Posts Tagged ‘clergy killers’

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

haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,

hands that shed innocent blood,

a heart that devises wicked schemes,

feet that are quick to rush into evil,

a false witness who pours out lies

and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Proverbs 6:16-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was a threat to his plans for the church.

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

I was relieved.

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

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

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

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

*Maybe their marriage is falling apart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bully’s thinking may go like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixth, the church bully has collected grievances from others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, the church bully has aligned himself with Satan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s resolve not to let that happen anywhere.

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Winston Churchill is one of my few heroes.

Trip to London Oct. 6-13, 2008 746

When Time named their Person of the Century in 1999, they gave the award to Albert Einstein, truly a great man in a century dominated by scientists.

Trip to Virginia April 27-28, 2010 568

But without Churchill, we might be living under a Nazi flag.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting some Churchill sites, including Blenheim Palace (his birthplace and boyhood home) in England, the nearby churchyard in Bladon (his final resting place), and the underground Cabinet War Rooms in London, from where he coordinated the British fight against Hitler’s Germany.

IMG_0070IMG_0151Trip to London May 15-21, 2009 054Trip to London May 15-21, 2009 079

Right now, I’m reading William Manchester’s second volume on Churchill entitled The Last Lion: Alone 1932-1940, and I’m continually drawing parallels between the way Sir Winston viewed the Nazis and the way churches deal with antagonists.

The First World War was horrendous, resulting in 885,138 combat deaths for England and 2,050,897 deaths for Germany – not counting wounded soldiers.  When the Allied Powers drew up the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, they threw the book at Germany, demanding financial reparations totaling $442 billion in today’s currency (Germany made their last payment on October 4, 2010), forcing them to disarm, and making them take full responsibility for the war.

While the German leaders at the time tried to cooperate, Hitler and his cronies began their slow rise to power.  Hitler telegraphed much of what he did – through his autobiography Mein Kampf, his speeches, and various interviews.

After he became Chancellor of the Reich in 1933, Hitler charmed diplomats from countries like England, assuring them that he was rebuilding the German military only for defensive purposes.  Still gun-shy 15 years after the end of World War 1, the nations of Europe – and their leaders – chose to believe him.

All the while, Hitler was training young men to be soldiers, cranking out munitions at a non-stop pace, and putting together a top-flight air force, the Luftwaffe.

There were British citizens inside Germany who knew exactly what Hitler was doing.  But when they sent their data to the Foreign Office in London, they chose to ignore the facts, convincing themselves that Hitler’s military buildup had no relevance for England.

But Churchill knew better.

While still a member of the House of Commons, Churchill had been banished from any top leadership posts in His Majesty’s Government.  Whenever he rose to speak in the House, his views were ridiculed because he was relegated to being a Backbencher.

Trip to London May 15-21, 2009 684

But Churchill had a friend who lived near his Chartwell home who consistently delivered hard data about the Fuhrer’s real intentions.  Churchill had to be careful with the information because if he shared too much in public, politicians and journalists would demand to know where he obtained it.

Let me share with you four parallels between how England viewed Hitler and how many churches view conflict:

First, most people are conflict-avoiders.  The British did not wish to fight any country so soon after the Great War, a conflict that the United States entered late in the game.  And even when Hitler conquered Poland and bombed London, our country publicly remained isolationist.  (We didn’t officially enter World War 2 until Pearl Harbor.)

Most of us act the same way.  If there is a conflict in our family, we avoid it as long as we can.  If there is a shouting match between politicians on television, we turn the channel.  And if there is conflict at church, we look the other way or deny that it’s happening.  After all, we reason, it’s not my fight.

The truth is, even if it is our fight, we’ll do almost anything not to fight – and that emboldens certain people.

Second, there are usually signs that conflict is brewing.  The increasing number of German soldiers and munitions – along with the expelling of Jews – was a clear indication that something ominous was about to occur on the Continent.  Conflict almost never erupts without warning.  Those whose eyes are open can usually connect the dots.

During the message time at our church yesterday, we saw a video interview of a father and mother.  Their son had been acting strangely but they had no idea what was wrong.  As it turned out, he was on drugs, eventually taking both ecstasy and heroin.  The signs of drug usage were there, but this couple – who prided themselves on having a harmonious, loving family – refused to admit that their son could be involved with any mind-altering substances.

Denial in the face of evil can lead to destruction, not life.

Something similar happens in church life.  We don’t want to believe that the pastor is immersed with pride, or the youth pastor is getting too close to that Jr. High girl, or that board member has destructive intentions.  While the warning signs are there, we don’t act on them.

If the problem is within your authority, deal with it as soon as possible, using Matthew 18:15-20 as a guide.  If the problem lies within someone else’s purview, inform them quickly.  If you see something that concerns you, speak up and take action!  Delay leads to defeat, not victory.

Third, call evil for what it is.  The first time I heard about Adolph Hitler was when I was five years old.  (Hitler had committed suicide only fifteen years earlier.)  The atrocities he committed were still fresh on everyone’s mind, bolstered by The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by journalist William L. Shirer in 1959 (the longest book I’ve ever read besides The Bible).

When I entered fourth grade, our class saw a lot of newsreels of Hitler.  We saw him making speeches.  We saw the torchlight parades in Nuremberg.  We saw the Nazis burning books (at what is now a peaceful little park in East Berlin, shown in the photo below) and the Jews being fed into ovens.  We saw images of evil that never left my innocent little brain.

Europe Vacation Photos April 2005 215

And much to the credit of my teachers, we learned how Hitler came to power, fooled his own people, and disguised his true intentions to the world.

In other words, we learned how to detect evil before it openly surfaced.

Please hear me: evil isn’t confined to dictators.  You will find evil in churches, too.  And not just evil actions; people can be evil.

How can you tell who they are?

They never admit they do anything wrong.  They blame all problems on other people.  They disguise their real intentions and lie about others – especially leaders.

Their ultimate goal?  The destruction of church leaders so THEY can be in control and call the shots.

Scott Peck wrote about such people in his book People of the Lie.  It’s a chilling read.  Lloyd Rediger has also written about such people in his book Clergy Killers.

Hitler was evil.  Sadly, a handful of church people are evil, too.  I hope no one like that is in your church, but evil people have been known to infiltrate churches.

I’ve met a few.  Have you?

Finally, Christians have to be willing to fight evil.  Whenever Hitler bombed London, businessmen and families headed for shelter, especially in the depths of the British subway system known as the Tube.  They ran from evil.

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But the British war planes couldn’t hide in the Tube.  It was their job to take on evil – and they did so nobly.  We might not be living in a free country if the British hadn’t confronted Nazi evil in their own backyard.

No Christian should go looking for evil in a church.  Churches have enough hyper-critics.  But when evil rears its ugly head, and it’s obvious there are people bent on destroying the pastor or other leaders, evil must be resisted – and defeated.

Evil cannot be appeased.

A few weeks ago, I caught The Two Towers – the second film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy – on television.  At the end of the film, as Frodo is nearly possessed by the ring’s evil, he says, “I can’t do this, Sam.”  In what is probably my favorite speech in any movie, Sam replies:

“I know.  It’s all wrong.  By rights we shouldn’t even be here.  But we are.  It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.  The ones that really mattered.  Full of darkness and danger, they were.  And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.  Because how could the end be happy?  How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?  But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.  Even darkness must pass.  A new day will come.  And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.  Those were the stories that stayed with you.  That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.  But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.  I know now.  Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going.  Because they were holding on to something.”

Frodo asked wearily, “What are we holding onto, Sam?”

Sam replied, “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo … and it’s worth fighting for.”

Churchill would be proud.


Although I wrote this post several years ago, I thought I’d repeat it and add to it because there is so much evil in the world today.  Thank you for reading!

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When pastors get together, what do they talk about?

Their walk with God?

Their family?

Church progress?

Yes, but in my experience, when pastors congregate, they talk about their ecclesiastical adversaries more than any other topic.

Why is this?

Maybe it’s because pastors can’t discuss this issue with anyone in their own congregations … or because their wives don’t want to hear about it anymore … or because they know that other pastors are the only ones who really understand how they feel.

Pastors must endure chronic complainers … and occasional critics … and these individuals can be found in every church, regardless of size.

Most pastors don’t lose too much sleep over these people.

But ministers do lose sleep over a special brand of critic: the Clergy Killer.

I wrote about CKs in my last article, highlighting three traits they all have in common:

*A CK is someone who strongly disagrees with the direction the pastor is taking the church.

*A CK is someone who collects the complaints of others.

*A CK is someone who seeks additional power in the church.

As I mentioned last time, I can only identify 15 CKs that I’ve known over 36 years of church ministry … and 5 of them were people who attacked my pastor when I was a staff member.

That means as a solo or senior pastor, I’ve only been attacked by 10 CKs … but one is far too many.

Let me share two additional traits of a CK:

Fourth, a CK is someone who makes a conscious decision to lead a charge against a pastor.

A CK isn’t just a critic or a complainer.  Those people can stay in a church for years and never become a CK.

A CK wants to destroy his or her pastor.

When is an attack by a CK most likely to occur?

According to research, between years four and five of a pastor’s tenure.

Why then?

Because by then, a pastor has clearly laid out the direction he wants his church to go.

The pastor’s agenda usually prompts two strong responses from parishioners: agreement or resistance.

Those who resist the pastor’s leadership at this point can go in one of two directions: either they choose to leave the church or they choose to stay and push out their pastor instead.

In my second pastorate, I had this happen to me right on schedule … between years four and five.

When CKs make the choice to force out their pastor, they will use any means at their disposal to get rid of him: threats … rumors … exaggeration … and clear cut lies.

In most cases … and this is going to be a strong statement … CKs believe that it’s permissible to commit evil actions as long as they eventually get rid of their minister.

This is why CKs must be identified and stopped … but only by using the twin weapons of truth and love.

As a wise man once said: beware lest in fighting a dragon, you become a dragon.

Finally, a CK is someone who will never admit that what they’re doing is wrong.

CKs are rightists … people who seek to control everyone around them … insisting that people – including their pastor – do church the way they want church done.

I know of a church that seems to be going down the tubes.  They have been looking for a new pastor for more than a year.  One of their conditions for any candidate is that the person agrees not to use contemporary music during worship.

How much do you want to bet that a CK is chairman of the search team?

The CKs I have known exhibit personality traits that tend toward narcissism, sociopathy, and paranoia.

Their narcissism tells them that they are superior to the pastor.  They don’t believe the pastor knows the right direction for the church … they do.

Their sociopathy tells them that they need to defeat the pastor to feel good about themselves.  The pastor can’t be reclaimed or restored … he must be obliterated.

Their paranoia tells them that they better “get” the pastor before the pastor “gets” them.  So the CK overreacts to every possible slight or offense, interpreting things the pastor says or does in the worst possible light.

What happens to a CK after their attack on the pastor?

Some stay in their church … but rarely repent.

Some leave their church … but only if the pastor can amass a supportive coalition that will confront the CK head-on.

Some are disciplined by the Lord … either through tragedy or death.

I take no pleasure in writing about CKs, but there is a place in Christ’s church for prophetic warnings, and I want to sound the alarm.

For you see, when I was a boy, several CKs banded together and pushed out my pastor.

Less than two years later, my pastor died.

That pastor was my father.

And not long afterwards, that church went out of existence.

What most Christians fail to understand is this:

An attack on your pastor is ultimately an attack on your church.

Never, ever join forces with a CK.

Instead, if you suspect someone is demonstrating the traits of a CK, confront them.  Expose them.  And defeat them.

This is the way of apostles like Paul and John and Peter and Jude.

And it needs to become our way in the 21st century as well.


This is the 250th article that I’ve posted since December 2010.  I used to think it was a good day if I had 25 views in a day.  Now I regularly receive 3 times that number, for which I praise God.

I’m not writing about issues for the general Christian public … I’ll let others address those things.

Instead, I want to write about topics that Christians think about but can’t find much guidance on.  I want to expose the dark side of the church to the light.

I literally have scores of topics I can write about … all I have to do is peruse the terms people type into their search engines to find my blog.

My Top 10 all-time most viewed articles are:

1. If You Must Terminate a Pastor (3 1/2 times more views than the second most-read article)

2. Pastors Who Overfunction

3. Secular Songs You Can Sing in Church, Finale

4. When to Correct a Pastor

5. Secular Songs You Can Sing in Church, Part 1

6. When You’re Upset with Your Pastor

7. Pastors Who Cause Trouble

8. Conflict Lessons from War Horse

9. Facing Your Accusers

10. Why I Love London

Like most writers, sometimes I write for myself, and other times, I write to shed light on a problem area.

I can never predict how many times a particular article will be read … but I’m grateful every time someone reads even one.

And that includes you, my friend.

Thanks for reading!

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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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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Did you know there are individuals in our churches who seek to destroy pastors?

There is a term for such people: “clergy killers.”

I first heard the phrase used by Dr. Lloyd Rediger in an article promoting his book Clergy Killers which was published in the late 1990s.

The late Dr. Rediger was an ordained Presbyterian minister, a pastoral counselor, a church consultant, and the author of books on clergy burnout and toxic congregations, among others.

In 2011, when I learned that Dr. Rediger lived in the Southwest, I contacted him about the possibility of meeting someday.  However, he told me he couldn’t meet because he was busy working on a film about the clergy killer phenomenon.

The film has now been released, and it’s called Betrayed: The Clergy Killer’s DNA.

My wife and I recently viewed the 90-minute film in its entirety … hitting the pause button along the way to discuss what we had just heard.  (I can be annoying that way.)

The film features unscripted interviews with pastors, psychiatrists, and Christian leaders who seek to expose what they say has been “the best kept secret in the Church.”

And these leaders hail from evangelical, mainline, and Roman Catholic congregations.

Those who are interviewed discuss the motivations of those who attack clergy … our need to label this kind of behavior as “evil” … the viciousness of the attacks … the role of Satan and spiritual warfare … and the heavy cost that clergy killers exact on pastors, their families, and congregations.

In fact, clergy killers consider themselves to be on a mission: to destroy a pastor at all costs … regardless of how much the CK hurts others.

The film not only exposes people who attempt to harm their pastors, but also indicts churchgoers who allow this “emotional terrorism” to happen without doing anything.

I encourage you to order this film and watch it with other believers.  It’s one of the best things you can do to keep your church healthy … and to protect your pastor from unwarranted attacks.

In fact, if you’re in a small group, I encourage you to show the film sometime and discuss it afterwards.

You can order the film from the following website (and they’ll send it right out):


It’s one of the best moves you can make to protect your pastor … and your church … from clergy killers.

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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This article is the second half of the answer to the question, “What happens to clergy killers?”  In other words, when a group attacks and consequently “takes out” a pastor, how do the people of the average church respond to such an attack on their minister?

The answer might surprise you.  Here’s part two from my upcoming book:

In some situations, mature Christians hang around to see if church leaders will correct the instigators. But if nothing happens after a while, these believers may leave the church permanently, especially if they see the perpetrators serving in visible positions. During such conflicts, a church is going to lose somebody. Isn’t it better to lose divisive people than mature believers?  Anderson comments, “The result is that the church keeps the dissenters and loses the happy, healthy people to other churches. Most healthy Christians have a time limit and a tolerance level for unchristian and unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.”[i]

I had a conversation recently with a Christian man.  We were discussing what should be done (if anything) to churchgoers who join forces to push out their pastor.  This man believes that a church should remain passive toward perpetrators because God will eventually punish them.  He told me about an associate pastor who engineered the ouster of his senior pastor.  The associate later contracted cancer and his wife died a horrible death.  Christians don’t need to address the perpetrators, he said, because “God’ll get ‘em.”

It is true that God may get them.  The law of sowing and reaping still applies in this life (Galatians 6:7) and God promises to repay us all according to our deeds in the next life (2 Corinthians 5:10).  There are cases in the New Testament where God executed swift punishment against professing believers like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) and staunch unbelievers like King Herod (Acts 12:19-23). Most pastors can tell stories about the eventual demise of attendees turned into attackers.  For example, a man who led an attack on one of my pastors died of a heart attack the day he was moving out-of-state.  While God may not “take out” every perpetrator, how are twenty-first century believers to interpret all the biblical admonitions to confront divisive individuals in a local church?  Have God’s words now become irrelevant?

When I was a rookie church staff member, I witnessed an event that I have never forgotten.  A few hours before a Sunday evening service, the elders met to discuss what to do about three church leaders who were involved in sexual immorality.  I watched as the door to the pastor’s study swung open and various elders piled into cars to drive to the homes of those leaders and confront them. The serious looks on the leaders’ faces told a story – they didn’t sign up for this – but to their credit, they did it.  Eventually, one offending leader made a public apology (without naming his sin) but all three families affected chose to leave the church.

Where is the courage today that those elders displayed?

        [i] Leith Anderson, Leadership That Works: Hope and Direction for Church and Parachurch Leaders in Today’s Complex World (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), 31.

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It’s been a while since I’ve presented an excerpt to my upcoming book, which should be published in September or October.  The book is a real-life story about a group of people who joined forces to force a pastor to resign … using any and all means at their disposal.

The last chapter of the book presents FAQs on this kind of conflict.  In most churches, there are churchgoers who know which perpetrators have launched an attack on their pastor … but to keep their friendship, they usually remain silent.

I’ll divide this question into two parts.  Here’s the first part:

What usually happens to the perpetrators?

Realistically?  Nothing.  Biblically, however, perpetrators must be corrected before they strike again. This can be done by staff members, the governing board, or deputized members.  However, if a transitional/interim pastor is hired after the pastor’s departure, he may have to oversee this thankless task.  (Some transitional pastors are trained to deal with powerbrokers and request absolute authority before being hired.)  Unrepentant individuals who target their pastor sense they are immune from correction and feel free to use the same template with the next pastor.  However, in such situations:

Peace mongering is common. With tranquility and stability reigning as premium values, congregational leaders adapt to their most recalcitrant and immature people, allowing them to use threats and tantrums as levers of influence. Malcontents’ complaints never seem to cease. Unwilling to confront the constant critic, leaders set the table for the unhappy souls to have a movable feast of anxiety.  By appeasing rather than opposing, leaders give control to reactive forces.  Feed them once and leaders can be sure they will be back for more.[i]

As far as I know, no one took action against any non-board perpetrators in our situation.  My counsel to any successor is, “Watch your back.  They know the template.”  Trull and Carter note:

Generally speaking, an incoming minister does not need to fear those who speak well of the predecessor. Those who loved, appreciated, respected, and supported the former minister will likely do the same with the new minister.  The church member of whom the minister should be wary is the one who speaks ill of the previous minister. Those who criticize, find fault with, and express disappointment in the former minister will probably react to the new minister in the same way over time.[ii]

I have to confess, this really bothers me.  For decades, pastors have been told that whenever there’s a major conflict in a church they’re leading, they need to resign to keep the church intact. But why should the pastor leave while those who initiated the conflict are permitted to stay?  I suppose it’s easier to remove one person than many.  And spiritually-speaking, the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, just as Jesus did (John 10:14-15).  But why don’t God’s people band together and ask the perpetrators to leave as well?  If the pastor can find another church, they can find another church – and it’s much easier for them than for him. I saw the highlights of a basketball game in which both players involved in a fight were instantly removed from the game.  Why doesn’t this happen in churches?  Aren’t we rewarding people for their divisiveness without expecting them to change?

If I was a layman and my pastor was pushed out by non-board antagonists, I’d approach a board member and say, “If you confront those who perpetrated this conflict, I will stay in this church.  But if you don’t deal with them, I will leave and find a church where they take Scripture seriously. And if anybody asks why I left, I will feel obligated to tell them.” While this may sound harsh, how can church leaders take no action against those who have driven out their minister?  Steinke writes:

In congregations, boundary violators too often are given a long rope because others refuse to confront the trespassers. When boundaries are inappropriately crossed and people are harmed, no one wants to name the violation.  It’s as if the disturbance of the group’s serenity is a greater offense than the viral-like behavior.  Boundary violators go unattended and suffer no consequences . . . . The lack of attention only enables the repetition of the invasive behavior.[iii]

Your thoughts?

        [i] Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, 102.

        [ii] Trull and Carter, Ministerial Ethics, 129.

        [iii] Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, 85.

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