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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the greatest injustices in Christian churches today is that when a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, he usually lacks any kind of meaningful forum for responding to the charges.

And when he doesn’t respond adequately or immediately, any accusations are assumed by the pastor’s detractors to be true.

But it’s likely that pastors don’t answer charges well because they don’t know how to go about it.

The following story is a composite of situations I’ve heard about or experienced.

Pastor Bill attended a worship planning meeting one Monday night on his church’s campus, and after the meeting concluded, Jill, a team member, wanted to speak with him.

Jill was very emotional, and Bill did his best to listen, but ten minutes later, they were the only people in the building.

As soon as Bill realized they were alone, he began walking the distressed Jill toward the exit while trying his best to listen to her sorrow.

They spoke for a few minutes more outside the worship center, and as Bill turned to leave, Jill gave him a big “thank you” hug … which was witnessed by Cindy, a team member who had returned to retrieve her phone in the worship planning room.

The next day, the news was circulating around the church that Pastor Bill and Jill were involved.

The board chairman found out about it on Wednesday.

The entire board heard the news by Friday … as did most of their wives.

Bill didn’t hear anything until Sunday morning … in an email sent by a friend at 1:45 am, which he didn’t read until right before he left for church the next morning.

Most of the staff knew by Sunday morning … as did Jill’s husband and Bill’s wife.

Bill didn’t have a “thing” for Jill.  She was a ministry team member and a longtime friend.  He was just trying to be a good pastor by lending Jill an ear for a few minutes.

But when Cindy reported the incident to a few of her friends, they read their own experiences into what they heard and blew matters out of proportion, and suddenly Bill was on the hot seat.

Once Bill knew that the “incident” had traveled throughout the church, how should he handle matters?

Here are seven steps toward resolution:

First, the pastor can’t act like nothing happened.

He can remain silent publicly.  He can preach his sermon … greet his people … and go home.  Refuse to feed the fire.  Hope it will all blow over soon.

That approach might work with many such incidents, but the church grapevine comes alive whenever the pastor and another woman might be involved.

While the pastor might choose not to say anything … at least initially … he has to stay calm … and that’s not easy.

But he has to take action and get out ahead of this one.

Second, the pastor must tell his wife, board chairman, and associate pastor his version of events … separately and quickly. 

The pastor can’t overreact.

He must patiently tell his story to those closest to him.  He needs to be as open and honest as possible.

He must ask them if they believe him.  If they do, they will defend him.  If even one isn’t sure, however, it could cause trouble down the road.

The sooner the pastor gets the board on his side, the better, so the chairman should inform the rest of the board immediately.

The associate should handle the rest of the staff.

But most of all, the pastor’s wife needs to stand by him … strongly.

It would be advisable for the board chairman to contact Jill and receive her version of events as well.

The quicker the board acts, the sooner matters will be resolved.

This might seem like overkill, but let me assure you … the alternative is far worse.

Third, the pastor should ask the board to have a plan for response ready.

If the pastor’s marriage is loving and healthy … and everyone knows it … then this crisis will probably pass pretty quickly.

And if the pastor has a reputation for integrity, most people will give him the benefit of the doubt.

However … if there are churchgoers who don’t like the pastor, and want to see him leave … they might very well add their own charges to this “mini-scandal.”

For some reason, when a single accusation against a pastor makes its way around a congregation, there are usually those who seize the opportunity to make their own accusations against him.

One charge becomes two … becomes four .. becomes seven … becomes ten.

And then someone will call for the pastor’s resignation.

The board cannot assume that because Bill and Jill say that “nothing happened” that everyone else will believe them.

The truth is that a distinct minority may not want to believe them.

So the board needs to meet with Pastor Bill quickly … either on Sunday or Monday evening.

They need to hear his story from his own lips, and if they stand behind him, they need to put a plan in place for addressing any further accusations.

Fourth, the pastor needs to be an active participant in this process.

A mistake that many pastors make at this juncture is to relinquish everything into the hands of the board.

Why?

Because without guidance, some boards will make things even worse.

On the one hand, it’s understandable why the pastor would want to leave matters in the board’s hands.

When a pastor is under attack, it’s difficult for him to defend himself sufficiently.

The attacks hurt him and wound his spirit.  Since most pastors are pretty sensitive, they would prefer to assume a fetal position and lock themselves in a closet until matters are resolved.

But on the other hand, unless board members have had a lot of experience and have been well-trained in conflict management, their default position may be to put the incident behind them as quickly as possible.

And in the process, they may sell out their pastor.

I don’t like to say this, but when it comes to church matters, the pastor is likely a professional, and the board members are likely amateurs.

So the professional needs to provide guidance and expertise for the amateurs.

True, the pastor cannot exonerate himself.  He needs the board to do that for him.

But he needs to steer the process so the board can make their best possible decisions.

Fifth, the pastor must challenge the board to identify and confront those who have been spreading charges against him.

This is where most church boards blow it.

Stand behind our pastor?  Sure.

That’s playing defense.

Confront those spreading rumors?  Pass.

That’s playing offense.

I don’t know why this is so hard.

When Paul dealt with troublemakers, he named names: Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19); Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17); Demas (2 Timothy 4:10); Alexander the metalworker (2 Timothy 4:14).

And John did the same thing when he singled out Diotrephes by name in 3 John 9-10.

These verses aren’t just taking up space in our Bibles:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.  Romans 16:17-18

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time.  After that, have nothing do with him.  You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.  Titus 3:10-11

A pastor once told me that he was under attack at his church.  He brought in a consultant who asked the board members, “Who is attacking your pastor?”

They knew who the individuals were.

The consultant then told them, “Go meet with them and tell them to stop what they’re doing.”

The board members replied, “But we can’t go.  Those people are our friends!”

The consultant responded, “Go … now!”

They got in their cars and went … around 9 pm, as I recall.

But most boards think that it’s somehow offensive to go on offense at this point … but it’s the best thing they can do.

The board is showing churchgoers that they take the Bible … church unity … truth … and their pastor seriously.

And believe me, word will get around the church … and people will think twice the next time they’re tempted to spread gossip about their pastor.

But if the board wilts at this point, they’re not only throwing their pastor to the wolves … they’re establishing a culture that says the board won’t stand behind their pastor.

I have known several good pastors who quit at this point … not because they did anything wrong, but because their boards actively or passively caved on supporting their shepherd.

Sixth, the pastor must wait patiently for the board to finish their work.

This is so difficult.

Many years ago, a church leader vocalized an accusation against me.  It was a spur-of-the-moment thing … and I didn’t react calmly.

I immediately contacted the board chairman and an attorney in the church.  The board launched an investigation.

The next day, they met with my accuser and with me separately.

Then they asked me to apologize to my accuser.  Although I didn’t think I had done anything wrong, I did apologize … the next morning.

Then the board asked my accuser how many people had been told about the incident.  After gathering their names, board members contacted each person and told them not to spread things any further.

I not only had to wait for the board to finish their work … I had to wait to see if there would be any fallout down the road.

Tom Petty is right … the waiting is the hardest part.

Several individuals eventually left the church over it, but what could have been a tragedy was averted because the board handled things patiently and quietly.

And I had to let them do it.

I had input on the process because I had written a policy handbook months before that addressed how to handle such incidents … and thankfully, the board not only approved it, they followed it.

Finally, the pastor needs to teach his church how to handle both interpersonal and institutional conflict.

Once board members confronted those who spread rumors about Pastor Bill, the rumors died a quick death.

But had the board members failed to confront the gossips, matters could have gotten worse … much worse.

In many ways, the board had a choice: either confront the talebearers privately in their homes or eventually address the issues publicly in a congregational meeting.

And if you’ve ever seen a pastor on trial in a public meeting, you’ll never forget it … and won’t ever want to see it again.

In a few months … after the church is at peace … Pastor Bill needs to do some teaching on how believers should address conflict with each other and how believers should address grievances with church leaders … including their pastor.

Whenever I spoke on conflict, I automatically ruled out relating any incidents from my current church … only churches from my past or those I heard about from others.

So the pastor should not connect his sermon to the incident several months before.

Instead of trying to rectify the past, the pastor should try and prevent such incidents in the future.

In fact, I believe a pastor should discuss “how we handle conflict around here” at least once or twice every year.

Because when people become emotional, they become irrational, and such people can cause a lot of damage in a church.

Biblical safeguards are the church’s … and the pastor’s … ultimate protection.

_______________

Today marks the 550th blog article that I have written and published.

As of today, I’ve had more than 202,000 views on the blog over the past six-and-a-half years.

Sometimes I’ll write an article … it will do well initially … and few people will ever view it again.

Other times, I’ll write an article … it seems to go nowhere … and yet several years later, it will receive a healthy viewership.

With today’s article, I started in one direction, and as I wrote, I sensed I needed to go another direction.  I trust this article will be just what someone needs.

Whether you’re a longtime reader, or have stumbled onto this blog, thanks for checking in.

If I can help you with a conflict situation, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and we’ll make plans to talk.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This morning, I received an email from a PhD student at a Christian university.  He wants to interview me as to what happens in a congregation after a pastor is involuntarily terminated.

I’ve been hoping someone would do a study like this for some time.

During my second church staff experience, my pastor was voted out of office, so I have undergone such a scenario firsthand.  I have also heard from scores of churchgoers and leaders who have shared with me what happened in their church after their pastor left.

Most of these consequences are not matters that church leaders anticipated when they forced out their pastor.  There isn’t much in print on this issue, so most leaders are flying blind when they get rid of a pastor.

This is what God’s people have told me:

First, a few people – usually the pastor’s supporters – leave the church immediately.

When I was in my early twenties, my pastor was removed from office by the congregation.  I assumed there would be a mass exodus, but as I recall, only one family left the church, which still surprises me.

In my own case, after a horrendous congregational meeting – one that indicated that I needed to leave my church – a veteran Christian came up to me and expressed great sorrow at the way I was treated.  He told me that he had seen this kind of thing before, knew where it was going, and wanted no part of it.

After that meeting, he and his wife left for good, ending up at a friend’s church instead.

The more unfairly the termination is perceived by the congregation, the more people will leave … and among those will be some who can never be replaced.

Most staff members will stay … at least initially … because the church pays them, but if a key board member or leader leaves, their example might persuade others that they’re on a sinking ship and need to dive off … quickly.

Second, church leaders will feel overwhelmed as the pastor’s duties land on them.

If a senior pastor is forced out, and the church has an associate pastor, most of the ex-pastor’s duties may fall on him by default.

If the church has a larger staff, those duties may be spread out among staffers.

But if the church doesn’t have staff, the pastor’s duties will probably revert to the board, and the chances are high that they won’t know what to do … which is why many boards hire an interim prematurely.

My guess is that most board members don’t know all that their pastor does in a given week or month, and when they force him out … especially if it’s abrupt … they have no idea how much work won’t get done … and the pastor they just pushed out won’t be available to help them.

Without their pastor, many people won’t know where to go for counseling, either … and chances are poor that they’ll seek out the very board members who pushed out their beloved shepherd.

Third, the congregation craves stability.

For many people, a pastor is the father they never had … and the pastor’s wife is the mom they wish they had.

It’s tough enough in a family when either dad or mom leaves home, but can you imagine how hard it would be if they both left at once?

But that’s what happens when a pastor is forced out of office.  The church’s spiritual father and mother vanish overnight.

Some big sisters and brothers usually try and assure their church family that things will be okay, but to many in the congregation – especially new believers and newcomers – the church feels like a plane in free fall.

Sadly, some leaders and churchgoers become so desperate for normality that they will do almost anything to feel better again.

It’s at this point that many leaders make a foolish mistake.

Fourth, the church board hires an interim pastor too quickly.

When my pastor was removed many years ago, the district sent us an older man: J. Wilbur Bullard.  Dr. Bullard was a spiritual man … and a sweet man … but he was also an experienced pastor … and he righted the plane immediately.

Dr. Bullard happened to work out, but all too many church boards … feeling anxious and confused … fail to take the time to hire the right interim for their church.

Instead, they hire the first interim available … sometimes, a friend or colleague of someone in district leadership.

Of course, a district minister wants someone he knows to become interim pastor.  If the DM shows loyalty to the interim, he expects the interim will show loyalty in return and keep funds flowing from the church to district coffers.

But what’s most important is that a church hire the right interim … preferably an intentional interim … and not all interims recommended by districts know what they’re doing.

The average interim comes to a church and buys time while the search team looks for a new pastor.

An intentional interim comes with a structured plan and helps the congregation define who they are and what they want – and need – in a new pastor.

A church board or search team should interview multiple interim candidates and find the one who fits best in their situation.

In fact, it’s better to hire no one than the wrong person.

I trained with Interim Pastor Ministries led by Tom Harris.  I highly recommend Tom’s approach to interim ministry.  Tom gave me the opportunity to serve as an interim at a wonderful church in New Hampshire, and although I chose not to pursue any more opportunities after that, he runs a first-class organization.

If you’re a board member or church leader, and your pastor recently left, and you haven’t yet hired an interim, you owe it to yourself to contact Tom first.  Here’s his contact information:

http://www.interimpastors.com/

Fifth, the church board says as little as it can about why the pastor left.

Not long ago, I spoke with the chairman of a church board that had fired their pastor … and for good reason.

The chairman spoke with an attorney who told him to say nothing about why the pastor left.

But I told the chairman that if the board said nothing, that might keep them out of legal trouble, but they would subsequently have problems with others in the church.

Why?

Because when a pastor is fired … especially if the whole process is abrupt … many churchgoers will be highly anxious, and need an explanation from church leaders to help them make sense of things … and to stay.

Churchgoers also want to trust their leaders, but if the only explanation they receive is, “We can’t say anything, but trust us,” I for one wouldn’t trust them at all.

Why not?

Because that’s not the reasoning of a board that rightly terminated their pastor … that’s the reasoning of a board that’s trying to cover up their part in their pastor’s departure.

I’m a firm believer that a church board needs to say as much as they can about why their pastor left … not as little as they can.

The board doesn’t need to say, “Pastor Smith committed adultery with Betty Lou, the head of women’s ministry.”

But they do need to say, “Pastor Smith was guilty of moral failure” … and if the board has a statement from Pastor Smith admitting that fact, so much the better.

There’s a fine line between harming a pastor’s reputation/future earning power and telling a church the truth … but church boards need to walk that line if they want to restore confidence in congregational leadership.

For the optimal way to remove a pastor from office, you might find this article beneficial:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2016/04/15/removing-a-pastor-wisely/

And for more on sharing information with a congregation, I recommend this article:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2015/01/12/telling-the-truth-after-a-pastoral-termination/

Sixth, many of the church’s best people still may eventually leave.

Nobody attends a church because of the church board, which meets and makes policy in private.

No, most people attend a church because of personal relationships … and because they like their pastor.

In fact, many believers who end up choosing a particular church have visited other churches for months before finally settling down.

When I left my last church, I encouraged everyone I knew to stay.  A few left right away, but most gave it their best shot for as long as they could.

But over time, some contacted me and said, “I really tried to stay, but in the end, I had to go.”

For example, one friend stayed for a year but finally left when she saw someone who helped push me out sitting near her … and knew that his divisive actions and comments were never addressed by church leaders.

Over time … without solicitation … people told me, “I just left the church.”  Sometimes they told me why … sometimes not.

Some friends also told me on occasion, “So and So no longer attends.  They’re now going somewhere else.”

And I’d think to myself, “The church can’t thrive without these people unless many more like them are coming in the front door.  They’re solid believers … regular attenders … generous givers … and faithful volunteers.”

It’s my belief that when a good pastor – who was not guilty of any major offense – is forced out by the church board, most of the “good people” at the church will eventually leave.

And sadly, without those “good people,” the losers end up in church leadership, plunging the church into a downward spiral that’s nearly impossible to stop.

Finally, terminating an innocent pastor can have tragic consequences for a church for years to come.

By innocent, I mean a pastor who was not guilty of any major offense … only manufactured offenses.

When a church terminates such a pastor, they invite these results:

*Some churches that terminated a pastor find it easier to terminate the next pastor(s).  This is what happened in my father’s case.  Even though he was the founding pastor of a church, the board pushed him out … and then pushed out the next two pastors.

Some churches are “repeat offender” congregations, and most healthy pastors won’t even consider serving them.

*Some churches that terminated a pastor hire a new pastor who eventually takes the church down the tubes, but the congregation experienced such trauma after removing the first pastor that they give the next pastor immunity … even if he’s unqualified or incompetent.

This means that the church fired a pastor they should have kept while keeping a pastor they should have fired.

*Some churches – although a relatively small percentage – may thrive in the days ahead, but I don’t hear about these churches.  Nobody calls me up and says, “Hey, Jim, we fired our pastor a year ago, and now our church is doing better than ever!”

I’m sure this happens … just not very often.  (This would make another good study.)

*Some churches dissolve several years after terminating an innocent pastor.

This is what happened in my father’s case.  After pushing my dad to the sidelines, the church board terminated the next two pastors, and the church then dissolved.

Years after the congregation removed their pastor, the church I served as a staff member eventually dissolved as well.

A friend who reads this blog told me that after he was forced out, the board forced out the next pastor, and then the church disappeared.

Nothing kills a church’s morale like firing their divinely called shepherd.

_______________

When a church board believes they’re at an impasse with their pastor, they may very well want to engage in “fight or flight” … that is, either “the pastor goes or we go.”

Some board members tell their colleagues, “In my business, when I have an employee who isn’t working out, I just fire him and hire somebody new.  Let’s do that here.”

But a church isn’t strictly a business … it’s more like a family.

And although a small business owner or a supervisor might be able to control the consequences after firing an employee, no church board can control what happens after they force a pastor to leave.

One of my aims with this ministry is to say to boards who have issues with their pastor, “Think Christianly.  Think biblically.  Think broadly.  Think compassionately.”

I am not saying you can’t or shouldn’t terminate your pastor.  I am saying that unless he’s guilty of a major offense (heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior), don’t let your anxiety cause you to do something that will damage your church for years … or end its very life.

Seek God’s face … get professional counsel … take your time … do it right.

What are some other consequences you’ve seen after a pastor is terminated?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A pastor I knew for more than twenty years died last week.

For years, AA was my friend.

My first exposure to him was at Biola College when he came and spoke in chapel one Thursday morning in Crowell Hall.

AA pastored a church in Fresno and shared with students that radio ads helped his church to grow … then proceeded to play one such ad on a tape recorder.

Years later, on Veteran’s Day in 1980, my church in Garden Grove called an ordination council for me.  AA … who was now pastoring a church of the same denomination in central Orange County … signed my certificate after the examination, although I don’t recall his presence that day.

Fast forward six years.  One afternoon, I was sitting in the office of our district minister when he told me that AA was coming to Oakland to pastor one of the oldest churches in the district.  I wondered, “Why would anyone leave the beauty of Orange County for the ugliness of downtown Oakland?”

But AA went to that Oakland church, and using his entrepreneurial gifts, he sold some church land and started a new church in a beautiful area just a few miles away.

Right before Christmas in 1986, our district held their annual Christmas party at Mount Hermon Conference Center.  I was asked to do a humorous reading of The Night Before Christmas in the style of an expository preacher and it went well.  Afterwards, AA came up to me and suggested we have lunch together.

A few weeks later, we sat in a restaurant near his church overlooking a lagoon (a place I would later eat at dozens of times) and shared our ministry wounds together.  In the process, we became fast friends.

I invited AA to my church in Silicon Valley one day.  The church wasn’t doing well … we’d had a merger four years before that imploded … and I wanted his opinion on our prospects.

He surveyed our campus and quickly said, “I wouldn’t come here” which hurt a bit.

But he also read an article I wrote on “lost shepherds” and told me that it was good and that he knew the editor of the denominational magazine and would recommend that it be published, which is eventually what happened.

One day, I was speaking by phone to the president of our denomination, and he suggested that I put together a group of pastors in my area for support.  Our first meeting was at a Sizzler in Hayward, and over the next few years, our group of five met nearly every month for lunch.  AA was in that group.

For several years, those pastors and their wives met at AA’s home in early December for a Christmas dinner.  He and his wife were very hospitable.  We enjoyed other social events with those couples over the years as well.

I invited AA to speak to our leaders at my church in Silicon Valley, and he in turn had me speak at a men’s breakfast and a stewardship banquet at his church.

In the summer of 1997, I knew I was going to be leaving my church in Silicon Valley, so AA invited me to speak to his church on a Sunday morning.  The time went well, and AA said he wanted to hire me as his associate pastor, but things didn’t work out at the time, and I ended up at a friend’s church in Arizona instead.

But in the fall of 1998, AA began sending me emails, wanting to know if I’d consider becoming his associate pastor.  He planned on retiring and wanted to choose his successor.  After combing through 85 resumes, AA and the board couldn’t find anyone suitable.

I sent him five reasons why it would be good to work together, and five reasons why it wouldn’t work.

He answered all five objections.

Kim and I flew to Oakland on a Friday.  That night, we went out for dinner with AA and his wife, and we had a great time together.  But one of the board members was so upset about the possibility of my coming (he never even met me) that he instantly resigned.  (He wanted a Union Seminary grad instead!)

My wife and I met with the board the following morning, and things went well enough that I soon returned and spoke on a Sunday.

The board offered me the job of associate pastor, and I eventually accepted.  I did not call myself to that position … God called me … because I initially didn’t want to go.

Because our daughter Sarah was in high school, I agreed to start my ministry on June 1, 1999, so she could finish her junior year in Arizona.

In January 2000, AA announced to the church that he would be retiring the following December.  By this time, I had served at the church seven months, and except for one critic … a board member … I felt I got along great with everyone.

The following April … nearly a year after I came to the church … I asked the board to have the congregation vote on me as senior pastor-elect.  The vote was 76-4 … 95% approval.

AA began to pull back on his ministry a bit, and I began to assert myself more.  One day, as we walked past the open field on the church property, AA told me, “That’s where you will build a new sanctuary someday.”

In the fall of 2000, AA and his wife took a trip to New England, and while they were there, my primary critic resigned his position at the church and openly took shots at me.  When he returned home, AA fully supported me, which made matters disappear quickly.

That same critic began spilling board secrets in public, including the fact that the board had agreed to give AA a generous financial gift upon his retirement.  The church was holding its annual congregational meeting in November, and AA was worried that some oldtimers would publicly object to the gift and that he might not receive it.

I shared with AA and the board how to nullify any objections with the congregation, and the meeting passed without incident.

During the eighteen months that we worked together, AA and I got along very well.  We may have disagreed about certain issues … we’re very different people with very different styles … but I don’t recall one time where we had even a single unpleasant conversation.

And during the fourteen years that we knew each other, I considered AA to be one of my closest friends.  In fact, had I died before him, I wanted him to conduct my memorial service.

After he left the church and moved to Arizona, I did my best to maintain contact:

*Whenever I referred to AA in public, I spoke of him in positive terms and with gratitude.

*Whenever I spoke with his friends within the church … including four staff holdovers … I was conscious that anything I said might get back to him … and it sometimes did.  In fact, AA once told me that a certain individual called him all the time to complain about me.

*Since AA had family in our community, he visited the area a few times a year.  At first, he’d contact me and we’d get together, but after a while, he’d come into town and meet with people from the church without telling me, which made me suspicious.

*He and his wife visited the church a few times after he retired, and things seemed to go well … until the Sunday when I stood up to preach and noticed that AA and his wife were sitting by themselves next to a couple who were angry with me about an issue that had no resolution.

*I interviewed AA about two incidents that happened during his tenure as pastor that led to conflicts and included them in my doctoral project for Fuller Seminary.

*AA became president of a parachurch organization.  Our church supported him financially as a missionary and hosted one of their meetings in the church library.

*I invited AA to speak at the dedication of our new worship center in October 2005.  I also presented him and his wife with a letter of appreciation and a plaque for all they had done for the church.

But during his message, AA made a derogatory comment about me … one that most people wouldn’t have noticed … and I knew something had changed.

Then one man inside the church sent a bizarre email to one of our staff members stating that I needed a mentor and that AA should come back to the church as my associate pastor.  I called the man and tried to set him straight, but it began to dawn on me: AA is telling at least some people that he regrets leaving and wants to come back to the church.

After he retired, AA and his wife lived in Arizona … then Southern California (ironically, in the same city my wife and I live in now) … then in a city in Northern California.

Somewhere along the line, I knew I was being undermined and that anything I did or said that AA’s friends didn’t like would end up being shared with him … and quite possibly, be wrongly interpreted.

I had three options:

*Engage in an investigation into AA’s conduct.  But who would do it?  How would anything change?  What good would come from it?

*Confront AA about his behavior.  But what if he denied everything and then told people I was insecure and paranoid?

*Ignore his behavior and continue building the church … which is what I did.  But what if the undermining gained critical mass?

The church was doing well.  The attendance and giving nearly doubled during my tenure.  We built a new worship center where every vote by the congregation was unanimous.  We were the largest Protestant church in our city by far and had a great reputation in the community.

Fast forward ahead four years.

In the fall of 2009, I heard that AA and his wife were living in a house owned by former church members on weekends … only 500 feet from our church campus.

Only AA never told me.

Intentional or not, he now had a base of operations near the church to hear any complaints against me … just like Absalom listened to complaints about his father David at the gates of Jerusalem.

Only people weren’t bringing any complaints to me, so I didn’t know what they were or who might be upset with me.

I didn’t know it at the time, but AA not only had his fingers in the congregation … he had his fingers in the church staff, and especially in the church board.

In October 2009, a conflict broke out with the church board, and a few weeks later, I chose to resign.

The night I told church leaders that I was going to leave, I was told by the church consultant I had hired that AA had been meeting with the six members of the church board about me.  I don’t know who initiated contact, or how many times they met, or whether the board wanted AA to be their next interim/senior pastor … although a top Christian leader told me that was the plan.

That consultant exposed the plot and wrote a report stating that AA should not be allowed to return to the church in any capacity.

After years of friendship, my good friend had completely flipped on me.

_______________

I never learned what I did or didn’t do … or said or didn’t say … to cause AA to conspire to force me out of my position and eventually end my pastoral career.

Although I can venture some guesses, I’m not very good at mind reading.

I can’t recall our final conversation, but found it telling that he never contacted me after I resigned and left the church, even though I wrote a book about the conflict (Church Coup) and have written more than 500 blogs … most of them about pastor-church conflict.

Several years ago, I went to his Facebook page, and noticed that he was friends with nearly every single person who stood against me in my final days, including former board members and staffers.

In England, they call that a Shadow Government.

I have no idea when or where AA’s memorial service will be held … or if it’s already been held … and I’m certain that I won’t be asked to speak.

So I thought I’d write a blog about the man I knew.

I’ll always be grateful that he wanted me to become his associate pastor and eventually succeed him as pastor.  By every measure, the church did quite well over the next nine years.

And I’ll always be grateful for his friendship … his counsel … his support … and all the good times we had.

Rest in peace, Andy.  I forgive you.

See you in glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have a theory about pastors, one that I’ve devised by listening to stories from pastors and church leaders, as well as by reflecting upon my own ministry.

Here’s the theory: I believe that churchgoers and church leaders – especially leaders – want a pastor who is largely predictable.

Because when a pastor is unpredictable, that results in heightened anxiety, and conflict surrounding the pastor may soon surface.

There may even be calls for his dismissal.

Let me give you an example.

Pastor Michael came to Hope Community Church four years ago.  He’s known for his solid character, family, and Bible teaching.

There is nothing about Michael that is spectacular, and the church knew that when they called him.

They called a solid senior pastor, not a spectacular one.

It’s kind of an unspoken contract.

But Michael has been enduring some physical and financial stresses recently, and at a recent staff meeting, Michael swore at the associate pastor in front of the rest of the staff and threatened to fire him if he didn’t change his attitude.

Predictable Michael has now become unpredictable.

Realizing what he had done was wrong – and might quickly spread throughout the church – Michael immediately apologized to the staff, and especially to the associate pastor.

In fact, after the staff meeting, Michael and the associate left the church campus and met privately at a nearby coffee shop.

Michael’s outburst will get around the church.  It won’t reach the ears of even half the people, but some will start looking for signs that Michael isn’t always the solid guy he seems to be.

And for Michael, his unplanned verbal explosion could be the beginning of the end of his ministry at Hope Church.

Many Christians know that Paul lays out the qualifications for spiritual leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

Most Bible teachers believe that Paul’s overarching qualification for spiritual leadership is that a man needs to be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2) or “blameless” (Titus 1:6,7).  Paul then expands upon what he means by those terms.

But in my mind, Paul is also saying that spiritual leaders need to be predictable in their character.

There was a man in my first church (I’ll call him Nathan) who was on the church board, and I was always anxious around him because of his temper.

He could explode at any time for any reason.

At a midweek Bible study, he once disagreed with something I said, yelled at me, stood up, left the room and slammed the door behind him.

Another time, he stood up in a public meeting and reamed out a woman, the wife of a fellow leader.

Nathan was anything but predictable … and that carried over to his home life as well, because just a few months after I came to the church, Nathan’s wife announced that she was divorcing him … and I had to ask him to step down from the board.

It was his second divorce.

Who was going to approach Nathan for counseling or prayer?  He was too volatile.

And what’s sad is that for much of his life, Nathan had been a pastor.

Paul told Timothy that an overseer must be “temperate, self-controlled … not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome …”

Yet I have never believed that the qualifications Paul mentions refers to a person’s past history.

Who hasn’t been out of control on occasion?  Who hasn’t been less than gentle?  Who hasn’t loved money a little too much?

But I do believe these qualities refer to a person’s present character, which means that God wants spiritual leaders to be consistent, dependable, yes, and predictable.

Let me make five quick observations about pastors and predictability:

First, the way a pastor acts, speaks, and responds during his first few years sets the template for the rest of his ministry.

If the pastor responds to criticism with a calm spirit his first few years, people will expect that same spirit for the remainder of his tenure.

If the pastor responds to emails within an hour of receiving them, people will expect that practice will continue.

If the pastor works hard his first few years, people will expect that same work ethic.

I became a youth pastor at age nineteen.  My pastor … who later became my father-in-law … told me that if I worked hard my first year at the church, no one would ever question how hard I worked again.

He was right.

People want a pastor whose responses they can predict.  They will be more likely to listen to his sermons … follow his leadership … and ask for his counsel if they know what kind of person they’re dealing with upfront.

Second, even though churchgoers may prefer a predictable pastor, it’s wise for a pastor to be unpredictable at times.

In my last church, I carefully scripted my sermons because I had a few critics who were ready to pounce on anything I said that deviated from their norm.

After several critics eventually left the church, I felt more freedom to be myself, and on occasion, I would engage in an unplanned rant … and those little rants were often the best part of the sermon.

As Presbyterian pastor Stephen Brown used to say, “When in doubt … say it.”  It was his belief that the ideas that popped into a pastor’s head during the sermon would be the ones the congregation remembered best.

They can also get you into trouble … believe me, I know … but at least you’re being interesting.

In other words, even though people prefer a predictable pastor, the pastor shouldn’t allow himself to be put in a box or he’ll never be able to lead the church forward.

Third, only a pastor’s character need be predictable.

Those verses in 1 Timothy and Titus refer to a leader’s inner being.

They don’t say anything about a pastor’s appearance … education … leadership style … or sermons.

Sometime after my daughter Sarah was born, I started growing a beard.  It was the fashion in the early 1980s, and even though I’m usually years behind the trends, it was as simple as not shaving.

One Sunday, a woman stopped me after the service and asked me, “You’re not growing a beard, are you?”

Because my appearance was becoming unpredictable … thus making her anxious … she felt she had a right to vote on the matter.

And yet, several years later, when I shaved off that beard, Sarah cried and cried.  She only knew her dad with a beard!  (Sarah stuck a photo of me and her on Facebook for Father’s Day … and there was that beard again.)

As pastors grow spiritually … as they take continuing education … as they read more extensively … as they take risks as leaders … and as they change the structure of their sermons … they will become less predictable, and cause some people anxiety.

What’s important is to acknowledge any changes and explain them to the congregation so that calm believers can help the nervous ones to cope.

Fourth, when a pastor’s character becomes less predictable, he may be headed for termination.

When people think they know who a pastor is deep inside … and he acts in ways that throw them off balance … some may call for his removal.

One of America’s best-known pastors once bought a second house in a resort community.  He had a steady income from his writings and probably felt it was a good investment.

But when some people in the church heard about that home, they turned on him, and he began to receive an increasing amount of criticism.

Although I’m not aware that anyone called for his dismissal, the criticism was a factor in his leaving the church after a long and successful tenure.

Let’s say that a pastor has some financial difficulties in the first year of his ministry.  If he has financial difficulties in his fifth and ninth years as well, it won’t be a shock to key leaders because he’s already set a pattern.

But if his finances have been pristine for eight years, and he gets into financial trouble in his ninth year, some leaders may be shocked … and disappointed … and begin talking about getting a new pastor.

Finally, our Savior could be jarringly unpredictable.

Jesus was anything but predictable. While His character was God-honoring, His methodology, language, and style were always changing.

For example, if you read the Gospels with fresh eyes, you won’t be able to guess what Jesus says or does in any given situation.

Mark Galli wrote a book a few years ago called Jesus Mean and Wild.  I thought it was a great book and that it explodes many of the inaccurate ways we view Jesus today.

Jesus never healed people with the same methods.  One time, He would speak a word, and a sick person would be made well.  Another time, He would touch someone and they’d be whole.

Jesus’ words weren’t predictable, either.  He said the most memorable things … easy to recall … yet His pithy sayings were full of meaning.  Love your enemies?  No man can serve two masters?  Don’t cast your pearls before swine?

While Jesus’ unpredictability makes for fascinating reading, few Christians today would want Him as their pastor!

They’d rather have someone they can control.

But I believe that pastors need to have characters that are predictable but ministries that are unpredictable.

Just like Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Probably the worst ministry nightmare that a pastor can experience is to be either fired or forced to resign.

You lose so much: your position … your income … your reputation … most of your church friends … your sense of self-worth … and more than you ever feared.

Having been through this experience more than seven years ago, I’d like to share some events that helped me to heal.  Maybe my situation can help someone who wonders, “Will I ever get better?”

Each of the following events contributed in some way to my healing:

First, I chose to leave the area where the church was located.

My wife and I loved our house so much!

It took us thirty seconds to walk to the shores of the San Francisco Bay.  When I looked to the right, I saw the Oakland Coliseum where the A’s play.  When I looked to the left, I saw AT&T Park where the Giants play.

I saw the Bay Bridge … and the San Francisco skyline … nearly every day.

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There was a bench on a small bluff facing the water.  Sometimes I would sit there and study for sermons while the wind blew the water crazy at high tide.  (Although it’s at low tide in the next photo.)

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The entire seven years we lived in that house, I knew that in a moment, it could all be gone.  That knowledge gave me a profound sense of gratitude for every day we lived in that beautiful place.

But when I was attacked by a small but vocal group within the church, I could not envision staying, much as we loved where we lived.  My wife suffered greatly, and we were constantly on guard that we would run into our antagonists and melt down emotionally.

We had to go.

Seeing the church … and the community … in the rear view mirror was necessary for survival.  We didn’t have kids in school, and though the economy was leaking, we chose to sell our house in a short sale (neighborhood comps were dreadful at the time) rather than stay or rent it out.

Had we stayed in that community, our healing would have been stalled.

But many pastors lack the funds to move away, or they stay because their kids are entrenched in schools, and I believe this delays their ability to heal.  The sooner a forced-out pastor can leave a community, the better.

Why stay where you’re not wanted?

Second, I only stayed in contact with churchgoers who were truly my friends.

If I even suspected someone of colluding against me, I unfriended them on Facebook.  And in almost every case, my instincts were right.

I remember a man who invited me to attend some sporting events with him.  We enjoyed our times together, and before I moved away, he told me that he had contact with a leader who was instrumental in pushing me out.  This man called that leader “nasty.”

But several months later, when I attempted to converse with him online, my sports friend had turned on me.

Why stay in contact anymore?  He had chosen sides.  It would have taken several hours of meetings to bring him around, and I was nearly 800 miles away.

Unfriend.

I need more rather than fewer friends, but when someone clearly stands against you, you’re not really unfriending them.  You’re just accepting the truth … and that’s healing.

Third, I spent a lot of time reading the Psalms.

David knew how it felt to be attacked as a leader.  He also knew how to articulate and universalize his pain.

For months, I only read authors who understood that same pain.

I was depressed.  I didn’t feel like praising the Lord.  I didn’t want to evangelize the world.  I didn’t want to become a church member or use my spiritual gifts.

But I found great comfort in the ancient wisdom of Israel’s Psalter.

Because I found it difficult to pray, I sometimes let David do the praying for me.

I also sensed God’s touch when I read 2 Corinthians.  Paul defends his apostolic ministry throughout the entire book, and lets us know that sharing our raw emotions is sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do.

I needed to know that I was not alone, that I was suffering as many other saints had done in time past.

And that insight helped a great deal.

Fourth, I found a church home.

My wife and I moved to Arizona after we left our last church, and we visited a new church nearly every Sunday for six months.

We ended up at Christ’s Church of the Valley – or CCV – which became one of the largest churches in the US while we were there.

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I always thought that megachurches were cold and impersonal, but I didn’t find CCV that way at all.  It’s the closest to a perfect church that I’ve ever seen.

The church was outreach-oriented.  They served their community well.  During playoff season, they broadcast NFL games outside on monitors after services so men could stay at church while watching football.  They served breakfast before services, pizza after services.  They even gave guests a free meal.

I tried to use my gifts to serve there, but I found out the hard way there’s only one teacher in most churches these days – the lead pastor.

But I looked forward to every service, and found the people at the church both joyful and grounded.

One of the hardest things about moving from Arizona back to California was leaving CCV.

Although I believe that a forced-out pastor needs to attend church, I found serving problematic.  Most churches don’t welcome ex-pastors with open arms.

But attending a good, solid church helped me heal.

Fifth, I forgave those who attacked me. 

It took a few months to do this.  If someone had told me, “You have to forgave those who hurt you right now,” I would have replied, “I am simply not ready.”

I’m always amazed at those who claim that they instantly forgave the murderer who killed their husband or child.  The words sound good, and play well in the media, but three months later, do they still feel the same way?

There were people who joined the “Crucify him!” mob that I didn’t need to forgive.  I didn’t hold them responsible for what happened to me.

But three Christian leaders in particular knew exactly what they were doing: a former pastor, a staff member, and a board member.

I forgave them all a few months after I left my last position … but then I would hear new revelations of their collusion, and have to forgive them all over again.

I don’t think forgiveness is always an event.  Sometimes it’s a process.

In all honesty, I wish those well who plotted against me, and I don’t hope they die of the plague or rot in a prison somewhere.

The Lord will take care of things.  He always does.

But I wish that someone wise and fair could have set up a process for real reconciliation.

When I forgive someone from a distance, that’s unilateral forgiveness.

When I forgive someone to their face – and we become friends again – that’s bilateral forgiveness, or reconciliation.

That’s the kind I long for, but I’ve given up hope it’s ever going to happen.

Maybe accepting that fact is just as essential for ultimate healing.

Sixth, I largely blocked out my previous ministry whenever I did any teaching.

For many years, I’ve led workshops on church conflict at the Christian Leaders Training Association Convention in Pasadena, California.

I’m excited whenever I lead workshops because I’m doing what I believe God has called me to do.

But those conventions only last for a couple of days.

Five years ago, I became the interim pastor of a wonderful church in New Hampshire, and most of my time there, I reveled in the history of the area and formed friendships that I enjoy to this day.

And during that time, the pain of my previous ministry was largely forgotten.

It’s very healing to preach or teach others.  You’re focused on the present, not the past, and you can use your former experiences to enrich your hearers.

But because those opportunities aren’t common, I now teach the best way I know how.

I write.

Seventh, I could tell I was healing when I didn’t want to tell my story anymore.

For a few years after leaving my last church, whenever I met someone, I wanted to tell them, “I used to be a pastor, but I no longer am.  Since I don’t want you to think I left ministry due to a major offense, here’s why I did leave.”

Then I’d launch into my story … even when I didn’t mean to.

Several months after our departure, my wife and I attended an Amy Grant concert nearly 250 miles from our house.  Amy is my wife’s favorite artist.

We waited after the concert to meet her … there were only three of us … and when Amy signed a photo for me, I told her that I used to be a pastor, but I wasn’t one anymore …

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Why in the world did I do that?

I can’t remember the exact date, but when I started telling people “I’m a retired pastor” and that my wife and I work together in our own business … that was a day of great healing.

If anybody wants to talk about what happened at my last church, I’m always willing, and I don’t feel much … if any … pain in doing so.

But I’d rather talk about something else.

A very good sign.

Finally, I felt the greatest sense of healing when my wife and I finally made enough money to pay our own expenses.

It took me 25 years to make a decent wage in church ministry.  My family did without so many things … as my wife often reminds me.

Early in my first church, I drove a car worth $200 and had large holes in the bottom of my dress shoes.

In our last ministry, we finally made enough to save money and take some trips overseas … things my best friends do routinely.

Before I left my last ministry, I negotiated a separation package with the new church board, and those funds carried us for many months.

My wife then got a job with a charter school, but we had to withdraw funds from my retirement account to supplement our needs … funds that disappeared all too quickly.

For the past several years, the Lord has blessed us with our own business – one that we run from our house – and we just purchased a new home … more than seven years after losing the last one.

The day I went into a store and paid for food based on what we earned in the present rather than what we had accumulated in the past was a day of great liberation.

That’s why I tell pastors, “The day you can pay your bills from a new job is the day your healing really begins.”

I hope sharing my experiences have been helpful.

What else helps former pastors to heal?

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Pastor Henry felt all alone.

Along with his wife and two sons, Henry had just received an invitation to become the next pastor of Grace Church, a thousand miles from his last ministry.

Henry and his wife Mary surveyed the congregation when they initially visited the church but couldn’t seem to find anyone they might want as personal friends.

But one morning during his first week, Henry received a call from Bret, a longtime member who told Henry he’d come by the church at 11:30 to take his new pastor out to lunch.

Exhausted from the move, Henry was glad that someone was taking the initiative to get to know him.

Bret took Henry to an expensive restaurant, telling his pastor all about the community, the church … and the previous pastor.

In fact, Bret told Henry a lot about the previous pastor.  Pastor Mark was a good preacher who led the church through a time of unparalleled growth.  This information made Henry feel insecure.  How could he hope to compare favorably with a predecessor he didn’t know and might never meet?

But Bret didn’t just recite the previous pastor’s virtues.  Bret also slammed Pastor Mark’s leadership in many aspects of ministry, and told Henry that Mark was pushed out of office due to his shortcomings.

Henry felt better as he realized that Pastor Mark wasn’t perfect, but had his own issues.

And then Bret told Henry, “You know, I’m so glad you’re here.  You’re just what this church needs at this time.  And whatever you need, I’ll be glad to help.”

As Bret drove Henry back to the church, the new pastor felt a bond developing with his new friend.  “Finally, somebody believes in me” he thought.

Over the next several months, Bret and his wife Hope invited Henry and Mary to their home for dinner.  The two couples quickly hit it off and became best friends.  They went to movies together, ate in each other’s homes, and saw each other nearly every week.

Six months later, when it came time to suggest names for elders, Henry recommended that Bret be considered.  The others on the nominating team remained strangely silent, not saying yes or no.  Henry backed off.  Two others were selected instead.

For the next several years, the two families got along famously … and everybody at church knew it.

One Tuesday night, Hope called Henry and asked him to come over right away.  When Henry arrived, he found Bret in a foul mood.  According to Hope, Bret had been drinking and had verbally and physically abused his wife.

Henry did not like what he was hearing.

An hour before the next meeting of the official board, Henry met with Jeff, the board chairman, and asked Jeff what he knew about Bret and Hope.

Jeff was reluctant to say anything.  After all, everybody knew that the two families were tight.

But Henry insisted, and Jeff finally said, “Bret has a drinking problem, and he refuses to get help for it.  Bret wants to be on the church board, but we can’t let him because, in Paul’s words, he is ‘given to drunkenness,’ ‘violent,’ and ‘quarrelsome.'”

Henry suddenly felt very foolish.

Jeff went on, “Pastor, I don’t know how to say this right, but your relationship with Bret and Hope is causing some people in this church to question your judgment.”

After the board meeting, Henry went home and told Mary what Jeff had said.  Mary and Hope had become very close, but Hope had never shared with Mary anything about Bret’s drinking … or any other weaknesses they had.

Several weeks after visiting Bret’s house, Henry started noticing that Bret and Hope were no longer attending services.  Henry thought about contacting Bret, but he knew such a conversation would drain him of much-needed energy to run the church.

A couple months later, chairman Jeff called Henry and told him that a campaign was underway to remove Henry from office.  When Henry asked Jeff who was behind the campaign, he was told, “Bret and his wife Hope.”

Henry’s heart sank.

As a longtime member, Bret had developed friendships with many people in the church over the years, and he had a good idea who he could influence to join his “throw out the pastor” team.

Henry decided to ask Jeff a question that he had never asked before: “When Pastor Mark was forced to leave this church, who was most responsible for his departure?”

Without hesitation, Jeff answered, “Bret and Hope.”

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Insecure pastors … and there are thousands of them around … often compare themselves to other pastors … especially their predecessors.

A wise pastor quietly gets to know the previous pastor so he can (a) form his own opinions about his personality and ministry; (b) learn about that pastor’s influence and tenure firsthand; and (c) tap into that pastor’s wisdom concerning key junctures in that church’s past.

A foolish pastor rejoices when the previous pastor is denigrated, thinking it makes him look good by comparison.

But the same person who criticizes the previous pastor will eventually criticize the current one.

And the same person who supported the previous pastor will eventually support the current one as well.

Many years ago, I learned the wisdom of Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

Pastors need to choose their church friends carefully, or the friends they latch onto early in their ministry make turn to bite them later on.

_______________

I once met a man (I’ll call him Peter) who had served as the senior pastor of a church I had known my entire life.  That church’s first pastor lived two houses down from my house, and I went to school … and later church … with his children.

My uncle, aunt, and cousins had attended that church as well.

Years later, I made many friends in that church.

And eventually, I was called to be on their staff.

While Peter and I were talking, I shared with him some conflicts that occurred during my time in that church … conflicts that became so embedded in that church’s culture that they later affected Peter’s ministry.

I could tell that Peter had an enlightened understanding of what happened to him in that church.

Why don’t more new pastors contact their predecessors and gain that wisdom and understanding up front?

Could it be because of people like Bret and Hope?

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