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Posts Tagged ‘firing a pastor’

One of the most common complaints that church leaders have about their pastor is this one:

“He acts like a dictator.”

This complaint usually states that the pastor:

*spends money without authorization

*makes major decisions unilaterally

*withholds valuable information from key leaders

*verbally abuses staff members

*threatens people who try to confront him

*doesn’t listen to people’s concerns or complaints

*becomes angry easily

All too many pastors want to run the church their way … and they will take down anyone who tries to oppose them.

The difference between leaders and dictators:

*Leadership requires collaboration.  A pastor who is a good leader has to make presentations for various projects to the church board, staff, and other key leaders to seek their approval.

But a pastor who is dictator bypasses that collaboration and makes major decisions unilaterally … and then expects key leaders to support him fully.

*Leadership requires ownership.  In my last church, we built a new worship center, a project that eventually cost about two million dollars.  The building team worked on the plans.  The church board handled the financing.  The staff gave their input at every turn.  We asked the architect to stand before our congregation and present his plans … allowed people to ask questions … and then held a meeting where people shared their input.  We later listed every word people said on the church website which let everyone know we took congregational input seriously.

We needed broad ownership in decision making so that we could have broad ownership when we asked people to give toward the building.

But a pastor-dictator will bypass as many of those steps as possible.  He and a few of his buddies inside the church will do most of the work … and then expect people to buy in with their finances … and things usually won’t go very well.

*Leadership requires patience.  I once heard a prominent pastor say that it takes four years to make a major change in a church.  A good leader will devise a process where he charts a clear course … people’s complaints are heard … their objections are answered … and change is not rushed.

But a pastor-dictator is always in a hurry.  He doesn’t want to give the complainers any kind of forum because they might waylay his plans.  He doesn’t want to devote any time to answering objections because he’s thought things through and that should be good enough for everyone else.  The dictator thinks it’s his church far more than it’s the people’s church.

*Leadership requires love.  I once knew a pastor who took a ministry class in seminary.  The professor told his students you have to “love the sheep” and then “lead the sheep.”  My friend approached the professor after class and said, “That was really great … you have to lead the sheep then love the sheep.”  The professor said, “No, you have to love the sheep and then lead the sheep.”  Big difference!

The pastor who is a true leader loves his people and then leads them.  He motivates them by recommending ministries that are in their best interests.

But the dictator doesn’t even lead his people.  He manipulates the congregation into doing what are in his own best interests.  He bulldozes them … threatens them … and sends out the signals, “I alone know what is good for this church.”

To quote Paul Simon, such an attitude “sure don’t feel like love.”

*Leadership requires humility.  The leader’s attitude is, “I believe this is the direction God wants us to go as a church.  I’ll need your help along the way.”

But the dictator equates his own wishes, words, and plans with the will of God … and to question him is to doubt the Lord Himself.

If you’ve read my words …

What can you do about a pastor who is a dictator?

First, realize that most pastors who have adopted a dictatorial leadership style are rarely going to change. 

Such pastors have enjoyed at least some success with their style which is why they keep using it.  But whether it’s a personality flaw, or a narcissistic bent, or a defense mechanism, most dictators never change.

You can plead with them to become more collaborative … threaten to leave the church … or send them for counseling … but it won’t do any good.

I have never known a dictatorial pastor to alter his modus operandi.  Have you?

Now if a pastor has exercised a collaborative style, and temporarily becomes dictatorial, that’s different.  Sometimes a pastor senses that unless he pushes a project hard, nothing’s going to happen.  I had to do that at times, but if people called me on it, I backed off and tried to reset matters.

In this article, I’m talking about pastors who have demonstrated unilateral dominance from Day One.

Second, realize that dictators will keep going until someone tries to stop them.

Once a dictator has momentum, that person will continue to use their domineering style because they’re getting results.

And if nobody ever calls them on their tactics, they’ll just keep using them.

The only way to stop a dictator is to stage some kind of an intervention.  Let them know that what they are doing is counterproductive to the leadership and the congregation.

Much of the time, church leaders will tell me, “He’s a dictator, but boy, is he a great Bible teacher!  He really knows the Word!  Our people love his teaching!”

But sometimes, good teachers make lousy leaders.  Many Bible teachers would rather spend all their time researching, writing, and delivering messages than doing anything to improve their leadership skills.

If so, let the pastor teach … and get someone else on board to lead the church.

Third, realize that dictators sow the seeds of their own destruction.

Once you’ve woken up to the fact that your pastor is a dictator, know that a Day of Reckoning is bound to occur … and maybe soon.  Godly, gifted, intelligent people rebel inwardly against dictator-pastors … and if they conclude that things won’t change, they’ll quietly head for the exits.

Here is what will happen:

*your best leaders will leave the church first

*key ministries will be curtailed due to a lack of volunteers

*staff members will be laid off due to lack of funds

*those remaining will be the passive takers, not the active givers

*the dictator-pastor will then jump ship as soon as he can

This may not sound kind, but it’s better to take out the dictator before the death spiral occurs than to do nothing and watch your church slowly die.

Finally, the only way to deal with a dictator is to defeat them.

That means you’re going to have to fight them for control of the church.

And if you do engage them, I guarantee it’s going to get nasty … and bloody … and people are going to get hurt … including you and your family.

For this reason, if you’re in a church with a dictator as pastor, it’s preferable that you and your family quietly look for another church.

But if you’re determined to stay, you’re going to have to deal with your pastor … and there are ways to do this that are consistent with Scripture and the Christian faith.

If I was a board member, and I felt that the pastor had to go to save the church, I’d take the following steps:

*Call a special meeting of the official board away from the church campus.

*Express your concern about the way the pastor has been operating.  Share real-life examples.

*Go around the room and let each board member share how they feel about the pastor.  If the pastor has strong support, and you can’t convince them of your position, mentally make plans to leave the church.  YOU CAN’T DEAL WITH A DICTATORIAL PASTOR UNLESS YOU HAVE FULL BOARD SUPPORT.  If you do have full board support, then:

*Take time to pray and read Scripture together.  Ask God for His guidance … and for courage.  Confronting a dictatorial pastor will be among the hardest things you will ever do.

*Consult your church’s governing documents.  Hopefully there’s a section that lays out how to hire and fire a pastor.  If not, obtain the governing documents from three other churches that are governed like yours and summarize their process in a few steps.  Then write out what you believe are the best practices for terminating a pastor and adopt them as a board.

*Do not make a laundry list of all the pastor’s shortcomings.  That’s destructive.  Instead, focus on the one or two areas that concern you the most … no more than two.  (People can’t change in multiple areas of their lives.)  Come up with several examples under each area of concern.  You’re going to share these concerns with the pastor.

For example: “Pastor, whenever we ask you to give a report of your activities at the monthly board meeting, you just say, ‘Everything’s fine.’  But we need much more information than that!  We’d like you to bring a one or two page written report to every board meeting so we know specifically what you are doing.”

That’s a reasonable request.  (I brought a written report for years to every board meeting.)  But the dictator usually resists such accountability.

*Prayerfully ask two people to meet with the pastor to express the board’s concerns.  If possible, the chairman should be one of those people.  (Otherwise, the pastor will wonder, “Does the chairman know about and agree with this confrontation?”)

*Ask the pastor to meet the two board members at a neutral location, like a restaurant, rather than in the pastor’s study or someone’s home.  While you want privacy, it’s harder to make a scene in public.

*Give the pastor a choice.  Tell him, “We love you and we’re happy for you to remain our pastor, but we need to see the following changes in your life and ministry or else we will take further action.”  Then share with him how you want him to behave in the future.  If he becomes angry, wait until he calms down.  If he storms off, you’ll have to meet with him again.  Tell him that if he leaves the meeting and contacts his supporters,  you will recommend to the board that he be dismissed immediately.

*The pastor has four options at this point:

First, he can act like you’ve never met and continue operating as usual.

Second, he can contact his supporters, tell them about the meeting, and thereby institute an all-our war within your congregation.  YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR THIS POSSIBILITY.

Third, he can agree to make the changes you’ve suggested … in which case the board has the right to monitor his progress.

Finally, he may outwardly comply with the board’s wishes while starting to search for a new job.

I can’t give you a flow chart for what might happen under each option, but these kinds of situations can become unpredictable fast!

Let me share with you the single best way of dealing with a dictator-pastor.

Don’t hire one in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When a pastor is forced to leave his congregation, who is to blame?

Some inside a church will instantly proclaim, “The pastor is completely responsible for his demise.  He is 100% at fault.”

Others will insist, “The pastor isn’t to blame for his departure.  It was that spineless board … that heartless faction … or even the devil himself that caused this mess!”

The truth usually lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

In my book Church Coup, I quoted church conflict expert Speed Leas, who wrote about a research project along this line:

“While we could find some situations that were primarily the congregation’s ‘fault’ … and we could find some that were primarily the pastor’s ‘fault’ … these occurrences were rare.  Most of the time we found a mixture of congregational and pastoral causes that defied unraveling as to who ‘started it.’  Asking the question ‘Whose fault is it?’ in the church seemed to tangle people up … more than it helped … in our research into 127 ‘involuntary terminations’ or firings, we found the need to find fault to be one of the most characteristic and least helpful dimensions of the conflict … it is almost never the case that one party is exclusively in the wrong.”

This issue has been rattling around in my head for years, so let me mention five common scenarios involving a pastor’s departure … along with a general assessment of responsibility in each case:

First, if a pastor is guilty of a major offense, he is fully responsible for his own departure.

If a pastor is guilty of heresy, he should be fired and removed from office.

I read about a pastor many years ago who began teaching universalism, the belief that everyone – even Satan – will eventually be saved and go to heaven.

Since universalism perverts the gospel (if everyone can be saved, why did Jesus die?), the church was justified in removing that pastor from office, although he caused untold damage in the process.

If a pastor is guilty of sexual immorality, he should be removed from office as well.

I heard about a pastor who had an affair with a woman in his church for twenty years.  Twenty years!

How could he preach from the Holy Bible … serve Holy Communion … and even relate to the Holy Spirit while engaging in such conduct?

When the church board finally discovered the pastor’s misconduct, they took steps to remove him from office quickly.

Some experts believe these are the only two offenses that should merit a pastor’s forced termination, but I’d like to add a third: criminal behavior.

If a pastor has physically abused his wife … engaged in fraudulent financial behavior … assaulted people violently … or embezzled funds from his church … how can he stay as pastor?

He can’t.

When information about the pastor’s excessive misconduct comes to the attention of the church board, they should still:

*meet with the pastor

*ask him for his side of the story

*deliberate together prayerfully

*ask him to repent, if they discern he’s guilty

*aim for his restoration, not his destruction, if they remove him from office

But even if the board doesn’t handle the pastor’s departure perfectly, the pastor who is guilty of one of The Big Three has cooked his own goose.

However, this doesn’t mean that God is done with such individuals forever.

Second, if a church board has warned a pastor about a problem, and he’s failed to change his behavior within a reasonable time, the pastor is usually responsible for his own demise.

This scenario makes some assumptions … that the church board has:

*identified an area of the pastor’s life or ministry that needs changing

*spoken to the pastor directly and seriously about their concerns

*given the pastor enough time to turn things around

*monitored the pastor’s progress through the use of markers

*told the pastor what will happen if he doesn’t comply with their directives

Let’s say a pastor makes occasional insulting comments on Facebook to people from his church.  And let’s say that five people he has insulted are hopping mad and threaten to leave the church if the pastor’s behavior continues.

Once the church board approaches the pastor about this matter, he should do all he can to comply with their wishes, even if he doesn’t agree with each example they cite.

The pastor might choose to eliminate his Facebook page altogether … or write a message on Facebook apologizing for his behavior … or resolve to only write positive comments from now on … or at least refrain from saying anything that could be negatively interpreted.

But if the pastor continues to make insulting comments after being warned against it, then the pastor is to blame if the board reluctantly asks for his resignation.

There are church boards that work the steps I’ve listed above, but most boards don’t operate in such a clear manner.  They become anxious about the pastor’s behavior … handle things reactively rather than proactively … finally meet together in secret to discuss the issues … and only speak with the pastor directly when things have spun out of control.

And by then, it’s usually too late.

But if the board does everything right, and the pastor doesn’t change after a reasonable amount of time … he shouldn’t be surprise if he’s asked to pack his bags.

Third, if it becomes obvious that the pastor isn’t a good match for the church or the community, the blame for the pastor’s departure should be shared equally.

That is, the board should assume some of the blame, and the pastor should assume some of the blame.

Thirty years ago, I put out some resumes and had several phone interviews with search teams.

One was in Bay City, Michigan.  Another was in Rochester, New York.

The search team in Michigan liked me, but they asked me this question: “How would you feel about living so far away from your family in the West?”

Up to that time, all I cared about was leaving the church I was pastoring.  But they made me think about something I hadn’t really considered … and they were right.

Had I gone to Bay City, that church would have become our family, and neither my wife nor I would have seen our own parents or siblings very often.

If the board hadn’t asked me that question, and I had gone to Bay City, and it didn’t work out, they would be partially to blame.

But if I had gone there, and it didn’t work out, I’d share the blame as well.

I once heard about a pastor who was called from the South to a large church in Northern California.  His teenage daughter was forced to leave her boyfriend behind.

The girl became so depressed and distraught that the pastor resigned and returned to the South after less than a month in California.

It’s easy to say, “The pastor was totally at fault.  He never should have left the South.”  But it’s possible the search team didn’t look at the situation as carefully as they should have.

Mismatches usually reveal themselves pretty quickly.  It’s best if both the pastor and the search team admit, “We thought this would work out, but we can’t see it happening.  We’ll both take responsibility for this situation and not blame the other party.”

Fourth, if the board is happy with their pastor’s ministry, but the pastor is under attack, and the board fails to support him adequately, and the pastor resigns, the board is more at fault than the pastor.

Let’s say that Pastor Warren has been at Mercy Fellowship for six years.  And let’s say that Mercy’s attendance and giving have both doubled during that time.

And let’s say that ninety percent of the congregation loves Pastor Warren and that they are solidly behind his ministry … including the elders.

But one day, five people from an internal faction ask to meet with two of the elders.  They claim that Pastor Warren hasn’t been attending denominational meetings … that the church isn’t giving enough to the denomination … and that if things don’t change quickly, thirty people will leave the church.

So the two elders share this conversation with the other elders, and they speak with Pastor Warren at their next regular meeting.

Pastor Warren responds, “That’s right, I don’t attend denominational meetings.  I went to some my first several years here, but I found them to be a waste of time.  I’ve shared my stance with the elders before.  And we don’t give much money to the denomination because frankly, all we’re doing is propping up a bureaucracy run by a good old boys network.  I’d rather we invest in more productive ministries.”

The elders now have a choice.  They can back their pastor, or they can back the faction, but if they don’t back their pastor, he may choose to resign … and that will hurt the church far more than if the faction left.

I once knew a pastor who grew a megachurch.  One day, he fired a staff member.  The board hired him back.  The pastor resigned.

Pastors aren’t infallible.  Sometimes they get things wrong.  But the board needs to know that if they fail to support their pastor publicly, the pastor might choose to resign instead … and that will leave the board in charge of the church until they call a new pastor.

Finally, if a board fires a pastor without warning or explanation, the fault lies almost exclusively with the board.

Pastors aren’t mind readers.  They assume that things are going well unless somebody says, “We’re concerned about this particular issue.”

And a pastor should feel that wayYou can’t minister effectively if you’re walking around all day asking, “I wonder who’s mad at me?  I wonder if I’ve done something wrong?”

But a common scenario I hear from pastors is, “I thought everything in my ministry was going fine.  And then the board called me into a meeting after the morning worship service and they fired me.”

A board that would do that is composed of cowards.

If a church board is upset with their pastor, they have a responsibility to:

*schedule a meeting with him

*tell him to his face what their concerns are

*allow the pastor to offer feedback

*create a plan with the pastor’s input

*revisit the plan at reasonable intervals

How much time should the pastor be given?

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke says twelve to fifteen months.  If there hasn’t been sufficient improvement by then, the board has every right to remove the pastor.

The beauty of this approach is that the pastor can decide whether or not he wants to stay.  If he thinks the board has been unfair … or that he can’t change … or that he doesn’t need to change … then he has time to search for another ministry.

But most boards don’t do this.  They fail to tell the pastor their concerns directly … speak only among themselves … blame the pastor for not changing … work themselves into a high state of anxiety … and then fire the pastor abruptly.

And when a board fires an innocent pastor (that is, he’s not guilty of any major offense) suddenly, they’ve now bought their church two to five years of misery … or a gradual death spiral.

_______________

I believe there are times when a pastor needs to be removed from office.

But even when that becomes necessary, the pastor still should be treated with dignity, compassion, fairness, and grace … not abuse, insensitivity, injustice, and revenge.

The pastor and his family should also be given a generous severance package so they can transition financially into their next season of life.  Church boards that fire their pastors with little or no severance are denying the faith they claim to believe.

And the church board should tell the congregation as much as they can … not as little as possible … about why the pastor left if they want to reestablish trust.

Can you think of any other common scenarios that I missed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Imagine that the following letter was written to the church board by a pastor who was unfairly terminated five years before …

September 29, 2017

Dear Board Member,

You probably hoped that you would never hear from me again, but I’m asking you, as a fellow member of God’s family, to read my letter below.

I will never forget the day you terminated me as pastor of Christ Church after twelve years of ministry.  It was the last Sunday in September 2012.

We had started a new series on the Sermon on the Mount.  My text that morning was Matthew 5:11-12:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

How ironic that after that particular service, you would ask to meet with me in my study and announce that I was being terminated immediately!

Since that meeting, I’ve had five years to reflect on what you did … and why … and I’d like to ask you five questions.  I’d welcome an answer … either through email or a letter … so we can all obtain some closure.

Here are my questions:

First, why was my termination so abrupt?

If you were unhappy with me or my ministry, why didn’t you ever talk to me about it directly?

If someone on the board had said to me, “Pastor, we think your preaching is unbiblical or unhelpful,” we could have discussed it openly.

If someone felt that the church wasn’t growing at the rate it should, we could have benefited from an honest dialogue.

If someone believed that I wasn’t the best fit for the future, you could have told me and I would have started looking for another ministry.

But when you fired me without warning … after I had just preached my heart out in two services … you not only damaged me and my family, but the entire congregation.

We could have resolved any issues as long as we did so together.  When you decided to deliberate in secret without ever seeking my input, you crossed a line.

How was I a threat to you or the congregation?  What danger did I pose?

Second, why didn’t you follow Jesus’ steps for correction in Matthew 18:15-17?

Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

You never did that.

Then Jesus recommends adding one or two witnesses if His directive in verse 15 doesn’t work.

You never did that, either.

Then He said in verse 17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

You did do that.

You announced to the church that I had been dismissed as pastor, but you never followed Jesus’ directives in verses 15 and 16 about having private meetings first.

Even if I had committed adultery or stolen funds from the offering plate, you still should have worked the steps that Jesus outlined.

The church bylaws specified that was the process, not only for correcting the pastor, but also for correcting staff members, board members, and church members.

We used Matthew 18:15-17 when we corrected Steve, our associate pastor, in 2008.  We used it again when we corrected Bill, our fellow board member, in 2011.

Why did you feel that I was the exception to that longstanding guideline?

If you had followed our Savior’s directives, I might have sensed that something was wrong, and taken steps either to resolve the issues, or find another ministry.

But you never did.

Jesus says that when the steps are followed, you have “won your brother over.”

But when you don’t follow His steps, everyone loses.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve often wondered if you were exacting revenge on me for some mistake on my part.

If not, why did you blindside me?

Third, what did I do that deserved termination?

To this day, I still don’t know.

Our church was growing numerically.  Our giving improved five percent from the year before.  We had more small groups than at any time in the church’s history.

I thought we were doing well, and more importantly, I thought you thought we were doing well.

People were coming to faith in Christ.  We baptized five to ten people every quarter.  Many people told their family and friends about our church.

You never told me, “We should be growing at a more rapid rate,” or “We need more money to pay our bills.”  When the statistical reports were given at the monthly board meeting, not one board member ever said, “We should be doing better than this.”

Eighty to eighty-five percent of all churches aren’t growing, but Christ Church was in the top fifteen to twenty percent of churches nationwide as far as growth.

I don’t really know what else I could have done.  I worked fifty to sixty hours every week.  I gave the church my heart and soul.

When you announced my firing, I asked you what I had done wrong … but you didn’t tell me … at least, not to my face.

Five years later, I still wake up in the middle of the night, wondering what I did wrong … and how I could have avoided termination.

As hard as it might have been on you, I’d sleep much better today if you’d been honest with me five years ago.

But while you didn’t tell me why I was released, you did tell others.

Fourth, why was I hurried out of the church?

It takes a pastor at least a year to find a new ministry these days, but you only offered me two months of severance pay.

You told me to take it or leave it, without letting me pray about it, speak with my family, or consult with my network.

You told me to clean out my office in three days.

You didn’t permit me to preach a final sermon or say goodbye publicly.

You instituted a gag order on the staff and board not to talk about my departure in any way.

Why did you treat me like a pagan or a tax collector instead of your brother?

My wife and I suffered humiliation and shame from the way you handled matters.  Was that your intent?

Because of the way you treated me, there will be a cloud over me for the rest of my life.

Finally, why didn’t you protect my reputation after I left?

I’ve heard rumors since I left … ugly, nasty stories … about why I was really terminated.  I don’t know where these rumors originated, but I thought I’d recount several for you.

“He used the church credit card for personal purchases.”

Not true.

Who thought I did this?  Why didn’t you ask me about it personally?

I had a twelve-year track record of financial integrity.  Didn’t that count for anything?

“He seemed too friendly with the office manager.”

What does that mean?

We were friends, yes … every pastor wants to get along with his office manager, who can make or break his ministry.

But I have always loved and been faithful to my wife, as you well know.

Some of you seemed pretty friendly over the years with women who weren’t your wives.  Should I have called you out without any evidence?

If so, how would that square with Paul’s instructions toward church leaders suspected of wrongdoing in 1 Timothy 5:19-21?

“He made decisions without consulting the board.”

Which decisions?

Every pastor makes hundreds of decisions every week.  You never told me, “We want to be consulted on these specific issues.”  I used my best judgment … which seemed acceptable to the board for nearly my entire tenure … on every decision I made.

When did things change?

“He didn’t manage his family well.”

My wife and I have been happily married for 27 years.

Shana our daughter, and Brad our son, both attended nearly every church service and brought friends before they entered college.

They both earned undergraduate degrees … and both have solid jobs.

Even though they don’t live nearby, we see them several times a year, and our family is doing very well … as it always has.

Shana married a fine Christian man.  Brad still hasn’t found the right woman, but he’s doing great.

How did I fail as a husband or a father?

I’d like to know why you as godly leaders didn’t put a stop to those rumors when they were being circulated after my departure.

If I had heard such rumors about any of you, I would have put a stop to them immediately, and recommended that anyone concerned speak with you personally.

But I wasn’t afforded the same courtesy, was I?  Why not?

If I had to hazard a guess, is it because you wanted to harm my reputation so I couldn’t interfere in church life in the future?

But do you know how much pain you’ve caused us by not refuting those rumors, either privately or publicly?

We’ve not only lost friendships we enjoyed for years, but those rumors may have kept me from obtaining two ministry jobs where I was a finalist.

I could tell by the way the questions were slanted.

_______________

Since I left Christ Church five years ago:

*I’ve been forced to take a secular sales job that doesn’t pay even half of what I earned as a pastor.

*My wife has suffered from depression and anxiety attacks and attends church once a month … at best.

*I’m not involved as a church volunteer because whenever people hear I’m a former pastor, they shy away from me.

*My wife is still under the care of a Christian counselor.

But from what I’ve heard, Christ Church has suffered as well:

*Your attendance is less than half of what it was five years ago.

*The church staff has fallen from nine to three staffers.

*You’ve lost many good people … primarily because you never told them why you terminated their pastor.

*You’ve had three pastors in five years.

Was it worth it?

_______________

So if you had to do it over again:

*Would you fire me abruptly?

*Would you ignore the process Jesus specified in Matthew 18:15-17?

*Would you avoid giving me reasons for my dismissal?

*Would you still keep me from saying goodbye?

*Would you fail to protect my reputation?

If the answer to even one of those questions is “no,” then why don’t you contact me and admit your error?

I promise that I will forgive you.  That will benefit the congregation, you as individuals, and me and my family.

It could be a new beginning for everyone.

Many Christians believe that unity trumps everything, including truth.

But I believe the New Testament teaches that truth comes before unity.  In fact, I believe that unity is always based upon truth.

With that in mind, I’ve sent this letter via email to former and current church leaders, some of whom will undoubtedly contact you about it.

That’s why I call this an “open letter.”

I’ll let those leaders decide where to go from here.

I’m not about revenge but reconciliation.

How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A friend sent me a link to a blog article by Christian leadership expert Thom Rainer yesterday.  His article was addressed to church leaders and titled, “Before You Fire Your Pastor.”

Here’s the article:

http://thomrainer.com/2017/08/before-you-fire-your-pastor/

In his concise way, Rainer shares eight “admonitions” to church leaders who are thinking about terminating their pastor.

To me, these were the highlights … followed by my own thoughts:

“You are about to make a decision that will shape your church, the pastor, and the pastor’s family for years to come.”

I don’t think most boards think about the pastor and his family much when they push him out.  They’re thinking primarily of the comfort level of the group they’ve been working with to get rid of him.

Since the board’s decision will impact their church for “years to come,” why not do an all-church assessment by an outside consultant first?  If the pastor really isn’t a fit, that will be made clear in the assessment, and the pastor and board can discuss a peaceful departure and transition … possibly mediated by the consultant.

Of course, the assessment might show that the board is the problem.  And that might be the main reason why boards are afraid of assessments.  I suggested calling in an outside consultant on two occasions several months before I left my last ministry, but nothing ever happened.

“Understand fully the consequence to your congregation. A church is marked once it fires a pastor. Members leave. Potential guests stay away. Morale is decimated. The church has to go through a prolonged period of healing where it cannot have much of an outward focus.”

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke says that it takes a church two to five years to heal after a moderate to severe conflict, and by definition, forcing out a pastor almost always constitutes a severe conflict.

Many times, the very individuals who pushed out the pastor end up leaving during the healing period.  Maybe they thought the church would get better without the pastor … and with them in charge … but when it doesn’t work that way, they bail.

Outreach usually dies after a pastor leaves … especially if the departing pastor was outreach-oriented.

“Consider the church’s reputation in the community. You are about to receive the label: ‘The church that fired their pastor.’ That will be your identity for some time.”

Most leaders who push out a pastor have never been in a church before where a pastoral termination occurred.  They don’t have any idea what happens inside a congregation after a pastor leaves.  They’re assuming they can handle any and all crises.  But without their pastor to guide them, they’re liable to make a mess of things.

Some people in my previous church tried to ruin my reputation after I left, and it stung.  (Some friends still won’t tell us what really transpired after my departure.)  But the church has suffered as well.

Reminds me of a post a friend put on Facebook several days ago: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves” … one for the pastor, one for the church.

“Let your pastor know why… he was being fired…. I am amazed how many pastors have no idea why they are being let go. That is cowardly. That is not Christ-like.”

There’s a simple explanation for this omission: most of the time, there isn’t a good reason for sending the pastor packing.  The reasons are more subjective than objective, highlight board members’ personal preferences rather than the pastor’s stubborn sinfulness, and don’t sound convincing when uttered in public.

I still don’t really know why I was pushed out of my last ministry.  After thinking about it for nearly eight years, I’ve concluded that it boiled down to personal revenge on the part of three individuals who spread their feelings to others.  But if that’s truly the case, who is ever going to admit it?  Maybe that’s why I have never heard directly from anyone who pushed me out at the end of 2009.

“Be generous. If your church does make the decision to fire your pastor, please be generous with severance and benefits. Don’t treat your pastor like a secular organization might treat an employee. Show the world Christian compassion and generosity.”

Sad to say, there are boards that look for every reason not to give their pastor a generous severance.  I remember one board that referred the pastor’s severance to the congregation hoping they would turn it down.

With some leaders, once they know a pastor is going to leave, he’s no longer worth anything to them anymore.  He’s dead weight.  (This is exhibited by the fact that after the pastor leaves, those who forced him out will never contact him again.)  They offer their pastor a token severance … threaten to pull it back if he doesn’t agree to their terms immediately … and send him and his family into the night with an exit that seems designed by the enemy.

The longer a pastor’s tenure at a church, the more committed he’s been to his congregation, and the more worthy he is of a generous severance package.  But since it takes at least a year to find a new ministry these days … and usually longer … the board has to factor that reality into their creation of any severance package.

After I read Rainer’s article, I perused the comments, and ran across this admission:

“I appreciate this advice. I have had to be part of a firing and it was not easy. I wish I had these guidelines then. The one part we did decent was giving the pastor in question a long run away to find new employment and kept his benefits going in the transition. I really think we could have done more, but it was something. Often I think this idea of helping pastors launch into another ministry or even transition to a vocation outside full time Christian service is foreign to elders or boards because it is rare in business fields unless you are a high c-level executive with contractual basis. Thus they balk at the idea thinking it bad business or poor stewardship. Finding a role in another church takes time. Often churches are slow to hire, for good reason, so we should reflect Jesus’ generosity when we have to fire someone understanding they can’t just walk into another job next door.”

Here is the phrase that sticks out most to me: “I wish I had these guidelines then.”

What can you and I do to help pastors and boards handle their conflicts in a more biblical, just, and Christlike way?

That’s my topic for next time.

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Several years ago, a pastor of a medium-sized church called to tell me that he had been fired.

He told me there was no warning involved, that he was not offered any severance pay, and that he had no idea how to support his family financially.

The pastor said that he wasn’t guilty of any major offense.  He thought the church was going well, but evidently some in leadership didn’t think so.

And I wondered, as I always do, “How could the official board of that church treat their pastor that way?”

Or to put it another way, “What kind of person would fire their pastor without any reason and proceed to cut off his finances as well?”

I couldn’t do that.  Could you?

Based on my experiences in various churches, let me share five traits of a board member who could easily fire their pastor:

First, the board member has a job where he makes unilateral decisions.

Maybe he owns his own company.  Maybe he is an attorney or a doctor with great community influence.  Maybe he’s been given carte blanche in his job to hire or fire personnel.

It’s easy for such a person to take off their “spiritual leader” hat at church and replace it with their “corporate decision maker” hat instead.

I’m not saying that every strong, independent leader in the marketplace is like this, but all too many are, and they are often the ones at the forefront of the pastor’s ouster.

But I can’t even imagine having this kind of mindset.

My wife and I run a small business together.  If I think we should do something different, I run it by her first.  Sometimes she agrees, sometimes she doesn’t.

I won’t proceed without her blessing.  I am not the fount of all wisdom!

But a board member who can easily fire a pastor believes that he is the fount of all wisdom … or that he should be calling the shots at church rather than the pastor, the staff, or the congregation.

If such a person is able to force out the pastor, he or she will become the undisputed leader of the church, even if it’s just behind the scenes.

And that’s what they want.

Second, the board member thinks he knows more than the pastor does about the church’s direction.

If the pastor thinks the church should reach young couples, this board member thinks the church should reach young people instead.

If the pastor thinks the church should be more outreach-oriented, this board member thinks the church should focus more on its own members.

If the pastor thinks the church should take some God-ordained risks, this board member thinks the church should play it safe and only do what’s in the budget.

If this board member senses that he has more influence than the pastor, he may very well plot to remove the pastor from office.

But if he senses he doesn’t have the clout, he’ll either hang around and sabotage the pastor’s leadership, or he’ll leave the church and take as many with him as possible.

But I can’t even imagine sabotaging a church’s direction … especially if it’s the result of months of prayer and planning.

If my pastor wasn’t good at the “vision thing,” I would do my best to help him devise a process where many people could have input on the church’s future.

But I would want his voice to be prominent, because the pastor casts vision from the pulpit, and even the most powerful board member can’t do that.

Third, the board member has secret allies on the board, in the staff, or with a powerful faction.

Most board members who fire their pastor are reasonably sure that they have “enough” support from prominent individuals in their church.

They usually have one or two sidekicks on the board.  These people are relatively quiet but gain power by supporting their vocal colleague.

They also have their fingers in the church staff, receiving a steady flow of information from the office manager, a youth pastor, the worship leader, or an associate pastor.

Every pastor needs allies, especially when conflict surfaces.  I was always strengthened when a board member told me, “Jim, I have your back on this one.”

But I can’t imagine collecting allies so we could push out the pastor together.

It usually takes at least a year of complaining … undermining … resisting … and plotting for a board member to gain sufficient allies to force out their pastor.

Think of all that negative energy!  Couldn’t it be better used for instruction or outreach?

But all that matters to such a board member is power.

Fourth, the board member pays scant attention to biblical teaching on conflict resolution.

More than three decades ago, I was discussing a controversial passage in Paul’s epistles with a board member.

This board member … whom I inherited … told me, “Whenever I come upon a passage like that, I just turn the page.”

Maybe it’s no wonder that he later became the worst antagonist I’ve ever had in any church.

This man had an agenda: to turn our California church into the Swedish church from Wisconsin that he loved so much.

If I went along with his agenda, he would support me.  If I didn’t, he would oppose me.

I didn’t go along with his agenda.  I couldn’t.

Sadly, I could never appeal to him on the basis of Scripture.  The Word of God didn’t govern his life … only his feelings and preferences did.

I remember discussing this man and his wife with a prominent Christian leader who visited our church one Sunday.  This leader – an expert in spiritual warfare – told me to get this couple out of the church and off the rolls as quickly as possible.

They eventually did leave, but took 25% of the church with them in the process.

But I can’t imagine being a spiritual leader in a church and yet ignoring the written Word of God concerning conflict!  I have no idea how the previous pastor let this guy on the board, but when he did, he sowed seeds of destruction that lasted for years.

Finally, the board member desires relief from personal anxiety.

Two years ago, I attended a conference on church conflict with author and prominent church conflict consultant Peter Steinke.

Steinke said that whenever the official board is dissatisfied with their pastor or his performance, they should create a plan and give their pastor twelve to fifteen months to improve.

That sounds fair and reasonable, doesn’t it?  If the pastor senses after a few months that he’s not doing what the board wants, he can start searching for another position.

And if the pastor does improve … crisis averted.

But the board member who finds it easy to fire his pastor doesn’t want to wait twelve to fifteen months to see improvement.

He’s already convinced himself that the pastor will never improve … so the pastor needs to go … now!

What drives him?

His own personal anxiety.

This board member has already made up his mind.  He knows what is best for the church.  He knows the pastor has to go.

So he can’t wait for the pastor to get his act together.  The pastor must leave!

But I can’t imagine having that kind of attitude about a called spiritual leader who loves and preaches the Word of God.

If anybody can change, wouldn’t it be a godly man?

Most pastors are notoriously patient with board members and staffers.  Sometimes I knew that a staff member wasn’t working out but I’d speak with them and monitor their performance for months before I’d take any drastic action.

Shouldn’t a board be patient with their pastor as well?

_______________

What’s the value of thinking about the board member who can easily fire a pastor?

First, no pastor should allow such a person on the board in the first place. 

For some people, being on a board is a frustrating experience because they believe they already know the direction the church should take.

They don’t want to discuss matters in a collegial fashion.  That just allows others to exercise veto power over their ideas.

Over the years, I vetoed the names of many individuals who were entertained as board members.

Even then, I should have exercised that veto more often.

Second, if the pastor detects that such a person is presently on the board, he needs to watch his back … or pray that person off the board.

I have never known a church leader who, once they started attacking their pastor verbally, turned around later on and supported him.

I’m sure it’s happened somewhere.  But once a leader goes public with their feelings about their pastor, they rarely change their mind.

Finally, if you sense that such a person is currently on your church board, alert your pastor and monitor that person while they’re on the church campus.

While a church should not turn into a surveillance state, sometimes God’s people can best protect their pastor by watching and listening to potential antagonists.

These people usually give away how they feel about their pastor by where they sit during worship … who they sit with … who they talk to before and after church … where those conversations are held … and how they respond to the pastor when he’s preaching.

The apostle Paul tells the congregation in Rome, “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).

We need far fewer naive people in local churches today.

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By far, the article that has received the most views on my blog – out of more than 500 – is an article I wrote in March 2011 called “If You Must Terminate a Pastor.”

This particular article outpolls everything I’ve written … before or since … by at least a four-to-one margin.

I don’t claim that this article covers every facet of pastoral termination.  It’s not the last word on the subject, but may be viewed as the beginning of the conversation.

As a pastor, I sometimes had to deal with wayward staff members … and was attacked by church bullies at various times throughout my ministry … and finally was pushed out of office nearly seven years ago.

This article is directed toward church decision makers … usually members of the official board … and is a plea for them to understand that the way they treat their pastor will affect him … them … and their church for many years to come.

_______________

One of the most excruciating experiences that a supervisor can have is to fire someone from their job.  The first time I had to do this with a staff member, I felt horrible.  Although I did not hire the person initially, I felt partially responsible that the staff member didn’t work out.  I wondered, “What if I had supervised this person better?  What if I had given them more attention?  More training?  More warning?”

Most pastors will leave a church via their own resignation.  They will choose the method and timing of their departure.  In the great majority of cases, they will leave one church for another.  Sometimes they will leave a pastorate to teach in a Bible college or join a parachurch organization.  And one day, they will preach their last sermon and then retire.

But many pastors – surveys now indicate more than 25% – leave church ministry involuntarily.  They are usually forced from office by a faction of ten people or less … sometimes by their governing board.  Most of the time, the process is handled clumsily, resulting in seething anger, ecclesastical division, and incalculable damage.

How can the termination of a pastor be handled in a more biblical and optimal fashion?

An attorney can recommend the legal way to terminate a pastor.  The CEO of a company might suggest how it’s done in business.  The church’s insurance agent might propose ways the church can minimize risks.  And I could mention the way the federal government terminates employees … except they almost never terminate anyone!

If you’d like to read what the Bible says about correcting an elder/pastor, please check out 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (which applies Matthew 18:15-20 to spiritual leaders).  I believe a pastor should be removed for heresy and for immorality as well as felonious criminal behavior and that many of the reasons why boards fire pastors today have more to do with style than sin.

I was a pastor for nearly four decades, and I saw a lot of my colleagues terminated in senseless ways.  If I was still in pastoral ministry, and the board decided I had to go, here’s how I would like that process to be conducted:

First, I’d like to see a possible termination coming.  If attendance was plunging, and giving was going south, and church opinion makers were unhappy, I would probably sense that my time in that place was coming to a close.  And if members of the church board had talked with me about making changes in my ministry, but I either wouldn’t or couldn’t pull them off, that would suggest to me that my days in that church were numbered.

Some pastors have confessed to me that they stayed too long in a previous pastorate and wished they had left before they did.

Last fall, I had lunch with a former mega church pastor.  He had been in his church for more than two decades, but for some unknown reason, attendance suddenly began declining at a rate where nothing he tried worked anymore.  When he preached, he sensed that people weren’t listening to him.  He eventually reached a settlement with the church board and resigned.  The Lord confirmed to his spirit that his time in that spiritual community was over.

If a board has shared their concerns with their pastor, and if matters haven’t turned around after a reasonable time frame (maybe six months to a year), then the pastor should not be surprised if the board openly talks to him about leaving.

But if the ministry is going well, and attendance and giving are holding steady, and the board has never discussed the pastor’s behavior or ministry with him in a formal way, and then the board decides to terminate the pastor … the pastor will rightfully feel blindsided, and the board may very well lose control of the situation.  While the board may have the legal and ecclesiastical right to remove the pastor from office (and in most congregational churches, they don’t have that right – only the congregation does), blindsiding a pastor with termination may be considered a destructive act that results in ripping apart both the pastor’s family and the church family.  (Just know up front that many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church within a few months.)

If I’m going to be involuntarily terminated, I want to see it coming a mile away.  And if I do see it coming, I will try and make my own plans to depart before the board ever has to deal with me.

Second, I would like the process to be fair, not fast. When one member of a church board decides that “the pastor must go,” his anxiety can become contagious.  Before anyone realizes the full ramifications, the entire board may then fall into line and quickly decide to fire the pastor.  While anxiety drives us to make fast decisions, Jesus encourages us to make fair decisions.

Let’s say that a pastor has recently displayed inappropriate anger several times in private.  The board should not convene and decide to fire the pastor immediately.  Instead, Jesus says in Matthew 18:15 that if a believer sins [and this includes the pastor], it’s your duty to “show him his fault” in private [one-on-one, not in a board meeting].  Then Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen …” then you are to take one or two witnesses along, and “if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”  Some scholars believe that the board should be informed between verses 16 and 17, although Jesus doesn’t say that.  In other words, the process is:

*A single believer [maybe the board chairman] talks with the pastor about his sin in private.

*If the pastor refuses to change, that single believer asks one or two more people [a staff member? a friend of the pastor?] to witness a second confrontation.

*If the pastor still refuses to change … only then does it become a board matter.

*If the pastor refuses to listen to the board (that’s three refusals), then either they can terminate him (if the church’s governing documents allow for this) or the church as a whole can vote him out of office in a public meeting (although there will be lobbying and it may become very divisive).

I don’t pretend to know how much time is needed between steps (maybe a month or two between each one?) but Jesus did not necessarily intend for the process to work instantly.  The person being confronted – in this case, the pastor – is not being corrected for getting angry, but for refusing to acknowledge his anger and make the necessary changes in his life.

Before saying, “But pastors should be able to change their behavior immediately,” how long does it take you to make a major change in your life?

That’s why we need to give a pastor some time to make changes in his life.

Third, I would expect to be offered a generous separation package.  The minimal severance a pastor should receive is six months.  If a pastor has been in a church for more than six years, then a good rule-of-thumb is that he receive one month’s salary for every year he’s served in a church.  While some board members might exclaim, “I would never receive severance pay like that at my job,” please realize the following facts about pastors:

*They are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

*They and their family members will suffer tremendously.  It is common for the older children of a terminated pastor to stop attending church and even leave the faith.  The wives of terminated pastors go from being somebodies to nobodies overnight.  If the marriage has already been strained by ministry, the couple might head for divorce.

*The terminated pastor is often in so much pain that he turns to alcohol, drugs, or illicit sex.

*They will lose almost everything dear to them by being terminated: their careers, their income, their church family, their local friends, their house (if they have to leave the community and sell), and their reputations – in other words, they will lose their life as they know it.  (This is why pastors often hang on at a church long after they should leave.)

*They will be stigmatized as a “loser” in much of the Christian community.  As a veteran pastor told me when I first entered the pastorate, if a pastor resigns with no place to go, it’s the “kiss of death.”  If he applies for another church position, his resume will most likely go to the bottom of the pile because he was fired from his previous church.  The Christian world is very small and word gets around quickly.

*They will suffer constant depression, great anxiety, and feel like God has abandoned them.

*They will be shocked to discover that most of their ministry colleagues will turn away from them.

*The terminated pastor usually has to rebuild his life and ministry, and that takes time.  The separation package allows for the pastor to pull away from ministry so he can take stock of his life and begin the healing process.  If the pastor is given a token separation package, he and his family will feel that he has been “kicked to the curb” and it will take them a long time to recover and forgive those who hurt them.

*The terminated pastor will probably not be able to find another church position for at least an entire year … and that church will most likely be considerably smaller than his previous congregation.

We talk a lot in the church today about social justice.  This is ecclesiastical justice.

If a board cannot or will not give the pastor a generous separation package, then they need to think twice – or ten times – about letting him go.  Getting cheap here borders on being unchristian.

Finally, I would welcome the opportunity to resign rather than be fired. If the members of a governing board want to be vindictive toward a pastor, they can fire him outright – but the word will quickly get around the church, and the board will be severely criticized by many while others will angrily leave the fellowship and encourage others to come with them.

When some churches blindside a pastor by firing him, they never recover … and it becomes easier to fire the next pastor.  When I was a kid, my dad felt forced to resign as a pastor, and after the board fired the next two pastors, the church went out of existence.

But if both the pastor and the board announce that the pastor resigned voluntarily, it takes the heat off the board and allows the pastor to leave with dignity.

The optimal win-win scenario is for the pastor to trade a unifying resignation letter for a generous separation package.  That is, the pastor cites multiple reasons for his leaving in his letter, doesn’t harshly criticize anyone in the church (especially the leaders), and encourages everyone in the church to stay and support the next pastor.  Years ago, I learned this adage: “The way you leave is the way you will be remembered.”  Leave bitter, and you will leave a legacy of bitterness.  Leave with class, and you will leave a legacy of class.

A small percentage of pastors deserve to be terminated – maybe even quickly – because they have inflicted great destruction on their ministries, their families, and themselves.  But even then, they should be treated with dignity and their families should be cared for.  But the great majority of terminations go wrong because the board wants the pastor to leave as quickly as possible, and they run the risk of dehumanizing him in the process.

More than anything, I am pleading that church leaders deal with their pastors in a biblical, Christian, and loving way rather than a businesslike, political, and vengeful manner.

And may I remind everyone of this biblical principle from Galatians 6:7: what you sow, you reap.

Or in more contemporary parlance: what goes around comes around.

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Ten years ago, I was pastoring the largest Protestant church in our city and working on my doctoral project for Fuller Seminary.

Because I was using so many books during that time, I set up a card table in my study at home, right next to my desk and computer.

The title of my project was “Conflict Transformation: A Biblical Model Informed by Family Systems Theory at ______________ Church.”

Regardless of the title, my project was really about how to prevent and resolve antagonistic behavior in the local church – nearly always directed toward the pastor.

I wanted to research and write on this issue because I had seen antagonistic behavior directed toward pastors all of my life:

*My father was pushed out of a church he planted after five years.

*A pastor at my next church was forced out as well.

*My father-in-law was forced out of his two pastorates.

*A pastor I worked for was voted out of office during a contentious church meeting.

I’ve seen pastor after pastor bullied … threatened … falsely accused … mobbed … and damaged … simply because the pastor would not surrender himself to a faction in the church … including the official board.

But two years after earning that degree, I went through a severe conflict in my own ministry … and I learned ten times more going through that conflict than I did writing about it from an academic perspective … although the academic preparation gave me a foundation for interpreting what was happening.

Let me share four things that I learned from going through that conflict I could not have learned from books or professors:

First, I learned that Christians can hate their pastor for a long time without ever revealing their feelings to him.

If I was attending a church, and I couldn’t stand my pastor, I would leave the church.

I would leave even if my family members all loved him … even if I enjoyed a fruitful ministry as a volunteer … even if I had been in that church for years … and even if I didn’t know any other church to attend.

Let me say this loud and clear: it is better for you to leave the church … even if you have to sit at home on Sundays for six months … then to stay in your church and lead a rebellion against your pastor.

Because when people hate their pastor … whether it’s because of his personality, or his preaching, or his mannerisms, or the changes he’s instituting … they will invariably share their feelings with their family and friends.

And those feelings will almost always go viral, because sharing your bitterness will embolden others to share their grievances as well.

As James 3:5 says, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”

A spark against a pastor has to start somewhere, and when it does, it often results in a firestorm that engulfs the entire congregation.

Before the conflict surfaced, I had no idea that some people hated me with a passion, but I have written evidence that they did.

But none of those people ever had the courage to come to me and say, “Hey, Jim, I have an issue with you, and I’d like to share it in hopes that we can work together better.”

God hates sin, but God doesn’t hate sinners.

And He doesn’t hate His own people.

And He especially doesn’t hate His own called servants.

But for some reason … in nearly every case where an innocent pastor is pushed out of office … hatred is the fuel that drives the conflict.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

Second, I learned that the pastor feels massive betrayal during such a conflict.

I bought a book a while back on betrayal in the local church.  The book contained some good insights … I’ll probably share some of them sometime … but as I read it, I wanted to ask the author one question: “Have YOU ever gone through a massive betrayal in a church before?”

If he had experienced betrayal himself, I think he would have rewritten large portions of his work.

Let me share just one instance of betrayal … and I could cite many more.

After the conflict in my last ministry came to light, I was unsure who I could trust anymore.  For the most part, I waited until people came to me and expressed support before I shared anything with them from my perspective.

After a brutal public meeting of the congregation, a man came up to me and expressed strong support.  We had done things together outside of church and I was glad he was on my side.

A month later, on my final Sunday at the church, I invited people who had demonstrated support to a final luncheon at someone’s house, and I invited this man along.

Before he left that day, he told me that he had met with one of my detractors, and that person’s attitude toward me was, in his words, “nasty.”

Several months later, I noticed on Facebook that this man had a birthday, so I wrote him a note, telling him that if I ever came back to the area, maybe we could get together.

But his conciliatory tone had changed.  I could tell by what he wrote that he had been worked over by one or more of my detractors … and that our friendship was over for good … even though I had never shared with him my side of the conflict.

When scenarios like this are constantly repeated … and they were in my case … you suddenly become suspicious of everyone you once deemed a friend from that church.

In fact, you come to a point where if you lose contact with someone in the church … even for a few days … you assume that they have turned against you.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

Third, I learned that the body of Christ lacks any kind of fair process for dealing with accusations against a pastor.

Most attacks on a pastor originate with a group of seven to ten people, regardless of church size.

Sometimes … especially if board or staff members are involved … those seven to ten individuals can force the pastor to resign without resorting to anyone else in the church.

But if the board and/or staff can’t do it alone, they will seek reinforcements from inside the congregation, including their spouses … friends … family members … and people who have left the church.

Those seven to ten people can grow to 25-35 pretty quickly.

As a conflict spreads throughout the church, the pastor needs people who are spiritual … and strong … and wise to counter the charges made against him.

The issue is never, “Are the charges being made against the pastor true?”

The issue is always, “What kind of process has been used to deal with the pastor’s shortcomings?”

If I was a church member, and I caught wind that the church board or a faction were making accusations against my pastor, I would ask each of them the same question:

WHAT PROCESS ARE YOU USING TO DEAL WITH THE PASTOR’S PROBLEMS?

I would specifically ask these questions:

*Does the pastor know what you are saying about him in private?

*Have you given the pastor the opportunity to respond to you or any of his other accusers?

*What steps are you taking to insure the pastor is treated fairly and justly?

*Which biblical passages are informing your process?

And if I didn’t like the answers to those questions, I would inform the pastor that he was being judged by the law of the jungle … not by Scripture.

And I would also figure out a way to tell the congregation that the pastor was being abused and lied about without giving him a chance to respond.

For several days in a row, someone entered the following phrase into a search engine and then found my blog:

“How can we fire our pastor without going by the church constitution?”

Do you know what they’re really asking?

“How can we avoid using a process that is biblically-based, takes time, preserves the pastor’s rights, and doesn’t guarantee the outcome that we want?”

Instead, they want to know, “How quickly can we get rid of the pastor without giving him any safeguards?”

In my case, I asked for but was not shown any evidence that church leaders claimed to have.

And I was never given a fair forum in which to answer any of the charges that were circulating around the church.

The leaders involved in pushing me out were very process-oriented whenever it came to changes I wanted to make at the church, but when they wanted me to leave, they resorted to short-cuts instead.

This is what happens almost every time that professing Christians try and force their pastor to resign.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

Finally, I learned that Satan’s presence during a conflict is so real that you can almost see him … and smell him.

I have told the story of what happened to my wife and me in my book Church Coup, but let me just touch on several things we experienced during the 50 days of our conflict:

*The conflict culminated on Halloween … and we always had the biggest outreach event of the year that evening.

*My wife and I experienced fear that we have never experienced before or since.

We were afraid to stay in our house.

We were afraid to answer the telephone.

We were afraid to answer the doorbell.

We were afraid to get the mail.

We were afraid to have any contact with our detractors.

We were afraid that we were going out of our minds.

We were afraid that we had done something horrible … but we didn’t know what it was.

*My wife was attacked by Satan in a visible, soul-destroying way.

I do not blame and have never blamed any individuals for what happened to her.  Her attack was not mediated through individuals … it was a direct assault by the enemy upon her heart, mind, and body.

*There were many lies going around the church about me, but there were so many that I didn’t know where they came from or how to answer them.

*I received an anonymous letter in the mail with the word RESIGN typed in large letters.  I gave the letter that night to a member of the new church board … he wanted to see if he could determine who sent it … but he never did.  That letter was NOT from God, believe me.

I don’t believe that every conflict in a church is from Satan, but there are two tipoffs that he’s involved:

First, there are lies and false accusations floating around the church.

Second, there is an obvious attempt to destroy the pastor’s reputation, position, career … and even his health.

At the time, I thought that Satan was targeting me to get me out of church ministry, but he was really attacking me as a means of attacking the church.

I couldn’t learn that from a book … I had to experience it myself.

There are many other things that I could only learn by going through a conflict firsthand, which is why I wrote my book Church Coup … and one of the most frequent comments that I receive from pastors is, “You’re describing exactly what I went through!”

That sentiment always gladdens my heart, because it means that what I experienced … and suffered … is fulfilling God’s ultimate purpose.

If you’re a pastor or staff member who has gone through a horrendous conflict, I want you to know something:

There is a God-ordained purpose behind your suffering, too.

 

 

 

 

 

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