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Posts Tagged ‘church bullies’

I write a lot about the toll that forced terminations have on pastors and their wives … both personally and professionally.

I also write about the effects that pushing out an innocent pastor has on an entire congregation and its future.

But there is one group that I … and many in the Christian world … tend to forget about when it comes to pastoral exits: the average churchgoer.

Several years ago, I met with a longtime friend at Starbucks.  My book Church Coup had just been published and he wanted to discuss what I wrote.

My friend told me that he and his wife had been attending a church where they really liked the pastor … but seemingly overnight, the pastor disappeared … and the word was that the pastor did not leave voluntarily.

The church quickly hired a new pastor, and once again, my friend and his wife really liked him, but within a short period of time, that pastor was pushed out as well.

My friend and his wife were both hurt and sickened by what they had experienced.  He admitted that the two of them were not currently attending a local church although he didn’t rule out going to church sometime in the future.

My friend would be an asset to any church.  He has an earned doctorate … has taught in a Christian university … and for decades has been a key leader in one of America’s greatest institutions.

But somehow, I doubt that those who pushed out those two pastors even gave someone like my friend a second thought.

I suppose the only way to find out how the average churchgoer feels about their pastor is to call a public meeting and let each person vote on his future … either to give him a vote of confidence or to vote him out of office.

If and when a church does take that step, they’re almost always shooting themselves in both feet … as well as the heart.

Since most church leaders don’t want a pastor-board or pastor-staff rift to become known, they’ll work behind the scenes to try and checkmate their pastor privately.

But … and I ask this question all the time … how many people attend that church because of the pastor … and how many attend because of the pastor’s detractors?

Let’s say Sonrise Church averages 300 adults every Sunday.

And let’s say 15 people … that’s 5% of the congregation … want Pastor Paul to leave.  (That’s a typical percentage.)

And let’s say out of those 15 people:

*there are two board members and their wives.

*two are the associate pastor and his wife.

*there are three couples who believe the associate should be the pastor.

*there are three older individuals who have been in the church since its founding.

Then let’s say that out of the 300 who attend Sonrise:

*240 (that’s 80%) attend that church because they love Pastor Paul’s sermons … leadership … and personality.

*30 attend because they’re loyal to the church as an institution.

*15 attend because they’ve been there for more than 20 years.

*15 want Pastor Paul to leave.

Let me ask several questions about this situation:

First, why do most people attend Sonrise Church? 

They attend Sonrise because of Pastor Paul … pure and simple.

They may have initially come to Sonrise because of a personal invitation or a marketing tool, but they have made Sonrise their church home because they like the pastor.

Virtually nobody attends Sonrise because of the church board or the pastor’s detractors … and it’s highly likely that the great majority of the people couldn’t even name one board member.

Second, how likely is it that those 240 people are aware that 15 people want to get rid of Pastor Paul?

It’s not likely.  Those 15 know they must act in secrecy or risk having their plot exposed.  While they speak almost exclusively to each other, they are open to increasing their ranks if they know for certain someone feels as they do.

But if even a handful of those 240 discovered the plot, they might ream out the plotters, or contact Pastor Paul or another leader with their findings.

Third, why don’t the 15 leave the church quietly instead of trying to force out their pastor?

I wish I knew the answer to this question.  It would save everyone a lot of heartache.

My research and experience tells me that the 15:

*believe they are smarter and more spiritual than their pastor.

*believe they know the direction the church should go in the future.

*believe that one of their group should be the church’s true leader, not the pastor.

*believe that they somehow “own” the church in a greater way than others.  (This is “my” church or “our” church, not “their” church or “his” church.)

*believe that the pastor is either a “bad man” or a “bad leader” and deserves to be sent packing.

Fourth, how likely is it that the 15 are aware of the love and loyalty that the 240 have for Pastor Paul?

Again, it’s not likely.  Most of the 15 have closed ranks and only socialize with each other.  They don’t socialize with many people from the 240 … and when they do, they either discount their feelings or disagree with them.

If someone came to any of the 15 and said to them, “Most of the people in this church have great affection for Pastor Paul,” they would respond, “I don’t think that’s accurate.”  But they’ve isolated themselves from others for so long that they can’t accurately measure reality.

Finally, what’s the best word to describe the feelings of the 15 over against those of the 240?

Sinful … with selfish a close second.

Most of the time, when a faction pushes out an innocent pastor, they are thinking primarily of the wishes and desires of their own group rather than the church as a whole.

In fact, the faction is blind and deaf as to how the average churchgoer feels about their pastor.

I have heard the following statements from non-leaders whose pastors were forced out:

“The spirit has gone out of this church.”

“I don’t think I will ever be the same.”

“I’m so hurt that I can’t bring myself to go to church anywhere.”

“He was the best preacher I ever heard in my life.”

In their book Church Refugees, Dr. Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope claim that a high percentage of Christians are now “the dechurched.”  To save what’s left of their faith, they’re “done” with the local church, and never going back.

I wonder how many of those people were driven away from a church where a small percentage of bullies organized to take out their pastor.

The Book of James ends this way:

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.  James 5:19-20

The implication in this verse is that the “wanderer” has left the fellowship because he or she did something wrong.

But it is entirely possible in our day for someone to wander away from church … or their faith … because of the way that professing Christians treated their pastor.

Thirty years ago, I attended a conference led by Win Arn called “How to Close the Back Door to Your Church.”  I learned a great deal.

One of the things I learned is that a church needs to track its attendees closely.  Once someone misses a few Sundays (at my last church, it was two), they need to be contacted right away.

Once people have missed six to eight Sundays in a row, they are nearly impossible to get back because they have reinvested their lives in other things … and have concluded that “the people of that church don’t care about me.”

When a faction in a church … whether it’s the official board, or just 5% of the congregation, succeeds in forcing out their pastor … the last place they’re focusing is on the average churchgoer.

They’re focusing on keeping the staff in place … selecting guest speakers for future Sundays … finding an interim pastor … and putting together a team to search for a new pastor.

So it’s easy for people who are angry … or bewildered … or hurt to slip out the back door and never be seen again.

It’s getting more and more difficult to win people to Christ these days.

How tragic for Christ’s kingdom if we bring some through the front door … and lose even more through the back door … because we keep beating up our shepherds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,

hands that shed innocent blood,

a heart that devises wicked schemes,

feet that are quick to rush into evil,

a false witness who pours out lies

and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Proverbs 6:16-19

There are individuals scattered throughout Christian churches all over the world who fit Solomon’s description in Proverbs 6:16-19 perfectly.

Some people call them clergy killers.  For my purposes, let’s call them church bullies.

Church bullies attend churches where they become so angry with their pastor that they use any and every method possible to destroy their pastor’s reputation so they can force him to resign and leave their church forever.

When I was writing my doctoral project for Fuller Seminary on antagonism in the local church, my editor found it hard to believe that such Christians really do exist.

To this day, I find it hard to believe they do as well.

But they do, and at a time of their choosing, they spring into action and attempt to run their pastor out of the church … and even out of the community.

Because this kind of behavior makes no sense to most of us, we cannot fathom why a professing Christian – usually a church leader – would engage in this kind of reckless pursuit … but it happens all the time in the Christian community.

What motivates these church bullies?  Why are they so bent on destroying their pastor?

From all my research … from hearing scores of stories from other pastors … and from my own experience … let me suggest seven reasons why church bullies attack their pastor … in no particular order:

First, the church bully wants nonstop access to the pastor but isn’t granted it.

There are persons in every church who want to run the church through the pastor.  They want to become “the power behind the throne.”

So they try and become the pastor’s friend.  They invite him out to lunch … invite him and his wife over for dinner … and even suggest that the pastoral couple vacation with him and his wife.  (I’m going to use the terms “he” and “him” throughout this article even though a woman can also be a church bully.)

Sometimes these individuals will even give the pastor a special monetary gift or advocate that the pastor should receive a larger salary.  By doing this, they’re telling the pastor, “I’m your man.  You can always count on me.”

But if the pastor resists the bully’s machinations … or stops becoming his best friend … or the pastor starts investing himself into someone else … the bully will feel rejected … and may begin to plot against the pastor.

But when the pastor inevitably cuts off the attention – and especially the access – the bully will go berserk, not only because he senses he’s not as close to the pastor as he once was, but because he’s lost his ability to influence the church’s direction.

Second, the church bully believes he knows how to run the church better than the pastor.

According to Proverbs 6:16, this person has “haughty eyes,” meaning they are extremely proud.

Many years ago, I came to a church and met a board member who was full of hostility toward me.

He didn’t even know me, but at my first board meeting, he jumped down my throat over a trivial issue.

Several weeks later, he wanted to meet with me one-on-one.  We sat down together – I still remember the time and place – and he asked me all kinds of questions about the direction I wanted to take the church.

He shared his approach for growing the ministry, but I wasn’t comfortable with it.  His approach was 100% business-oriented.  For example, he wanted to advertise on television and believed that we’d pack the place out if we did.

Over the next few months, this gentleman came after me with a vengeance.  He misrepresented things I said behind my back and tried to turn others against me.

I was a threat to his plans for the church.

When he demanded to speak to me one day, and I delayed phoning him back, he angrily resigned from a volunteer position and left the church.

I was relieved.

God didn’t appoint that gentleman as the church’s leader.  Wisely or unwisely, God had appointed me.

I wasn’t about to be So-and-So’s man.  I wanted to be God’s man.

Third, the church bully senses he is losing control of his life.

Most church bullies don’t have their act together in their personal life:

*Maybe their marriage is falling apart.

*Maybe one of their kids is flunking out of school or is on drugs.

*Maybe they’ve been fired from a job or their career has stalled.

*Maybe they’re heavily in debt and have stopped paying certain accounts.

*Maybe their adult children don’t want to see them.

Whatever the issue, the bully hasn’t been able to control life events, so he feels that he can at least control events somewhere: at church.

Usually unconsciously, the bully says to himself: “I am losing significance at home … my career is going south … and I can’t seem to do anything about it.  But there is one place I can still make a difference: my church family.”

So the bully surveys the congregation and says to himself, “I can make a difference by making this proposal … supporting that idea … or stopping the pastor’s future plans.”

Even though God hasn’t called him to run the church, that’s exactly what the bully wants to do, because if he can control the church, maybe life won’t hurt so bad.

But to control the church, the bully needs to control, neutralize, or destroy the pastor … because the pastor is the one person who can thwart the bully’s plans.

I once spoke to a church consultant about some problems I was having with the church board.  He asked me how they were doing in their personal and vocational lives.  When I told him that two of the men were having major struggles at work, he said, “They’re angry.”

In other words, no matter how placid they looked when they came onto the church campus, they came to church perpetually ticked off … and it didn’t take much for that anger to surface.

Fourth, the church bully is fearful that the pastor will discover secrets in his life.

That same church consultant I just mentioned told me something I’ve never forgotten.

He told me that when a church board gangs up on their pastor to remove him from office, at least one board member is often discovered to be having an affair.

I haven’t heard this observation anywhere else, but his statement was based upon his experience in consulting with many churches.

The bully’s thinking may go like this:

“I have this problem in my life that nobody knows about.  If anybody discovers it, I could lose everything, and I can’t let that happen.  More than anyone I know, the pastor seems to have spiritual discernment, and I wonder if he knows what I’m doing.  So before he ever finds out … maybe from my wife, or my kids, or from friends … I’m going to get him instead.  That way, he’ll never be able to expose me.”

Whenever I did counseling, I was privy to secrets in people’s lives.  While I kept those sessions confidential, there are times when a pastor is preaching and he’ll mention an issue that was touched on in a counseling session … even years before.  The pastor may have forgotten who he counseled and what their problem was, but if the ex-counselee is sitting in church that Sunday, he may very well think the pastor is preaching about him – maybe even trying to change his behavior – and decide to go after the pastor for exposing his secret.

Yes, that’s paranoid behavior, but it happens more than any of us know.

Fifth, the church bully refuses to forgive his pastor for offending him.

Bullies are, by their very nature, notoriously sensitive individuals.  They see offenses where they don’t exist.

And this is especially true when it comes to pastors, because they represent God to many people.

If a bully offends a pastor, he expects to be forgiven.  That’s what pastors do: forgive.

But if the pastor offends the bully, the bully may never forgive him.  He may hold a grudge – sometimes for years – and not let anyone know how much it bothers him.

He probably won’t tell the pastor, either.  Instead, the bully will bide his time and later use that offense to run the pastor out of the church.

Only the bully won’t mention the offense to his friends – or the church board – because the issue that upsets him will look petty in the eyes of others.

Instead, the bully will begin to make official charges against the pastor: “He’s not working enough hours … he’s mismanaging funds … he’s been neglecting the seniors … he seems too absorbed with the office manager” … and so on.

Those aren’t the real issues.  The real issue is that the pastor offended the bully at some time in the past.  The bully hasn’t talked to the pastor about it, and he probably never will.

So what are personal charges end up morphing into official charges.

Proverbs 6:16-19 mentions “feet that are quick to rush into evil.”  I’ve seen those feet before, and they’re silently running toward mischief … and away from God.

Sixth, the church bully has collected grievances from others.

In the words of Proverbs 6:16-19, this person is “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

The second church I pastored was a nightmare in many ways … mostly because of the worst church bully I’ve ever encountered.

His wife was upset with me, and quit coming to church, so he quit coming, too.

But a year later, he returned to lead a rebellion against me, and we lost 20% of our people overnight.

One of his tactics was to call people who had left the church to dig up some dirt on me.  Then he compiled a list of my supposed offenses, making it as long as possible.  Then he presented the list to the church board, which defended and supported me to the hilt.

His tactic didn’t work, but I saw what he was doing … and it was evil.

If a church bully wants to get rid of his pastor, and the pastor is guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior – the Big Three – then the pastor has dug his own grave … although church leaders should aim for his restoration, not his destruction.

But if the pastor isn’t guilty of any impeachable offense, but the bully wants him to leave, then he may do one of three things:

*He will manufacture serious charges.  This is what the Jewish leaders did with Jesus.

*He will solicit charges from others – hoping there’s a major offense in there somewhere – and pass it around the church as if to say, “Do we want someone so flawed and imperfect as our pastor?”  But this is nothing more than carrying the offenses of others rather than encouraging people to see the pastor personally to make things right.

*He will make a litany of false accusations against the pastor, hoping that the sheer number of charges will drive the pastor far away.  But love doesn’t keep lists of offenses … love deals with offenses as they occur … and one at a time.

All three tactics are evil.  Doesn’t Proverbs 6:16-19 tell us that the Lord hates “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who pours out lies?”

Finally, the church bully has aligned himself with Satan.

Let me quote from Chris Creech in his recent book Toxic Church:

“It is my belief, however, that the one sure way to recognize a clergy killer is the use of the lie.  When an individual within the church is shown to have used a lie, there is no doubt that evil is at work and the person has tied himself or herself to an alliance with the devil, either knowingly or unknowingly” (see John 8:44).

How is the devil able to influence a Christian … even a Christian leader … to destroy his pastor?

It’s disturbing to say this, but the bully is so bitter and so vengeful that he gives himself over to the will of Satan.  In the words of Proverbs 6:16-19, this person has “hands that shed innocent blood” as well as “a heart that devises wicked schemes.”

I have recounted what happened to my wife and me in my book Church Coup … and our conflict climaxed, of all days, on Halloween.

There is no doubt in my mind that Satan attacked my wife and me repeatedly during the fifty days of our conflict.  His intention?  To destroy us in hopes that he could destroy the church.

There were so many lies going around the church … so much chaos … and so much hatred that it was absolutely unbelievable.  I could tell you story after story of Satan’s work during that time, and it would send shivers up and down your spine … unless you’ve been through this kind of thing yourself.

But most of all, Satan used false accusations to try and destroy my wife and me.  His strategy is simple: deception leads to destruction.

And yet here’s the ironic thing: the church bully believes that he is doing the will of God!

Where in the New Testament do we have even one positive example of a believer trying to destroy one of God’s chosen leaders?

We don’t.  Such behavior is condemned throughout the New Testament.

But as I look around the Christian world today, I see incident after incident where Satan influences a bully … the bully tries to destroy the pastor by lying … the pastor ends up leaving … the bully is never confronted or corrected … and someone from headquarters is sent to cover the whole thing up.

In fact, after the pastor leaves, in all too many cases the bully ends up being asked to serve on the church board … or the church staff … or even become the interim pastor.

What a dysfunctional lot the church of Jesus can be at times!

If a church bully read this article, he wouldn’t recognize himself.  I once heard a prominent Christian leader state that any individual who tries to destroy their pastor might be termed a “sociopath lite.”

Since the bully’s conscience isn’t functioning well, the consciences of the rest of the congregation need to be operational and discerning, or Satan can take out a pastor … or an entire church.

Let’s resolve not to let that happen anywhere.

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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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My pastor was under attack.

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

He was a wreck.

Why?

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

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

35 years ago, many Protestant churches had:

*Sunday School

*Sunday morning worship

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

*Wednesday night prayer meeting

That’s a lot of teaching time to fill!

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

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

Now what would you do with that information?

Some Christians would keep it to themselves.

Some would tell family and friends from the church.

Some would throw in their lot with the 10%.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about this:

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

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

Their names?  Adonijah and Joab.

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

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

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

One of Jesus’ 12 disciples betrayed him.

His name?  Judas from Kerioth.

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

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

Paul wrote in Romans 16:17:

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you know something, tell somebody!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, some antagonists are desperately seeking significance.

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

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

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

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

Finally, some antagonists are tolerated by their church family.             

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because while churches often tolerate antagonism, heaven does not.

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In his well-written, insightful, and practical book Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd, my friend Kent Crockett relates many true stories about pastor abuse.  Here’s a sampling of these stories told by actual pastors:

“Some unyielding deacons and angry members didn’t like my ideas of reaching out to people who don’t know Christ, so they forced my resignation.  In my final business meeting, I told the congregation, ‘I believe the Lord is leading me to step down and resign as pastor, effective immediately.’  As soon as I said that, about fifteen people who had opposed me stood up, started applauding, and shouted, ‘Hallelujah!  Praise God!’  In the two years I had been their pastor, they had never clapped in church or shouted praise to God.  In fact, they had always opposed displays of emotion in the worship service.  I hadn’t even seen them smile until I resigned and then they all had big grins on their faces.”

_______________

“The deacon board chairman came to see me one evening.  He never called to set up an appointment, but just showed up unannounced clutching his gripe list.  The deacon asserted that he represented a ‘growing’ number of disgruntled people who were angry with me, and had appointed him as the liaison of church solidarity.

With seeming delight, he claimed that other members were ‘flooding’ him with concerns about me, although he wouldn’t disclose names because he wanted to ‘protect their identities.’  I later proved his list was contrived and his alleged ‘growing’ number was actually a small group the deacon had recruited.

Casting gentleness to the wind, the deacon tore into me with outlandish accusations.  When I asked what specifically I had done wrong, the deacon sidestepped the issue.  He wasn’t interested in repairing and restoring fellowship, so I refrained from further discussion.  Since I wouldn’t bow to his intimidation, the deacon started a false rumor about me.  Because of the misery I suffered at the hands of this cruel deacon, I resigned as pastor.”

_______________

“That small group got against me.  They started lying.  They said I was a gambler.  And then they attacked my wife.  When they can’t get anything on the minister, they go after his wife or his children.  Only by suspending the bylaws were they able to fire me.”

_______________

“In one year, 27 ministers in my district were forced to resign their pastorates, without charges of wrongdoing, unethical behavior, or immorality.  Many because they were causing growth.  Most cases it was the power bloc that ran the church that had them removed.  Many have lost their pastorates, many their reputations and many have lost their enthusiasm about staying in the ministry.”

_______________

“As I reflect on 35 years of ministry, I realize that many of my former colleagues are no longer pastors.  Somewhere along the line, they left their ‘calling’ and undertook a different path for their lives.  Reflecting on my friends who used to be pastors, I realize that they are now a majority.  Those, like me, who have stayed in ministry are actually the minority.  The attrition rate has been high and the cost to souls is astronomical.

The majority of my acquaintances encountered such turmoil and situational conflict (from church members) that they felt they could not continue to pastor.  Congregations overwhelmed my pastor friends with unrealistic expectations, negative criticism and misplaced anger.  Some congregations even assumed the perfect pastor was ‘out there,’ so their fallible pastor was terminated.”

_______________

Let me make four brief observations about these stories:

First, these stories are not an anomaly – they are all too typical.  While the names of the pastors, church leaders, and congregations are all different, the patterns of pastoral abuse remain the same across the board.

I saw a quote recently from a denominational executive.  He said that when a pastor started telling him his termination story, the denominational leader could accurately predict the entire aftermath.

Since there are patterns to pastoral abuse, the Christian community must band together and stop this evil.

Second, the inability of Christians to get along – especially with their pastor – negates the gospel of reconciliation.

Jesus told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Jesus didn’t say, “Love the people in your group only.”  He didn’t say, “Love everyone in your church but your pastor and his family.”  Three times in these two verses, He commands His followers to “love one another” … and that includes the pastor and his family.

When believers visibly love each other, Jesus says, then “all men” will notice that “you are my disciples.”

But when believers avoid each other and hate each other, the world concludes, “The Christian faith doesn’t work.”

As 1 John 4:20 states, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

Third, the pastor’s enemies almost always slander him to force his resignation.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but how can professing Christians blatantly lie about their spiritual leader?

Did Jesus ever lie about a spiritual leader?

Did Paul?

Did Peter … or John … or James … or Luke?

Who in the New Testament has a reputation for lying?

Satan.

Then how can those who claim to follow Jesus … who is the Truth and always spoke the truth … join hands with the evil one?

How strong is your case against a pastor if you have to use exaggeration and innuendo and false statements to get rid of Him?  Isn’t that the same tactic that was used on Jesus?

I wish churches had trials and the liars could be exposed for everyone to see.

Why aren’t we exposing the liars?

Instead, after the pastor leaves, they end up on the church board.

Here’s what I read yesterday during my quiet time:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his evil deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:20-21).

Finally, believers need to give control of their church back to Jesus Christ.

Doesn’t Colossians 1:18 say that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church” and that “in everything he might have the supremacy?”

We don’t read that any pastor is “the head of the church,” nor the church board, nor the charter members, nor a particular faction.

Instead, we read that Jesus is the head of the body.

Maybe churches should have an annual service where the leaders and congregation acknowledge that “Jesus is the head of this church” and not any specific individual or group.

Let’s be honest: too many people are fighting for control of a church when it isn’t theirs to begin with.

_______________

I don’t mean to sound cynical, but after reading the above stories … and many more like them, not only in Kent’s books, but in other books on church conflict … I have one unanswered question:

How can people who use slander and hatred to destroy their pastor really be Christians?

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What happens inside a congregation after a pastor has been forcibly terminated?

It might surprise you … and even shock you.

From all I’ve gathered, here are four events that often occur after a pastor has been forced to leave a church:

First, there are immediate attempts to discredit that pastor.

In Season 5 of the hit TV show 24, Karen Hayes and her assistant Miles march into the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) and attempt to absorb CTU into Homeland Security.

With CTU Director Bill Buchanan onsite and in their way, the pair get together and concoct a story designed to (a) discredit Buchanan in the eyes of his loyal CTU followers, and (b) provide justification for their own takeover.

But to discredit Bill Buchanan – a man of great integrity and sound judgment – they have to lie about him.  In their minds – because they believe they are better suited to lead CTU than Buchanan – their lie is justified.

I can’t cite any studies on attempts to discredit former pastors, but I’ve heard plenty of stories, and they’re basically the same.  As soon as the pastor leaves, some people begin to slander him.

But the sad part is … few people make any attempt to stop the lies.

But if you permit a lie to be told without correcting it, aren’t you guilty of perpetuating that lie?  And how can God bless your church if there’s such blatant sin in the camp?

Over the past several years, I have been shocked to learn how often Christians – even Christian leaders – lie.  They do this either to discredit another leader or to build up their own accomplishments.

I’m reminded of the time that a pastor near Willow Creek Church was circulating false stories about Bill and Lynne Hybels.  The two of them went directly to that pastor and said, “The things you’re saying about us are tearing our hearts out!”  The lies stopped.

On behalf of every pastor who has been undeservedly forced to leave a church, let me say to those who are spreading falsehoods: “The things you’re saying are tearing our hearts out!”

Please, stop lying about men and women who have been called by God to serve His church.

Second, the interim pastor tries to discredit the previous pastor behind the scenes.

There are several options available to interim pastors after they follow a pastor:

*The interim can ignore the previous pastor.  In their book The Elephant in the Boardroom, Weese and Crabtree write: “It would be refreshing and liberating for many members to hear their pastor speak, in positive terms, the name of the pastor who went before and was referred to as an instrument in God’s plan for building the church.  In reality, the opposite is often the case.  A pastor is sometimes so threatened by the esteem paid to a predecessor that he or she gives the signal to members that they are not to speak about the predecessor in the pastor’s presence.”

A pastor wrote me recently and said that after being forced to resign, the bully responsible for the pastor’s departure told that pastor’s church friends to shun him, which hurt that pastor deeply.  Seven months later, that pastor is still in great turmoil.  But like it or not, the previous pastor’s presence hangs over a church for a long time, so we can’t just pretend that he was never around.

I love the way the San Francisco Giants handle matters with their past managers and players.  As often as they can, they bring them back to honor them just for being a part of the Giants’ family.  Even if a famous manager or player left the Giants under less than optimal conditions, the Giants still attempt to honor them in public.  If secular companies can do this, why can’t churches do this as well?  What about Hebrews 13:7?

*The interim can trash the previous pastor.  Several pastors have contacted me recently and told me how hurt they were to hear that the interim pastor who followed them adopted this approach.  The interim’s attitude seemed to be, “Your pastor deserved to leave this church.  You shouldn’t have any more contact with him.  He shouldn’t even be in the ministry anymore.  I’m your pastor now, so follow me.”

I can understand why an interim pastor – who has a short window in which to try and turn around a leaderless church – would want a congregation’s attention focused away from the previous pastor.  But to do that, must the interim intentionally harm the reputation of the previous pastor and act like that pastor was evil incarnate?  Where do we find this tactic in Scripture?  If the interim trashes the previous pastor, won’t the interim eventually be trashed as well?  (See Matthew 7:1-2.)

*The interim can honor the previous pastor.  This is the approach recommended by Weese and Crabtree who label this approach TLC: talk, listen, and confirm.  They write: “Members and leaders need to confirm that past experiences, including those with a predecessor, make an important contribution to the drama of their lives even when a significant change had to be made.”

They continue: “The operation of the human ego in pastors can work against a healthy pastoral transition.  The ego does not want to ‘adopt’ the effective ministries that were the ‘children’ of the previous pastor; it wants to have its own children. . . .  It is best to think of a pastoral transition as a blended family in which former effective ministries are adopted by the new pastor while new ministries are birthed as well.”

The best way to honor a previous pastor is to speak well of him in public … and to defend him from slander in private … even if he wasn’t perfect.  (Interims aren’t perfect, either.)

Third, some of the people responsible for pushing the pastor out become church leaders.

In fact, those who pushed out the previous pastor will try and cozy up to the interim.  They’ll rip on the previous pastor and tell the interim that he’s just what the church needs … even if they don’t yet know him.

Some interims fall for this approach.  Maybe they no longer feel significant in ministry or they need affirmation or they’re glad to hear that the previous pastor had his foibles.  But then they take this information and embellish it.

However, if they were saner, they’d realize that the people who tried to push out the previous pastor may be at the forefront of pushing out the interim.  People who crave power want it no matter who is leading their church.

In fact, let’s just say it: the bullies responsible for forcing out an innocent pastor should never be allowed to get anywhere near church leadership unless they repent … even if they become bosom buddies with the interim or the next pastor … and the interim/next pastor needs to know all the names of those who pushed out the previous pastor.

I recently asked a pastor this question: “If you became the pastor of a church, and you knew the names of those who pushed out the previous pastor, would you put any of those individuals into leadership?”  My pastor friend didn’t even blink.  He immediately uttered, “No.”

Forgive me, but how can pastors be so stupid?

If Jesus had stayed on the earth 40 years instead of 40 days, and He decided to get the old gang back together, would He have chosen Peter again?

Yes, because Peter repented of the fact he had denied Christ three times.

But do you think Jesus would have put an unrepentant Judas back into leadership?

No way.

And yet in church after church, after the previous pastor has left, Judas is asked to become a church leader … and we wonder why we can’t expand the kingdom of God.

Finally, most of the pastor’s supporters eventually turn on him.

I’m going to share a story that I’ve never told before.

Two months after my wife and I left our last church, I drove by myself back to our old place – a full day’s drive.  Our house was on the market but hadn’t yet sold.  We had left many things behind and needed to transport them to our new home.

I stayed for the last time in our old bedroom.  That night, I walked around our former neighborhood and spotted the house of the individual most responsible for our departure.

I knew who that was and what he had done.  In fact, his wife had called churchgoers in an attempt to harm our reputations.  To this day, I don’t know why he attacked me, although my hunches are probably accurate.

Anyway, I sat on a park bench and prayed for him and his family.  I forgave him and his wife.  I asked God to bless them.

But several months later, this man spent an entire evening running me down in front of friends and supporters even though he had never confronted me to my face.

When he was allowed to do that, I knew what would happen: my wife and I would lose nearly all our friends from that church.

We weren’t there anymore.  We didn’t know what was being said about us,  so we couldn’t adequately defend ourselves.

After this trashing occurred, people who promised they would remain my friends slowly stopped being my friends … and I will probably never see them again this side of heaven.

The trashing was aided and abetted by a Christian leader who should have known better.  He knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it.  He was scapegoating me for the entire conflict.

After this happened, I contacted some friends from that church, but their attitude toward me had changed.  They were done with me, and I knew it.  They have made zero attempts to renew our friendship.

What hurts the most is not that we’ve lost friends, but that friends who once believed in us seem to have sided with our critics.

We still have a few friends in that community, and because they’ve remained with us through thick and thin, they will probably always be our friends, for which we’re grateful.

I can accept the fact that when a pastor and his wife move away from a church community, the pastor and his wife … as well as their church friends … will all make new friends … and gradually drop some of their old friends.

But I refuse to believe that God supports the trashing of a Christian leader’s reputation when that leader is not guilty of any major offense.

When I was nineteen years old – and had only been a youth pastor for two weeks – I learned about some sexual shenanigans that involved top leaders in my church.  I was devastated.

My pastor – who later became my father-in-law – told me that night, “Jim, don’t ever be shocked by what Christians do.”

Over the years, I’ve tried to take his advice … but forgive me if I’m still shocked by how Christians behave during pastoral transitions.

Because if Christians preach that every person is made in the image of God … and that God loves every one of us … and that Christ died for every person … and that God isn’t finished with any of us yet … then how can Jesus’ people trash Christian leaders – especially those who aren’t present to defend themselves?

Let’s play on Jesus’ team … and not on Satan’s.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and information about upcoming seminars.

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