Posts Tagged ‘dealing with church powerbrokers’

After a pastor has been forced out of a church, he goes through an incredible amount of pain.

*He loses his position … and maybe his career.

*He loses most of his church friends … and sometimes his wife and/or children.

*He loses his income … and can’t file for unemployment.

*He loses his joy and drive … and his ability to trust people.

Statistics indicate that 45% of the time a pastor experiences a forced exit, a small faction was responsible for his departure.

Only 7% of the time is the pastor’s misbehavior the real reason for his leaving.

And yet … after his last day … forces inside the church will informally conspire to blame everything on him.

What are these forces?

First, many interim pastors blame the previous pastor for any conflict that ensued.

I hear these stories all the time.  They have become predictable.

An interim is hired … comes to a church that’s just pushed out their shepherd … and concludes, “The pastor deserved to leave.”

Why does the interim do this?

*He wants to curry favor with his new employers.

*He wants to discredit the previous pastor so he will look good by comparison.

*He wants to make friends with “the faction” so they won’t turn on him.

*He wants the shadow of the previous pastor to stop hovering over him.

*He wants to “forget the past” and move on.

But in the process, many … if not most … interims allow the reputation of the previous pastor to be trashed.

And what’s sad is that in most cases, the interim has never even met the previous pastor.

Wouldn’t it be better if an interim pastor said this publicly instead?

“I have never met your pastor, so I don’t know him at all.  From what I’ve heard, he did a lot of good while he was here.  I’m sure that many of you have fond memories of him, especially when he ministered to you during a time of need.  Although I don’t know all the events surrounding his departure, as long as I’m here, we’re going to honor him for the good that he did, and pray that God will eventually bring about reconciliation between the pastor and anyone who might be upset with him.”

But when is the last time you heard an interim pastor say something like that?

Second, the church board blames the previous pastor as well.

They say things behind the scenes like:

“He always wanted his own way.”

“He wanted to change things too fast.”

“He refused to cooperate with us.”

“He never listened to our ideas.”

These charges sound credible because members of the governing board both knew and worked with the pastor.

But there are two problems with these statements:

*The pastor isn’t around to defend himself.  He may have a vastly different interpretation of the circumstances prompting his departure.

*The church board ends up taking zero responsibility for their part in the pastor’s exit … leaving them in a position to repeat their error.

During my 36 years in church ministry, there were many staff members who worked under me.  Sometimes, those situations didn’t work out.

When they left, I asked myself, “What did I do to contribute to their lack of success here?”

If it was a character issue, there may not have been anything I could do.

But if it was a supervisory issue, then maybe I did bear some responsibility for their leaving … and I didn’t want to repeat my mistake with the next person hired.

Wouldn’t it be better for a church board to say this publicly instead?

“We are sad that our pastor has left.  He was called here by God.  He loves his wife and children.  He worked hard as pastor.  We felt that his preaching was biblical and instructive, that he cared deeply for the people of this church, and that he will be very much missed.  Although we aren’t able to share all the details of his departure, we believe that he still has a future in ministry.  Therefore, we will not tolerate anyone trying to destroy the pastor’s reputation.  If we hear any talk along this line, we promise that you will be confronted and corrected.  Let’s not cause any more pain for the pastor or our people.”

But when is the last time you heard a board say something like that?

Third, the faction that drove out the pastor must blame the pastor. 

They have to.  It’s part of their narrative.

The faction could be a group of old-timers … or seniors … or traditionalists … or staff members … or the church board … or a synthesis of these groups.

The faction … often as few as 7 to 10 people … will blame all the church’s problems on the previous pastor for a long time.

They want the spotlight on him … not on them.

But this isn’t the tactic of a mature believer, but of a child.

When I was in second grade, some girls were bothering me.  One recess, my friend Steve and I handled things … unwisely.

The girls told the teacher.  The teacher came over to me in class and shook me … hard.

Thinking fast, I blamed everything on Steve … and it worked.

I don’t remember what happened to Steve, but I quickly found myself in the clear.

The girls shouldn’t have done what they did.  And Steve shouldn’t have helped me scatter them.

But I bore responsibility for my actions.

And when a faction plays a part in pushing out a pastor, they are responsible for their actions.

But for some reason … and I will never, ever understand this … nobody at the church holds them responsible.

In fact, they’re usually forgiven (which really means excused) without demonstrating any kind of repentance.

Their false accusations … malicious charges … gross overreactions … and attempts to destroy someone called by God are all ignored by the interim pastor … church board … and church staff.

And then, to guarantee future immunity, this group cozies up to the interim and the new pastor.

Wouldn’t it be better for the pastor’s attackers to say this publicly instead?

“We were angry with the pastor.  He didn’t always do what we wanted him to do.  His resistance made us anxious.  And so we overreacted.  We spread vicious lies about him.  We ran him down every chance we could.  We used the telephone and social media to make him look bad.  Even though our accusations clearly hurt him, we kept things up, even attacking his wife and children.  But we were wrong.  Although we can’t bring the pastor back, we admit our part in his departure, and will submit to any correction that the church board deems fair.  And we promise to apologize to the pastor for the way we treated him and his family.  We have asked God to forgive us and ask you as a congregation to forgive us as well.”

But when is the last time you heard a faction say something like that?

When pastors leave a church prematurely, they may have made some mistakes … but that doesn’t mean their reputations should be besmirched in their former church … among their former church friends … or in the wider body of Christ.

The single best way to protect the previous pastor’s reputation is for the remaining church leaders to properly assess responsibility for the pastor’s departure.

If the pastor was guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, okay, then maybe he’s fully or almost fully to blame for his leaving.

But if a faction rose against him … and the board turned against him … and some staff betrayed him … then how can the previous pastor be 100% to blame?

He can’t be.

God forgive us for the way many Christians thoughtlessly harm the reputations of a former or current pastor.









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