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Posts Tagged ‘church board and pastoral termination’

I have been blessed to become friends with many pastors and their wives through this blog.  Sometimes a pastor reads my articles and shares them with his wife, while other times a wife shares them with her husband. 

Several weeks ago, I asked a wife whose husband went through a forced termination if she would be willing to write an article about how her husband’s departure affected her personally.  Because she loves writing – and has a blog of her own – she quickly submitted the following article.  I’m choosing to keep her identity anonymous so that nobody can trace this article back to her.

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“Well, you will never guess what happened at the deacon/elder meeting tonight,” my husband said as he sat down on the edge of the bed.  I figured it must be monumental considering the late hour. 

Then he proceeded to tell me about the conversation that had taken place and his reasons for resigning.

Yes … resigning.

Somehow I knew that things were building up to this but hearing it verbalized finally made my suspicions a reality.

How had we come to this place and what would we do?

He resigned without having another job lined up.  Nobody in their right mind does that!  We still had our youngest child living at home and heading into his senior year of high school.

Despite all of the questions whirling around in my head, I knew that he had been backed into a corner and if he hadn’t resigned, the people who wanted him out would keep pressing in until eventually he would be fired.

There had been the few disgruntled people who weren’t happy with his leadership.  They found a few others who had felt slighted or hurt or ignored … or claimed they weren’t being spiritually fed … or that my husband’s sermons were too negative … or that they weren’t hard hitting enough.

They had talked with each other, had secret meetings and eventually had convinced the deacon/elder board that the pastor needed to change.  (After having a fairly uneventful pastorate for almost two decades, how does one change and become someone else?)

My husband apologized for any ways that people might have been hurt, though most of them were nameless to “protect their anonymity.”  It was a no-win situation.

There was an agenda that had taken on a life of its own.  Without any possibility of due process occurring, we knew it was over.

As I watched this man whom I deeply respected begin to grieve and mourn the many losses that accompany this sort of situation, I began to enter into a journey of my own.

It started with a fog of mainly going through the motions of life while trying to figure out the next step.  We had just moved out of a parsonage and bought our own house.  We even had major projects we were in the middle of.

How would my husband get another pastorate after this one did not end well?  What if he didn’t want to pastor anymore and has no training for any other type of job?  Where might we have to move?  What about aging parents and our children who were all in various transitions of life?

Those were just the practical questions I was trying to process.

The other issues I wrestled with were the hardest.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  I thought we were all Christians?  Is this how the body of Christ is supposed to treat their pastor?

There was no doubt in my mind that my husband wasn’t perfect.  Good grief, I was married to the man!  However, when a pastor is attacked, the one person who would be his best character witness and knows him more than anyone else gets the least amount of input.  I knew him better than anyone and I didn’t have a voice.

Nobody saw the countless times he wrestled in prayer for some of these people.  They didn’t know the many ways he would alter his schedule or put personal time aside to counsel them or give them a helping hand when needed. While they were believing the worst about him, most of them were people he would have called “friend” and would have certainly considered a brother in Christ.  He would have dropped everything to have been there for them if he was needed or given them his last dime if he knew he could help them. 

He was a good pastor and a caring shepherd, but my opinion didn’t count.  I could do nothing to help my husband but stand with him in his suffering.

I as well struggled with personal hurt.  I had poured myself into these people and their families.  I had babysat their kids, fed them meals in my home, cared for them, prayed for them, been vulnerable with them, laughed and cried with them.

I began to see certain women who I thought were friends withdraw from me with no explanation.  Who had they talked to?  They hadn’t talked with me or even asked what was going on or how I was doing.  I began to realize that other people were influencing their opinions and that they didn’t want to know mine.

On the other hand, would I have told them if they had asked?  What details would be appropriate to share and which would not be?  How do I reflect Christ in this situation?  What does it look like?

I spent a lot of time reading blogs such as http://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org.  I devoured books on pastoral termination and church conflict.  I found great comfort in the Psalms, identifying with David as he cried out to God in those situations where he felt attacked and alone.  I prayed often that God would guard my heart against bitterness.  I desired that He would allow me to learn, grow and somehow be able to make use of the pain.

I learned a lot about the lonely suffering of Jesus.  He was forsaken by almost everyone at his crucifixion.  The disciples ran away, the people who were shouting “Hosanna” the week before were now screaming at Him, mocking Him or simply not even there.  We are told in John 2:24 that Jesus did not entrust Himself to any man because He knew what was in their hearts.  I began to coin a phrase: “Love them deeply but hold them loosely.”  I realized that Jesus loved man enough to die for him but He also knew that He could not fully trust in men because they did not have pure hearts.

I decided there were four types of people in these sort of situations:

*There are those who mean to do a pastor harm.  Sometimes they harbor a grudge; sometimes they have selfish ambition or control issues and operate out of evil places.

*There are those who just follow along because the first group influences them and they don’t know what to believe.

*There are those who really love the pastor and don’t like what is happening but they are not vocal or are too intimidated to find their voice.

*By God’s incredible grace, there are those amazing few people who may stand up and be your greatest supporters.  Because we were blessed to have some of those godly brothers and sisters in Christ who knew how to support us, it has given me the understanding and the ability to do that for fellow pastors and wives when they find themselves in similar situations.

One of God’s gifts to me is exhortation so I cannot leave this place without offering the hope that He will take care of you.  God provided for us and He indeed pulled a Romans 8:28.

We are in a new pastorate and provided for well.  We have moved far from our families but God has taken care of all of them.  His faithfulness and provision have humbled us and taken our faith and trust in Him to a whole new level.

This does not in any way nullify that there was wrongdoing on the part of some.  However, we leave them to the One who knows what is in the hearts of all men.

My prayer for you comes from Paul’s words in Philippians 1:3-6: “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

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If you are the wife of a current or former pastor, and you’d like a safe place online to share thoughts and feelings about what you’ve experienced in ministry with other pastor’s wives, please drop me a quick email at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and I will pass on your information to this article’s author.  Thank you!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back, I made two mistakes at this juncture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is not going to happen here at Grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess which group we want to stay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any questions for me?

 

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Jim Harbaugh is a great football coach.

He’s won everywhere he’s gone as a head coach: the University of San Diego, Stanford University, and the San Francisco 49ers.

And he’s not only won, but quickly turned failing programs around, which is why his alma mater, the University of Michigan, hired him immediately after Harbaugh and the 49ers parted ways.

The 49ers have been my favorite National Football League team since 1981 when quarterback Joe Montana connected with Dwight Clark in the end zone for “The Catch” in the last minute of the NFC title game against the favored Dallas Cowboys.

So I’ve followed Jim Harbaugh’s four years in San Francisco pretty closely.

To put it mildly, Harbaugh is a very intense individual … but he’s also a winner.  He took the 49ers to three straight NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl after the team experienced years in the football wilderness.

But the team’s owner and key front office personnel decided they wanted to get rid of Harbaugh months before the 2014 season ended, even though he had an additional year left on his contract.  (The 49ers finished 8-8.)

The 49ers just hired a new coach: Jim Tomsula, their defensive line coach.  The columnists in the Bay Area are not happy about the hire.  In their view, Tomsula is NOT Harbaugh … or even close.

In fact, Tim Kawakami, columnist for the Mercury News in San Jose, recently wrote a column in which he makes the following statement:

“What was the 49ers’ plan here?  Now it’s clear: Letting go of Harbaugh was the plan.  That’s it:  Get rid of the guy who gave them all palpitations.  Nothing more.  There was no other thought put to this beyond dumping their nemesis and for that they planned and plotted and leaked for months and months.”

Kawakami goes on:

“They knew they wanted Harbaugh out.  They knew he was popular.  They had to go backwards to figure out WHY they would publicly announce he was out.

Their solution:

-Talk about ‘winning with class’;

-Declare that any season ending without a Lombardi Trophy is a failure and a potential fire-able offense;

-Pretend it was a ‘mutual separation’;

-Let it be known that you’re talking to a lot of great candidates;

-Hire Tomsula, the comfortable in-house candidate who basically is the opposite of Harbaugh in all personal ways, especially in dealing with ownership;

-And, most fatefully of all, communicate to all that you don’t think the coach is that important, anyway.”

Does all of this sound familiar?

When a church’s governing leaders  or a powerful faction decide they want to push out a pastor, they usually focus all their energies on getting rid of him.

And in turn, they don’t have much of a plan … if any … as to how the church will fare without him.

Getting rid of him is their goal.

What’s their plan beyond that?

Zilch.

I once attended a spring training baseball game with a friend who served with me on a church board for many years.  While talking about church leaders that plot to get rid of their pastor, I asked my friend, “Don’t church boards know how much they will destroy their church when they run off their pastor?”

My friend stated matter-of-factly, “They don’t care.”

In these situations, board members give their best energies to making sure the pastor leaves.  But when the dust settles, now they have to:

*Hire an interim pastor.

*Form a search team to find a new senior pastor.

*Placate the departing pastor’s supporters.

*Assign other staff/lay leaders to handle the departing pastor’s work load.

*Address the multitude of complaints that will come their way.

In addition, they’ll have to deal with:

*Reduced attendance as the pastor’s supporters leave.

*Cutting back the number of worship services to hide all the empty chairs.

*Decreased giving as donors walk out the door.

*Keeping the staff intact with that decreased giving.

*Preventing the staff that supported the pastor from leaving.

*Plunging morale as the church gradually enters an entropy phase.

*Answering questions from churchgoers such as, “Why did the departing pastor leave?” and “What’s going to happen to our church?” and “When are we going to get a new pastor?”

The temptation is for the board to blame everything on the departing pastor.  After all, he’s not around to defend himself.

But when church boards do this … and all too many do … they can ruin a pastor’s reputation and choke his ability to find a new church ministry … forever.

I’m not arguing that every pastor should stay in a church regardless of his behavior.  As I’ve said many times, heresy, sexual immorality, and criminal behavior disqualify a pastor from leadership, and it’s a thankless task to sit on a church board that has to clean up such a theological or moral mess.

But much of the time in churches, the pastor is forced out because he’s earned too much authority for the board and/or staff to control.

Tim Kawakami makes this observation in his article on Harbaugh and the 49ers:

“My point is that [the 49ers’ brain trust] set themselves up for this by treating Jim Harbaugh—and his achievements—as cavalierly as they did all last year and for convincing themselves that there would be no ill effects from it.  Wrong.”

A far better solution … one that all too few churches try … is to hire a consultant … or a conflict manager … or a mediator … anyone both the pastor and board can trust … who will help them learn how to work together more favorably.

Rather than forcing out the pastor and sending the church into a descending spiral, wouldn’t it be better for everyone concerned if the board at least tried to bridge their differences with their pastor first?

The future of many pastors and churches is at stake.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alex Trebek was not happy.

The thirty-year host of the TV game show Jeopardy was hosting Kids Week on the program during the first week in December.

One of the contestants ended up $1400 in the red, and according to show rules, she couldn’t compete in Final Jeopardy.

Trebek said to the girl: “We have bad news for you, because you’re in a negative situation, it means you won’t be around for Final Jeopardy, but you’ll automatically pick up $1000 for a third place finish.”

The girl was visibly upset and ran backstage.

The girl’s mother later wrote a letter to Sony, the show’s producers: “If he had taken the time, he would have known, like you do, that my daughter is not a sore loser, and does not become emotional solely over losing a game,” she wrote. “She was upset about not being able to completely play the game to the end… I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for that.”

Trebek was accused of not making a credible effort to make the girl feel better and was asked to re-tape the moment right before the girl became upset and ran backstage.

Pastors go through this stuff all the time.

During my first pastorate, I was reading William Manchester’s biography of General Douglas MacArthur called American Caesar.  I discovered that I knew next to nothing about MacArthur or his accomplishments … like writing Japan’s constitution after World War 2 ended.

During one sermon, I selected an illustration from the book, a story where the Americans won and the Japanese lost.

A young couple attended our church.  The wife was Caucasian … and her husband looked Caucasian.

His wife later told me that he was part Japanese, part Caucasian … and that because of my story, he probably wouldn’t be coming back to the church.

How could I know that he was part Japanese … and how could I know that my story might offend him?

From the beginning of my pastoral ministry, I wrote out my sermons word for word, and then discarded my manuscript as much as I could.

I realize this style isn’t in fashion nowadays because congregations expect their pastors to speak without notes.

But one reason I chose to write out my messages was because I had time to think through how to say what I wanted to say so I would offend the fewest possible people.

But just like Alex Trebek, a pastor never knows when he’s going to say something offensive … or who is going to be offended.

My wife runs a preschool in our home with about 25 kids attending at various times.  She can say the exact same thing in the same way to 24 kids and they’ll comply, but the 25th child will burst into tears.

Should she then aim her directives toward the 24 kids or the one kid who is overly sensitive?

And should a pastor speak to the congregation as a whole or change his language so some people won’t be offended?

I once heard Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church say that about 15% of his congregation might be classified as dysfunctional, while the other 85% were pretty healthy people.  (This was at least twenty years ago, so the percentage of dysfunctional people might be higher now.)  Hybels believed that a pastor should direct his message toward the 85% and direct the 15% toward counseling.

How does that sound to you?

Pastors have two choices when it comes to preaching: they can speak in a politically and emotionally correct way … in which case they won’t say much at all … or they can be themselves before God and just let it fly.

But it’s not just up to the pastor, but up to the church board as well.

If the church board backs the pastor’s right to say whatever he wants before God … even if some don’t always agree with him … that pastor’s ministry can flourish.

But if the board demands that the pastor speak in such a way that he doesn’t offend the wrong people … that pastor’s ministry may not succeed because he’ll always wonder if he’s offending somebody by what he says.

During my last ministry, I said something in a message that really upset one couple.  They complained to the church board and wanted my head.

The board chairman listened to a recording of my message, felt I didn’t say anything wrong, and told the couple just that.

They didn’t stop their crusade against me until they left the church … livid … but I felt supported, and free to continue to say whatever God wanted me to say.

In the end, Alex Trebek wrote the following words to the show’s producers: “If you all think I should retape the opening, I will.  But I want to say that for 30 years I’ve defended our show against attacks inside and out.  But it doesn’t seem to operate both ways.  When I’m vilified, corporate (and certainly legal) always seems to say ‘don’t say anything and it’ll blow over,’ and I’m not feeling support from the producers, and that disappoints the _______ out of me.”

As a former pastor for 36 years, I understand where the Jeopardy host is coming from.

When you’re attacked, if you sense support from those you account to, you’ll forge ahead with greater confidence and boldness.

But if those you account to collapse on you when you’re attacked, your morale will plunge, and you’ll start looking for a way out … which is why Alex Trebek ended his statement by saying, “Maybe it’s time for me to move on.”

My favorite verse on preaching is John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Fundamentalists focus on speaking the truth … but often without grace.

Liberals focus on speaking with grace … but usually have little to say.

But biblical pastors prioritize truth in content … and grace in presentation.

And those are the ministries that make it to Final Jeopardy.

 

 

 

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