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I’ve done a lot of stupid things in church ministry.

But what I’m about to tell you was one of the stupidest.

Many years ago, in my second pastorate, I became discontented with the level of giftedness in our Sunday morning service.

We started the service with announcements.  (It was the trend back then.)

Then we had a few hymns.

Then we had a time where people in the congregation could share testimonies … followed by another hymn.

Then I preached … followed by a final hymn.

I didn’t like the way the guy who made announcements made them … so I made them instead.

And we didn’t have anyone decent to lead singing … so I led singing instead.

And I was already leading the testimony time … and saying the prayers … and preaching.

It’s a wonder I didn’t play the organ and piano, run sound, take the offering, and watch the kids in the nursery.

Because of personal anxiety, I started doing more and more things myself.

There’s a word for the way I behaved: overfunctioning.

When someone overfunctions, they assume an unhealthy responsibility for the behavior of others.

And pastors, if they’re not careful, can become classic overfunctioners.

Let me share with you four reasons why pastors should not overfunction:

First, overfunctioners deny the giftedness of the body of Christ.

Jesus had every spiritual gift, didn’t He?  He had the gift of leadership … and miracles … and teaching … and faith … and prophecy … and healing … and giving.

He could have been a one-man show.  Instead, He chose 12 disciples to be with Him, and to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons (Mark 3:13-15).

Jesus could have overfunctioned, but He never did.  He set the pace, but He let His disciples share His ministry … and learn from Him along the way.

Paul didn’t overfunction, either.  He served with Barnabas and Silas and Timothy and Titus and Priscilla and Aquila and Epaphroditus.

While Jesus could have done ministry better than any of the Twelve, He chose to share ministry with them anyway … and when He returned to heaven, they took over.

Even if a pastor can do various ministries better than anyone in a church, it will only grow to a certain level.

A pastor has to recruit, train, and release people to do ministry … and trust that they can do ministry better than he can.

Second, overfunctioners play Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

Years ago, I talked to my board chairman about how frustrated I was with the slow spiritual growth in the lives of some churchgoers.

I’ll never forget what he told me: “Jim, you’ve got to let the Holy Spirit work in their lives.”

I was trying to hurry up people’s spiritual growth so they would attend and serve and give more consistently … but I was trying to do it in the flesh rather than letting God do the work.

When we’re trying to straighten everybody out … when we’re trying to acclerate the pace at which people grow … when we’re doing it for our benefit, not theirs … then we’re overfunctioning and playing Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

And there is no vacancy in the Trinity.

Let’s let God be God.  He has no limits.

And let’s let us be us.  We are very limited indeed.

Third, overfunctioners fail to let people wrestle with their own problems. 

This shows up most in the pastor’s study when he does counseling.

Many pastors go into ministry because they want to rescue people from their maladies.

So when they listen to someone’s problem in a counseling setting, they want to “fix” them right away.

They recommend a book, but give a copy to the counselee rather than letting them buy it themselves.

They open and close the session with prayer, rather than letting the counselee pray at all.

They tell the counselee five ways to deal with their issue rather than letting them make their own discoveries.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:5, “For each of you should carry your own load.”  The word “load” has the idea of a backpack, something that each of us can carry on our own.

Yet back in verse 2, Paul writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  The term “burdens” has the idea of a load so heavy (think of a piano) that you can only carry the load with the help of others.

Pastors need to help people carry the pianos in their lives while letting people carry their own backpacks.

Finally, overfunctioners eventually run out of steam.

If a pastor tries to be the body of Christ … and he tries to play Holy Spirit in people’s lives … and he fails to let people wrestle with their own problems … then he’s going to collapse emotionally … and he won’t be able to help others for a long time.

Pastors need to know their limits … but in the church, we applaud pastors who work insane hours.

I have a theory about workaholic pastors.  Because they’re not convinced of their giftedness – after all, it seems like other pastors lead and teach and administrate better – they try and outwork others so they can feel good about themselves.

In my second pastorate, I arrived at church at 6 am every Tuesday for a men’s prayer meeting.  We had board meetings on Tuesday nights, and I would stay through and work a 15 or 16 hour day.

One of the board members lived behind the church.  One time, he called me at my office and said, “I see your car in the parking lot.  Go home to your wife and kids.”

That was some of the best advice I ever received.

Because if I just use the spiritual gifts God gave me … then I free others up to use the gifts God gave them.

And if I stop playing Holy Spirit in people’s lives … then maybe they can let the real Holy Spirit take control.

And if I let people wrestle with their own problems … then maybe they’ll solve them when I’m not around.

And if I empower others in the church to carry out their ministries … without my help … then maybe I can spend most nights at home with my family.

When pastors overfunction in a church … the body of Christ underfunctions.

And God never intended for a pastor to be the entire body.

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There’s an inspiring scene in Steven Spielberg’s new film War Horse that sheds light on the conflicts in our lives.

Joey, the war horse, is trapped in barbed wire in No Man’s Land during World War 1.  An English soldier spots him through the mist and boldly leaves his trench to free him.  Holding up a white flag to declare a temporary ceasefire – with his buddies in the trench calling for his return – the soldier reaches Joey but cannot free him alone.

A German soldier emerges from his fortifications to help Joey as well, and he knows how to remove the barbed wire from Joey’s body.  The German secures wire cutters and both men proceed to liberate this extraordinary horse – while keeping a wary eye on the other.

While the enemies work together to free Joey, they illustrate four lessons we can learn about conflict:

First, view combatants as humans.  After working on Joey, both men share their names with each other.  They aren’t faceless persons stuffied into combat fatigues, but real people with hopes and histories.

When fortified inside their own trenches, soldiers on both sides demonized their opponents as threats to be eradicated.  But when they began to work together, they grasped that their enemies weren’t evil spirits, but normal people like themselves.

Second, move toward each other.  As long as both men remained in their trenches, Joey’s life was in danger.  But when the two soldiers took the risk of standing next to each other, they were able to do together what they couldn’t do alone.

When we’re having a conflict with a spouse or a boss or a pastor, it’s human nature to stay hidden in our own trench so we feel safe.  But when we emerge from our safety and stand near our opponent, we open up the possibility for healing.

Third, speak with your combatant.  While working on Joey, the two men discussed the impact the war was having on them.  They knew that after the ceasefire, they’d start lobbing bombs at each other again.  I sensed that if not for the war, these men would have freed Joey and then shared a meal together.  But at least they talked with each other directly.

If Christians just followed Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15, most conflicts between Christians – and inside churches – would instantly die: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

When in conflict with others, our natural tendency is to move away from them and to tell others about them.  But Jesus says to move toward them and speak to them directly instead.

Finally, people desire peace, not conflict.  During Spielberg’s combat scenes, the soldiers battle their feelings and try to slaughter their opponents, but nobody enjoys war except masochists.  It’s normal to get to know another person.  It’s abnormal to try and kill them.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  When the two soldiers had liberated Joey, they both claimed him as their own, and could have started their own conflict – but they flipped a coin for him instead.

This scene in this film was so moving that I plan to show it when I teach on conflict.

If you haven’t seen War Horse yet, it’s a film of grandeur and sensitivity.  But be forewarned – there are some real tear-jerking moments.

But I will always remember it because of two soldiers from opposing armies who united together to free a horse.

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*True or false: pastors are infallible.

That’s false.  I grew up in a pastor’s home, married a pastor’s daughter, and became a pastor myself, so I know better than most that pastors are sinners saved by God’s grace, just like every other believer.

*True or false: pastors need other believers to help them grow.

That’s true.  No matter how close a pastor is to God, he is still an imperfect being, and will be until he becomes like Jesus in the next life.  Pastors need mentors and friends and family just like anybody else.

*True or false: pastors sometimes need to be confronted about an issue in their life.

That’s true.  We all have our blind spots, pastors included.  Pastors can be lazy, or bitter, or insensitive, or arrogant – just like non-clergy.  If someone who loves a pastor confronts him about a possible sin, and that pastor changes, then he will grow more quickly to become like Christ.

*True or false: a pastor’s wife is the only person qualified to confront him.

That’s false.  While she may be in the best position to do so – living with him all week long – she may become so accustomed to his faults that she’s learned to overlook them.  Because my own wife has been so positive toward me and my ministry over the years, when she has taken the risk of confronting me, I know she’s usually right.

However, a pastor has interactions with many people when his spouse isn’t around, such as staff members, board members, counselees, ministry leaders, and people in the community.  A pastor’s wife can’t possibly witness all of his relationships.

*True or false: God may choose to use you to confront your pastor about an issue.

That’s true.  He may use you.

Imagine that some men from your church invite you to play basketball, and your pastor comes along.  You’re excited because you’ll have a chance to see who he really is away from the church.

But it doesn’t take long to discover that your pastor is extremely competitive.  He travels with the ball but won’t admit it, fouls other players without owning up to it, and throws in a few profane words at inopportune times.  And besides, every time his team scores, he engages in trash talk.

You’re hurt, disappointed, and even a bit angry.  What, if anything, should you do about it?

Your options:

You can let it go and treat his behavior as an anomaly.

You can ask other players what they thought about the pastor’s behavior.

You can go home and pray for your pastor.

You can write a letter to the church board and tell them how he misbehaved.

You can throw the ball at the pastor, or give him an elbow on the next rebound, or …

You can talk to the pastor yourself.

I recently saw the film We Bought a Zoo starring Matt Damon.  (Great film, by the way.)  In the film, Damon’s character has a talk with his son and refers to the importance of “twenty seconds of insane courage.”

In other words, if you have something important to say to someone, but you’re afraid, you only need “twenty seconds of insane courage” to say it.

Why should you be the one to say something?

Because you witnessed his behavior … which is why you can’t pass this assignment off on someone who didn’t experience it.

Some tips:

*Talk to him directly.  Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you [and your pastor is your brother, too], go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

Instead of pronouncing judgment upon him (“May God strike you dead for using foul language!”), ask him a question, like:

“Why do you use those words out here but not in the pulpit?”

“Why can’t you admit that you’re guilty of fouls like the rest of us?”

Even if the pastor is in a competitive zone and brushes you off initially, if he’s truly a man of God, he’ll eventually grapple with your questions.

I have a theory: in the majority of cases where a pastor is involuntarily terminated, those who are angry with him (staff members, the church board, others in the congregation) have never shared their concerns with him directly.  They tell everybody except the pastor … a clear violation of Jesus’ words.

*Talk to him privately.  Nobody likes to lose face by being reprimanded in public, including pastors.  Jesus says to “go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

If you’ve trained yourself to confront other believers, then you could wait until after the game and ask the pastor if you could speak with him for a moment.  During those “twenty seconds of courage,” let him know that you love him but that his behavior stepped over a line.  Next:

*Talk to him lovingly.  Jesus says, “If he listens to you …”

Let me be honest here.  Many pastors are not good listeners.  They love to hear themselves talk but aren’t quite as generous when others are speaking.  You need to use a tone that compels your pastor to hear you.  I’d opt for a gentle tone (not a judgmental one) as mentioned in Galatians 6:1.  Finally:

*Talk to him redemptively.  What’s the aim of any confrontation?  Jesus encourages us to win our brother over.

We’re not trying to harm our pastor, but restore him.  He’s temporarily become fragmented.  We’re trying to help him become whole again.

Let me end today’s article with a quote from Ken Sande in his book The Peacemaker:

“Your responsibility to go to someone who is caught in sin does not vanish just because that person is in a position of authority over you (e.g., an employer or a church elder).  Since these people are as human as you are, they will also sin and need correction (see 1 Tim. 5:19-20).  Of course, you may need to exercise special care in choosing your words when you talk with such a person.  Speak in a respectful manner, and do all you can to affirm your regard for that person’s authority.  In doing so, you may not only encourage needed changes, but also increase that person’s respect for you.”

Next time, I’ll discuss various ways that pastors respond when someone confronts them.

Have you ever confronted your pastor about an issue?  If so, how did it turn out?

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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It’s tough to say goodbye, isn’t it?

It’s tough saying goodbye to your family after Christmas, or to a friend you may never see again, or to someone who is ready to meet Jesus.

And it’s especially tough saying goodbye to a church family.

In fact, two years ago yesterday, my wife and I said goodbye to a church family we served for 10 1/2 years.  We tried our best to leave in a Christ-honoring way.

Years ago, I learned this adage: “The way you leave is the way you’ll be remembered.”

The following article is written primarily for lay people (rather than pastors and paid staff) who are thinking about leaving their church.

(If you want to think through whether or not you should leave, check out this article: https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2011/05/09/when-to-leave-your-church/)

Assuming the Lord is leading you to leave, how can you honor Him in the way you do it?

Let me suggest five ways:

First, articulate why you’re leaving.  Put it in clear language.  Examples:

“I cannot support the change in direction from missional to institutional.”

“I can no longer use my spiritual gifts in this church.”

“We need a church closer to home.”

“I need to be in a church that takes community outreach seriously.”

“I simply do not like the pastor.”

Be honest with yourself at this point.  While it’s possible that you’re leaving because of a single issue, the likelihood is that you’re withdrawing because of multiple issues.  Write them all down.

Second, compose a note to the pastor and church leaders.

When they leave a church, most people slip into the night and say virtually nothing to their church’s leaders.

As a pastor, I’d sometimes wonder, “Where has So-and-So gone?  I haven’t seen them around the church for weeks.”  In a smaller church, I’d contact those people myself.  In a larger setting, I’d ask a staff member to do it.

But invariably, the ensuing conversation would be awkward for both parties.  Those missing weren’t honest either with me or the staff member.  We’d hear, “I’m just taking a break” – but what the missing member wouldn’t say is: “I’m checking out other churches on Sundays, and if I find the right one, I’m not coming back.”

Without a letter, the church’s leaders, as well as your friends, will privately speculate as to why you left – and they’ll most likely get it wrong.

They’ll guess it’s your walk with the Lord, or your marriage, or job stress … in other words, they’ll blame you for leaving … and in the process, they won’t stop to ask if there’s something they’re doing wrong that prompted you to go.

Only you can enlighten them.

That’s why once you’ve decided to leave, it’s best to write a letter to the leaders and make a clean break.

You’re still free to visit the church and retain friendships.  But you need to clarify your status so people won’t guess (wrongly) why you’re not around … and so people stop contacting you to join a small group and serve in the nursery.

Third, write and send a classy letter.  Guidelines:

*Address the Senior Pastor, the governing board members, and any staff you’ve worked with closely.  If you send a letter to one person, they may choose not to tell the other leaders you’ve left – or why.  By sending your letter to all the key leaders, the reasons for your leaving will be shared accurately.

Should you send an email?  You can, but you have no idea to whom it will be forwarded.  I’d send hard copies of letters via snail mail to people’s homes (not the church, where lay leaders may not check their mail for weeks) so everyone gets it at the same time.  (And it makes it harder to pass your letter around.)

*Write a one-page letter, but no more.  Be succinct.

*Thank the pastor and the leaders for their service and what they’ve meant to you.  Even if you’re feeling angry or hurt, you can always say something positive about the church and its leaders on paper.  (If you write a nasty letter, the leaders will forget your reasoning and focus on your tone – and you will look bad.)

*Be truthful about why you’re leaving.  If the music director is an alienating egomaniac, then speak the truth in love.  If you feel like a misfit, tell the leaders you’ve tried but can’t seem to fit in.  If you think the church is going liberal theologically, say so.

If your letter is gracious but candid, it will be taken seriously, and may even do some good.  For instance, if three good people leave because of the arrogance of the music director, the leaders may need to look into that matter more closely.

However, my experience is that once you announce that you’re leaving, the chances that anyone from the church will contact you are minimal … except for those people who want to use your departure to make a case against the pastor.  Refuse to play their game!

*Write a first draft and let it sit for a few days.  Then read it again and make appropriate changes.  Ask family or friends to read your letter and offer suggestions.

Fourth, when you leave, LEAVE.

The worst antagonist I ever had in a church left the church … and then returned a year later to lead a rebellion.  It was classless, tasteless, and unambiguously evil.

When some people leave a church, they stop attending services, serving, and giving, but sneak back around to be part of a small group.  While some church leaders may look the other way if you do that, do you realize the signals you’re sending?

Please, find another church and leave your former one behind.  It will cause less heartache for everyone involved.

Finally, leave with your head held high.

God leads us to jobs – then leads us to new ones.

The Lord may call us to live in the West – then call us to live back East.

The Lord leads us to one church for a few years – then He leads us away.

If you’re leaving because you’re bitter, then maybe you should feel guilty when you depart.  But if the Lord is directing your steps, then just obey your Savior – and go.

If people from the church contact you, there’s no need to manufacture reasons for your departure.  You’ve already worked through why you’re leaving in your own mind.  Stick to your story without deviation and people will respect you.

But no matter how nicely you leave, some churchgoers will be hurt and some friends may shun you … and then you’ll learn who your real friends are.

Just realize there are seasons to all of our lives.

The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes put it this way in 3:1-7:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

… a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away …

a time to be silent, and a time to speak …”

If you’re happy with your church, great!

If you’re not … maybe it’s time to make a tough decision.

May the Lord grant you the courage you need.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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The other night, I caught the tail end of an episode of Little House on the Prairie.  A faith healer comes to Walnut Grove and wins over many of the townspeople, leaving Reverend Alden with a dwindling congregation.  He thinks about quitting, but after the faith healer is exposed, his flock returns.  Laura Ingalls’ final narration declares that the good reverend is “a simple man” and “a shy man” but that the people loved him very much.

When a pastor first comes to a church, he’s chasing a lot of ghosts.  Sometimes the shadow of a predecessor hangs over that church for a long time.  And when newcomers move into town, they bring with them mental images of their favorite pastor from the past.  And some people watch Joel Osteen or Charles Stanley on television before coming to church and compare their pastor to those superstars.

So it’s not easy for a pastor to come to an established congregation.  But when he does, there is one thing above all that he must do.

He must let the people know that he likes them.

Notice I didn’t say love.  That will come in time.  When I left my last church, I told the people how much I loved them because I did.  But I couldn’t have told them that during my first few months because I didn’t yet know them.  You have to know people to love them.

But you can let anyone know that you like them.

It has to be communicated in various ways:

*By greeting everyone you meet on the church campus, regardless of age, attractiveness, or temperament.

*By learning the names of as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

*By stopping to chat with people as often as you can.

*By smiling as much as you did on your wedding day.

*By approaching people rather than waiting for them to approach you.

*By accepting and understanding the traditions of the church before you try and change them.

*By taking the time to explain who you are as often as is prudent.

My son Ryan attends a church in Orange County with a pastor just like this.  On the many occasions that I’ve visited the church, if I walk anywhere near Pastor Terry, he sticks out his hand, gives me a warm smile, and says hi to me, even if he can’t remember my name.  He makes me think that he likes me.

So it’s easy in turn for me to like him.

However … there are pastors who just aren’t built this way.  They are more introverted, or reserved, or scholarly – and that’s okay.  Some of the most impactful pastors in our culture are not “people persons.”  I stood near Andy Stanley last year minutes after he gave a talk at my church and he looked awkward and uncomfortable as he sought a space away from people.

But great pastors continually give off vibes that they like the people in their church – and that feeling is reciprocated.

A pastor friend once recounted a conversation he had with a seminary professor, who told his class to “love the sheep and then lead the sheep.”  My friend was so impressed that he told the professor after class, “That was really great: lead the sheep and then love the sheep.”  The professor corrected him, “No, that’s love the sheep first, then lead the sheep.”

If a pastor leads the sheep and only later tries to love them, people will feel manipulated and distance themselves from that pastor.

But if the pastor loves the sheep first, the people will follow him almost anywhere.

However, no matter how kind or gracious a pastor is, there will always be someone in the church that doesn’t like him.  Maybe he reminds certain individuals of an abusive father or an ex-husband or a cruel boss.

I don’t like pastors who scream at their congregations.  When I was a kid, I heard a traveling evangelist speak at my church, and when he started yelling at everybody, I thought he was yelling at me.  Ever since then, I have recoiled from pastors who verbally assault their hearers.  It’s all right to become angry with sin – but not with sinners.

A pastor needs to let everyone know that God loves them – and so does he.  In fact, people have a hard time believing that God loves them if they think their pastor hates them.

So what do you do if you’re in a church where you don’t like the pastor?

Ask God to change your heart.  Try and get to know the pastor better.  Focus on his good qualities.  (There has to be some reason why he got the job.)  You might like him once you get to know him.

But if you’ve tried everything, and it’s just not working … then leave the church.  Find a pastor you do like.

Above all, avoid all attempts to join forces with those who want to get rid of him.

Try not to feel guilty about it.  Try not to blame the pastor.  There are undoubtedly people that do like him.

Just shop around and find another church.  Quietly vote with your feet.

It’s a short life, and we can’t afford to be miserable when we go to church.

Amen?

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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Every Sunday, millions of Americans discuss what happened after they leave their church’s worship service.

Maybe Mom will say, “I really liked today’s performance song.  The lyrics really inspired and comforted me.”

Just then Bill, the family’s 16-year-old son, chimes in and says, “Yeah, but I didn’t understand the message at all.  That talk had nothing to do with me.”

Then Rachel, the 14-year-old daughter, complains, “Mom, I’m glad you liked the song, but I’m not getting anything out of the youth group right now.  I try to listen, but these two girls are always goofing off and they’re so distracting I can’t hear the lesson.”

Then Bill adds, “Well, I heard it, but I thought it was lame.  I’m thinking about not going back to the youth group – maybe try out a new one.  In fact, my friend Steve has invited me to attend the group at his church and I’m thinking about checking it out.”

After listening to his family’s opinions, John wonders aloud, “I wonder if we should leave our church and look for a new one?”

What are the signs you should leave your church?

First, you can’t support the vision.  Maybe your church pours all its efforts into worship, and you think it should be engaging in evangelism.  Or your pastor is passionate about missions, but you care most about hurting people.  If you can get behind your pastor’s vision for your church, then by all means, stay!  But if you find that you and your church are going in opposite directions, then you should seriously consider leaving or you’re going to be frustrated all the time.

Please don’t say what some people say at this point: “Well, I don’t like the pastor’s vision for this church, so we’re going to make life unpleasant for him until he leaves.  Then we’ll hire a pastor who will do things our way.”  That is the epitome of selfishness and indicates that you think your views are more important than those of your pastor.  Don’t try and manipulate matters so that he leaves.  You leave.  In fact, if you and those who are opposed to the pastor’s vision would leave the church, the church would probably grow a lot more rapidly.

Second, you don’t like the pastor.  I’ve written about this issue before because it’s a huge factor in whether people stay or leave a church.

My wife and I visited a church a year ago where the music was so awful that after ten minutes, she turned to me and asked, “Can we leave?”  I told her, “We’re going to stay to the end,” but after a few more minutes, I wanted to leave with her.  The pastor screeched when he preached.  (He was a “screecher preacher.”)  It was awful.  And then during his message, he complained to the technical people about a hum on the stage and, in my view, humiliated them in the process.  When the service was over, my wife and I practically ran to the car and our tires screeched as we left the parking lot.

I am sure that pastor is a nice man and that many people love him, but his personality and style just didn’t work for us.  Rather than stay and eventually force him to leave, we left and he stayed put.

I believe this with all my heart: if you don’t like your pastor, leave your church.  Why?  Because you will invariably tell someone in the church about your feelings, and then you’ll find people who agree with you, and you’ll be tempted to form a group of likeminded people, and if a leader emerges, your group will try and force the pastor to leave, and it will all get ugly and nasty and divisive.  So when you’ve tried to like your pastor, but you just can’t pull it off, then find a church where you do like the pastor.

But it’s at this point that people say, “But I love the ministry I’m leading.  And I’ve been at this church a long time.  And all my friends are here.”  But the way you feel about the pastor will override all those other considerations – I guarantee it.  Find a church where you like the pastor and can follow his leadership or you will be miserable for a long, long time.

Third, the church is starting to embarrass you.  Maybe you have a new pastor and you find his jokes offensive.  Maybe your worship director sings flat or the band plays every worship song in a disco style.  I’m not talking about occasional mistakes or experiments gone awry.  That happens in every church.

But if you’re consistently cringing to the point where you’ve stopped inviting friends to your church – and you won’t even invite your mother on Mother’s Day – then maybe you need to look around for another fellowship.  You should feel proud of your church.  And when you don’t, consider finding another place to worship and to serve.  And that leads to the next factor:

Fourth, you can’t use your gifts anymore.  Years ago, I was in a church where I sensed that I could no longer teach youth.  That job was reserved for the new associate pastor.  So I looked around for a church where I could teach, and we ended up in one where I already knew  many people.  Before long, I was teaching a high school class, and due to God’s grace, I was eventually hired to be that church’s youth pastor.

A church may be growing, and the pastor’s messages may be top-notch, and your kids may be thrilled with everything, but if you can’t use your spiritual gifts there, you may need to find another church.  If you’re a singer and you can’t sing, find a church where you can.  If you’re a leader and you can’t lead, then look around.

Finally, ask God what He wants you to do.  There are times when we’re sitting in a worship service or standing in the church lobby and the Holy Spirit says to us, “You’ve stopped growing spiritually in this place, haven’t you?  And you really aren’t able to help others grow, either.  You’re stagnating spiritually right now.  I want you to think about leaving.”

Or whenever you think about your church, you either become angry (because you’ve been violated in some way and there is no recourse for reconciliation) or you become depressed (because the memories have become too painful).  When your emotions overrule your thinking, and you can’t see the way ahead, it may be that God is leading you to look for a new church home.

When I was a pastor, I usually tried to encourage people to stay in our church, but there were times when it was better for them to go somewhere else.

One well-known pastor became weary of all the people who attended his church and complained about it, so he obtained brochures from ten other churches in town.  He stood up one Sunday morning and said, “If you want verse-by-verse Bible teaching, then check out this church.  And if you want a choir, then visit this church.  And if you want a certain kind of youth program, then try out this church.”  He left the brochures in the lobby.  As I recall, attendance was down by 700 people the following Sunday, but three weeks later, attendance was right back where it had been.  The church said goodbye to those who were disgruntled and welcomed those who were thrilled to be there.

Maybe we need to add a “Musical Churches Sunday” to our Christian calendar!

What are your thoughts about when it’s time to leave a church?  I’d love to hear them!

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One of the most excrutiating experiences that a supervisor can have is to fire someone from their job.  The first time I had to do this with a staff member, I felt horrible.  Although I did not hire the person initially, I felt partially responsible that the staff member didn’t work out.  I wondered, “What if I had supervised this person better?  What if I had given them more attention?  More training?  More warning?”

Most pastors will leave a church via their own resignation.  They will choose the method and timing of their departure.  In the great majority of cases, they will leave one church for another.  Sometimes they will leave a pastorate to teach in a Bible college or join a parachurch organization.  And one day, they will preach their last sermon and then retire.

But many pastors – surveys now indicate more than 25% – leave church ministry involuntarily.  They are usually forced from office by a faction of ten people or less … sometimes by their governing board.  Most of the time, the process is handled clumsily, resulting in seething anger, ecclesastical division, and incalculable damage.

How can the termination of a pastor be handled in a more biblical and optimal fashion?

An attorney can recommend the legal way to terminate a pastor.  The CEO of a company might suggest how it’s done in business.  The church’s insurance agent might propose ways the church can minimize risks.  And I could mention the way the federal government terminates employees … except they almost never terminate anyone!

If you’d like to read what the Bible says about correcting an elder/pastor, please check out 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (which applies Matthew 18:15-20 to spiritual leaders).  I believe a pastor should be removed for heresy and for immorality but that many of the reasons why boards fire pastors today have more to do with style than sin.  (Please see some of my previous blogs on these topics.)

I was a pastor for nearly four decades, and I saw a lot of my colleagues terminated in senseless ways.  If I was still in pastoral ministry, and the board decided I had to go, here’s how I would like that process to be conducted:

First, I’d like to see a possible termination coming.  If attendance was plunging, and giving was going south, and church opinion makers were unhappy, I would probably sense that my time in that place was coming to a close.  And if members of the church board had talked with me about making changes in my ministry, but I either wouldn’t or couldn’t pull them off, that would suggest to me that my days in that church were numbered.

Some pastors have confessed to me that they stayed too long in a previous pastorate and wished they had left before they did.

Last fall, I had lunch with a former mega church pastor.  He had been in his church for more than two decades, but for some unknown reason, attendance suddenly began declining at a rate where nothing he tried worked anymore.  When he preached, he sensed that people weren’t listening to him.  He eventually reached a settlement with the church board and resigned.  The Lord confirmed to his spirit that his time in that spiritual community was over.

If a board has shared their concerns with their pastor, and if matters haven’t turned around after a reasonable time frame (maybe six months to a year), then the pastor should not be surprised if the board openly talks to him about leaving.

But if the ministry is going well, and attendance and giving are holding steady, and the board has never discussed the pastor’s behavior or ministry with him in a formal way, and then the board decides to terminate the pastor … the pastor will rightfully feel blindsided, and the board may very well lose control of the situation.  While the board may have the legal and ecclesiastical right to remove the pastor from office (and in most congregational churches, they don’t have that right – only the congregation does), blindsiding a pastor with termination may be considered a destructive act that results in ripping apart both the pastor’s family and the church family.  (Just know up front that many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church within a few months.)

If I’m going to be involuntarily terminated, I want to see it coming a mile away.  And if I do see it coming, I will try and make my own plans to depart before the board ever has to deal with me.

Second, I would like the process to be fair, not fast. When one member of a church board decides that “the pastor must go,” his anxiety can become contagious.  Before anyone realizes the full ramifications, the entire board may then fall into line and quickly decide to fire the pastor.  While anxiety drives us to make fast decisions, Jesus encourages us to make fair decisions.

Let’s say that a pastor has recently displayed inappropriate anger several times in private.  The board should not convene and decide to fire the pastor immediately.  Instead, Jesus says in Matthew 18:15 that if a believer sins [and this includes the pastor], it’s your duty to “show him his fault” in private [one-on-one, not in a board meeting].  Then Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen …” then you are to take one or two witnesses along, and “if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”  Some scholars believe that the board should be informed between verses 16 and 17, although Jesus doesn’t say that.  In other words, the process is:

*A single believer [maybe the board chairman] talks with the pastor about his sin in private.

*If the pastor refuses to change, that single believer asks one or two more people [a staff member? a friend of the pastor?] to witness a second confrontation.

*If the pastor still refuses to change … only then does it become a board matter.

*If the pastor refuses to listen to the board (that’s three refusals), then either they can terminate him (if the church’s governing documents allow for this) or the church as a whole can vote him out of office in a public meeting (although there will be lobbying and it may become very divisive).

I don’t pretend to know how much time is needed between steps (maybe a month or two between each one?) but Jesus did not necessarily intend for the process to work instantly.  The person being confronted – in this case, the pastor – is not being corrected for getting angry, but for refusing to acknowledge his anger and make the necessary changes in his life.

Before saying, “But pastors should be able to change their behavior immediately,” how long does it take you to make a major change in your life?

That’s why we need to give a pastor some time to make changes in his life.

Third, I would expect to be offered a generous separation package.  The minimal severance a pastor should receive is six months.  If a pastor has been in a church for more than six years, then a good rule-of-thumb is that he receive one month’s salary for every year he’s served in a church.  While some board members might exclaim, “I would never receive severance pay like that at my job,” please realize the following facts about pastors:

*They are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

*They and their family members will suffer tremendously.  It is common for the older children of a terminated pastor to stop attending church and even leave the faith.  The wives of terminated pastors go from being somebodies to nobodies overnight.  If the marriage has already been strained by ministry, the couple might head for divorce.

*The terminated pastor is often in so much pain that he turns to alcohol, drugs, or illicit sex.

*They will lose almost everything dear to them by being terminated: their careers, their income, their church family, their local friends, their house (if they have to leave the community and sell), and their reputations – in other words, they will lose their life as they know it.  (This is why pastors often hang on at a church long after they should leave.)

*They will be stigmatized as a “loser” in much of the Christian community.  As a veteran pastor told me when I first entered the pastorate, if a pastor resigns with no place to go, it’s the “kiss of death.”  If he applies for another church position, his resume will most likely go to the bottom of the pile because he was fired from his previous church.  The Christian world is very small and word gets around quickly.

*They will suffer constant depression, great anxiety, and feel like God has abandoned them.

*They will be shocked to discover that many of their ministry colleagues will turn away from them.

*The terminated pastor usually has to rebuild his life and ministry, and that takes time.  The separation package allows for the pastor to pull away from ministry so he can take stock of his life and begin the healing process.  If the pastor is given a token separation package, he and his family will feel that he has been “kicked to the curb” and it will take them a long time to recover and forgive those who hurt them.

We talk a lot in the church today about social justice.  This is ecclesiastical justice.

If a board cannot or will not give the pastor a generous separation package, then they need to think twice – or ten times – about letting him go.  Getting cheap here borders on being unchristian.

Finally, I would welcome the opportunity to resign rather than be fired. If the members of a governing board want to be vindictive toward a pastor, they can fire him outright – but the word will quickly get around the church, and the board will be severely criticized by many while others will angrily leave the fellowship and encourage others to come with them.

When some churches blindside a pastor by firing him, they never recover … and it becomes easier to fire the next pastor.  When I was a kid, my dad felt forced to resign as a pastor, and after the board fired the next two pastors, the church went out of existence.

But if both the pastor and the board announce that the pastor resigned voluntarily, it takes the heat off the board and allows the pastor to leave with dignity.

The optimal win-win scenario is for the pastor to trade a unifying resignation letter for a generous separation package.  That is, the pastor cites multiple reasons for his leaving in his letter, doesn’t harshly criticize anyone in the church (especially the leaders), and encourages everyone in the church to stay and support the next pastor.  Years ago, I learned this adage: “The way you leave is the way you will be remembered.”  Leave bitter, and you will leave a legacy of bitterness.  Leave with class, and you will leave a legacy of class.

A small percentage of pastors deserve to be terminated – maybe even quickly – because they have inflicted great destruction on their ministries, their families, and themselves.  But even then, they should be treated with dignity and their families should be cared for.  But the great majority of terminations go wrong because the board wants the pastor to leave as quickly as possible, and they run the risk of dehumanizing him in the process.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to say goodbye to a pastor in a way in which everyone can win.

I just want to see Christian churches handle these situations in a more biblical and redemptive way.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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