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When a pastor is forced to leave his congregation, who is to blame?

Some inside a church will instantly proclaim, “The pastor is completely responsible for his demise.  He is 100% at fault.”

Others will insist, “The pastor isn’t to blame for his departure.  It was that spineless board … that heartless faction … or even the devil himself that caused this mess!”

The truth usually lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

In my book Church Coup, I quoted church conflict expert Speed Leas, who wrote about a research project along this line:

“While we could find some situations that were primarily the congregation’s ‘fault’ … and we could find some that were primarily the pastor’s ‘fault’ … these occurrences were rare.  Most of the time we found a mixture of congregational and pastoral causes that defied unraveling as to who ‘started it.’  Asking the question ‘Whose fault is it?’ in the church seemed to tangle people up … more than it helped … in our research into 127 ‘involuntary terminations’ or firings, we found the need to find fault to be one of the most characteristic and least helpful dimensions of the conflict … it is almost never the case that one party is exclusively in the wrong.”

This issue has been rattling around in my head for years, so let me mention five common scenarios involving a pastor’s departure … along with a general assessment of responsibility in each case:

First, if a pastor is guilty of a major offense, he is fully responsible for his own departure.

If a pastor is guilty of heresy, he should be fired and removed from office.

I read about a pastor many years ago who began teaching universalism, the belief that everyone – even Satan – will eventually be saved and go to heaven.

Since universalism perverts the gospel (if everyone can be saved, why did Jesus die?), the church was justified in removing that pastor from office, although he caused untold damage in the process.

If a pastor is guilty of sexual immorality, he should be removed from office as well.

I heard about a pastor who had an affair with a woman in his church for twenty years.  Twenty years!

How could he preach from the Holy Bible … serve Holy Communion … and even relate to the Holy Spirit while engaging in such conduct?

When the church board finally discovered the pastor’s misconduct, they took steps to remove him from office quickly.

Some experts believe these are the only two offenses that should merit a pastor’s forced termination, but I’d like to add a third: criminal behavior.

If a pastor has physically abused his wife … engaged in fraudulent financial behavior … assaulted people violently … or embezzled funds from his church … how can he stay as pastor?

He can’t.

When information about the pastor’s excessive misconduct comes to the attention of the church board, they should still:

*meet with the pastor

*ask him for his side of the story

*deliberate together prayerfully

*ask him to repent, if they discern he’s guilty

*aim for his restoration, not his destruction, if they remove him from office

But even if the board doesn’t handle the pastor’s departure perfectly, the pastor who is guilty of one of The Big Three has cooked his own goose.

However, this doesn’t mean that God is done with such individuals forever.

Second, if a church board has warned a pastor about a problem, and he’s failed to change his behavior within a reasonable time, the pastor is usually responsible for his own demise.

This scenario makes some assumptions … that the church board has:

*identified an area of the pastor’s life or ministry that needs changing

*spoken to the pastor directly and seriously about their concerns

*given the pastor enough time to turn things around

*monitored the pastor’s progress through the use of markers

*told the pastor what will happen if he doesn’t comply with their directives

Let’s say a pastor makes occasional insulting comments on Facebook to people from his church.  And let’s say that five people he has insulted are hopping mad and threaten to leave the church if the pastor’s behavior continues.

Once the church board approaches the pastor about this matter, he should do all he can to comply with their wishes, even if he doesn’t agree with each example they cite.

The pastor might choose to eliminate his Facebook page altogether … or write a message on Facebook apologizing for his behavior … or resolve to only write positive comments from now on … or at least refrain from saying anything that could be negatively interpreted.

But if the pastor continues to make insulting comments after being warned against it, then the pastor is to blame if the board reluctantly asks for his resignation.

There are church boards that work the steps I’ve listed above, but most boards don’t operate in such a clear manner.  They become anxious about the pastor’s behavior … handle things reactively rather than proactively … finally meet together in secret to discuss the issues … and only speak with the pastor directly when things have spun out of control.

And by then, it’s usually too late.

But if the board does everything right, and the pastor doesn’t change after a reasonable amount of time … he shouldn’t be surprise if he’s asked to pack his bags.

Third, if it becomes obvious that the pastor isn’t a good match for the church or the community, the blame for the pastor’s departure should be shared equally.

That is, the board should assume some of the blame, and the pastor should assume some of the blame.

Thirty years ago, I put out some resumes and had several phone interviews with search teams.

One was in Bay City, Michigan.  Another was in Rochester, New York.

The search team in Michigan liked me, but they asked me this question: “How would you feel about living so far away from your family in the West?”

Up to that time, all I cared about was leaving the church I was pastoring.  But they made me think about something I hadn’t really considered … and they were right.

Had I gone to Bay City, that church would have become our family, and neither my wife nor I would have seen our own parents or siblings very often.

If the board hadn’t asked me that question, and I had gone to Bay City, and it didn’t work out, they would be partially to blame.

But if I had gone there, and it didn’t work out, I’d share the blame as well.

I once heard about a pastor who was called from the South to a large church in Northern California.  His teenage daughter was forced to leave her boyfriend behind.

The girl became so depressed and distraught that the pastor resigned and returned to the South after less than a month in California.

It’s easy to say, “The pastor was totally at fault.  He never should have left the South.”  But it’s possible the search team didn’t look at the situation as carefully as they should have.

Mismatches usually reveal themselves pretty quickly.  It’s best if both the pastor and the search team admit, “We thought this would work out, but we can’t see it happening.  We’ll both take responsibility for this situation and not blame the other party.”

Fourth, if the board is happy with their pastor’s ministry, but the pastor is under attack, and the board fails to support him adequately, and the pastor resigns, the board is more at fault than the pastor.

Let’s say that Pastor Warren has been at Mercy Fellowship for six years.  And let’s say that Mercy’s attendance and giving have both doubled during that time.

And let’s say that ninety percent of the congregation loves Pastor Warren and that they are solidly behind his ministry … including the elders.

But one day, five people from an internal faction ask to meet with two of the elders.  They claim that Pastor Warren hasn’t been attending denominational meetings … that the church isn’t giving enough to the denomination … and that if things don’t change quickly, thirty people will leave the church.

So the two elders share this conversation with the other elders, and they speak with Pastor Warren at their next regular meeting.

Pastor Warren responds, “That’s right, I don’t attend denominational meetings.  I went to some my first several years here, but I found them to be a waste of time.  I’ve shared my stance with the elders before.  And we don’t give much money to the denomination because frankly, all we’re doing is propping up a bureaucracy run by a good old boys network.  I’d rather we invest in more productive ministries.”

The elders now have a choice.  They can back their pastor, or they can back the faction, but if they don’t back their pastor, he may choose to resign … and that will hurt the church far more than if the faction left.

I once knew a pastor who grew a megachurch.  One day, he fired a staff member.  The board hired him back.  The pastor resigned.

Pastor’s aren’t infallible.  Sometimes they get things wrong.  But the board needs to know that if they fail to support their pastor publicly, the pastor might choose to resign instead … and that will leave the board in charge of the church until they call a new pastor.

Finally, if a board fires a pastor without warning or explanation, the fault lies almost exclusively with the board.

Pastors aren’t mind readers.  They assume that things are going well unless somebody says, “We’re concerned about this particular issue.”

And a pastor should feel that wayYou can’t minister effectively if you’re walking around all day asking, “I wonder who’s mad at me?  I wonder if I’ve done something wrong?”

But a common scenario I hear from pastors is, “I thought everything in my ministry was going fine.  And then the board called me into a meeting after the morning worship service and they fired me.”

A board that would do that is composed of cowards.

If a church board is upset with their pastor, they have a responsibility to:

*schedule a meeting with him

*tell him to his face what their concerns are

*allow the pastor to offer feedback

*create a plan with the pastor’s input

*revisit the plan at reasonable intervals

How much time should the pastor be given?

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke says twelve to fifteen months.  If there hasn’t been sufficient improvement by then, the board has every right to remove the pastor.

The beauty of this approach is that the pastor can decide whether or not he wants to stay.  If he thinks the board has been unfair … or that he can’t change … or that he doesn’t need to change … then he has time to search for another ministry.

But most boards don’t do this.  They fail to tell the pastor their concerns directly … speak only among themselves … blame the pastor for not changing … work themselves into a high state of anxiety … and then fire the pastor abruptly.

And when a board fires an innocent pastor (that is, he’s not guilty of any major offense) suddenly, they’ve now bought their church two to five years of misery … or a gradual death spiral.

_______________

I believe there are times when a pastor needs to be removed from office.

But even when that becomes necessary, the pastor still should be treated with dignity, compassion, fairness, and grace … not abuse, insensitivity, injustice, and revenge.

The pastor and his family should also be given a generous severance package so they can transition financially into their next season of life.  Church boards that fire their pastors with little or no severance are denying the faith they claim to believe.

And the church board should tell the congregation as much as they can … not as little as possible … about why the pastor left if they want to reestablish trust.

Can you think of any other common scenarios that I missed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

We got along very well … at first.

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

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

And then I became their pastor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew I had to confront them.

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

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

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

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

They let us in, and then unloaded on us.

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

The evening did not go well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He became the worst antagonist I’ve ever had.

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

Hatred is a cancer in our culture and our churches.

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

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

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

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

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

*They don’t like the way he looks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But hatred sure does.

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

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

That list was a silent confession of hatred.

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

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

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

And you can see it on their face.

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

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

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

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

The hater usually gives himself or herself away.

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

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

Haters can’t help themselves.

Fourth, the Christian hater tries to convert others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was their foundation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was horrified.

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Back in the mid-1970s, I applied for the job of Youth/Christian Education Director at a church in Orange County, California that was nearly ninety years old.

My cousin and her husband attended the church and referred the search committee to me.

I interviewed with the appropriate leaders, and the congregation voted on my call.

Out of 47 ballots cast, the vote was 42-5 in the affirmative.

I was offered the position, and quickly accepted it.

(One of the kids in that youth group went on to become the president of a Christian university.  He’s quoted in the press – both secular and Christian – all the time.  I’m very proud of him!)

I immediately wanted to know who voted against me.

There was a family in the church that had four adults living at home: a husband and wife and their adult kids, a young man and a young woman.  The young man was attached to a fifth adult, his girlfriend.

I heard through the church grapevine that all five of them voted against me.

Why?

Because I graduated from Biola College (now University), and their last youth director was also from Biola … and he had painted the youth room orange without permission.

Once I surmised who voted against me, I wondered, “How hard should I try to show them that I’m really a good guy?”

The mother in the family was the church secretary.  And her husband was chairman of the all-powerful Church Council.

I spent time trying to get to know the secretary, but it was challenging.  She wasn’t very nice.

Her husband wouldn’t give me the time of day, and later cheated me out of funds by refusing to break down my salary into taxable/non-taxable categories.

Both of them were rigid legalists.

Now here’s the reason I’m telling this story:

Most of the time, when someone votes against a pastoral candidate or criticizes that pastor publicly, those individuals become likely candidates to oppose their pastor in the future.

Once churchgoers – including board members, staffers, and key leaders – take a public stance against their pastor, they almost always maintain their stance until either they leave … or the pastor leaves.

Once they go public with their opinion, they rarely adopt a different view.

They bide their time until they can prove to the pastor’s supporters that he/she was right … and they were dead wrong.

The couple I mentioned above were later involved in forcing out the pastor of that church.  I expected they would then set their sights on me but the Lord allowed me to leave soon after the pastor did.

Let me share a second example.

In 1999, I was invited by a pastor friend to become his associate pastor with the idea of succeeding him as senior pastor if things worked out.

I came to the church in June 1999 and was hired by the church board.

The pastor announced in January 2000 that he would be retiring the following December … nearly a year later.

By this time, I was preaching … teaching classes … leading a small group … and starting my Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary.

The congregation had to vote on me before I could become pastor.  I had to win 75% of the ballots cast.

The longer I stayed, the greater the chance that I would do or say something offensive … and that could hurt my chances of winning any vote of the congregation.  (It’s not expedient to candidate for a position for almost a year!)

So I went to the pastor and board and said, “I’ve been here ten months now.  If you want me to become your new pastor, I’d like you to vote on me sometime in April.”

If I won the vote … and since things were going great, I was certain I would … I’d become the senior-pastor elect, and that would give me the authority to accelerate the transition.

So one April Sunday, church members cast their ballots.  The vote was 76-4 to call me as pastor … a 95% affirmative vote.

But, just like the vote mentioned earlier, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

I was pretty sure I knew who two of the naysayers were.

There was a man in the church (let’s call him Harry) who had become both a board member and a Sunday School teacher.  In many ways, Harry was the senior pastor’s right-hand man, and his class was large, giving him great influence.

Harry and the pastor were about the same age … had similar views on money … and even took a vacation together with their wives.  The four of them were becoming increasingly close.

And then I came along.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my very presence made me an immediate threat to Harry.

When Harry got together socially with people from the church, he not only roasted me, but misrepresented things I said and believed.  Some of the things he said filtered back to me, so I knew that he didn’t like me.

And given his forceful personality, I knew that if he was going public with his complaints, there was almost nothing I could do to change his mind.

One day, Harry and I met alone at the church for two hours.  He asked me some questions about ministry, and I gave him my honest answers.

We had diametrically opposite views of the direction our church should take.

He wanted to use a retail approach to church growth.  For example, he felt we would grow quickly if we just advertised on television.

That kind of approach makes my skin crawl.

He not only didn’t like me, he didn’t understand me, and couldn’t seem to relate to me at all.

So when that vote was taken, I knew … knew … that Harry and his wife were two of those four “no” votes.

After the election, one of my best supporters came up to Harry and his wife and said … loudly … “Why don’t you congratulate Jim on today’s vote?”

They did so … but their hearts obviously weren’t in it.

Six months later … two months before I was scheduled to become the senior pastor … Harry and his wife left the church … in anger.  Harry immediately tried to negotiate his way back, asking for full access to me at all times.

I told Harry I couldn’t grant his request … and he and his wife never returned.

In essence, Harry wanted to run the church through me, but I couldn’t be anyone’s man but God’s.

Based on these two stories, let me share five principles about how a pastor should view his early opponents:

First, it’s not wise for a pastor to try and track down who voted against him.

Although I was curious about the five people who voted against me in the first story above, I don’t remember being obsessed by it.  But it didn’t take long for me to find out who those five people were … and as I recall, I didn’t seek out the information.  It somehow came to me instead.

But in the second instance, I knew that Harry and his wife did not think I should be pastor of the church.  Most people were very complimentary of my ministry when I first came.  In contrast, Harry never said one positive thing to me during that whole time.

Other than Harry and his wife, I never did discover the identities of the other two people who voted against me … although after a few months as pastor, I could have hazarded some educated guesses.

Second, although pastors cannot afford to be paranoid, it helps to know the names of those standing against him in the early days.

Most people who vote on a pastor will tell their relational circle how they voted … and they will explain or create a rationale for doing so … even if their friends disagree.

If the pastor does or says something stupid, they’re liable to tell family or friends, “Don’t look at me … I didn’t vote for the guy!”

If a pastor can casually find out who voted against him, that knowledge can become extremely useful.  This gives the pastor time to figure out how to minister to his critics … or at least neutralize them.  (For example, a pastor shouldn’t let such people into leadership.)

Third, if a pastor can win over some of his initial detractors, he should seize the opportunity.

I can only recall winning over two people who initially stood against me.

In my second pastorate, I received a vote of 51-5 to become the church’s senior pastor.  And once again, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

There was a middle-aged couple who attended the church, and I somehow discovered that they were two of the “no” votes.

I tried to get to know them, but they weren’t interested … and the woman always glared at me.

It went on like that for three years.

Then suddenly, the woman’s mother became ill and died.  I ministered to the family, and I watched their attitude toward me change overnight.

Suddenly, I became “their” pastor … and we enjoyed a great relationship for many years after that.

That’s the key: to become their pastor.

And sometimes, that takes a long time.

Fourth, some people initially oppose a pastor, not because they don’t like him, but because they assume he won’t notice or like them.

Most churchgoers don’t oppose a pastor because they disagree with his theology, or because they don’t like his stance on some social issue.

Instead, they’re afraid he won’t give them … or their family … or their ministries … sufficient attention.

This is where I sometimes failed.

As an introvert, I was often exhausted after preaching a sermon.  I didn’t have much energy left to say to the woman who glared at me all the time, “Hey, why don’t you and your husband go out with my family for pizza after church?”

Frankly, my wife and I didn’t have the money for shoes or car repairs, much less meals with people I didn’t understand.

But I needed to send some signals to that couple that I wanted to get to know them better and that they were valuable to our church … and if I sensed somebody didn’t like me, I sometimes avoided them instead.

Some of a pastor’s opponents are mean-spirited bullies who use intimidation to get their way.  Once a pastor has sized up such people, he needs to pray or escort them out of the church … and if they leave, let them go.

But others are just wounded people who wonder if the pastor truly cares for them.  And once they know that he does, they’ll become the loyalist of supporters.

Finally, although a pastor might be able to win over a few of his initial opponents, he needs to accept that some people will always oppose him.

I don’t think a pastor can win over everybody who initially stands against him:

*Some people are stubborn.

*Some people don’t want to lose face by admitting they’re wrong.

*Some people feel their influence would be jeopardized by switching positions.

*Some people are cantankerous and contrary by nature.

*Some people pride themselves on being the “loyal opposition.”

So the best of pastors can’t change everybody.

But if a pastor knows who his early opponents are, he can take steps to love them and to address their concerns … even if he never understands them.

_______________

But on rare occasions, the Lord can do amazing things even in the lives of those who vote against a pastor.

When I was nineteen years old, my church asked a former member and missionary to candidate for the position of senior pastor.

I didn’t fully agree with him … and neither did some others in my relational circle.

During his second of two sermons, he told us that God had called him to pastor the church.

I thought, “So why hold an election?”

In the end, I voted against him … as did six other people in my circle.

But 87% of the people voted for him, and five months later, he became the church’s second senior pastor.

Right before that pastor arrived, I was hired to work with youth for the summer.

That new pastor became my primary ministry mentor for decades.

And I ended up marrying his daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I once had a conversation with a pastor who had been asked to leave his church by the official board.

His attitude was, “Okay, I’ll resign.”

And according to him, he and his wife then quietly left the church.

The way he told the story, he didn’t ask for any severance … didn’t feel any anger … didn’t tell anyone what happened … and didn’t need any time to recover.

Personally, I think he was either lying to me or greatly exaggerated how well he handled his departure.

Because most pastors who are forced out of their churches don’t recover quickly.  According to my friend and mentor Charles Chandler, founder of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, it takes the average pastor one to three years to heal from a forced termination.

And in some cases, I believe it can take longer than that.

In my last blog, I wrote about the first three stages that a pastor goes through after being forced to leave a ministry:

Stage 1: Shock

Stage 2: Searching

Stage 3: Panic

Let me share the final three stages with you:

Stage 4: Forgiveness

I’ve heard pastors tell me their stories but try and excuse or explain the behavior of the official board or an antagonistic faction.

If the board wasn’t at fault … if they did everything right … then the pastor should feel little to no anger, and he probably doesn’t have to forgive anyone.

But if the board violated Scripture … and possibly the church’s constitution/bylaws … and lied about the pastor’s offenses … and demonstrated callousness rather than compassion … and offered little to no severance … then the pastor rightfully feels angry, and he will have to forgive his opponents before he can truly recover.

Some boards know that the way they’re treating their pastor is wrong, but they do it anyway.  These are usually boards that are run by bullies and people who are powerful/wealthy in the church or community.  The bullies have sociopathic or narcissistic tendencies and force others to do their bidding.

These boards must be forgiven.

Other boards … maybe most … think that the way they’re treating their pastor is right, but if they asked him … and probably the majority of their congregation … they’d say, “You’re handling matters horribly.”

These boards must be forgiven as well.

Surveying those who crucified Him, Jesus prayed in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus was treated horribly.  He didn’t do anything wrong but was crucified on trumped-up charges.

Yet from His perspective, Jesus granted His enemies unilateral forgiveness.  He forgave them for their sins against the Father and the Son.  He chose not to hang onto personal anger and bitterness.

But He did not offer His enemies bilateral forgiveness … or reconciliation … from the cross.  That offer would come later.

Now here’s the problem with pastors who have undergone termination: what the pastor really wants … and needs … is reconciliation … but it isn’t possible.

He has to settle for unilateral forgiveness instead.

Let me share how this works from my own story.

The board at my former church may have been upset with me over a few issues, but for months, they did not bring them to my attention, nor did they ask me to repent.

Instead, at our final meeting, they brought up an incident where I had already asked for their forgiveness and changed my behavior.

Then they mentioned a second supposed offense which I deny to this day.

In neither case did they allow me to respond to their charges.  They engaged in a scripted monologue that made them feel better but made me feel angry.  The climate in the meeting was, “We’re right, Jim, but you’re wrong.”

It’s hard to defend yourself when it’s six against one.

Yet eight days after our final meeting, all six board members resigned together.

Based upon their resignation letter, they never wanted to see or hear from me again.  In fact, if you read their letter, you would conclude that they hated me … which is how I interpreted what they wrote.

Then a week later, at two public congregational meetings, someone stood up and rattled off a list of charges against me which the board had never shared to my face.  In fact, it was the first time I had heard of all but one charge.

According to the church consultant present at those meetings, I suffered abuse and slander.  He later wrote that the board had acted “extremely and destructively.”

Those six board members chose not to interact with me anymore.  To this day, not one of them has ever tried contacting me for any reason.  Any personal relationships we had were destroyed when our working relationship was severed.

The board is no longer an entity.  I doubt if they have annual reunions.  If I wanted to reconcile with them, what would that look like?

I read a book once about a pastor who tried to do just that.  A year after he left his previous church, he called the board together and tried to reconcile with them.

But they were even more angry and adamant about the pastor than they had been the year before!  Their hearts had hardened toward him, not softened.

I have never heard of a pastor who was able to reconcile with a board or a faction that pushed him out of office.  Maybe it’s happened … I’m just unaware of it.

Individuals from the board or a faction might desire reconciliation, but most of the time, they’d have to initiate contact with the pastor.

I can count on one hand the number of churches that I’ve heard about that brought back a pastor and admitted they sinned against him when they ran him out of town.

But in most of these situations, the board members who sent him packing are no longer on the board … and they probably wouldn’t agree with the church’s decision anyway.

The problem with reconciliation between a pastor and the board that terminated him is that they would have to rehash the story again … both sides would probably end up taking the same stances they took in the past … and the pastor would be hurt all over again.

In my case, I was not guilty of any major offense.  I tried to work with the board, but our value systems were just too different.  One or both of us needed to leave.

Since reconciliation isn’t possible, granting unilateral forgiveness is the only thing a terminated pastor can do.

The timing of genuine forgiveness depends upon two factors: the severity of the injustice and the sensitivity of the pastor.

In my case, it took me six months before I could forgive those who ended my pastoral career.

Why did it take so long?

I wasn’t ready.

This means going to the Lord alone or with family … confessing any sins that the Lord leads you to confess … and then asking the Lord to forgive those who sinned against you, just as Jesus did in Luke 23:34.

If you can pray once and let things go, great.  In my case, I’ve had to forgive some people multiple times as I’ve heard about new offenses they committed against me.

But if you don’t forgive those who hurt you, you will not be able to recover from your termination.

Forgiveness is essential.

When you’re ready, give the Lord your anger … let it go … and ask Him to right any wrongs.

And then trust Him to do just that.

If you want additional help, let me recommend the books on forgiveness by David Augsburger and Lewis Smedes.  Augusburger is more biblical and deeper … Smedes is more practical and shares great stories.

Stage 5: Distancing

What do I mean by distancing?

After you have formally forgiven everyone who attacked and hurt you, you have to put some distance between you and (a) your former congregation as an entity, and (b) nearly everyone in that congregation.

Let me share a mistake I made along this line.

When my wife and I left our last church in December 2009, we not only had to move everything in our house, we both had offices at church as well.

We put everything in two moving pods … including at least two hundred boxes of my books … but we still had to leave some items behind … and we moved nearly 800 miles away.

I left three large filing cabinets full of files in the church office, and wasn’t able to return for them for three months.

When I returned, it took 21 Banker Boxes for all those files.

But it was extremely painful to return to the church.  The interim pastor had set up camp in my former office of ten years … I could see him through the large window … and the church was planning to do a memorial service for a woman who had been one of my biggest supporters … but now I wouldn’t be conducting that service.

One night on that trip, I drove by the church in the rain … and it was the last time I ever saw the sign and the building.

I’ve returned to the city where we lived and worked several times, but I refuse to drive by the church.

It’s just too painful.

On several occasions, I met with friends from the church, but they wanted to talk about the real reasons why I was pushed out … and that was hard as well.

On one of those trips, I invited a good friend out to breakfast, but he never asked me one question about how I was doing, and talked about how much he liked the new pastor instead (even though his family left the church soon afterward).

The last time I visited the city was six years ago, and I promised myself I would never go back.

That’s what I mean by distancing.

To recover, you need to distance yourself:

*from seeing the church campus again.  If you have to remember what it looked like, find some old photos.

*from spending any time with anyone who isn’t 100% your friend.  Eight years later, I probably have 15-20 friends left from my former church … and that’s mostly on Facebook.

*from any of your detractors.  There were people who claimed to be my friends when I left the church who flipped on me a few months or years afterward.  Their disloyalty was so painful that I started pulling away from anyone I couldn’t fully trust.

*from hearing how the church is currently doing.  If you don’t have contact with people who are at the church, you won’t have to hear how things are going.  Most of the time, a church that pushes out their pastor will suffer as far as attendance, giving, volunteers, and morale for the next two to five years.  I have no idea how my previous church is doing in any detail.  I took my hands off the church years ago … and that’s the best gift I can give any successor.

*from the area where the church is located, if possible.  Visit restaurants and stores in the area, and you’re bound to see someone you don’t want to see.

When I was in college, I worked two years for McDonald’s in Anaheim.  While I’ve driven past it a few times since I moved out of Orange County in 1981, I haven’t stopped there for a burger or tried to see if anyone I knew in the early 1970s still works there.

They’ve moved on … as have I.  McDonald’s no longer defines me.

That’s how pastors have to view their former churches.

Finally, there’s:

Stage 6: Perspective

You can’t have perspective on a forced termination until you’ve forgiven those who have hurt you and have put distance between you and your former church so you know they can’t hurt you again.

As long as you’re stressed, depressed, or in pain about your termination, your thinking about what happened to you will be skewed.

And it takes time to gain that perspective … sometimes a lot of time.

While self-reflection in this area is a good thing, you’ll gain far more perspective … and much more quickly … if you ask others for assistance.

I recommend:

*talking with several pastor friends.  My pastor friends let me know that my departure did not change our friendship.  That was their greatest gift to me.  I also had meetings with a lot of prominent pastors, most of whom told me about the conflicts that they went through.  Wounded pastors bond quickly and easily.

*talking with a church consultant or conflict expert.  If you want to know what really happened in your situation, these are the guys you want to speak with.  If I can help you in any way, please email me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org  I love to hear new stories about pastoral termination … and I know I can help.

*talking with one or two Christian counselors.  I visited two counselors … both women … and both came highly recommended.  (My wife saw them both as well.)  Both had been in ministry so they understood the dynamics.  Most pastors don’t see a counselor after a forced termination, and that’s a huge mistake.  If a pastor doesn’t see a counselor, he will tend to bleed emotionally all over his wife and children, and after a while, they may not be able to take it anymore.  The right counselor will listen to your story without judgment or condemnation … point out flaws in your thinking … help you discern healthy and unhealthy responses to your termination … and help you move forward.  Make sure you see a Christian counselor who understands people in ministry!  They will also understand spiritual warfare.

*talking with several of your supporters from the church … especially if they know the back story.  Because I wrote a book about what happened to me, I spent hours emailing and calling people who knew what was said and done after I left.  For example, two weeks after our departure, the new board chairman told the congregation that an investigation was done and “there was no evidence of any wrongdoing” on our part.  I would never have known that unless several people told me it had occurred.

I had invested 35 years in pastoral ministry, but my final year was horrible.  The church was landlocked, so I didn’t see any hope for growth, and the board was obsessed with money, even though we had plenty of funds for ministry.

After two bad board meetings in a row, I visited a counselor, who tested me and told me, “You’re severely burned out and headed for a breakdown.”

But I was so committed to ministry … to my church … and to my career that I would never have resigned voluntarily.

Looking back now, I see that the Lord in His mercy removed me from office.  Things at the church were going to get worse with that board … not better … and more conflict was going to be the result.

As I’m fond of saying, I didn’t retire … the Lord retired me.

People sometimes ask me, “Don’t you miss church ministry?”  And I always tell them the same thing, “No, I don’t.  Thirty-five years was enough.”

My wife and I run in a preschool in our house.  It took us nearly four years before we settled on our new career, but it’s gone very well, and we’re nearly always full.

We have nights and weekends free … can go to church with our son’s family and our three grandsons … and lead quiet but fulfilling lives.

I resonate with the words of Joseph, who told his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good …”

When you focus more on God’s wise and good plan than the hurt and the pain caused by your detractors, you’re well on your way to recovering from your ecclesiastical nightmare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my case, I had to pray this prayer on multiple occasions because the board that wanted me gone thought they were clever in the way they handled matters but bungled them so badly I toyed with the idea of calling my book Bungled instead of Church Coup.

 

 

 

 

 

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While sweeping the kitchen floor yesterday, it came to me that I’ve been in a really good place emotionally for the past several years.

After serving as a pastor for 36 years, I was forced out of my last congregation in the fall of 2009.  Of the scores of stories I’ve heard about pastors being terminated since my departure, mine still ranks among the top three worst stories I’ve ever heard.

Despite ten-and-a-half years of successful ministry, my wife and I were abused … slandered … hated … and shunned, especially during our last few weeks at the church and in the months following.

And yet today, I feel completely healed, to the point that I don’t think about those events much anymore.

What kind of stages does a terminated pastor go through to experience recovery?

Let me offer six stages … three today, three next week … and these ideas are mine alone:

Stage 1: Shock

As recounted in my book Church Coup, my fifty-day conflict began on a Saturday morning with a regularly scheduled board meeting.  The board and I were supposed to finalize the church budget for 2010 … only the board made an announcement ultimately designed to push me out of my position.

I was shocked that:

*the board had been plotting while I was overseas.

*two board members who had been supporters were involved.

*the board didn’t hear my side of the story before making drastic decisions.

*they thought they could lead the church better than I could.

*they acted like they knew what they were doing when they really didn’t.

My disbelief continued when I asked the board for documentation of the offenses they claimed had been committed … but they never produced anything coherent.

I thought I knew the six members of the board pretty well, but I was dismayed to discover I didn’t.

And I was especially shocked because I didn’t see the conflict coming.

But most of all, I found it hard to believe that Christian leaders would treat their pastor of more than a decade in such an unjust fashion.

What do I mean by “unjust?”

A pastor is treated unjustly when church leaders violate Scripture … the church’s governing documents … and labor law in their attempts to force him out of office … and when they do it all with a cold, calloused attitude lacking in compassion.

When I talk with pastors who have been forced to leave their churches, they resonate best with that last statement: that they would be treated so unjustly by professing Christians.

The shock lingers on … for months … sometimes years.

The more sensitive you are, the longer it lasts.

You never forget the moment you’re told that someone you loved suddenly died.

And you never forget the exact time a board member tells you, “Your tenure as the pastor of this church is over.”

Stage 2: Searching

After the shock wore off a little, I had two primary questions I needed answers to:

*Who was in on this plot?

*What are they saying that I did wrong?

I wanted to know the “who” before I discovered the “what” because most of the time, the “who” determines the “what.”

For example, if you told two women, “Jim did this … can you believe it?”, one woman might say, “That’s terrible!” and the other woman might say, “That’s nothing!”

It’s often how people interpret the information they’re given that determines whether they oppose or support their pastor.

So who wanted me gone?

I pretty much knew the answer to that question:

*people who wanted our church to have closer denominational ties.

*a handful of individuals I wouldn’t let into church leadership because they didn’t meet the biblical qualifications.

*people who had close ties with my predecessor and longed for his return, even though he had officially retired nine years beforehand.

*a small contingent who didn’t think my wife should be a staff member, even though she made the church go.  (I maintain to this day that some women were jealous of her success and hated her because of it.)

*people who didn’t like the church’s longstanding outreach orientation and wanted to pare down the church so they could better control it.

In a few cases, some people fit all five categories.

Some people weren’t comfortable with the church’s size anymore because they became small fish in a larger pond.  They felt more significant years before … and wanted to feel that way again.

What did they say I did wrong?

There are two sets of answers to this question … what they said while I was still at the church and what they said after I left.

While I was still at the church, the main issue was that my wife was on the church staff … and seemed to have too much influence.

And after that infamous board meeting I mentioned above, I was accused of deviating from the way the board wanted the conflict handled.

What did they want?

My wife’s resignation, followed by my own.  (And I’m convinced the board would not have offered me any kind of reasonable separation package.)

But neither one of us was going to leave voluntarily until the board made their case to our faces.

Two board members met with my wife … at my request … but they failed to convince her to resign.

And they never accused me of doing anything wrong to my face … only behind my back.

Months after I left, I was told that a small group in the church wanted to remove me from office, but they knew they couldn’t win the required vote so they decided to attack my wife instead.

That’s valuable information to have.  It’s hard enough for a pastor to leave a church under pressure … but if you don’t know why you were pushed out, you’ll spend months … if not years … blaming yourself when you don’t know the truth.

And then after I left, I was accused of all kinds of wrongdoing.  You name it, I supposedly did it.

For example, several people of influence claimed that when we built our new worship center, we should have paid for the whole thing in cash.

That would have been nice, but that wasn’t the position of the church board at the time.

Even though we raised more than half the funds, the church voted unanimously to take out a reasonable mortgage for the remaining balance.

And when I was pastor, we had plenty of people and plenty of income to pay that mortgage.

The company that loaned the church the money wanted to make sure that I had no plans to leave the church … that I was going to stay and keep the church stable.

I gave my word that I would stay … but after I was forced out, attendance and giving eventually went down … and from what I understand, the church had some challenges paying that monthly mortgage.

And some claimed that was 100% my fault.

But to this day, nobody has ever convinced me that I did anything worthy of leaving.

If anything, people’s false accusations were designed to make themselves feel better, even though they railroaded an innocent pastor.

Faultless?  No.  Flawed?  Yes.

But guilty?  No.

This stage … trying to figure out who opposed you and why … is so painful that many pastors never work through it.

It’s like being married for years to someone, and then they want you to leave the house … without any explanation.

For me, I wanted to know the truth, painful as it might be, so that I could heal.

Stage 3: Panic

There are two primary kinds of panic after a pastor has been terminated:

*Emotional panic

*Economic panic

Emotionally, you feel rejected.  Months or years before, the congregation voted you into office, and people were glad you came.

But now some … or many … are equally glad you’re gone.

When a pastor is pushed out of a church, there is usually betrayal involved … and nothing hurts more than that.

Someone you worked with … someone you trusted … someone you socialized with and prayed with … suddenly switched sides and joined forces with those who wanted to take you out … and you didn’t know when or why they flipped.

It could be the board chairman … the associate pastor … the church treasurer … or the head of men’s ministry.

Eleven of His disciples stuck with Jesus in the Garden.  Only Judas switched sides.

But how that must have devastated Jesus!

When I was a kid, I betrayed a friend, and couldn’t believe what I had done.  From that moment on, I determined that if someone was really my friend, I would stay loyal to them no matter what … and that included the five lead pastors I served under.

So to this day, I can’t understand why betrayal came so easily to some adults.

Why did they have to hold secret meetings?  Why didn’t they speak with me face to face?

Economically, a pastor depends upon the donations from people inside his church … and when he’s forced out of office, those donations disappear.

If a pastor is given enough severance … a minimum of six months … then he can methodically put together a plan to rebuild his life.

But if he’s only given three months … or less … the combination of emotional rejection and economic deprivation can cause him unbearable stress.

If the pastor has sufficient savings … if his wife has a job with a solid income … if he has skills that he can quickly use in the marketplace … his panic will lessen.

But most pastors are living paycheck to paycheck, and if they’re given a token severance … or none at all … they feel as if they’re in real trouble.

Why do terminated pastors feel such panic?

Because they trained and studied for years … went through the ordination process … sacrificed financially … gave their all to their congregation, trusting that they would care for their pastor … and then found themselves kicked to the curb.

My wife and I now run a business where we invoice our clients every month.  We provide a service, and they pay us for that service.  And when our clients fall behind on their payments, we remind them of their obligations.

But to have your income depend completely upon donations, as I did for 36 years … it takes great faith to believe that God will take care of you through His people.

And when it all turns south, it can cause even the best of pastors to become alarmed.

I will share the next three stages next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back in the 1990s, I read a little sidebar in Leadership Journal written by Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  I recounted this story often over the ensuing years.

Hybels wrote that he briefly visited the church campus for a rehearsal one week night.  The next morning, he received a note in his box from a church groundskeeper.  The note said, “Bill, when you visited last night, you parked in an area that’s off limits to everyone.  Just wanted you to know.”

Instead of lashing out at him, Hybels commended his corrector and told his Leadership audience, “I need to be an example, not an exception.”

And for decades, Pastor Bill from Willow has been an example of Christian leadership … until the recent revelations that may indicate inappropriate conduct on his part toward at least seven women.

There’s much we don’t know about what happened between Hybels and the women who have gone public with their concerns.  Maybe more revelations will surface in the coming days.  And I must confess … it’s difficult to analyze this situation from a distance.  But many people I know have been talking about it … with strong reactions on all sides … and I’ve learned a lot by listening to their observations.

I have no inside or additional information … just my own perspective about this situation.

Willow Creek June 14-15, 2005 006(I’m adding a few photos I took from Willow in 2005 to break up this article.)

Let me pose and attempt to answer four questions about the Willow “train wreck”:

First, what do you think about the accounts of impropriety from various women?

At first, like many people, I didn’t want to believe the charges against Hybels.  We don’t have any video of Hybels’ individual encounters with these women, so they initially fall into a “he said, she said” category.  But when seven women share their stories, and patterns emerge from their narratives, the similarities are most likely true.

*The accounts told by various women go back as far as the mid-1980s through at least 2011, so Hybels can’t claim they all happened when he was younger (and didn’t know the boundaries) nor when he was older (and his judgment was worn down).  The accounts spread over nearly three decades seem to indicate a pattern of behavior.

*The accounts are too detailed and concrete to be dismissed as a conspiracy.  What dismays many of us is that the allegations don’t sound like the Hybels that thousands of us respected.  I have a friend whose wife was in Hybels’ youth group and she says he never would have acted like these women claim he did.  Did something change over the years?

*I can’t wrap my head around why Hybels liked to tell select women how attractive or sexy they were, but Willow’s leaders have had a track record of focusing on the outward appearance of their public leaders.

Twenty-five years ago this month, someone who used to attend Willow hired one of Hybels’ former top leaders to serve as a consultant for our new church.  One of the consultant’s recommendations was to keep those who weren’t “in shape” off the stage, especially if they were singing or acting in a drama.  When I unwisely tried to implement this “Willow value,” a good couple immediately left the church, and I alienated one of the elders as well as some others … and I’ve regretted it ever since.

Maureen Girkins, former publisher from Zondervan, says Hybels told her that “she’d be more successful if she tried to be sexier.”  A Christian leader might think that, but to say it aloud?

*Several women mentioned that Hybels told them how unhappy he was at home.  Many of us in ministry know that the pathway to an affair starts with both the pastor and another woman sharing their marital unhappiness with each other.  It’s dangerous territory.  Why did Hybels, of all people, take that risk?

I attended the first International Conference at Willow in June 1994.  Hybels met with a group of pastors one afternoon and told us that he was in counseling for some “junk” from his past and that he and his wife were in counseling as well.  He was very transparent about his problems even though he and Lynne had written their marriage book Fit to be Tied the previous year.

I think it’s safe to say that this ministry couple had ongoing struggles in their relationship, although that’s not uncommon.

*As Christianity Today noted, “Hybels pressured women into spending time alone with him.”  This sounds like more than mentoring.  He comes off as a man who needed a friend, someone who could understand him.  I’m not trying to minimize his actions … just trying to figure out what he was after.  Was he looking for a listening ear or a wifely upgrade?

*Was anyone else disturbed by several accounts of staffers telling various women that they were “Hybels’ type?”  When a Christian leader gets married, shouldn’t his wife be “his type” from that moment on?  If this detail is true, it sounds like something that would happen in middle school, not in one of the nation’s largest churches.

Hybels wrote books with the following titles, among many others: Christians in a Sex-Crazed Culture; Honest to God?; Descending Into Greatness; and Character: Who You Are When No One’s Looking.  Right now, those titles look a bit ironic.

Willow Creek June 14-15, 2005 007

Second, if these accounts sound plausible, why did Hybels vehemently deny them all?

I can only guess.

Bill Hybels is the most transparent and vulnerable pastor that I’ve ever heard.  At the large-group gathering of pastors at the 1994 Conference, someone asked Hybels how he could be so transparent.  His answer?  He said something like, “It takes too much energy to hide things.”  While I enjoyed the creativity of Willow’s services … their core value of “people matter to God” … and the excellence with which they did everything … I was most impressed with the leadership’s authenticity, which sprang from their senior pastor.

So if Hybels was guilty of any of the infractions presented by these women, I would have expected him to confess, “I did say that … I didn’t do that … I may have done that.”

But that’s not what he did.  Instead, he initially issued a blanket denial, both to his congregation (including an online video) and to the Chicago Tribune, where he said:

“I want to speak to all the people around the country that have been misled … for the past four years and tell them in my voice, in as strong a voice as you’ll allow me to tell it, that the charges against me are false. There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.”

Why the initial denials?

*Is is possible there is a “megachurch morality?”  Let me share what happened to me eight years ago.

Seven months after I left my last ministry, I was still pretty raw emotionally.  A friend set up a meeting between me and a megachurch pastor.  We spent an hour in his office together.

At one point, the pastor told me a story … which I have since forgotten … but he then told me, “If you share this story with anybody else, and it gets back to me, I will deny it.”

I didn’t forget that statement.

That’s not the kind of thing a pastor with integrity would say.  He was telling me, “If what I’ve just shared resurfaces, I will tell a lie.”  It just rolled off his tongue like it was no big deal.

Is it possible that some megachurch pastors have a “I will protect my reputation and that of my church” at all costs mentality … even if it means lying?  Is this how they stay in power?

I admit this question is based on one incident … but it makes me wonder.

One of my mentors … a man I respect as much as anyone … recently told me that the entitled and privileged in the evangelical world constitute “one sicko sick system.”  I lack his knowledge of what happens on the inside of a very large church, so I’m unsure what to think.

*Is it possible that Willow had a “buddy culture?”  Jodi Walle was John Ortberg’s executive assistant at Willow for seven years.  She writes in this piece on her website (www.jodiwalle.com), “There was probably a naïve ‘buddy’ culture that didn’t place enough emphasis on male vs female.  It shows that Bill was possibly more relaxed and felt too comfortable with women …”

Yes, some of the accusations might have occurred in the context of a “buddy” culture, and Walle wrote her piece before the April 21 revelations from Christianity Today.  But Zondervan publisher Maureen Girkins certainly wasn’t part of that culture.

But the women must have been equally relaxed with Hybels to run with him alone or to visit his hotel room when summoned.  Yes, he held a degree of power over some of them, but didn’t they think twice about such arrangements?  What was wrong with saying, “I’m not comfortable doing this or being here?”

*If Hybels had admitted publicly to any kind of wrongdoing, how would his confession(s) have been received?

Let’s go back to when Hybels’ accusers first went public.  If Hybels had said at that time, “Look, I didn’t use my best judgment in these situations, and I want to apologize to these women personally, and if necessary, in the presence of the elders.”

What would have happened?

I don’t know.  My hope is that upon hearing Hybels’ confession, each woman would have forgiven him completely, and that would have settled the matter.

But what if Hybels and/or the elders feared that if he admitted any wrongdoing … no matter how small … there would have been calls for his termination or resignation?

If Hybels had admitted some degree of culpability … and it somehow became public … he had no way of knowing what the aftermath of his admission might be.  What if someone refused to forgive him and sought revenge instead?

It’s easy to say, “Well, he shouldn’t think about the consequences.  He should just admit his sin and take his lumps like a man.”

But Hybels wasn’t the pastor of an average church, but the leader of one of America’s most influential churches … one that’s become a movement … with an association of churches … and one that trains thousands of leaders.

In a very real way, Hybels was Willow to tens of thousands of people … but if Hybels went down, Willow and all its ministries would be negatively affected … possibly for years.

None of us can say how those admissions would have been used.  Hybels had to have his eye on his succession plan and planned retirement, and knew that in the present cultural climate, even a private admission on his part about a sensitive issue could go public and put Willow and its Association in jeopardy.

I am not saying that Hybels chose to lie.  And I am not saying that he was even conscious that he had done anything wrong.  (It’s easy to rationalize a host of misbehaviors if you’ve been operating under a “buddy culture.”)

But he and the elders had to know that in this particular area … misconduct toward women … it doesn’t take much for people to coalesce against a common opponent … and for the target of their wrath to become toast.

We all watched the dissolution of Mars Hill Church several years ago.  A church of 14,000 people and its satellite campuses vanished into nothingness seemingly overnight.

Willow may be constructed on a more robust foundation, but in today’s climate … especially with the viciousness of social media … anything is possible.

To Hybels’ credit, he finally made the following statements to his church on the night of his resignation:

“… I realize now that in certain settings and circumstances in the past I communicated things that were perceived in ways I did not intend, at times making people feel uncomfortable.  I was blind to this dynamic for far too long.  For that I’m very sorry.”

He continued:

“… I too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.  I was, at times, naive about the dynamics those situations created.  I’m sorry for the lack of wisdom on my part.  I commit to never putting myself in similar situations in the future.”

This is a good start.  As the elders listen to the stories of other women, and as Hybels goes through a time of reflection, let’s pray that this conflict can be eventually resolved.

Willow Creek June 14-15, 2005 017

Third, how should Christians view the organized effort to damage Hybels?

More than eight years ago, a small, vocal group inside the church I served wanted to force me out as pastor.  They didn’t have anything on me, so they went after my wife … who was on the staff … instead.  (These events are recounted in my book Church Coup.)

From the moment the accusations against my wife surfaced, I knew that I would end up leaving.

I brought in a church consultant who did some interviews and attended two congregational meetings.  As a former pastor, he knew instinctively what the opposition was trying to accomplish, and spelled it out in his report.  He contained the damage and helped me negotiate an exit package.

But most of my supporters didn’t think matters were all that serious.  Some were trying to figure out how I could stay while addressing the concerns of the opposition.

But my opponents weren’t in a negotiating mood.  They had organized a plan to push me OUT … and the signs were all there.

I don’t know how much opposition Hybels had from within Willow, or whether anybody currently on the staff or elders wanted his scalp.

But I know the signs, and I don’t believe the group effort involving John Ortberg was just after repent/prevent … trying to get Hybels to repent so they could prevent others from being hurt.

In my view, they wanted to damage his reputation as well.

I have a pastor friend who believes that it takes a megachurch pastor like John Ortberg to confront a megachurch pastor like Bill Hybels.  And because I don’t understand “megachurch morality,” my friend may be right.

My friend also believes that Ortberg had nothing to gain by becoming involved in this situation, although I surmised some possibilities in my article from March 28.

But I’m looking for a biblical precedent here, and having a hard time seeing it.  As apostles, Paul and John took on troublemakers inside churches by name, even though they weren’t present in those churches … but does Hybels fit that category?  And has Ortberg been given the authority of an apostle in today’s Christian community?

Something just doesn’t feel right to me about this.

Several thoughts:

*Division inside a congregation begins when churchgoers pool their grievances against a common opponent … usually the pastor.  I throw my two complaints into the mix … you toss in your four … and pretty soon, we have a list of twenty-four grievances against the pastor … and our twenty-four look twelve times worse than my original two.

Now the pastor is a bad guy who has to go because he committed twenty-four offenses!

In the process, I allow myself to be triangled … to take responsibility for your pain … rather than encouraging you to work things out between you and your offender.

It’s far, far better … and much more biblical … for God’s people to implement Matthew 18:15-17 before they do anything else:

#Go to the pastor privately and directly (Jesus doesn’t exclude Christian leaders from His words) and try and get him to repent.

#If he won’t listen, take one or two more with you and try again.

#If he still won’t listen, tell the entire congregation.  (At this point, the official church board would probably become involved, and try and speak with the pastor themselves.  If he wouldn’t repent, then they could call a meeting of the church.)

Were these steps followed by each of the initial four women?  I’m not saying they weren’t, but it bothers me in any church that people can latch onto a group that opposes a pastor before they’ve tried speaking with him themselves.  It’s all too easy for a person with one grievance to carry the grievances of others … and it expands the sense of injustice … although it does make people feel powerful.

In my case, no one ever implemented Matthew 18 and came to me directly.  The first time I heard any charges were in a public church meeting … but Jesus doesn’t begin by saying, “If your brother sins against you … tell it to the church.”

More than eight years later, I still feel horribly violated by those public charges … and by that power tactic.  So I can understand how angry Hybels felt when someone started calling pastors and Christian leaders and accusing him of impropriety.

But is it possible that either Hybels or the elders … or both … made it difficult for the women to come forward and share their stories?

*In the Christian community, a pastor’s attackers are rarely confronted or disciplined.  In my last ministry, even though their tactics were not loving or godly, my detractors were not corrected or warned by anyone official.  Humanly speaking, they got away with it.  In fact, some were later rewarded and given places of leadership.

Sadly, over the years, I’ve learned that the last place an accused pastor can find “justice” is inside a local church.

In Deuteronomy 19:15-21, if a witness in ancient Israel accused someone of a crime, and the accused was later exonerated, the false witness was to be given the same punishment as the person he/she accused.  But this rarely happens in the Christian community today.  Those who slander leaders are almost never dealt with.  A pastor who is publicly accused of wrongdoing is assumed to be guilty without any kind of a trial.  Thank God the report of Hybels having a ten-year affair was quickly rebutted by Willow’s elders or Hybels could have been forced out by a lie four years ago.

*Why did Hybels’ accusers need John Ortberg’s assistance to confront Hybels?

Both the secular and evangelical presses have melded the offended women and the Ortbergs (and the Mellados) together.

I’d like to separate them out for a moment.

I can understand how the initial four women felt wronged as they heard each other’s stories.  And I can understand how one or two of them might choose to represent their friends and approach Willow’s elders with their concerns.

But why bring in Hybels’ former colleague John Ortberg?  (I just noticed on Amazon that they co-wrote a book together.)  Or did he volunteer to help them?  And it seems all the more odd because neither Hybels nor the elders seemed to respond to Ortberg’s overtures very favorably … especially when he and his group issued their infamous five demands.  (Why did they think the elders would agree to them?  Or were they just posturing?)

The women may have been naive about how these things work, but Ortberg assuredly knew what would happen once the women’s claims against Hybels went public.  He knows how the game is played.

Jodi Walle, Ortberg’s executive assistant I mentioned earlier, wrote an open letter to him on her website.  She asked him:

“How is it that now you are the one to give women a voice?  We have a voice.  It’s our job to use it.  To be current and to go to someone if they have harmed us.  You have nothing to say about any of it.  If anything, you are part of the problem.”

But she could have added, “I know what you are doing, John.  You are pushing hard so that Bill resigns.”

There’s an untold story as to Ortberg’s motives that we may never know … and yes, I’ve read his explanation online.

But Jodi Walle’s open letter to Ortberg paints a different picture of him than some might imagine.  Yet so far, to my knowledge, nobody has addressed Walle’s revelations publicly.

Read it yourself at www.jodiwalle.com

I find the silence very telling.

Hybels alleges … and I have no reason to doubt him … that someone was calling pastors and Christian leaders about him over the past few years, but that kind of whispering campaign … and it was a campaign … was designed to ruin Hybels’ reputation.

And contacting the Chicago Tribune about the allegations was the coup de grace.  Who thought that was a good idea?

But guess what?  The tactic worked.  It usually does … and Ortberg, as an experienced pastor, had to know that.

Paul Simon once wrote and sang a song called, “Sure Don’t Feel Like Love.”

And contacting Christian leaders privately and going to a secular newspaper “sure don’t feel like love” either.

*There are two main ways of getting rid of a pastor when he has not done something clearly impeachable:

First, you gather together multiple charges.

In Hybels’ case, there has been one primary charge: his improper behavior toward women.  There haven’t been accusations (to my knowledge) of mishandling church funds, for example, but there have been various allegations of sexual impropriety.

Second, you gather together multiple accusers … like in the Bill Cosby case.  

And that’s what happened with Hybels as well.

But the better way … and the biblical way … is for each individual to deal with issues as they arise.

However … two women claimed they did confront Hybels about his behavior.  One was Julia Wilkins from the gym (mentioned in the latest Christianity Today article), and the other was Vonda Dyer (who wrote her own story online).  It took great courage for those women to go to Hybels … in his office … and confront him … but in neither case did the women report anything resembling an apology.

Having been a pastor for thirty-six years, I know how difficult it is for people inside a church to confront their pastor about wrongdoing.  I could probably count on two hands the number of people that came to me personally over the years, so they stand out in my mind … and I’m probably a gentler person than Hybels.

When he denied any wrongdoing, it’s hard for me to believe that Hybels couldn’t recall those confrontations … especially since both women could have escalated matters by approaching Willow’s elders instead.

Conflicts in churches could be avoided and resolved if people would just address matters as they occur … and that’s certainly what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:23-26, and what Paul taught in Ephesians 4:26-27.

The Bible doesn’t give us a specific statute of limitations on confronting those who may have harmed us, but to go back twenty years to complain about a comment the pastor made seems vengeful to me.

There are two surefire ways to destroy a relationship: make a long list of someone’s offenses and recite it back to them … and mention offenses they may have committed that go back many years.

This is the way the world works.  This isn’t supposed to be the way the church works.

I just wonder who is influencing whom.

Willow Creek Conference June 12-15, 2006 172

Finally, how should people handle their complaints against a pastor?

This is my own shorthand formula:

First, overlook citations.  Pastors are human.  They make mistakes.  They wear down.  They get silly sometimes.  They aren’t always at their best.  Not every “offense” is serious.

My wife leaves her shoes all over the house.  Sometimes I trip on them.  I’ve asked her for years to put them away, but her habits haven’t changed.

To get along, I’ve chosen to overlook the shoes.  It’s not that important.  And she’s chosen to overlook some poor habits of mine.

I’m not prepared to say how many of the accusations against Hybels fall into the citation category, but I can think of a few that caused me to say, “Oh, brother.  That’s just piling on.”

They should have been overlooked rather than tossed into the mix.

Second, confront misdemeanors.  When a pastor has hurt someone … and he may not be aware of that fact … the person offended needs to speak with him privately.  Isn’t that what Matthew 18:15 teaches?  The burden is on the one sinned against to initiate reconciliation.

Most offenses that a pastor commits are misdemeanors in nature.  The only way to restore matters is for the offended person to take the initiative and lovingly approach the offender.

I’ve had people confront me about things I’ve said or did that hurt them, and when I did wrong, I apologized and asked for their forgiveness.

But I’ve also had people confront me about things that I didn’t do or say, and I wouldn’t apologize just to make the matter go away.

Many years ago, on Easter Sunday, the church I was serving had just finished the first service.  The worship team met to evaluate that service and make adjustments for the second service.  Out of nowhere, a male vocalist (who had a handicap) accused me of saying something cruel about him.  To his credit, he confronted me right away, but I didn’t say what he thought he heard, nor would I ever have said it.

Yet he demanded that I apologize to him.  But should I have apologized to him if I didn’t say what he thought I did?

Pastors are accused of offenses all the time … a few to their face, most behind their back.  It’s why Paul wrote 1 Timothy 5:19-21.  My guess is that most of the offenses that a pastor is accused of fall into the misdemeanor category … but relatively few people will ever confront the pastor to make things right.

Instead, they sometimes elevate clear misdemeanors to personal felonies.

Third, investigate felonies.  Many years ago, a woman approached me with information about a member of our church staff.  To put it mildly, he was not the person he claimed to be.

I spent two days at home making phone calls and doing research to find out if her allegations were true … and they were.  Then I shared my written documentation with the church board and we created a plan to confront him with two of the allegations.

They were both serious enough to result in termination.

According to Deuteronomy 19:15-21, when a person was accused of a crime in Israel, the judges commissioned and carried out an investigation, then issued their findings.

Sometimes pastors are accused of serious matters, and the official church board has to investigate the charges.

There are three primary areas that should cause church leaders to investigate a pastor’s conduct: heresy, sexual immorality, and criminal behavior.

Sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual intercourse outside marriage all constitute felonies that usually result in the immediate dismissal of a pastor.  By this standard, no one has yet accused Hybels of any ministry felonies.

But … and this is the challenging part … they may feel like felonies to the women involved.  Otherwise, why go public with their accusations?

The elders at Willow launched an internal investigation and then hired an outside investigator to examine the initial charges against Hybels.  One might say that both investigations chose to overlook citations nor cite any felonies.

But it seems obvious now that Hybels committed at least some misdemeanors.  They shouldn’t have been overlooked.

But I believe the moment Hybels’ accusers went public, his ministry at Willow was finished.  That’s the era in which we now live.

_______________

Bill Hybels has a secure place in the history of the Christian church.  He has done enormous good for the kingdom of God, even though many people have questioned or disagreed with his methodologies.

I’d like to recount a well-known verse of Scripture … one that many of us learned as a child:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

I pray for Bill and Lynne Hybels and wish them well in the future.  And I pray that if Hybels sinned against any of the women who have come forward, that he would admit his wrongdoing and ask for their forgiveness.

And I also pray that the evangelical community, Willow Creek, and Hybels’ accusers can someday forgive him as well.

May this situation cause all of us to examine our own hearts and reexamine the way we deal with those who wrong us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Several days ago, a friend sent me a link to a story concerning Pastor Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.

Right now, it may be the biggest story in the Christian community.

For many years, Willow Creek was the largest church in the United States, and is now sixth-largest.

If you haven’t yet read the story, here’s a link to the Christianity Today website:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/march/bill-hybels-misconduct-willow-creek-john-nancy-ortberg.html

The story also hit the pages of the Chicago Tribune:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-willow-creek-pastor-20171220-story.html

In a nutshell, the story states that Hybels – one of the most influential Christian leaders of his generation – has been accused by several women of “a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct.”

To my knowledge, no one claims today that Hybels engaged in sexual intercourse with them.  Several years ago, one woman confided in a top Willow Creek leader that Hybels had a “prolonged consensual affair” with her lasting more than a decade, but she has since written a full retraction, confessing that she “wanted to tear [Bill] and Willow down and get it out of my system.”

But several other women have accused Hybels of “suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms.”

Charges first surfaced in April 2014, and Hybels has undergone two separate investigations since that time: an initial investigation by the elders of his church, and a second investigation by Jeffrey Fowler, an outside, independent investigator.

Hybels is due to retire in six months, and has already named a successor as lead pastor and another person as teaching pastor.

I have read everything I could about this story, including the Christianity Today story above, the Chicago Tribune story, and the written and video statements from Pam Orr, the elder chair at Willow, and Hybels himself.  You can find them here:

https://www.willowcreek.org/en/willow-creek-response-to-local-media

I’ve also read comments from the above stories, as well as many comments on Facebook and Twitter.

For many years, I was an advocate of Willow Creek’s approach to church ministry:

*I attended four conferences at the church between 1990 and 2006.

*I pastored a seeker-driven church in Silicon Valley for many years.  During my tenure there, our church sent twenty-two leaders to Willow Creek for training.

*My last three churches were all members of the Willow Creek Association.

*Although I met Bill Hybels once, he would not remember me.

However … I’ve never been enamored with everything Willow does, and have sometimes found myself perplexed or even upset about some of their policies.

But Willow Creek has always been known for its authenticity and transparency, and it’s the single trait I most admire about the church.

I believe that both Hybels and Willow’s elders have handled this situation in as transparent a fashion as possible.  In both investigations, Hybels was asked to turn over his personal technology devices (which were forensically examined), his emails (many of which were automatically deleted from Willow’s server), personal financial records, personal church records, his calendar, and travel records.

How many pastors could survive such scrutiny?

Some pastors would have resigned before any investigation started so their life wouldn’t be exposed.  Still other pastors might have confessed their wrongdoing before an investigation demonstrated their guilt.

But Hybels endured two thorough investigations, and according to Willow’s elders, did not lead or influence either one.

And let me say … as someone who was once investigated for several days … each day feels like a month.

Jeffrey Fowler, the outside investigator, told the Chicago Tribune: “After looking at thousands of documents, after interviewing 29 people, and doing as much as I possibly could, I concluded that there was no basis for believing that Pastor Hybels had engaged in a pattern and practice of misconduct, and to the extent any specific incident had been raised with me, I concluded that his actions in those instances were not inappropriate.”

But this has not satisfied some of Willow’s former staff members.

The names that keep being mentioned are John and Nancy Ortberg and Jim and Leanne Mellado.  Assuming they are the two couples mentioned in the discussions about Hybels, I’ll just call them The Group.

But John Ortberg is the most prominent leader of the “opposition.”

John Ortberg was a teaching pastor at Willow for many years.  He is presently the lead pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I’ve heard Ortberg speak at a church he pastored in Diamond Bar, California nearly thirty years ago and again at Willow in 1994.  I also had lunch with Ortberg’s predecessor fifteen years ago, so I have some familiarity with his ministry.

When the woman mentioned above claimed that she had an affair with Hybels, the Willow Creek Association Board voted not to conduct an investigation.  Nancy Ortberg and several other Christian leaders resigned from the board in protest … which was their right.

But once they resigned … in my view … they forfeited their right to have any further input into the Hybels situation.

The Ortbergs were no longer Willow employees nor church members.  They may have kept some personal ties, but they officially severed ties with the church.  And as a founding staff member from Willow once taught me, “The way you leave is the way you’ll be remembered.”

When the elders decided to investigate Hybels internally, The Group evidently relinquished control of the situation.

But then Hybels was exonerated, not once, but twice.

But The Group did not agree with the process used … and presumably not the conclusions reached.

In fact, according to Bill Hybels:

“Unfortunately, it has become clear that when the woman retracted her story, the group of former staff members who brought the original allegation then began to reach out to women who are or who have been a part of Willow, asking if any of them have ever had an uncomfortable interaction with me. Without mentioning the woman’s full retraction, they told women that I had an inappropriate relationship that Willow’s Elders had covered up, and they invited the women to share any negative experiences of their own.”

They have now escalated their attacks against Willow’s elders and Hybels himself, to the point that Hybels is convinced they are colluding to destroy his reputation.  Hybels told the Chicago Tribune:

“This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years. It’s time that gets identified.  I want to speak to all the people around the country that have been misled … for the past four years and tell them in my voice, in as strong a voice as you’ll allow me to tell it, that the charges against me are false.  There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.”

Hybels then told his congregation: “The lies you read about in the Tribune article are the tools this group is using to try to keep me from ending my tenure here at Willow with my reputation intact.  Many of these alleged incidents purportedly took place more than [20] years ago. The fact that they have been dredged up now and assembled in a calculated way demonstrates the determination of this group to do as much damage as they possibly can.”

I’m trying to get my head around why a leader like John Ortberg … who was Hybels’ ministry colleague and friend … would do something like this.

The following questions are based purely on speculation:

*Did he and Bill fall out personally when they were both at Willow?  Hybels evidently is not an easy man to work for.

*Did Ortberg secretly hope that he would be named Hybels’ successor?

*Does he view himself as the leader of a rival movement to Willow Creek?

*Has he become a public supporter of the #MeToo Movement, especially inside Christian churches?

*Does he know something from his time at Willow about the way the board protects Hybels regardless of any mistakes he’s made?

*Does Ortberg believe he is the best person possible to represent some of Hybels’ accusers?

*Does he really want Hybels to be exposed so he can repent and be restored?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and Ortberg may not know the answers, either.  He was recently quoted as saying, “This information came to us in a way that was unlooked for, unwanted, and it put us in a terrible situation.”

But a more likely possibility is that when Ortberg took his initial public stand against the elders and Hybels himself, he has tried ever since to show that he’s right and the leaders at Willow are wrong.

In other words, this conflict has degraded into winners and losers.

And if Hybels is declared innocent of all charges, that makes The Group look foolish, if not bad … causing some people to wonder if they’re guilty of fostering division and slander.

At this point, I’d like to share my own story briefly.

Like Hybels, I am now nearing the age of retirement.  I dreamed of retiring while still a pastor.

But in December 2009, I resigned from my pastoral tenure of 10 1/2 years at a Bay Area church because I was lied right out of the church.

I wrote a book called Church Coup if you’re interested in my story.  And I spent a lot of time in the book detailing the steps that lead a pastor to resign under duress.

My predecessor was involved in the coup.  After going into retirement for nine years, he wanted to return to the church … but first had to push me out.

He worked with the board, the associate pastor, and others to get rid of me … and their plot worked.

After I left, a nine-person team investigated the charges against me and concluded that there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

Another pastor succeeded me.  I have never spoken with him nor met him.

But I could never, ever do anything to undermine that pastor.

Why not?

*When I left the church, I left it for good.  I have never returned for any kind of service or event … and I have no plans to do so.

*The church chose its own board members without my input.  They govern the church.  I have no say in what goes on there, and it would be unethical if I did.

*If the church mistreated someone … and many of my friends eventually left in tears or in anger … I might be able to advise them on what to do, but I would never think to advise the board … nor would they want my input.

Let me state this clearly:

It is unethical for a pastor or staff member to interfere with the governance of any church they once served.

God did not appoint John Ortberg to be the elder chair or one of the elders at Willow Creek Community Church.

God appointed him to serve as pastor of a church in the Bay Area instead.  That’s where his authority lies.

He may have some moral or spiritual authority in the wider Christian community, but he has zero authority where he is not welcome.

And his ideas and counsel are not wanted by Willow’s elders.

The most breathtaking part of this entire story are the demands that The Group made to the elders at Willow.  This is from the WC website:

“The two couples made specific demands outlining how they wanted the investigation to unfold and the control that they wanted to have—demands that our Elders deemed unreasonable and unbiblical. These demands included the following:

  • These couples (non–Willow members) would approve the choice of the investigator.
  • The investigation would run the full course of Bill’s adulthood (from 18 years old and ongoing).
  • These couples would be able to choose the witnesses who were interviewed, and all people interviewed would have full indemnification.
  • The investigation reports would all be public regardless of the outcome.
  • These couples would insist that there be a public admission of anything that they (not the investigator or the Elders) deemed inappropriate.”

When my wife reviewed the story the other night, she asked me this question: “Who do the Ortbergs think they are?”

Hybels has been thoroughly investigated twice.  He has been exonerated both times.  Why would Willow’s elders then turn over an investigation to people who seem to want Hybels’ scalp?

The elders of Willow have spoken unanimously.  And they have shared their conclusion as to what’s really going on:

“This small group of former staff members has articulated outright to several people that they believe Bill does not deserve to finish his ministry tenure at Willow well, despite the thorough and conscientious investigative process that has cleared his name. It has become clear to us that they have decided to spread this sentiment through rumors and now through the media. They aggressively shopped the story to multiple media outlets. These actions fail to live up to biblical standards, and they have caused much pain for many people. We have deep sadness over the broken relationships with people we have respected and people we love. We are grieved for Bill and his family. After 42 years of faithfully pastoring you and me, our congregation, and after his family giving sacrificially, this has been painful beyond words for them.”

I’m sure there are people who do not like or agree with their verdict, but it’s time to accept it and for everyone to go home and focus on their own ministries.

From my vantage point … and I could be reading matters wrong … it looks like The Group … which includes Ortberg … is doing everything they can to get Hybels fired.

Let Bill Hybels serve out his last six months in peace.

If Hybels has been lying, the Lord will deal with him … either in this life, or the next life.

If the elders engaged in a cover-up, let God deal with them as well.

God is the Ultimate Judge.  He will right any wrongs.

In fact, God only uses imperfect people, including pastors, elders, staff members, and investigators.

And the longer this controversy goes on, the wider and deeper the breach will become in the body of Christ.

As Paul asked the Corinthians:

Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?  Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.  I Corinthians 6:7-8

For the sake of the gospel and the advancement of Christ’s church … please, let it go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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