John MacArthur is a famous Bible teacher, pastor, and author.

And he sometimes intimidates me because he seems to be perpetually godly rather than human … and I have a hard time relating to people like that.

Yet MacArthur has certainly played a large part in my spiritual development.

When I was fourteen years of age, I went to Hume Lake Christian Camp for the first time.  John MacArthur was our guest speaker that week.

The first night, he shared about a car accident he once had that changed his life … and he did it with great humor … but his story really got my attention.

Later that week, MacArthur challenged us to read our Bibles every day, and I took his counsel to heart, rededicating my life to Jesus Christ.

When I entered Talbot Seminary (now School of Theology) in 1975, I was well aware of Talbot’s two most famous graduates: MacArthur and Josh McDowell.

MacArthur spoke in chapel one day on the glory of God.  Afterward, my friend Dave and I talked about what made MacArthur such an effective communicator.

To me, it was his authority … his certainty … that he believed what he was telling us with every fiber of his being.

Four years ago, my wife and I finally visited Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, where MacArthur pastors.  I wrote a blog article about our visit which you can read here:


Several nights ago, this thought kept running through my mind: “I wonder if John MacArthur has any hobbies?”

While searching the internet, I ran across an interview MacArthur gave on his Grace to You radio program in 2004.  If the interview was designed to humanize MacArthur, it certainly succeeded.  The interview can be found here:


MacArthur shared again about the car accident that changed his life … about how he and his wife got together (even though she was engaged to someone else) … about another car accident that nearly took his wife’s life … and how Dr. Feinberg at Talbot reamed MacArthur out for missing the point of a passage when he preached during chapel.

And then the interviewer asked MacArthur this question:

What was the most difficult thing for you as a young pastor?

JOHN: The most difficult thing that ever happens to me, whether it’s when I’m young or old, is disloyalty at the level of leadership. Not because I deserve loyalty, but because disloyalty is so destructive. The hardest thing you’ll ever deal with is false accusation…people who say things about you that aren’t true and undermine people’s trust and confidence and this goes on in my case all the time all over the place. Not so much at Grace Church, anymore. Our people are very loyal. All the critics I’ve outlived. What are they going to bring up that they haven’t brought up in the past, you know. But even beyond Grace Church, there are all kinds of accusations and criticisms that aren’t related to reality made against me. That’s very hard to deal with because I don’t want to be viewed by anybody as unfaithful to the Lord, unfaithful to His Word as an unfaithful Christian. But I think it’s particularly painful at the level of intimacy when you pour your life in investment spiritually into men around you that serve with you and they generate a mutiny against you. That is very hard to deal with…very hard.

That happened to you…

JOHN: Oh, it’s happened several times. Yeah, it’s happened several times. And it’s a shock. You know, your own familiar friend has lifted up his heel against you, the one with whom you broke bread, you know, like the Scripture says about Judas. And I’m loyal. I think the only way to get loyalty is to give loyalty. If somebody in church comes to me and criticized another staff member, they don’t find me a very good listener. I will rise to the defense of all those that are in my care and serve alongside me. People don’t do that because they know they’re not going to get anywhere with me. And I expect in giving that loyalty to receive that back because disloyalty is so harmful to the unity of the church. So that’s always been the hardest thing to deal with. To criticize me personally, is not disloyal. To undermine me and criticize me publicly, behind my back, that’s disloyal.

Let me make four observations about what MacArthur says:

First, no pastor is exempt from leadership betrayal.

If someone asked me, “Can you think of a pastor who has never experienced staff or board disloyalty?”, my guess would have been John MacArthur.

But MacArthur admits … quite candidly … that some men around him generated “a mutiny” against him “several times.”

King David, Israel’s greatest king, knew all about such disloyalty.  He writes in Psalm 41:5-9:

My enemies say of me in malice, “When will he die and his name perish?”

Whenever one comes to see me, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it abroad.

All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, “A vile disease has beset him; he will never get up from the place where he lies.”

Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.

Of course, referring to Judas, Jesus quoted Psalm 41:9 in John 13:18 about their own relationship.

And in 2 Timothy 4:10, 14, Paul mentions two men who betrayed him:

… Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me …

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm … he strongly opposed our message …

If David, Jesus, and Paul all experienced betrayal, then it can happen to anybody … including John MacArthur.

I’m just glad he felt free to admit it.

Second, it’s beyond painful to support leaders fully and receive betrayal instead.

MacArthur confessed:

“But I think it’s particularly painful at the level of intimacy when you pour your life in investment spiritually into men around you that serve with you and they generate a mutiny against you. That is very hard to deal with…very hard.”

My wife and I attended one of America’s largest churches for nearly two years when we lived in Phoenix, Arizona a few years ago.

Three times within six months, I heard the church’s senior pastor talk about a staff rebellion that had occurred nearly fifteen years before.

He was still hurting over what had happened.  Years later, he still couldn’t believe those four staff members would try and push him out as pastor.

I left my last ministry eight years ago.  At one point, we had a staff of eleven people, some full-time, some part-time.

I went to bat for those staff members continually, getting them more money … more vacation time … and even giving part-timers paid vacations.

One staff member made a mistake on his taxes that cost him thousands of dollars, so I went to the board and they covered his mistake financially.

Another staff member literally worked in a closet when I came, so I made sure she came out of the closet and had her own office work space.

How was my loyalty repaid?

Some staff collaborated with my predecessor and I was forced out of office.

MacArthur survived his mutinies.  I did not.

But either way, it’s something you never forget.

Third, loyal pastors cannot understand disloyal leaders.

In the interview, MacArthur said:

“And I’m loyal. I think the only way to get loyalty is to give loyalty. If somebody in church comes to me and criticized another staff member, they don’t find me a very good listener. I will rise to the defense of all those that are in my care and serve alongside me. People don’t do that because they know they’re not going to get anywhere with me.”

Not every pastor is loyal to his staff and board.  I’ve heard some sad stories to that effect.

But the best pastors demonstrate loyalty and expect it in return.  And when the leaders around the pastor collaborate to criticize or take out the pastor, the pastor can’t get his head around it.

I served under five pastors.  In each case, I was the top staff member.

And in each case, I was completely loyal to my pastor.

Did that mean I agreed with everything the pastor said or did?  Absolutely not.

But I wanted each pastor to know that even if everyone in the church turned against him, I would still stand by his side.

So when staff members … and in my last church, board members as well … turned on me, I could not emotionally understand what they were doing.

I still can’t … because it’s something I could never do.

But sometimes I wonder, “Why was it so easy for them to be disloyal?”

Fourth, nothing hurts a pastor more than false accusations.

John MacArthur said:

“The hardest thing you’ll ever deal with is false accusation…people who say things about you that aren’t true and undermine people’s trust and confidence and this goes on in my case all the time all over the place. Not so much at Grace Church, anymore. Our people are very loyal. All the critics I’ve outlived. What are they going to bring up that they haven’t brought up in the past, you know. But even beyond Grace Church, there are all kinds of accusations and criticisms that aren’t related to reality made against me. That’s very hard to deal with because I don’t want to be viewed by anybody as unfaithful to the Lord, unfaithful to His Word as an unfaithful Christian.”

I don’t know what kind of accusations have been made against MacArthur during his long and successful ministry career.

His critics seem to single out his critical tone or his lack of graciousness whenever he deals with controversial issues … and he doesn’t shy away from anything.

In my younger days in ministry, I felt that MacArthur was a bit harsh at times.

But as I’ve gotten older, I thank God for him because he’s one of the few prominent Christian leaders who haven’t compromised or wavered on biblical truth.

What amazes me about the interview with MacArthur is that even though some leaders tried to overthrow him … and that’s the definition of a mutiny … he never quit.  He forged ahead.

You can do that more easily in your thirties, forties and early fifties.  But when a church’s leaders come after you when you’re in your late fifties or early sixties, it’s a different story entirely.

When you’re younger, if you’re “lied” out of your church, you can eventually find another church.  But when you’re older, those same churches won’t even consider you due to your age.

In my last church, I was accused of all kinds of things … especially after I resigned.

But the leaders were cowardly.  Whatever was being said, nobody said it to my face.

To this day, there are probably people who think that I had an affair … that I didn’t really preach the Bible … that I spent so much money that I left the church in massive debt … that I let my wife (who was on staff) do whatever she wanted … that I mistreated staff members … that I wasn’t approachable … and on and on.

When I first heard untrue claims against me, I wanted to defend myself publicly.

But I quickly realized it was futile.  I could not stop the tidal wave of hatred that was washing over the entire congregation.

There was no fair and just forum where I could respond to my critics.

So I just surrendered.

This kind of mistreatment has a name: “mobbing.”

In a church setting, certain leaders bury the pastor with false charges trying to force his departure.

They don’t want justice.  They want revenge.

I’m glad that John MacArthur is still pastoring Grace Community Church nearly fifty years after he began.

How has he done it?

Those who survive in ministry are those who follow Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:21-23:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

And that’s what both Jesus and John MacArthur have done over the years: entrust themselves to Him who judges justly.

May we learn from their example.






Greetings!  My name is Jim.

And I care deeply about church conflicts involving pastors … usually with their boards and/or factions in the congregation.

My credentials:

*I have cared about pastoral termination since I was eleven years old and my father was forced out of a church he founded as pastor.

*I have also been a staff member when my pastor was under fire.  In one church, the pastor was voted out of office by the congregation.  In another church, the pastor was threatened by a faction until he lost the will to serve.

*I served as pastor of four congregations.  During my third pastorate, I enjoyed mostly peace.  During my second pastorate, a bully tried to force me out as pastor, but the church board stood with me.  During my last pastorate, I resigned when a small group resorted to abuse to force me out.

*I earned the Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary with a focus on church conflict, studying under Dr. Archibald Hart, Dr. David Augsburger, and Dr. Leith Anderson.  My final project/dissertation was an examination of church antagonism from the New Testament combined with family systems theory.

*I have written the book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict which is available on Amazon.

*I have written 569 blogs, most of them on some aspect of church conflict or pastoral termination.  Some pastors have told me my material is the best available on the internet.

*I have consulted with and advised scores of pastors, board members, and church members over the past seven years in regard to their own conflicts.

My credentials do not make me infallible.  I am learning all the time.  But I have a pretty good idea what constitutes healthy and unhealthy behavior in congregations.


Based on my knowledge and experience, I wish every church would adopt the following five resolutions concerning their pastor:

First, we resolve to handle conflicts concerning our pastor by consulting Scripture and our church’s governing documents.

Most Christian churches have a statement of faith that says that “The Bible is our authority for faith and practice.”

Faith refers to what Christians believe.  Practice refers to how Christians behave.

Both the Old and New Testaments have plenty to say about what causes conflicts and how to resolve them.  The New Testament in particular contains a host of verses designed to help Christians address, discuss, and resolve the conflicts in their churches.

For just a sampling, look up Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17-20; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 4:25-27; Colossians 3:12-15; 1 Timothy 5:19-21; Titus 3:10-11; 3 John 9-10.

Most church constitutions and bylaws also contain sections that specify how the congregation and/or the official board are to handle conflicts, especially those that involve the pastor.  These sections are usually based on the kinds of biblical passages listed above.  These documents were written when people were calm and rational.

But when people become overly emotional, they often ignore what their governing documents say and resort to the law of the jungle.  And ignoring your governing documents can put your church in legal jeopardy.

Second, we resolve to encourage people who are upset with our pastor to handle matters appropriately, which may involve speaking with him directly.

There are at least five things you can do if your pastor says or does something you don’t like:

*You can let the issue go.

*You can pray that he will change.

*You can discuss your concerns with family and friends from church.

*You can speak with your pastor directly.

*You can leave the church.

My wife and I attend a prominent church in our city.  We enjoy the pastor’s preaching, but I don’t always agree with him.  Several weeks ago, he made some statements that had me puzzled.

What should I do about my feelings?

I chose to speak with my wife on our way home from church.  She agreed with my analysis.

But I then let it go.

I didn’t need to pray that he would change because it was a relatively minor issue.  And I didn’t feel comfortable speaking with him directly because I’ve never met him.  And his statements certainly weren’t worth leaving the church over.

But notice one option I left out: forming a faction … listing all the pastor’s faults … going to a board member or staff member to join your cause … and trying to force the pastor out of office.

It’s not sinful to disagree with your pastor behind his back or to your face.  I know churches where if someone disagrees with their pastor, they’re labeled “divisive.”

That’s hogwash!

Division begins in a church when people get together and pool their grievances, especially when their discontent is focused on their pastor.  And that’s when Satan becomes involved according to Ephesians 4:25-27.

I do believe that if you see or hear your pastor engaged in sinful conduct, you should  address the matter with him directly.  That could involve an email, a letter, a casual meeting, or a formal appointment.

If you know him, that might not be too difficult.

But by contacting him directly, you give him the chance to respond to your concerns without involving others … which Matthew 18:15 commends.

And if you don’t like his answer, you can always escalate matters according to Matthew 18:16.

Third, we resolve to deal with issues involving our pastor as soon as possible.

In healthy congregations, people deal with issues as they arise.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27: “In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

In other words, deal with issues before the sun goes down!

In my third church … the healthiest one I pastored … I said something one time in a sermon that didn’t come out right.

After the service, several people stopped me and asked, “Did you really mean to say _______________________.?”

That’s healthy.  And when I realized what I had said, I laughed!

But in unhealthy congregations, people hoard issues against the pastor to be used at a future date.

When the pastor messes up … as he inevitably will … they compile a mental list of his faults.  And they add to the list over time, sharing their list with others who don’t like the pastor.  (It’s amazing how malcontents find each other, even in large churches.)

After they’ve identified others who feel as they do, they call a secret meeting and present their list of the pastor’s shortcomings.  And then someone in the group says, “How can we let this man be our pastor with all his imperfections?”

Church boards do this as well.  One board member is an Arminian who doesn’t like his pastor’s Calvinistic leanings.  Another board member thinks the pastor doesn’t spend enough time with his children.  And a third board member thinks the pastor doesn’t work hard enough.

Nobody ever discusses their concerns directly with the pastor, but at the right time, those board members may very well vocalize their grievances with each other … minimize the pastor’s strengths while maximizing his weaknesses … and either force him to resign or fire him outright.

And the pastor will wonder, “What in the world did I do wrong?  Why didn’t anybody talk to me about their concerns earlier?”

Fourth, we resolve to let the pastor defend himself against any and all charges.

Jesus defended Himself against the charges made against Him before His crucifixion.  Paul defended himself against Jewish and Roman opponents in the Book of Acts.

So we have biblical precedent for letting leaders defend themselves.

When a Christian leader is charged with a serious offense, letting that person defend themselves is the right thing to do.

Let’s say there are people in your church who suspect that your pastor is having an affair with a staff member’s wife.

And let’s say that someone produces some incriminating evidence against the pastor: a hotel receipt … a photograph … a slimy text message … or footage from a surveillance camera.

Should the board fire the pastor unilaterally?

The board could.  Church boards do it all the time.

But that doesn’t make it right.

I believe the board should meet with the pastor face-to-face … present him with the evidence … and let him have the opportunity to defend himself.

It might take an extra day or two, but so what?  The pastor should be given the opportunity to respond to the charges … or repent for his sinful behavior.

I know a church where the board had clear cut evidence that the pastor was sexually involved with a woman.  They could have fired him outright … but they met with him first … and then the pastor resigned.

But the problem in our day is that boards will often fire a pastor based on allegations or suspicions rather than airtight evidence or reliable witnesses.

And that’s setting a terrible precedent.

I believe the board shouldn’t determine the pastor’s status until they meet with him directly.  And in most cases, the pastor should be able to face his accusers.

Rather than rushing the pastor out the door … and making a host of mistakes … church boards should take enough time to work through a fair and just process.

Finally, we resolve to do everything in our power to work through any issues that we might have with the pastor, viewing termination as a last resort.

The more unhealthy the church, the more the leaders view pastoral termination as a first resort.

The more healthy the church, the more the leaders view termination as a last resort.

Ever know a married couple that wasn’t getting along?  They often have friends who whisper in the ear of the husband or wife, “Just get a divorce.  That’s what I did and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”

But if you’re really their friend, you should ask them, “Have you tried meeting with your pastor or a Christian counselor?  Have you read this or that Christian book?  Have you considered going on a marriage improvement retreat?  Shouldn’t you make a maximum effort to grow your marriage before you throw it away?”

Before tossing a pastor overboard, board members first need to ask themselves:

*Should we ask our pastor to meet with a qualified Christian counselor?

*Should we find a church consultant, a mediator, or a conflict manager?

*Should we ask our pastor to go on a healing or wellness retreat?

*Should we pay for him to attend a workshop or conference that addresses his weaknesses?

*Should we bring in someone who will help our pastor work together better with our board and staff?

The consequences of forcing out a pastor are devastating not only to the pastor and his family, but also to the congregation’s future.  It takes churches two to five years to recover from such a loss … and some never do.


The goal of making these five resolutions is to “win” over the pastor (Matthew 18:15-17) or to “restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1).

It’s not to humiliate him … or take vengeance against him … or destroy him … but to help him admit his mistakes so he will correct them in the future.

And so he can remain your pastor.

Isn’t this the way you would want to be treated?





Christmas in Saudi Arabia

Today’s guest blogger is my wife Kim, who discusses how the words “Christmas” and “Arabia” could once be used in the same sentence when she lived in the Middle East more than 40 years ago.  This post has become a Christmas tradition on this blog.  Ah, the magic and romance of the desert …

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Kim in Arabia, May 2010

It seems so long ago.  The years were 1965-1970.  It was Christmas in Saudi Arabia, where my parents were missionaries to the Bedouin people in the desert.


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Photo at Oasis Hospital with Kim’s father in back row, 3rd from left, 1967

We lived about 100 miles from the now beautiful, modern city of Dubai.

Dubai, May 2011

52 years ago, we traveled by open land rover on non-existing roads surrounded by sand dunes.  It took about 10 hours to travel 100 miles.

Several years ago, I went back to visit where I lived.  I took a taxi to the hospital where we used to work and it only took 1 hour and 15 minutes.  What a difference!

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Kim and Taxi Outside Dubai, May 2010

When the Arabs asked me why I was visiting, I told them, “I lived here 46 years ago.”  With amazement, they said, “There was nothing here.”  I said, “You are exactly right.”

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In Front of Oasis Hospital, Where Her Father Worked in the 1960s

We would get together with friends on the compound.  We hiked, cooked, played games, played tricks on each other, and saw our pets (cats, dogs, gazelles, goats, a donkey, a fox, and a hedgehog).

Sometimes we slept outside up on high beds to keep snakes and scorpions away.  We would wake up in the morning hearing camels eating our dried palm leaf fence.

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Saudi Arabian Desert

Life was simple.  We would run around without shoes, help in the hospital, read books, listen to good music, and sit around and just talk.  I loved the simplicity.

When it came to getting a Christmas tree, we were creative.  We chose a thorn bush and brought it home to decorate.  We had fun adorning the tree with popcorn.  We wanted more decorations so we took Kotex and tore it apart to make snow with cotton.  I wasn’t sure my mom was very happy with us.

We learned to make taffy, pulling and pulling until we had a sweet, sticky treat.

But my best memory was camping in the desert.  I remember always having a sinus infection but I was determined to go – so I bundled up and went camping.  Being in the desert at night under a clear sky, you could see every star.  You could see the campfire for miles.  You were surrounded by sand dunes and the sound of nothing.  It was peaceful and quiet.

It must have been how the shepherds, Joseph, and Mary felt when Jesus was born.

Our Christmas service was held outside at night.  The glowing of candles and far off lights made the desert romantic and magical.  I was asked to play the organ and everyone from the compound came and sang Christmas carols.  This was my gift to Jesus.

Oh, the simplicity of Christmas!

Should Pastors Be Happy?

As some of my friends know, I’ve been rummaging through our old family photographs recently and posting some of the more interesting pictures on Facebook.

I’ve been startled by how happy I look in photos from forty and fifty years ago.  I had a wide, joyful smile that I exhibited freely and often.

But over time, that smile dimmed … at least, at church … largely because of certain individuals.

Kim and HBF Women Mid-1980s 001

This is a group of eight men from my second church ministry.  Six have gone home to be with the Lord.  George – the gentleman on the far right – is still living.

George and Wendell supported me for years, and when I think of them, I definitely smile.

But three of these men turned against me … and one is my all-time worst antagonist.  (Can you pick him out?)

Then I found this photo of some women:

Kim and HBF Women Mid-1980s 1 001

Two of these women were loyal, faithful supporters, including Bonnie on the right side, but three also turned on their pastor.  My wife Kim (third from the left) was smiling in this photo, but several years later, she wasn’t.

And neither was I.

This article isn’t about church antagonists … I’ve written plenty of blog posts about them … but about a question I’ve often wrestled with:

Should pastors be happy?

During my seven-year tenure at this church in Silicon Valley, I was not only unhappy most of the time … I was downright miserable.

Our church was the product of a merger.  I had read that merger math is 1+1 = 1.  In other words, if you put a church of 80 with a church of 50, you’ll eventually end up with a church of 80 … or 50 … but not 130.

There are many reasons for this: a clash of church cultures … differing ministry philosophies … a duplication of leaders (what do you do with two head ushers?) … varied shared histories … and a pastor who suddenly needs to become acquainted with 80 new people … which makes the group he came over with feel ignored.

My first pastorate was in the Silicon Valley city of Sunnyvale.  We met in a school, but after two years, the city planned to bulldoze it down for new home construction.  We needed a place to go or our ministry would be over.

A sister church (with 80 people) five miles away invited our church (with 50 people) to merge with them … provided that I became the pastor.

I didn’t want to do it, and looked everywhere for another ministry, but at age 29, I had few options, so on the day set as a deadline … October 2, 1983 … I reluctantly signed an agreement.

Our district minister predicted that our church … which averaged 105 people … would have 300 people within two years.

But two years later, most people who came with me from the Sunnyvale church left in anger, and our attendance … and finances … were in free fall.

And as attendance and giving dwindled, I sank into depression.

Every other Monday, I wanted to quit.  Most of the time, it’s because the Sunday before didn’t go well.

The smaller churches get, the more people just want to be cared for.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but carrying out the Great Commission is not on the frontal lobes of most people.

As the church shrank in size, so did my self-esteem and self-confidence.

By the summer of 1986, I was barely functioning.  I was constantly depressed around the house, and my wife finally said, “Jim, you need counseling.  I”m going to find someone who can help you.”  I told her, “Then find the best counselor you can.  I want someone with a string of degrees.”

My wife finally found a Christian counselor with two doctoral degrees.  I visited him twice a week for four months.  If there was something inside me that was keeping our church from moving forward, I wanted to know what it was so I could make corrections while I was young.

After taking all kinds of tests and discussing matters for hours, the counselor told me:

“You have your problems and idiosyncrasies like everybody else, but you’re basically normal.  Your problem is your church.  Get out of it.”

I ended up staying, but I wasn’t any happier.


During my time in that second pastorate, I found a book that helped me survive those difficult days.

The book is called Coping With Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions by Dr. Archibald Hart.  The book was published in 1984, but its lessons are equally relevant today.

Listen to Dr. Hart’s wisdom:

“Contrary to what many laypersons believe, depression is a major occupational hazard for ministers.  For many ministers, surviving the ministry is a matter of surviving depression.  Mostly the depression is not a positive experience.  It robs the minister of power and effectiveness and destroys the joy of service.”

Dr. Hart continues:

“It is impossible for anyone who has never been a minister to understand the loneliness, despair, and emotional pain that a large number of ministers must bear.  Not a few leave the ministry altogether because of the debilitation of depression.  Others exist in their pastorates in an unhappy, dissatisfied, and disillusioned state rather than leave their churches or change vocations.”

I read various parts of Dr. Hart’s book most Sunday nights before bedtime.  The book kept me going for years.

Why are pastors so susceptible to unhappiness?

Let me briefly offer five reasons:

First, ministry is often both slow and invisible.

Ministry is slow because people change at a snail’s pace, if at all.  The pastor-congregational dynamic usually entails less than an hour on Sundays and is confined to the pastor’s sermon.  The people have limited exposure to their pastor and he has limited exposure to their lives.  The pastor isn’t like Super Nanny who would stay in a family’s home and advise them on how to raise their children.

In fact, most people don’t want their pastor anywhere near their home!

I can recount many people I ministered to who never seemed to change at all.  Maybe God’s Spirit was working in them, but I never saw any visible progress.

Ministry is also slow because like most organizations, congregations change slowly, if at all.  Pastors usually know the direction they’d like the church to go, but they can’t wave a wand and make things happen.  Pastors first need permission from the board … staff … key leaders … and often, the entire congregation.

Pastors become absorbed with attendance and offerings because those are visible emblems of success.  But changed lives are much harder to measure.

Dr. Hart writes:

“People coming into the ministry from other areas of endeavor often say that it is far more difficult to set standards for evaluating their accomplishments in the ministry than it was in their previous employment.  I understand this problem because I experienced a similar one when I moved from engineering into psychology many years ago.  My engineering accomplishments still stand – bridges, reservoirs, buildings, and freeways.  They are easily recognizable, enduring, and satisfying.  But where are my psychological accomplishments?  Sure, there are many – healed hearts, homes and bodies.  But they are not as tangible and easy to pinpoint as those of engineering.  And pastors may find it even harder to identify their accomplishments once they get their eyes off money, buildings, and church attendance.”

When I preached or counseled someone, I knew the Holy Spirit was working … but He didn’t usually make His work evident to me.

Second, I rarely felt like I was done working.

I never finished my to-do list.  There was always one more call to make … one more email to answer … one more hospital patient to visit … one more sermon to research.

And if I didn’t do that “one more thing,” I often heard about it.

Many professions involve similar challenges.  But for me, as for many pastors, we never felt we could hit the “off switch” on our bodies, minds, or spirits.  We always had to be “on.”

For example, in my last ministry, I had to be “on” when I went to the grocery store because I’d always see people from church.  I had to be “on” when walking through the neighborhood … when going to the movies (I once sat next to a board member at an Adam Sandler movie) … when going to the mall … or when going to see the Giants or A’s.  I saw people from church in all of those places.

I remember one Christmas Eve.  We’d held two services at our church, and our family finally went home to open presents and relax.  But at 12:10 am on Christmas Day, I received a phone call from security that one of the doors at church had been left wide open after the second service.  Security couldn’t reach anyone else … only I answered the phone … so I had the privilege of going over to church to walk through the entire facility and then locking the door … something I did many times.

And that stuff happened all the time.

Third, I carried people’s problems around with me.

My counselor told me my greatest strength … and my greatest weakness … is my tenderness.  Wisely or unwisely, I feel what others are experiencing.

While my empathy made me a good pastor, I could not shake off people’s problems very easily.

The larger our church grew, the more varied … and difficult … people’s problems usually became.  For example, around the year 2000, three government inspectors were killed by the owner of a factory.  The story made national news.  The supervisor of those inspectors was supposed to be there that day and would have been murdered along with his colleagues.  This supervisor went to our church and had to speak at the funerals of his murdered colleagues.  I did my best to minister to him, but his sorrow sent me into despair.  How could it not?

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:29:

Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Like Paul, I usually felt what my people were feeling, and carried those feelings around with me for weeks or months at a time … even when I was with family or doing something fun.

Dr. Hart claims that “compassion fatigue” is another term for burnout.  If a pastor doesn’t demonstrate care for people, he comes off like Dr. Ellingham on the hilarious British TV show Doc Martin: rude, surly, uncaring.  But if he feels people’s problems too deeply, he might end up burning out.

Dr. Hart writes:

“The work of ministry, when it is undertaken with great sincerity and earnestness, is bound to open the way to attacks of despondency.  The weightiness of feeling responsible for the souls of others and of longing to see others experience the fullness of God’s gift; the disappointment of seeing believers turn cold and pull away; the heartbreak of watching a married couple destroy each other, unable to utilize love and the grace of God in repairing their broken relationship – all will take their toll on sensitive and dedicated ministers.”

And in the end, they certainly took a toll on me.

Fourth, I never knew who was going to come after me.

Several weeks ago, I ran across a batch of photos taken when the merger mentioned above took place.  The photos were closeups of everyone in the church at the time.  I forgot I even had them.

Jim and Olive Webber at HBF 1983 001

This photo portrays Jim and his wife Olive.  Jim was the board chairman – and head of the search team – in my first pastorate.  Jim believed in me and lobbied hard for me to become pastor.  I’ll always be grateful for his support.

Jim was the “songleader” at the merged church at both the Sunday morning and Sunday evening services.  He led the hymns.  But as he aged, Jim began to lose it.  He started selecting the same songs constantly and repeating the same stale stories.  (“Can you smoke and be a Christian?  Yes, but you’ll be a stinking Christian!”)

One Sunday morning, I asked Jim if he would lead a specific hymn for the Sunday night service.  He refused, telling me that no pastor had ever told him which hymns to select.  I asked Jim again, and he became angry.

He went to the board with seven complaints about me.  For the good of the church, I probably should have sacked him months before, and now he was going after me.  He left the church the next day and I never saw him again until I conducted his memorial service.

This stuff happens all the time in churches.  Someone draws close to the pastor.  The pastor thinks, “This person likes me.  Maybe we can be friends.”  And a few months or years later, this person suddenly attacks the pastor verbally, or wants the pastor removed from office.

I can tell you story after story of men and women I thought were my friends … people I thought I could trust … who ended up betraying me.  In fact, every pastor can tell similar stories.

And it’s hard for a pastor to be happy when he’s constantly wondering, “Which of the people in our church are going to attack me next … and possibly end my job or career?”


Finally, I was too much of a perfectionist to really be happy.

I wanted everything the church did to go well … especially those ministries that required my leadership.

When I first took Sermon Prep in seminary, my professor would critique our sermons after we preached.  For years after I took that class, I’d get up to preach on Sunday and hear his voice:

“Don’t look to the left and gesture to the right … your looks and gestures need to match.”

“Don’t tell us that Sandy Koufax was a great pitcher because he threw hard.  A lot of pitchers throw hard and get rocked.  Koufax was great because his fastball moved.  Most people don’t know that, but a baseball fan will.”

“Be careful when you use irony.  Most people don’t get it.”

As a pastor, I heard a lot of voices in my head … the voices of professors, and fellow pastors, and critics … especially critics.

And those voices often prevented me from feeling happy.  They reminded me that my church wasn’t big enough … that our offerings weren’t strong enough … that I always fell short in some area.

If we had two or three Sundays of declining attendance … or poor giving … regardless of how well I’d written or delivered a sermon … I’d feel like a failure.

Even when our church was full … as in the photo below … I often didn’t enjoy it.  Instead, I’d wonder how long the good times would last.

BFCC Worship Center

Dr. Hart writes:

“I once asked a surgeon friend who every day made decisions that could affect the life or death of a patient how he handled the responsibility of his work.  His answer was most illuminating…. He replied, ‘You come to terms very early in your career with your fallibility.  It’s okay not to be perfect and to make mistakes!'”

But when pastors make even a small mistake, there are always people willing to magnify it into something horrendous.  It’s as if they’re saying, “Ha ha, pastor, you’re just like the rest of us!”

And, of course, we are.


My wife and I run a preschool in our home.  She runs the preschool downstairs, and I handle business matters from my upstairs office.

The Lord has blessed us significantly, and we’ll do this as long as we’re able.

I’m far happier doing the preschool than I was in church ministry:

*I can see children learn and grow much quicker than I ever did adults.

*My wife and I have our nights and weekends free.

*I only carry a handful of people’s problems around with me … usually those of family members or close friends.

*I no longer worry about people attacking me.

*I’m still a perfectionist about some things, but little bothers me anymore.

But in the end, I’m not sure that the happiness of pastors matters to the Lord.

Moses wasn’t always happy.  Neither was David … just read the Psalms.  Isaiah and Jeremiah weren’t all that happy.  And neither was Jesus.

God isn’t looking for happy pastors.  He’s looking for faithful ones.  But even when pastors are faithful, there’s no guarantee they’ll be happy.  Sometimes being faithful means that you’ll be unhappy.

And that’s not a happy thought to ponder.


By the way, when I took “The Pastor’s Personal Life” class from Dr. Hart for my Doctor of Ministry degree at Fuller Seminary, I wrote him a note at the end of my final paper, telling him that I believed he was a gift to the body of Christ.

I still feel that way.

If you don’t have a copy of Coping With Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions, I urge you to secure a used copy on Amazon.

It just might save your ministry … and your sanity.
















When I was taking classes at Fuller Seminary for my doctoral degree, I went out early some mornings and ran around various parts of Pasadena.

One morning, I ran across the bridge over the Interstate 210 Freeway and jogged into the parking lot of one of Southern California’s most prestigious churches.

The door to the worship center was open, so I looked inside.  It was huge!

The senior pastor of that church had taught me when I attended Biola.  He later did a weekend retreat for my youth group.

But several years after I peeked inside that sanctuary, that pastor – an absolute master teacher – was forced out of his position after fourteen years of ministry.

The news made the local newspaper, which quoted an attorney from the congregation.  Although the attorney held no official office, he represented “old money” … and the old money people didn’t like the pastor making changes without their approval.

As I recall, more than 4,000 people attended that church, yet a relative handful of disgruntled individuals were able to push out their pastor.

I have seen statistics that indicate that regardless of church size, it only takes seven to ten people to force a pastor to resign.  Other studies say it takes a mere eight to twelve people.

How can such a small group of people determine a pastor’s future?

I don’t claim divine authority for what I’m about to write, but let me take a shot at answering this question:

First, that small group contains at least one determined bully.

In my second staff position, a mean-spirited man was the chairman of the church council … and his wife was the church secretary … so this man’s wife reported to him everything that was going on in the office.

She didn’t like what the pastor was doing … and her husband didn’t, either.

And since the pastor didn’t do what this couple wanted, they decided they wanted him to leave.

Before long, the chairman convinced the rest of the council that the pastor had to go … and the pastor was voted out of office by the congregation.

This man paid me … the only staff member besides his wife … scant attention.  But when he finally did speak with me … only via telephone … he came off as a dominating and demanding figure.

In fact, he was downright scary.

The others on the council were typical churchgoers: nice, kind, mild-mannered, well-intentioned … but their personalities were no match for the chairman.

If the bully hadn’t been the chairman, he would have hounded whoever else was chairman to do what he wanted … so it was easier just to let him run the council.

The pastor … who also had a strong personality … was the only person in the church to challenge the chairman.

But ultimately, the pastor was voted out of office.

My guess is that embedded within the typical group of seven to twelve individuals is at least one person whose personality is so intimidating that few if any Christians will challenge that person to his/her face.

And yes, the bully can be a woman.

But if a church has two or three leaders who are vocally supportive of the pastor’s ministry, such a bully probably won’t challenge them and may leave the church instead.

Second, the bully takes advantage of the natural niceness of Christians.

Let’s say you’ve been invited by a church leader named Hank to a restaurant after the Sunday service.

When you arrive at the restaurant, you’re surprised to see nine other individuals from the church there with Hank.

Hank begins by saying, “Many people are concerned about the changes our pastor is making at the church right now.  I’ve called this group together to see if we can stop the pastor from making these changes.”

If you don’t question or challenge Hank right then and there, you may never be able to do so.

Many years ago, I met with a group of pastors for lunch.  The talk turned to the leaders of our district.  The consensus among the pastors was that those leaders were making our district the laughingstock of the denomination.

One pastor said, “If you want to, I know how to get rid of the leaders.”

I instantly spoke up and said, “I don’t want anything to do with this.”

That ended the discussion.

And that’s exactly what someone … maybe you … need to say to Hank.

But if you and the others hesitate, Hank will lay out his case against the pastor, and the longer group members remain silent, the harder it will be to stop Hank.

And the more danger your pastor … and your church … will experience.

Years ago, Dr. Archibald Hart taught me that Christians need to learn to be assertive without being aggressive.

We need to learn to share how we really feel without getting angry.

But since many Christians equate being assertive with getting angry, we remain silent when we should speak up … and find ourselves subject to manipulation.

Before Hank’s group gains momentum, somebody needs to stop him.

Would you?

I once heard about a board that decided to take out their pastor.  There was only one problem: the pastor’s biggest supporter was also a board member.

So the board waited until that supporter was out of town and then they voted out the pastor.

I have a folder an inch thick about that situation.  It was nasty.

Third, group members feel they are carrying out a special assignment.

The bully makes people feel they’re important because only a few churchgoers have been invited to the meeting.

But what they don’t see is that the bully chose each person because he’s confident they’ll support and implement his/her agenda.

The bully wants to use the group as a base of operations.  He can’t take out the pastor by himself.  He needs others … even if they say or do very little.

My first few months in my last church ministry, I noticed that someone I’ll call Charlie taught a Sunday School class … and that it was constantly growing.

Charlie openly bragged about how large his class was getting … even to me.  I became concerned that Charlie was going to use his class as an operational base to increase his congregational power.

After doing some investigative work, I learned that was precisely Charlie’s modus operandi in two previous churches … before he openly challenged both pastors.

And I remain convinced that Charlie was going to challenge me because he felt he could control those fifty people.

Most church bullies make each person in their group feel valuable.  They will:

*listen to and agree with their complaints against the pastor.

*invite members’ spouses into the group (even if they aren’t believers).

*mix social events with their plotting.

*make group members feel, “Only we can save this church.”

*pay members more attention than the pastor does.

And most of the time, that’s really what’s happening.  While the pastor may have a congregation of hundreds or thousands, the bully has a congregation of ten or fifteen or perhaps twenty people … and by showering them with attention, he can persuade them to do what they wouldn’t normally do.

I survived an attempt to remove me as pastor thirty years ago.  The bully recruited people who weren’t prominent in the church.

After he pulled the group out of the church, two group members died … and their families asked me to conduct their memorial services.

I assumed that since they joined the bully’s group that they hated me, but they didn’t.  They joined the dissident group because they were made to feel special.

Fourth, the group has to secure at least two top leaders to be taken seriously.

If the bully is a board member or a staff member, then he just needs to secure one other board member or staffer to gain credibility.

People can easily write off one leader who goes on the attack.  It’s much harder to write off two or more leaders.

When two or more leaders begin to criticize the pastor openly, some churchgoers … especially those without much experience in congregations … may quickly choose to believe them because they assume they have inside knowledge others lack.

The bully usually looks for three kinds of allies among the leaders:

*The key player in bringing down the senior/lead pastor may be the associate pastor.

If the associate is not 100% loyal, then taking down the senior pastor may be the way for him to get more money … have more say … or become senior pastor himself.

From all the stories I’ve heard over the past eight years, I’d say the leader most likely to turn on the senior pastor is the associate.

I believe that if it can be proven that the associate was involved in trying to take out an innocent senior pastor, the associate should be banned from church ministry for many years.  Trying to remove your superior is a far worse offense than almost anything an innocent pastor has done.

*The bully sometimes tries to recruit former board members who still attend the church.

These board members may have their own ax to grind against the pastor.

The most frequent complaint they have is that they used to be board members, but after the pastor came … and they termed out … they were not asked to serve again.

In my last ministry, a man had once been chairman of the church board.  When I came to the church, he was no longer on the board … I don’t know why.

When I became senior pastor, I didn’t think this man should be a board member because he missed too many Sunday services.  How could he make informed decisions about the church’s future when he was rarely around?

Besides, his wife had a reputation as a first-class gossip.

But later, this man became a key player in forcing me to leave … and I wasn’t surprised.

If I could do it again, I’d make the same decision. Placing him on the board would have been a political decision, not a spiritual one.

*The bully primarily looks for allies on the church board.

I believe that when at least two board members conspire together to target a pastor for removal, they often get their way.

A church board needs to be 100% behind their pastor.  A board can survive one dissident, but usually not two.

Remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7?  He said:

“Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”

If the bully is on the church board, he doesn’t need to persuade the entire group to get rid of the pastor … he only needs to convince one or two others.

And if they add a staff member like the associate pastor, who will stop them?

If they sense other board members are with them, they may call a special board meeting, or go into executive session after a regular meeting … and make sure the pastor isn’t invited.

If they sense other board members aren’t with them, they will try to persuade them outside of official meetings.  And when they sense they have enough support, they’ll make their complaints in an official board meeting … and then:

Finally, the group operates in such an aggressive manner that they’re confident they won’t be challenged.

And this is really why such a group gains power out of all proportion to its size.

They use the following tactics:

First, they verbally attack the pastor personally.

The group criticizes his appearance … his car(s) … his house … his manner … his sermon illustrations … anything and everything is fair game.

Some people in a church might think these things, but proper decorum keeps them from saying them aloud.  But the small group out to get the pastor vocalizes their criticisms.

Complaining is contagious.  Hatred is contagious.

As people openly criticize their pastor, others feel emboldened and add their own grievances to the mix.

Most pastors won’t wilt with this tactic … but they will with this one:

Second, they verbally attack the pastor’s family.

They attack his wife: she works too much or not at all; she’s too prominent at church or too quiet; she’s nice to some women but not others … and on and on.

They attack the pastor’s children: they’re unruly; they’re arrogant; they’re not at church enough; they’re at church too much … and on and on.

The attacks don’t have to correspond to reality.  And there don’t have to be many attackers.

The pastor doesn’t count how many people are making the criticisms because he’s too busy ministering to his wounded wife and children.

When a group attacks the pastor’s family, he has one foot out the door.

Third, they consult the church’s governing documents on how to remove a pastor. 

If they think they have the required percentage to vote him out of office, they’ll try that.

But most of the time, they just bypass the stated process and try alternative tactics.

Fourth, they pass around a petition to address their grievances.

The petition might call for a meeting so the group can air their complaints.  Or the petition might call for the pastor’s removal by the board or in a public meeting.

But everyone who signs that petition will experience a change in status toward their pastor.

In my last church, my wife served for years with a woman she dearly loved.

As the attacks upon me escalated, someone put together a petition and circulated it.  The petition called for an investigation into matters concerning me.

It was a confusing time for many people.  The woman my wife loved signed the petition.  But when she did, her signature ended her relationship with my wife.

Neither my wife nor I ever saw the petition.  Our supporters undoubtedly did.  And over time, they would tell us, “Those who signed the petition are not your friends.”

When people signed the petition, they were switching allegiances from their pastor to the dissidents.

The group circulating the petition knew that.  Those who signed it did not … at least initially.

Finally, they boldly exaggerate charges against the pastor and try to turn others against him … and they usually succeed.

When the pastor’s family is attacked, he has one foot out the door.

But when his integrity is called into question publicly, he’ll start packing his bags.

The only way a pastor can stay under such circumstances is if key members of the staff and board stand up strongly for him and say publicly, “The charges you’re hearing are not true.  I know the pastor well and he is the man you think he is.”

But once the charges gain momentum, most churches lack any kind of process or forum for the pastor or his supporters to rebut the charges … and the pastor gets buried underneath an avalanche of lies and slander.

And then so many allegations float into the ether that they can’t be rebutted … and people who were once the pastor’s supporters call for his resignation.

And somewhere during the entire “get the pastor” process, the devil and his assistants enter the picture and not only try to destroy the pastor … but the church as well.


The small group that opposes the pastor keeps pushing … keeps trying to recruit individuals to join their cause … keeps spreading exaggerated charges … and keeps the pressure on to remove the pastor … because they have gone too far to stop.

And they have sold their souls in the process.

The only way to stop that small group is for strong Christians to say … loudly and publicly … “What you are doing is wrong.  We won’t stand for this.  You are not only hurting our pastor and his family … you are severely harming our church.  We have worked too hard for too long to let you do this.  Stop this at once!”

But the reason that small group of seven to twelve people often succeeds is that there aren’t enough strong Christians in our churches to stop them.



























Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

I have a pastor friend who reads this blog, and periodically, he tells me that most board members who participate in the termination of an innocent pastor do it out of ignorance rather than malice.

In other words, they think they know what they’re doing, but they really don’t.

He may be right.

Sadly, I have experienced personal hatred and wrath from some board members over my 36 years of church ministry, so I know firsthand that some pastor-board conflicts result from unbridled bitterness.

But certainly not all do … and much of the time, pastoral terminations are handled badly simply because members of the official board don’t know what they don’t know.

So let me share with you four things that most church boards don’t know when they’re thinking about terminating their lead shepherd:

First, they don’t know the biblical process for dealing with the pastor’s shortcomings.

Every believer … and every church leader … needs to study Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 in great depth.

Jesus tells His followers what to do if a spiritual brother (or sister) sins … especially if that sin is committed against someone personally.

Jesus says in verse 15:

“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.”

Jesus is speaking here about personal sin, not church policy.

And He doesn’t exclude pastors, board members, and church staffers from His directive.

I believe that if someone has a personal issue with the pastor, they need to speak with him directly, and if they have a policy issue with him, they should speak with anyone who makes the policy … which is usually made by members of the church board.

Let me apply verse 15 specifically to pastors:

“If your pastor sins against you … by telling an offensive joke, by failing to greet you one Sunday, by getting visibly angry while playing basketball … go to him personally and privately and share with him what you have seen or heard him do.  Do not involve others at this stage.  If your pastor agrees with your view and asks forgiveness, your relationship has been restored, and there is no need to involve anyone else.”

If someone thinks the pastor drives an expensive car … or that he shouldn’t mention his vacations from the pulpit … or that he should dress better when he preaches … then that person either needs to speak with the pastor personally … pray about the situation … or let it go.

But this isn’t how most Christians handle their feelings about their pastor’s humanity, is it?

No, they share their feelings with their family and friends … especially their church friends … and usually, the pastor’s alleged shortcomings are dissected while he himself knows nothing about these discussions.

And as people talk, they share their own personal criticisms or grievances against the pastor, and before you know it, the pastor seems like Satan incarnate.

This is probably the single greatest sin a congregation can commit against its pastor: to indict, judge, and sentence him for his mistakes without ever speaking with him personally.

In fact, I’d say that most of the time, the sin of not obeying Matthew 18:15 is a far greater violation than the petty offenses a pastor has supposedly committed.

The official board … and the top staff members … need to insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first whenever someone has a personal grievance against their shepherd.

The pastor needs to teach this verse to the key leaders in private and the congregation in public, but then those leaders need to enforce the practice of Matthew 18:15 on the entire church family … or the pastor’s ministry will be in constant jeopardy.

Please note: Matthew 18:16 (involving one or two others) only applies if the first encounter with the pastor doesn’t work out, and Matthew 18:17 (involving the entire congregation) only applies if the first two steps haven’t worked.

And yet, in many churches, Jesus’ first step in Matthew 18:15 is ignored, and the board permits individuals to jump right to telling others and telling the church.

I know pastors who resigned voluntarily because the church board didn’t protect them from complaints made by members of the congregation.

And all the board needed to do was insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first.

These verses are often mentioned in church constitutions/bylaws as a way of resolving church disputes.

If a board doesn’t obey these verses when they’re having problems with their pastor … or somehow find a way to skip around them … many people will suffer.

Second, they don’t know that the faster they proceed, the more mistakes they’ll make.

If a pastor is guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or a criminal offense – The Big Three – then yes, the church board needs to act with a degree of haste.

But most of the time, pastors aren’t guilty of The Big Three, so if the board and pastor are struggling in their relationship, the board can devise a reasonable long-term process that’s fair to both the pastor and the church.

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke believes that when church leaders are struggling with their pastor, they should give him twelve to fifteen months to make any necessary changes.  If the pastor hasn’t or won’t change, then he’s subject to being terminated after at least one year.

This allows the pastor to seek personal counseling … go for continuing education … find a coach or mentor … or put out his resume.

And many times, within that year, the pastor has time to make good decisions, and the issue has resolved itself.

But when just one or two board members become anxious … sometimes because their friends are threatening to leave the church “unless the pastor is dealt with” … their anxiety can spread to others, and within a brief period of time, the board has decided that the pastor has to go.

Rather than work a process and live with the anxiety, they overreact emotionally … claim that God is behind their feelings … and fire the pastor to relieve their anxiety.

When the pastor finds out that the board has abruptly decided to terminate him … especially if they haven’t given him any time to make changes … the board’s anxiety is passed on to the pastor, who may become panicked, depressed, and desperate … and justifiably so.

(Please remember that pastors aren’t angels, they’re human beings.)

In such cases, the breakdown in relationship doesn’t lie with the pastor, but with the board.

The older a person gets, the harder it is for them to change.  People do change as they age, and pastors can change, too … especially as they rely upon the power of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

But people usually need time to change.

In 1990, I reinvented my approach to ministry.

My basic personality remained, but I learned new approaches to leadership, worship, evangelism, growth, giving, administration … and many other pastoral tasks.

And when I changed, my ministry changed … for the better.

So I know it can be done … and in my case, nobody made me change.  The desire came from within.

I think church boards give up on pastors way too fast … and they often do so without ever having spoken with the pastor in a direct way about their concerns.

And that’s not the pastor’s fault.

Third, they don’t know how important a generous severance agreement is when they pressure the pastor to resign.

Let me say this loud and clear:

A pastor is not a standard employee.  A pastor is someone called by God.

It’s taking longer and longer to hire a pastor today.  From the time the search team in your church started looking for a new pastor, to the time they hired your current one, how long did things take?

One year?  Two years?  Longer?

Before a pastor is called to a church, he usually receives a formal letter of call.  And that letter usually says, “We believe that God has called you to our church at this particular time.”

Included with that letter of call is a document specifying the pastor’s salary, housing allowance, retirement funds, medical insurance, and ministry expenses, among other things.

And in a sense, the relationship of a pastor and a church is very much like a marriage.  The pastor leaves his old way of life and commits himself to that church 100% … and trusts them to take care of him and his family.

When I left Arizona in 1999 so I could assume a position at a church in Northern California, I left my son behind (and it about killed me emotionally).  We sold our house.  I left my stepfather and mother and sister and other family.  I left friends behind.

I moved nearly 800 miles away because God had called me to that church … but at least I was moving from one church position to another.

But the greatest nightmare any pastor has is to be forced out of his church position without any other position waiting.

In case any board members are reading this article, let me distinguish two kinds of pastors:

First, there’s the pastor who has disqualified himself from ministry because he has committed a major offense.

Second, there’s the pastor who is being asked to leave a church because his gifts and personality no longer match what the board feels the church needs.

Even though the pastor was called by God to your church years ago, that doesn’t mean he’s entitled to a lifetime appointment.  Unlike college professors, pastors should not be given tenure.

But why punish the pastor and his family financially because circumstances have changed since the pastor came to the church?

If you believe that God called your pastor to your church, then if you want him to leave, you must believe that God is calling him away … even though he probably has nowhere to go.

Then you need to give him a generous separation package. 

He gave up his whole life to come to your church.

He doesn’t have another source of income.

And he hasn’t been spending his time at your church taking courses to do something else with his life.

He’s been “all in” with your church … and now he needs you to be “all in” with him.

If you don’t give him a generous package:

*You may put great stress on his marriage because his wife will feel like she needs to support the family financially.

*You may embitter his children … regardless of their age.

*You may send your pastor into the depths of emotional despair.

*You may force him to tap into his retirement account prematurely.

*You may very likely end his ministry career.

It’s the same thing as a husband divorcing his wife without offering her any alimony or child support.

Trade the pastor a generous separation package for a unifying resignation letter.

When I left my last ministry in 2009, I encouraged everyone to stay at the church … and I reiterated that when I preached my last sermon.

My sentiments were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in future donations to that congregation.

But if you mistreat the pastor by offering him a skimpy separation package, the word will get around … no matter how careful you are … and your church will lose many people and a lot of money.

Probably tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.

Fourth, they don’t know that many people are more committed to their pastor than they are their church.

Let me share with you three things that will happen if you force an innocent pastor from office:

*There will be a general sense of anxiety and unease in your congregation.

This can be alleviated somewhat by weekly updates from the church board, but it may last for many years.

And if you’re able to secure a good interim pastor … especially an intentional interim … that will help as well.

But every Sunday, when people come to church and don’t see their former pastor, many will wonder, “Why isn’t our beloved pastor preaching this week?  I wonder how he’s doing?  I wonder why he really left?  And I wonder if someone pushed him out.”

And that anxiety can last for months, if not years.

*Many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church … regardless of the reason.

To keep people in the church, some boards decide to blame the pastor’s departure completely on him … and some even manufacture charges against him.

Some even place a gag order on everybody … especially board members and staff members.

Such heavy-handed tactics rarely work, and aren’t consistent with the holy life that God requires of all His followers.

So expect that many of your best attendees … volunteers … and givers will leave the church … not altogether, but slowly.

And when that happens:

*Expect that you will have to cut back on your ministries.

You may not have enough money to pay some of your key staff members.

You may have to cut back one of your worship services.

You may not be able to fund some of your annual events.

A friend of mine came to a church of 50 people.  Three years later, the church stood at 150.  The board pushed him out, and the church reverted to 50 people once again.

Those 100 additional people were more loyal to the pastor than to the church, so they all left.

And most church boards don’t know that.

Several years ago, I recounted my story to one of the world’s leading experts on churches.  When I finished my narrative, he said, “How’s that church doing today?  It’s probably not doing very well, is it?”

Most churches that push out an innocent pastor never fully recover.

I began this article by mentioning a pastor friend.  After he was terminated by the church board … after a Sunday service, no less … the leaders may have thought, “Now we can do what we want around here!”

A few years later, that church went out of existence.


How can board members learn what to do when they’re having problems with their pastor?

*They can read a book … but I’m unaware of any such book right now.

*They can attend a seminar … but I’m unaware of anyone who is doing them.

*They can contact their denomination or local district … but they usually offer little help except to try and convince church leaders to keep giving money to the denomination.

*They can contact an expert in pastor-church conflict … a consultant, a conflict manager, an interventionist, a mediator … and they’re often of great help … but you have to pay them well.

Two pastors have told me that my material on pastor-church conflict is “the best on the internet.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not.

But accessing my articles doesn’t cost anything financially … and you can pass them on to others.

If I can help you with your situation, please let me know by emailing me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org























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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