Posts Tagged ‘church antagonists and pastors’

When I was taking classes at Fuller Seminary for my doctoral degree, I went out early some mornings and ran around various parts of Pasadena.

One morning, I ran across the bridge over the Interstate 210 Freeway and jogged into the parking lot of one of Southern California’s most prestigious churches.

The door to the worship center was open, so I looked inside.  It was huge!

The senior pastor of that church had taught me when I attended Biola.  He later did a weekend retreat for my youth group.

But several years after I peeked inside that sanctuary, that pastor – an absolute master teacher – was forced out of his position after fourteen years of ministry.

The news made the local newspaper, which quoted an attorney from the congregation.  Although the attorney held no official office, he represented “old money” … and the old money people didn’t like the pastor making changes without their approval.

As I recall, more than 4,000 people attended that church, yet a relative handful of disgruntled individuals were able to push out their pastor.

I have seen statistics that indicate that regardless of church size, it only takes seven to ten people to force a pastor to resign.  Other studies say it takes a mere eight to twelve people.

How can such a small group of people determine a pastor’s future?

I don’t claim divine authority for what I’m about to write, but let me take a shot at answering this question:

First, that small group contains at least one determined bully.

In my second staff position, a mean-spirited man was the chairman of the church council … and his wife was the church secretary … so this man’s wife reported to him everything that was going on in the office.

She didn’t like what the pastor was doing … and her husband didn’t, either.

And since the pastor didn’t do what this couple wanted, they decided they wanted him to leave.

Before long, the chairman convinced the rest of the council that the pastor had to go … and the pastor was voted out of office by the congregation.

This man paid me … the only staff member besides his wife … scant attention.  But when he finally did speak with me … only via telephone … he came off as a dominating and demanding figure.

In fact, he was downright scary.

The others on the council were typical churchgoers: nice, kind, mild-mannered, well-intentioned … but their personalities were no match for the chairman.

If the bully hadn’t been the chairman, he would have hounded whoever else was chairman to do what he wanted … so it was easier just to let him run the council.

The pastor … who also had a strong personality … was the only person in the church to challenge the chairman.

But ultimately, the pastor was voted out of office.

My guess is that embedded within the typical group of seven to twelve individuals is at least one person whose personality is so intimidating that few if any Christians will challenge that person to his/her face.

And yes, the bully can be a woman.

But if a church has two or three leaders who are vocally supportive of the pastor’s ministry, such a bully probably won’t challenge them and may leave the church instead.

Second, the bully takes advantage of the natural niceness of Christians.

Let’s say you’ve been invited by a church leader named Hank to a restaurant after the Sunday service.

When you arrive at the restaurant, you’re surprised to see nine other individuals from the church there with Hank.

Hank begins by saying, “Many people are concerned about the changes our pastor is making at the church right now.  I’ve called this group together to see if we can stop the pastor from making these changes.”

If you don’t question or challenge Hank right then and there, you may never be able to do so.

Many years ago, I met with a group of pastors for lunch.  The talk turned to the leaders of our district.  The consensus among the pastors was that those leaders were making our district the laughingstock of the denomination.

One pastor said, “If you want to, I know how to get rid of the leaders.”

I instantly spoke up and said, “I don’t want anything to do with this.”

That ended the discussion.

And that’s exactly what someone … maybe you … need to say to Hank.

But if you and the others hesitate, Hank will lay out his case against the pastor, and the longer group members remain silent, the harder it will be to stop Hank.

And the more danger your pastor … and your church … will experience.

Years ago, Dr. Archibald Hart taught me that Christians need to learn to be assertive without being aggressive.

We need to learn to share how we really feel without getting angry.

But since many Christians equate being assertive with getting angry, we remain silent when we should speak up … and find ourselves subject to manipulation.

Before Hank’s group gains momentum, somebody needs to stop him.

Would you?

I once heard about a board that decided to take out their pastor.  There was only one problem: the pastor’s biggest supporter was also a board member.

So the board waited until that supporter was out of town and then they voted out the pastor.

I have a folder an inch thick about that situation.  It was nasty.

Third, group members feel they are carrying out a special assignment.

The bully makes people feel they’re important because only a few churchgoers have been invited to the meeting.

But what they don’t see is that the bully chose each person because he’s confident they’ll support and implement his/her agenda.

The bully wants to use the group as a base of operations.  He can’t take out the pastor by himself.  He needs others … even if they say or do very little.

My first few months in my last church ministry, I noticed that someone I’ll call Charlie taught a Sunday School class … and that it was constantly growing.

Charlie openly bragged about how large his class was getting … even to me.  I became concerned that Charlie was going to use his class as an operational base to increase his congregational power.

After doing some investigative work, I learned that was precisely Charlie’s modus operandi in two previous churches … before he openly challenged both pastors.

And I remain convinced that Charlie was going to challenge me because he felt he could control those fifty people.

Most church bullies make each person in their group feel valuable.  They will:

*listen to and agree with their complaints against the pastor.

*invite members’ spouses into the group (even if they aren’t believers).

*mix social events with their plotting.

*make group members feel, “Only we can save this church.”

*pay members more attention than the pastor does.

And most of the time, that’s really what’s happening.  While the pastor may have a congregation of hundreds or thousands, the bully has a congregation of ten or fifteen or perhaps twenty people … and by showering them with attention, he can persuade them to do what they wouldn’t normally do.

I survived an attempt to remove me as pastor thirty years ago.  The bully recruited people who weren’t prominent in the church.

After he pulled the group out of the church, two group members died … and their families asked me to conduct their memorial services.

I assumed that since they joined the bully’s group that they hated me, but they didn’t.  They joined the dissident group because they were made to feel special.

Fourth, the group has to secure at least two top leaders to be taken seriously.

If the bully is a board member or a staff member, then he just needs to secure one other board member or staffer to gain credibility.

People can easily write off one leader who goes on the attack.  It’s much harder to write off two or more leaders.

When two or more leaders begin to criticize the pastor openly, some churchgoers … especially those without much experience in congregations … may quickly choose to believe them because they assume they have inside knowledge others lack.

The bully usually looks for three kinds of allies among the leaders:

*The key player in bringing down the senior/lead pastor may be the associate pastor.

If the associate is not 100% loyal, then taking down the senior pastor may be the way for him to get more money … have more say … or become senior pastor himself.

From all the stories I’ve heard over the past eight years, I’d say the leader most likely to turn on the senior pastor is the associate.

I believe that if it can be proven that the associate was involved in trying to take out an innocent senior pastor, the associate should be banned from church ministry for many years.  Trying to remove your superior is a far worse offense than almost anything an innocent pastor has done.

*The bully sometimes tries to recruit former board members who still attend the church.

These board members may have their own ax to grind against the pastor.

The most frequent complaint they have is that they used to be board members, but after the pastor came … and they termed out … they were not asked to serve again.

In my last ministry, a man had once been chairman of the church board.  When I came to the church, he was no longer on the board … I don’t know why.

When I became senior pastor, I didn’t think this man should be a board member because he missed too many Sunday services.  How could he make informed decisions about the church’s future when he was rarely around?

Besides, his wife had a reputation as a first-class gossip.

But later, this man became a key player in forcing me to leave … and I wasn’t surprised.

If I could do it again, I’d make the same decision. Placing him on the board would have been a political decision, not a spiritual one.

*The bully primarily looks for allies on the church board.

I believe that when at least two board members conspire together to target a pastor for removal, they often get their way.

A church board needs to be 100% behind their pastor.  A board can survive one dissident, but usually not two.

Remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7?  He said:

“Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”

If the bully is on the church board, he doesn’t need to persuade the entire group to get rid of the pastor … he only needs to convince one or two others.

And if they add a staff member like the associate pastor, who will stop them?

If they sense other board members are with them, they may call a special board meeting, or go into executive session after a regular meeting … and make sure the pastor isn’t invited.

If they sense other board members aren’t with them, they will try to persuade them outside of official meetings.  And when they sense they have enough support, they’ll make their complaints in an official board meeting … and then:

Finally, the group operates in such an aggressive manner that they’re confident they won’t be challenged.

And this is really why such a group gains power out of all proportion to its size.

They use the following tactics:

First, they verbally attack the pastor personally.

The group criticizes his appearance … his car(s) … his house … his manner … his sermon illustrations … anything and everything is fair game.

Some people in a church might think these things, but proper decorum keeps them from saying them aloud.  But the small group out to get the pastor vocalizes their criticisms.

Complaining is contagious.  Hatred is contagious.

As people openly criticize their pastor, others feel emboldened and add their own grievances to the mix.

Most pastors won’t wilt with this tactic … but they will with this one:

Second, they verbally attack the pastor’s family.

They attack his wife: she works too much or not at all; she’s too prominent at church or too quiet; she’s nice to some women but not others … and on and on.

They attack the pastor’s children: they’re unruly; they’re arrogant; they’re not at church enough; they’re at church too much … and on and on.

The attacks don’t have to correspond to reality.  And there don’t have to be many attackers.

The pastor doesn’t count how many people are making the criticisms because he’s too busy ministering to his wounded wife and children.

When a group attacks the pastor’s family, he has one foot out the door.

Third, they consult the church’s governing documents on how to remove a pastor. 

If they think they have the required percentage to vote him out of office, they’ll try that.

But most of the time, they just bypass the stated process and try alternative tactics.

Fourth, they pass around a petition to address their grievances.

The petition might call for a meeting so the group can air their complaints.  Or the petition might call for the pastor’s removal by the board or in a public meeting.

But everyone who signs that petition will experience a change in status toward their pastor.

In my last church, my wife served for years with a woman she dearly loved.

As the attacks upon me escalated, someone put together a petition and circulated it.  The petition called for an investigation into matters concerning me.

It was a confusing time for many people.  The woman my wife loved signed the petition.  But when she did, her signature ended her relationship with my wife.

Neither my wife nor I ever saw the petition.  Our supporters undoubtedly did.  And over time, they would tell us, “Those who signed the petition are not your friends.”

When people signed the petition, they were switching allegiances from their pastor to the dissidents.

The group circulating the petition knew that.  Those who signed it did not … at least initially.

Finally, they boldly exaggerate charges against the pastor and try to turn others against him … and they usually succeed.

When the pastor’s family is attacked, he has one foot out the door.

But when his integrity is called into question publicly, he’ll start packing his bags.

The only way a pastor can stay under such circumstances is if key members of the staff and board stand up strongly for him and say publicly, “The charges you’re hearing are not true.  I know the pastor well and he is the man you think he is.”

But once the charges gain momentum, most churches lack any kind of process or forum for the pastor or his supporters to rebut the charges … and the pastor gets buried underneath an avalanche of lies and slander.

And then so many allegations float into the ether that they can’t be rebutted … and people who were once the pastor’s supporters call for his resignation.

And somewhere during the entire “get the pastor” process, the devil and his assistants enter the picture and not only try to destroy the pastor … but the church as well.


The small group that opposes the pastor keeps pushing … keeps trying to recruit individuals to join their cause … keeps spreading exaggerated charges … and keeps the pressure on to remove the pastor … because they have gone too far to stop.

And they have sold their souls in the process.

The only way to stop that small group is for strong Christians to say … loudly and publicly … “What you are doing is wrong.  We won’t stand for this.  You are not only hurting our pastor and his family … you are severely harming our church.  We have worked too hard for too long to let you do this.  Stop this at once!”

But the reason that small group of seven to twelve people often succeeds is that there aren’t enough strong Christians in our churches to stop them.



























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