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Posts Tagged ‘Christian leaders who hate their pastor’

I am not entirely comfortable with today’s topic: why some people hate their pastor … but some issues grab me and won’t let me go.

Over the past few weeks, I have not been able to mentally censor this nagging question:

Why do some board members/staff members/church members hate their pastor enough to force him to leave?

Let’s admit that this is a real issue in many situations where a pastor is terminated.  Sometimes the driving force in a pastoral termination is the personal hatred someone has for their pastor … especially in smaller church settings.

Why is this so?

First, some people hate their pastor because he doesn’t adopt their viewpoints on church matters.

There are people in every church who think they know how to run the church better than their God-called minister.

Maybe they do … but they haven’t been entrusted by God … or by the congregation … with the same amount of decision-making authority as their pastor.

I don’t understand such people.  It would be far more sensible … and much less divisive … if such a person either (a) chose to wait and see how some of the pastor’s decisions worked out, or (b) left the church quietly and didn’t make a fuss.

But when people go public against their pastor … even if only inside their own social network … they usually don’t back down or they’re afraid of losing face.

Second, some people hate their pastor because they don’t like his ministry style.

I served under five senior pastors as a staff member over nearly 11 years.

One pastor let me run the ministry the way I wanted.  Another pastor gave me a running commentary every week on how I was doing.

One pastor used to come into my office and solicit my opinion on church matters.  Another pastor spent most of our time together talking about himself.

Several pastors were loud and opinionated; a couple were thoughtful and reflective.

Some complimented me on a regular basis; others rarely said anything encouraging or kind.

I always felt that it was my job to adapt to them and their style.  It was not their job to adapt to me and my style.

But some board members … and especially staff members … believe that the pastor needs to adjust his leadership style to them, not the other way around.

And when a pastor doesn’t make this adjustment, some people will secretly hate him.

Third, some people hate their pastor because he once offended them.

In 36 years of church ministry, I can count on two hands the number of people who came to me and said, “Jim, you said or did something that really offended me, and I’d like to see if we can work this out between us.”

Most of the time, I’d hear something like this instead: “Jim, So-and-So is really upset with you.”

But when most people are upset with their pastor, they don’t want him to know … so they don’t tell him directly.

In some respects, I get this.

When a church is smaller, it’s easier for people to speak with their pastor directly.  He’s more accessible … easier to know … and his reactions are more predictable.

As a church grows larger, it becomes more difficult for people to speak with their pastor one-on-one.  The pastor might not be visible after a weekend service … or attempts to speak with him might result in his saying, “Call me at church during the week so we can set up an appointment.”

That’s great … but what if you can’t leave work to do that?

And what if you can … but you chicken out before making that appointment?

But why blame the pastor when he doesn’t know how the offended party feels?

It’s irrational … but sadly, all too common.

______________

Let me share with you some things I’ve never shared – not even in my book Church Coup – about why I ultimately left my last ministry.

*It wasn’t because I committed a major offense, because I didn’t.

*It wasn’t because the church was going down the tubes, because it wasn’t.

*It wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job, because I was … although I was wearing down toward the end without knowing why.

*It wasn’t because of anything my wife did or didn’t do … even though that was the presenting charge … because she was ultimately exonerated by a 9-person team from inside the church.

No, the real reason I left my last ministry was because two Christian leaders hated me.

One leader was inside the church … and one leader was outside the church.

But why did these leaders hate me?  I certainly did not hate them.

The leader inside the church had his own agenda.  In my view, he wanted to control the money so he could control the ministry.  He never seemed to listen to anything I said, but he wanted me to listen to him, even though I tried but rarely understood his points.  He engineered my departure from within but did not speak with me personally about any of his concerns.

The leader outside the church had an agenda as well.  I’ve protected his reputation for many years, even though he used a scorched earth policy against me.  When the time is right, I may reveal more … not to be vindictive, but to illustrate why some pastors are forced out of their church positions.

How do I know these two men hated me?

*They never told me directly how they felt.

There are many disobeyed commands in Scripture, but Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 have to be right up near the top.

Jesus is pretty clear: “If your brother sins [and that includes your pastor], go and reprove him in private.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

Whatever I said or did that offended these men, they never loved me enough to sit down and say, “Hey, Jim, there is something between us.  Let’s try and work this out together.”

So I assumed that everything was fine … until I was ambushed and betrayed.

*They both spread their feelings to other Christians.

If I tell you that I’m angry with my pastor, you should say to me, “Why are you telling me this?  Go speak with him at once and work things out.”  If you’re too scared to speak with him directly, then take it to the Lord in prayer and let it go … or find a friend or family member who lives several states away and share your feelings with them.

But keep those feelings out of your church, or you may destroy a lot of lives.  Hatred … even of a Christian leader … can be contagious.

Because if I tell you that I’m enraged at my pastor, you may very well add some petty grievances of your own to my complaint.  If I tell my wife about my anger, she may add her own complaints as well.

Before long, I’m focusing only on how the pastor offended me, my wife, and my friends rather than looking out for the best interests of the church long-term.

If these men had come to me, we could have worked things out.  If I was wrong, I would have admitted my part.  I can be sensitive, but I’m also reasonable.

But they never came to me … but did go to others.

The result?  A firestorm.

*They tried to destroy my reputation.

The wife of the leader from inside the church called a friend of mine in another state to criticize me.

The leader from outside the church called another friend to rag on me for a different matter.

In both cases, the callers were hoping that those they called would be receptive to their harsh criticisms.

In both cases, the callers ended up being more loyal to me than to my critics … and told me who called them and what they said.

Six months after I left my last church, I made an appointment with the district leader of a denomination other than the one I had been in for years.  My hope was that I might be able to do some guest speaking in churches … just to be useful.

When I started telling him my story about what happened in my former church, he had already heard it, and guessed the name of the church before I even mentioned it … as well as the name of a leader who pushed me out.

It shook me up, and I never sent him my resume or a preaching DVD because I assumed … rightly or wrongly … “Everybody in the Christian world must know about my situation, so why proceed any further?”

In some ways, I still feel that way.

*They did all in their power to force me to resign.

I cannot imagine hating a pastor so much that you would do all in your power to force him out of office.

In my book Church Coup, I wrote the following:

“I have a theory about the mentality of those who seek to target a pastor they don’t like.  Because they sense that what they’re doing is wrong, they have to (a) exaggerate any charges to the level of a capital crime; (b) find others who agree with them to alleviate their guilt; (c) justify their actions by convincing themselves it’s for the common good; and (d) work up their hatred so they follow through with their plan.  While this progression sounds like the kind of diabolical rage one might find in politics or war (or the prelude to a murder), the last place we’d expect to find such irrationality is inside a church.”

But in all too many cases, that irrationality thrives.

*They never spoke with me again after I resigned.

One of these two men was one of my best friends for at least ten years.  He contacted me every few months, even when we lived hundreds of miles apart.

But when our conflict was brewing in the fall of 2009, the consultant I hired told me that my “friend” was involved in the conflict.

Three other Christian leaders told me about his involvement afterward.  One of them told me, “You’ve been undermined for years without your knowledge, and it’s amazing that your church has done so well during that time.”

Maybe we’ll reunite in heaven.

_______________

You might be wondering, “Jim, have you forgiven these men who hated you?”

Yes, I believe I have … if we’re talking about unilateral forgiveness.

Two months after I resigned and left my former church, I drove nearly 800 miles back to my former community to pick up some valuables that were being stored at a friend’s house.

That night, I stayed in our old house one last time.  (It was up for sale but still on the market.)

I took a walk around the old neighborhood, sat on a bench in a small park … and looked directly across at the house of the leader inside the church who engineered my departure.

He didn’t know I was there, but I prayed and forgave him.  I even asked God to bless his life and family.

The leader from outside the church had been good to me for years, so in some ways it was easier to forgive him.

But if forgiveness means reconciliation … former enemies coming together again as friends … I don’t envision that ever happening.

I wish both men and their families well.  I don’t pray that God will harm them or strike them dead.

But to this day, I still don’t know why they hated me so much … and I guess I’ll never know.

But while we’re at it, there’s something else I’m wondering:

When the hatred of these two leaders manifested itself … among their wives, their friends, and members of my former church … why didn’t anyone say to them, “You’re angry and even bitter right now, and you need to make things right with Jim, or let things go.”

Maybe someone did say that.

I just wish they had listened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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