Posts Tagged ‘church conflict’

Ten years ago, I was pastoring the largest Protestant church in our city and working on my doctoral project for Fuller Seminary.

Because I was using so many books during that time, I set up a card table in my study at home, right next to my desk and computer.

The title of my project was “Conflict Transformation: A Biblical Model Informed by Family Systems Theory at ______________ Church.”

Regardless of the title, my project was really about how to prevent and resolve antagonistic behavior in the local church – nearly always directed toward the pastor.

I wanted to research and write on this issue because I had seen antagonistic behavior directed toward pastors all of my life:

*My father was pushed out of a church he planted after five years.

*A pastor at my next church was forced out as well.

*My father-in-law was forced out of his two pastorates.

*A pastor I worked for was voted out of office during a contentious church meeting.

I’ve seen pastor after pastor bullied … threatened … falsely accused … mobbed … and damaged … simply because the pastor would not surrender himself to a faction in the church … including the official board.

But two years after earning that degree, I went through a severe conflict in my own ministry … and I learned ten times more going through that conflict than I did writing about it from an academic perspective … although the academic preparation gave me a foundation for interpreting what was happening.

Let me share four things that I learned from going through that conflict I could not have learned from books or professors:

First, I learned that Christians can hate their pastor for a long time without ever revealing their feelings to him.

If I was attending a church, and I couldn’t stand my pastor, I would leave the church.

I would leave even if my family members all loved him … even if I enjoyed a fruitful ministry as a volunteer … even if I had been in that church for years … and even if I didn’t know any other church to attend.

Let me say this loud and clear: it is better for you to leave the church … even if you have to sit at home on Sundays for six months … then to stay in your church and lead a rebellion against your pastor.

Because when people hate their pastor … whether it’s because of his personality, or his preaching, or his mannerisms, or the changes he’s instituting … they will invariably share their feelings with their family and friends.

And those feelings will almost always go viral, because sharing your bitterness will embolden others to share their grievances as well.

As James 3:5 says, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”

A spark against a pastor has to start somewhere, and when it does, it often results in a firestorm that engulfs the entire congregation.

Before the conflict surfaced, I had no idea that some people hated me with a passion, but I have written evidence that they did.

But none of those people ever had the courage to come to me and say, “Hey, Jim, I have an issue with you, and I’d like to share it in hopes that we can work together better.”

God hates sin, but God doesn’t hate sinners.

And He doesn’t hate His own people.

And He especially doesn’t hate His own called servants.

But for some reason … in nearly every case where an innocent pastor is pushed out of office … hatred is the fuel that drives the conflict.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

Second, I learned that the pastor feels massive betrayal during such a conflict.

I bought a book a while back on betrayal in the local church.  The book contained some good insights … I’ll probably share some of them sometime … but as I read it, I wanted to ask the author one question: “Have YOU ever gone through a massive betrayal in a church before?”

If he had experienced betrayal himself, I think he would have rewritten large portions of his work.

Let me share just one instance of betrayal … and I could cite many more.

After the conflict in my last ministry came to light, I was unsure who I could trust anymore.  For the most part, I waited until people came to me and expressed support before I shared anything with them from my perspective.

After a brutal public meeting of the congregation, a man came up to me and expressed strong support.  We had done things together outside of church and I was glad he was on my side.

A month later, on my final Sunday at the church, I invited people who had demonstrated support to a final luncheon at someone’s house, and I invited this man along.

Before he left that day, he told me that he had met with one of my detractors, and that person’s attitude toward me was, in his words, “nasty.”

Several months later, I noticed on Facebook that this man had a birthday, so I wrote him a note, telling him that if I ever came back to the area, maybe we could get together.

But his conciliatory tone had changed.  I could tell by what he wrote that he had been worked over by one or more of my detractors … and that our friendship was over for good … even though I had never shared with him my side of the conflict.

When scenarios like this are constantly repeated … and they were in my case … you suddenly become suspicious of everyone you once deemed a friend from that church.

In fact, you come to a point where if you lose contact with someone in the church … even for a few days … you assume that they have turned against you.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

Third, I learned that the body of Christ lacks any kind of fair process for dealing with accusations against a pastor.

Most attacks on a pastor originate with a group of seven to ten people, regardless of church size.

Sometimes … especially if board or staff members are involved … those seven to ten individuals can force the pastor to resign without resorting to anyone else in the church.

But if the board and/or staff can’t do it alone, they will seek reinforcements from inside the congregation, including their spouses … friends … family members … and people who have left the church.

Those seven to ten people can grow to 25-35 pretty quickly.

As a conflict spreads throughout the church, the pastor needs people who are spiritual … and strong … and wise to counter the charges made against him.

The issue is never, “Are the charges being made against the pastor true?”

The issue is always, “What kind of process has been used to deal with the pastor’s shortcomings?”

If I was a church member, and I caught wind that the church board or a faction were making accusations against my pastor, I would ask each of them the same question:


I would specifically ask these questions:

*Does the pastor know what you are saying about him in private?

*Have you given the pastor the opportunity to respond to you or any of his other accusers?

*What steps are you taking to insure the pastor is treated fairly and justly?

*Which biblical passages are informing your process?

And if I didn’t like the answers to those questions, I would inform the pastor that he was being judged by the law of the jungle … not by Scripture.

And I would also figure out a way to tell the congregation that the pastor was being abused and lied about without giving him a chance to respond.

For several days in a row, someone entered the following phrase into a search engine and then found my blog:

“How can we fire our pastor without going by the church constitution?”

Do you know what they’re really asking?

“How can we avoid using a process that is biblically-based, takes time, preserves the pastor’s rights, and doesn’t guarantee the outcome that we want?”

Instead, they want to know, “How quickly can we get rid of the pastor without giving him any safeguards?”

In my case, I asked for but was not shown any evidence that church leaders claimed to have.

And I was never given a fair forum in which to answer any of the charges that were circulating around the church.

The leaders involved in pushing me out were very process-oriented whenever it came to changes I wanted to make at the church, but when they wanted me to leave, they resorted to short-cuts instead.

This is what happens almost every time that professing Christians try and force their pastor to resign.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

Finally, I learned that Satan’s presence during a conflict is so real that you can almost see him … and smell him.

I have told the story of what happened to my wife and me in my book Church Coup, but let me just touch on several things we experienced during the 50 days of our conflict:

*The conflict culminated on Halloween … and we always had the biggest outreach event of the year that evening.

*My wife and I experienced fear that we have never experienced before or since.

We were afraid to stay in our house.

We were afraid to answer the telephone.

We were afraid to answer the doorbell.

We were afraid to get the mail.

We were afraid to have any contact with our detractors.

We were afraid that we were going out of our minds.

We were afraid that we had done something horrible … but we didn’t know what it was.

*My wife was attacked by Satan in a visible, soul-destroying way.

I do not blame and have never blamed any individuals for what happened to her.  Her attack was not mediated through individuals … it was a direct assault by the enemy upon her heart, mind, and body.

*There were many lies going around the church about me, but there were so many that I didn’t know where they came from or how to answer them.

*I received an anonymous letter in the mail with the word RESIGN typed in large letters.  I gave the letter that night to a member of the new church board … he wanted to see if he could determine who sent it … but he never did.  That letter was NOT from God, believe me.

I don’t believe that every conflict in a church is from Satan, but there are two tipoffs that he’s involved:

First, there are lies and false accusations floating around the church.

Second, there is an obvious attempt to destroy the pastor’s reputation, position, career … and even his health.

At the time, I thought that Satan was targeting me to get me out of church ministry, but he was really attacking me as a means of attacking the church.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

There are many other things that I could only learn by going through a conflict firsthand, which is why I wrote my book Church Coup … and one of the most frequent comments that I receive from pastors is, “You’re describing exactly what I went through!”

That sentiment always gladdens my heart, because it means that what I experienced … and suffered … is fulfilling God’s ultimate purpose.

If you’re a pastor or staff member who has gone through a horrendous conflict, I want you to know something:

There is a God-ordained purpose behind your suffering, too.






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How would you like to receive top-notch training from an expert you respect and admire?

That’s what happened to me last week when I flew to Minneapolis and received 14 hours of training in church conflict from veteran congregational consultant Peter Steinke.  He’s the author of several books, including Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, one of my top five favorite books on church conflict.

Steinke has engaged in congregational interventions over 27 years.  He’s been involved with 217 churches/Christian entities encompassing 16 states and 8 denominations.

And from his experiences working with churches, he’s created a process for helping churches in crisis called Bridgebuilder.

Steinke presented case studies … worked his way creatively through a syllabus … and made lots of offhand remarks, many of which I wrote down verbatim.

Here are ten insights concerning church conflict that I found fascinating and that I thought you might benefit from.  They aren’t in any particular order.

Insight #1: “When you replace a music director, you sign your death warrant.”

Why is this?  Because many people become emotionally attached to the staffer who leads them to God’s throne in worship.

And if a pastor or a board tries to force out that person and put someone else in their place, things can become very unpredictable.

Insight #2: “People engage in sabotage when they are losing control.”

How many times have you witnessed this experience?

A board member … staff member … key leader … or opinion maker is unhappy with a decision made by the pastor.  The pastor meets with them … listens to their concerns … explains his position … and concludes the meeting in prayer.

Then that unhappy person immediately goes out and begins to undermine the pastor using threats, demands,  and complaints.


Because the pastor seems to be in control … and the discontented person senses they’re not.

Insight #3: “Getting rid of a pastor won’t solve the [presenting] problem.  The problem is within the system.”

It is common for some people in a church to think, “We’re having problems because of our pastor.  If we get rid of him, this church will be far better off.”

This kind of thinking … borne out of anxiety … is counterproductive.  Many churches have built-in patterns that cause them to go off the tracks.  Those issues must be identified, faced, and resolved.

But if they aren’t, the next pastor … and the next one … and the next … may all be sent packing because the real issues haven’t been addressed.

Insight #4: “Peace is often preferred over justice.”

During a conflict situation, churchgoers just want the conflict to end, even if the pastor … staff members … or others are treated shabbily.

The mature congregation says, “We’re going to aim for justice, so we’re going to devise a process, take some time, and handle this wisely.”

The immature congregation says, “We just want peace, so we’re going to ignore processes, take shortcuts, and get this over with quickly.”

Insight #5: “It’s better for people to leave than go underground.”

When a major conflict surfaces in a church, there are going to be losses in attendance and donations and volunteers, no matter which choices are made.

When people leave the church for good, there is closure for everyone involved, painful though it may be.

But when people start meeting and plotting in secret, they’re prolonging and intensifying the conflict … and there’s going to be some form of implosion.

Insight #6: “The consultant is responsible for the process, not the outcome.”

Steinke says that when prospective congregations ask him about his success rate with interventions, he answers, “100%.”

He believes he’s been successful when he works the process he’s devised, which is his responsibility.

But the outcome of his intervention?  That’s the responsibility of the congregation and its leaders.

For this reason, he doesn’t make recommendations to churches in conflict, but gets them to make their own recommendations.

Insight #7: “The top trigger for conflict is money.”

Steinke says these are the top 7 triggers for conflict in churches: money, sex, pastor’s leadership style, lay leadership style, staff conflict, major traumas/transitions, the change process.

Just my own observation: when money becomes the bottom line in a church, it becomes an idol, and God is relegated to second or seventh or tenth place.

But when God is first, money takes its rightful place.

But when giving goes down … or doesn’t meet budget … some leaders/people become anxious, and instead of turning to God, they try and control the money even more.

The result?


Insight #8: Conflicts in churches increasingly revolve around the change process.

Steinke said that 42 of the last 47 interventions he’s done … nearly 90% … have to do with change.

Many pastors feel that all they have to do is announce a change and it will automatically happen.  Once they’re convinced, they assume others will be as well.

But people need time to process change … ask questions … share feelings … and seek clarification.

When they’re not given those opportunities … conflict results.

Insight #9: During public meetings, there will be no verbal attacking, blaming, or abusing of others tolerated.

During his interventions, Steinke gives church attendees opportunities to speak publicly about how they feel about the conflict.

But they are not allowed to begin their sentences with “You,” but must make “I” statements instead.

If people violate this rule, Steinke reiterates it and expects people to abide by it.

If only we’d had this rule during all those business meetings my churches had over the years …

Insight #10: The consultant focuses on working the process, not on changing others, alleviating their anxiety, or giving them answers.

When Steinke goes into a church situation, he focuses on his role and reactions, not those of others.  He tries to remain a “non-anxious presence.”

Once again, the consultant’s job is not to analyze the church and fix everything, but to work a predetermined process that causes a church’s members to discuss and affect their own outcome.

After attending Bridgebuilder, I am now qualified to offer it to congregations in conflict.  If you know a church that might benefit from this process, please send them my way.

Thank you!









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Do you always have to be right?

I know the temptation all too well.

In my first pastorate, I visited shut-ins, and one day, I visited Cecil and Freda.

Due to their age, they rarely came to church, and Cecil told me that he said the Lord’s Prayer every day.  But he had a bone to pick with me.

Cecil said that when I read or said the Lord’s Prayer, I said, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  But Cecil wanted me to know that it was really in earth as it is in heaven, not on earth.

I took out my pocket New Testament, and Matthew 6:10 said “on earth,” not “in earth.”  (When in doubt, let Scripture decide.)

But doggone it, Cecil had been saying the Lord’s Prayer for many years, and he was saying it the right way, and everybody else – even Bible translators and his pastor – were wrong.

What can a young pastor do?  I just smiled and changed the subject.

In that instance, I was wise.  But on another occasion, I was anything but.

I once visited a newly-married couple in their home after they had visited our church the previous Sunday.

While we were chatting, the woman blurted out, “But all sins are equal in God’s eyes, right?”

I should have let it go … I should have let it go … but I didn’t.

I gently explained what I believe Scripture teaches: that any and every sin will condemn us before a holy God, but that some sins are definitely worse than others in this life.  (For example, uncontrolled anger and murder are both sins, but murder is far worse than uncontrolled anger.)

But this couple had come from a church background where they had heard the phrase “all sins are the same before God” and my little two-minute explanation wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

They never came back to the church … and I needed to learn that I didn’t always have to be right.

How many conflicts in this world occur because people insist that they’re right and the other party is wrong?

How about Israel and the Palestinians?

How about Democrats and Republicans?

How about creationists and evolutionists … or global warning proponents and skeptics … or those who welcome illegal immigrants and those who don’t?

In the same way, many conflicts in churches occur because some people … even pastors and church leaders … have to be right all the time.

They have to be right about every nuance of theology … the proper interpretation of tough passages … the color of the nursery … and how long the pastor preaches.

And even when they violate Scripture, they still insist they’re right … and that those who disagree with them are wrong.

But Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

You can know a lot … and be right nearly all of the time … and yet do it all with a prideful heart … and so be very much wrong.

Let me offer three thoughts about “being right”:

First, it’s right to take and present a position.

My wife recently did some redecorating for her home preschool.  She asked me what I thought.  I told her what I really felt … once.

She listened … countered with a few ideas of her own … and that was that.

I stated my position and then dropped the matter.  Since it’s her preschool, she needs to make the final decision.

There would be far fewer conflicts in churches if churchgoers treated pastors the same way.

For example, let’s say you don’t like a change in the worship service.

It’s all right to feel the way you do … and to tell your pastor how you feel … but then let the issue go.

Trust that he will make the right call, even if it takes a while.  You had your say … but must you have your way?

Second, learn who you can argue with … and who you can’t.

I like to argue, to test my positions and learn how other people think.  Ultimately, I’m after Truth with a capital “T.”

I try to argue without being argumentative, but sometimes, that doesn’t work out.

My wife and I were once invited by a friend and his wife to a dinner honoring various kinds of ministry chaplains.

While sitting at dinner, I made a comment about abortion, assuming the person sitting next to me would agree with my position.

He didn’t.

We quickly got into a verbal exchange … all because I didn’t yet know who he was.

If you know someone who loves a friendly argument, by all means, go at it … just so you remain friends afterwards.  Jesus certainly argued with both His disciples and His enemies a lot.

But if you’re around someone who doesn’t like to argue … let it go!

And my guess is that the vast majority of people do not like to argue.

Finally, realize that everybody is wrong at times … even you.

Last Saturday, my wife and our daughter and I visited San Diego.

I suggested that we visit the collection of shops and restaurants known as Seaside Village.

My wife gently called it Seaport Village.

I said, “No, I think it’s Seaside Village” … but then I wondered, “What if she’s right?”

When we walked up to the village, it was Seaport Village all right.

Because I didn’t make a big deal about the name, my wife and daughter let it slide.

But if I had said, “I’ll bet you fifty dollars that I’m right,” they wouldn’t have let me forget it all weekend.

When we know we’ve been wrong in the past, that knowledge should give us humility the next time that we’re positive we’re right.

But when we always insist that we’re right, we alienate our loved ones and people stay away from us.

In U2’s song Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own, Bono sings to his dying father, “You don’t have to put up a fight, you don’t have to always be right …”

If Christians would memorize and practice those lyrics, we’d have fewer conflicts and more far peace in our churches.












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I’ve recently been doing an intensive study of Numbers 16 … the story of Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron.

Korah and three of his colleagues … along with 250 community leaders … decide that they don’t want to follow Moses’ leadership anymore.

Why not?

The group approaches Moses and Aaron and says in Numbers 16:3: “You have gone too far!  The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them.  Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

Translation: “There is nothing special about you two leaders.  We are just as holy as you are.  So why are you always telling us what to do?  We’re not going to take it anymore!”

Moses and Aaron were old men.  It’s possible that Korah was much younger and felt he could do a better job at overseeing priestly duties than Aaron could.

But as the story proceeds, it’s obvious that God sides with Moses and Aaron and opposes the attempted coup.

Most church conflicts begin because a group inside the church believes that they know how to run the church better than the official leadership … usually the pastor.

Their attitude is, “We’re more spiritual than the pastor … we’re smarter … we’re more resourceful … we’re more in touch with the congregation … so we should be running the church rather than him!”

Whenever these conflicts arise in churches … and they arise all the time … most people miss the best way to resolve the conflict.

The question is not, “Who is best qualified to lead this church?”

The question is, “Who did God call to lead this church?”

Moses told the coalition in Numbers 16:11: “It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.”  They thought they were rebelling against two human leaders, but Moses says, “No, by rebelling against God’s leaders, you’re really rebelling against the Lord.”

Moses goes on in Numbers 16:28, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea.”  Then he proposes a test to determine who is on God’s side and who is not.

Early in my ministry, I inherited a church board full of wonderful men … all except for Don.

Don wanted to take our church back to the 1950s – even though it was the late 1980s – and he wanted us to reinvent ourselves into a small, Midwestern church … even though we were located in California.

I was trying to take the church forward, while he insisted we go backward.

Don had not been called by God to pastor a church … but he was called by friends to lead a rebellion.

Don had not been formally trained in biblical interpretation or pastoral ministry … but he knew something about politics and power.

Don had not been given the spiritual gifts of leadership or teaching … but he didn’t need those gifts to subvert his pastor.

Don had not been ordained to gospel ministry … but that didn’t matter to him.

Don held secret meetings … listed all my faults, including those of my wife and children … and then demanded that I resign.

The elders of Israel supported Moses and stood by him … and the elders in our church did the same.

Don’s group quickly left the church … started their own church a mile away … and used our church as their mission field.

But a year later, their church folded.

God had called Don to be a dock worker, not a pastor.

And He had called me to be a pastor, not a dock worker.

God had called Moses to lead Israel, not Korah.

And He had called Korah to be a Levite, not the leader of a nation.

Many church conflicts could be resolved if God’s people would take some time to read Scripture … do some reflection … and ask this question:

Who did God call to lead this congregation?

If the answer is Moses … follow him.

If the answer is your pastor … follow him.

But if you follow Korah … or Don … things aren’t going to work out for you … guaranteed.

All you’re going to do is hurt a lot of people … including you and your family.

If your pastor isn’t leading or preaching or pastoring like he could be … then pray for him … and love him … and listen to him … and support him … as long as he follows the Lord.

That’s far better than watching the ground open up and swallow you and your family whole.









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My wife and I were enjoying a fine dining experience at In-N-Out Burger the other night when I overheard a conversation at the table next to us.

An elderly gentleman … after using the terms “church” and “split” … told his assembled friends, “We are not going to get tangled up in church anymore.”

There was a time when I would have thought, “That man and his wife will not be able to grow spiritually outside the realm of a local church.”  And there is undoubtedly some truth in that thinking.

But I’m hearing of more and more people who are walking away from church … not for doctrinal reasons … but because there are just too many conflicts.

One Christian friend told me that he and his wife really liked their pastor … but one day, their pastor resigned and disappeared.

So the church called a new pastor.  My friend’s wife especially liked him.  But after he was there a short while, a bully forced the pastor to resign.

At that point, my friend and his wife said, “We’ve had enough of this.  We’re not going to invest our lives in church anymore.”

They still love and follow Jesus, but they’ve tossed in the towel on the institutional church … at least for now.

Another Christian friend told me that he had attended five churches over the past few years.  And in every church, a major conflict eventually broke out – almost always involving the pastor – and my friend decided that he couldn’t take it anymore.

So he no longer attends a local church.

When I was a pastor, sometimes newcomers would tell me, “We’ve just come from a church that suffered a horrific conflict.  We’re a bit shell-shocked right now, so we want to take time to heal before we volunteer to do anything.”

At the time, I didn’t completely understand.

But after being in the middle of a major conflict several years ago, now I do.  Going through a conflict can make a believer more guarded … less trusting … and even paranoid.

I’m all for winning unbelievers to Christ.  But while we’re seeking to bring the lost into our churches, how conscious are we that conflicts are driving the found out of our churches?

Several weeks ago, I met a Christian leader who travels the world presenting the gospel.  When I mentioned to him that American churches are rife with conflict, he responded matter-of-factly, “It’s not just America.  It’s a problem all over the world.”

How can we reduce and resolve conflicts in churches?

Let me offer four quick solutions:

First, pastors need to teach the biblical way to resolve conflicts at least annually.

If the pastor doesn’t do it, it won’t happen.  If it’s not done annually, people will forget.  As a pastor, I used to plan a brief “unity” series every November … right before our church’s annual meetings.  Whenever this is done, it should be viewed as essential.

Second, pastors need to model biblical peacemaking.

Most pastors try and cultivate an image of perfection … even when it comes to relationships.  But when pastors act like they’re always right … which they aren’t … they don’t model biblical confession and forgiveness.  I used to admit to my children when I messed up, hoping to demonstrate humility and reconciliation for them.  Pastors need to model healthy interpersonal behavior as well.

Third, church leaders need to address potential conflicts sooner rather than later.

Whenever a church suffers a pastoral termination … or a church split … the signs of discontent were usually present beforehand.  Let’s learn to read the signs and resolve issues before the sun goes down (Ephesians 4:25-27) or it’s like giving the devil the keys to our church.

Finally, bullying in church must be exposed and outlawed.

There are people in every church who use intimidation to get their way.  They threaten to leave the church … take others with them … withhold their giving … and throw the church into chaos unless church is done their way.  Bullies use threats and make demands.  Spiritual people share their concerns and abide by the decisions of their leaders … or leave quietly.

And most churchgoers are unaware of this behavior because it happens behind the scenes … and because bullies usually charm their followers in public.

This behavior in our churches must stop.  We need to realize that bullying has consequences … including the damaging of people’s souls.

Many years ago, I attended a major league baseball game with a friend (who happened to be chairman of the church board).

We took the local rapid transit train toward home, when suddenly, a nasty fight broke out in one of the cars between two men … one a fan of the local team, the other a Yankee fan.

These guys were determined to hurt each other.  They were hitting each other … hard.  Knives and guns could have emerged next.

Know what happened?

Everybody ran into adjoining cars … as far away as they could … so they wouldn’t be injured.

When pastors and church boards fight … when staff members are disloyal to their pastor … when a faction rises up to remove the pastor … most people run.

They don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.

And they don’t want to watch people they love hurt one another.

Let’s create ways to prevent conflicts in churches so that God always wins and Satan always loses.

How can we do this better?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

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Let me introduce you to Zane.  He’s been a member of the governing board at the 225-member First Baptist Church in a medium-sized Midwestern city for 42 years.

During that time, Zane has watched 10 pastors come and go … and most of the time, Zane has led the charge for the pastor’s removal.

I recently asked Zane if I could interview him about the way he wields power in his church.  I had just one stipulation: he had to tell the unvarnished truth.  Zane agreed.

Zane, the average tenure of a pastor in your church is less than 5 years.  Why is this?

For the first year or two that a pastor is with us, he is still feeling his way around.  He’s trying to get settled, matching names with faces, and learning about our culture.  During this time, I still wield the power in the church.  But if new people start visiting, and the church starts to grow, then I gather my board buddies together and we start sabotaging the pastor’s ministry.

Why would you do that?  Don’t you want your church to grow?

Not really.  If the church grows too much, then the balance of power will tilt toward the pastor, and we will have to work even harder to dislodge him in the future.  While it would be nice to have more people and funds, we can never let the church get larger than our ability to control things.

But don’t you want to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission and make disciples?

I almost never think about people outside this church.  My goal is to satisfy the desires of the people I know inside this church.

How does that work out in practice?

For example, I meet with my buddies at a restaurant before every board meeting.  We review the agenda and make decisions among ourselves.  Then when we attend the meeting, we control everything, and the pastor ends up having little influence.  On those rare occasions when the pastor persuades the board to do something his way, I contact the board members afterward and bring them back into line.

So you don’t want your pastor to be a leader?

That’s right.  The pastor doesn’t know the community or the church’s history or its people like I do.  We hire him primarily to preach, counsel, do visitation, and conduct weddings and funerals.  We don’t need or want a leader.

When you finally decide that a pastor needs to go, how do you accomplish that?

The best way to get rid of a pastor is to wear him down so he’s no longer effective.  There are several ways we do this.

First, we oppose his plans for outreach.  We can’t afford to have people join the church that we can’t control.  Newcomers are almost always loyal to the pastor, so we have to limit their number.  We usually do this by controlling the money.

Second, we always make sure to attack the pastor’s wife.  We’ll criticize her for working outside the home (meaning she’s not very involved at church).  Or we’ll criticize her for not working outside the home (indicating that she’s lazy).  If she’s not outgoing, we’ll say she’s unfriendly.  If she’s too outgoing, we’ll claim she wants the spotlight.  It doesn’t take long for the pastor’s wife to sense that we don’t like her – and she’ll pass on her feelings to her husband.  When she starts missing meetings, or stays home from church completely, then we’ll claim the pastor doesn’t manage his family well.

If attacking the pastor’s wife isn’t successful, we start in on their kids, and we always find something to nail them on.  As we start spreading our opinions about the pastor’s family around the church, they practically have their bags packed.

When we attack his family, the pastor begins to wear down physically.  He becomes discouraged and depressed.  He starts isolating himself from others.  Then we claim that he isn’t fit to lead us.  This usually works.

And if that doesn’t work?

Then we start spreading half-truths.  We’ll claim that the pastor has been padding his expense account.  We’ll claim that his wife is seeing someone else.  We’ll say that one of their kids is getting poor grades.

If we’re consistent and adamant about our claims, most people in the church will believe us.  Very few people ever ask the pastor if the claims are true.  You wouldn’t believe how naïve most Christians are.  They believe the first thing anybody tells them especially if it comes from an official church leader.  My wife and the wives of my board buddies have become experts at calling churchgoers to run down the pastor.

But that’s lying!  How can you justify what you’re doing?

I’m not really lying … just stretching the truth a little bit.  In all honesty, I don’t care about the pastor – I care about the church.  And I really don’t care about the congregation as a whole – only about my friends and family.  As long as I’m in charge, they’ll keep coming because they know I represent their interests.

But isn’t what you’re doing in direct contradiction to Scripture?

Well, I asked Jesus into my life when I was 9 years old, so I know I’m going to heaven.  But I’ve learned more about subverting a leader from following politics than from the Bible.

What about church bylaws?

We either ignore them or rationalize that they don’t apply in our situation, and nobody has ever called us on it.

If a pastor became wise to your tactics, is there a way for him to stop the attacks?

I suppose there is theoretically, although no pastor has ever tried.  To stop us, the pastor would have to expose our behind-the-scenes machinations to those outside our network.  Since I’m in control of my network, almost nothing the pastor could say would sway them, but if he could document our tricks, he might convince some people to stand against us.  However, in that case, we’d just claim that the pastor was being divisive.

Just in case, we make sure to build strong alliances before we launch our attacks.  I contact the district minister of our denomination and detail the pastor’s deficiencies, so if the pastor ever contacts him, the district minister recommends that the pastor leave the church to keep the peace.  I also contact the associate pastor and office manager and coax them into spying on the pastor.  One is always a willing accomplice.

If by some strange occurrence the pastor survives my campaign against him, I have one more ace to play: my buddies and I threaten to leave the church.  We’ve only had to do this twice, and it worked both times.  If you just say, “It’s either us or the pastor,” it’s amazing how quickly people turn against the pastor because people assume that we know things they don’t know.

If the pastor resigns, what happens to his supporters?

Most of them eventually leave the church, so it affects our attendance and giving temporarily.  But we usually hire a new pastor within a few months.  When we advertise the position, we’ll get 200-300 resumes – and I always make sure to stack the search team with my people so I have the final say.

What happens to the pastors that you force out?

I don’t really care.  I’d say less than half go back into church ministry.  Right after the pastor leaves, I make sure to spread a few additional rumors about him to discourage people from contacting him in the future.  When a pastor is at our church, I try and discredit him.  After he leaves, I try to destroy him.  That way, if he tries to tell anyone from the church why he really left, he’ll be shunned rather than taken seriously.

What’s your worst nightmare?

A pastor with experience who is a strong leader.  If the church starts growing rapidly, and donations pour in, I might have to sell my soul to the devil to stop him.

I’m also afraid of a pastor who is adamant that he gets to face his accusers.  My whole strategy is based on secrecy and back-hallway maneuvering.

I’m also afraid of a pastor who comes to this church and teaches the congregation how to prevent and resolve conflicts biblically.  My success at chasing out pastors is based on my ability to manipulate a faction to carry out my wishes.  If a pastor taught the church how to handle disagreements in a biblical way, my time as a leader might be nearing an end.  Fortunately, most pastors avoid preaching on conflict, so right now, I’m safe.

One more thing: I’m fearful of a principled board member that I can’t manipulate, as well as a strong lay person who insists that we follow the Bible in our dealings with the pastor.

The latest statistics indicate that 23 million Christians in America no longer attend church.  What kind of role does bullying a pastor play in those numbers?

How would anyone know that their pastor was being bullied?  I do my work in secret, and few pastors or Christian leaders are willing to discuss the issue.

Any final words for our readers?

You’re not actually going to publish this interview, are you?  You never told me that!


I hope by now you’ve figured out that this is a purely fictional interview.  It’s a composite made up of church bullies that I’ve known, read about, or heard about from other pastors.

A friend of mine is writing a book about church bullies, so if you have any stories you’d like to share that he can use, please send them to me and I’ll pass them along.  Thanks!

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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I’m currently reading a book by Kent Crockett called Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd.  Crockett is currently on the staff of a church in Alabama.

In his first chapter, titled “The Secret Church Scandal,” the author writes:

“The secret church scandal we’re talking about is the persecution of the pastor by mean-spirited people within the church, who are the ‘pastor abusers.’  They’re planted in nearly every congregation.  Many are even running the church.  They may be deacons, disloyal staff members, or members of the congregation who are determined to destroy the pastor through personal attacks, slander, and criticism.  Outwardly they may look respectable, but inwardly their hearts are wicked, and their mission is to bring down their spiritual leader.”

I must confess, I cannot understand why professing Christians would ever do such a thing.

Based on my own experience, I can understand why believers might:

*disagree with their pastor’s teaching.

*find him to be arrogant or obnoxious.

*become bored with his preaching or stories.

*choose to leave their church for another.

But how can a believer who has the Holy Spirit living inside of him or her ever try and destroy or bring down a pastor called by God?

Crockett continues:

“Pastor abuse is the scandal that no one is talking about.  The mistreatment of clergy is as horrifying as it is secretive, and the casualties are reaching epidemic proportions.  Over 19,000 pastors get out of the ministry every year.  When the sermon ends on Sunday, over 350 pastors will be gone before the next Sunday service begins.”

These statements are similar to ones that I made in my recent book Church Coup … and no, I did not consult Crockett’s book before I wrote mine.  But it’s amazing how many nearly-identical statements we both made.

What happens after a pastor under fire leaves?  Crockett continues:

“Meanwhile, the revolving door at the church makes another turn.  As the fired pastor makes his exit, the old guard looks to find another pastor who will meet all of their expectations, and history repeats itself with a new victim.  Just like the abusive husband beats his next wife, the abusive church will mistreat its next pastor.”

How can a church prevent this revolving door syndrome?  Both Crockett and I agree that the perpetrators must be given a choice: repent of your sinful actions or leave the fellowship.  Yet Crockett writes:

“Because few churches exercise church discipline, pastor abusers are rarely held accountable for their actions.  This emboldens them to keep attacking God’s shepherds, knowing that no one will challenge their despicable behavior.  Eventually someone must take a stand against the abusers and hold them accountable, or their attacks will never end.  Church discipline is essential is we’re ever going to solve the pastor abuser problem.”

There are times when I feel like I’m talking to myself about this issue, but as soon as I get together with other believers – whether they’re family members or old friends – they’ll immediately start telling me about a conflict that devastated their church years ago, or one they’re going through right now, or one they sense is coming.

Then they’ll tell me about a pastor or staff member who left church ministry … and about family members who have quit going to church altogether … and sometimes they’ll admit that they’ve quit going to church as well.

How can Christians remain silent about this issue?

If we want Christ’s kingdom to expand … if we want our churches to grow … if we believe that Christians should attend and stay in local congregations … then shouldn’t we do all we can to prevent pastors and Christians from leaving the church altogether?

I’m willing to speak up … how about you?

I’ll write more about Kent Crockett’s book Pastor Abusers next time.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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Of making many books there is no end … Ecclesiastes 12:13

Several years ago, a few days after leaving my last pastoral ministry, I spoke on the phone with a Christian attorney who was assisting me with some documentation.

During our conversation, I mentioned to him that I planned to write a book about the events surrounding my departure from the church.

He offered one short phrase in counsel: “Just make sure you tell the truth.”

With my recently-published book Church Coup, I did my best to tell the truth from my perspective.

Let me ask and answer three questions about the writing of the book:

1.  How did people react when you told them you were writing a book?

I received so many different reactions:

*Skepticism.  Most of us have a hard time believing that anyone we know would become a published author, so some people said, “That’s nice” or “Send me a copy when you’re done” – but they weren’t sure I’d ever finish.

However, because anyone can self-publish nowadays, that book can be published … you just have to pay for the privilege.

*Discouragement.  One Christian leader – whom I greatly admire – told me candidly that if I wrote a book on the forced termination of pastors, it wouldn’t sell.

To verify that, a Christian literary agent told me that a major Christian publisher turned down an offer by a bestselling Christian author to write a similar book years ago.  He also told me my book was too long.  (So I cut it from 450 pages to 290.)

*Competitiveness.  I told one Christian leader that I was writing a book … and he proceeded to tell me about a book he had written that sells 5,000 copies every year.

I liked the attitude of another leader better.  When I told him about my book, he told me about a book he had written about an issue in his family … and offered to give me one from the trunk of his car.

*Encouragement.  One Sunday morning at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Arizona, my wife and I stopped after the service to chat with Dr. Mark Moore, who had just become the church’s teaching pastor.  When I told Dr. Moore about the book, he asked me to send him a copy when it was finished.  I felt inspired after talking with him.

But the greatest encouragement I’ve received came ten years ago from Dr. Archibald Hart from Fuller Seminary – one of my very few Christian heroes.  (I keep a framed copy of the comments he made on the post-seminar paper I submitted for his class.)  When I wrote in that paper that I felt compelled by God to write, he jotted down, “I’ll be praying that God will not release you from these commitments!”

What’s interesting to me is that many people from my previous church knew that I was writing a book – I announced it repeatedly for months  and even released a few excerpts on this blog – but no one ever asked me not to write anything.

2.  Why did you write on the forced termination of pastors?

*Because I felt compelled by God to write it.  Paul spent three years in the Arabian desert (Galatians 1:17-18).  I’m not sure what he did there or how he lived, but God used that time to prepare Paul for greater ministry.

In the same way, Church Coup was written almost exclusively in several desert locations.  The Lord gave me time to pray, reflect, and work in relative solitude.  I could not have written any book if I was still pastoring.

*Because I wanted to bring meaning to my father’s death.  There is a sense in which a particular church killed my father, who resigned his position as pastor in June 1965.  He died on February 9, 1967 – more than 46 years ago – after several months of suffering from pancreatic cancer.  He went through such a horrendous conflict in that church for two years that I believe the stress compromised his immune system.

My wife never met her father-in-law.  My kids never met their grandfather.  My sister barely remembers her own dad.  But I will never forget him … and I want what happened to him to help others, which is why Chapter 12 begins with his story.

*Because I’ve cared deeply about the forced termination of pastors for decades.  35 years ago, I served as youth pastor in a church in SoCal that voted their pastor out of office.  Although I was not integrally involved in the conflict, I was lobbied by both sides, and I watched in disbelief as Christians acted like the world they were supposedly trying to convert.

Since then, I’ve collected books on the topic, spent countless hours discussing the problem with pastoral colleagues (and anyone who would listen), and thought long and hard about how pastor-board/congregation impasses should be handled.  In fact, 25 years ago, a Christian attorney and I began writing an article on how these situations could be addressed in an optimal way.  While I still have the article, we never published it.

*Because I did my doctoral work on church antagonism.  I had already read scores of books and articles for my dissertation, so why not build on what I had already done?

*Because I wanted to give meaning to a conflict I experienced firsthand.  With my background and passion for the issue of forced termination, how could I not write about it when I went through the experience myself?  Through the years, God has uniquely prepared me to write about this single issue.  If I died today, at least I’ve left behind something that might help Christian leaders and churches in the future.

I’ve asked myself, “What have I learned by going through this crisis?  How can I help other pastors, governing leaders, and congregations?  How can we handle these tragedies in a more biblical manner?”

3.  What kind of reactions do you hope the book inspires?

Some people have already read the book and shared with me their feelings of anger, sadness, empathy, and horror.  I dare not try and program people’s responses, but my prayer is that readers might sense:

*Humility.  During a conflict, it’s okay to disagree with others.  It’s okay to hold firmly to a position.  But too many people in a conflict quickly demonize those who disagree with them … and that attitude leads to destruction.

Humility means there’s a possibility that I’m wrong … or that I may have exaggerated wrongdoing in others … or that I may have overreacted to protect my image or my feelings.

And more than anything, humility may mean that I need to break from the party line and admit, “I crossed some spiritual and moral lines during this conflict.  Please forgive me.”

I pray that all of us – including me – can say to the Lord, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

*Change.  In the book, I try and challenge some of the conventional wisdom about conflicts in churches when it doesn’t square with Scripture.

The old paradigm said that if a few people charged a pastor with wrongdoing – especially members of the church board – then the pastor should automatically resign to keep the church united.

But then I read that Jesus was accused of wrongdoing all the time, but He didn’t resign as Messiah.  And Paul was incessantly criticized by the church in Corinth, but he kept on serving faithfully.

In fact, while reading the Bible, I discovered that Moses, Jesus and Paul constantly responded to their critics and stayed in their positions rather than walking away from God’s call.

Of course, there is a time when a pastor should leave a church – and it’s not always when the pastor wants to go.  But if and when that ever happens, it must be handled in a Christian manner – with grace, truth, humility – and especially redemption.

And when people attempt to push out their pastor, they may not be doing the work of God.

*Wisdom.  I subtitled the book A Cautionary Tale so that the reader can learn from both the wise and foolish decisions that were made during the conflict.  And I quoted multiple times from the best congregational conflict experts possible.  Since there’s little in print on the issue of forced termination, I wanted to make a small contribution to the literature on the subject.

I’ve preached hundreds of sermons, many of them on cassettes that I’ve stuffed into boxes in my garage.  Nobody has ever asked to listen to even one of them.

But maybe through this book, the church of Jesus Christ can make some small headway in combatting this plague of forced termination in our churches.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  Romans 14:19

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Out of the 269 articles I’ve posted on this blog, a few stand out in my mind because they challenge conventional wisdom.  That’s certainly true of this article from nearly two years ago:

(The following post is meant to be interactive.  Along the way, I have included some questions that I’d like you to answer for your own benefit.  Compare your responses to what actually happened in the story.  Thanks!)

Yesterday I read a true story about a church that faced a terrible situation.  The story comes from congregational consultant Peter Steinke’s book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times.  I do not wish for anyone to be upset by this story, so please know ahead of time that the story turns out favorably for all.

Here’s what happened:

A young girl in a church accused her pastor of molestation.  Two leaders, Tom and Diane, met privately with the pastor to notify him of the charge.  By state law, they had to report the charge to a governmental agency.

The pastor shook his head and quietly responded, “I have never touched her.  Never.”

1.  Which option would you recommend for the pastor if you were Tom or Diane?

  • Stay and fight the charge.
  • Take a leave of absence.
  • Resign immediately.
  • Hire an attorney.

Which option did you select?

Tom and Diane recommended that the pastor take a leave of absence.

However, the pastor eventually decided against that option because he felt it indicated guilt.  He told the leaders, “I need to clear my name, but I don’t want to drag the church through this for months.”

Tom and Diane knew they had to inform the congregation of the charge, and when they did, a group of members thought the pastor should resign.  The leaders of the church were warned that most cases like this one are based in fact.

2.  What should the leaders do now?

  • Insist that the pastor stay and fight.
  • Encourage him to take a leave of absence.
  • Recommend that the pastor resign.
  • Let the process play itself out.

Which option did you select?

The leaders decided to let the process of justice go forward and stand behind their pastor until the legal system made the next move.

The leaders also decided that they would meet every week for prayer followed by a sharing time where they would openly discuss what they were thinking.

Tom shared that he believed the pastor was innocent.

Diane wondered how stable the girl was based upon the fact that her parents had gone through a terrible divorce two years earlier but had now jointly hired a lawyer.

Another admitted that she was being pressured by other members to withdraw her support for the pastor.

The pastor told the leaders that he would hold no resentment if anyone felt compelled to withdraw their support from him.

One leader chose to resign.

Marie, another leader, stood solidly behind the pastor because she had been falsely accused of something at her own workplace.

A few anxious leaders turned against the pastor and condemned him.

3.  If you attended those weekly meetings, what would you as a leader do now?

  • Insist the pastor stay and fight.
  • Encourage him to take a leave of absence.
  • Recommend that he resign.
  • Let the justice process run its course.

Which option would you select at this point?

The leaders chose the last option once again.

Fourteen weeks later, the charges against the pastor were suddenly dropped.

4.  What should Tom and Diane do now?

  • Verbally berate every person who doubted the pastor’s innocence.
  • Encourage all the doubters to return to the church.
  • Shame those who didn’t stand with the pastor.
  • Just turn the page and move on.

Which option did the leaders select?

They decided to personally contact anyone who doubted the pastor (or the leaders) and welcome them to return to the church – no questions asked.

5.  What did the leaders of this church do that was so unique?

  • They stood behind their pastor whether he was innocent or guilty.
  • They ignored almost everything the congregation told them.
  • They waited for the truth to come out before making a judgment.
  • They took the easy way out.

Which option did you go with?

The third statement best reflects the mindset of this church’s leaders: they chose to let the justice system take its course before deciding the pastor’s future.

According to Steinke, many people facing these conditions become what psychologists call “cognitive misers.”  They instinctively draw either/or conclusions: either the pastor is innocent or he’s guilty.  Either the pastor is good or he is bad.

But the leaders of this church are to be commended for not letting anxiety make decisions for them.  When certain people were calling for the pastor’s resignation – and even staying home from services until he left – the leaders stuck to their original decision and let the legal system do its work.

The pastor’s job, career, and reputation were all saved.

The church’s reputation and future were preserved.

The decision of the leaders was vindicated.

Why?  Because the leaders chose to make their decision based on truth rather than (a) unity, (b) politics, (c) groupthink, or (d) anxiety.

Let me quote Steinke on this issue fully:

“Nowhere in the Bible is tranquillity preferred to truth or harmony to justice.  Certainly reconciliation is the goal of the gospel, yet seldom is reconciliation an immediate result.  If people believe the Holy Spirit is directing the congregation into the truth, wouldn’t this alone encourage Christians who have differing notions to grapple with issues respectfully, lovingly, and responsively?  If potent issues are avoided because they might divide the community, what type of witness is the congregation to the pursuit of truth?”

In other words, the church of Jesus Christ does not crucify its leaders just because someone makes an accusation against them.

Think with me: if unity is more important than truth, then Jesus deserved to be crucified, didn’t He?

The accusations against Jesus caused great distress for Pilate, resulting in turmoil for his wife and animosity between Pilate and the Passover mob.

The Jewish authorities had to resort to loud and vociferous accusations against Jesus to force Pilate to act.

The women around the cross wept uncontrollably.

The disciples of Jesus all ran off and deserted Him in His hour of need (except John).

Jesus’ countrymen engaged in mocking and taunting while witnessing His execution.

Who caused Pilate, the Jewish authorities, the women, the disciples, and the Jewish people to become angry and upset and depressed?

It was JESUS!  And since He disrupted the unity of His nation, He needed to go, right?

This is the prevailing view among many denominational leaders today.  If a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, and some people in the church become upset, then the pastor is usually advised to resign to preserve church unity, even before people fully know the truth – and even if the pastor is totally innocent.

In fact, there are forces at work in such situations that don’t want the truth to come out.

That is … if unity is more important than truth.

But if the charges against Jesus – blasphemy against the Jewish law and sedition against the Roman law – were false and trumped up, then Jesus should have gone free even if His release caused disunity in Jerusalem.

The point of Steinke’s story is that leaders – including pastors – need to remain calm during turbulent times in a church.  There are always anxious people who push the leaders to overreact to relieve them of their own anxiety.

If Pilate hadn’t overreacted … if the mob hadn’t … if Jesus’ disciples hadn’t … would Jesus still have been crucified?

Divinely speaking: yes.  It was the only way He could pay for our sins.

Humanly speaking: no.  What a travesty of justice!

20 centuries later, Jesus’ followers can do a better job of handling difficult accusations against Christian leaders – especially pastors.

Instead of becoming anxious, they can pray for a calm and peaceful spirit.

Instead of making quick decisions, they can make deliberate ones.

Instead of aiming for destruction, they can aim for redemption.

Instead of holding up unity as the church’s primary value, truth should be viewed that way.

If the pastor in this story had been guilty of a crime, then the leaders needed to choose a different course of action.  Sadly, these things do happen in our day, even in churches.

But in this case, the leaders stood strong and did not let the anxiety of others – or their own – determine the destiny of their pastor and church.

They opted for truth instead.

And the truth will set you – and everyone else – free.

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Here is the second half of the introduction to my recently-published book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict.  I sign all the books that are ordered from my website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org   You can also purchase the book from Amazon and other retailers.


While there are fascinating studies on the forced termination of pastors, Christians need to hear more stories about this tragedy that happens behind closed doors.  Yet pastors are afraid that if they tell their stories publicly, they will look foolish, rehearse their pain, sully their reputations, and damage their chances for future employment. So except for rare forays into the light, the involuntary dismissal of hundreds of pastors every month has escaped the notice of most Christians.  Because most books on conflict are aimed at pastors and church leaders, my hope is to enlighten and empower lay people as well to ensure that conflicts involving pastors or staffers are handled in a just, deliberate, and biblical manner.

I may be violating some unwritten rule that says, “What happens in church stays in church.”  Wouldn’t it be better for our careers and mental health if my wife and I refused to look back, learned from our mistakes, kept our mouths shut, and advanced full-speed ahead?  But I believe it’s a greater evil to remain silent.  What kind of a New Testament would we have if Paul had been mute about the problems in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Crete?  We have learned so much from those churches and their blunders.

Part of me wants to travel back in time and prevent my father’s forced exit.  If I could help him with that situation, would he still be alive today?  Although that notion may be unrealistic, I have sensed God calling me for years to do something to limit (and even eliminate) the unchristian practices that are inherent in forcing an innocent pastor to leave a church.  Wouldn’t it advance the kingdom to prevent this tragedy from happening to other pastors and churches?

Let’s acknowledge that troubled pastors do exist. Some have character disorders or a narcissistic bent.  Others are control freaks.  A few are lazy.  Some can even be tyrants.  There are pastors who should be terminated – and even leave pastoral ministry altogether.  But Alan Klaas, who investigated the causes of pastoral ousters in different Christian denominations, concluded that in 45 percent of the cases, a minority faction caused the pastor to leave, while “only seven percent of the time was the cause the personal misconduct of the minister.”[iii]

I have written this book with three purposes in mind.  First, I want to share my side of a conflict as forthrightly as I can.  Several weeks after the conflict surfaced, I sat in two public meetings and did not respond to any of the charges leveled against me.  Three years later, I am able to articulate my responses with greater perspective.  Others have differing views as to what happened, and that’s fine.  This is not the final version of what happened in 2009, but my version as I experienced it.  While the conflict occurred, I took careful notes, generated and received scores of emails, interacted with key players, and interviewed congregational experts.

Next, I want to seek redemption for what we’ve experienced.  Rick Warren says that our greatest ministries emerge from our greatest sufferings:

“God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others . . . . The very experiences that you have resented or regretted most in life – the ones you’ve wanted to hide and forget – are the experiences God wants to use to help others.  They are your ministry!  For God to use your painful experiences, you must be willing to share them.  You have to stop covering them up, and you must honestly admit your faults, failures, and fears.  Doing this will probably be your most effective ministry.”[iv]

While my wife and I are unimportant in the larger Christian community, maybe our willingness to share honestly about a painful experience will turn out to be our “most effective ministry.”

Finally, I want to prevent these kinds of conflicts from happening altogether.  My prayer is that by reducing the fifty-day conflict to slow motion, God’s people will be able to identify key junctures and learn from both the wise – and foolish – decisions that were made.  I also pray that believers will institute safeguards so that a similar conflict won’t invade their churches.

It is not my intent to seek revenge on those who hurt us.  Although it took time, my wife and I have forgiven them and wish them God’s best in the days ahead.  But for this story to help others, it must be reported with authenticity and emotion.  My goal is to let believers know how quickly a conflict can spiral out of control and to recommend ways to handle matters that go against our feelings but are consistent with Scripture.

Because I come from a tradition where mostly men are considered for ordination, I will use terms that reflect that reality, although I greatly value the contributions women make in ministry.

Except for members of my immediate family, I have used aliases throughout this book to protect the identity of the individuals involved. I have also avoided naming my former community or church – but all the events related in this story are real to my knowledge.

May God use this book to help his people treat pastors and staff members with greater dignity and respect so they can serve him passionately and productively until Christ returns.

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