Posts Tagged ‘attacks on pastors; church antagonists; pastors battling antagonists; pastors and post traumatic stress’

I recently ran across a book on church conflict, antagonism, and pastoral termination that was new to me, although it was first published in 2010.

It’s called When Sheep Attack by Dennis R. Maynard.  Dr. Maynard has been in church ministry for 38 years.  He once served as the pastor of a church in Houston that is the largest Episcopal church in the United States.  He has also served as a consultant to more than 100 churches of various denominations in the United States and Canada.

Dr. Maynard conducted a study of 25 pastors who had been forced out of their churches.  At the time they were attacked, each pastor was leading a dynamic and growing congregation.  In other words, these were all highly competent individuals.

After examining the data, Dr. Maynard came to the following conclusions:

“We can no longer afford the luxury of denying that there are dysfunctional personalities in congregations that want to hurt clergy.”

“The methods used by the antagonists to attack clergy and divide congregations follow an identifiable pattern.”

“The impact of these attacks on clergy, their families and the congregations they serve is devastating.”

“Ultimately, in order to neutralize the work of the antagonists all the ‘players’ in the congregational system must work together.”

Dr. Maynard then made the following points, followed by my comments:

We are dealing with a generation that believes they are the authorities in all areas despite the fact that they have no training or experience.”

There are handfuls of people in every church who believe they know how to lead, preach, administrate, and shepherd better than their own pastor.  There’s just one problem: God hasn’t called them to church ministry.  But believing themselves the most important individuals in their church, they set out to force out their pastor by any means necessary.

“Antagonists … thrive on being critical.  They enjoy conflict.  They have extremely controlling personalities.  They get their feelings hurt easily and turn those hurt feelings into anger, bitterness, resentment and ultimately revenge.  They are bulldozers fueled by a tank full of grudges.”

I remember one man who left our church in a huff.  He tried to negotiate his way back by demanding that I give him access to me 24/7.  I couldn’t do it.  He was full of rage.

“Every clergy person reported that they inherited an ‘untouchable staff member often in the guise of an active retired clergy or a retired rector [pastor]’…. They are untouchable because of the political alliances they’ve made with the ‘right people’ in the congregation.”

This is the first time I’ve ever read such a statement, but it makes perfect sense.  Some staff members always survive because they’re far more political than spiritual.

“Would it surprise you to know that in my consultations more often than not it was the active or retired pastoral associate that was the chaplain to the antagonists intent on tearing down the rector?  If not, then it won’t surprise you to learn just whom the antagonists wanted to be named as the next interim or possibly permanent rector.”

The current associate pastor is likely to become “chaplain” to the antagonists and be their choice as the interim or next pastor.  My experience resonates with this statement.

“Antagonists … have no interest in dialogue, compromise, forgiveness or reconciliation.  Their goal from the beginning is the removal and often the destruction of the rector.”

How very sad.  Those who oppose the pastor refuse to use biblical or relational means of resolving their differences with their pastor.  Instead, they demand that he leave the church.

“The antagonists refuse to deal with their own flaws by demanding perfection in their priest.  As long as they are able to stay focused on the priest’s failure to achieve their impossible standards they don’t have to consider their own.”

The other night, I asked a longtime pastor friend why pastors are breaking down at such an alarming rate.  He believes the problem is perfectionism: the pastor demands perfection of himself, and the congregation demands perfection of their pastor.  What a toxic and unbiblical combination!

“Every priest reported that the experience of being attacked by the antagonists had a negative impact on them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Their descriptions ranged from battle fatigue to severe illnesses.  Most all reported suffering from depression.  Others described the emotional impact as feeling broken, defensive, withdrawn, fear, panic, a loss of creativity, energy and profound sadness.”

Amen to the above description.  I’ve been there.  In my case, I wasn’t suicidal … I just wanted to vanish.  I spoke with a well-respected veteran Christian leader recently who told me he’s surprised by how long it takes pastors to recover after they’ve been beaten up.  It doesn’t take months … it takes years.

“The majority of the clergy reported that both they and their spouses had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and have had to continue in treatment for years after the experience ended.”

I wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD, but my wife was.  I’m haunted during the day by what happened to me.  She’s haunted at night.

“Every congregation experienced negative repercussions when the priest left the parish.  The negative impact on the parish was seen immediately.  Attendance and giving decreased dramatically.  Membership declined and program growth became stagnant to non-existent.  Empty pews at Sunday worship and declining parish collections were the most noticeable consequences.  On average, 28% of the worshippers left these parishes and united with another.  19% left the parishes completely and have yet to return to that parish or any other.”

Based on the aftermath after a pastor’s removal, how can we conclude that these antagonists are doing God’s work?  It’s obvious that they’re serving someone else.  I now believe that many of them are either very immature believers … regardless of how they appear to others … or unbelievers.

“It should be clearly agreed at the beginning that if the governing board initiates the dissolution of ministry action, the rector shall receive a minimum severance package.  Depending on the size of the parish this should be a minimum of eighteen months and for larger parishes where the job possibilities for a removed priest are fewer it could go up to five years salary and benefits.”

Some churches that toss out an innocent pastor offer no severance agreement.  Others offer three to six months.  Maynard lobbies for at least 18 months because it can take that long for dismissed pastors to find a new ministry.  If a church board doesn’t want to pay such a severance, then they should work matters out with their pastor.

“It is the wise rector that uses an outside consultant…. The majority of the clergy in this study did employ a consultant.  In none of the twenty-five cases was a consultant able to stop the antagonists from achieving their goal.”

In my situation, I used a consultant.  He flew to our community, interviewed staff, witnessed attacks firsthand, exposed the plot against me, wrote a report, and helped negotiate a severance agreement.  But the knowledge that consultants could not stop the antagonists freezes me in my tracks.

“Any senior pastor caught in an irresolvable conflict should not hesitate to consult an attorney.  The majority of the clergy surveyed did employ an attorney.  Most felt the need to do so to protect themselves and their families.  Several reported that their attorneys did advise them that they had legal grounds to sue their antagonists for slander and defamation.”

Most pastors aren’t comfortable doing this, but if they plan to continue a ministry career, and if they love their family members, this step is essential.  I hate to say this, but inside their churches, pastor under attack usually have zero rights, so they need to know their rights as an American citizen.

“… the biggest red flag of all.  If such a staff person has played an active role in the removal of a previous senior pastor, then they need to be removed by the appropriate authorities before a new senior pastor is even announced.” 

If a staff member – regardless of who it is or how long they’ve been in the church – cannot support an innocent senior pastor, that staff member needs to resign and leave the church rather than be allowed to undermine the pastor from the inner circle.  The longer a Judas stays among the disciples, the more destruction he or she will cause.

“The overwhelming majority [of the twenty-five pastors surveyed] began new ministries as professional interim ministers.  For clergy that have been attacked by antagonists, it appears that interim ministry may just be the best avenue for them to pursue.”

Most pastors who have been attacked have to be well-connected to find another church ministry … and be younger than 55.  Without a PhD, pastors can’t even teach in a Bible college.  The interim pathway is beneficial for those who want to keep leading and preaching, but the lifestyle involves travel that separates the interim from his kids and grandkids, friends, support system, belongings, and house.

“Those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome will most likely be plagued by nightmares for the greater portion of their lives.  All our participants, spouses and children now have a more cynical attitude toward the Church and people.  Most all confessed to continuing to have problems trusting others.  The loss to the Church of spouses, children and lay members that formerly were faithful and enthusiastic about their lives in the Church is a damning judgment on the work of the antagonists.” 

A longtime Christian leader told me that going through this experience is like suffering a concussion as a National Football League player.  Once you’ve suffered one, you remain in protective mode because you don’t want to suffer the disorientation of undergoing another one.

“If the antagonists begin directing their attacks toward your spouse or children, employ an attorney and make it known that you have employed an attorney.”

Some pastors who are removed from their positions later experience divorce.  Many pastors’ kids quit going to church and abandon their faith for good.  If a pastor can stop direct attacks upon his family members using legal means, then he needs to do so.

Dr. Maynard’s book is relatively brief (137 pages), concise, and true to church life.  He covers much more material than I could possibly hope to share here.  I recommend it highly.

My prayer is that Christian leaders wake up to the reality of sheep attacking their shepherds – and do something about it – so that far fewer pastors and believers sit on the bench until Jesus comes.

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