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Posts Tagged ‘confronting a pastor’

When I was in high school, there was a girl at my church who liked me … and I knew she did.

Because I didn’t feel the same way, I tried never to say or do anything that would make her think I wanted to be more than friends.

She ended up going to my college, although I didn’t recall seeing her around campus.

One afternoon, as I was getting in my car to drive home, she came running toward me and asked if she could speak with me.

She asked me to forgive her.

She confessed that she had liked me for a long time, but because I didn’t reciprocate, she came to hate me instead … and her hatred was eating away at her so much that she wanted to get rid of it … by telling me how she felt.

I verbally forgave her on the spot, which seemed to help her feel better, and she left with a heavy load removed from her shoulders … and transferred onto mine.

But I’ve always remembered that encounter.

The good: it took a lot of courage for her to track me down at school and speak with me, and I’m sure she felt better after our little talk … but I never saw her again.

The bad: I wish she hadn’t told me that she had hated me for several years.  I started wondering, “Who else hates me but hasn’t told me?”

Scripture encourages God’s people to deal with interpersonal issues as they arise.  Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27:

‘In your anger do not sin’; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Paul tells us four things in these two verses:

*It’s normal for believers to feel anger at times.

*It’s possible to be angry without sinning.

*We are commanded to resolve our anger before nightfall.

*When we let our anger fester, Satan gains an entry point into our lives.

Please note that pastors and church leaders are included – not excluded – in these verses.

Unresolved anger can turn into bitterness, and Satan loves to take one person’s bitterness and disseminate it throughout a family … or a church.

As I often say, division in a church starts when people begin to pool their grievances … usually against their pastor.

So God’s counsel to all of us is:

RESOLVE YOUR ANGRY FEELINGS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE … AND RESTORE BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS AT YOUR FIRST OPPORTUNITY.

If every Christian did this, we’d have fewer conflicts in churches, and fewer pastors would ever experience the heartbreak of a forced termination.

But many … if not most … believers fail to deal with offenses as they arise, so they hoard their grievances – which eats them up alive – and end up passing them on to others.

Bitterness then becomes a cancer that eats away at the joy and effectiveness of people’s lives.

People then tell themselves, “I can’t get rid of my anger until I get rid of the object of my anger” … in all too many cases, the pastor.

Let me share two stories that present opposite ways of handling an issue with a pastor.

The first story involves confronting a pastor immediately about an offense.

One Easter many years ago, a man in my church ended our first service with a performance song.  As the singers and musicians gathered at the front to receive directions for the second service, this gentleman approached me and accused me of saying something derogatory about him right after the service.

I assured the man that I did not say what he claimed, but he was adamant.  (It’s not something I would even think, much less say about another person.)

If I apologized to him, it would be a lie … but if I didn’t apologize to him, I knew he was going to spread my “offense” to as many people as possible.

I’m glad he came to me directly before he said anything to anyone else.

But he couldn’t have chosen a worse time.

I understand that singers and musicians can be very sensitive … especially on a big Sunday like Easter.

But pastors can be sensitive as well … especially right before or after they preach.

That’s a sacred time for a pastor.

I can remember times in my ministry where I was so shook up over something someone said before a sermon that I couldn’t wait to finish my sermon and go home.

One person’s need to “unload” can impact an entire congregation.

So if you do need to speak with your pastor about an issue you feel strongly about … wait until he’s done preaching for the day first … or you might indirectly harm your church family.

Or better yet … calm down … forgive him from the heart … and then either speak with him or let it go.

Dr. Archibald Hart believes that before we confront someone, we should first forgive them, and only then should we confront them.

Because otherwise, we may confront them in anger … as the singer did with me … and we end up making matters worse.

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The second story involves waiting two decades to confront a pastor.

In his book Love in Hard Places, theologian D. A. Carson tells about the time a Christian friend took Carson aside.

The friend told Carson that he wanted a private word with him because Carson had offended him. So the two of them arranged a meeting, and Carson’s friend told Carson about an incident that had happened twenty-one years earlier.

Carson and his friend were having a theological discussion and his friend quoted a few words from an author who had written in French. Because Carson grew up speaking French, Carson repeated the French words after his friend because he was unconsciously correcting his pronunciation.

Carson’s friend didn’t say anything at the time, but several decades later, he told Carson, “I want you to know, Don, that I have not spoken another word of French from that day to this.”

Carson apologized for offending his friend, but upon later reflection, Carson felt “there was something profoundly evil about nurturing a resentment of this order for twenty-one years.”

After all, how can you even remember what happened if the incident occurred so long ago?

Hold onto that last line as you read the next story.

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This is my concern about the “Me Too” movement in our culture right now.

It’s not only in the culture … it’s spread to Christ’s church as well.

WORLD Magazine – a Christian publication – ran an article recently that greatly disturbed me.

Twenty years ago, a twenty-two-year-old youth pastor took a seventeen-year-old high school senior girl on a date.

They parked on a secluded road.  He asked her to do something to him that was wrong.

She started doing it … he realized how wrong it was … and he got out of his car, collapsed, and repeated over and over how sorry he was.

This young man confessed his wrongdoing to the young woman.

He also apologized to the girl’s family and her discipleship group, as well as the church staff and the church leadership.

(Most people … even in ministry … would not speak to as many people as that young man did in admitting what he had done wrong.)

And when he admitted his sin, he lost his job.

(I might add, in that state, seventeen is still an age of legal consent.)

This young man ended up moving to another state and eventually becoming a staff member in another church.  Several decades later, he became a teaching pastor in that same church.

He is married with five sons.

The pastor believes that his sin “was dealt with … twenty years ago.”  He disclosed his sin to the leaders of his former church … to his wife before they married … and to the staff of his new church before joining the ministry.

The woman contends that the original church hid the youth pastor’s specific sin from the congregation and then allowed him to resign without public confession.  She claims they engaged in a “big cover up.”

But the pastor said, “Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with [her.]”

The pastor has been placed on a leave of absence.  There is now an online petition calling for the pastor’s resignation, and a book that he’s written has had its publication date canceled.

Because of the backlash of the Me Too movement, there is now a Christian backlash against this pastor as well.

What does this story tell us about the forgiveness of sin among believers … and pastors?

Maybe the following story can shed some light on this situation.

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In his book Pleasing God, the late R. C. Sproul – one of my favorite theologians – tells the following story:

“When I was in seminary, I was a student minister in a small church.  I insulted the daughter of a woman who was a pillar of the church.  The daughter was deeply offended.  I went to her and apologized profusely.  She refused to forgive me.  I went two more times and apologized literally in tears.  Still she refused to forgive me.”

Sproul continues:

“Eventually, the time came for my monthly meeting with the minister who was my pastoral supervisor.  He was an eighty-five-year-old retired missionary who had spent fifty years in the interior of China and five of those years in a communist prison camp.  He was a man of extraordinary godliness.  I went to him with deep embarrassment for the mess I had made of my first pastoral experience.  I told him what I had done.  He listened carefully and then replied calmly: ‘Young man, you have made two serious mistakes.  The first is obvious.  You should not have insulted the daughter.  The second mistake is this: you should not have apologized three times.  After the first apology, the ball was in her court.  By refusing to forgive you, she is heaping coals of fire upon her head.'”

But … and I know this from firsthand experience … a single person who is angry with a pastor can destroy his reputation and career.

We’re living in the time of “one strike and you’re out … forever.”

Most of the time, if someone tries to destroy their pastor, they will indirectly destroy their church as well.

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When I left my last church in December 2009, I knew what was going to happen.

Everybody and anybody who didn’t like me was going to float their grievances against me to others in the congregation.

Although I made mistakes during my 10 1/2 years in that church … as I did in every congregation … I felt I made far fewer mistakes there than in any church I’d ever served.

And yet, how ironic that soon after I left, I was charged with committing far more mistakes in that church than in all my other ministries combined.

When a pastor is charged with wrongdoing, those accusations may or may not say something about him … but they almost always say something profound about his accuser(s).

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15:

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

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My wife and I just received a bill for nearly a thousand dollars.  It was for medical care that she had received fifteen months ago.

We were very upset about the bill, as you might imagine.

In fact, we were positive we had paid that bill completely.

My wife contacted the medical office, but they said that we owed the money.

When we did some research, we discovered that we did in fact owe the money … but that it took the medical office seven months to send the bill to us.

I hate it when that happens.

And I hate it when somebody hoards a grievance against me … especially when I assume that our relationship is fine … when it isn’t really fine at all.

It’s unbearable for a pastor to ask himself, “I wonder who is going to tell me that they hate me next?”

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Pastors make mistakes, and they need to admit their mistakes … ask for forgiveness … and, if necessary, engage in restitution if it’s required.

But pastors aren’t angels, either, and when they sin and repent, they need to be forgiven … or their career and reputation can be destroyed.

I saw a video last night of a shepherd and his flock.  It’s here:

The flock knocks the shepherd over, but when he tries to get up, another sheep charges at the shepherd and knocks him down.

It’s actually pretty funny.

But what isn’t funny is when a pastor does something wrong … admits it … tries to make things right … and is knocked over by the sheep anyway.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You’re in the fast lane on the freeway.

A car going 25 mph faster than you’re going crosses four lanes and cuts in front of you, forcing you to brake suddenly.

You’re rightfully furious.

How should you handle things?

You’re walking around at home without shoes.

You accidentally stub your toe on an immovable bookcase.

You’re in mortal pain.

How should you handle things?

You’re sitting in a worship service waiting for the pastor to begin preaching.

The pastor announces that a staff member … a close friend of yours … has resigned.

You’re positive she was forced out … and you’re angry.

How should you handle things?

The typical way we humans handle anxiety is to react emotionally.

We swear at the driver who cut us off.

We scream when we stub our toe.

We blurt out, “Noooooooo!” when our friend resigns.

We react automatically … instinctively … reflexively … and immediately.

And often … mindlessly.

God has wired us for self-preservation, so when we feel threatened, or sense that an injustice has been done, we act naturally … and sometimes foolishly.

Several weeks ago, an 18-year-old young man was shot and killed by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri.

Many local residents reacted by protesting and marching … but some … including members of the press … pronounced the policeman guilty even though they have no idea what really happened.

The American justice system does not permit citizens to take justice into their own hands, and for good reason.  Better to let a grand jury hear the evidence and return with a possible indictment several months later.

Why?

Because when we’re emotionally reactive, we can’t think straight.  We’re focused on the way we and others feel.  We’re not thinking process … we’re thinking relief.

And reactivity usually leads to greater reactivity … and that’s how wars start.

Several weeks ago, I attended a training session for Bridgebuilder, a church conflict intervention process designed by Dr. Peter Steinke.

During the course of the training, Dr. Steinke made two observations that especially intrigued me.

Observation #1: Steinke said that when a pastor is doing something that bothers or upsets church decision makers, the pastor needs to be confronted and given time to make changes.

(This does not refer to heresy, sexual immorality, or a felony).

How much time?

Steinke says the pastor should be given 12 to 15 months to make changes, and if he hasn’t made them by then, he should be asked to resign.

But in evangelical circles, pastors are often fired outright or asked for their resignation without any kind of formal confrontation and without any corrective process.

Why does this occur so often?

Because the governing leaders … sometimes in collaboration with staff members and/or a faction … can’t tolerate their anxiety.

So they resort to emotional reactivity, and then they’re shocked when the pastor protests his dismissal, or the pastor’s supporters become angry and leave the church en masse.

And when this happens, those same leaders often resort to lying to cover up their mistakes … and to scapegoat the departing pastor.

If the governing leaders of your church want to blow it to smithereens, then force out the pastor without speaking to him directly and without using any kind of deliberate process.

It’s guaranteed: the emotional reactivity of the governing leaders will lead to emotional reactivity in others … and negatively impact your church for years.

Observation #2: Steinke says that when a church is in conflict, he recommends that they engage in a 2-4 month process to work through the issues … which is what Bridgebuilder is all about.

Rather than making instant decisions that will harm many people, it’s crucial that God’s people take time to move from emotional reactivity to rational reflection … as hard as that process may be.

Seventeen years ago, I was pastoring a fantastic church.  Over the previous five years, we had experienced virtually no internal conflict.  If people didn’t like something, they just left.

But we eventually had to move our Sunday service from one location to another five miles away, and in the process, we lost 1/3 of our congregation … and their donations … overnight.

The stress started taking its toll on several leaders who were involved with finances.  A key couple left the church, and soon after, another key couple stayed home one Sunday, which they didn’t normally do.

The uncertainty of our situation made me extremely anxious.  Was our congregation about to unravel?

I confided in a wise Christian leader, and he told me, “Jim, it’s too soon to know what’s going to happen.  You need to let this play out.”

He was right.  The more anxiety I demonstrated, the more anxious I made everybody else.

If you’re experiencing conflict in your church … your workplace … or your home … there are two ways you can manage matters.

You can react instinctively … move quickly … and try and find instant relief.

Or you can respond wisely … devise a deliberate process … and work the process until most people agree upon solutions.

The arrest … trials … passion … and crucifixion of Jesus took less than a total of ten hours.  Those who executed Jesus have been castigated and pilloried for twenty centuries.

If the Jewish and Roman authorities had taken more time, would they be viewed any differently by history?

Think about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Even though the event happened thirty years ago, I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in my second pastorate.

As a young pastor, I was trying to put a new twist on some old practices … so one Sunday morning, I did communion differently.

I substituted pita bread for those small wafers, and used Styrofoam cups instead of the tiny plastic ones.

In my mind, it was just an experiment.

After the service, many people told me how much they enjoyed communion … especially the young couples.

As I recall, nobody voiced any objections … until the following Sunday.

At 10:55 that morning … five minutes before the service began … I stepped into the men’s room.  The church’s 77-year-old songleader joined me.

While standing where men momentarily stand, the songleader told me:

“I didn’t like the way communion was done last Sunday.”

I replied, “Well, many people told me how much they enjoyed doing communion differently.”

When I asked him why some didn’t like it, he responded, “Too unsanitary.”

And then he added, “And many people agree with me.”

I asked him, “How many?”  He replied, “Five.”

I then asked, “What are their names?”

He replied, “I’m not telling you that.”

My well-meaning friend … who has long since gone to be with Jesus … could have handled the situation much better.

In fact, let me share with you three tips for disagreeing with a pastor:

First, never confront a pastor right before or right after a worship service.

My friend had one full week to discuss his feelings with me.

He could have called me on the phone or set up an appointment.

Had he shared his concerns during the week, we could have had a relaxed discussion.

But right before a service, pastors are intensely focused on their message.  Their entire week culminates with their sermon.

Because pastors are usually sensitive individuals, one stray comment can negatively impact their feelings and thus their sermon, impacting an entire congregation.

After a pastor preaches, he’s drained … especially if he has to speak more than once.

Although pastors work hard to be gracious after they preach, they’ve emptied themselves spiritually and emotionally … and if people criticize him, his reactions can be unpredictable.

It’s far better to write the pastor an email on Monday or give him a call during the week … but let him go before and after he speaks.

Second, choose an optimal setting for dialogue.

I can’t speak for women, but men don’t have substantive conversations in a restroom.

The pastor’s study might be a good place for a discussion … or a restaurant … but not a place where men tend to get in and then get out.

I realize that some people see their pastor on a Sunday and think, “Oh, I meant to call him this past week, but he’s right there, so I’ll talk to him now.”

But the heavier the issue, the more time it requires … and the church patio is not the optimal place for discussion.

It’s better to say to the pastor, “There’s something I’d like to discuss with you this next week.  When would be the best time to talk?”

Then let the pastor tell you how to approach him … and I guarantee he’ll listen better.

Third, always speak for yourself when you have a disagreement.

My friend thought that if he told me that others agreed with him, it would add weight to his argument, but it had the opposite effect.

Because if you don’t tell me who you represent, I can’t verify the truthfulness of your claim.

All he needed to say was, “I didn’t like the way you did communion last week.”  Now the two of us can dialogue one-on-one.

But when you bring phantom individuals into the room … and you won’t tell me their names … what am I supposed to say?

“You’re right … I’ll never do that again?”

After that encounter, I learned to make an additional statement to anyone who called upon phantom witnesses:

“Please tell anyone who is upset to speak with me personally.  If they do, I promise to listen.  If they don’t, then I will assume the issue isn’t that important.”

Over the years, know how many phantom witnesses later came to me?

That’s right … not one.

That should tell you something.

Pastors are not popes or angels.  They make mistakes … and it’s all right to discuss their mistakes with them.

Just avoid sermon time, bathrooms, and phantom witnesses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Imagine that you’re enjoying a family get-together on Father’s Day, when suddenly, your brother decides to confront you about a remark you made several hours earlier – only he does it in front of your entire family.

You might feel defensive responding in front of others.  Your brother might engage in theatrics to put you on the spot.  Various members of your family might immediately take sides.  The entire confrontation could divide your family and result in one big mess.

So rather than responding in front of your family, the wiser course might be to say, “Can we discuss this matter in private rather than in front of the entire family?”

The implication underlying Matthew 18:15-17 is that your brother – in this case, your pastor – has said or done something that threatens to harm your relationship, or even his ministry.   Nowhere in Matthew 18:15-17 are pastors or church leaders excluded from Jesus’ directives.

Matthew 18:15 does not say: “If your brother sins against you, ask someone else to confront the offender.”

And it does not say, “If your brother sins against you, tell everyone but your brother how much he hurt you.”

And if you’re a member of a church board, this verse does not say, “If your brother sins against you, ask the board chairman to confront the pastor.”

And nowhere does Jesus say, “If you’re upset with your pastor, send him an email and let him know what you really think.”

No, if you heard the pastor say something sinful, or you saw him do something wrong, it’s your job to confront the pastor – or you need to let it go.

But if it’s serious enough that you can’t let it go, then work up your courage and set up a one-on-one meeting with your pastor as soon as possible.

*When should you have the meeting?

One Sunday in my first pastorate, I tried serving communion a different way.  The following Sunday, a board member reprimanded me for my little experiment – five minutes before the following Sunday’s service in the men’s bathroom.

The very worst times to have a confrontation with your pastor are right before and directly after a service where he’s preaching.

Before the service, the pastor will be focused on his message and may not take your concerns seriously.

After the service, the pastor will have expended an enormous amount of adrenaline and may not be in full control of his emotions.

You want to speak with your pastor when he’s at his best, not when he’s at his worst.

A pastor friend once surveyed his colleagues and discovered that the optimal day to confront a pastor was on a Tuesday.  This makes sense because the pastor has recovered from his adrenaline loss the previous Sunday and is just beginning to focus on his message for the following Sunday.

When I was a pastor, my preference was for individuals to call and make an appointment with me.  Depending upon that person’s identity, we’d agree on a meeting place together.

*Where should you have the meeting?

If you meet in the pastor’s study at church, you’re on his turf, and he can control the environment … but in some cases, that might be the only possible place.  A neutral room at the church might work as well.

If you invite the pastor to your house, he may become wary and not come at all.

My preference – if possible – was to have a tough meeting in a public place (like a restaurant) where both parties had to be on good behavior.

It’s extremely difficult for most people to confront their pastor about an offense.  Most people prefer to let things go or tell others how they feel.

But if you really love your pastor – and you want him to change – confronting him may be something that God is calling you to do.

And nobody said that obeying God would be easy.

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The article you have just read is adapted from an e-book I’m writing for church boards (and decision makers) who are frustrated with their pastor and are exploring the possibility of terminating him.

I’m about 80% done with the first draft and welcome your comments about what I’ve written.

 

 

 

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