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Posts Tagged ‘accusing a pastor of wrongdoing’

Let’s imagine that you attend a church where you don’t like your pastor.

You don’t like his appearance … his manner … his family … or his preaching.

In fact, you’d prefer that he resigned and went far away so your church could hire a pastor you do like.

If you had a chance to push out your pastor, would you take it?

And if so, to what lengths would you go to get your way?

*Would you make up stories about him?

*Would you distort something he said?

*Would you spread a nasty rumor about his wife?

*Would you tell others that you saw him do something terribly wrong?

In other words, would you lie to get rid of him?

I’ve been hearing more and more stories about board members, staff members, and churchgoers who dislike their pastor so much that they’re willing to lie to force him to resign.

Since Christians believe that God’s Word is truth … and that Jesus is the truth … and that God’s people should only speak truth with each other … such lying is clearly wrong and out of place inside God’s covenant community.

But when people can’t push out their pastor using truth, they often resort to falsehoods … just as the Jewish leaders invented allegations about Jesus to destroy Him.

The lying is bad enough.  It’s a negation of all that God wants His people to be and do.

But these same pastors tell me that when they finally become aware of the false allegations, they are not given any kind of a forum where they can respond to the lies.

In fact, sometimes they’re encouraged to resign … leaving their reputation in tatters.

Let me share an example.

Imagine that Clark has been the pastor at Harmony Church for twelve years.  Lately, his wife has been feeling neglected … and she shares her feelings with a church friend named Donna.

In a weak moment, Donna shares that information with a friend from her small group named Betty … but Betty mixes up what Donna shares with something she heard from another friend … and Betty tells a couple of friends that the pastor and his wife may be headed for divorce.

Over the next three months, that allegation slowly makes its way throughout the church, where the charge is embellished … and now the pastor and his wife are divorcing because he’s having an affair.

The wife of a staff member hears it.  The children of two board members hear it.  Then a major church gossip hears it.

But the pastor and his wife don’t hear it … and remain unaware of what is being said about them … until the charge reaches critical mass … and comes to the attention of the church board.

Before the next board meeting, the chairman stops by Pastor Clark’s office … says that he suspects that Clark’s marriage is over … and that it would be best for the church if he would resign immediately.

Dumbfounded, Clark can’t believe what he’s hearing.  He tells the chairman, “My marriage is just fine.  Things have been a little strained at home because our daughter has been struggling with asthma … my wife’s brother has been ill … and the search for a new worship leader here at church has taken longer than expected.  But I assure you, our marriage is great!”

But the chairman responds, “Look, Clark, it’s all over the church that you’re having an affair, and that’s the real reason why your marriage is ending.  Why don’t you just stop playing games and admit it?  Or would you rather force the board to fire you?”

You might think that the story I’ve just described is rather farfetched, but I assure you, it’s not.

And what Pastor Clark doesn’t know is that several people have added their own charges to the circulating charge of adultery.

It’s been going around that Clark mistreats staff … mismanages church funds … doesn’t work a full 40-hour week … and that his son is on drugs.

But not one of the charges made against him is true.

At this juncture, what can Pastor Clark do to correct the lies?

Here are five possibilities:

*The pastor can choose to say nothing … relying on God to defend his reputation and position.

Over the years, I have heard many Christian leaders advocate this approach.  They say, “You don’t need to defend yourself.  God will defend you.”

This approach … which certainly sounds spiritual … is the way that Jesus handled the accusations against Him before He went to the cross.  1 Peter 2:23 says about Jesus, “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.”

Pastors should follow Jesus’ example and not retaliate or make threats against their accusers.  And they should entrust themselves to God the Father, who does judge justly.

But throughout His ministry, Jesus did defend Himself against various charges, as even a cursory reading of John 5-9 will make clear.  The only time He didn’t defend Himself is when He knew it was His time to go to the cross.

And Paul defended himself as well against charges that he wasn’t a legitimate apostle in 2 Corinthians.

No, a pastor doesn’t need to respond to every little criticism that someone might be saying about him.  The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon says that in such cases, a pastor needs to use “the blind eye and the deaf ear.”

But when public charges are going around about a pastor, if he doesn’t respond to them … clearly and quickly … his detractors will interpret his silence as proof that he’s guilty as charged.

In fact, the longer a pastor waits to respond to the charges, the more widespread they become … and the more people believe them.

*The pastor can call an emergency board meeting and respond to each allegation made against him.

But at this point, Clark only knows about the marriage/affair allegation.  Even if he successfully knocks that one down, he isn’t aware that there are other allegations waiting for him.

The problem is that the board has already judged Pastor Clark as guilty as evidenced by their asking for his resignation.  And once people take the position that their pastor needs to leave, they almost never reverse their position.

It might be wise for Clark to reach out to several board members that he knows personally to gauge how things look for him.  Maybe he’ll find a sympathetic ear and that person can lobby the rest of the board on his behalf.

But at the very least, the board should meet with Clark and hear him out … with an open mind.

*The pastor can call a special congregational meeting and answer the allegations in public.

At first glance, this seems like a good idea.  The pastor can speak directly to the congregation that he’s served for many years … hoping that his integrity and love will carry him through.

But the problem with this approach is that people who have never heard any of the allegations will now hear them for the first time … and some may believe them, regardless of how well Clark is able to defend himself.

In addition, if some people have convinced themselves that Clark needs to go, they may create more allegations during the meeting and throw them Clark’s way … even in an accusatory fashion.

And from the reports I’ve received, sometimes people won’t let the pastor defend himself.  They either yell at him or boo him when he tries to speak.  All some want to hear from him is, “I resign.”

I know one case where this approach worked … and I’m sure it’s worked in other situations.  If a pastor still has the support of most of the congregation, it might be worth trying … but the pastor has to know going in that he’s going to be treated fairly … and if the congregation morphs into a mob, it will damage the pastor and the church for years.

*The pastor can write a document that lists each allegation along with his response.

This approach is helpful for two specific parties: the pastor and his supporters.

It can be therapeutic for a pastor to respond in writing to each allegation made against him.  It can feel empowering … cleansing … and vindicating.

If the pastor then gives that document to his supporters, they will have the pastor’s defense in his own language.  If it’s well-written and makes sense, that document will give the pastor’s supporters greater confidence in him … and may allow them to persuade people in their network that the pastor is innocent of the charges.

*The pastor can email his response to a few trusted supporters … confident that they will use it as needed.

*The pastor can email his response to the entire congregation … although his detractors will deconstruct, parse, and challenge every word … and even circulate their own responses.

*The pastor can send the document to the entire congregation via snail mail … where everyone will receive his letter at the same time … and it’s much more difficult to respond quickly to a letter than an email.

The disadvantage of this approach, though, is that almost nothing the pastor writes will convince the pastor’s detractors that he is innocent, because if he’s innocent, then they’re guilty of gossip … hatred … lying … and acting in an ungodly manner.

In other words, every time he’s proven right, they’re proven wrong.

There is one circumstance where I think this approach has merit: after a pastor has decided to resign.

In many cases, after a pastor’s last Sunday, people come out of the woodwork to trash his reputation.  People feel free to hurl accusations at their former pastor … even though they never made those accusations to his face.

The pastor might give a defense of his ministry to some of his supporters and let them defend him after his absence.

*The pastor can insist that the board use a biblical process … either to accuse him or to clear his name.

Whenever allegations are flying around a church about a pastor, the anxiety in the congregation grows exponentially.  In fact, people become so anxious that they spread the charges around almost without thinking.

The congregation then becomes a kangaroo court … charging and convicting the pastor without a shred of evidence.

Some people even engage in the wicked practice of “mobbing” a pastor … piling on false accusations until he quits.

This raises the question:

When allegations are being made about a pastor: does the pastor need to prove that he’s innocent … or does the board need to prove that he’s guilty?

I think the board needs to prove that he’s guilty.

So here’s a suggestion.  Under such circumstances, the pastor might tell the board:

“I will not resign unless you use a biblical process to either convict or exonerate me.  Since members of the board seem to think I’m guilty … and aren’t inclined to treat me impartially … I ask that the board and I select a team of five people from within the congregation to examine the charges against me.  These people need to be spiritually mature, objective, and fairminded.

“I will take a leave of absence of two months.  During that time, this Conflict Resolution Group will conduct an investigation into the charges made against me.  They will interview those who have made those charges, and they will bring every charge to my attention so I can respond to each one.

“When their investigation is done, they will state whether I’m innocent or guilty of each charge made against me.

“If I’m guilty of any charge, I will admit wrongdoing and ask forgiveness.  If I’m guilty of a major offense … such as heresy, adultery, or criminal behavior … I will resign.

“But if it turns out that I’m innocent of all charges, then I will be given the option of staying at the church or resigning with my head held high.

“Either way, I want this church to learn how to handle such charges in a biblical, loving, and just manner.”

I know Christian leaders who would conclude, “The pastor should just resign.  Why prolong the pain?  He’s toast and should just quit.”

But I would ask this question instead:

How will a church ever learn how to handle charges against their pastor in a spiritual rather than a political manner if a pastor is forced to resign every time false allegations reach critical mass? 

The ball is in your court.  How do you feel about what I’ve just written?

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