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Posts Tagged ‘church members who complain’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back, I made two mistakes at this juncture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is not going to happen here at Grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess which group we want to stay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any questions for me?

 

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What’s the Number One Sin among churchgoers today?

Missing your quiet time?

Failing to attend worship services?

Neglecting to tithe?

Let me offer a candidate: complaining.

While re-reading the Book of Exodus, I’ve been struck by the never-ending parade of griping, whining, and grumbling that the Israelites did.

*They complained when Pharaoh’s slave drivers made Israel gather straw to make bricks (Exodus 5:19-21).

*They complained right before God miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-12).

*They complained when they came to Marah and the waters were bitter (Exodus 15:22-24).

*They complained in the Desert of Sin because they didn’t have any food (Exodus 16:1-3).

*They complained at Rephidim because they had no water (Exodus 17:1-3).

And that doesn’t count all the complaining they did in the Book of Numbers … chapter after chapter of angry, discontented, ungrateful people.

And God hates complaining.

Why?

Let me offer three reasons:

First, complaining demonstrates a lack of faith in God.

Even though God:

*delivered Israel from the Egyptians, Israel still wanted to return there.

*purified the waters at Marah, the people later complained they lacked food.

*gave them food, they then claimed they didn’t have water.

God listened to their cries and continually met their needs, but they didn’t learn anything, constantly blaming God every time life didn’t go perfectly.

Sound familiar?

The Lord recently surprised me with something I’ve been praying for a long time.

Yet barely a week later, I find myself upset that the Lord hasn’t immediately solved another problem.

I need to remember: since the Lord solved that first issue in His time and way, He’ll solve this current issue as well.

That’s true in our personal lives, as well as in our church lives.

Second, complaining denigrates God and the leaders He’s chosen.

Just one month this side of Egypt, we’re told, “… the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 16:2).

After telling Israel that God would provide food for them, Moses and Aaron said:

“… the Lord … has heard your grumbling against him” (verse 7).

They then ask, “Who are we, that you should grumble against us?”

Then Moses concludes in verse 8, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Translation: grumbling against God’s leaders is really grumbling against God.

Moses and Aaron weren’t perfect; they made mistakes.

But they were God’s chosen leaders … and God identified Himself with them.

How many times have you complained about your pastor … or a staff member … or the church board?

If God chose them … fallible as they are … then isn’t grumbling against them really complaining against God?

Isn’t whining a way of saying, “If God assigned me to lead this church, then I’d do a much better job?”

For example, think about what you’ve said about your pastor recently.

Does your attitude and language indicate that you support his leadership … or that you’re sabotaging it?

Finally, complaining usually becomes infectious.

Congregational consultant Peter Steinke claims that complaining operates as an unchecked virus in a church.

Churchgoers complain in the parking lot after worship … at restaurants with friends … via phone calls and emails and text messages during the week … and even while the pastor is preaching.

Discernment and critical thinking are good things, and believers need to be able to evaluate what’s happening in their church.

But Steinke says that when someone at church comes to you and starts to gripe about a leader, the complaining virus is seeking a host cell.

If you listen to the complainer and agree with their issue, the complaining virus enters your spirit … replicates itself … and then gets passed on to others.

Ever hear someone say, “There’s a cancer in our church?”

The cancer spreads because professing Christians listen to and absorb complaints that they have no business hearing.

Why not?

Because the complaints are often about church leaders … and the leaders have no idea what people are saying about them.

What should churchgoers do instead?

That’s the subject of my next article!

What has been your experience with complaining churchgoers?

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Have you ever seen the British TV show Whitechapel?

The show is about detectives in London’s East End who deal with gruesome murders committed by copycat killers who emulate famous criminals.  The first series deals with attempts by the detectives to detect and arrest a murderer who has been replicating the crimes of the infamous Jack the Ripper.

To find the murderer, the show’s three stars must examine crime scenes, check forensic evidence, interview those who knew the victims … and attempt to write a profile of the actual killer.

If they can create such a profile, they hope to stop more murders in the future.

Unfortunately, most churches have another kind of murderer in their midst … a clergy killer.

I first heard the phrase “clergy killer” 16 years ago when I attended a seminar for pastors and their wives.  On that occasion, I was given an article by G. Lloyd Rediger about this issue.

That same year, Rediger published his pioneer work Clergy Killers.

While I will use Rediger’s phrase in this article, the rest of the work is mine.

Over the course of 36 years in church ministry (4 churches as a staff member, 4 as a pastor), I have been able to identify at least 15 CKs in the 8 churches I served in.

*3 churches had 3+ CKs, while 3 others had none.

*Most CKs were men – by a 2-1 ratio.

*3 married couples in separate churches worked in concert to force out their pastor.

*3 were board members at the time they surfaced as a CK, while one was an office manager.

*2 of the 15 died of heart attacks at inopportune times.

Clergy killers are not simply chronic complainers … or those who disagree with leadership decisions … or those who get mad and leave a church.

No, clergy killers are self-appointed individuals who are on a mission to get rid of their pastor … and they will use any means at their disposal to accomplish their goal.

What is the profile of a clergy killer?  Here is a composite from my experience:

First, a clergy killer is someone who strongly disagrees with the direction the pastor is taking the church.

These are complaints I’ve heard over the years (some were directed at the pastors I worked for, some at me):

“The music on Sunday mornings is awful.”

“The church doesn’t do enough with the denomination.”

“The pastor doesn’t work hard enough.”

“The church is mismanaging its money.”

“The pastor is lazy because he doesn’t teach enough during the week.”

“The pastor is too focused on the needs of the unchurched and not the congregation.”

“This church is not run enough like a business.”

After each complaint, add the phrase, “And it’s all the pastor’s fault … so he needs to go.”

A person doesn’t qualify as a CK because they mentally toy with these thoughts, or because they share them privately with their spouse or a friend.

No, a person becomes a CK because they boldly – even brazenly – begin to share their complaints with their network at church … almost indiscriminately.

And the upshot is that since the pastor is going in the wrong direction, he must be removed.

Second, a clergy killer is someone who collects the complaints of others.

The CK knows that his or her complaints aren’t enough to eliminate the minister.  They’re just opinions … and not impeachable evidence.

So the CK begins to contact churchgoers they suspect have their own complaints against the pastor … often after worship on Sundays.

The CK shares their complaints in hopes that (a) their compatriots will agree with them, and (b) share some of their own issues.

This gathering of grievances is wrong.

In fact, I’ll even go further: it’s sinful.

And if it continues, it’s downright satanic.

When I collect complaints from others, I encourage them to share their offenses with me.  In the process:

*I haven’t made any attempt at sharing my own feelings with the pastor so he can explain his position or make things right between us.

*I don’t encourage others who are upset with the pastor to speak with him directly … but with me instead.

*I’m using their complaints to build a case against the pastor in direction violation of Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21.

*I’m not interested in a fair process or in reconciliation … I’m interested in becoming judge, jury, and executioner for my network.

One pastor calls this pooling of offenses “the bait of Satan.”

Here’s the interesting thing: the pastor often finds out who is doing the complaining as well as the nature of at least some of the complaints anyway.

Years ago, when a CK went after me, he began making calls to people who had left the church, suggesting that they left because of me.

One woman vehemently denied that I was the reason she left … and proceeded to tell me what was going on … which was exactly the right thing to do.  Her call provided evidence that a CK was at work in our midst and allowed church leaders to construct a strategy to force him out instead.

Just remember: if the CK had one clear-cut spiritual/moral felony to report about the pastor … like denying the deity of Christ … or an illicit sexual relationship … or stealing money from the offering plate … that might be sufficient to push out the pastor.

But because the CK can’t produce evidence of such felonies, the CK tries to pile up a host of lesser offenses instead … hoping the sheer volume of complaints will be enough to compel the pastor to leave.

And that is not the work of God.

Third, a clergy killer is someone who seeks additional power in the church.

The CK feels that he or she is superior to the pastor … smarter than the pastor … and more connected with the congregation.

Because the CK has an inflated view of their greatness, they believe that they know what’s best for the church … and that the pastor does not.

As I think about those who were CKs in previous ministries, they fall into two categories: those who had a church position and wanted greater authority, and those who did not have a church position but felt they deserved one.

The majority of CKs I have known fall into the latter category.

Some of them had once been on the church board but had not been asked to serve again, which made them resentful over time … especially when they noticed who did get onto the board.

Some of them taught a class or held a leadership role, but felt they deserved more authority because they alone knew what was best for the church.

The truth is that most CKs feel powerless in life.

Maybe they no longer wield the power they once did at work … or the government is after them … or they’re not getting along with their spouse … and they sense they can regain a measure of control if they seize power at church.

Some CKs were even called to the ministry earlier in life … and rejected that call … but still wish to be the Protestant Pope of their congregation.

If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering, “Jim, does this stuff really happen in churches or are you exaggerating to make a point?”

No, it really happens.  In fact, 25% of all pastors have been forced out of church ministry by CKs at least once.

Know anybody who fits this profile so far?  (I hope not.)

I’ll finish up next time.

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