Posts Tagged ‘dangerous church board members’

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.  1 Timothy 3:6

When a church is looking for governing leaders … whether they’re called elders, deacons, trustees, the Church Council, or something else … the apostle Paul says it’s unwise to choose “a recent convert.”


Because, Paul tells Timothy, “he may become conceited” and start thinking that he’s arrived … that he’s more spiritual than his peers … and that his judgment and decisions are always correct.

Over my career, I’ve noticed another kind of governing leader that often causes trouble in churches: the leader who has only attended one church in his/her entire life.

This includes:

*a person who is elevated to board status after having been saved, baptized, and trained in your church.

*a person who has spent his entire Christian life in just one other church.

*a person who attended a megachurch in another state and now attends your church.

Let me share two examples of why such people can be dangerous.

I once hired a staff member who had spent his entire Christian life in one church.  In his mind, the way that church did things was right, and the way our church did things was wrong.

It didn’t seem to matter what the issue was.

Over the course of my pastoral career, I had served in eight different churches.  I knew all kinds of ways to plan a worship service … preach a sermon … manage church funds … run an event … manage a staff … and lead a church.

Wouldn’t you think that my broad experience was invaluable to that church?

But because I didn’t do things exactly the way the staff member’s previous church did things, I wasn’t just unwise … in his eyes, I was wrong.

You can see how such an attitude would breed conflict … and it did.

It started his first week on the job when he wanted to overhaul an aspect of church finances … even though we didn’t hire him for that reason.  And that attitude continued during his entire tenure with us … even though I asked him to stop saying, “At my former church, this is how we did things.”

I always wanted to be flexible enough to learn from any church and from any one … but the message I constantly received was, “You don’t do things the right way … like my former church.”

He began undermining me … lobbying for his positions with other church leaders … and questioning decisions that were made years before he came to the church.

In other words, if everyone … including me as pastor … would do church the way his previous church had done them… our church would have been much more successful.

Doesn’t that sound like someone who “may become conceited” … and who prefers to run the church himself?

(This reminds me of the story that Rick Warren tells about the early days at Saddleback Church.  At a meeting one night … with only around 15 people in attendance … someone kept talking about the way his old church used to do things.  Finally, Rick told him, “If you like that church so much, then why don’t you go back there?”  He did.)

Another time, I was pastoring a church that was trying to reach unchurched people for Christ.

A couple had just moved into our community and began attending our church.  In their previous community, they had attended the largest church in the United States.

This couple invited my wife and me over to their house for dinner.  That went fine.

But after dinner, the husband gave me a piece of paper on which he had rated me and every staff member in a number of different categories … including appearance and work ethic!

He was trying to remake our church into his former church … and that was never going to work.

Instead of making him a leader … which some pastors might have done … I realized that his approach would just alienate everybody.  When I let him know that I wasn’t going to follow his suggestions, he and his wife stopped coming.

I hear stories from pastors who have been sabotaged from inside their congregation, and a common thread is that the pastor’s primary antagonists have spent most … if not all … of their lives in that one church.

If the pastor has experience in several different churches, he undoubtedly has many options to choose from when it comes to instituting change.  He can say, “I’ve seen this work … and I’ve seen this fail … and I’ve seen this be a hit.”

But if the pastor has leaders who have never seen a specific idea work … because they have limited experience … it’s going to be much harder for him to sell his approach to them.

This is why I believe so strongly that whenever a pastor attends a conference or a seminar designed to help his church grow, he should invite along as many church leaders as possible so they hear what he hears at the same time.

Lyle Schaller is generally considered to be the foremost expert in how churches function in the United States.  I once read an interview with him where he confessed that for years, he would offer learning opportunities for pastors … who would try to implement what they learned in their home church … but would meet resistance from governing leaders nearly every time.

Schaller said that pastors need events where they can bring along their leaders.  Then when the learning event is over, the pastor and his leaders can discuss what they’ve heard from an outside expert … who knows what dozens of churches all over the country are doing to reach their communities.

The couple from the megachurch may have been an annoyance, but because I didn’t let them into leadership, our church didn’t suffer much from their inexperience.

But the staff member who undermined me created a lot of conflict … and when the conflict surfaced … he cleaned out his office and suddenly quit.

It isn’t always possible for a pastor to work with church leaders who have experience in three or four other churches.

Pastors usually inherit boards … and sometimes those boards are filled with leaders who have had limited church experience.  That isn’t anybody’s fault.

Pastors inherit staff members, too … and sometimes their only experience is in that one setting.

But pastors need to be aware that those who think narrowly … who think there’s only one way to do things … can often cause a disproportionate amount of trouble.

We might call them legalists.  A Christian leader I knew termed them rightists.

There’s only one way to heaven … but there are many ways to get people there.

And the more flexible church leadership is, the more people they will win for Christ … and the more they will enjoy the ride.

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