Posts Tagged ‘antagonism toward pastors’

This past weekend, while doing some work around the house, I was plagued by some ministry memories I thought I had long forgotten.

But the more I tried to push them down, the more they flooded my soul, and the only way I know to be rid of them is to write them down and share them.

So here goes …

Nearly 30 years ago, I pastored a church in Santa Clara, California … the heart of Silicon Valley, south of the San Francisco Bay.

Early in 1988, my all-time worst antagonist … a man I’ll call Bob … had returned to the church after a year’s absence.  He ended up leading a rebellion against me for two primary reasons: he and his wife didn’t like our change in worship music (which the board unanimously supported) and some of the seniors griped to Bob that I didn’t care about them (if you knew them, you’d understand).

About twenty percent of the congregation ended up following Bob out of our church.

Rather than attend existing churches in the area, those refugees formed their own congregation in a school about a mile from our property … and used our church as their sole mission field.

A pastor who had left his church due to moral failure ended up doing a lot of guest speaking at that new church.

Even though their attendance was meager, Bob contacted the district minister with the stated goal of having his new church admitted both into the district and the denomination.

When I found out about Bob’s intent, I told the district minister, “If you recognize that renegade church, we will pull our church out of the district.”

And I meant it.

It just so happened that the denomination’s annual meetings were being held at the new Santa Clara Convention Center that June … just a few miles from our church … and my wife Kim had volunteered to lead the early childhood program.

I chose to serve with my wife and to help with her program for the upcoming annual meetings.

The festivities opened on a Wednesday night, and the facilities were spectacular.  The early childhood program was located on the second floor, and that’s where I stayed that first night.

But someone quickly brought me some bad news.

Bob was in the lobby of the convention center handing out literature to pastors and delegates inviting them to his new church!

This was a complete breach of protocol.  It just wasn’t done.  The meetings were all about churches as a whole, not any one church in particular.  Nobody went to the annual meetings and publicized their church at the expense of others.

Those who brought me this news also told me that Bob was not only publicizing his church, but taking verbal shots at me … the pastor of the only denominational church in Santa Clara … while I was serving God in a room upstairs.

Later that day, I found our district minister and asked him what he was going to do about Bob’s breach of protocol.

His reply?

“What can I do?  I don’t have the authority to do anything.”

As far as I was concerned, that was the wrong answer.

I spoke with several of my pastoral colleagues, and they were appalled that Bob was passing out literature about his church … and that the district leadership was allowing it to happen.

Finally, a long-time pastor scooped up all of Bob’s literature (he wasn’t in the lobby at the time) … threw it out … came to me … and slapped his hands together as if to say, “That will take care of that.”

I don’t know how Bob reacted when he discovered that his literature had disappeared.  Maybe he blamed me … maybe not.

But that incident is a microcosm of how denominations treat pastors when they’re assaulted by conflict:

First, many denominational leaders secretly hope that certain pastors and churches fail.

Bob was a formidable opponent.  He wanted to turn our church back to the 1940s and 1950s.

I couldn’t reason with him, and neither could anyone on our board.  He was a bully, and he was going to attack me until I resigned.

Several months before, my district minister had even recommended that I quit because of Bob’s attacks.

But I didn’t leave.  I stayed … forcing Bob and his minions to depart instead.

I couldn’t figure out why my district minister wasn’t more supportive … until a pastoral colleague clued me into what was really happening.

My friend told me that district leaders wanted both me and our church to fail so they could take over the property … sell it … and use much of the proceeds to plant new churches.

Most denominational churches insert a clause into their governing documents that states that if the church dissolves, the property reverts to the denomination.

Although our church property sat on less than two acres, land in Silicon Valley at that time sold for one million dollars per acre.

What better way to secure a windfall than to force me out and take over the church?

If you’re skeptical that denominational officials do things like this, let me assure you … they do.

And in my case, I’m positive that’s what was happening.

Second, many denominational leaders claim they lack the ecclesiastical authority to resolve conflicts involving pastors.

This is precisely what my district minister told me: “I don’t have the authority to take any action toward Bob.”

Fine … maybe the DM didn’t have any official authority to deal with him.

Many denominational executives claim that they can’t interfere in the life of a congregation because churches are autonomous … that is, they govern themselves without any outside interference.

But let me tell you … when a district minister wants to interfere in a church situation and get rid of a pastor … he will.

My district minister at that time went back to his previous church, advised the board on how to get rid of their current pastor, and was present when the board demanded the pastor’s resignation.

Not only was it a total breach of ethics, he was also violating that church’s autonomy by interfering … and his influence led to a lawsuit.

In my case, I wanted someone to exercise moral and spiritual authority.

After all, what good is ecclesiastical authority if it doesn’t translate into moral and spiritual decisions?

Thank God, several of my fellow pastors did take action against Bob’s sabotage efforts … and I was grateful for their courage.

But if you’re looking for principled action, look away from the district office … because denominations are far more political than they are spiritual.

Finally, many denominational leaders are more interested in building their denomination than advancing Christ’s kingdom. 

This was certainly true in our district.

I went to Talbot Seminary (now School of Theology), a non-denominational school.  While there, I gravitated toward books written by British scholars like John Stott, J. I. Packer, Michael Green, F. F. Bruce, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Those guys were my heroes.

I tried to think broadly, read widely, and view Christ’s kingdom internationally.

But when I started becoming involved with my church’s denomination, I was appalled at how narrow their thinking was.

For example, I served for several years on the district’s education committee.  One day, I asked the chairman if I could invite Pastor Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa to speak to the pastors in our district.  (I knew a pastor on that committee who was saved at one of Calvary’s concerts.)

At the time, Calvary Chapel may have been the largest church in the United States, and certainly was among the most influential churches anywhere in the world.

One of my best friends worked at Calvary with Pastor Chuck and I thought it would be great to have someone from outside the denomination talk about leadership.

My friend asked Chuck if he would speak for us, and Chuck said yes, so I went back to the chairman of the committee to deliver the news.

The chairman asked a district official if Chuck could come and speak.  The official said that Chuck couldn’t come because there were plenty of denominational personnel who could speak to the leaders without going outside our own group.

Pretty lame excuse, if you ask me.

That same district official later criticized me for going to Talbot even though choosing a denomination wasn’t even on my radar when I selected a seminary to attend.

A lot of pastors at this point might say, “Okay, this group may identify its denomination with the kingdom of God, and they’re obviously mistaken, but I’ll suck it up, play the game, schmooze the right people, and maybe move up the ladder someday.”

But I can’t do that.

My wife and I have been watching the TV show Blue Bloods on Netflix.  If you haven’t seen it, Tom Selleck plays Frank Reagan, the police commissioner of New York City.  (And if you aren’t aware of this, Reagan’s family openly talks about their Catholic faith and often says grace before eating … a rarity on television.)

When faced with a dilemma, Reagan always wants to do the right thing.  He always chooses principles over politics.  He hates phoniness … meaningless social events… and speaks his mind at all times.

That’s me … and that’s why I resonate with Frank Reagan so well.

But I was never comfortable in my denomination.  I was the wrong ethnicity … went to the wrong seminary … thought outside the box … and could not turn a blind ear to wrongdoing.

Many years ago, that district was holding a meeting one Saturday at my best friend’s church.  I dutifully put on my suit (this was the early 1990s), got in my car, and drove down the expressway toward the church.

About a mile down the road, I thought to myself, “I hate these meetings.  I don’t want to go … so why am I going?”

I turned around … went home … and never went to another one again.

My wife applauded me.  She said, “You always come back from those meetings depressed.”

She was right … and I hate being depressed.

Fast forward 15 years.

In our last church, out of 400 adults, only seven people cared about our church’s affiliation with that denomination.  Only seven.

One night, at a board meeting, a board member asked me what it would take to leave the denomination.

I told him that I didn’t want that to happen on my watch.

My wife later told me, “You made a mistake.  You should have taken the church out.”

She repeated that same sentiment to me this past weekend.

But I didn’t want to do it.  I thought I could just ignore them indefinitely.

When major conflict surfaced in my church in 2009, I discovered that my former district minister – who never once contacted me personally over a five-year period – was integrally involved in getting rid of me … even though he liked to claim, “I can’t interfere in local church conflicts.”

My wife was right … I should have led the church out of the denomination years before.

If I had, maybe I’d still be a pastor today.













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Pastor Tim sighed.

He was not looking forward to his lunch meeting with Harold the next day.

Harold had been a member of the church board at Joy Fellowship for two years.  Although Tim liked Harold personally … and had approved his selection to the board … Tim wished someone else had come onto the board instead.

Tim had mistakenly assumed that Harold supported his ministry philosophy until after Harold’s first year on the board.  Then Harold starting sharing some bizarre ideas in meetings on how to move the church forward.

Now Harold had invited Tim to lunch … and Tim was uncertain of Harold’s agenda.

After exchanging pleasantries and talking about the Super Bowl, Harold produced a two-page list of “improvements” that he felt would make the church better.  Tim just listened as Harold excitedly discussed his suggestions.

Tim didn’t like any of Harold’s suggestions … and thought that several would drive people out of the church … so he just listened, thanked Harold for his ideas, and left the restaurant after an hour.

Over the next few months, Pastor Tim became immersed in hiring a new staff member, planning for a mission trip, and handling several unexpected deaths.  And in the process, he completely forgot about Harold’s ideas.

But Harold hadn’t forgotten about his suggestions.  He hadn’t forgotten that Pastor Tim wasn’t very enthusiastic about them, either.  And he hadn’t forgotten that Tim had never brought up any of his ideas in a board meeting.

Harold led a small men’s group that met on Saturday mornings.  The group decided to ask the entire church to support a missionary financially, so Harold went to the leader of the missions team and asked if they could make an announcement the following Sunday asking the congregation for monthly support.

The missions leader told Harold, “I’ll get back to you.”  Two days later, he called and said “No.”

Harold suspected that Pastor Tim was the one who vetoed the announcement … and Harold had guaranteed his cousin that the church would support him financially.

Harold was not a happy camper.

The pastor didn’t take his ideas seriously.  The pastor hadn’t implemented even a single one.  And now that Harold wanted to do something good … support a missionary … the pastor wouldn’t even support that.

Harold had had enough.

In his mind, there were only two options:

*Leave the church immediately.

*Get rid of Pastor Tim.

Harold and his family didn’t want to leave Joy Fellowship.  They had too many friends at the church to go somewhere else.

So Harold made a unilateral decision: Pastor Tim had to go.


Nearly a decade ago, I researched and wrote a doctoral project at Fuller Seminary on antagonism in churches … based on Scripture … and using family systems theory.

I studied five conflicts that had occurred at the church I pastored over the previous ten years.

In each case, a church leader assumed they had a special relationship with the pastor.

In each case, a dispute arose over a specific issue championed by the leader.

In each case, the pastor made a decision that went against the wishes of the leader.

In each case, the leader turned against the pastor and became an antagonist.


People become antagonistic toward pastors for a variety of reasons:

*They lack spiritual depth.

*They become emotionally reactive when they’re hurt.

*They believe the pastor has singled them out for embarrassment.

*They tend toward paranoia … thinking the pastor is out to get them … and decide to “get him” before he “gets me.”

*They aren’t comfortable with his preaching style … or content.

*They view the pastor as a father figure … or a brother figure … or a son figure … who has rejected them.

*They think the pastor is taking the church in the wrong direction.

But I believe that in many cases … and this is just a theory on my part … someone in a church … especially a leader … becomes antagonistic toward the pastor because:

*The pastor doesn’t seem to be listening to or championing any of their ideas.

*The pastor doesn’t seem to recognize that person as being “special.”

*The pastor hasn’t included this individual in his social circle.

*The pastor has resolved a dispute against the wishes of the other person.

And this is the killer:

*The pastor has limited this person’s access and influence in his ministry.

I was once the pastor of a church where a prominent leader angrily left the church.

A friend of his came to see me in my office.  The friend wanted the leader to come back to the church.

The leader said he would return if I granted him one request:

He wanted complete access to me as pastor.

I said, “No.”  The leader never returned.

What did the leader want?

He wanted to run the church through me.

He had some success doing that with the previous pastor.  It made him feel valuable and validated.

But what happened if I crossed him … or he didn’t like a decision I made … or a sermon I preached … or the schedule I kept?

I knew what would happen: he would come after me with full force … because that’s what he did to the pastors in his previous two churches.


For those of you who have been through pastoral termination … or know someone who has … see if you can answer the following question:

To what degree was the pastor’s exit determined by people who wanted complete access to him and total influence with him yet didn’t get it?









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