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Posts Tagged ‘false accusations against pastors’

One of the greatest injustices in Christian churches today is that when a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, he usually lacks any kind of meaningful forum for responding to the charges.

And when he doesn’t respond adequately or immediately, any accusations are assumed by the pastor’s detractors to be true.

But it’s likely that pastors don’t answer charges well because they don’t know how to go about it.

The following story is a composite of situations I’ve heard about or experienced.

Pastor Bill attended a worship planning meeting one Monday night on his church’s campus, and after the meeting concluded, Jill, a team member, wanted to speak with him.

Jill was very emotional, and Bill did his best to listen, but ten minutes later, they were the only people in the building.

As soon as Bill realized they were alone, he began walking the distressed Jill toward the exit while trying his best to listen to her sorrow.

They spoke for a few minutes more outside the worship center, and as Bill turned to leave, Jill gave him a big “thank you” hug … which was witnessed by Cindy, a team member who had returned to retrieve her phone in the worship planning room.

The next day, the news was circulating around the church that Pastor Bill and Jill were involved.

The board chairman found out about it on Wednesday.

The entire board heard the news by Friday … as did most of their wives.

Bill didn’t hear anything until Sunday morning … in an email sent by a friend at 1:45 am, which he didn’t read until right before he left for church the next morning.

Most of the staff knew by Sunday morning … as did Jill’s husband and Bill’s wife.

Bill didn’t have a “thing” for Jill.  She was a ministry team member and a longtime friend.  He was just trying to be a good pastor by lending Jill an ear for a few minutes.

But when Cindy reported the incident to a few of her friends, they read their own experiences into what they heard and blew matters out of proportion, and suddenly Bill was on the hot seat.

Once Bill knew that the “incident” had traveled throughout the church, how should he handle matters?

Here are seven steps toward resolution:

First, the pastor can’t act like nothing happened.

He can remain silent publicly.  He can preach his sermon … greet his people … and go home.  Refuse to feed the fire.  Hope it will all blow over soon.

That approach might work with many such incidents, but the church grapevine comes alive whenever the pastor and another woman might be involved.

While the pastor might choose not to say anything … at least initially … he has to stay calm … and that’s not easy.

But he has to take action and get out ahead of this one.

Second, the pastor must tell his wife, board chairman, and associate pastor his version of events … separately and quickly. 

The pastor can’t overreact.

He must patiently tell his story to those closest to him.  He needs to be as open and honest as possible.

He must ask them if they believe him.  If they do, they will defend him.  If even one isn’t sure, however, it could cause trouble down the road.

The sooner the pastor gets the board on his side, the better, so the chairman should inform the rest of the board immediately.

The associate should handle the rest of the staff.

But most of all, the pastor’s wife needs to stand by him … strongly.

It would be advisable for the board chairman to contact Jill and receive her version of events as well.

The quicker the board acts, the sooner matters will be resolved.

This might seem like overkill, but let me assure you … the alternative is far worse.

Third, the pastor should ask the board to have a plan for response ready.

If the pastor’s marriage is loving and healthy … and everyone knows it … then this crisis will probably pass pretty quickly.

And if the pastor has a reputation for integrity, most people will give him the benefit of the doubt.

However … if there are churchgoers who don’t like the pastor, and want to see him leave … they might very well add their own charges to this “mini-scandal.”

For some reason, when a single accusation against a pastor makes its way around a congregation, there are usually those who seize the opportunity to make their own accusations against him.

One charge becomes two … becomes four .. becomes seven … becomes ten.

And then someone will call for the pastor’s resignation.

The board cannot assume that because Bill and Jill say that “nothing happened” that everyone else will believe them.

The truth is that a distinct minority may not want to believe them.

So the board needs to meet with Pastor Bill quickly … either on Sunday or Monday evening.

They need to hear his story from his own lips, and if they stand behind him, they need to put a plan in place for addressing any further accusations.

Fourth, the pastor needs to be an active participant in this process.

A mistake that many pastors make at this juncture is to relinquish everything into the hands of the board.

Why?

Because without guidance, some boards will make things even worse.

On the one hand, it’s understandable why the pastor would want to leave matters in the board’s hands.

When a pastor is under attack, it’s difficult for him to defend himself sufficiently.

The attacks hurt him and wound his spirit.  Since most pastors are pretty sensitive, they would prefer to assume a fetal position and lock themselves in a closet until matters are resolved.

But on the other hand, unless board members have had a lot of experience and have been well-trained in conflict management, their default position may be to put the incident behind them as quickly as possible.

And in the process, they may sell out their pastor.

I don’t like to say this, but when it comes to church matters, the pastor is likely a professional, and the board members are likely amateurs.

So the professional needs to provide guidance and expertise for the amateurs.

True, the pastor cannot exonerate himself.  He needs the board to do that for him.

But he needs to steer the process so the board can make their best possible decisions.

Fifth, the pastor must challenge the board to identify and confront those who have been spreading charges against him.

This is where most church boards blow it.

Stand behind our pastor?  Sure.

That’s playing defense.

Confront those spreading rumors?  Pass.

That’s playing offense.

I don’t know why this is so hard.

When Paul dealt with troublemakers, he named names: Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19); Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17); Demas (2 Timothy 4:10); Alexander the metalworker (2 Timothy 4:14).

And John did the same thing when he singled out Diotrephes by name in 3 John 9-10.

These verses aren’t just taking up space in our Bibles:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.  Romans 16:17-18

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time.  After that, have nothing do with him.  You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.  Titus 3:10-11

A pastor once told me that he was under attack at his church.  He brought in a consultant who asked the board members, “Who is attacking your pastor?”

They knew who the individuals were.

The consultant then told them, “Go meet with them and tell them to stop what they’re doing.”

The board members replied, “But we can’t go.  Those people are our friends!”

The consultant responded, “Go … now!”

They got in their cars and went … around 9 pm, as I recall.

But most boards think that it’s somehow offensive to go on offense at this point … but it’s the best thing they can do.

The board is showing churchgoers that they take the Bible … church unity … truth … and their pastor seriously.

And believe me, word will get around the church … and people will think twice the next time they’re tempted to spread gossip about their pastor.

But if the board wilts at this point, they’re not only throwing their pastor to the wolves … they’re establishing a culture that says the board won’t stand behind their pastor.

I have known several good pastors who quit at this point … not because they did anything wrong, but because their boards actively or passively caved on supporting their shepherd.

Sixth, the pastor must wait patiently for the board to finish their work.

This is so difficult.

Many years ago, a church leader vocalized an accusation against me.  It was a spur-of-the-moment thing … and I didn’t react calmly.

I immediately contacted the board chairman and an attorney in the church.  The board launched an investigation.

The next day, they met with my accuser and with me separately.

Then they asked me to apologize to my accuser.  Although I didn’t think I had done anything wrong, I did apologize … the next morning.

Then the board asked my accuser how many people had been told about the incident.  After gathering their names, board members contacted each person and told them not to spread things any further.

I not only had to wait for the board to finish their work … I had to wait to see if there would be any fallout down the road.

Tom Petty is right … the waiting is the hardest part.

Several individuals eventually left the church over it, but what could have been a tragedy was averted because the board handled things patiently and quietly.

And I had to let them do it.

I had input on the process because I had written a policy handbook months before that addressed how to handle such incidents … and thankfully, the board not only approved it, they followed it.

Finally, the pastor needs to teach his church how to handle both interpersonal and institutional conflict.

Once board members confronted those who spread rumors about Pastor Bill, the rumors died a quick death.

But had the board members failed to confront the gossips, matters could have gotten worse … much worse.

In many ways, the board had a choice: either confront the talebearers privately in their homes or eventually address the issues publicly in a congregational meeting.

And if you’ve ever seen a pastor on trial in a public meeting, you’ll never forget it … and won’t ever want to see it again.

In a few months … after the church is at peace … Pastor Bill needs to do some teaching on how believers should address conflict with each other and how believers should address grievances with church leaders … including their pastor.

Whenever I spoke on conflict, I automatically ruled out relating any incidents from my current church … only churches from my past or those I heard about from others.

So the pastor should not connect his sermon to the incident several months before.

Instead of trying to rectify the past, the pastor should try and prevent such incidents in the future.

In fact, I believe a pastor should discuss “how we handle conflict around here” at least once or twice every year.

Because when people become emotional, they become irrational, and such people can cause a lot of damage in a church.

Biblical safeguards are the church’s … and the pastor’s … ultimate protection.

_______________

Today marks the 550th blog article that I have written and published.

As of today, I’ve had more than 202,000 views on the blog over the past six-and-a-half years.

Sometimes I’ll write an article … it will do well initially … and few people will ever view it again.

Other times, I’ll write an article … it seems to go nowhere … and yet several years later, it will receive a healthy viewership.

With today’s article, I started in one direction, and as I wrote, I sensed I needed to go another direction.  I trust this article will be just what someone needs.

Whether you’re a longtime reader, or have stumbled onto this blog, thanks for checking in.

If I can help you with a conflict situation, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and we’ll make plans to talk.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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