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Posts Tagged ‘betraying a pastor’

What’s the role of a governing board in relation to its pastor?

Is their job to:

*Support the pastor’s agenda for their church?

*Keep the pastor from making stupid mistakes?

*Prevent the pastor from instituting significant change?

*Substitute their agenda for his?

Personally, I believe a governing board should work in concert with their pastor to discern God’s agenda for their church.

While the pastor may be the one who articulates the dream, once the entire board has discussed and prayed about it, those leaders should back their pastor to the hilt … even if their friends threaten to leave.

At least, that’s what I believe … but it didn’t take me long to discover that mine can be a minority position.

When I first became a pastor, I was 27 years old.  The deacon board chairman was 74 … and the other two deacons were both 60+.

The chairman – who was also named Jim – loved baseball.  We used to travel together on BART to watch the Oakland A’s.  We talked for hours about all kinds of things related to church life.

One day, Jim came to me very upset.  His older sister – who led the deaconesses – was a member of a fraternal organization for women.  (I know that last sentence sounds contradictory, but I don’t know how else to phrase it.)

Jim’s sister was actively recruiting women to join her lodge … and using the women’s missionary meetings to do so.

In addition, Jim’s nephew … his sister’s son … was the head usher, and he was giving the lodge handshake to every man who came to church … trying to discover who else might be a lodger.

Jim felt that his sister and nephew were more committed to their lodge than the church and that their involvement was keeping them from growing spiritually.  (They both knew next to nothing about Scripture.)

In seminary, my Church History teacher said that you could be both a Christian and a lodge member, but you couldn’t be a good Christian and a good lodge member at the same time.

So I offered to do some research on the lodge.  I found some literature on the topic – this was pre-Internet – and secured a tape by an expert in the field.

One night, with Jim’s support, I presented the materials to the entire board … which had added a younger member by this time.

During the ensuing three hours, I was very careful about my presentation.  We weren’t trying to make anyone leave the lodge …no witch hunts allowed … we just didn’t want anyone from our church to recruit people for their lodge.

And we all agreed on this decision.

Shortly afterward, a woman I thought was spiritually mature (I’ll call her Rita) informed me that she had begun attending lodge meetings because of the influence of Jim’s sister.  This was exactly the kind of thing both Jim and I were concerned about.

I shared some concerns with her that I had about the lodge.  She had no idea.

Before I knew it, the board wanted to meet with me … and they were pretty upset with their rookie pastor.

Why?  Because when Jim’s sister and nephew heard about my comments to Rita, they demanded that I apologize to them … or they threatened to leave the church.

The board had two choices at this point.

They could either back their pastor or demand that I apologize.

Guess what they decided?

They demanded that I apologize.

I refused.

Why?  Because I was carrying out the directive of the deacons.  We had researched the issue together.  We had discussed it together.  We made a decision together.

But when their friends threatened to leave, the entire board collapsed on me.

I ended up visiting the home of Jim’s sister and nephew, along with a deacon.  I listened to their pain and tried to make them understand my/our concerns.

They lacked the theological foundation to understand my viewpoint.  It was like talking to a couple of cats.

That experience took a toll on me.

I broke out in hives all over my chest due to the stress of the situation.

I no longer trusted the board.  We had made a decision together but they all wilted on me.  How could I ever trust them again?

When I asked for my lodge materials back, one of the deacons refused, claiming the materials had caused enough trouble.

My family went on a scheduled vacation.  When I returned, I wondered if I’d still have a job … and the board wondered if they’d still have a pastor.

Several weeks later, the leader of a sister church five miles away called and invited our church to initiate merger talks with them.

Two months later, our churches formally merged … and the church I came to as a rookie pastor no longer existed.

I have often wondered if God closed the church down because the deacons chose friendships over faithfulness.

Fortunately, I’ve only been betrayed by a church board twice … and the story of the second betrayal won’t be in blog form.

It will be in book form.

The overall lesson from this story is this: when a pastor and a board agree on a decision, both parties need to support each other in public.

On rare occasions, the pastor or a board member can revisit an issue … inside a board meeting.

But when a board backs the pastor’s detractors rather than their pastor, they shouldn’t be surprised if the pastor either resigns or starts looking for a new ministry.

It just occurred to me that all four of those board members eventually left that new church separately and angrily.

I sure wasn’t going to chase them down.

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There is a problem in Christian churches that I keep hearing about.  It’s not an issue that most of us think about very often, if at all, but it’s one that demands attention if the kingdom of God is to advance in our day.

How loyal should staff members be to the senior/lead pastor?

Throughout my more than three decades in church ministry, I’ve viewed this issue from both sides.

As a staff member, I did not always agree with the senior pastor, and I served under five of them.  Sometimes I didn’t like what he said from the pulpit.  Other times I disagreed with his private assessment of the direction the church needed to go.  One pastor I worked with worked way too hard.  Another hardly worked at all.

Being the Number Two Man in each of these churches placed me in a position of trust.  I saw and heard things that few other people knew about.

But that was the whole point.  I was hired for those positions because the lead pastor felt he could trust me, and I always believed it was my job to reciprocate that trust.

This was especially a problem when someone from the church tried to “triangle” me into a problem that they had with the pastor.

In one church, a man approached me and made a threat against the pastor.  I was uncertain if he wanted me to join his cause or pass the message on to the pastor himself.  When our conversation was finished, he knew that I would not join his cause.

How could I ever do that?  In all five churches, the pastor chose me to serve alongside him, and I chose to serve with him as well.  In my mind, we were a team – as long as I kept doing my job.

In each situation, I worked for the pastor, and the pastor worked for the board.  I did not work for the board, and the pastor did not work for me.

While I privately had reservations about some of the things my pastors did and said, I kept those to myself.  He needed to know that if everyone in the church turned on him, he’d have at least one person standing by his side.

So when I became a pastor myself, I was able to see the pastor-staff relationship from both sides.  But the staff members – none of whom had ever been a pastor themselves – were only able to see the relationship from their side.

And some of them made choices that eventually demonstrated their disloyalty.

Let me give you an example of the kind of problems that pastors are having today with staff members – especially associate pastors.

Jack has been the pastor of a church for three years.  At first, he was able to juggle all the leadership, administrative, teaching, counseling, and pastoral duties, but the church gradually grew to the point he couldn’t handle things anymore.  Both Jack and the governing board agreed that they should hire an associate pastor as soon as possible.

So the board appointed a search team, and since there weren’t any suitable prospects inside the church, the team eventually recommended several candidates from the outside to Jack, who settled on one in particular.  Since the top choice had some concerns about coming to the church, Jack engaged in a sales job that proved successful.

While still in sales mode, Jack welcomed the associate to the church and spoke glowingly of the church’s future and the way the associate could make a difference with his gifts.  And at first, that’s exactly what happened.

But just a couple months after the associate’s arrival, Jack began to notice some things that bothered him.  For starters, the associate had a habit of showing up late on Sundays – and then he’d leave as soon as the last service was done.  Jack believed it was important for all staff members to mingle with the congregation on Sundays, but the associate just wasn’t doing it.

So Jack spoke to him about it.  The associate promised to change, but a couple weeks later, he was doing the same thing.

In addition, the associate left a mess everywhere he went.  If he used a room for a meeting, the next person to use the room would complain that they had to spend 15 minutes cleaning up before they could arrange the room the way they wanted.

Once again, Jack spoke to the associate directly and swiftly, and the associate promised he would change, but a few weeks later, he reverted to his previous behavior.

Now every staff member has their flaws.  Some are messy with rooms but incredibly effective with people.  Others hang out at the church all day but never get anything done.

The wise pastor – conscious of his own failings – has to decide which issues he’s going to press and which he’s going to let go.  He has to both model and set the boundaries.

And he has to treat all staff members with fairness.  If he requires all staff members to show up at 8:15 am on Sundays, then the associate needs to show up at 8:15 as well – because if he shows up at 8:50 instead, the pastor will hear about it from the other staff members – guaranteed.

As the months went by, the pastor spent a lot of time with the associate pastor, discussing the church’s future and trying to plug holes in the ministry.  It appeared as if the two of them had negotiated their differences and were working well together.

But after the pastor returned from a vacation, he discovered that the associate had allowed people to do things that the senior pastor expressly forbade.  So the senior pastor sat down with the associate to discuss what happened.  During their time together, the associate demonstrated insubordination and defiantly said that his decisions were correct and should not have been questioned.

The senior pastor was shaken.  While the associate deserved to be fired, the pastor realized that he’d need board support to take that action.  If the board backed him up, the senior pastor knew that some people would leave the church and that momentum would grind to a halt – at least for a few months.  But if the board didn’t back up the pastor, wouldn’t that just empower the associate all the more?

So for the time being, the lead pastor did nothing but pray and seek counsel from colleagues outside the church.

But while the senior pastor waited for divine wisdom, the associate went on the offensive.

Knowing that the senior pastor would have to go to the board to dismiss him, the associate contacted several board members that he sensed were on his side and told them he was having trouble with the lead pastor.  He told these men that he couldn’t sleep, that his wife was barely functioning, that his kids were feeling the stress, and that he was thinking about leaving the church because of the senior pastor.

This is the point at which the entire future of the church is at stake.

If the board members take the side of the associate pastor, the senior pastor’s future in that church is in serious jeopardy.

If the board members take the side of the senior pastor, the associate pastor’s fate is probably sealed as well.

The best decision for the church is for the board members to support the senior pastor.  If they do, the associate won’t have many options left.  He can either apologize to the senior pastor and vow to fully support him or make plans to leave the church.

The worst decision for the church is for the board members to support the associate pastor.  If they do, then they have betrayed their senior pastor and their decision will eventually manifest itself.  If the senior pastor comes to a board meeting to discuss his problems with the associate, the board members who met with the associate will either fail to support their pastor or veto any recommendation for dismissal.

Protestant churches are designed for the lead pastor to work closely with the church’s governing board.  In most cases, staff members – including the associate pastor – work directly for the senior pastor and do not attend board meetings.

The senior pastor is the key to everything.  He must get along with both the board and the staff.

But if staff members form covert alliances with other staff or board members against the senior pastor – that church, and its entire leadership structure – is in serious trouble, and ripe for a satanic invasion.

I do not pretend to offer easy answers for these situations.  Sometimes if the key players pull back and look at matters more objectively, they can work things out.

But these situations are usually about one thing, and one thing only: who is in charge of the church?

I’ll write more about this issue in my next article.

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