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Posts Tagged ‘church antagonists’

I ran into a little incident outside my bank yesterday that illustrates why some Christians create conflict in their churches.

My wife and I are buying a house, and while it’s a joyful time in some respects, it’s also very stressful.

Suddenly, we have to meet other people’s deadlines: producing bank statements … scanning documents … signing disclosures … scheduling an inspection … paying for an assessment … and figuring out how to turn brown dirt in the front and back yards into something attractive yet low-maintenance.

Yesterday, after several days of waiting, I finally received the go-ahead I needed to complete a financial transaction involving the house.  I promised someone I would send her the money by a certain time in the late afternoon, and I drove to the bank to finish the task with a few minutes to spare.

Only when I got to the bank, the teller … whom I have never met … told me in a “you’re stupid” tone that the deadline for completing the transaction had passed several hours before, and that I would have to come back this morning instead.

I felt the stress level rise quickly inside me.

As calmly as I could, I went to my car … called the woman who expected the funds … apologized to her for not sending them … backed up slowly … and began driving out of the parking lot.

As you leave the bank, there’s a lane on the right just past the building where cars can appear out of nowhere.  I always approach that small intersection cautiously.

And it’s a good thing I did, because a lady (I use that term loosely) came flying around the corner and nearly hit my car.

I froze … and then got out of my vehicle.

The driver pulled into a space in front of the bank, saw me, pointed right at me, and yelled, “MOVE ON!”

I loudly said, “You almost hit me!”

Then she used a creative combination of vulgar terms and yelled again, “MOVE ON!”

I wanted to move on, but I had to make my point, and I was so upset that the words weren’t coming.

Finally, I blurted out, “When you’re driving through a parking lot, SLOW DOWN!”

She used the creative combination again, and then threatened to call the police on me.  I told her, “Go ahead.  I’ll tell them what a bad driver you are.”

I got back in my car and drove away, not feeling real good about the encounter I had just experienced.

As I drove toward home, I thought to myself, “That person (she wasn’t a lady) was driving recklessly, and she’s probably had similar near-misses before … and she’s trained herself to act like a bully when she violates other people’s rights.”

Okay, that bit of psychoanalysis made me feel a tiny bit better.

But then I reflected on my own behavior, and I asked myself, “Why did I feel it necessary to confront that bully in the parking lot?  Why didn’t I just move on?”

Most of the time, I do.  In fact, I’ve trained myself to let most things go on the road.  It’s just not worth it.

But I know why I did it: right now, I am on emotional overload … my stress level is super high … and I lack a measure of self-control.

Now let’s think about some Christians in your church.

Let’s take Frank.  Frank is in his mid-60s.  In the past four months, he has undergone the following experiences:

*He’s been outsized at work and realizes his career is probably over.

*His work problems drove up his blood pressure so he’s now taking medication for that … and the medication has some strong side effects.

*Frank’s wife has recently been having memory problems, and Frank is worried that she might have … you know.

*One of Frank’s daughters recently separated from her husband, and she’s been coming over a lot more … sometimes staying the night.

So when Frank comes to church on Sunday mornings, he longs for an encounter with God.  He comes with a spirit in turmoil.  He hopes to depart with a spirit of peace.

But what happens instead?

*The music is pounding and seems louder than ever before.

*The announcements drag on and on … and several events are coming that Frank would like to attend, but he doesn’t have the money.

*The pastor’s message contains references to current movies that Frank would never see because he believes they’re immoral … but the pastor seems to love them.

*After the service, Frank hears that two of his best friends have left the church because they don’t like the music or the pastor’s preaching.

And Frank suddenly feels very much alone … in his own congregation.

Frank came to church highly anxious, hoping that God and His people would calm him down … but just the opposite happened.

And right now, Frank can’t handle his emotions.  He needs to talk to somebody about how he’s feeling.

He’d like to talk with the pastor, but he hasn’t been there long.  Frank doesn’t know him very well, and he’s afraid he’ll blow his top and end up a sermon illustration someday.

He’d like to express his displeasure to the music director, but doesn’t think it would do any good.

He’d like to talk to his wife, but she’s struggling to remember anybody’s names right now.

So when Frank gets home from church, he calls his friends who just left the church.

His friends rattle off a list of complaints … mainly about the pastor … and then Frank shares his grievances with them.

And before anyone knows it, a campaign to force out the pastor has begun.

Because this is where division begins in a church: when people begin to pool their complaints with one another rather than speaking directly with the person they’re upset with.

I’ve never tried to get rid of a pastor before, and I wouldn’t want to be a part of any campaign that had that as its goal.  I’d leave the church before I tried to push anyone out.

Yes, like the woman in the bank parking lot, some professing Christians are bullies.  They want to run the church their way … or else … and they will use threats and demands (they work well in churches that pride themselves on how loving they are) to intimidate the pastor.

But many churchgoers who end up causing trouble aren’t bullies … or even immature believers … but are ordinary believers who have been undergoing extraordinary stress in their lives.

They bring that stress with them to church, and if something at church adds to their anxiety, they start complaining … usually the first indicator that conflict is about to erupt.

Rather than dealing directly with their behavior, the pastor and/or key leaders might ask such people about their personal, family, and work lives instead:

*How is your husband or wife doing right now?

*How are your children doing?

*How are things at work?  How does that affect your career?

*How are you doing spiritually right now?  Emotionally?  Financially?

*How can we pray for you specifically?

*How can our church family assist you right now?

Many believers who end up creating havoc come to church highly stressed … become even more anxious when church doesn’t alleviate their anxiety … and finally decide to eliminate the source of their “church anxiety” … their pastor.

I don’t excuse it.

I do understand it.

And maybe … just maybe … understanding such anxiety can help church leaders address the concerns of “the anxious among them” in a more caring and compassionate manner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Of the 450 or so blog posts that I’ve written, this is one of my favorites.  It’s based on the film High Noon starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly and is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.  If you’ve never seen it, I encourage you to check it out … I saw it offered on Netflix the other night … and to ponder its relevance for the Christian church.

Toward the end of the last millennium, the American Film Institute produced a list of the Top 100 Films of All-Time.  Since I was unfamiliar with most of them, I systematically visited the local video store and checked out as many as I could.

One of those films was High Noon – now listed by the Institute as the 27th greatest film ever.

Last night, through the magic of Roku, my wife and I watched the film again.

Gary Cooper stars as Marshal Will Kane.  (My brother John has lived for years in Montana on land once owned by Gary Cooper.)  As the film opens, it’s Kane’s wedding day.  He’s marrying Amy (played by Grace Kelly).

But as they’re ready to leave on their honeymoon, Kane and his wife learn that the dreaded Frank Miller has been released from prison … and is coming to town on the noontime train … to wreak vengeance on the marshal who put him behind bars.

As evidence of this fact, Miller’s brother and two cohorts ride through the middle of town toward the train depot while all the townspeople scatter.

Marshal Kane is advised to hightail it out of town with his bride and not look back.  After all, a new marshal is scheduled to take over the next day.  Let him handle the Ferocious Four.

Kane is torn.  On the one hand, everybody’s telling him to leave town with Amy … so that’s what he does.  But five minutes outside town, he turns around and goes back, telling Amy that they’ll never be safe if he doesn’t confront Frank Miller and his boys now.

As I watched the film with fascination, I saw many parallels between the way people reacted to the conflict inside their town and the way churchgoers respond to open conflict at their church:

First, everyone feels anxious when a group’s leader experiences an attack.

The opening scenes of High Noon show a town that’s been rejuvenated.  The people of the town are having fun and laughing.

But when Ben Miller (Frank’s younger brother) and his two buddies ride through town, everybody gets off the street and hides.

The town became a happy place because of the work done by Marshal Kane.  He’s the one who cleaned up the streets and made the place safe for women and children.

But as anxiety rises in the town, people begin to engage in self-preservation.

When a group – and it’s always a group – attacks a pastor, the entire church senses something is wrong.

Sometimes people can tell a pastor is under attack because he’s no longer himself.  He lowers his head, doesn’t smile, and seems jittery.

Other times, people start to hear rumors about the pastor – or charges by people who don’t like him.

And as anxiety begins to spread around the church, people start heading for the tall grass.

Second, a leader under attack needs reinforcements.

Marshal Kane was a tall, strong man who knew how to handle a gun.  But would he prevail in a showdown with four experienced gunmen?

Probably not – so Kane began asking the townspeople for help.  He asked men whom he had once deputized.  He asked the guys in the local saloon.  He even interrupted a church service and asked the congregation if a few men would volunteer to assist him.

After all, if 8 or 10 men stood shoulder-to-shoulder next to Kane, then maybe Frank Miller and his gang would see they were outnumbered and just ride out of town.

No pastor attacked by a group in a church can survive unless he has reinforcements.

Maybe some staff members are willing to stand with him … or the entire governing board … or some former leaders … or a group of longtime friends.

If the associate pastor stands with the pastor … along with the board chairman … and a few other key leaders, the pastor may have enough support to turn back the Gang of Gunmen.

But without that support, the pastor … and possibly the church … are toast.

Third, most people bail on their leader when he needs them the most.

This is the heart of the film.

Amy, the marshal’s new bride, runs away from her husband when they return to town because she’s a Quaker and doesn’t want to see any killing.

The guys in the saloon prove worthless.

The people in the church discuss helping their marshal … then decide against doing anything at all.  (The pastor says he doesn’t know what to do.)

And Marshal Kane can’t convince any of his deputies to help him.  One who said he’d stand by his leader runs when he discovers nobody else will help the marshal, and the current deputy is angry with Kane because he wasn’t selected to be marshal after Kane’s tenure.

Kane even goes to see a former girlfriend … and she announces she’s leaving town, too.

Over 25 years as a solo or senior pastor, there were attempts to get rid of me on three separate occasions.

The first two times, the board stood with me.

The last time, most of the staff and a group of current and former leaders stood with me.

But when most pastors are threatened, everybody bails on them.

Why is this?

Because people aren’t informed?  Because it’s not their fight?

No, it’s usually because those who stand beside their pastor when he’s under attack end up enduring the same vilification that the pastor receives … and few are willing to suffer like that.

Finally, the only way to defeat the attackers is to stand strong.

After Frank Miller came in on the noon train, he and his boys left for town to carry out their plan: kill Marshal Kane.

At the same time, Kane’s former girlfriend climbed onto the train … along with his wife Amy.

When Amy hears shots, she instinctively bolts off the train and heads for town.

When she gets there, her husband has already killed two of the four gunmen.

While the drunks in the saloon nervously wait … and Kane’s friends hide in their homes … and the congregation down the road prays … Amy, of all people, defends her husband.

And in so doing, she saves his life … and their future together.

When a group attacks a pastor, they have one of two goals in mind: defeat him (by forcing him to leave) or destroy him (by ruining his reputation and damaging his career).

Because most pastors are tender souls, he usually has just two chances to emerge victorious after such a showdown: slim and none.

Even if the pastor wilts while attacked … and most do … the attackers can be driven away – and even eradicated – if the pastor has just a few Amys on his side.

While we have several incidents in the New Testament where a spiritual leader is corrected (Paul opposed Peter to his face in Galatians; Aquila and Priscilla instructed Apollos in Acts 18), we don’t have any incidents in the New Testament where a group of believers tries to destroy their spiritual leader.

So let’s do our best to eliminate this ecclesiastical plague in the 21st century.

With the Gang of Four lying motionless on the town’s streets, the townspeople come outside and cheer Amy and Marshal Kane … who drops his badge onto the street and leaves town for the final time.

Once upon a time, pastors would endure an attack in one church … then go to another church, where they’d be attacked again … then do the same thing several more times.

In our day, most pastors are leaving ministry after the first attack.

If High Noon ever comes to your church, don’t just talk or pray.  If your pastor is being unfairly accused, be willing to fight with him.

Because if he leaves town, the Gang of Four will end up in charge.

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It is the nature of a pastor to want everyone in a congregation to like him.

And when a pastor discovers that some people don’t like him, that revelation can be painful … especially if they eventually leave the church.

But sometimes those who don’t like the pastor choose to stay … and want him gone instead.

The pastor’s detractors start pooling their grievances against him … meeting secretly … and plotting their strategy to make him unemployed.

When he’s under attack, it’s natural for a pastor to focus on those who stand against him.  After all, the knowledge that some people think you shouldn’t pastor their church is devastating.

But a healthier approach is for the pastor to ask himself, “How many allies do I still have in this church?”

The more allies … and the stronger their support … the better chance the pastor has of surviving any attacks against him.

Let me share with you seven kinds of allies that every pastor needs to survive internal attacks:

The first ally is God Himself.

If a pastor believes that he is innocent of wrongdoing before God … no matter what his opponents claim … then he may confidently count the Lord God among his allies.

I read Psalm 56 during my quiet time today.  David begins:

“Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack.  My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride.  When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.  What can mortal man do to me?”

David believed strongly that God was 100% behind him.  From his perspective, the Lord wasn’t on the side of his enemies; he was on David’s side.  After all, God had called David to lead Israel, hadn’t He?

When a pastor is under attack, he needs to remind himself, “God called me to lead and shepherd this church.  He did not call my detractors.  Therefore, I will assume that God is on my side.”

A pastor can have no greater ally than God Himself.

Paul asks in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  This rings true in the spiritual realm.

Yet inside a congregation, a pastor may sense that God fully supports him … and yet get bounced by people who aren’t listening to God.

So the pastor needs human allies as well … the more, the better.

The second ally is the pastor’s wife.

If a pastor’s wife doesn’t respect him, or doesn’t believe he should be in ministry, or wants nothing to do with the local church, her feelings will impact her husband’s ability to pastor.

In such cases, it would be better for a pastor to leave ministry and work on his marriage than to stay in the church and eventually lose both his marriage and his ministry.

But if a pastor’s wife is solidly behind him … if she tells her husband, “I support you no matter what anyone else thinks” … if she listens to his fears and takes care of his needs and prays with him when he’s under attack … then that pastor can truly count his wife among his allies.

Before we met 42 years ago, my wife wanted to be a missionary.  I felt called to be a pastor.

Because of her love for me, she was willing to submerge her dreams and serve at my side throughout my 35+ years of church ministry.

On those rare occasions when I was attacked, she stood solidly beside me.

I cannot imagine a better human ally.

The third ally is the church’s governing documents.

Whenever a group inside a church chooses to attack their pastor, they often fail to consult their church’s constitution and bylaws.

Those governing documents were adopted when church leaders were calm and thinking clearly.  And they usually specify how the congregation is to behave when people have become reactive and irrational toward their pastor.

When pastors contact me and tell me they’re under attack, I ask them, “What do your governing documents say about how to remove a pastor?”

Sadly, in too many cases, the church doesn’t have any governing documents … and it’s too late to create them when a group wants the pastor’s scalp.

The governing documents are really a legal and organizational ally.  And if they do specify how a pastor is to be removed from office … and the pastor’s detractors ignore them … then they need to be told … possibly by a board or staff member … that their efforts will not be recognized unless they conform to church protocol.

No church should ever abide by the law of the jungle.

Since most groups opposing a pastor thrive in the dark but wilt in the light, just informing them that they’re violating “church law” can be enough for them to stop … or at least adjust their strategy.

The fourth ally is the official church board.

If the Lord, the pastor’s wife, and the church’s governing documents are all on the pastor’s side, then everything comes down to where the official board stands regarding the pastor’s future.

Whether they’re called elders, deacons, trustees, the church council, the board of directors, or something else, the official board … usually voted in by the congregation … can make or break a pastor’s position.

Some observations:

*If the board chairman strongly supports the pastor, that’s a huge advantage.  During my 25 years as a solo or senior pastor, every board chairman fully stood behind me … except the last one.

*If a majority of the board stands behind the pastor … including the chairman … then it will be difficult for the pastor’s detractors to prevail.

*Much of the time, when a group attacks the pastor, they already have one or two allies on the church board … maybe more.  The group is emboldened largely because they have friends in high places.  Those board members often remain quiet about their position until they sense they’re going to prevail … and only then will they make their position known.

*If the entire board stands behind the pastor, then it may not matter who stands against him.

*If the entire board caves on the pastor, then it may not matter who else stands behind him.

Nearly 30 years ago … when I was in my mid-thirties … I was attacked by the Senior’s Sunday School class at my church.  They compiled a list of my faults, met with two board members, and demanded that the board remove me from office.

To a man, the board stood solidly behind me.  And they told me privately that if I resigned, they would all quit as well … thereby turning the church over to the Seniors … who knew absolutely nothing about leading a church.

When the board told the Seniors they supported me, the Seniors all left … when they disappeared, we were free to pursue God’s vision for our church … but it took time.

Judith Viorst once wrote a book called Necessary Losses.  That’s what those Seniors were.

The fifth ally is the church staff.

This includes the church secretary/office manager … the worship/music director … the youth director/pastor … and any associate pastors.

I have known office managers who undermined the pastor … right under his nose … from inside the church office.

I have known worship/music directors who insisted that worship be done their way … even if the pastor disagreed.

I have known youth pastors who openly rebelled against their pastor … and quietly joined his opposition.

I have known associate pastors who wanted their pastor’s job … and were willing to do or say almost anything to get it.

But I have also known staff members who were completely loyal … utterly faithful … and totally supportive of their pastor.

I believe that if a pastor has the support of his entire board and staff, no group in the church can push him out.

Knowing this, most groups that seek to remove a pastor have to find allies on the board and/or staff.

Even if the entire board collapses their support for their pastor, if certain key staff members stand with the pastor, he may be able to survive … but the combination of key board/staff members who don’t support their pastor can be deadly.

Sometimes a pastor knows that a staff member doesn’t fully support his leadership, but the pastor lets that person stay on because they’re doing a good job … or because they’re afraid of the fallout should that person be fired.

Staff support can be tricky.

The sixth ally is key church opinion makers.

This would include former staff members … board members … and church leaders who are still in the church.

And sometimes, this includes people who have moved away but whose opinion others still value.

When I went through my attack five-and-a-half years ago, some of my best allies were two former board members and a former staff member from inside the church.  They worked behind-the-scenes to call for a fair process dealing with particular issues.

I also consulted with two former board chairmen … one from my previous church, another from my current one … and their counsel was invaluable.

If the former board members had stood against me, I might have instantly resigned … but they wanted me to stay.

If the former board chairmen thought I was out of line, I might have quit … but they encouraged me to hang in there.

If a pastor is under attack, and doesn’t have any ecclesiastical allies, that might be a sign he needs to trade a resignation letter for a severance package.

But if he does have prominent church allies … even if they don’t currently hold offices … they can sway a lot of people.

The seventh and final ally is vocal churchgoers.

When a pastor is under attack, and the charges against him float through the congregation, most people don’t know whether they should believe what they’re hearing.

The focus of most people is on whether or not the charges are true.

But a better way is to ask whether a fair and just process is being used with the pastor.

The pastor’s opponents will tell people, “The pastor is guilty of this … we heard him say that … and we don’t like the fact he does this.”

But does the pastor know what’s being said about him?  Does he know who has lined up against him?  And has he been given the opportunity to respond to the charges that are going around?

When a group presses charges against a pastor, they’re hoping that people become reactive and emotional and demand en masse that their pastor leave.

But when others come along and insist on a fair and just process, they’re hoping to calm down people … engage their brains … and determine the truth before demanding anything.

Every church needs a group of fair-minded, spiritual, and vocal members who tell the pastor’s detractors, “We will not let you engage in a lynch mob to dismiss our pastor.  Whether he’s innocent or guilty of your charges, let’s take our time and work through a fair and just process first.”

These people comprise a pastor’s ecclesiastical safety net.

When Elisha and his servant were in Dothan (2 Kings 6), Elisha’s servant got up early and saw “an army with horses and chariots” surrounding the city … and he instantly panicked.

But Elisha remarked, “Don’t be afraid.  Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

When the Lord opened his servant’s eyes, he saw “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” … the armies of the Lord.

Sometimes a church is full of horses and chariots surrounding the pastor, too … a pastor just needs someone to open his eyes.

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That doesn’t sound right, does it … why do some churchgoers hate their pastor?

Aren’t God’s people supposed to love their pastor instead?

Well, yes, most Christians do love their pastor, which is why they attend the church they do.

But the truth is that some Christians grow to despise their pastor over time … and when they act on their hatred, they have the capacity to destroy themselves … their pastor … and their congregation.

How do I know this?

I haven’t interviewed an extensive number of church attendees about pastor-hatred, and I haven’t seen any studies along this line.

After all, which Christians would honestly confess to a survey taker that they hate their pastor?

But I have spoken with numerous pastors about this problem … and have encountered individuals who hated me during my 36 years in church ministry.

And when one reflects upon how some parishioners act toward their pastor, hatred is the only possible explanation … and this is a primary factor in the large number of forced terminations in the wider Christian community.

So why do some believers hate their minister?

First, the pastor represents God to them.

The pastor is a man of God … who speaks from the Word of God … with the power of the Spirit of God … inside the church of God.

You would think that everyone would appreciate and welcome this phenomena, but that’s not true.

I once preached through the Gospel of Mark, and came to chapter 6, where King Herod beheaded John the Baptist.

That Sunday, an antagonist who had left the church a year before returned and sat twenty feet away from me with his arms crossed.

After the service, he complained to the board chairman that I had aimed the message directly at him.  The board chairman said, “Look at the bulletin.  Jim was in Mark 5 last week, and he’s in Mark 6 this week.”

But the antagonist was convinced that I was preaching at him, and his animosity toward me grew even greater.

It was only a matter of time before he led a rebellion against me.

When people aren’t leading a righteous life, the simple preaching of God’s Word may cause them to repent and change … or rebel even more.

And in such cases, that rebellion isn’t against the pastor, but the God the pastor represents.

But God is unapproachable, hidden away in heaven, and the pastor is right there in the flesh, available and visible … and in some strange way, taking him down is a way of taking God down.

Second, the pastor reminds them of an authority figure.

Maybe the pastor looks a little like their dad … or he has a similar sense of humor to an abusive boss … or his voice and mannerisms make them recall a former professor.

When you’re a pastor, you can’t possibly know who feels this way about you … nor should you know.  You need to be yourself when you preach, not somebody else.

I would think that someone who feels this way would want to leave the church, but much of the time, they’ll stay and stew if the rest of their family likes the pastor.

When I was growing up, pastors were definitely authority figures.  In our day, many pastors want to be liked so much that they bend over backwards to come off as friends, not leaders.

But when a pastor has a strong personality and makes bold statements, you’ll usually find some rebellion … and even some hatred.

Third, the pastor consistently tells them how to live.

Who has this role in our culture?

I can only think of two individuals … parents and pastors.

School teachers instruct their students in academic subjects.  Employers insist that workers do their jobs.  Uncle Sam wants to make sure that citizens comply with the law.

But which authority figures in our society have the role of “all-around life coach?”

Once a person leaves home, there’s only one possibility … a pastor.

When a pastor is doing his job, he’s preaching on what God’s Word says about marriage … raising kids … obeying the government … being faithful in the marketplace … observing ethical guidelines … and relating wisely to God.

You can welcome the pastor’s role … as most people do … or you can resent his role … as some do.

I think of the comment made about Jesus on the day of His crucifixion, when the crowd said, “We will not have this man to rule over us!”

Translation: we’re not going to follow His teaching.  It’s too challenging and convicting … and worst of all, we’ll have to change the way we live … and we’re not about to do that!

And when a pastor talks about surrendering your life to the Lordship of Christ, that’s precisely what some people refuse to do … and some might even be church leaders!

What did they do with Jesus?  They got rid of Him … and twenty centuries later, things haven’t changed all that much.

Fourth, the pastor hurt them in some fashion.

Maybe it was something he said from the pulpit … or something he said in passing on the patio … or something he said in a counseling session … or even something he said in a board meeting.

Whatever the pastor said, he probably doesn’t know about it … and won’t be given the opportunity to clarify his remarks or make things right.

Some people who become hurt by others ruminate on their wound.  They rehearse it over and over … work themselves into a tizzy … and tell everyone how badly they were treated.

Some stop going to church altogether.  Some leave that particular church.  Some only attend periodically.

But some are determined that they are going to stay … and their pastor has got to go.

Before I left my last ministry, I was told that someone absolutely hated me.  I never found out what I did or said to make them hate me … and if I guessed, I’d probably be wrong … but I’m confident that hatred spread to others.

Hatred always does.

In fact, a primary reason why some people hate their pastor is that one or two of their friends hate him … and to stay friends, they need to comply with that hatred rather than challenge it.

Finally, the pastor possesses inferior knowledge … skills … and leadership ability.

Some churchgoers believe that if they could trade places with their pastor, their church would become much more efficient and successful.

These people imagine themselves preaching better than their pastor … leading better than him … and managing the church plant and finances in a manner superior to him.

Some of these individuals were called to the ministry years before, but resisted that call … and now they feel guilty.

So when they notice something around the church that isn’t going well, they imagine what would happen if they were in charge … and they tightly embrace that thought.

And in some cases, it’s true … they probably could surpass the pastor’s talent level in some key areas.

But God didn’t call them to lead or pastor their congregation.  God called their current pastor … and if they don’t like it, they should leave, not him … because chances are good that most people love their pastor.

I don’t revel in discussing issues like these, but somebody has to do it, because there’s far more hatred directed at pastors in our day than we realize.

Pastors can sometimes feel that hatred … especially while preaching … but other times, it’s cleverly disguised.

My hope is to start people thinking … conversing … and interacting with one another … so we can devise biblical, honest, and loving ways to deal with these issues in the church of Jesus Christ.

I’m sure I didn’t exhaust the reasons why some people hate their pastor.

What reasons can you think of?

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While going through some old church files recently, I stumbled upon a folder I forgot I had.

The folder contained documentation related to a couple who had once left a church I pastored.  I’ll call them Harry and Mary.

Harry came to Christ under my ministry.  A while later, I married him to Mary, a long-time Christian.  They attended several small groups that I led.

I even invited Harry over to watch the Super Bowl with me one year.

During premarital counseling, I discovered that Mary struggled with a particular issue.  While I made suggestions on how to manage things, there didn’t appear to be a long-term solution at hand.

Then one Sunday morning, I made a strong statement from the pulpit that reflected a value I held dear.  I could have said it better, but I explained it and moved on.

But I had hit a nerve with Harry and Mary.  They were incensed at what I had said.

Harry and Mary were part of a group that met after the first service.  When they entered the room, they immediately began criticizing me to a new couple.

That new couple never returned.

I don’t remember receiving flak from anyone else after making my statement, but Harry would not let me forget it.

He made an appointment with me in my office and wanted me to apologize for the statement that I made while preaching.

If he had said, “Jim, I appreciate your ministry.  I enjoy your preaching and have learned a lot about the Bible from you.  But that statement you made really stung, and here’s why,” I probably would have said, “Harry, I still believe in what I said, but I admit to you I could have said it better.”

But that’s not what Harry did.  He demanded an immediate apology.

Some pastors would have apologized on the spot.  Others would have stood their ground.

I tend to come from the “stand your ground” group.

And all I could think of was, “If I apologize this time for something I said while preaching, is he going to demand more apologies in the future?”

If I apologized, I was extremely concerned about the precedent I would be sending.

So I tried to explain rather than apologize … but that wasn’t enough for Harry.

He and his wife wrote a letter to the church board.  The chairman listened to the recording of my message.

The board’s conclusion: I hadn’t said anything wrong.

The board unanimously stood behind me, and Harry and Mary fired off another letter to the board, letting them know in detail why they were leaving the church.

Pastors would rather gather sheep than drive sheep away, but when sheep begin to threaten the shepherd, the shepherd must enforce boundaries.

Let me make four statements about people who threaten to leave a church:

First, making threats is a power move, not a love move.

Several years ago, I traced the English words “threat,” “threats,” and “threatening” throughout both Testaments and could not find a single instance in which those terms were used in a positive manner in Scripture.

When someone threatens us, they promise, “If you do A, I will do B” or “If you don’t do A, I will do B.”

Using a threat implies that the person making it (a) is superior to the person being threatened, and (b) views himself or herself as being indispensable.

While our world often operates by threats, that’s not the picture we receive in Scripture of how relationships operate in the body of Christ.

If I could do it all over again, I would have told Harry, “When you threaten me, I feel defensive and resistant.  If you’ll calm down and rephrase how you feel, I can hear you better.”

Second, making threats damages innocent people.

I once served on a church staff and was approached by someone who told me, “If the pastor doesn’t start doing Such-and-Such, ten percent of the people in this church are going to leave.”

That wasn’t a warning … that was a threat.

Based upon our attendance at the time, ten percent equaled 25 or 30 people.

That’s a lot of attendees … a lot of volunteers … and a lot of givers.  If they all left, it might take several years to replace them, and that can cause a pastor … or staffer … to panic.

My experience tells me that only a handful of those 25-30 people really felt strongly about the issue.  In fact, the likelihood is that most people agreed to join the cause simply to support their friends.

Knowing what I know now, I would have told the person making the threat, “This isn’t the best way to handle this situation.  Can you identify for me the two or three people who are most upset by this issue?”

If given their names, I would have said, “Chances are this is just their concern.  If this is a personal matter, I encourage someone to go and speak with the pastor directly.  If this is a policy matter, I encourage someone to go and speak with a board member directly.  But I encourage you to stop speaking for anyone who is unwilling to go directly to the pastor or the board.”

Suggesting a wiser course of action may not always work, but it’s worth a try.

Third, making threats works all too often.

This is why people do it … at least, at church.

People would never make similar threats at work, or at a government office, but they’ll do it with God’s people.  Why?

Peter Steinke writes in his book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times that when some people use aggression and anger at church:

“Peace mongering is common.  With tranquility and stability reigning as premium values, congregational leaders adapt to their most recalcitrant and immature people, allowing them to use threats and tantrums as levers of influence.  Malcontents’ complaints never seem to cease.  Unwilling to confront the constant critic, leaders set the table for the unhappy souls to have a movable feast of anxiety.  By appeasing rather than opposing, leaders give control to reactive forces.  Feed them once and leaders can be sure they will be back for more.”

Of course, that’s the problem when threats work: it’s guaranteed those same threats will be used again.

Finally, making threats should never be rewarded.

Once Harry went to power … and refused to shift into love mode … I knew what the outcome was going to be: he and his wife were going to end up leaving the church.

For a few weeks, they sapped the energy out of the congregation, the church board, and their pastor.

More than 95 percent of our congregation liked the church the way it was.  People were growing spiritually and excited about our future.

But the more the board and I engaged with Harry and Mary behind closed doors, the less effective we were in ministering to the rest of the church.

Because of the energy sap, and because most people who make threats are never satisfied, I believe that most pastors and boards should handle similar situations swiftly but firmly by saying:

“We have listened to your complaints.  We have made a decision, and we cannot support the way you have handled things.  You have a choice: either stay at the church and support the ministry, or feel free to leave.  The choice is up to you.”

Pastors should never make threats, either, and those that do should be given the opportunity to rephrase their threat.  But if a pastor consistently says, “If you don’t do this my way, I will resign,” then a church board may reluctantly have to say, “Pastor, we don’t reward threats, so if that’s your final decision, we’ll accept your resignation.”

As a pastor, I hated it when people left the church, and tended to take it personally.

But sometimes, the best possible outcome is for unhappy people to walk out the door and never return … especially if they unwisely use threats.

And when people who use such tactics leave, throw a party!

I always did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My pastor was under attack.

He couldn’t sleep.  He couldn’t study.  His personality turned inward.

He was a wreck.

Why?

Years ago, in my third church staff position, a small group of vocal members began to criticize the church’s pastor … who was also my supervisor.

Their main claim?  That he didn’t preach often enough, an indication that he was lazy.

35 years ago, many Protestant churches had:

*Sunday School

*Sunday morning worship

*Sunday evening service (with youth group meetings before or after)

*Wednesday night prayer meeting

That’s a lot of teaching time to fill!

My pastor’s main gift was shepherding – not teaching – so he utilized a team of teachers on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.  I was happy with the arrangement because I enjoyed hearing others speak … and because I got to speak once a month as well.

I can’t recall what set off the grumbling, but many of us started feeling heightened anxiety around the church campus.  One night, someone caught me in the parking lot and told me that 10% of the church was going to leave if the pastor didn’t start preaching on Sunday nights.

Now what would you do with that information?

Some Christians would keep it to themselves.

Some would tell family and friends from the church.

Some would throw in their lot with the 10%.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I had a friend in the church – a man who went on to become an evangelist – and he and I discussed the situation.  We decided to visit the most influential man in the church … a layman known for his teaching, integrity, and straight talk.

My friend and I sat in his living room and said something like this, “There are people in this church who are attacking the pastor.  They are threatening to leave if he doesn’t start preaching on Sunday nights.  The pastor is devastated by this news and seems paralyzed to do anything about the situation.  What can we do to help him?”

Looking back, I don’t know whether or not this man was supportive of the pastor, but we had to take the risk.

He told us, “Gentlemen, when Paul talked about troublemakers in the church, he named names.  Who are these people?”

Wait a minute.  If we mention the names, isn’t that gossip?  Aren’t we tattling?  Couldn’t we get in trouble if we said too much about what was happening?

And some of those people were our friends.  How could we single out friends like that?

But this man was right.  Paul did name names – along with John, the apostle of love:

Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.  1 Timothy 1:19-20

Their teaching will spread like gangrene.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth.  They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.  2 Timothy 2:17-18

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm.  The Lord will repay him for what he has done.  You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.  2 Timothy 4:14-15

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.  3 John 9-10

With biblical precedent upholding us, my friend and I divulged the names of the troublemakers we knew about – especially the ringleaders.

I learned an important lesson that day.  Sometimes church powerbrokers are successful in making threats and demands because nobody has the courage to identify them by name.

Think about this:

Last night, my wife and I watched a recently-produced film on Solomon’s life.  The film opens with King David near death – but he hadn’t yet chosen his successor.

So one of David’s sons engaged in a pre-emptive attempt to be anointed as king –  in league with David’s top general.

Their names?  Adonijah and Joab.

Not “one of David’s sons” – but Adonijah.

Not “a high-ranking military officer” – but Joab.

They were both executed for committing treason against David’s choice for king … Solomon.

One of Jesus’ 12 disciples betrayed him.

His name?  Judas from Kerioth.

Not just “one of the Twelve” – but Judas.

Before anyone could finger him, Judas took his own life.

Paul wrote in Romans 16:17:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.

If you’re in a church, and you hear that someone is plotting against your pastor … do something about it.

Warn the pastor.  If you sense the board is supportive, talk to the board member you know and trust best.

Believe me, the pastor and/or board may have no idea of any division inside the ranks.  Your information may give them time to head off an attack before it ever takes place … or give them a key piece of information they lacked.

If you know that an individual or a group is planning on “going after” your pastor, speak to someone in authority – even if the plotters are your friends.

Because if you don’t, your church will eventually experience months of tension, division, and ugliness.  Friends will separate, donations will plunge, and people will leave.

If you know something, tell somebody!

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sinsJames 4:17

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Have you ever been in a church where someone always seems to be antagonistic?

During my first pastorate, there was a man on the church board who used to drive me insane.  I’ll call him Rudy.

Rudy had been a pastor for many years, but somewhere along the line, his marriage failed, and his denomination prevented him from pastoring again.

Rudy became a public school teacher and married a second time.  When I first met him … at a church board meeting … he was a bit scary.  He was large but short with a booming voice, and it didn’t take much for him to start ranting about something.

Sadly, a few months after I came to the church, Rudy’s second wife filed for divorce and stopped attending.  I went to the board and requested permission to ask Rudy to step down from the board, which they reluctantly granted.  But a few months later, the remaining board members insisted that Rudy be reinstated … mostly because he was their friend.  I didn’t agree with them, but my protests fell on deaf ears.

So Rudy returned … but he was often full of rage.

One night, I was teaching a midweek class about Christ’s resurrection, and I made a point that Rudy didn’t like.  He stood up, shouted into the air, walked to the door, and slammed it behind him, which stunned everybody … especially me.

Another time, our church held a “business meeting,” and Rudy began yelling across the room at someone who said something he didn’t like.  Later that week, I told him that he had to apologize to the entire church the following Sunday or he wasn’t going to be a board member anymore.  So he apologized … sort of.

When I preached, I always had to watch what I said or Rudy might angrily confront me.  One time in a sermon, I mentioned the death and resurrection of Christ but didn’t mention His burial.  After the service, Rudy jumped all over me for that “omission.”

Another time, I wrote a newsletter article that featured some quotations from a British theologian I admired.  Rudy called me at home and let me know he didn’t agree with me at all.

Along the way, Rudy married a third time, and he began teaching the seniors’ class at our church.  Before I knew it, class members began holding secret meetings and making demands to the church board about my future.  When the board stood by me, Rudy’s class left the church en masse and started a new church in a school … one mile from our church.

As Rudy’s pastor, I was constantly on edge whenever he was around.

Why do antagonists like Rudy act the way they do at church?  Let me share three quick possibilities:

First, some antagonists dream of being in church ministry … even as the pastor.

While Rudy had been a pastor, a divorce may be all it takes to end a ministerial career, and Rudy had two of them.  Before he led his class out of our church, he had been trying to return to ministry as a missionary … but no Christian organization could get past those two divorces.

Rudy retained much of the knowledge and skills necessary to pastor again, but he knew it would never occur.  I was in the position that he so desperately coveted.  His anger toward me was his way of saying, “I’m just as good as you are, and if circumstances were different, I’d be where you are.”

Second, some antagonists are desperately seeking significance.

When I first met Rudy, he was 61 years young.  One day, I visited his fourth grade class at school, and he was honored that I was there.  But several years later, he retired and had too much time on his hands.

Dealing with the Rudys in a church can be challenging for a pastor.  If you let Rudy into leadership, he might use his position to build a following and push you out.  But if you don’t let Rudy into leadership, he might push you out anyway.

A better approach for a pastor is to sit down with Rudy … listen to his story … ask him what his hopes and dreams are … and guide him toward those that are feasible.

But to ignore Rudy completely is to dig your own grave.

Finally, some antagonists are tolerated by their church family.             

When people act in an antagonistic fashion, it’s natural to blame them for the way they behave.

However, I believe that there is something inherent in church systems that creates and tolerates antagonistic behavior.

Yes, Rudy bears some responsibility for his overreactions, but God’s people also bear responsibility for allowing him to misbehave time and time again.

When Rudy slammed the door, someone should have confronted him right away.  When he stood up in the business meeting, I shouldn’t have been the one to insist he apologize.

All too often in our church families, the pastor has to confront and correct the misbehavior of leaders by default, and when he does, he leaves himself wide open for retribution, especially if he’s standing alone.

Christians are usually strong but are seldom tough.  When it comes to antagonistic behavior, a church’s leaders need to define what they will and will not tolerate … and we never did that with Rudy.

I wasn’t asked to speak at Rudy’s funeral … no surprise there … but I did attend.  In spite of his temper, I liked Rudy, and I’m sure I will see him someday in heaven, although I’m glad he won’t be able to yell at me anymore!

Because while churches often tolerate antagonism, heaven does not.

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