Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Pastoral Termination’ Category

Pastor Joel could barely breathe.

The pastor of Good News Church for six years, Joel had just received a phone call from Tim, the board chairman.  Tim informed Joel that a group in the church had just held a secret meeting intended to force Joel out of his position as pastor.

So many questions whizzed through Joel’s mind, among them:

*Who was in the group?

*What were they upset about?

*Why didn’t anyone share their concerns with Joel himself?

*How long had they been meeting?

*How much did the staff and board know about them?

Joel instantly became disoriented and confused.  He couldn’t think clearly.  He began having an anxiety attack … maybe even a full-blown panic attack.

He had been targeted before in his previous two ministries.

In his first pastorate, a group of former lay leaders organized and tried to push him out.  But the board backed Joel completely, and the malcontents all left.

In his next pastorate, two staff members and three board members conspired to get rid of Joel, but their plot also failed, and they all departed together.

So Joel had been attacked before, but even though he had survived both attempts, he prayed that he would never have to go through another one.

And now this.

While Joel knew a lot intellectually about how to handle such a coup attempt, he also knew that when he was threatened, his emotions tended to overwhelm his brain, and that he quickly went into “fight or flight” mode.

He needed divine support, so he paused to ask God for wisdom and strength.

He needed human support, so he asked himself, “Which leaders do I know are 100% behind me?”

He identified three: Tim, the board chairman; Ron, the outreach pastor; and Craig, a former board chairman.

Joel contacted each person and asked if they could meet that night at a restaurant four miles outside town.  All three agreed.

When everyone arrived, Joel asked Tim to tell the others about his phone call.  Then Joel … thinking a bit more clearly … asked the following questions which he had written on a napkin:

*Tim, who told you about the plot?

*Why do you think they told you?

*Who do we know that opposes my ministry?

*What are their charges?

*What do you think their strategy is?

*Which staff members or board members might be with them?

After some discussion, Joel told his three supporters, “Based on my experience and research, I want to share with you how we can beat back this opposition and preserve congregational unity … provided that no staff members or board members are in on the plot.”

Pastor Joel told the leaders:

First, realize that nearly every plot against an innocent pastor is fueled by hatred. 

Joel shared:

“Clear away the smoke, and you’ll find an individual who has contempt for his pastor.  This individual – sometimes in concert with his spouse – has made a unilateral decision: the pastor must go.”

Joel then stated:

“If we can discover ‘the hater,’ we will have a better idea of discerning what’s happening.”

Joel went on:

“The hater is almost always the ringleader of the opposition.  The pastor hasn’t recognized his brilliance … hasn’t paid him sufficient attention … hasn’t taken his ideas for the church seriously … hasn’t let his buddies be in charge … and hasn’t kept the church the way it was when I came in 2011 … so I must leave.”

Joel then said:

“When the hater is identified, his name probably won’t be a surprise to any of us.  But others may say, ‘He really loves this church.  He’s a fine man.  He is so misunderstood.  He’s just uncomfortable with all the changes.  Cut him some slack.'”

Joel then shared:

“But once a plot is uncovered, there are only three possible outcomes:

*The hater repents of his rebellious behavior.

*The hater leaves the church.

*The pastor leaves.

Sadly, by this stage, haters almost never repent.”

Joel and his three supporters need to realize that the probable outcome of this conflict is that either Joel will leave … sending the church into turmoil … or the hater and a few of his minions will leave instead … the optimal option for the church’s mission at this point.

Second, the hater will hold secret meetings and invite disgruntled churchgoers to pool their grievances against the pastor.

Joel told his three supporters:

“The hater has already determined my fate: he wants me gone.  But if he goes after me alone, he knows he won’t succeed.  He’ll be outnumbered.  He needs allies … as many as possible … so he calls a meeting … shares a few of his complaints … and then solicits complaints about the pastor from others … the more, the better.”

Someone will be asked to record the complaints.

If the pastor has committed a major offense (heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior) … and it can be documented … anyone who attends the secret meeting can take their evidence to the church board, and the pastor most likely will be dismissed.

But secret meetings aren’t intended to come up with serious charges, but many charges … any one of which are trivial and petty.

Pastor Joel told the men:

“This is what happened to me in my second pastorate.  A group of 15 people came up with a list of 22 offenses I had supposedly committed.  The list was then distributed via email all over the church as if to say, ‘Anyone so flawed should never be our pastor.'”

Pastor Joel went on:

“I was accused of not dressing appropriately for a church event … driving a car that’s too expensive … counseling women alone (even though there’s a window on my study door) … changing the worship order too often … letting my wife miss a Sunday when she was sick … and so on.  They were all that trivial … and many of my accusers were guilty of the very same things!”

Joel added:

“The problem with soliciting grievances is that everybody has a different set of complaints.  I might feel passionate about two complaints of my own, but I don’t feel as strongly about the complaints of others in the group.”

Joel went on:

“We need to find out who attended the secret meeting, and then send a message to the hater and his minions: ‘Select two people to present your complaints.  The board will select two leaders to hear those complaints.  That’s fair … a two-on-two meeting.'”

Joel then asked Tim:

“Has any list been distributed to the church yet?”  Tim said, “Not as far as I know.”  Joel replied, “Good.  Let’s put together this meeting before any list goes out.”

Third, the pastor’s opponents will assume that the sheer quantity of charges against him will be enough for him to be terminated.

Some charges might be incident-based: “We saw the pastor do this after a service … we heard his wife say this after a small group meeting … we know that the pastor’s son was sent to the principal’s office at school.”

Other charges will be pattern-based: “The pastor is too intellectual when he speaks … he never takes my phone calls … he doesn’t show up for workdays … he strikes me as being depressed.”

Joel shared:

“Once again, if my opponents can produce even one impeachable offense, they won’t need to create a list of offenses.  The list is their confession that they really don’t have anything substantive to use against me.  We could create such a list against anyone in this church.  Remember that.”

Joel then said:

“Most charges will be exaggerated to some extent.  Listen for the words ‘always’ and ‘never.’  And listen for complaints to be overstated: ‘When the pastor made that decision, fifty people left the church.'”

Joel then told his supporters:

“When two leaders meet with two others from the faction, ask them how many offenses they’ve recorded.  Then ask them to read each one … and you answer each one before they read the next one.  Do not let them read the whole list because you can’t answer the whole list at once!”

Joel continued:

“As you answer each complaint, they will begin to lose heart.  They may not even finish the list.  When their complaints have been exhausted, ask them what they expect to do next.  They will probably say, ‘We need to report to our group.'”

Joel advised:

“Ask them at that point, ‘Who is in your group?  Who is leading your group?’  They probably won’t share any information with you, but they’ll know you’re onto them.  By answering their charges, you will have exposed their plot … and their hearts.”

Joel then shared an insight from family systems theory:

“I have learned that when you can ‘peel off’ one or two of a pastor’s antagonists, the whole plot usually unravels.  Suddenly all the fun is taken out of attacking the pastor.”

Joel then shared one more step:

Finally, tell the group in writing what you expect from the pastor’s opponents … including them.

Joel explained:

“Tell them that we have a simple process for handling complaints at our church.  If you believe the pastor has wronged you personally, then set up a meeting with him and share your concern directly.  If you want, one of us can meet with you as an impartial witness.”

Joel then added:

“If you are upset about church policy, you are free to speak with anyone on the board because the board sets policy.  We will either ask you to make your complaint in writing or ask you to attend the next board meeting personally.  After we have heard your complaint, we will discuss it and make a decision, and ask you to abide by it.”

Joel then said:

“Ask them, ‘Do you understand our process?  Will you abide by it?’  Assuming they agree, then hold them to it.”

Joel then added:

“Then tell them, ‘We believe that our policy for handling complaints is consistent with Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 and Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 5:19-21.  We believe the Bible teaches that conflict should be handled above-ground (in the light, not in darkness) and that those who are accused of sin should be able to face their accusers.'”

Joel then said:

“It’s my belief that if you handle matters this way, the two individuals will either leave the church immediately (the more likely scenario) and take others with them, or they will slink away and lose their appetite for getting rid of their pastor.  And if they bow out of the ‘get the pastor campaign,’ others will probably follow suit.”

After some discussion, Joel concluded:

“If we as leaders take control of the process for resolving these differences, then we will likely take control of the results as well.”

What do you think about Joel’s strategy for beating back his opposition?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Over the past six years, I’ve heard many heart-wrenching stories about pastors being attacked by church leaders.

One pastor of a large congregation was fired without warning and without any severance.

Two pastors were falsely accused of stealing money from their churches.  In both situations, their attackers brought in law enforcement.

One man served three churches as pastor … and was forced out of all three.

And I’ve heard about many coup attempts, either by the board or the associate pastor.

Out of all the stories I’ve heard, ours is still among the top three worst conflicts.

(You can read Part 1 of this article by clicking on the green link above the title on the left.)

Once allegations have been made against a pastor, he has to trust whatever process was already in place to allow him a fair hearing, or his position … and maybe his career … are toast.

The length of our conflict was exactly fifty days from the board meeting on October 24, 2009 until our last Sunday on December 13.

When the board met with me in October, they attempted to checkmate my wife and me in various ways.

One avenue they used … and it’s used by most boards that attack their pastor … was to impose a gag order on me in the name of “confidentiality.”

The board tells the pastor that they don’t want him discussing their concerns with anyone else.  That’s how they control you.

The board told me to keep matters private (they never asked me), but I never agreed to any confidentiality because I knew it was a trap.

But the biggest trap of all was the board’s threat to quit.  They said, “We’re all willing to resign over this issue … and we’ll give Kim the choice of being fired or resigning.”

But the strong implication was that if she didn’t resign, they would all resign instead.

Why did the board issue such an ultimatum?

I can only guess.

I don’t know exactly how many pastors, staffers, board members, and churchgoers I’ve worked with over the past six years, but I still haven’t heard any stories about a board that threatened to resign en masse.

In my 36 years of church ministry, I never issued even one ultimatum in a meeting.  It’s a power move.

If I said, “I must get my way, or I’ll quit,” someone might respond, “Then we want your resignation tomorrow morning.”

One pastor friend told me he would have said, “I’ve had enough of this.  You want to resign?  Let’s have your resignations right now.”

Not one of the many boards I served with over 25 years as a solo or senior pastor ever would have pulled such a stunt.

The board’s threat wasn’t spiritual in any way.  They didn’t leave any room for discussion or negotiation.

The board had arrested, judged, and sentenced my wife without meeting with her directly or letting her respond to their charges.

And they never made their case to me.

I was told verbally that my wife had overspent her budgets, and when I asked for a figure, I knew it was way overblown.

The signal that the board wasn’t playing fair is that they didn’t prepare a list of her spending for me.  As the pastor … and a board member … wasn’t I entitled to see it?

The night of October 24, the board met with several staff members, and added two charges to their list.

Five nights later, when two board members met with Kim (at my request) to explain their actions, they added even more charges.

Why wasn’t the overspending charge enough?

If a pastor is caught having illicit sex in a hotel room, that’s all you need to fire him.  You don’t need to say, “And you were rude at a board meeting three months ago” as well.

So why add charges?

When Kim didn’t resign immediately after the board made the overspending charge, they had to add charges to force her to quit.

And that was not only cruel, it was also a form of retribution.

There is no justification for the way the board acted.  They violated the church constitution which clearly stated that the senior pastor had to recommend the termination of any staff member to the board before anyone could be dismissed.

Someone was pushing matters … hard … so Kim would resign of her own accord.

And the expectation was that when she quit, I would quit as well.

_______________

Several years after the coup attempt, I asked someone inside that church, “What are the chances that the board was really after Kim and not me?”

Their reply: “Zero.”

So if the board wanted me to resign, why didn’t they come after me directly?

Because, in my view, they didn’t have anything impeachable they could use against me … not even my minute-long rant … and certainly nothing they could tell the congregation … so they went after my wife instead.

As someone on the inside later told me, they viewed us as a single entity … Jim/Kim, if you will.  (If you nail Kim, you nail Jim.)

Even though we didn’t work together very often, we did … and do … love each other very much … even though I quickly corrected her whenever she stepped out of line … something I did in the car and at home (and with a level of scrutiny no other staff member had to endure)!

Five days after that October 24 meeting, Kim still had not quit.  We both sought outside counsel, and were told, “If Kim doesn’t think she did anything wrong, and she resigns, that would be a lie.  Let the board fire her instead.”

But the board didn’t want to fire her, because they would have endured the wrath of most of the congregation.  They had to make it look like she resigned herself even though they had already “terminated” her.

At this point, I’m going to pull a veil over what happened next to Kim.  Let’s just say that Satan attacked her in a brutal fashion, and that I feared for her very life.  She was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Her suffering was the primary reason I eventually resigned.

After the dust settled, I was able to forgive people for what they did to me, but found it extremely difficult to forgive those who had hurt Kim … not only because she is my wife, but because she was the person who best exemplified our mission.

If the board had only followed Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 instead of business practices, matters might have turned out much differently.

Because six days after the October 24 meeting … the day before Halloween … the associate pastor resigned.  And the day after Halloween … the entire board resigned.

Looking back, what was the single most difficult matter for you?

It was having people I thought were my friends turn on me without waiting to hear my side of the story.

The associate pastor turned on me … as did the entire board … as did my predecessor.  That’s eight Christian leaders.

And I was told by someone on the inside that I could have survived the board’s departure, but that the associate’s betrayal ultimately did me in.

Their approach wasn’t biblical … spiritual … loving … or redemptive.  In fact, it felt like hatred.

It was devastating to know that false narratives were circulating around the congregation.  Based on my personal character and ministry history, most people had to know they weren’t true.

Every time I saw someone on the campus after that, I wondered, “What do you know?  Are you for me, or against me?”

I knew who some of my opponents were.  It was no surprise.  But when long-time friends turn on you … it’s heartbreaking.

After the board resigned together, they should have stuck to their initial narrative.

But they didn’t.  Allegation after allegation leaked out from those leaders as justification for their departures even though they had never discussed those issues with me personally.

Their attitude seemed to be, “That charge isn’t gaining traction.  Let’s try another one.”

The aim of my detractors was to destroy my reputation, and they didn’t seem to care how they did it.

And I had no forum in which to defend myself.

When churchgoers hear accusations against their pastor, but he doesn’t answer the charges, they assume the accusations are true.

And that’s when the pastor loses most of his church friends.

Dennis Murray writes: “Antagonists see themselves as saving the parish from a pastor that could more accurately be labeled a reprobate.  They are equally determined that their fellow parish members and all the folks in the greater community see things their way.  In order to establish bragging rights they try to control the story.  They need to do so by making sure that their target does not have any opportunity for rebuttal.”

When the “fire Kim” plan backfired, the “destroy Jim” plot was put in its place.

And it worked well.

I didn’t get my side out until I published my book more than three years later … and by then, my viewpoint was irrelevant.

If I had to do it over again, I would have written out the allegations I had heard … responded to each one on paper … and then made sure that my supporters distributed them throughout the church after I left.

That might have stopped some of the lies that were circulating about me … but, of course, my detractors would have just created new ones.

One day, I received an anonymous letter in the mail.  It demanded that we both RESIGN.  Kim and I were both scheduled that night to meet with the newly-elected board, and I gave the letter to someone who tried to determine who sent it … although he never did.

Kim met with the new board … they even prayed for her … and I met with them afterwards to announce my resignation.

We both appeared to be stubborn at times in our interactions with top leaders, but our seeming intractability wasn’t personal obstinance.  Instead, we were both completely committed to the church’s outreach mission which had been approved eight years before.

On my last Sunday, I urged the church to keep its outreach orientation.

But as soon as we left, our ministries were dismantled and the church quickly flipped back into maintenance mode.

What lessons have you learned from this experience?

Let me share four lessons as they relate to a church’s mission:

If a church really wants to reach its community, that mission must stay on track at all times.

Kim and I had learned this lesson at our church in Silicon Valley.

The staff, board, and key leaders were completely behind the mission of reaching lost people … on paper and in practice.

That commitment created incredible purpose, synergy, and power … and for that reason, that will always be my favorite church.

But during 2009, the commitment to mission was on paper among the board and associate pastor, but it wasn’t being carried out in practice.

There were people who rallied around us because of the board’s actions.  They were the ones who had made the church grow for years.  They served selflessly and gave generously.

By contrast, most of the board members had little to do with the church’s success, and four of the six did not serve in any extra-board capacity.

After creating great damage, the board and associate ran away.

But Kim and I didn’t run.  We waited until a new board was elected … until an investigation was completed … until we were offered separation packages by the new board … and until we had one last Sunday to say goodbye and offer people closure.

If staff members aren’t on board with a church’s mission, they should resign.

Can you imagine how it felt to have the outreach director fully committed to the mission while the associate pastor wasn’t?

It created friction between them.

The associate knew that he wasn’t in sync with the mission.  He told me near the end of his tenure that he should have resigned a long time before.

Why not fire staff who resist the mission?

I know someone who pastored a megachurch for years.  He fired a staff member, and the board instantly rehired him.  The pastor quickly resigned.

When there is conflict between the pastor and a staff member, boards sometimes stand with the senior pastor, and sometimes stand with staffers … and no one can predict which way they’ll lean.

One of my biggest regrets is that I let the associate pastor wiggle his way onto the church board in a non-voting capacity.

Kim warned me what would happen if I let that occur.  She was right.

When the board attacks the pastor, they attack the mission as well.

Pastors know that it’s difficult to convince a church to be outreach-oriented on paper, much less in practice.

When a church calls a pastor, they are looking for someone who fits their culture and community.

If it’s true that only 15-20% of all churches are growing … and that 80-85% are stagnating or declining … then forcing out a growth pastor can be suicidal for a church’s future.

What are the chances that the church will hire another pastor who has the training and experience to do successful outreach?

The odds aren’t very good.

A congregation can find scores of pastors who will pursue maintenance, but it’s challenging to find someone who understands reaching a community.

And once outreach is killed off, it can take years to resurrect it … so many churches end up wandering in the wilderness instead.

When the mission has been surrendered, the pastor has to leave.

If a church’s leaders want to change the mission, they need to go through the pastor rather than around him.

The board could have told me, “We don’t want to do outreach ministry anymore.  It requires too much risk-taking … it costs too much … and it’s creating too much conflict.  We want to be a church that reaches Christians instead.  That’s how we really feel.”

Had they been that explicit, I would have quietly looked for another ministry and then departed.

I came to the church because I only wanted to pastor an outreach-oriented congregation.  Having spent years spinning my wheels in churches going nowhere, I could never go back.

_______________

As you’ve read my story, please don’t feel sorry for me or for my wife.

The Lord catapulted us out of ministry because He knew that the outreach sentiment among the leaders had changed and that we couldn’t be in a church like that anymore.

As I’ve said on many occasions … we left at the right time … just not in the best way.

Did we make mistakes?

Of course.  Even the best pastors and staffers do.

But to this day, I maintain that we never committed any major offenses, and certainly nothing that merited the mistreatment we received.

In fact, many of the offenses we were later charged with had to do with how we handled the 50-day conflict, not how we handled our ministries.

Why revisit the coup eight years later?

*It’s a way of cleansing my soul.  Pastors who experience a forced termination are afraid to discuss it with anyone, much less write about it.

But I’m here to say, “I understand what you’ve gone through and how you’ve been feeling.  And the more you discuss it, the more quickly you will recover.”

If I can help you or someone you know with a coup attempt or a pastoral attack, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org.  I love hearing people’s stories … and I know I can help.

*I want pastors and Christian leaders to read my account … both on this blog, and in my book … and ask, “How would we handle a similar situation?  What would we do differently?  Let’s create or strengthen procedures that are biblical, just, loving, and redemptive.”

I spent hours with the pastor of a megachurch and his wife last year, and they bought copies of my book for their top leaders to read and discuss.  I felt humbled and honored by their actions.

*I want my friends to know why I’m no longer in church ministry.

It takes pastors one to three years to recover from a “sheep attack,” and much of that recovery is emotional.

Three years after leaving my last church, I became interim pastor of a wonderful church in New Hampshire.

After I returned to California, my director wanted to send me to another church back east, but after Kim and I spent four days there, we decided against it.

I spoke with my ministry mentor the day after we returned home.  After I told him what happened over those four days, he said, “Jim, if you and Kim go there, it will permanently damage your souls.”

Our souls were already damaged.

Thank God He specializes in healing damaged souls.

 

 

Read Full Post »

“You never need to explain yourself to anyone.  Your true friends don’t require an explanation.  And your enemies won’t believe anything you say.”  Dr. Dennis Murray, Healing For Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack

On October 24, 2009 – eight years ago today – a coup was attempted at the Bay Area church I had pastored for nine years.

The official board consulted with … and likely collaborated with … the church’s founding pastor (my predecessor) to push me out as pastor.

Somewhere along the line, the associate pastor signed onto the coup, along with churchgoers who were loyal to my predecessor.

Even though I wrote my book Church Coup (published in 2013) as a cautionary tale, I revisit the conflict on this blog every October 24 to see if my perspective has broadened and deepened.  (If you’d like a more detailed description of what happens inside a church when a pastor is attacked, my book – which is on Amazon – may be of interest to you.)

I have no desire to convince my detractors that they behaved unwisely or even cruelly, so this article is not aimed at them, but I am including information I’ve never shared before.

This time, I’ve decided to answer eight questions about the conflict, and hope that my responses will provide insight into coup attempts involving other pastors.

We’ll do Part 1 today, and Part 2 in two days.

What was the coup really about?

I believe the coup was really about stopping the church’s mission, which was designed to reach people without Christ.

When I was hired as associate pastor in June 1999, the senior pastor – a friend for years – wanted me to continue his efforts to reach unchurched people.

We served together eighteen months, and then he retired and I became senior pastor.  (The congregation had approved me as senior pastor-elect seven months before.)

Over time, I had earned solid credentials.

I had been the senior pastor of an outreach-oriented church in Silicon Valley for seven years and had served as teaching pastor of a similar church.  I had also received extensive training from Willow Creek and Saddleback Churches.

My wife had undergone the same kind of training and had served alongside me at the Silicon Valley church.  When it came to outreach-oriented ministry, we both knew what we were doing.

So I wasn’t changing the church’s charter, but clarifying it … expanding it … and furthering it.

Several months after I became pastor, I invited Dr. Gary McIntosh – one of the foremost experts on growing churches in the world – to lead a series of workshops for our leadership team, and 43 people came.  The time with Gary was extremely productive.

We also had a professional facilitator inside the church oversee the creation of our mission and vision statements … starting with congregational input, and ending with board approval.

So I received wide support for our mission during my first few years, which enabled the church to grow numerically in a highly resistant community and to construct a new worship center.

But toward the end of my tenure, the mission was being sabotaged from within.

Who was sabotaging the mission?

We hired an associate pastor in early 2007 who told me before he was hired that he wanted to be in an outreach-oriented church, but after he arrived, he began to resist the mission because it made him too uncomfortable.

We called a husband-wife team as our youth directors a few years before that, but long after they were hired, they confessed that they didn’t believe in the mission, either.

It was difficult serving alongside key leaders who weren’t with us … and their lack of support eventually became obvious.

For years, I received my greatest support from the official board, and our church grew to become the largest Protestant church in our city.

And with that support, I was able to overcome most staff resistance.

But as 2009 approached, we lost three key board members.  All three men were older than me.  All three supported me fully.  And all three constantly had my back.

As we added new board members, every one was younger than me and involved in business.  I naively assumed they were all behind our outreach mission.

On paper, they were.  In practice, they weren’t.

They began viewing the ministry through “maintenance eyes,” not “mission eyes” … and in my view, had a “money comes before ministry” mentality.

But the one person most committed to an outreach-oriented church was my wife Kim.  I could always count on her.

How did the conflict about mission lead to your departure?

I once had a conversation with a pastor friend whose church was growing rapidly.  He told me, “There are many people in this church who are trying to change our direction so we only reach Christians, but I can’t let that happen.  You have to keep the mission of reaching people for Christ front and center or the church will go off track.”  His comment always stuck with me.

For most of my time in that church, both the leaders and the congregation were solidly behind the mission.

But as we got deeper into 2009, my wife and I were continuing to go in an outreach direction, while the associate and the board were going in an opposite direction … without any formal discussion.

Let me share one story to illustrate this polarization.

As the summer of 2009 ended, we had a part-time staff member in charge of small groups.  She did a great job, putting together thirty groups at one point.  But when she moved away, the small group ministry fell to the person originally hired to oversee it: the associate pastor.

Only he had never been in a small group in his life.

Every year, we announced that year’s groups at a small group fair.  The leaders would stand behind tables and present their groups to interested parties.  People would sign up at the tables and write down their phone numbers/email addresses.

In an outreach-oriented church, the leaders contact those who signed up. We reach out to them.

But the associate pastor vehemently believed that those interested should call the leaders instead … and then accused me of “coddling” people when I disagreed.

I wasn’t coddling anybody.  I wanted the maximum number of people in those groups because that’s where real life change happens in a congregation.  And the best way for people to join a group is for someone to invite them.

But the staff member with zero small group experience thought he knew better than the pastor with more than twenty years of small group experience … and that ministry began to collapse.

And that’s how my last year at the church went.  Resistance, sabotage, passive-aggressive behavior … and I could feel it.

And when that kind of climate develops, you’re going to make some mistakes … and every one will be recorded and counted against you.

Just for the record, those who resisted my leadership were all in contact … and later collaboration … with my predecessor.

When did matters finally come to a head?

The year 2008 was the best year our church ever had.  We had 785 people on Easter Sunday … had nine Sundays over 500 people … and enjoyed our highest average Sunday attendance ever … all on a one-acre campus that was nearly invisible from the street.

You might recall that 2009 was a difficult year economically, and after two years of generous giving in our church, we were about five tithing families short of meeting our budget, which caused great anxiety on the board.

Even though Kim had made plans for outreach events and two mission trips, the board set up procedures designed to slow or limit those activities.  Most of the staff were frustrated by the board’s micromanagement, but the board expected me to keep the staff in line.

I wanted to start a third service to reach a younger demographic, and so with board approval, eleven of us – including two board members and two staff members – visited two churches in Southern California to learn how to add that service.

After many months of work, the board turned down my proposal for a third service at a special meeting, and it became evident that we weren’t in sync.

On paper, our church was still outreach-oriented.  In practice, it was starting to flip backwards.

At the next regular board meeting, we started at 6:00 pm and were still going strong by 10:00 pm.

About 10:10 pm, the chairman stated that the church budget was frozen for the rest of the year and that nobody should even ask for more funds.

I was shocked.  Nobody had discussed this with me in advance, but it was clear that the board had colluded together in making this decision.

Trying to be conciliatory, I told the board that I had already announced to the congregation that we were going to produce a special drama for our upcoming anniversary called A Divine Comedy.  We had already obtained the script and were in the process of holding auditions.  The play was going to cost some money, but if we couldn’t find it in the budget, then I told the board, “I’ll ask several people with the gift of giving to donate the funds.”

The chairman responded to my comment by saying, “No.”

What?  The board was telling the pastor that he couldn’t raise money?

I should have calmly asked, “What do you mean, the budget is frozen?  Who made that decision?  When was it made?  Why wasn’t I included?”

Instead, I lost it.

I don’t know how long my rant lasted … maybe a minute? … but I told the board that it wasn’t fun working with them anymore and that the staff didn’t want to take any risks because the board had started micromanaging them. (Managing them had always been my job, not theirs.)

After the meeting, I spent a long time conversing with the chairman.  I felt awful about the way I had reacted … and knew that everything I told him would quickly get back to the others.

I immediately sought out a counselor to find out why I had reacted so badly.  After hearing me and testing me, he concluded, “You are severely burned out and headed for a breakdown.”

(Why did I burn out?  The construction of the worship center … finishing my doctoral program … and dealing with board and staff resistance all took their toll on me.)

After sharing this story with a pastor friend, he told me, “Jim, you had every right to be angry.”

I told him, “Maybe so, but I got too angry.”

Many pastors lose it in a board meeting on occasion, but in twenty-five years as a pastor, I never had.  In that church, I had a nine-year track record of remaining calm in meetings, but now I had messed up.

I felt like a colossal failure.  I never became angry after that, but I know my rant was used against me.

A more mature board might have met together and said, “Jim seems to be under great stress right now.  He’s meant so much to this church.  Something is troubling him, and we need to find out what it is.  Let’s send two board members to meet with him and see how we can help him overcome his frustration so we can all work together in harmony.”

But that’s not what happened.

In the end, the board never spoke with me about that night again.  They should have.  I was too embarrassed to go to them.  I wanted them to speak with me as a sign of love.

Instead, they did something else.

They waited until we were overseas on a mission trip … and then went after my wife.

Why did they go after your wife?

Kim is an amazing woman … maybe too amazing.

And she does a lot of good … maybe too much good.

The board hired Kim in 2001 as full-time outreach director after a search process produced twenty possible candidates.  Kim was the only person to survive the first round.  She was hired on merit because she knew more about outreach ministry than any other applicant even though others had more formal education.

(One time, we let a major outreach group use our facility for a training meeting.  Kim walked into the room and heard the leader using her material.  They had stolen it from her outright, but that shows how much her approach was valued.)

Kim was the best leader in our entire church.  She had vision … passion … charisma … a great work ethic … and a heart that beat for lost people.  As our mission statement put it, she loved to “share God’s unconditional love.”

In fact, several months before October 24, a board member told Kim, “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to this church.”

She learned people’s names.  She learned about their families and problems.  She recorded what she heard and used that information to help people become assimilated into church life.  She started new ministries … recruiting and training leaders to take them over.  She shared her faith everywhere.

And she did it all with contagious enthusiasm and a smile.

She was the most indispensable person in the entire church … including the pastor.

But she made a few enemies along the way because she believed so strongly in our church’s outreach orientation … and because, in my view, some individuals were jealous of her influence.

On October 24, the board told me they had terminated Kim’s position effective immediately because, they said, she had overspent her budgets.

When I asked how much she had overspent, I was given a number verbally.  I should have asked for written documentation, but I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I did ask for it three days later, but received nothing coherent.  Kim then asked for the documentation again two days later when she met with two board members, but was given nothing.

Was it all a bluff?

The bookkeeper later met with Kim and determined she had overspent her budgets by a negligible amount … light years away from the number I was given at the October 24 meeting.  A nine-person team from inside the church later investigated all charges and concluded there was no evidence that either Kim or I had committed any wrongdoing.

At that October 24 meeting, the board told me to tell Kim that she had a choice: she could resign or be fired.

And then the chairman made a statement I still can’t believe: the board felt so strongly about their decision that they were all willing to resign.

_______________

I’ve answered five questions so far, and will be responding to the final three questions in two days.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

In my last blog, I wrote “an open letter to pastor terminators.”

The letter was a composite of stories I’ve heard over the years about the damage that members of the church board have caused pastors and staff members they’ve forced out of office.

One friend wrote me on Facebook and asked, “Would you send it?”

If I thought it would do any good, yes, I would send it.

But the odds are that it wouldn’t.

_______________

It’s been nearly eight years since I left my last church ministry.  Two weeks from today, I’ll be writing my annual article about the church coup I experienced.

Throughout the past eight years, I’ve had this fantasy: that one day, just one of the individuals most responsible for pushing me out would contact me and apologize for their actions.

Sometimes, when I go to the mailbox, I wonder if there will be a letter of confession from one of my opponents inside.

It’s never happened.

Sometimes, when I pick up the phone, I wonder if one of the perpetrators is calling me to say, “Oh, Jim, what we did was so, so wrong.  Can you ever forgive us?”

It’s never happened.

I wrote a book called Church Coup about what happened from my perspective.  I have written hundreds of blogs about the problems of pastoral abuse and termination.

The damage the terminators caused was unfathomable.  I lost my job … income … career … reputation … house … and many, many friends.

A nine-person team investigated the charges against me and concluded that “there was no evidence of any wrongdoing.”

But I was lied right out of the church.  It’s the only way “they” could get rid of me.

I was wronged … severely wronged.

But is anybody ever going to admit their part in the conflict to me?

Almost certainly not.

_______________

So would I send a letter to specific terminators, hoping they would have a “come to Jesus” moment and apologize for their actions?

Pastor Guy Greenfield tried to do just that.  In his excellent book The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks, Greenfield writes:

“When I was pressured to retire early in my last pastorate by the machinations of a small group of antagonists, I wrote each one a lengthy personal letter describing how I felt about what they did to me, my ministry, my marriage, my family, my health, and my future.  I tried to be honest without being harsh.  I felt they needed to know that they had hurt me deeply.  Not one of them wrote in response, called me, or came by for a visit.  Not one said he was sorry.  Therefore, I had to move on with my life, shattered though it was, and start over somewhere else.”

Greenfield made the first move toward reconciliation.  He followed Jesus’ instructions in Luke 17:3-4:

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

In essence, Greenfield rebuked those who hurt him.  They didn’t repent … at least, not to him personally.  Should he then forgive them?

Yes, he should forgive them unilaterally, and he did.  He writes:

“For my own sake, I needed to forgive them even though none said he was sorry.  I tried to do that even though it took me a long time.  I wrote a note to each that I was forgiving him of his mistreatment of me, knowing it would be a process rather than something instantaneous.  I had to do it for myself.  I did not expect reconciliation, but I did need to be free of my resentment.  I did not expect sorrow or repentance from them in order to forgive them.  I made a distinct decision not to seek revenge.  There were several things I  could have done, but I chose not to do any of those vengeful acts.  I could not afford to put my future happiness in the hands of those people who made me so miserable by their abuse of me.”

Greenfield exercised unilateral forgiveness.  He “let go” of his anger, resentment, and desire for revenge.  And that’s all he could do.

Because whenever a pastor or staff member are unjustly terminated, biblical reconciliation … or bilateral forgiveness … as outlined by Jesus in Luke 17:3-4 almost never takes place.

_______________

On a rare occasion, I will hear the perspective of the “other” side … from a board member who tried to get rid of a pastor and later felt badly about it.

A friend once told me that his father was instrumental in pushing out his pastor, and that it haunted him for the rest of his life.

I suspect there are other board members and lay antagonists who later were horrified when they realized that their words or actions had destroyed their pastor.

When my father was pushed out of his last pastorate, a woman whose hurtful words had gone viral cried out in a public meeting, “I never meant for it to come to this.  I crucified the man!”

But those kinds of confessions are all too rare.

_______________

It’s amazing to me.  To become a Christian, a person must confess their sins to the Lord and request His forgiveness, which He always grants.

To remain a Christian, a person must continually confess their sins to the Lord … as 1 John 1:8-10 specifies … and again, the Lord promises He will always forgive.

But when those same professing Christians severely wound the person and position of someone God has called to serve their congregation, they stop looking at any sins they might have committed and only see the sins of their pastor/staffer.

They completely exonerate themselves and just as fully blame the person they’ve driven from office.

In the words of Jesus, they’re focused on the “specks” in their pastor’s life while ignoring the “planks” in their own lives (Matthew 7:3-5).

I have a friend who occasionally holds meetings after a pastor has been forced out.  He gathers together the leaders of the church … places an empty chair at the front of the room (signifying the presence of Jesus) … asks for a period of silence … and then lets the leaders say whatever comes to their mind.

There is often a time of confession as people finally admit to others that they did indeed play a part in getting rid of their pastor … and harming their local body as well.

Maybe, since the deed was done with others, confession can only come in concert with those same people.

_______________

I’ve long since given up hope that anyone who meant to harm me will ever admit it to me.

If they did … since I have already forgiven them unilaterally … I would joyfully forgive them on-the-spot.

But I realize it’s unlikely to happen.

In his wise book Healing for Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack, Dr. Dennis Maynard writes the following:

“Before we can reconcile with another we have to know that they are truly sorry.  We need to hear their words of repentance.  We need to know their contrition is genuine.  To reconcile with those who are not truly contrite is to excuse their offense as though it never occurred…. We are basically giving them permission to hurt us again.  We need to hear the person who hurt us take responsibility for their behavior.”

Maynard then continues:

“Those that target clergy are oblivious to the pain they cause others.  They have actually deceived themselves into believing they have done the right thing.  They are consumed with their public image.”

He then writes something both remarkable and scary:

I have not found a single case of an antagonist seeking to reconcile with the pastor they targeted for destruction.  True repentance would also include trying to undue the damage that their conspiracy of lies brought on their pastor…. Some will rationalize their acts of sin and evil as righteous and justified…. Reconciliation is simply not an option.  To do so would be to fail to hold them accountable for the pain they have caused.  We cannot reconcile with them, but for our soul’s sake we still must forgive them.”

I have a theory that the people who target an innocent pastor for termination have surrendered themselves … at least temporarily … to some sort of dark force.  You can’t be a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led individual and go after your pastor with a vengeance.  Kindly show me one place in the New Testament where God blesses that kind of behavior and I’ll eat my words.

_______________

I now live some 500 miles away from my former church.  I cannot envision ever visiting the church again for any reason, and I have vowed never to visit the city in which the church is located, either.

There is just too much pain involved.

I accept the fact that even successful ministry tenures end.  Casey Stengel won ten pennants in twelve years for the New York Yankees – including five World Championships in a row from 1949-1953 – and even he was forced out after the Yankees lost the World Series in 1960.

But to get rid of a leader, God’s people often throw away their Bibles and engage in satanic shortcuts … adopting the strategy of deception leading to destruction (John 8:44).

Since they can’t force their pastor to resign any other way, they start spreading lies about him.

Lies designed to harm his reputation.  Lies designed to cause others to call for his dismissal.  Lies designed to create pain for him and his family.

And that decision … to get rid of a leader at all costs … is guaranteed to cause the leader … his family … his supporters … and their congregation … immense heartache for many years to come.

_______________

The reason that I wrote this article is to encourage the pastors and staffers who have been forced out to:

*accept that the church of Jesus Christ handles these situations horribly … so you aren’t alone.

*accept what happened to you as being part of God’s overall plan.

*accept that you will never fully reconcile with those who caused you harm.

*accept that you can and should forgive each person who hurt you unilaterally.

*accept that God still loves you and wants the best for you.

So will those who terminated you ever repent for what they did to you?

It’s highly unlikely.

After Judas betrayed Jesus, our Savior let him go.

We need to follow His example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Imagine that the following letter was written to the church board by a pastor who was unfairly terminated five years before …

September 29, 2017

Dear Board Member,

You probably hoped that you would never hear from me again, but I’m asking you, as a fellow member of God’s family, to read my letter below.

I will never forget the day you terminated me as pastor of Christ Church after twelve years of ministry.  It was the last Sunday in September 2012.

We had started a new series on the Sermon on the Mount.  My text that morning was Matthew 5:11-12:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

How ironic that after that particular service, you would ask to meet with me in my study and announce that I was being terminated immediately!

Since that meeting, I’ve had five years to reflect on what you did … and why … and I’d like to ask you five questions.  I’d welcome an answer … either through email or a letter … so we can all obtain some closure.

Here are my questions:

First, why was my termination so abrupt?

If you were unhappy with me or my ministry, why didn’t you ever talk to me about it directly?

If someone on the board had said to me, “Pastor, we think your preaching is unbiblical or unhelpful,” we could have discussed it openly.

If someone felt that the church wasn’t growing at the rate it should, we could have benefited from an honest dialogue.

If someone believed that I wasn’t the best fit for the future, you could have told me and I would have started looking for another ministry.

But when you fired me without warning … after I had just preached my heart out in two services … you not only damaged me and my family, but the entire congregation.

We could have resolved any issues as long as we did so together.  When you decided to deliberate in secret without ever seeking my input, you crossed a line.

How was I a threat to you or the congregation?  What danger did I pose?

Second, why didn’t you follow Jesus’ steps for correction in Matthew 18:15-17?

Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

You never did that.

Then Jesus recommends adding one or two witnesses if His directive in verse 15 doesn’t work.

You never did that, either.

Then He said in verse 17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

You did do that.

You announced to the church that I had been dismissed as pastor, but you never followed Jesus’ directives in verses 15 and 16 about having private meetings first.

Even if I had committed adultery or stolen funds from the offering plate, you still should have worked the steps that Jesus outlined.

The church bylaws specified that was the process, not only for correcting the pastor, but also for correcting staff members, board members, and church members.

We used Matthew 18:15-17 when we corrected Steve, our associate pastor, in 2008.  We used it again when we corrected Bill, our fellow board member, in 2011.

Why did you feel that I was the exception to that longstanding guideline?

If you had followed our Savior’s directives, I might have sensed that something was wrong, and taken steps either to resolve the issues, or find another ministry.

But you never did.

Jesus says that when the steps are followed, you have “won your brother over.”

But when you don’t follow His steps, everyone loses.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve often wondered if you were exacting revenge on me for some mistake on my part.

If not, why did you blindside me?

Third, what did I do that deserved termination?

To this day, I still don’t know.

Our church was growing numerically.  Our giving improved five percent from the year before.  We had more small groups than at any time in the church’s history.

I thought we were doing well, and more importantly, I thought you thought we were doing well.

People were coming to faith in Christ.  We baptized five to ten people every quarter.  Many people told their family and friends about our church.

You never told me, “We should be growing at a more rapid rate,” or “We need more money to pay our bills.”  When the statistical reports were given at the monthly board meeting, not one board member ever said, “We should be doing better than this.”

Eighty to eighty-five percent of all churches aren’t growing, but Christ Church was in the top fifteen to twenty percent of churches nationwide as far as growth.

I don’t really know what else I could have done.  I worked fifty to sixty hours every week.  I gave the church my heart and soul.

When you announced my firing, I asked you what I had done wrong … but you didn’t tell me … at least, not to my face.

Five years later, I still wake up in the middle of the night, wondering what I did wrong … and how I could have avoided termination.

As hard as it might have been on you, I’d sleep much better today if you’d been honest with me five years ago.

But while you didn’t tell me why I was released, you did tell others.

Fourth, why was I hurried out of the church?

It takes a pastor at least a year to find a new ministry these days, but you only offered me two months of severance pay.

You told me to take it or leave it, without letting me pray about it, speak with my family, or consult with my network.

You told me to clean out my office in three days.

You didn’t permit me to preach a final sermon or say goodbye publicly.

You instituted a gag order on the staff and board not to talk about my departure in any way.

Why did you treat me like a pagan or a tax collector instead of your brother?

My wife and I suffered humiliation and shame from the way you handled matters.  Was that your intent?

Because of the way you treated me, there will be a cloud over me for the rest of my life.

Finally, why didn’t you protect my reputation after I left?

I’ve heard rumors since I left … ugly, nasty stories … about why I was really terminated.  I don’t know where these rumors originated, but I thought I’d recount several for you.

“He used the church credit card for personal purchases.”

Not true.

Who thought I did this?  Why didn’t you ask me about it personally?

I had a twelve-year track record of financial integrity.  Didn’t that count for anything?

“He seemed too friendly with the office manager.”

What does that mean?

We were friends, yes … every pastor wants to get along with his office manager, who can make or break his ministry.

But I have always loved and been faithful to my wife, as you well know.

Some of you seemed pretty friendly over the years with women who weren’t your wives.  Should I have called you out without any evidence?

If so, how would that square with Paul’s instructions toward church leaders suspected of wrongdoing in 1 Timothy 5:19-21?

“He made decisions without consulting the board.”

Which decisions?

Every pastor makes hundreds of decisions every week.  You never told me, “We want to be consulted on these specific issues.”  I used my best judgment … which seemed acceptable to the board for nearly my entire tenure … on every decision I made.

When did things change?

“He didn’t manage his family well.”

My wife and I have been happily married for 27 years.

Shana our daughter, and Brad our son, both attended nearly every church service and brought friends before they entered college.

They both earned undergraduate degrees … and both have solid jobs.

Even though they don’t live nearby, we see them several times a year, and our family is doing very well … as it always has.

Shana married a fine Christian man.  Brad still hasn’t found the right woman, but he’s doing great.

How did I fail as a husband or a father?

I’d like to know why you as godly leaders didn’t put a stop to those rumors when they were being circulated after my departure.

If I had heard such rumors about any of you, I would have put a stop to them immediately, and recommended that anyone concerned speak with you personally.

But I wasn’t afforded the same courtesy, was I?  Why not?

If I had to hazard a guess, is it because you wanted to harm my reputation so I couldn’t interfere in church life in the future?

But do you know how much pain you’ve caused us by not refuting those rumors, either privately or publicly?

We’ve not only lost friendships we enjoyed for years, but those rumors may have kept me from obtaining two ministry jobs where I was a finalist.

I could tell by the way the questions were slanted.

_______________

Since I left Christ Church five years ago:

*I’ve been forced to take a secular sales job that doesn’t pay even half of what I earned as a pastor.

*My wife has suffered from depression and anxiety attacks and attends church once a month … at best.

*I’m not involved as a church volunteer because whenever people hear I’m a former pastor, they shy away from me.

*My wife is still under the care of a Christian counselor.

But from what I’ve heard, Christ Church has suffered as well:

*Your attendance is less than half of what it was five years ago.

*The church staff has fallen from nine to three staffers.

*You’ve lost many good people … primarily because you never told them why you terminated their pastor.

*You’ve had three pastors in five years.

Was it worth it?

_______________

So if you had to do it over again:

*Would you fire me abruptly?

*Would you ignore the process Jesus specified in Matthew 18:15-17?

*Would you avoid giving me reasons for my dismissal?

*Would you still keep me from saying goodbye?

*Would you fail to protect my reputation?

If the answer to even one of those questions is “no,” then why don’t you contact me and admit your error?

I promise that I will forgive you.  That will benefit the congregation, you as individuals, and me and my family.

It could be a new beginning for everyone.

Many Christians believe that unity trumps everything, including truth.

But I believe the New Testament teaches that truth comes before unity.  In fact, I believe that unity is always based upon truth.

With that in mind, I’ve sent this letter via email to former and current church leaders, some of whom will undoubtedly contact you about it.

That’s why I call this an “open letter.”

I’ll let those leaders decide where to go from here.

I’m not about revenge but reconciliation.

How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Christian leader Thom Rainer recently wrote a blog post lamenting the “epidemic” of pastoral terminations.  I offered comments about some of his points in my last article:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2017/08/25/thoughts-on-firing-a-pastor/

One church board member wrote the following in the “Comments” section:

“I appreciate this advice.  I have had to be part of a firing and it was not easy.  I wish I had these guidelines then.”

Let me tell you a story as to why church boards need such guidelines desperately.

During my first decade as a pastor, I met another pastor whose church was a half hour away from mine.  Whenever we had pastor’s lunches in our district, we would hang around afterwards and talk.  This pastor – I’ll call him Gene – became my friend.

Several years later, after preaching at his church one Easter, Gene got in his car and began a trip designed to interview prospective staff members the following day … but he never made it.

Instead, on a stretch of highway called “Blood Alley,” Gene’s vehicle was hit head on by a truck.  Gene was helicoptered to the county hospital.  The next day, I went to visit him.

His face was completely bandaged.  He could hardly speak, but at one point, he motioned for me to come closer, and he whispered, “Pray that I will preach again.”

Gene’s recuperation took a long time.  The glass from his windshield had penetrated his skin, and his face had to be surgically rebuilt.

Not long afterwards … and I can’t remember precisely how long … drugs were found inside his daughter’s suitcase at camp.  She vehemently denied that the drugs were hers, and Gene stood with her, but the church board claimed she was guilty, and demanded that she confess her sin publicly.  Gene chose to resign instead.

When I heard that Gene had quit after nine years as pastor, I called him right away.

I asked Gene what kind of severance he received, and he said that he received two weeks pay and a plaque.  After one month, his medical insurance would be canceled.

A short while later, the truth came out: the drugs did not belong to Gene’s daughter.  They belonged to another girl, who was afraid she would be caught with them and sent home … so she hid them in somebody else’s suitcase.

A year later, Gene and I met for lunch.  When I asked him why the board had pushed him out, he still had no idea.  I gave him a new book on pastoral termination, and after reading it, Gene felt he finally understood why he had been removed.

The church called a new pastor … someone I later got to know … and that pastor invited Gene back to the church and arranged for the congregation to apologize to Gene for the way he and his family were treated … a rare occurrence in Christian circles.

The Lord went on to bless Gene abundantly as he did pioneer work in a field not usually associated with Christians.

Let me make five observations about conflict training for boards from this story:

First, every church board needs to operate by a predetermined set of written guidelines before they even discuss their pastor’s future.

But many churches don’t have them.

If you’re a pastor, and your church doesn’t have those guidelines in place, and you’re under attack, it’s like going to court in a third world country.  You know going in you’re not going to be treated fairly.

Such guidelines are best written when people are thinking clearly because when even a few board members … who are supposedly selected for their spiritual lives … become irrational, they can harm their church … and their pastor … for years.

A board can’t create those guidelines when someone starts becoming upset with their pastor.  Their anxiety will cause them to ignore them completely.

Those guidelines should be found in two primary places: church bylaws … which should have a section specifying how to dismiss a pastor … and a special document that might be found in a church/board policy handbook.

However, in the case of Gene’s board, they didn’t have any such guidelines … and the outcome ended tragically.

Second, even when those documents are in place, many boards determine the result they want, and then choose the quickest pathway to achieving it.

Gene told me about a board member I’ll call Don who had undue influence with the board.  Don had money and was a district trustee.  Gene suspected that Don was behind his ouster … and he was probably right.

From what I know, Don used the situation with Gene’s daughter as a pretext to force Gene out.  (But didn’t Don even consider how much harm he would cause Gene’s daughter?)  At the very least, Don had to sign off on removing Gene from office.

And this is why many boards don’t use or want any written guidelines: they have a powerful board member whose influence supersedes any guidelines.

Such a person might ask, “Why use guidelines when you have me?”

In my third pastorate, the elders used to joke that each of them had one vote, but that I as pastor had five votes.

But the Dons who run church boards … even when they’re not the chairman … have ten votes … not because they’ve earned such power, but because the other board members won’t stand up to them.

Christians rightly lament the way that Jesus was mistreated when He stood before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod before He was crucified, and yet He was at least allowed to speak in His own defense.  Many pastors aren’t even accorded that privilege.

Third, the pastor is the only logical person to teach the board how to handle potential conflicts that concern him … but most won’t do it.

The pastor theoretically has more influence over individual board members than anyone else … and yet, when it comes to managing conflict, most pastors choose not to use that influence.

Years ago, when I served on a church staff, a couple of men in the church began to attack my pastor.  I went to a board meeting, told them what was happening, and asked for their help in stopping the verbal attacks.

The board voted 5-2 to do something … but the pastor was one of the “no” votes.  He was afraid that taking on the bullies would make things even worse.

Some pastors might have said, “Men, here’s what Scripture says about how to handle this situation … and here’s what our governing documents say … and I’d like you to read this book and discuss it at our next meeting.  Then we’ll create an action plan and deal with this biblically and courageously.”

But most pastors feel that it’s self-serving to make such suggestions … but I believe they’re wrong.

Whenever the pastor is under attack, the pastor needs to define the process that the board should use.  If he doesn’t, the board will make up their own process, and much of the time, they will blow their church sky high.

It’s right for a pastor to say, “This is how we do conflict around here.”  In fact, church boards are looking for that kind of leadership from their shepherd.  Yes, he can leave the outcome with them … but not the process.

And I believe if the board ignores that process, or short-circuits it altogether, the pastor has the responsibility to blow the whistle on them because the process will determine the product.

I believe all pastors must do the following three things to prepare their leaders for conflict:

First, the pastor must preach on biblical conflict management and resolution annually.

When Paul writes to the church in Rome … or Corinth … or Thessalonica … and he specifies how to address conflicts … he’s addressing those entire congregations.  It is the responsibility of every believer to become a church conflict practitioner.

Second, the pastor must train the official board and staff on biblical conflict management at least annually.

He can do this before or during a board meeting annually.  Or he can do this as part of a regular retreat.

The pastor could even invite a church conflict expert to do that training.

But if the pastor doesn’t take the initiative, it will never happen.

Finally, the pastor needs to make sure that every board member owns a copy of a great book on church conflict … and that they consult it on occasion.

These are the five books that I most recommend:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2015/05/06/five-essential-books-on-pastor-church-conflict/

When the board gets stuck on a conflict during the year … presumably one that doesn’t involve the pastor … the pastor could ask, “What does Leas … or Steinke … or Haugk say about this?”

The problem is that when church leaders become anxious, they look for shortcuts.  The pastor has to teach his leaders, “Let’s look for the best long-term solution, not the quickest short-term one.  These books will help us do just that.”

Fourth, board members need to seek outside counsel when it comes to offering a departing pastor a severance package.

My friend Gene was given two weeks salary and a plaque as his reward for nine years of committed service.

That’s not just heartless … that’s evil.

But where could the board turn for counsel?

I discovered that in Gene’s case, the district knew about the false accusation against his daughter, but chose to do nothing.  They could have insisted that the pastor receive a generous and just severance package, but it wasn’t their practice to interfere in pastor-church conflicts … or so they claimed.

So where can church boards turn for information about pastoral severance?

A few years ago, sensing there is almost nothing about this topic in print, I decided to write an article about severance packages for pastors.  It’s now become my second most viewed article concerning pastoral termination:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2014/02/24/why-give-a-terminated-pastor-a-severance-package/

I have heard stories how my article has expanded the thinking of church boards, and for that, I am grateful.

In fact, sometimes I’ll notice that the article has been viewed 20 or 30 times in a day, an indication that it may be circulating among board members.

I commend every church board member who reads the article because they’re trying to learn what to do … unlike Gene’s board, which treated their pastor with utter contempt.

As the board member quoted at the beginning of this article admitted in the fuller comment I quoted in my last post, church boards usually treat their pastor the way they treat others in the business world.

What they forget is that God called their pastor to their church.

Finally, church boards often want guidance, but don’t know where to find it.

Several months ago, I had the privilege of consulting with three different church boards about their pastors.

I was referred to each board by the same Christian leader.

One board really listened to me and took my counsel to heart.  They made a change and secured an intentional interim pastor who later wrote me and thanked me for my counsel.  Things were looking up for them.

Another board chairman contacted me but didn’t agree with my counsel.  The last I heard, trouble was looking for his church.

While I don’t claim to be infallible, people like me …. who serve as outside consultants … can save a church time, money, and heartache just by considering another perspective.

Last year, I helped a pastor on the East Coast face down the bullies in his church.  He told me, “Jim, you have the best stuff on pastor-church conflict on the internet.”

I don’t know how to evaluate his observation, but I do know this: most church boards who struggle with their pastor need someone to listen to them … to guide them … and to advise them … and if they have to turn online for help, I hope my writings prove beneficial.

The boards that go it alone are the ones who cause the most damage to their church and pastor.

The boards that seek conflict training and outside expertise are the ones who cause the least damage.

How well trained is your church’s board in conflict resolution?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

A friend sent me a link to a blog article by Christian leadership expert Thom Rainer yesterday.  His article was addressed to church leaders and titled, “Before You Fire Your Pastor.”

Here’s the article:

http://thomrainer.com/2017/08/before-you-fire-your-pastor/

In his concise way, Rainer shares eight “admonitions” to church leaders who are thinking about terminating their pastor.

To me, these were the highlights … followed by my own thoughts:

“You are about to make a decision that will shape your church, the pastor, and the pastor’s family for years to come.”

I don’t think most boards think about the pastor and his family much when they push him out.  They’re thinking primarily of the comfort level of the group they’ve been working with to get rid of him.

Since the board’s decision will impact their church for “years to come,” why not do an all-church assessment by an outside consultant first?  If the pastor really isn’t a fit, that will be made clear in the assessment, and the pastor and board can discuss a peaceful departure and transition … possibly mediated by the consultant.

Of course, the assessment might show that the board is the problem.  And that might be the main reason why boards are afraid of assessments.  I suggested calling in an outside consultant on two occasions several months before I left my last ministry, but nothing ever happened.

“Understand fully the consequence to your congregation. A church is marked once it fires a pastor. Members leave. Potential guests stay away. Morale is decimated. The church has to go through a prolonged period of healing where it cannot have much of an outward focus.”

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke says that it takes a church two to five years to heal after a moderate to severe conflict, and by definition, forcing out a pastor almost always constitutes a severe conflict.

Many times, the very individuals who pushed out the pastor end up leaving during the healing period.  Maybe they thought the church would get better without the pastor … and with them in charge … but when it doesn’t work that way, they bail.

Outreach usually dies after a pastor leaves … especially if the departing pastor was outreach-oriented.

“Consider the church’s reputation in the community. You are about to receive the label: ‘The church that fired their pastor.’ That will be your identity for some time.”

Most leaders who push out a pastor have never been in a church before where a pastoral termination occurred.  They don’t have any idea what happens inside a congregation after a pastor leaves.  They’re assuming they can handle any and all crises.  But without their pastor to guide them, they’re liable to make a mess of things.

Some people in my previous church tried to ruin my reputation after I left, and it stung.  (Some friends still won’t tell us what really transpired after my departure.)  But the church has suffered as well.

Reminds me of a post a friend put on Facebook several days ago: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves” … one for the pastor, one for the church.

“Let your pastor know why… he was being fired…. I am amazed how many pastors have no idea why they are being let go. That is cowardly. That is not Christ-like.”

There’s a simple explanation for this omission: most of the time, there isn’t a good reason for sending the pastor packing.  The reasons are more subjective than objective, highlight board members’ personal preferences rather than the pastor’s stubborn sinfulness, and don’t sound convincing when uttered in public.

I still don’t really know why I was pushed out of my last ministry.  After thinking about it for nearly eight years, I’ve concluded that it boiled down to personal revenge on the part of three individuals who spread their feelings to others.  But if that’s truly the case, who is ever going to admit it?  Maybe that’s why I have never heard directly from anyone who pushed me out at the end of 2009.

“Be generous. If your church does make the decision to fire your pastor, please be generous with severance and benefits. Don’t treat your pastor like a secular organization might treat an employee. Show the world Christian compassion and generosity.”

Sad to say, there are boards that look for every reason not to give their pastor a generous severance.  I remember one board that referred the pastor’s severance to the congregation hoping they would turn it down.

With some leaders, once they know a pastor is going to leave, he’s no longer worth anything to them anymore.  He’s dead weight.  (This is exhibited by the fact that after the pastor leaves, those who forced him out will never contact him again.)  They offer their pastor a token severance … threaten to pull it back if he doesn’t agree to their terms immediately … and send him and his family into the night with an exit that seems designed by the enemy.

The longer a pastor’s tenure at a church, the more committed he’s been to his congregation, and the more worthy he is of a generous severance package.  But since it takes at least a year to find a new ministry these days … and usually longer … the board has to factor that reality into their creation of any severance package.

After I read Rainer’s article, I perused the comments, and ran across this admission:

“I appreciate this advice. I have had to be part of a firing and it was not easy. I wish I had these guidelines then. The one part we did decent was giving the pastor in question a long run away to find new employment and kept his benefits going in the transition. I really think we could have done more, but it was something. Often I think this idea of helping pastors launch into another ministry or even transition to a vocation outside full time Christian service is foreign to elders or boards because it is rare in business fields unless you are a high c-level executive with contractual basis. Thus they balk at the idea thinking it bad business or poor stewardship. Finding a role in another church takes time. Often churches are slow to hire, for good reason, so we should reflect Jesus’ generosity when we have to fire someone understanding they can’t just walk into another job next door.”

Here is the phrase that sticks out most to me: “I wish I had these guidelines then.”

What can you and I do to help pastors and boards handle their conflicts in a more biblical, just, and Christlike way?

That’s my topic for next time.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: