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Posts Tagged ‘church bullies’

Back in the mid-1970s, I applied for the job of Youth/Christian Education Director at a church in Orange County, California that was nearly ninety years old.

My cousin and her husband attended the church and referred the search committee to me.

I interviewed with the appropriate leaders, and the congregation voted on my call.

Out of 47 ballots cast, the vote was 42-5 in the affirmative.

I was offered the position, and quickly accepted it.

(One of the kids in that youth group went on to become the president of a Christian university.  He’s quoted in the press – both secular and Christian – all the time.  I’m very proud of him!)

I immediately wanted to know who voted against me.

There was a family in the church that had four adults living at home: a husband and wife and their adult kids, a young man and a young woman.  The young man was attached to a fifth adult, his girlfriend.

I heard through the church grapevine that all five of them voted against me.

Why?

Because I graduated from Biola College (now University), and their last youth director was also from Biola … and he had painted the youth room orange without permission.

Once I surmised who voted against me, I wondered, “How hard should I try to show them that I’m really a good guy?”

The mother in the family was the church secretary.  And her husband was chairman of the all-powerful Church Council.

I spent time trying to get to know the secretary, but it was challenging.  She wasn’t very nice.

Her husband wouldn’t give me the time of day, and later cheated me out of funds by refusing to break down my salary into taxable/non-taxable categories.

Both of them were rigid legalists.

Now here’s the reason I’m telling this story:

Most of the time, when someone votes against a pastoral candidate or criticizes that pastor publicly, those individuals become likely candidates to oppose their pastor in the future.

Once churchgoers – including board members, staffers, and key leaders – take a public stance against their pastor, they almost always maintain their stance until either they leave … or the pastor leaves.

Once they go public with their opinion, they rarely adopt a different view.

They bide their time until they can prove to the pastor’s supporters that he/she was right … and they were dead wrong.

The couple I mentioned above were later involved in forcing out the pastor of that church.  I expected they would then set their sights on me but the Lord allowed me to leave soon after the pastor did.

Let me share a second example.

In 1999, I was invited by a pastor friend to become his associate pastor with the idea of succeeding him as senior pastor if things worked out.

I came to the church in June 1999 and was hired by the church board.

The pastor announced in January 2000 that he would be retiring the following December … nearly a year later.

By this time, I was preaching … teaching classes … leading a small group … and starting my Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary.

The congregation had to vote on me before I could become pastor.  I had to win 75% of the ballots cast.

The longer I stayed, the greater the chance that I would do or say something offensive … and that could hurt my chances of winning any vote of the congregation.  (It’s not expedient to candidate for a position for almost a year!)

So I went to the pastor and board and said, “I’ve been here ten months now.  If you want me to become your new pastor, I’d like you to vote on me sometime in April.”

If I won the vote … and since things were going great, I was certain I would … I’d become the senior-pastor elect, and that would give me the authority to accelerate the transition.

So one April Sunday, church members cast their ballots.  The vote was 76-4 to call me as pastor … a 95% affirmative vote.

But, just like the vote mentioned earlier, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

I was pretty sure I knew who two of the naysayers were.

There was a man in the church (let’s call him Harry) who had become both a board member and a Sunday School teacher.  In many ways, Harry was the senior pastor’s right-hand man, and his class was large, giving him great influence.

Harry and the pastor were about the same age … had similar views on money … and even took a vacation together with their wives.  The four of them were becoming increasingly close.

And then I came along.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my very presence made me an immediate threat to Harry.

When Harry got together socially with people from the church, he not only roasted me, but misrepresented things I said and believed.  Some of the things he said filtered back to me, so I knew that he didn’t like me.

And given his forceful personality, I knew that if he was going public with his complaints, there was almost nothing I could do to change his mind.

One day, Harry and I met alone at the church for two hours.  He asked me some questions about ministry, and I gave him my honest answers.

We had diametrically opposite views of the direction our church should take.

He wanted to use a retail approach to church growth.  For example, he felt we would grow quickly if we just advertised on television.

That kind of approach makes my skin crawl.

He not only didn’t like me, he didn’t understand me, and couldn’t seem to relate to me at all.

So when that vote was taken, I knew … knew … that Harry and his wife were two of those four “no” votes.

After the election, one of my best supporters came up to Harry and his wife and said … loudly … “Why don’t you congratulate Jim on today’s vote?”

They did so … but their hearts obviously weren’t in it.

Six months later … two months before I was scheduled to become the senior pastor … Harry and his wife left the church … in anger.  Harry immediately tried to negotiate his way back, asking for full access to me at all times.

I told Harry I couldn’t grant his request … and he and his wife never returned.

In essence, Harry wanted to run the church through me, but I couldn’t be anyone’s man but God’s.

Based on these two stories, let me share five principles about how a pastor should view his early opponents:

First, it’s not wise for a pastor to try and track down who voted against him.

Although I was curious about the five people who voted against me in the first story above, I don’t remember being obsessed by it.  But it didn’t take long for me to find out who those five people were … and as I recall, I didn’t seek out the information.  It somehow came to me instead.

But in the second instance, I knew that Harry and his wife did not think I should be pastor of the church.  Most people were very complimentary of my ministry when I first came.  In contrast, Harry never said one positive thing to me during that whole time.

Other than Harry and his wife, I never did discover the identities of the other two people who voted against me … although after a few months as pastor, I could have hazarded some educated guesses.

Second, although pastors cannot afford to be paranoid, it helps to know the names of those standing against him in the early days.

Most people who vote on a pastor will tell their relational circle how they voted … and they will explain or create a rationale for doing so … even if their friends disagree.

If the pastor does or says something stupid, they’re liable to tell family or friends, “Don’t look at me … I didn’t vote for the guy!”

If a pastor can casually find out who voted against him, that knowledge can become extremely useful.  This gives the pastor time to figure out how to minister to his critics … or at least neutralize them.  (For example, a pastor shouldn’t let such people into leadership.)

Third, if a pastor can win over some of his initial detractors, he should seize the opportunity.

I can only recall winning over two people who initially stood against me.

In my second pastorate, I received a vote of 51-5 to become the church’s senior pastor.  And once again, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

There was a middle-aged couple who attended the church, and I somehow discovered that they were two of the “no” votes.

I tried to get to know them, but they weren’t interested … and the woman always glared at me.

It went on like that for three years.

Then suddenly, the woman’s mother became ill and died.  I ministered to the family, and I watched their attitude toward me change overnight.

Suddenly, I became “their” pastor … and we enjoyed a great relationship for many years after that.

That’s the key: to become their pastor.

And sometimes, that takes a long time.

Fourth, some people initially oppose a pastor, not because they don’t like him, but because they assume he won’t notice or like them.

Most churchgoers don’t oppose a pastor because they disagree with his theology, or because they don’t like his stance on some social issue.

Instead, they’re afraid he won’t give them … or their family … or their ministries … sufficient attention.

This is where I sometimes failed.

As an introvert, I was often exhausted after preaching a sermon.  I didn’t have much energy left to say to the woman who glared at me all the time, “Hey, why don’t you and your husband go out with my family for pizza after church?”

Frankly, my wife and I didn’t have the money for shoes or car repairs, much less meals with people I didn’t understand.

But I needed to send some signals to that couple that I wanted to get to know them better and that they were valuable to our church … and if I sensed somebody didn’t like me, I sometimes avoided them instead.

Some of a pastor’s opponents are mean-spirited bullies who use intimidation to get their way.  Once a pastor has sized up such people, he needs to pray or escort them out of the church … and if they leave, let them go.

But others are just wounded people who wonder if the pastor truly cares for them.  And once they know that he does, they’ll become the loyalist of supporters.

Finally, although a pastor might be able to win over a few of his initial opponents, he needs to accept that some people will always oppose him.

I don’t think a pastor can win over everybody who initially stands against him:

*Some people are stubborn.

*Some people don’t want to lose face by admitting they’re wrong.

*Some people feel their influence would be jeopardized by switching positions.

*Some people are cantankerous and contrary by nature.

*Some people pride themselves on being the “loyal opposition.”

So the best of pastors can’t change everybody.

But if a pastor knows who his early opponents are, he can take steps to love them and to address their concerns … even if he never understands them.

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But on rare occasions, the Lord can do amazing things even in the lives of those who vote against a pastor.

When I was nineteen years old, my church asked a former member and missionary to candidate for the position of senior pastor.

I didn’t fully agree with him … and neither did some others in my relational circle.

During his second of two sermons, he told us that God had called him to pastor the church.

I thought, “So why hold an election?”

In the end, I voted against him … as did six other people in my circle.

But 87% of the people voted for him, and five months later, he became the church’s second senior pastor.

Right before that pastor arrived, I was hired to work with youth for the summer.

That new pastor became my primary ministry mentor for decades.

And I ended up marrying his daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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