

I have never known a dictatorial pastor to alter his modus operandi.  Have you?

Now if a pastor has exercised a collaborative style, and temporarily becomes dictatorial, that’s different.  Sometimes a pastor senses that unless he pushes a project hard, nothing’s going to happen.  I had to do that at times, but if people called me on it, I backed off and tried to reset matters.

In this article, I’m talking about pastors who have demonstrated unilateral dominance from Day One.

Second, realize that dictators will keep going until someone tries to stop them.

Once a dictator has momentum, that person will continue to use their domineering style because they’re getting results.

And if nobody ever calls them on their tactics, they’ll just keep using them.

The only way to stop a dictator is to stage some kind of an intervention.  Let them know that what they are doing is counterproductive to the leadership and the congregation.

Much of the time, church leaders will tell me, “He’s a dictator, but boy, is he a great Bible teacher!  He really knows the Word!  Our people love his teaching!”

But sometimes, good teachers make lousy leaders.  Many Bible teachers would rather spend all their time researching, writing, and delivering messages than doing anything to improve their leadership skills.

If so, let the pastor teach … and get someone else on board to lead the church.

Third, realize that dictators sow the seeds of their own destruction.

Once you’ve woken up to the fact that your pastor is a dictator, know that a Day of Reckoning is bound to occur … and maybe soon.  Godly, gifted, intelligent people rebel inwardly against dictator-pastors … and if they conclude that things won’t change, they’ll quietly head for the exits.

Here is what will happen:

*your best leaders will leave the church first

*key ministries will be curtailed due to a lack of volunteers

*staff members will be laid off due to lack of funds

*those remaining will be the passive takers, not the active givers

*the dictator-pastor will then jump ship as soon as he can

This may not sound kind, but it’s better to take out the dictator before the death spiral occurs than to do nothing and watch your church slowly die.

Finally, the only way to deal with a dictator is to defeat them.

That means you’re going to have to fight them for control of the church.

And if you do engage them, I guarantee it’s going to get nasty … and bloody … and people are going to get hurt … including you and your family.

For this reason, if you’re in a church with a dictator as pastor, it’s preferable that you and your family quietly look for another church.

But if you’re determined to stay, you’re going to have to deal with your pastor … and there are ways to do this that are consistent with Scripture and the Christian faith.

If I was a board member, and I felt that the pastor had to go to save the church, I’d take the following steps:

*Call a special meeting of the official board away from the church campus.

*Express your concern about the way the pastor has been operating.  Share real-life examples.

*Go around the room and let each board member share how they feel about the pastor.  If the pastor has strong support, and you can’t convince them of your position, mentally make plans to leave the church.  YOU CAN’T DEAL WITH A DICTATORIAL PASTOR UNLESS YOU HAVE FULL BOARD SUPPORT.  If you do have full board support, then:

*Take time to pray and read Scripture together.  Ask God for His guidance … and for courage.  Confronting a dictatorial pastor will be among the hardest things you will ever do.

*Consult your church’s governing documents.  Hopefully there’s a section that lays out how to hire and fire a pastor.  If not, obtain the governing documents from three other churches that are governed like yours and summarize their process in a few steps.  Then write out what you believe are the best practices for terminating a pastor and adopt them as a board.

*Do not make a laundry list of all the pastor’s shortcomings.  That’s destructive.  Instead, focus on the one or two areas that concern you the most … no more than two.  (People can’t change in multiple areas of their lives.)  Come up with several examples under each area of concern.  You’re going to share these concerns with the pastor.

For example: “Pastor, whenever we ask you to give a report of your activities at the monthly board meeting, you just say, ‘Everything’s fine.’  But we need much more information than that!  We’d like you to bring a one or two page written report to every board meeting so we know specifically what you are doing.”

That’s a reasonable request.  (I brought a written report for years to every board meeting.)  But the dictator usually resists such accountability.

*Prayerfully ask two people to meet with the pastor to express the board’s concerns.  If possible, the chairman should be one of those people.  (Otherwise, the pastor will wonder, “Does the chairman know about and agree with this confrontation?”)

*Ask the pastor to meet the two board members at a neutral location, like a restaurant, rather than in the pastor’s study or someone’s home.  While you want privacy, it’s harder to make a scene in public.

*Give the pastor a choice.  Tell him, “We love you and we’re happy for you to remain our pastor, but we need to see the following changes in your life and ministry or else we will take further action.”  Then share with him how you want him to behave in the future.  If he becomes angry, wait until he calms down.  If he storms off, you’ll have to meet with him again.  Tell him that if he leaves the meeting and contacts his supporters, you will recommend to the board that he be dismissed immediately.

*The pastor has four options at this point:

First, he can act like you’ve never met and continue operating as usual.

Second, he can contact his supporters, tell them about the meeting, and thereby institute an all-our war within your congregation.  YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR THIS POSSIBILITY.

Third, he can agree to make the changes you’ve suggested … in which case the board has the right to monitor his progress.

Finally, he may outwardly comply with the board’s wishes while starting to search for a new job.

I can’t give you a flow chart for what might happen under each option, but these kinds of situations can become unpredictable fast!

Let me share with you the single best way of dealing with a dictator-pastor.

Don’t hire one in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I recently met a woman who told me why she will never serve in a church again.

While a new believer, she became the office manager for a prestigious megachurch.  She served in that position for seven years.

The pastor governed the church without any kind of board or advisory group … an acceptable practice within that church’s wider Christian movement.

After she eventually left her position – she said she “knew too much” – she was asked to go back and comb through seven years of financial records.

When she did so, she found that the pastor had used church funds to do work on his house, among other things.

But then the coup de grace came when the pastor had an affair … divorced his wife … and married his lover.

The pastor left his position, but several years later, was placed in another church by the leader of that wider Christian movement.

That was it for her.

She told me that she attends a church with her husband, but that they will not serve as volunteers or in any other fashion.

I asked her, “So you just sit on the back row and leave after the service?”

“Yes,” she said.

This woman was thoughtful, intelligent, and interesting, with a great personality.

But she also has her limits for witnessing and tolerating bad behavior … as is true for most of us.

_______________

Christian leaders are fond of proclaiming that Jesus wants His Church to fulfill His Great Commission … to “make disciples of all nations” … and making disciples initially involves bringing people to faith in Christ.

So Christians share Christ through mass crusades … rock concerts … youth camps … men and women’s retreats … movies and literature … and numerous other methodologies.

But we devote little to no personnel, time, energy, or resources to believers who are the victims of Christian misbehavior.

Our country is littered with tens of thousands of Christians who feel so wounded and violated by the sins of Christian leaders (pastors, staffers, board members and other leaders) that they either don’t go to church or, if they do, they sit on the back row.

And when they hear the pastor say, “We need volunteers for Vacation Bible School next week,” or “We ask you to give so our mission team can go to Russia,” they immediately exempt themselves from any involvement.

These people are believers in Jesus Christ … they have just stopped believing in the local church.

After they have seen and heard “enough,” they pull back on church participation.  They become isolated … sometimes from other Christians, mostly from local churches.

And they don’t identify themselves inside the Christian community.  They just keep quiet.

I encouraged the woman I mentioned above to tell me her story.  She was hesitant to do so.  Like most believers, she didn’t want to cause any trouble.

_______________

Thirty years ago, I read an article in Leadership Journal written by John Savage.  Based on his research, Savage claimed that whenever a churchgoer stopped attending their home church for six to eight weeks, they would reinvest their lives in other pursuits and quit church altogether because they concluded that nobody at the church cared enough to notice they were missing.

Savage believed that congregations need systems to track their attendees and that they should be contacted by someone from their church well before that six-week period.

For instance, in our last ministry, once a regular attender was missing for two Sundays, someone contacted them the very next week and said, “We’ve missed seeing you.  Is everything okay?  How can we help?”

Savage said that once someone stops attending for eight weeks, there is only one way to get them to return.

He said a loving, well-trained person/couple need to set up an appointment with the lapsed attender(s) … and the meeting needs to take place in the attender’s home.

Savage said that the people from church should only stay one hour … and that they should spend at least fifty minutes of that hour listening rather than talking.

Savage said it takes five or six similar meetings before the lapsed churchgoer(s) shares the real reasons why they aren’t attending church … and only then is there hope they might return.

Assuming that Savage’s research was accurate, there are obvious downsides to his approach.

To reclaim lapsed attenders, a church would need to:

*make such a ministry a priority

*identify people who could do it well

*get them to buy into Savage’s approach

*train these people to listen attentively to the hurts of lapsed attendees

*expect little return from such a ministry

That’s why it’s far better for a church to set up a ministry to identify and contact missing churchgoers within two weeks than to wait two months.

And the pastor can’t engage in such a ministry personally because many of the complaints center around him … and most churchgoers will never share that information in his presence.

_______________

How can we minister to people who have been deeply wounded by Christian leaders?

Let me offer four suggestions:

First, stop blaming them for the way they feel.

If you’ve been hurt by a Christian leader, you may feel anger … disappointment … hurt … and fear.

Those feelings are all legitimate.

When most Christians are violated in some way by a leader, they can’t reconcile that leader’s behavior with the gospel or New Testament Christianity.

Especially since most of the time, sinning leaders don’t repent and ask forgiveness from their victims.

The closer a Christian was to that leader, the more deeply they feel the pain.

When a pastor commits a major offense, he creates unknown collateral damage … so we shouldn’t blame the victims.

I’ve heard pastors criticize these Christian victims from the pulpit.  It doesn’t work.

Instead:

Second, we have to understand where they’re coming from.

I once knew a pastor who was trying to convince the people in his congregation to serve as volunteers.

He proudly told me what he told them: “If you aren’t serving in this church, you’re out of the will of God.”

That statement was not only insensitive … it was just plain dumb … and designed to drive people away from service rather than move them toward it.

Is is possible that some people in that church had tried to serve in another church and had a terrible experience?

Yes.

Then why condemn them because they didn’t want to feel the same kind of pain again?

It would be better for someone in that church to set up meetings and listen to people’s stories than to tar them all as being “out of the will of God.”

In fact, if I’d been wounded by a leader, the only way I’d even consider participation in a church again is if I could tell my story to a safe Christian.

Where are such safe Christians today?

Third, most Christians will only tolerate so much sin in their leaders.

Most people know who actress Patricia Heaton is.  She is a Roman Catholic Christian who stands strongly against abortion and often quotes Scripture on her Twitter account.

Yesterday she tweeted about a priest who has been found guilty of raping young boys.  She wrote: “The church will continue to decline and lose people like me if they keep tolerating this abomination.”

The woman I wrote about at the beginning of this article was most upset that her former pastor was given another church by his superior.  She felt that his behavior was so horrendous that he should never pastor again.

Since I don’t know the details, I can’t comment on that pastor’s reassignment.

But that reassignment came with a price … one that most people would never hear about: the alienation of a good woman and her husband from Christian service.

I know many pastors who have been married for decades and have always been faithful to their wives … yet because they were forced to resign from their churches, no church will even consider them as a pastoral candidate.

But if a church has a pastoral opening, shouldn’t those pastors be considered before someone guilty of sexual immorality?

Finally, we need to speak openly about wounded Christians because their ranks are growing.

Many years ago, when I was still a pastor, I had a conversation with a Christian couple I’ve known for decades.

When I asked them about their current church commitment, they told me they weren’t going to church anymore.

They told me a story about how they went to their pastor, and tried talking to him about a family issue, and how insensitive the pastor was toward them.

Instead of trying to understand, I got on them a bit, telling them, “But all pastors and churches aren’t like that.”

What I failed to understand was that the experience was so painful that they couldn’t go through it again … so their best solution was just to stay away from church altogether.

Right now, I know many Christians who used to attend church regularly and serve enthusiastically.  But now they aren’t going to church at all, go only sporadically, or warm a pew and then zip right home.

Sometimes they have good reasons for their non-participation.  Other times, their reasons don’t seem very compelling.

But there are thousands and thousands of good, solid believers who could be reclaimed, restored, and renewed if only someone in Christ’s church would devise a ministry for them.

Any ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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