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Posts Tagged ‘church board and pastoral termination’

In my last blog, I wrote “an open letter to pastor terminators.”

The letter was a composite of stories I’ve heard over the years about the damage that members of the church board have caused pastors and staff members they’ve forced out of office.

One friend wrote me on Facebook and asked, “Would you send it?”

If I thought it would do any good, yes, I would send it.

But the odds are that it wouldn’t.

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It’s been nearly eight years since I left my last church ministry.  Two weeks from today, I’ll be writing my annual article about the church coup I experienced.

Throughout the past eight years, I’ve had this fantasy: that one day, just one of the individuals most responsible for pushing me out would contact me and apologize for their actions.

Sometimes, when I go to the mailbox, I wonder if there will be a letter of confession from one of my opponents inside.

It’s never happened.

Sometimes, when I pick up the phone, I wonder if one of the perpetrators is calling me to say, “Oh, Jim, what we did was so, so wrong.  Can you ever forgive us?”

It’s never happened.

I wrote a book called Church Coup about what happened from my perspective.  I have written hundreds of blogs about the problems of pastoral abuse and termination.

The damage the terminators caused was unfathomable.  I lost my job … income … career … reputation … house … and many, many friends.

A nine-person team investigated the charges against me and concluded that “there was no evidence of any wrongdoing.”

But I was lied right out of the church.  It’s the only way “they” could get rid of me.

I was wronged … severely wronged.

But is anybody ever going to admit their part in the conflict to me?

Almost certainly not.

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So would I send a letter to specific terminators, hoping they would have a “come to Jesus” moment and apologize for their actions?

Pastor Guy Greenfield tried to do just that.  In his excellent book The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks, Greenfield writes:

“When I was pressured to retire early in my last pastorate by the machinations of a small group of antagonists, I wrote each one a lengthy personal letter describing how I felt about what they did to me, my ministry, my marriage, my family, my health, and my future.  I tried to be honest without being harsh.  I felt they needed to know that they had hurt me deeply.  Not one of them wrote in response, called me, or came by for a visit.  Not one said he was sorry.  Therefore, I had to move on with my life, shattered though it was, and start over somewhere else.”

Greenfield made the first move toward reconciliation.  He followed Jesus’ instructions in Luke 17:3-4:

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

In essence, Greenfield rebuked those who hurt him.  They didn’t repent … at least, not to him personally.  Should he then forgive them?

Yes, he should forgive them unilaterally, and he did.  He writes:

“For my own sake, I needed to forgive them even though none said he was sorry.  I tried to do that even though it took me a long time.  I wrote a note to each that I was forgiving him of his mistreatment of me, knowing it would be a process rather than something instantaneous.  I had to do it for myself.  I did not expect reconciliation, but I did need to be free of my resentment.  I did not expect sorrow or repentance from them in order to forgive them.  I made a distinct decision not to seek revenge.  There were several things I  could have done, but I chose not to do any of those vengeful acts.  I could not afford to put my future happiness in the hands of those people who made me so miserable by their abuse of me.”

Greenfield exercised unilateral forgiveness.  He “let go” of his anger, resentment, and desire for revenge.  And that’s all he could do.

Because whenever a pastor or staff member are unjustly terminated, biblical reconciliation … or bilateral forgiveness … as outlined by Jesus in Luke 17:3-4 almost never takes place.

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On a rare occasion, I will hear the perspective of the “other” side … from a board member who tried to get rid of a pastor and later felt badly about it.

A friend once told me that his father was instrumental in pushing out his pastor, and that it haunted him for the rest of his life.

I suspect there are other board members and lay antagonists who later were horrified when they realized that their words or actions had destroyed their pastor.

When my father was pushed out of his last pastorate, a woman whose hurtful words had gone viral cried out in a public meeting, “I never meant for it to come to this.  I crucified the man!”

But those kinds of confessions are all too rare.

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It’s amazing to me.  To become a Christian, a person must confess their sins to the Lord and request His forgiveness, which He always grants.

To remain a Christian, a person must continually confess their sins to the Lord … as 1 John 1:8-10 specifies … and again, the Lord promises He will always forgive.

But when those same professing Christians severely wound the person and position of someone God has called to serve their congregation, they stop looking at any sins they might have committed and only see the sins of their pastor/staffer.

They completely exonerate themselves and just as fully blame the person they’ve driven from office.

In the words of Jesus, they’re focused on the “specks” in their pastor’s life while ignoring the “planks” in their own lives (Matthew 7:3-5).

I have a friend who occasionally holds meetings after a pastor has been forced out.  He gathers together the leaders of the church … places an empty chair at the front of the room (signifying the presence of Jesus) … asks for a period of silence … and then lets the leaders say whatever comes to their mind.

There is often a time of confession as people finally admit to others that they did indeed play a part in getting rid of their pastor … and harming their local body as well.

Maybe, since the deed was done with others, confession can only come in concert with those same people.

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I’ve long since given up hope that anyone who meant to harm me will ever admit it to me.

If they did … since I have already forgiven them unilaterally … I would joyfully forgive them on-the-spot.

But I realize it’s unlikely to happen.

In his wise book Healing for Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack, Dr. Dennis Maynard writes the following:

“Before we can reconcile with another we have to know that they are truly sorry.  We need to hear their words of repentance.  We need to know their contrition is genuine.  To reconcile with those who are not truly contrite is to excuse their offense as though it never occurred…. We are basically giving them permission to hurt us again.  We need to hear the person who hurt us take responsibility for their behavior.”

Maynard then continues:

“Those that target clergy are oblivious to the pain they cause others.  They have actually deceived themselves into believing they have done the right thing.  They are consumed with their public image.”

He then writes something both remarkable and scary:

I have not found a single case of an antagonist seeking to reconcile with the pastor they targeted for destruction.  True repentance would also include trying to undue the damage that their conspiracy of lies brought on their pastor…. Some will rationalize their acts of sin and evil as righteous and justified…. Reconciliation is simply not an option.  To do so would be to fail to hold them accountable for the pain they have caused.  We cannot reconcile with them, but for our soul’s sake we still must forgive them.”

I have a theory that the people who target an innocent pastor for termination have surrendered themselves … at least temporarily … to some sort of dark force.  You can’t be a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led individual and go after your pastor with a vengeance.  Kindly show me one place in the New Testament where God blesses that kind of behavior and I’ll eat my words.

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I now live some 500 miles away from my former church.  I cannot envision ever visiting the church again for any reason, and I have vowed never to visit the city in which the church is located, either.

There is just too much pain involved.

I accept the fact that even successful ministry tenures end.  Casey Stengel won ten pennants in twelve years for the New York Yankees – including five World Championships in a row from 1949-1953 – and even he was forced out after the Yankees lost the World Series in 1960.

But to get rid of a leader, God’s people often throw away their Bibles and engage in satanic shortcuts … adopting the strategy of deception leading to destruction (John 8:44).

Since they can’t force their pastor to resign any other way, they start spreading lies about him.

Lies designed to harm his reputation.  Lies designed to cause others to call for his dismissal.  Lies designed to create pain for him and his family.

And that decision … to get rid of a leader at all costs … is guaranteed to cause the leader … his family … his supporters … and their congregation … immense heartache for many years to come.

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The reason that I wrote this article is to encourage the pastors and staffers who have been forced out to:

*accept that the church of Jesus Christ handles these situations horribly … so you aren’t alone.

*accept what happened to you as being part of God’s overall plan.

*accept that you will never fully reconcile with those who caused you harm.

*accept that you can and should forgive each person who hurt you unilaterally.

*accept that God still loves you and wants the best for you.

So will those who terminated you ever repent for what they did to you?

It’s highly unlikely.

After Judas betrayed Jesus, our Savior let him go.

We need to follow His example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I just dropped a final payment and a sharply-worded letter in the mailbox to my former cable company (let’s call them Corrupt Cable) a few minutes ago.

Last April, Corrupt bought out my previous cable company (which I was very happy with) and immediately began alienating their new customers.

The bills were higher than they had been.  When I called customer service – which I did every month – the reps would tell me I owed one amount, but the subsequent bill would be larger.

When my bill in July was double what the customer rep said that I owed in June, I immediately cancelled (I was on a month-to-month contract) and contacted another company, which came the next day and exceeded my expectations with their professional attitude and performance.

I called Corrupt’s customer service again, asked how much my final bill was, and sent in that amount.  But Corrupt later billed me twice the amount the rep said I owed.

That was it for me.  I sent Corrupt management a strongly-worded two page letter along with a check for the amount the rep said I owed.  Corrupt countered with a letter threatening my credit if I didn’t pay them the remaining balance immediately.

I have never written the word “Corrupt!” on a check before, but I just did.

Now here’s the deal: I don’t want to hurt Corrupt’s CEO or force him from office.  I don’t want to destroy the company or its shareholders.

I just don’t want to think about them or talk about them anymore.  I am done with the Corrupt Cable Company forever.

But in many churches, when someone becomes upset with the pastor, they want to hurt him.  They want to target him.  They want to force him from office.

And they want revenge.

It’s my contention that many pastoral terminations are really the result of one or more church leaders seeking retribution against their shepherd.

More and more, I’m hearing stories of pastors and staff members who are forced out of their positions, and when they’re done sharing, I say to them, “You know what this sounds like to me?  Revenge.”

Let me share with you a composite of situations I’ve heard about firsthand.

Tom (who is now in his early 60s) has been the lead pastor of New Life Church for fifteen years.  The church has grown steadily and has a weekend attendance of 1100 people.  Tom and the board hired an associate pastor named Joe five years ago, and the first several years went well, but over the past two years, Joe has made Tom’s life a living hell.

Joe (who is in his mid-40s) is surrounded by family and friends who think that he’s a better leader and preacher than Tom and that he’s more culturally relevant.  Joe’s wife has been especially vocal in this area.

Some members of Joe’s group (which numbers about thirty) have started to make snide comments about the church and its leadership on social media.  Though they don’t mention Pastor Tom by name, it’s obvious they’re aiming their barbs at him.

By contrast, when Pastor Joe does anything in public, he’s praised on Facebook and Twitter by the FOJ Brigade.

At this point, the ideal solution is for the official board to intervene and tell Joe that (a) he still works for Pastor Tom; (b) he needs to tell his supporters to knock off their social media campaign; (c) if Joe has any concerns, he should discuss them with Tom first; and (d) any deviations from their instructions will result in Joe’s dismissal.

But because most church boards are afraid of conflict, and because some board members like Joe more than Tom, this solution isn’t likely to be implemented.

If Pastor Tom does nothing, he’s going to be driven from his position within a short while, because Joe’s followers are starting to smell blood.

But if Tom goes to the board and enacts too heavy-handed an approach, some board members will turn on him and back Joe instead.

So Tom decides that he will talk to Joe in private first.  Tom will tell Joe what he’s seeing with his attitude and ask Joe what he plans to do about it.

Tom’s plan doesn’t work and, in fact, upsets Joe greatly.  Ten minutes after their meeting, Joe is texting and calling his group, telling them, “How dare the pastor talk to me like that!”

Tom comes out of their meeting dazed and confused, while Joe calls a couple of board members that he senses are sympathetic and negatively exaggerates both Tom’s tone and words.

The verdict?  Pastor Tom can’t get along with the staff (even though he gets along with everybody but Joe) and he can’t get along with important people (like Joe’s followers).

So Tom has to go.

I wrote the following paragraph in my book Church Coup:

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

Over the next three months, Joe’s revenge against Tom manifests itself in five ways:

*Joe lets scores of people know – both directly and through his minions – that Tom should no longer be the pastor at New Life.  Joe details Tom’s inadequacies for anyone who will listen, including veiled swipes at his age.  As news spreads through the church underground, people add their own grievances against Pastor Tom to Joe’s list.  Some people start saying that if Tom doesn’t leave, they will.

*The church board absorbs Joe’s complaints against Tom and calls a special meeting to deal with the conflict.  Since nobody on the board has a clue how to handle matters, the easy way out is to dismiss Tom, even though he isn’t guilty of any major offense.  Because the board lacks any impeachable offense, they decide to justify their actions by “gunnysacking” Tom – listing as many faults and petty offenses against him as they can create in a single meeting.  They come up with seventeen reasons why Tom must leave but make a pact they won’t tell Tom anything.

*Keeping Joe informed at every turn, the board then ambushes Pastor Tom at their next regular meeting and informs him that he has a choice of resigning (with a small severance package) or being fired (without a severance package).  When Pastor Tom asks for the charges against him to be read, the board declines.  When Tom pleads for them to let him defend himself, they refuse.  The charges against Tom are merely a smokescreen for personal hatred.  When Tom becomes upset, they add that to their list.

*Pastor Tom resigns and receives a three-month severance package.  However, he’s told he must (a) clear out his office (and all his books) in two days; (b) turn in his keys immediately afterward; (c) never set foot on the church campus again; (d) not discuss his dismissal with anyone or his severance will be curtailed; (e) cut off all contact with everyone at the church.

*After Tom’s resignation is read to the congregation, Joe and his minions want to make sure that Tom’s supporters (at least 95% of the congregation) won’t cause any future trouble, so they spread rumors that (a) he was having an affair; (b) he was using drugs; and (c) he had trouble in previous churches that never came to light.  Several of Joe’s supporters also call the local district office and exaggerate the charges against him to make sure that no church in the denomination ever hires him again.  The district minister complies.

Some quick observations:

First, this whole situation was handled politically, not spiritually.

When revenge is involved, church politics rule.  It’s all about maximizing power … counting noses … denying the pastor due process … and checkmating him personally and professionally.  It may not look or sound like revenge, but it is.  Where’s the Bible in all this?

Second, the church board wimped out.

Had I been on New Life’s board, I would have recommended that Pastor Joe be confronted for challenging Pastor Tom’s authority.  If he wouldn’t repent, I would recommend his dismissal instead.  Tom didn’t do anything wrong; Joe did.  And it’s far easier to get a new associate than a new lead pastor.  But the board went with the squeaky wheel rather than any semblance of fairness or righteousness.

Third, the church lacked a predetermined process for handling complaints against the pastor.

Every church needs such a process.  It automatically kicks in whenever dirt starts being thrown at the pastor.  Because church boards often operate politically, I believe that another group in the church needs to monitor this process: a CRG (Conflict Resolution Group).  It’s not their job to make decisions about a pastor’s future.  It’s their job to make sure that the board and the church treat the pastor fairly: according to Scripture, the church’s governing documents, and the law.  And if the CRG’s directives aren’t followed, the entire board should be asked to resign rather than the lead pastor.

Fourth, treating Pastor Tom badly will come back and bite the church … hard.

Yes, people will leave the church, even if they never find out the details surrounding Tom’s departure.  But more than this: unless Pastor Joe and the complying board members repent, do you really believe that God is going to bless New Life Church in the future?  If so, you and I worship a different God.

Finally, God seeks redemption for His leaders, not revenge.

Allow me a personal word.  When I left my last church ministry nearly seven years ago, the entire church board resigned because they initiated a coup that failed.  They wrote and signed a resignation letter that was cruel and demeaning and intended to provide me with the maximum amount of pain.  (I have read it only three times.)  They obviously were upset with me about some issues, but they never sat down and talked with me about them.  Instead, they concocted a plan designed to checkmate me at every turn, and when their plan backfired, they left enraged.

There was never any attempt at restoration or redemption.  It was all about retribution and revenge.

Several weeks ago, I found out that two couples from my former church who had been friends for forty years severed their friendship over the way I was treated.  One couple bought into the gunnysacking charges the board made against me, while the other couple – which never heard from me directly – defended me to the hilt based on the pettiness of the charges themselves.  While this new information made me sad, I thought to myself, “This is what happens when people seek revenge against their pastor.”

When church leaders hear complaints about their pastor, they have two options:

First, they can lovingly bring the charges to their pastor’s attention, let him face his accusers, ask him for explanations, and remain open to his staying.  That’s redemptive.

Second, they can angrily spread charges behind the pastor’s back, refuse to let him face his accusers, insure that he’s not permitted any kind of defense, and remain determined to get rid of him.  That’s revenge.

We all know these verses, but they’re a good reminder during such times:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17,19,21).

What are your thoughts on what I have written?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have a mentor who used to be a pastor and later became a top executive with two different denominations.

When he was a pastor, he used to tell his staff, “Remember: our jobs could all be gone overnight.”

If someone had told me that before I trained to become a pastor, maybe I would have redoubled my efforts to become a math teacher.

Because from a distance, being a pastor seems like a pretty secure position.

But upon further scrutiny, the truth leans in the opposite direction: most pastors are, in the words of a pastor friend, bound to their churches by a one day contract … revocable anytime.

There are three common scenarios along this line:

First, the pastor disqualifies himself from ministry by committing a major offense.

If a pastor commits even a single act of sexual immorality, and it becomes known to the official board, that pastor will almost always be fired or asked to resign.

If a pastor commits a felonious criminal act, like grand larceny, or fraud, or assault, that could end his ministry as well.

If a pastor struggles with an ongoing sin … such as the megachurch pastor on the East Coast who resigned last Sunday because of a problem with alcohol … that can finish someone’s ministry in a particular congregation as well.

And if a pastor preaches heresy … like the pastor I heard about who started preaching universalism (the view that everybody will be saved and enter heaven in the end) … that can either get him fired or cause his church to empty out.

Most church boards are composed of spiritual individuals who know that their pastor is human and that he can get angry … suffer from depression … become exhausted … and even struggle with family issues … and yet still be a man of God who can be an effective and productive shepherd.

But when a pastor commits a major offense … and it’s discovered … he will usually either offer his resignation or be summarily dismissed.

Second, the pastor might be fired either after a worship service or during a regular/special board meeting.

I once knew a pastor who presided over a church that was growing like crazy … but he had been at the church less than two years when he was fired by the official board.

The pastor went to a regular board meeting.  The elder who had his back was away on a trip.  Knowing this, the other elders decided this was the time for them to make their move.

When the pastor came to the meeting, someone pushed a pre-typed resignation letter over to him.

The pastor was so shocked that he stared at it for 45 minutes.

The letter stated, in part, that he had to resign … clear out his office … turn in his keys … and cut off all contact with the people of the church.

And he would not be entitled to a final sermon or any goodbye party.

His offense?

He did things differently than the previous pastor … even though the church was doing very well.

Sometimes the signs of discontent among board members are there, but the pastor misses them.

And when they finally fire him, the pastor is genuinely shocked by their ambush.

But sometimes, the board makes a decision behind the scenes … often pushed by one of the board members, who is out for revenge … and the pastor becomes ecclesiastical toast.

Third, the pastor might be given a choice: either resign now and receive a token severance agreement, or be fired without any severance.

If the pastor is guilty of sexual immorality or criminal behavior and the board just discovered his sin, I can understand this scenario.

And if the pastor was asked to deal with an issue like alcohol abuse but he hasn’t made any progress … or refuses to change … then I can understand the church board saying, “We’ve done all we can, so we have to ask for your resignation.”

But much of the time, the board never says a word to the pastor about anything he’s done wrong … he comes to a meeting … and the board gives him this ultimatum: quit right now and we’ll pay you to leave … but if you refuse, we will fire you and you will receive nothing.

There’s a variation on this: one or two board members take the pastor out to eat or meet him in his office at church and throw down the same ultimatum.

One pastor told me that when the board asked him for his resignation, he gave it to them on the spot, walked away, and left the area as quickly as he could.

That’s one way of handling things.

But many pastors will want to know things like:

*What have I done wrong?

*Why haven’t you talked with me about this sooner?

*Why are you doing this now?

*What are you going to tell the congregation about my leaving?

*Who is really behind this power play?

The pastor can try and talk with the board about questions like these … and I think he should … because the more the pastor understands the board’s thinking, the more quickly he can heal down the road.

If the board has prepared a severance agreement they want the pastor to sign on the spot, the pastor should tell the board, “I cannot sign this agreement unless I first have it reviewed by an attorney.  I will try and get back to you within a few days.”

But there’s something else the pastor can do: stand up in the meeting … walk toward the door … and tell the board, “You’ll be hearing from me soon” … and quickly leave the building.

When I went through my conflict nearly seven years ago, a church consultant asked me if our church bylaws specified a way to vote the board members out of office.

Since the bylaws didn’t envision that possibility, there wasn’t any mechanism in place for removing the board.

In my situation, I wouldn’t have done that because the board members were all duly elected by the congregation.

If a pastor is asked to resign on the spot, the best move he can make is to tell the board, “I need a few days to think and pray about this.  Can I gave you an answer by Saturday?”

If the board agrees to this scenario, the pastor should assure the board that (a) he may consult with a few people from the church, but (b) he will not lead a counterattack against the board.

But many church boards don’t allow for the pastor to take a few days to make his decision because (a) they want him to leave right away; (b) they’ve already lined up somebody to speak the following Sunday; (c) they’re afraid the pastor will lead a counterattack if they give him any rope at all.

Some pastors in megachurches and larger churches sign a contract before they become the pastor.  The contract spells out the various scenarios up front.

But most small church and medium-sized church pastors don’t sign such contracts and so are open to being railroaded right out of their positions.

Before Jesus went to the cross, He knew what was coming … and knew He would rise again.

Before most pastors are asked to leave, they are blindsided … and wonder if they’ll ever pastor again.

If you’re a church board member …  your pastor has not committed a major offense … but you think he should leave: it’s better for the board if the pastor leaves immediately, but if he does, it may very well kill his church career … for good.

So before you make a major decision that you can’t take back, search Scripture … pray it through … consult with several church consultants/interventionists … and rid your board of every desire to exact revenge on your pastor.

And be very careful … because in a real sense … your life and your job are bound by single day contracts as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Twenty-five years ago, I found myself in one of the most precarious positions I’ve ever faced as a pastor.

The church I served in Silicon Valley had been struggling, and I became convinced that we needed to start over: a new church, with a new name, in a new location, with a new ministry.

This vision meant that we had to sell our church property and find a new place to meet … almost simultaneously.

After receiving congregational approval, we sold the property outright to The Salvation Army (some people must drop more than coins into those Christmas kettles) and after looking at more than thirty buildings, our leaders found a temporary place to meet … but we needed a conditional use permit first.

When we went to the planning commission, they turned us down on a 4-2 vote.

We were stunned.

Now we had to appeal to the City Council … I had to lead the effort … and I had never done anything like that before.

I pulled out all the stops.  I called everyone and anyone who might be able to help.  I even called the city manager of a prominent city nearby and picked his brain on how to proceed.

Then it came time to prepare packets for Council members and contact them individually.

I met with the mayor in his office.

After our presentation to the Council, we won a unanimous 7-0 vote.  It was one of the great moments of my life!

The elders of that church and I had a lot to learn after our defeat before the planning commission … and after we did our homework, God blessed us with a favorable decision.

But when a church board is having trouble with their pastor … and if they’re thinking about forcing him to leave … the last thing many boards do is ask outsiders for counsel.

Why don’t boards ask for counsel?

*Some board members think, “We have to keep everything confidential.  We don’t want anyone to know what’s happening between us and the pastor.”  They may be concerned about their own reputations … that they won’t be perceived as competent managers or peaceful believers.

*Others boards think, “We don’t need any outside counsel.  Just look at the composition of this board: a CEO, an attorney, a salesman, two small business owners, a school principal, and an accountant.  We’re all professionals.  We know what to do with wayward employees.”

*Still others think, “I suppose we could contact an outside consultant, but we know more about our church and our pastor than that person ever will.”

*The pastor probably knows who could be contacted for counsel, but the board won’t be inclined to consult with his network.

*And because of the nature of the conflict, the board can’t ask the pastor for help … even though he might be able to help them more than anybody else.

There are several problems with this kind of thinking among board members:

*For starters, a church is not strictly a business.  While it shouldn’t be run like a bad business, the purpose of a church isn’t to make money or reward investors, but to transform people’s lives spiritually.  Just because board members have experience in the “real world” doesn’t mean they understand the unique dynamics inside a congregation.

*Many people in a church view their congregation more as a family than a business.  Their relationships … including their relationship with the pastor … are on their frontal lobes far more than the church’s budget or buildings.  Most people will view a board-pastor clash negatively … no matter how the board frames it … because it will disrupt that “family feeling.”

*Although pastoral terminations are an increasingly common occurrence in the Christian community, the great majority of churchgoers … including board members … have never experienced the aftermath of a termination before.  They may feel that they can control the narrative and keep everyone in the church united, but they are woefully unprepared for the unpredictable events that happen after the pastor leaves.

For example, I was once thinking about firing a staff member, so I consulted with an experienced pastor.  He told me, “Well, after you let this person go, you’ll have three tough months, and then things will revert to normal.”  But when a board dismisses a pastor, they might experience three tough years … or their church may never recover.

*Outside experts may not know much about “our church” and “our pastor,” but those who have studied even two or three terminations know infinitely more than those who have never experienced even one.

Those who contact me most often are pastors under fire … pastors who have just been terminated … and board members who are having trouble with their pastor – including those who may be thinking about forcing him to resign.

While asking questions about each situation, I am constantly amazed at how many church boards think they know what they’re doing even though they’re only consulting with themselves.

Allow me to share my experience from six-and-a-half years ago.

The conflict I experienced in my last church surfaced in October 2009.  At that time:

*I had been a pastor for 35 1/2 years … 10 1/2 years in that same church.

*I had a longtime interest and passion in church conflict and pastoral termination.

*I had watched three of the pastors I served under as a staff member suffer attacks.  One resigned under fire, while another was voted out of office.

*I had an extensive library on conflict and termination which I knew well … and that library grew significantly when I wrote my doctoral project.

*I had a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary with an emphasis on church conflict.

And yet, in the week following the surfacing of the conflict, I contacted 17 Christian leaders, asking for their counsel … including seminary professors, church consultants, megachurch pastors, and former board chairmen.

Why did I do that?

*I needed to know what was really going on.  I thought I knew, but I wasn’t completely sure.

*I was too close to the situation to see things objectively.  I needed the advice of people who could see both the conflict and my situation dispassionately.

*I needed to know what my next moves should be … and what I shouldn’t do or say.

*I also needed to know what might happen inside the congregation over the next few days.  For example, here’s what I wrote in my book Church Coup about a conversation I had with a church consultant who has since became a mentor:

“Wilson said that when the board met with the staff … that was a serious offense in our state.  If the board had acted in a similar fashion in a secular organization, the aggrieved person could have sued them for millions of dollars. Wilson also asked if I was pastor of the church founded by Norman, and when I confirmed that I was – and that the communication between us had become sparse – he wrote: ‘Does not surprise me on Norman – and I have a hunch that THEY have dialed him in!’ Wilson predicted that if the board resigned, thirty to fifty people would also leave with them, and those who were in touch with the Holy Spirit (especially those with the gift of showing mercy) would later tell me that they knew something was wrong but couldn’t put their finger on it.”

I then recounted another conversation:

“Later that morning, I had a conversation with someone (I’ll call him Richard) who runs a Christian consulting firm. Richard immediately asked me about the personal and vocational lives of the board members. He believed that what was happening in their private lives had a direct bearing on how they were handling church matters. Richard stated that many boards are struggling with three primary issues in our day: they experience fear because God is not big enough for them; they struggle with stewardship because they believe the church is ‘all about us’ and not a lost world; and they struggle with faith. Satan has figured out how to defeat us by using power as an aphrodisiac. Richard suggested that one way we could seek redress was through arbitration.”

Before a church board tries to force their pastor to quit … or fires him outright … they should consult with the following individuals:

*A labor attorney to make sure they’re “dotting their i’s” and “crossing their “t’s” legally.  This should also involve a thorough discussion of any relevant passages on pastor-church conflict in the bylaws.

*A biblical expert … maybe a seminary professor … who can tell them what Scripture does and doesn’t say about terminating a pastor.

*A church consultant who is well-versed in pastoral termination who can (a) help the board decide if the pastor needs to be corrected or fired, and (b) walk the board through how to take action so there is minimal harm done to the pastor, his family, and the congregation.

*Several experienced pastors who either know what it’s like to be under fire or who have undergone termination themselves.  Listening to such pastors will give the board increased sensitivity.

What about denominational executives, like a district minister?

Probably 90% of the time, they’ll side with the board instead of the pastor because (a) they just want the conflict to go away, (b) they don’t have a clue how to resolve matters, and (c) they just want to keep the money flowing from the church to district coffers.

What about contacting a former pastor from that church?

Most boards don’t know about the rivalries and jealousies between pastors from the same church.  For that reason, I don’t recommend this approach.

What about contacting a board member from a church that already terminated a pastor?

If the termination was just and handled thoughtfully … maybe.  But if the termination blew up in the board’s face … why go there?

How about contacting a Christian mediator?

If a board decides to go this route, they need to interview the mediator, and let the pastor interview him as well.  The board cannot force a mediator down the pastor’s throat … and vice versa.

What are the benefits of a board seeking outside counsel?

*The board learns better how pastors think.  For example, pastors are often thinking “outreach,” while board members are thinking “maintenance.”  How tragic to force out a pastor who is just trying to take Christ’s Great Commission seriously.

*The board expands their thinking from “let’s get rid of the pastor” to “we need to keep our church healthy during this process.”

*The board learns about the pitfalls and land mines involved in terminating a pastor.

*The board will hear differing approaches … giving them better options from which to choose.

*The board will learn how their own emotional reactions can blind them to reality.

*The board will learn the importance of giving the pastor a fair and just severance package if they choose termination.

Why don’t boards seek thorough and experienced counsel more often?

*Pride.  They don’t think they need any help.

*Consulting with outsiders takes time, and some board members are so anxious that they just want to get things over with.

*The board usually doesn’t have a budget for seeking outside help, but good counsel isn’t cheap.  Yet spending $5,000 to $10,000 now may save the church hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years.

*Many boards are too incompetent to know that they aren’t competent.

Where does God factor into all this?

I left this issue until last because, in my view, many boards that struggle with their pastor don’t consult with God and then do His will … they ask God to bless their decisions and then move full speed ahead.

And that’s why God doesn’t bless them when they move to remove their pastor.  They never asked God what they should do … they told God what they were going to do instead.

Personally, I think much of the time, the board wants to fire the pastor because they aren’t used to praying for him … they’re just used to complaining about him.

But if they really met and prayed for their pastor, do they expect that anything would change?

And if they don’t pray for him, what does that say about them?

 

 

 

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When I listen to the stories of pastors who have undergone a forced termination, I almost always ask them this question:

“What were the charges against you?”

If a pastor committed a major offense like heresy (and I haven’t met one yet who has), sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, then he knows precisely why the governing board removed him from office, and has only himself to blame.

But in more than 95% of the cases, by any objective measure, the pastor isn’t guilty of any major offense.

And much of the time, the pastor is in the dark as to why the board pressured him to resign.

If I was a church board member, and I was concerned about my pastor’s behavior or ministry, I would tell my fellow leaders, “We need to design and follow a fair and just process for dealing with our concerns about the pastor.  Since he isn’t guilty of any impeachable offense, we need to give him the benefit of the doubt and bring him into our deliberations.”

This means following three principles:

First, the pastor needs to know what people – including board members – are saying about him.

Second, the pastor needs to be able to respond to any charges made against him.

Finally, the pastor should be allowed to suggest ways to improve his behavior and ministry.

A minority of church boards follow the above three principles, and when I speak with such a board member, I always commend him for trying to be fair.

But the majority act differently.  Here’s a typical scenario:

Pastor Tim receives a phone call at his home late one night from his friend Nate, who tells him that the church board has met in secret twice over the past month.  Since Pastor Tim is also a board member, and he wasn’t invited to those meetings, he immediately assumes that the board is talking about him.

And Tim’s instincts are correct.

Since nobody on the board has spoken to Tim about any concerns about him, Tim asks himself a series of questions:

*Am I guilty of a major offense?  No.

*Am I aware of anyone who wants to get rid of me?  No.

*Am I aware of anyone who is angry with me?  No.

*Am I aware of any factions that are forming against me?  No.

*Have our attendance and giving slid recently?  Maybe a bit, but I can’t believe I’d be fired for a temporary slump.

Even though Tim is confident before God that he has done nothing to merit dismissal, he doesn’t sleep well that night.

Four days later, Don, the board chairman, asks to meet with Pastor Tim privately for breakfast the next day.  After another sleepless night, Don and Tim meet.

Don begins, “Pastor, a group has formed inside our church that has some serious concerns about the way you do ministry.  The board has listened to their concerns and we believe that for the good of the church, you should resign as pastor effective immediately.”

Pastor Tim cannot believe what he’s hearing.  He’s absolutely stunned by Don’s revelation.

After a long and awkward pause, Tim asks, “What are their concerns about me?”

Don responds, “We’re not at liberty to say, but they’re important enough that we think you should resign.”

Tim then asks, “Who are these people, Don?”

Don responds, “They’re spoken to us confidentially and we told them we wouldn’t reveal their names.”

Tim then says, “Don, that’s not fair!  I need to know who is making charges against me and what those charges are or you’re participating in a kangaroo court.”

But Don doesn’t budge, saying, “Look, Tim, this is in the best interests of everyone involved.”

Ready to blow his top, Tim tells Don, “I don’t agree with you, Don, unless you tell me who is saying what about me.”

But Don won’t reveal a thing to his pastor about the charges.

At this point, let me quote from church conflict expert Speed Leas in his manual Moving Your Church Through Conflict:

“A person being charged or condemned by others should have the right to know what those charges are and [have] an opportunity to respond to them. Denying this opportunity plays into the hands of real or potential manipulators, allows untrue or distorted information to be circulated and establishes a precedent that the way to deal with differences is to talk about rather than to talk with others. I have also found it true that individuals who talk about others out of their presence tend to exaggerate their charges, believing they will not be quoted.”

The process that Leas describes is eminently fair, and yet many church boards violate these principles when they conspire to get rid of their pastor.

Why do church boards do this? Why do they engage in practices toward a man of God that are utterly unjust?

Supposition #1: The board ‘s reasons for getting rid of the pastor are so petty that they’d be embarrassed to reveal them.

A common reason for getting rid of a pastor is that one or two important people just don’t like him.  But that’s not an objective charge … that’s a subjective preference … and few people are going to let their pastor know their feelings.

I have a friend who was dismissed and never given a reason.  All he could do was speculate.  He finally determined that he was fired because he didn’t visit a board member’s child who was in the hospital on an outpatient basis one day.

Supposition #2: Some key people in the church – board members, staff members, or prominent leaders – have threatened to leave the church unless the pastor is sacked. 

Some of these leaders are personal friends of board members or their spouses.  Some are longtime members or large donors.  The board reasons, “It’s easier to get another pastor than it is to replace those who stand against the pastor.”  So they jettison any kind of fair process and shut their mouths.

Supposition #3: Some board members – especially those who run small businesses – decide to treat the pastor the way they would treat one of their employees.

What do many small business owners tell their employees when they let them go?  “You just aren’t working out.”  They speak in vague terms because they feel it isn’t worth it to get into specifics.  That same mentality is directed toward pastors in too many situations … but a pastor isn’t a sales clerk or a custodian.  He’s someone called by God to lead God’s people and preach God’s Word.  Big difference.

Supposition #4: The board doesn’t want to hurt the pastor’s feelings by being specific.

But what could be worse than being summarily and instantly dismissed?  I for one would want to know exactly why I was being elbowed out the door … and I wouldn’t let the board off the hook by letting them resort to platitudes and vague generalities.  If I had a blind spot in my character or behavior, I’d want to know about it so I could work on it … or I could be dismissed from my next position.

Supposition #5: Someone in church leadership – probably on the board – has a vendetta against the pastor.

That person doesn’t want to implement Jesus’ words and confront the pastor as Matthew 18:15-17 specifies, so they bully or manipulate the board to carry out their wishes … and the board passively goes along with them.  This supposition says far more about the board than it does about the pastor.

I believe that many church boards dismiss their pastor prematurely.  They never tell him directly about their concerns so the pastor is never given a chance to make course corrections.  They also fail to bring up issues as they arise.  Speed Leas comments:

“Healthy and fair confrontation should tell the ‘offender’ what is wrong, and prepare the way for negotiation (or collaboration) toward agreement and a better relationship. Confrontation which demands that things be done one way, and does not allow for others to shape the way those things are done, is oppressive and demeaning. There are times when a board or supervisor (the one with authority to direct others) must confront without negotiation or collaboration; but even in these cases the ‘offender’ should have ample opportunity to perform differently before being dismissed from the organization. This is often difficult and done poorly in church situations. Instead of clearly describing to an employee or volunteer what is wanted and seeking to find a way to achieve a mutually satisfactory relationship, too often church leaders avoid confrontation until all hope of improving the working relationship is lost, or they confront and expect immediate change on the part of others without looking at what else in the organization might need to be changed.”

I’m sure there are other reasons why the governing board doesn’t tell the pastor why they’re pushing him out, but these are the ones that come most readily to mind.

If the board refuses to tell the pastor why they’re letting him go, what, if anything, can the pastor do about it?

If I were Pastor Tim, I’d tell Don … at breakfast or later on: “If you want to fire me, go ahead, but realize that you’re going to have to explain your decision to (a) the church staff; (b) other church leaders; (c) the congregation as a whole; (d) members who will contact individual board members; (e) the district minister (assuming the church is part of a denomination); (f) any interim pastor you might hire; and (g) the next pastor.

“And believe me, if you tell any or all of these parties why you’re letting me go, much of what you say will eventually get back to me, and you and the rest of the board will come off as cowards.

“So here is what I propose: I ask that you and one other board member meet with me as soon as possible so you can tell me the real reason why you are letting me go.  If you want to fire me, go ahead, but I will not give you a resignation letter unless you’re honest with me and until we agree on a severance package.”

If the board is intent on flexing its muscles, they might fire Pastor Time outright, but believe me … they are going to have a lot of trouble down the road.

This is just my opinion, but I believe that church boards like having a strong pastor when it comes to theology, and biblical morality, and critiquing the culture, but they want a weak pastor when they want to enforce their will upon him.  They want him to roll over and play dead, and if he doesn’t, they don’t want him around any more.

This is where church boards need to remember that nobody comes to church to watch the board make decisions.  They come primarily because they enjoy the pastor’s ministry.

All the more reason why every church board should treat the pastor fairly and justly.

 

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There was a murder inside our local McDonald’s three weeks ago.

A woman shot and killed a man – allegedly her boyfriend – inside the restaurant.

Whatever he did or didn’t do, he certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered in public.

This is all we know:

http://myvalleynews.com/local/victim-in-mcdonalds-shooting-identified-as-murrieta-man/

My wife was eating at a nearby restaurant with a friend and saw all the commotion as she was leaving.

I worked two years at a McDonald’s in my late teens, so I can imagine how management handled matters after the police let the witnesses leave later that evening.

It’s possible that:

*Employees were instructed not to talk about the incident with any current or future customers.

*The employees who were working that night were traumatized and offered counseling.

*Some employees heard about the incident later and quit on the spot.

*Those who were inside McDonald’s when the killing occurred won’t want to return for a long time.  And customers like me might choose not to patronize that particular McDonald’s just because of the nightmarish memory attached to it.  (“Wow, somebody actually died right here on this floor.”)

*After the crime scene was thoroughly investigated, all evidence of the murder was scrubbed clean so McDonald’s could open the following morning.

I have a book buried in a box in my storage area called How to Murder a Minister, and although few pastors are ever blown away (I do have a few articles where that has actually happened), many pastors lose their jobs … careers … and reputations when they’re dismissed, even if they did nothing wrong.

There are some disturbing parallels between this incident and the way that many church boards handle matters after they have unjustly forced out their pastor.

Let me reiterate that some pastors deserve to be terminated because they are guilty of a major offense like heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior.  But as I’ve written many times, only 7% of the pastors who are terminated are guilty of sinful conduct.  45% of the time, a pastor’s termination is due to a faction in the church.

So what I write below has to do with those situations where a church board either fires a pastor or forces him to resign for political reasons, not for moral or spiritual reasons:

*Presuming that the board does address the pastor’s departure in public, they will mention it once and resolve never to mention it again.  Their attitude is, “There’s nothing to see here.  Move along.”

That attitude might work for fringe attendees, but the closer to the core people are, the more they want to know “what’s really going on.”  And if membership means anything at all, church members should be told a lot more than they usually are.

*There are people in every church who know the board members personally and may have been fed advance or inside information.  (Certainly this applies to the spouses of many board members.)

But there are also others who had no knowledge of any problems between the pastor and board, and some may be traumatized by the announcement of the pastor’s departure.  This is especially true if the pastor led them to Christ … baptized them … dedicated their children … performed their wedding … conducted a family funeral … or counseled them during a crisis.

Much of the time, the church board doesn’t factor in these people when they railroad their pastor right out of their fellowship.

After their pastor has departed, to whom will these people go when they need prayer … a reassuring word from God … or help with a difficult problem?

Certainly not to anyone on the church board … or anyone on the staff who might have been involved in pushing out their pastor.

Just when they need a pastor the most, these people suddenly find themselves shepherdless.

*When a pastor is forced out, some people immediately withdraw from the congregation because the pastor is the reason they attended that specific church.

And over the coming months … as the board maintains silence about the pastor’s departure … more and more people who loved that pastor will gradually walk away from that church.

Some Sundays, the pastor’s supporters may even watch the church board serve communion … notice that their pastor is absent … and suffer heartache all over again.

*Sunday after Sunday, it will become increasingly difficult for some parishioners to rise, clean up, get in their cars, drive to the church, walk inside, sit down, and feel good because every time they follow that pattern, they’re reminded that the church board “took out” their beloved pastor.

A friend told me about an incident some months after I left our last church.  She came to worship … discovered that she was sitting by one of my most vocal detractors (who was never disciplined) … was traumatized once more … and never set foot in that church again.

In fact, there are people from our last church who didn’t attend any church for years because of the ongoing pain after their pastor was removed.

*All evidence of the “crime” has to be cleaned up and thrown away.  Minutes of board meetings must be concealed and buried.  Board members must pledge strict confidentiality.  They will agree together how they’re going to spin things with the congregation.

Potential questioners are identified … strategies for dealing with them are created … and the board convinces itself, “In a couple of months, everyone will forget all about what happened.”

Because it’s not just the future of the congregation that’s at stake … it’s also the reputations of the board members …  who must keep a tight lid on the tactics they used to force the pastor to quit.

I realize there is a limited amount of information that a church board can give a congregation when a pastor leaves a church … whether the pastor left voluntarily or under duress.

The best boards don’t want to harm the pastor’s career, and know if they did, they might be sued … even if the lawsuit goes nowhere.

The worst boards don’t care about the pastor’s career, but they do care about their reputations … and their power inside the church … so they usually share virtually nothing and hope that everything just blows away.

But I believe that for a church to heal, the leaders need to tell their congregation as much as they can, not as little as they can.

The problem, of course, is that as long as the very people who pushed out the pastor stay on the board, they don’t want to do or say anything to jeopardize their positions.

If they tell the truth, they’ll have to resign.

If they lie, they might be able to stay … so they lie.

Many boards disseminate information through the grapevine … emphasizing their virtues and the pastor’s flaws … and tell people, “We can’t divulge anything about the pastor’s resignation” in public, but they’ll turn around and slander him in private.

But the board has far better options than stonewalling or deceiving people:

*The board can announce the pastor’s departure inside or at the end of a worship service, and at least everybody will officially hear at the same time that their pastor is gone.

*The board can call a meeting of the congregation and share a bit more information … maybe even taking some questions … although most boards won’t be inclined to let people make comments.  (Such people will be labeled “divisive.”)

*The board can meet with people in groups and share additional information in more intimate settings.  A friend told me this is how the board handled matters after her pastor resigned, and I very much like this approach as long as the board is both loving and honest.

But if I’m a member of the church, and the board doesn’t deem it appropriate for me to know why the pastor was forced to resign, I’d do the following two things:

First, I’d contact the pastor and see if he feels free to discuss what happened.  If he doesn’t want to talk about it … or if he’s signed an agreement saying he won’t discuss it … wait a month or two and try again … and keep trying until you get something concrete.  (His wife didn’t sign an agreement, though, and she may be all too happy to tell you what really happened.)

Second, I’d contact one or two board members and ask for two pieces of information: a written description of the process used to terminate the pastor, and the general timeline involved.

The board certainly isn’t violating any law or ethical standard by sharing the process they used to make their decision, but they need to share something or it just may be that (a) one person on the board pressured the others to fire the pastor, and everybody caved, or (b) the board made their decision hastily.

Without knowing the specific charges, the process or the timeline might be all that is needed to determine if the pastor’s termination was just or unjust.

In the case of the woman who committed murder at McDonald’s, she’s currently in jail.  There will be a trial down the road.  Witnesses will be called … evidence will be presented … charges will be brought … truth will be told … and justice will be served.

But deep inside thousands of Christian churches, nobody is ever held to account for brandishing the weapon of deception … decimating the pastor’s career … destroying his reputation … and terminating his friendships.

That is, nobody is ever held to account in this life.

But Judgment Day is coming in the next life, and for those who have intentionally sought to harm their pastor … in the words of a young Bob Dylan … “I’d hate to be you on that dreadful day.”

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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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