Posts Tagged ‘Church Coup’

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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Over the course of many months, I’ve posted a few excerpts on the blog from my new book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict.

Since the book has now been published, I thought I’d post a few more excerpts.  The following is from the book’s introduction (with the formatting altered).


Did you know that hundreds of pastors are forced to leave their churches every month?

Christians rightly lament the persecution of believers worldwide, but they are being terrorized by secular authorities or religious extremists.  But in far too many cases, pastors and their families are being mistreated in local assemblies by their spiritual brothers and sisters – and the toll keeps escalating.

If a group in a church attacks their pastor and he is forced to resign, the consequences are tragic for everyone involved. The pastor may leave church ministry for good. That church’s reputation will be sullied.  Some believers will flee their church.  Friendships will end.  Outreach will stop cold.  And the evil one will dance.  I’ve seen it all my life.

When I was a boy, my father felt pressured to resign as pastor from a church he founded, even though he was innocent of any major offense.  He died twenty months later at age thirty-eight, leaving behind a homemaker wife who didn’t drive, two sons (ages thirteen and ten), and a five-year-old daughter who has only vague recollections of the father she lost.

During the ensuing years, the pastors of the churches I attended were subjected to similar pressures.  In my early teens, one pastor abruptly resigned in the middle of a church meeting.  My next pastor was forced to resign after five years of ministry.  In my second staff position, the pastor was voted out of office in another contentious public meeting.  And in my next staff position, the pastor was verbally threatened until he lost the will to serve.

When I became a rookie pastor, I learned that my predecessor had been forced from office after just one year of ministry.  When our church merged with a sister church two years later, the other church’s pastor was forced to leave.  Five years after the merger, a disgruntled churchgoer formed an alliance with a faction inside that church and pressured me to resign – but the board stood by me and that group left to form their own church nearby.

The next decade went so well that I hoped that I’d finally outlasted any ecclesiastical opponents. And after becoming the pastor of an impactful church entering the millennium, I entered the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary and wrote my dissertation on dealing with church antagonists using a biblical model informed by family systems theory. After studying how powerbrokers operate in a church, I thought I had finally come to a place where peace and understanding reigned.  But sadly, I was mistaken.

In the autumn of 2009, after my wife and I returned from a mission trip to Eastern Europe, our church’s governing leaders stunned us by making drastic decisions.  Seven weeks later, I resigned as pastor because too many people believed a litany of false allegations.  We were not guilty of heresies, immoralities, illegalities, or any major offenses.  While we both had made minor mistakes in our ministries, we were treated like we had committed ecclesiastical felonies.

As I have related our story to family, friends, and colleagues, I have learned how frequently this kind of situation is replicated in local churches.  While there are unique features to our story, the template for forcing pastors from their positions has remained the same for decades, if not centuries.  Forced exits have become so common in American churches that Rediger writes:

“Abuse of pastors by congregations and the breakdown of pastors due to inadequate support are now tragic realities. This worst-case scenario for the church, one that is increasing in epidemic proportions, is not a misinterpretation by a few discontented clergy.  Rather, it is a phenomenon that is verified by both research and experience.”[i]

Guy Greenfield, who was forced out of his position as pastor in his early sixties, comments:

“This problem is a growing phenomenon. Numerous publications of observations and research indicate that it is in fact a major problem approaching crisis proportions.  Talk to any group of ministers, and you will hear stories of tragedy and heartache. In recent years I have interviewed a considerable number of former ministers, now in secular work, and nearly everyone I talked with told me a similar story that resulted in forced termination. Many of them are now cynical, bitter, angry, and discouraged. Most tell me they will never return to a full-time paid church position.  Their wounds continue to be painful.”[ii]

While pastors have always faced the possibility of forced termination, the problem has been growing steadily worse, which is why wounded pastors are flocking to specialized ministries that offer professional assessments, intensive counseling, and peaceful retreats.

For the past three years, my wife and I have been living hundreds of miles from the church we once joyfully served.  We’ve asked ourselves, “How did we get here?  Why did we lose so many friends so quickly?  What did we do to contribute to our exile?”  What’s ironic is that I possess a good-sized library on managing and resolving church conflict, and I think I understand the field fairly well.  Yet part of me continues to engage in self-reproach because I didn’t see the conflict coming – and neither did our church family.  The whole experience still seems surreal.


I’ll share the other half of the introduction next time.  If you’d like to purchase the book, you can obtain a signed copy from my website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org or you can spend a little less and secure the paperback or e-book at Amazon’s website at http://www.amazon.com/Church-Coup-Jim-Meyer/dp/1624199321/ref=dp_wl_cart1?ie=UTF8&colid=EWNKS64TGXCT&coliid=IN8XJYN9467QW

Thank you!

[i] G. Lloyd Rediger, Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations under Attack (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 1.

[ii] Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 15.

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Over the past 3 years, I’ve been writing a book on a devastating 50-day conflict that my wife and I experienced in our last church ministry.

The book has now been published by Xulon Press and is titled Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict.

The book is 291 pages long, contains 14 chapters, and has more than 150 endnotes.

Why did it take 3 years?

*Because I wrote 450 pages and had to pare it down.  (You can’t share everything that happened or the book would become unreadable.)

*Because I chose to edit the book myself … and that took twice as long as writing it.

*Because this may be my only shot at writing a book … and I wanted to get it right.

*Because I hoped that the longer I waited, the less painful the recounting of the story would be for everyone involved.

While the first nine chapters are a narrative describing the conflict, the last five chapters analyze what happened and place it in its larger context in the Christian community.

There are models for books like this, such as The Wounded Minister by Guy Greenfield, Too Great a Temptation by Joel Gregory, Why I Stayed by Gayle Haggard, Crying on Sunday by Elaine Onley, as well as the classic Clergy Killers by the late G. Lloyd Rediger.

When I wrote my doctoral dissertation on church antagonism informed by family systems theory, my professional editor could not believe that these kinds of conflicts happen in churches.  Pastors know they occur, as do denominational executives and parachurch leaders, but the average Christian remains unaware of how conflicts begin and are perpetuated.

While pastors and governing boards will profit from the book, I wrote it primarily for lay people, which is why I chose to tell a story.  In fact, I believe that lay people hold the key to preventing and resolving these kinds of conflicts, even when they occur behind closed doors.

Let me make four observations about the book:

It’s personal.  The book is my attempt to share what a pastor goes through when a small minority targets him for removal.  I’m in a unique position to do this because I’ve seen pastors treated this way all my life, starting with my father, who died less than two years after he was forced to resign due to a major conflict in a church he planted.

It’s not possible to lead a large volunteer organization without making occasional missteps, which is why I wrote a chapter called, “Mistakes I Made.”  But I contend that any errors I made were minor and resolvable.  I was not guilty of any major offense and should have been protected against the accusations made against me.

However, some people collected several minor offenses, embellished them, exaggerated their importance, and then accused me of all kinds of wrongdoing.  They chose to elevate their personal agenda over the desires of 95% of the congregation . . . the epitome of selfishness.

While I answer some charges in the book, most could easily have been cleared up if people had simply spoken with me in person.

It’s emotional.  From the beginning, I intended to write a raw book, but after letting some professionals review it, I made modifications.

Because the book rehearses how the conflict affected my wife and me emotionally, there’s a lot of pain involved, which several endorsers noted.  Maybe someday the pain will subside, but from what I understand, it probably never will . . . and not just for us.

That’s why I’ve subtitled the book A Cautionary Tale.  There are lessons we can learn from pain that can’t be learned any other way.

At the eleventh hour, I felt like scrubbing the whole project, but my family cheered me forward.  Why put all that effort into a book and then discard it?  Because I truly don’t wish to hurt anyone or reopen any old wounds.

But if you write about the crucifixion, you have to talk about Pilate, and Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin, and Peter’s denials, and Judas’ betrayal.  There’s no way around it.

So I tried to put as much distance between me and those who attacked me as possible.  I don’t name the church or its community, and I give aliases to those who were integrally involved in the conflict.  Whenever I could advance the narrative without mentioning people by name, I did, and as often as possible, I attribute actions and decisions to groups rather than individuals.

In addition, I purposely tried not to attack anyone either personally or professionally.  While I vehemently disagreed with many decisions that were made, I try to express myself with grace.

A major conflict surfaces a range of feelings that you can’t conceal.  Before and during Jesus’ crucifixion, He experienced sorrow, depression, agony, abandonment, betrayal, and shock.

In the same way – but to a far lesser degree – there is no way to tell this story without relating strong emotions, especially outrage.  Since I’m a thinker more than a feeler, my account is usually restrained – but not always.

It’s prescriptive.  At the end of each of the first 11 chapters, I offer suggestions as to how to prevent these kinds of conflicts from happening in churches.  I offer counsel to pastors, governing leaders, and lay people alike.  The book is not so much a “look how much I suffered” lament as it is an attempt to point out mistakes that were made to help Christian leaders and churches handle these situations better in the future.

Paul wrote letters to 7 churches and 2 ministry leaders in the New Testament.  His letters to Timothy and Titus were for their eyes only.  But books like Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians and Ephesians and Colossians were written to congregations and intended to be read aloud to affect the behavior of entire assemblies . . . and Paul often instructs them concerning how to handle the conflicts in their midst.

There’s so little in print on dealing with these challenges.  So the book’s last chapter deals with the problem of pastoral termination.  I offer prescriptions for eradicating this plague that causes at least 1,500 pastors per month to leave church ministry . . . often for good.

It’s redemptive.  While God did not cause this conflict, He did permit it.  After Joseph encountered his brothers in Egypt, he told them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Much of my ministry in the days to come will be focused on helping congregations prevent these kinds of conflicts.  They are inherently destructive to churches, pastors, boards, and churchgoers alike.  (In fact, there isn’t one instance in the New Testament where churchgoers try to destroy one of their leaders.)

In my introduction, I quote Rick Warren – who is going through his own period of suffering right now – from his bestseller The Purpose Driven Life:

“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.”

This book is my attempt to carry out Rick’s words.  In fact, I felt that God was compelling me to write it.

If you’d like to buy Church Coup, you can order it at our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org

And if you find the book helpful, I’d appreciate it if you would tell others about it.

May God richly bless you, and remember the wisdom of Romans 12:18:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

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With Hurricane Sandy beating upon the Eastern seaboard … and headed north toward my position in New England … let me share with you a few provocative quotations from my soon-to-be-published book on church conflict (called Church Coup) before the power goes out.

While these quotations have been wrested from their context, they are designed to make all of us think.

Here’s the first one from Lloyd Rediger on page 53 of his book Clergy Killers:

“Because the church as a whole has succumbed to the business model of operation . . . the pastor has become an employee, and parishioners the stockholders/customers.  The pastor is hired to manage the small business we used to call a congregation. This means his primary task is to keep the stockholders happy; the secondary task is to produce and market an attractive product. When this mindset infects the church, the church is no longer a mission but has become a business . . . the introduction of a business mindset is producing dissonance in the church continually.  For though businesses advocate mission and discipline, the budget is necessarily the bottom line.  This is the reverse of how a healthy congregation functions.”

Here’s a second quotation from Guy Greenfield on page 56 of his book The Wounded Minister:

“Administration is a necessary part of directing a church’s life, but administration must always be a means and never an end. When deacons and other lay leaders see themselves primarily as administrators, then control is likely to be more important than ministry. When deacons emphasize that they are a ‘board’ (not a biblical concept), or when elders call themselves ‘ruling elders,’ watch out.  Control will become the primary issue.”

Here’s a third quotation from page 53 of Peter Steinke’s book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times:

“When we are flooded with anxiety, we can neither hear what is said without distortion nor respond with clarity. Bruce McEwen, a neuroendocrinologist, comments that stress limits our repertoire of responses. Fixated on what is endangering us, we forfeit our imaginative capacities. We act with a small and sometimes unproductive repertoire of behaviors.  With fewer alternatives, we act foolishly . . . . Our mind is set in imaginative gridlock, we obsess about the threat, and our chances of changing our thinking are almost nonexistent.”

Finally, here’s a quote from page 116 of Speed Leas’ book Leadership and Conflict:

“Confidentiality just increases the amount of fear in the system.  If we believe that we cannot share what is going on in a meeting or in a conflict, the secretive aura enhances rather than diminishes assessments of just how dangerous this situation is.  The more that is shared, the more that is talked about, the less threatening the experience . . . . I can’t say enough about the problems of confidentiality in organizational settings. In my experience the norms of confidentiality are serious barriers to managing conflict.  Secrets inhibit rather than open up communication, secrets raise fear, secrets keep out people who might be able to help, secrets presume that truth will enslave rather than set one free, secrets are often lies that keep the accused from confronting them because he or she supposedly doesn’t know the ‘charges.’”

If you’d like to interact with one of the quotations above, feel free to leave a comment.  As for me, I’ve got to batten down the hatches.  Sandy’s coming, and she’s pretty upset.

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