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Posts Tagged ‘church antagonism’

What does it mean when a pastor is “under attack?”

It means that people from inside your church are openly challenging your right to lead the congregation anymore.

These people (often including official leaders) believe that your ministry is finished, not because God says you’re through, or because the official leaders say you’re through, but because these self-appointed vigilantes say you’re through.

Their goal?  To destroy your reputation … remove you from your position as pastor … and, in some cases, end your career in ministry altogether.

How should a pastor respond when under attack?

Last time, I offered the following five suggestions:

First, trust your pastoral instincts.

Second, locate several comforting passages of Scripture and read them daily.

Third, confide in believers from outside the church.

Fourth, identify and meet with your supporters from inside your church … cautiously.

Fifth, gauge the opposition against you: both who and how many.

Let me add five more suggestions:

Sixth, try and determine the charges against you, but realize they’re probably irrelevant.

Why do I say this?

Because once there is a movement inside the church to force you out, the charges really don’t matter to your accusers.

Those who insist that you leave aren’t interested in a biblical process, or your own repentance and redemption, or the health of your congregation, or your church’s testimony in the community.

Once they have launched an attack, they are only interested in one thing: your departure.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I need to: you can’t reason with your attackers.  And if you try and set up a meeting with several of them, it will not go well.  It’s a waste of time.

Once they’ve decided that you need to go, they will stop at nothing until you clean out your office and turn in your keys.

Based on my experience:

*There won’t be any single impeachable accusation against you.  If you were guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, your opponents would have presented their evidence to the church board and let them dismiss you.

*There will be a laundry list of charges against you.  If your opponents had just one or two charges, you might be able to answer them favorably, so to make sure that doesn’t happen, they’ll hit you with multiple charges.

*There will be charges you know nothing about.  You offended a board member’s wife two years ago … you failed to greet someone in the church lobby one Sunday … you speak too much about cultural issues … and so on.  In most cases, you will hear about these “charges” for the first time …  but nobody has ever had the courage to share any concerns with you until your opponents decided to pool their complaints together.

*There will be new charges created until you resign.  If you answer one charge, another one will be created.  The charges aren’t grounded in reality, but in the hardness of some people’s hearts.

*There will be different charges from different people.  One person doesn’t like the way you dress … another doesn’t like the seminary you graduated from … another doesn’t like your lack of denominational involvement.  There won’t be a consensus on why you need to leave, but only that you need to leave.

Seventh, try and discern if your church has already created a process for terminating a pastor through its governing documents or board policies.

When your church began, it probably adopted a constitution and set of bylaws.  These are your governing documents.

They were created when people were thinking clearly … and biblically.  Those documents are intended to govern your church … especially when people overreact and become irrational.

So locate the latest version of your governing documents.  Look carefully at what they say about removing a pastor from office.

And realize that your opponents may not know what the documents say about a pastor’s removal … or care.

If you plan to stay and fight, then point out how your detractors are ignoring the governing documents, and insist they comply with them.  They’ll probably pull back, regroup, and reload, but it will buy you some time.

If you plan to leave, then keep those violations to yourself … and only bring them up in any negotiations for a severance package.

Eighth, do everything in your power to avoid a public congregational meeting.

Sadly, I’ve been through two of these meetings in my 36-year ministry career.

The first meeting was called to vote out our church’s pastor … and that’s exactly what the congregation did.

The second meeting ended up focusing on me and is described in my book Church Coup in a chapter entitled, “Hell Invades the Church.”  While no formal vote was taken at that meeting (there were actually two meetings on the same day), I knew I had to leave when those meetings ended.

Most church governing documents require that any upcoming meeting of the congregation be announced ahead of time … let’s say seven days in advance.

And the governing documents may require that the purpose of any special meeting be shared with the congregation as well.

But once your adversaries discover why you’ve called the meeting, they will accelerate their campaign to force your resignation.

They will contact people who have left the church, hoping that a few of them will feed them some dirt … and they will be invited to the meeting … even if they can’t vote.

Your detractors will be highly motivated to fill the auditorium with their friends … to announce the charges against you … and to trash your reputation in front of the congregation.

I heard about a pastor who was accused … along with his wife … of smoking pot.  When the pastor tried to defend himself in a public meeting, he was shouted down … and left the meeting in shock.

The only way I would engage in a public meeting is if:

*I knew I could control the microphone.

*I knew I could control the process … and that might be difficult if a moderator or board chairman runs the meeting.

*I knew ahead of time that I would be given the opportunity to present my case to the congregation.

*I knew ahead of time that any vote on my position would not be held on the same day as the meeting.

*I knew that most of the congregation was behind me … and would be willing to stand up to my opponents.

Other than meetings of the official church board, more damage occurs in public congregational meetings than anywhere else in a church’s life.

Do your best not to call one.  They can harm people for years.

I know … firsthand.

Ninth, realize that Satan is behind all the chaos … and that his ultimate aim is to destroy your church.

You are NOT the enemy’s target.  It may feel like you are, but you aren’t.

The proof?  Whenever you leave the church, the enemy will most likely leave you alone.  He doesn’t hate you as a person … at least no more than he hates the average Christian.

No, he hates you as a pastor.  If he can drive out the shepherd, he can scatter the sheep … and assume control of the entire pasture.

You are simply the means to an end.  The devil knows that the quickest way to take out a church is to take out its pastor.

To do that, he will use two primary tactics: deception and destruction … or deception leading to destruction.

In other words, Satan will lie about you … throw all kinds of false accusations at you … in order to smear you and force you to leave your position.

And tragically, all too many churchgoers will believe the first negative thing they hear about you without ever checking with you to see if it’s true.

When they’re attacked, many pastors go into hiding and curl into the fetal position.  They blame themselves for the entire mess, castigating themselves for (a) not being perfect, (b) not knowing the attacks were coming, (c) choosing disloyal church leaders, or (d) not creating a forum in which to answer the charges against them.

But this all plays into Satan’s hands.

If your detractors were truly spiritual, Bible-believing Christians, they would never hold secret meetings, pool their grievances against you, attack you anonymously, and demand your resignation.

Where in the New Testament do we find believers acting that way?

We don’t.

If your opponents really loved God, and truly followed Scripture, they would never act in an unbiblical, political fashion against you.  They would use a biblical/constitutional process instead.

But when they use the law of the jungle, that’s the tipoff that they’ve surrendered their hearts to Satan.

Finally, God will use this experience to give you a better life … and ministry.

If you remain as pastor of your congregation, make sure that your church’s leaders use a biblical process to confront the troublemakers.

*If they repent, forgive them and let them stay … but do not let them be leaders for at least two years … and monitor their speech and behavior.

*If they refuse to repent, then ask them to leave your church.  You cannot let them stay and resurface with new complaints down the road.

However, if you are forced to resign from your position as pastor, realize that God in His sovereignty may very well be protecting you from future harm.

The spiritual temperature of your congregation can be difficult to measure.  Sometimes the pastor thinks a church is healthier than it really is … and only a crisis reveals the truth.

In my case, I thought my congregation was more mature than it ended up demonstrating.  On a 1 to 10 scale … with 10 being the most spiritual … I thought my church was at a 7 … when it was probably around a 3.

Some individuals were at a 10 level spiritually … while others hovered around a 1 or a 2 … and unfortunately, those at the lower levels were the ones who prevailed … which says something about the church’s overall maturity.

I was worn out when I left, and had I stayed, I might have become a basket case.  God knew that.

Referring to Lot leaving Sodom and Gomorrah, 2 Peter 2:9 says that “the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials …”  Another version says that “God knows how to deliver the righteous …”

For months after I resigned, I told myself, “I’ve been forced to leave a congregation.  How humiliating!”

But somewhere along the line, I started telling myself, “I’ve been delivered from an intolerable situation.  How liberating!”

I’m sure Jonah didn’t like being swallowed by a large fish, but that’s the means God used to get him to Nineveh.

And I’m sure that most pastors don’t like being swallowed by a few detractors, but sometimes that’s the method God uses to propel a pastor toward more effective ministry.

No, God isn’t directing your detractors to lie about you, and He will hold them accountable … but He is above and behind all that is happening to you.

Remember the story of Joseph in Genesis?

Or the story of Jesus in the Gospels?

God used the evil motives of conspirators to save others in both those cases … and He will do the same for you.

If you’re under attack, and you’d like someone to listen to you … pray with you … and help you think things through, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org.

There is no cost to you … I just want to help as I’ve been helped.

What are your thoughts about what I’ve written?

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Good afternoon, church family.  I’ve called this meeting today to share with you some additional perspective about the resignation of our now-former senior pastor, George Anderson.

Pastor George served our church effectively for nine years.  Under his leadership, our attendance doubled, we’ve made inroads into our community, and many lives have been changed.  For much of this time, I’ve served on the church board alongside him, and now serve as chairman.

As you may know, Pastor George had big dreams for our congregation’s future, and he was eager to share those dreams both in public and in private.

But over the past several years, two groups opposed to his plans emerged inside our church.  One group was dead set against Pastor George’s desire to build a new worship center.  The other group felt that it was time for Pastor George to leave.

When I first heard about these groups and their dissatisfaction with the pastor, I involved other elders and met with leaders from both groups separately, listening to them, answering their questions, and letting them know that I cared for them.

I told them our policy here at Grace Church: if you have a problem with the pastor personally, then you need to sit down and discuss it with him directly.  But if you have a problem with our future plans or church policies, then you need to sit down and discuss your concerns with any of the elders.  If we believe your concerns have merit, we’ll take them to the next elder meeting, discuss them, and get back to you with our decision.

This is exactly what we did on several occasions with members from both groups.  They seemed satisfied for a few weeks, but then they’d start complaining all over again.

Then somewhere along the line, the two groups merged into one.

In the meantime, various members of this new group began bypassing the board and complaining directly to the pastor.  But they didn’t just express their concerns: they began verbally abusing him, threatening his position and career, and promising to leave the church en masse if he did not agree to their demands.

At this point, I stepped in, trying to mediate the situation between Pastor George and this new group.  But The Group wouldn’t budge an inch.  They all threatened to leave the church if Pastor George did not resign.

Looking back, I made two mistakes at this juncture:

First, I should have recommended bringing in a conflict mediator or a conflict consultant to try and resolve matters between the pastor and The Group.  Whenever a group in the church says, “Either he leaves or we leave,” the conflict cannot be resolved from inside the church.  I didn’t know this at the time.  Now I do.

Second, I should have stood more solidly behind the pastor. There are several individuals in The Group with whom I have been friends for years, and I couldn’t bear for them to leave the church.  But The Group interpreted my wavering as a lack of support for the pastor and turned up the heat for him to resign.  They began spreading rumors about him and his wife that simply weren’t true, and unfortunately, some people began to believe them.

When some people began attacking Pastor George and his family, he came to me with tears in his eyes and said, “This has got to stop.  We can’t take this anymore.  I am willing to offer my resignation in exchange for a severance package that will allow me to support my family until I can discern God’s next assignment for me.”

So the elders reluctantly accepted Pastor George’s resignation and unanimously decided to give him a fair and generous severance package so he and his family can heal in the days ahead.

But not only must Pastor George and his family heal: the people of Grace Church need to heal as well.

I have learned that in almost every situation where a senior pastor is forced to resign, the elders/church board do their best to act like nothing happened.  They sweep sinful behavior under the rug, pretend to start over, and privately blame the departing pastor for everything negative that happened.

But that is not going to happen here at Grace.

Let me briefly share four steps that the elders are going to take to bring healing to our church:

First, the elders are going to identify and confront the members of The Group with their abuse toward Pastor George.

We made it very clear to members of The Group how to handle their disagreements with Pastor George, and they handled matters with power, not with love, which is not the way the New Testament specifies.  Therefore, the elders will be meeting with every person in The Group.

We will ask each person to repent of their sin toward Pastor George, the elders, and this church family.

If they refuse, we will ask them to leave the church.

If they agree, we will ask for them to contact Pastor George and apologize.  We will also let them attend the next meeting of the elders to apologize to us as well.

If they wish to stay in the church, they cannot hold a position of leadership for at least two years, and we will carefully monitor their conduct.  We don’t want a repeat performance with a new pastor.

If you have been part of The Group, and you’d like to confess your part in our pastor’s departure, the elders will be available here at the front after today’s meeting.

Second, the elders will not tolerate any attempts to destroy Pastor George’s reputation or career.

The elders felt that Pastor George was a man called by God when we invited him to be our pastor, and we still feel that way today.  As a human being, he made some mistakes at times during his tenure here, but he was never guilty of any major offense against Scripture.

When many pastors are forced to resign, some people inside that church later scapegoat the pastor for anything and everything that went wrong during his tenure.  But this is playing into the devil’s hands, and we will not allow this to occur.

We believe that once he heals, Pastor George has a bright future in ministry, and the elders will do all in their power to make sure that Pastor George is spoken of in the highest terms here at Grace.

Third, the elders are aware that some people are going to leave the church over this situation.

If you came to this church because of Pastor George’s ministry … and most of you did … I ask that you stay and help make Grace a great church.

If you find that you miss Pastor George a great deal, will you come and speak with me or one of the elders?  If after a few months, you wish to leave the church, just let us know that’s why you’re leaving.

If you want to leave the church because of the way the elders are handling things today, then be my guest.

I didn’t know this until the last several weeks, but whenever a pastor is forced out, many people leave the church.

When the elders keep quiet about why the pastor left, the healthy people leave.

When the elders are open about why the pastor left, the troublemakers leave.

Guess which group we want to stay?

Finally, the elders welcome your questions, comments, and concerns.

In many churches, when the pastor resigns under pressure, the elders put a gag order on the staff and congregation, telling them they are not to discuss matters at all.

But that’s how dysfunctional families operate, and we want to operate in a different manner: we want to tell the truth in love.

There are some matters that we will not discuss openly, not so much for legal reasons, but because we prefer to handle matters behind the scenes.  If the elders sense that we need to go public with an issue, we may do that through the church website, the newsletter, through small group meetings, or through another public congregational meeting.

Our methodology is to tell you as much as we can rather than tell you as little as we can.

If you want to know why Pastor George resigned, please contact him directly.  If he wishes to speak, great.  If he doesn’t, that’s his business.  We are not going to try and control him, and he is not going to try and control us.

The unity of a church is fragile at a time like this, and we’re tempted to blame various groups or individuals for what’s happened.

But I believe that unity is based on truth … not on cover ups or lies … and we’re going to put that theory to the test.

Do you have any questions for me?

 

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Over the past 3 years, I’ve been writing a book on a devastating 50-day conflict that my wife and I experienced in our last church ministry.

The book has now been published by Xulon Press and is titled Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict.

The book is 291 pages long, contains 14 chapters, and has more than 150 endnotes.

Why did it take 3 years?

*Because I wrote 450 pages and had to pare it down.  (You can’t share everything that happened or the book would become unreadable.)

*Because I chose to edit the book myself … and that took twice as long as writing it.

*Because this may be my only shot at writing a book … and I wanted to get it right.

*Because I hoped that the longer I waited, the less painful the recounting of the story would be for everyone involved.

While the first nine chapters are a narrative describing the conflict, the last five chapters analyze what happened and place it in its larger context in the Christian community.

There are models for books like this, such as The Wounded Minister by Guy Greenfield, Too Great a Temptation by Joel Gregory, Why I Stayed by Gayle Haggard, Crying on Sunday by Elaine Onley, as well as the classic Clergy Killers by the late G. Lloyd Rediger.

When I wrote my doctoral dissertation on church antagonism informed by family systems theory, my professional editor could not believe that these kinds of conflicts happen in churches.  Pastors know they occur, as do denominational executives and parachurch leaders, but the average Christian remains unaware of how conflicts begin and are perpetuated.

While pastors and governing boards will profit from the book, I wrote it primarily for lay people, which is why I chose to tell a story.  In fact, I believe that lay people hold the key to preventing and resolving these kinds of conflicts, even when they occur behind closed doors.

Let me make four observations about the book:

It’s personal.  The book is my attempt to share what a pastor goes through when a small minority targets him for removal.  I’m in a unique position to do this because I’ve seen pastors treated this way all my life, starting with my father, who died less than two years after he was forced to resign due to a major conflict in a church he planted.

It’s not possible to lead a large volunteer organization without making occasional missteps, which is why I wrote a chapter called, “Mistakes I Made.”  But I contend that any errors I made were minor and resolvable.  I was not guilty of any major offense and should have been protected against the accusations made against me.

However, some people collected several minor offenses, embellished them, exaggerated their importance, and then accused me of all kinds of wrongdoing.  They chose to elevate their personal agenda over the desires of 95% of the congregation . . . the epitome of selfishness.

While I answer some charges in the book, most could easily have been cleared up if people had simply spoken with me in person.

It’s emotional.  From the beginning, I intended to write a raw book, but after letting some professionals review it, I made modifications.

Because the book rehearses how the conflict affected my wife and me emotionally, there’s a lot of pain involved, which several endorsers noted.  Maybe someday the pain will subside, but from what I understand, it probably never will . . . and not just for us.

That’s why I’ve subtitled the book A Cautionary Tale.  There are lessons we can learn from pain that can’t be learned any other way.

At the eleventh hour, I felt like scrubbing the whole project, but my family cheered me forward.  Why put all that effort into a book and then discard it?  Because I truly don’t wish to hurt anyone or reopen any old wounds.

But if you write about the crucifixion, you have to talk about Pilate, and Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin, and Peter’s denials, and Judas’ betrayal.  There’s no way around it.

So I tried to put as much distance between me and those who attacked me as possible.  I don’t name the church or its community, and I give aliases to those who were integrally involved in the conflict.  Whenever I could advance the narrative without mentioning people by name, I did, and as often as possible, I attribute actions and decisions to groups rather than individuals.

In addition, I purposely tried not to attack anyone either personally or professionally.  While I vehemently disagreed with many decisions that were made, I try to express myself with grace.

A major conflict surfaces a range of feelings that you can’t conceal.  Before and during Jesus’ crucifixion, He experienced sorrow, depression, agony, abandonment, betrayal, and shock.

In the same way – but to a far lesser degree – there is no way to tell this story without relating strong emotions, especially outrage.  Since I’m a thinker more than a feeler, my account is usually restrained – but not always.

It’s prescriptive.  At the end of each of the first 11 chapters, I offer suggestions as to how to prevent these kinds of conflicts from happening in churches.  I offer counsel to pastors, governing leaders, and lay people alike.  The book is not so much a “look how much I suffered” lament as it is an attempt to point out mistakes that were made to help Christian leaders and churches handle these situations better in the future.

Paul wrote letters to 7 churches and 2 ministry leaders in the New Testament.  His letters to Timothy and Titus were for their eyes only.  But books like Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians and Ephesians and Colossians were written to congregations and intended to be read aloud to affect the behavior of entire assemblies . . . and Paul often instructs them concerning how to handle the conflicts in their midst.

There’s so little in print on dealing with these challenges.  So the book’s last chapter deals with the problem of pastoral termination.  I offer prescriptions for eradicating this plague that causes at least 1,500 pastors per month to leave church ministry . . . often for good.

It’s redemptive.  While God did not cause this conflict, He did permit it.  After Joseph encountered his brothers in Egypt, he told them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Much of my ministry in the days to come will be focused on helping congregations prevent these kinds of conflicts.  They are inherently destructive to churches, pastors, boards, and churchgoers alike.  (In fact, there isn’t one instance in the New Testament where churchgoers try to destroy one of their leaders.)

In my introduction, I quote Rick Warren – who is going through his own period of suffering right now – from his bestseller The Purpose Driven Life:

“God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others . . . . The very experiences that you have resented or regretted most in life – the ones you’ve wanted to hide and forget – are the experiences God wants to use to help others. They are your ministry! For God to use your painful experiences, you must be willing to share them. You have to stop covering them up, and you must honestly admit your faults, failures, and fears. Doing this will probably be your most effective ministry.”

This book is my attempt to carry out Rick’s words.  In fact, I felt that God was compelling me to write it.

If you’d like to buy Church Coup, you can order it at our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org

And if you find the book helpful, I’d appreciate it if you would tell others about it.

May God richly bless you, and remember the wisdom of Romans 12:18:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

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A wise old pastor once warned me to avoid “the kiss of death.”

The kiss of death for a pastor isn’t administered by a woman … or a governing board … or a government agency.

No, the kiss of death occurs when a pastor resigns his position without anywhere else to go … because when churches are looking for a pastor, they prefer to call one who is already serving in a church rather than one who is in secular work or unemployed.

I nearly experienced the kiss of death in my second pastorate.

The church I served as pastor was the result of a merger between two churches … and I had led one of those churches.

The church board and I went on a retreat in the mountains.  We evaluated the entire ministry, including ways to improve everything we did.

This included the music ministry.

The board agreed to allow a band of young men to play for our services on Sunday mornings and evenings.

(The mother of the board chairman liked the band so much that when she died, she requested they play at her memorial service.)

However, when we made this change, I warned the board in advance that some people weren’t going to like it.

And I was right.

One middle-aged couple in particular became incensed about the music.  The wife refused to come to church.  Her husband eventually stayed home as well.

One year later, this antagonist contacted my district minister to complain about me.  By this time, he had gathered together a small but vocal contingent of people who viewed me as the antichrist.

One night, my district minister and I had a conversation in which he recommended that I resign to keep the peace in the church.

However, the entire board had told me that if I resigned, they would all resign along with me … leaving the church in the hands of the antagonists … who didn’t have a collective clue as to how to run a church.

Fortunately, the board stood with me … but the district leadership wilted.

For years, this scenario has played itself out in thousands of churches:

*The district leaders of a denomination hold a training time for pastors.

*The pastors are encouraged to institute changes in their churches so they will grow numerically.

*The changes always involve taking risks … and such risk-taking always angers some attendees.

*Those attendees who are angry about the changes don’t speak directly with their pastor about their feelings.

*Instead, they go around the pastor and form a faction inside the church designed to oust the pastor … threatening to boycott services and withhold giving unless their demands are met.

*In the process, someone in their group calls the district minister and complains to him about the pastor, intimating that the pastor is so divisive and/or ineffective that he should be removed from office.

*The district minister listens to the complainers, ends up taking their side, and then recommends that the pastor resign to keep peace in the church.

That’s exactly what happened to me 25 years ago.

Here’s the problem, however.  For any church to grow:

*The pastor needs to assume leadership.

*Leadership involves taking risks.

*Risk-taking always provokes change.

*Change always provokes anxiety and even anger.

*And those reactions are always aimed at the leader … in this case, the pastor.

*If the pastor receives support from the church’s governing board, he will survive and the church has the best chance for success.

*The pastor also needs support from his “superior,” whether that’s a district minister or a bishop.

*But if either the board or the district collapses on the pastor, he may be forced to resign.

I’ve recently been reading an insightful and motivating book on denominational leadership at the district level.

It’s called Hit the Bullseye by former denominational executive Paul Borden.

Borden says that district leaders need to become coaches for pastors, who need to become better leaders in their churches.

And if this occurs, Borden writes about district leadership:

“We are also willing to confront those congregations and congregational leaders (the emotional terrorists) who for years have chewed up pastors and spit them out.  We have confronted both pastors and congregations even though it has cost the region the loss of financial support.”

That last statement takes great courage to implement.  One of the reasons district leaders side with a church over against their pastor is to keep donations to the district flowing.

Borden continues:

“Finally, we are adamant about not letting the region be used to promote congregational triangulation, which allows laity to condemn pastors anonymously.  If any lay leaders call the region to complain about their pastor those leaders are told they must first confront their pastor before we will become involved in offering assistance, if that is required.”

Borden goes on to say that “congregational transformation will create tremendous conflict in dysfunctional, dying churches” and that “the worst thing that can happen in the midst of such conflict is mediation, since the conflict is more about the transfer of power and who will lead the congregation, than individuals or groups not being able to get along.”

Let me tell you one reason why so many churches aren’t growing and so many pastors are ineffective.

It’s because pastors instinctively know that for a church to grow, they’ll have to take risks … and if they do, they may very well end up standing alone without any support … because many Christian leaders will not stand up to emotional terrorism.

Will you?

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