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Posts Tagged ‘forced termination of pastors’

While reading the Christmas story again last week, I was struck by a phrase in Matthew 1:19.  After Mary was discovered to be pregnant – presumably with another man’s child – Joseph her fiancee had several choices to make.

Because he was “a righteous man” – a man who thoroughly kept the Mosaic law – he intended to break off their betrothal because she had been sexually unfaithful to him.  According to Deuteronomy 22:23-24, Joseph had every right to not only “divorce” Mary but also to insist that she be stoned in order to “purge the evil from Israel.”  Scripture seems to indicate that most men in Joseph’s situation would have had Mary executed.

But Matthew tells us that Joseph was guided by a different spirit.  The ex-taxman writes that Joseph “did not want to expose her to public disgrace” so he decided to “divorce her quietly.”

He did not want to expose her to public disgrace.  How unlike our culture.  How unlike our media.  And sadly, how unlike Christ’s church.

I’ve been reading Gayle Haggard’s book Why I Stayed recentlyAs you may recall, Ted Haggard was the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs – a mega church of 14,000 – as well as the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.  Some unflattering news surfaced about him a few years ago, and Pastor Haggard resigned from both his positions.  Many women – even Christian women – would have left Mr. Haggard at that point, and would have been biblically justified in doing so.  But Gayle chose to stick it out with her husband, thus the title of the book.

The story of her relationship with Ted makes for fascinating reading, but I was far more interested in the latter half of the book.  Gayle describes the way that prominent Christian leaders, the church’s governing board, and their friends treated them during this time, and although she maintains a gracious, non-vindictive spirit throughout, the same cannot be said for the believers involved.

The Haggards – including Gayle, who was innocent of wrongdoing – were treated in a humiliating way by the church they founded in the basement of their home.  Within a week of their departure, all traces of their ministry at the church had been purged.  People who knew them were interviewed so as to find more “dirt” on them.  Both believers and non-believers were able to say anything about them they liked but the Haggards were not permitted to reply.  They were even told they had to leave the state of Colorado which meant that their children had to leave behind their friends and schooling.

No matter what they did, it was eventually misinterpreted.  No matter what they said, it was flagrantly disregarded.

Pastors are fond of preaching on the fact that God can use anyone, even a liar like Abraham, a murderer like Moses, an adulterer like David, and a hothead like Peter.  But let that same pastor fall into sin and he will be tarred, feathered, and blogged about ad infinitum, often by people who are his own teammates.

Phil Keaggy, who has long been my favorite Christian male artist, co-wrote a song with Sheila Walsh called “It Could’ve Been Me.”  The song always makes me think and can bring me to tears.  (The song is found on the CD Way Back Home and is available on iTunes if you’re interested.)  After describing the fall of a Christian leader, Keaggy’s powerful chorus nails each one of us to the wall:

But it could’ve been me,

I could’ve been the one to lose my grip and fall.

It could’ve been me

The one who’s always standing tall.

For unless you hold me tightly, Lord,

And I can hold on too,

Then tomorrow in the news

It could be me, it could be me.

Just four chapters after Matthew 1, the grown-up Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).  When Mary “fell” – which is what Joseph thought until the angel enlightened him – Joseph chose mercy over vindictiveness.  Mary’s pregnancy undoubtedly caused her to lose her local reputation as a virtuous woman.  It might even have ended her chances of ever marrying anyone.

But although we now know the back story, neither Joseph nor the folks in Nazareth did at the time.  A modern love story would probably tell us that Joseph married Mary anyway, but as a keeper of the law, he couldn’t bring himself to do that … until God told Joseph that Mary was not only his soul mate but also the mother of the promised Messiah.

When pastors are forcibly terminated from their churches, they suffer many losses: their jobs, their income, their houses (in some cases), their careers (potentially), their marriages (sometimes) and most of their church friends.  And though they’re almost always innocent, their family members suffer those same losses.

But just like Mary and Ted Haggard, they also lose their reputations, whether the charges made against them are valid or not.

I find it ironic that pastors, who are conduits of God’s grace to scores of sinners throughout their ministries, cannot find that same grace when someone accuses them of wrongdoing.

May I urge you, not only at this Christmas season, but in every season of life, to be gracious toward every sinner who comes into your life, whether it’s a woman pregnant out of wedlock or a pastor who has been forced to leave his church because our Lord Jesus Christ suffered public disgrace that we might become recipients of His grace.

That’s why II Corinthians 8:9 is my favorite Christmas verse: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

May God give us the ability to treat wounded Christian leaders with the same grace that Christ has shown us … because only grace can lead us home.

Merry Christmas!

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I wrote this article six years ago.  It was among the first ones that I published.  It’s still relevant today.

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I just dropped a final payment and a sharply-worded letter in the mailbox to my former cable company (let’s call them Corrupt Cable) a few minutes ago.

Last April, Corrupt bought out my previous cable company (which I was very happy with) and immediately began alienating their new customers.

The bills were higher than they had been.  When I called customer service – which I did every month – the reps would tell me I owed one amount, but the subsequent bill would be larger.

When my bill in July was double what the customer rep said that I owed in June, I immediately cancelled (I was on a month-to-month contract) and contacted another company, which came the next day and exceeded my expectations with their professional attitude and performance.

I called Corrupt’s customer service again, asked how much my final bill was, and sent in that amount.  But Corrupt later billed me twice the amount the rep said I owed.

That was it for me.  I sent Corrupt management a strongly-worded two page letter along with a check for the amount the rep said I owed.  Corrupt countered with a letter threatening my credit if I didn’t pay them the remaining balance immediately.

I have never written the word “Corrupt!” on a check before, but I just did.

Now here’s the deal: I don’t want to hurt Corrupt’s CEO or force him from office.  I don’t want to destroy the company or its shareholders.

I just don’t want to think about them or talk about them anymore.  I am done with the Corrupt Cable Company forever.

But in many churches, when someone becomes upset with the pastor, they want to hurt him.  They want to target him.  They want to force him from office.

And they want revenge.

It’s my contention that many pastoral terminations are really the result of one or more church leaders seeking retribution against their shepherd.

More and more, I’m hearing stories of pastors and staff members who are forced out of their positions, and when they’re done sharing, I say to them, “You know what this sounds like to me?  Revenge.”

Let me share with you a composite of situations I’ve heard about firsthand.

Tom (who is now in his early 60s) has been the lead pastor of New Life Church for fifteen years.  The church has grown steadily and has a weekend attendance of 1100 people.  Tom and the board hired an associate pastor named Joe five years ago, and the first several years went well, but over the past two years, Joe has made Tom’s life a living hell.

Joe (who is in his mid-40s) is surrounded by family and friends who think that he’s a better leader and preacher than Tom and that he’s more culturally relevant.  Joe’s wife has been especially vocal in this area.

Some members of Joe’s group (which numbers about thirty) have started to make snide comments about the church and its leadership on social media.  Though they don’t mention Pastor Tom by name, it’s obvious they’re aiming their barbs at him.

By contrast, when Pastor Joe does anything in public, he’s praised on Facebook and Twitter by the FOJ Brigade.

At this point, the ideal solution is for the official board to intervene and tell Joe that (a) he still works for Pastor Tom; (b) he needs to tell his supporters to knock off their social media campaign; (c) if Joe has any concerns, he should discuss them with Tom first; and (d) any deviations from their instructions will result in Joe’s dismissal.

But because most church boards are afraid of conflict, and because some board members like Joe more than Tom, this solution isn’t likely to be implemented.

If Pastor Tom does nothing, he’s going to be driven from his position within a short while, because Joe’s followers are starting to smell blood.

But if Tom goes to the board and enacts too heavy-handed an approach, some board members will turn on him and back Joe instead.

So Tom decides that he will talk to Joe in private first.  Tom will tell Joe what he’s seeing with his attitude and ask Joe what he plans to do about it.

Tom’s plan doesn’t work and, in fact, upsets Joe greatly.  Ten minutes after their meeting, Joe is texting and calling his group, telling them, “How dare the pastor talk to me like that!”

Tom comes out of their meeting dazed and confused, while Joe calls a couple of board members that he senses are sympathetic and negatively exaggerates both Tom’s tone and words.

The verdict?  Pastor Tom can’t get along with the staff (even though he gets along with everybody but Joe) and he can’t get along with important people (like Joe’s followers).

So Tom has to go.

I wrote the following paragraph in my book Church Coup:

“I have a theory about the mentality of those who seek to target a pastor they don’t like. Because they sense that what they’re doing is wrong, they have to (a) exaggerate any charges to the level of a capital crime; (b) find others who agree with them to alleviate their guilt; (c) justify their actions by convincing themselves it’s for the common good; and (d) work up their hatred so they follow through with their plan. While this progression sounds like the kind of diabolical rage one might find in politics or war (or the prelude to a murder), the last place we’d expect to find such irrationality is inside a church.”

Over the next three months, Joe’s revenge against Tom manifests itself in five ways:

*Joe lets scores of people know – both directly and through his minions – that Tom should no longer be the pastor at New Life.  Joe details Tom’s inadequacies for anyone who will listen, including veiled swipes at his age.  As news spreads through the church underground, people add their own grievances against Pastor Tom to Joe’s list.  Some people start saying that if Tom doesn’t leave, they will.

*The church board absorbs Joe’s complaints against Tom and calls a special meeting to deal with the conflict.  Since nobody on the board has a clue how to handle matters, the easy way out is to dismiss Tom, even though he isn’t guilty of any major offense.  Because the board lacks any impeachable offense, they decide to justify their actions by “gunnysacking” Tom – listing as many faults and petty offenses against him as they can create in a single meeting.  They come up with seventeen reasons why Tom must leave but make a pact they won’t tell Tom anything.

*Keeping Joe informed at every turn, the board then ambushes Pastor Tom at their next regular meeting and informs him that he has a choice of resigning (with a small severance package) or being fired (without a severance package).  When Pastor Tom asks for the charges against him to be read, the board declines.  When Tom pleads for them to let him defend himself, they refuse.  The charges against Tom are merely a smokescreen for personal hatred.  When Tom becomes upset, they add that to their list.

*Pastor Tom resigns and receives a three-month severance package.  However, he’s told he must (a) clear out his office (and all his books) in two days; (b) turn in his keys immediately afterward; (c) never set foot on the church campus again; (d) not discuss his dismissal with anyone or his severance will be curtailed; (e) cut off all contact with everyone at the church.

*After Tom’s resignation is read to the congregation, Joe and his minions want to make sure that Tom’s supporters (at least 95% of the congregation) won’t cause any future trouble, so they spread rumors that (a) he was having an affair; (b) he was using drugs; and (c) he had trouble in previous churches that never came to light.  Several of Joe’s supporters also call the local district office and exaggerate the charges against him to make sure that no church in the denomination ever hires him again.  The district minister complies.

Some quick observations:

First, this whole situation was handled politically, not spiritually.

When revenge is involved, church politics rule.  It’s all about maximizing power … counting noses … denying the pastor due process … and checkmating him personally and professionally.  It may not look or sound like revenge, but it is.  Where’s the Bible in all this?

Second, the church board wimped out.

Had I been on New Life’s board, I would have recommended that Pastor Joe be confronted for challenging Pastor Tom’s authority.  If he wouldn’t repent, I would recommend his dismissal instead.  Tom didn’t do anything wrong; Joe did.  And it’s far easier to get a new associate than a new lead pastor.  But the board went with the squeaky wheel rather than any semblance of fairness or righteousness.

Third, the church lacked a predetermined process for handling complaints against the pastor.

Every church needs such a process.  It automatically kicks in whenever dirt starts being thrown at the pastor.  Because church boards often operate politically, I believe that another group in the church needs to monitor this process: a CRG (Conflict Resolution Group).  It’s not their job to make decisions about a pastor’s future.  It’s their job to make sure that the board and the church treat the pastor fairly: according to Scripture, the church’s governing documents, and the law.  And if the CRG’s directives aren’t followed, the entire board should be asked to resign rather than the lead pastor.

Fourth, treating Pastor Tom badly will come back and bite the church … hard.

Yes, people will leave the church, even if they never find out the details surrounding Tom’s departure.  But more than this: unless Pastor Joe and the complying board members repent, do you really believe that God is going to bless New Life Church in the future?  If so, you and I worship a different God.

Finally, God seeks redemption for His leaders, not revenge.

Allow me a personal word.  When I left my last church ministry nearly seven years ago, the entire church board resigned because they initiated a coup that failed.  They wrote and signed a resignation letter that was cruel and demeaning and intended to provide me with the maximum amount of pain.  (I have read it only three times.)  They obviously were upset with me about some issues, but they never sat down and talked with me about them.  Instead, they concocted a plan designed to checkmate me at every turn, and when their plan backfired, they left enraged.

There was never any attempt at restoration or redemption.  It was all about retribution and revenge.

Several weeks ago, I found out that two couples from my former church who had been friends for forty years severed their friendship over the way I was treated.  One couple bought into the gunnysacking charges the board made against me, while the other couple – which never heard from me directly – defended me to the hilt based on the pettiness of the charges themselves.  While this new information made me sad, I thought to myself, “This is what happens when people seek revenge against their pastor.”

When church leaders hear complaints about their pastor, they have two options:

First, they can lovingly bring the charges to their pastor’s attention, let him face his accusers, ask him for explanations, and remain open to his staying.  That’s redemptive.

Second, they can angrily spread charges behind the pastor’s back, refuse to let him face his accusers, insure that he’s not permitted any kind of defense, and remain determined to get rid of him.  That’s revenge.

We all know these verses, but they’re a good reminder during such times:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17,19,21).

What are your thoughts on what I have written?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have a mentor who used to be a pastor and later became a top executive with two different denominations.

When he was a pastor, he used to tell his staff, “Remember: our jobs could all be gone overnight.”

If someone had told me that before I trained to become a pastor, maybe I would have redoubled my efforts to become a math teacher.

Because from a distance, being a pastor seems like a pretty secure position.

But upon further scrutiny, the truth leans in the opposite direction: most pastors are, in the words of a pastor friend, bound to their churches by a one day contract … revocable anytime.

There are three common scenarios along this line:

First, the pastor disqualifies himself from ministry by committing a major offense.

If a pastor commits even a single act of sexual immorality, and it becomes known to the official board, that pastor will almost always be fired or asked to resign.

If a pastor commits a felonious criminal act, like grand larceny, or fraud, or assault, that could end his ministry as well.

If a pastor struggles with an ongoing sin … such as the megachurch pastor on the East Coast who resigned last Sunday because of a problem with alcohol … that can finish someone’s ministry in a particular congregation as well.

And if a pastor preaches heresy … like the pastor I heard about who started preaching universalism (the view that everybody will be saved and enter heaven in the end) … that can either get him fired or cause his church to empty out.

Most church boards are composed of spiritual individuals who know that their pastor is human and that he can get angry … suffer from depression … become exhausted … and even struggle with family issues … and yet still be a man of God who can be an effective and productive shepherd.

But when a pastor commits a major offense … and it’s discovered … he will usually either offer his resignation or be summarily dismissed.

Second, the pastor might be fired either after a worship service or during a regular/special board meeting.

I once knew a pastor who presided over a church that was growing like crazy … but he had been at the church less than two years when he was fired by the official board.

The pastor went to a regular board meeting.  The elder who had his back was away on a trip.  Knowing this, the other elders decided this was the time for them to make their move.

When the pastor came to the meeting, someone pushed a pre-typed resignation letter over to him.

The pastor was so shocked that he stared at it for 45 minutes.

The letter stated, in part, that he had to resign … clear out his office … turn in his keys … and cut off all contact with the people of the church.

And he would not be entitled to a final sermon or any goodbye party.

His offense?

He did things differently than the previous pastor … even though the church was doing very well.

Sometimes the signs of discontent among board members are there, but the pastor misses them.

And when they finally fire him, the pastor is genuinely shocked by their ambush.

But sometimes, the board makes a decision behind the scenes … often pushed by one of the board members, who is out for revenge … and the pastor becomes ecclesiastical toast.

Third, the pastor might be given a choice: either resign now and receive a token severance agreement, or be fired without any severance.

If the pastor is guilty of sexual immorality or criminal behavior and the board just discovered his sin, I can understand this scenario.

And if the pastor was asked to deal with an issue like alcohol abuse but he hasn’t made any progress … or refuses to change … then I can understand the church board saying, “We’ve done all we can, so we have to ask for your resignation.”

But much of the time, the board never says a word to the pastor about anything he’s done wrong … he comes to a meeting … and the board gives him this ultimatum: quit right now and we’ll pay you to leave … but if you refuse, we will fire you and you will receive nothing.

There’s a variation on this: one or two board members take the pastor out to eat or meet him in his office at church and throw down the same ultimatum.

One pastor told me that when the board asked him for his resignation, he gave it to them on the spot, walked away, and left the area as quickly as he could.

That’s one way of handling things.

But many pastors will want to know things like:

*What have I done wrong?

*Why haven’t you talked with me about this sooner?

*Why are you doing this now?

*What are you going to tell the congregation about my leaving?

*Who is really behind this power play?

The pastor can try and talk with the board about questions like these … and I think he should … because the more the pastor understands the board’s thinking, the more quickly he can heal down the road.

If the board has prepared a severance agreement they want the pastor to sign on the spot, the pastor should tell the board, “I cannot sign this agreement unless I first have it reviewed by an attorney.  I will try and get back to you within a few days.”

But there’s something else the pastor can do: stand up in the meeting … walk toward the door … and tell the board, “You’ll be hearing from me soon” … and quickly leave the building.

When I went through my conflict nearly seven years ago, a church consultant asked me if our church bylaws specified a way to vote the board members out of office.

Since the bylaws didn’t envision that possibility, there wasn’t any mechanism in place for removing the board.

In my situation, I wouldn’t have done that because the board members were all duly elected by the congregation.

If a pastor is asked to resign on the spot, the best move he can make is to tell the board, “I need a few days to think and pray about this.  Can I gave you an answer by Saturday?”

If the board agrees to this scenario, the pastor should assure the board that (a) he may consult with a few people from the church, but (b) he will not lead a counterattack against the board.

But many church boards don’t allow for the pastor to take a few days to make his decision because (a) they want him to leave right away; (b) they’ve already lined up somebody to speak the following Sunday; (c) they’re afraid the pastor will lead a counterattack if they give him any rope at all.

Some pastors in megachurches and larger churches sign a contract before they become the pastor.  The contract spells out the various scenarios up front.

But most small church and medium-sized church pastors don’t sign such contracts and so are open to being railroaded right out of their positions.

Before Jesus went to the cross, He knew what was coming … and knew He would rise again.

Before most pastors are asked to leave, they are blindsided … and wonder if they’ll ever pastor again.

If you’re a church board member …  your pastor has not committed a major offense … but you think he should leave: it’s better for the board if the pastor leaves immediately, but if he does, it may very well kill his church career … for good.

So before you make a major decision that you can’t take back, search Scripture … pray it through … consult with several church consultants/interventionists … and rid your board of every desire to exact revenge on your pastor.

And be very careful … because in a real sense … your life and your job are bound by single day contracts as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Twenty-five years ago, I found myself in one of the most precarious positions I’ve ever faced as a pastor.

The church I served in Silicon Valley had been struggling, and I became convinced that we needed to start over: a new church, with a new name, in a new location, with a new ministry.

This vision meant that we had to sell our church property and find a new place to meet … almost simultaneously.

After receiving congregational approval, we sold the property outright to The Salvation Army (some people must drop more than coins into those Christmas kettles) and after looking at more than thirty buildings, our leaders found a temporary place to meet … but we needed a conditional use permit first.

When we went to the planning commission, they turned us down on a 4-2 vote.

We were stunned.

Now we had to appeal to the City Council … I had to lead the effort … and I had never done anything like that before.

I pulled out all the stops.  I called everyone and anyone who might be able to help.  I even called the city manager of a prominent city nearby and picked his brain on how to proceed.

Then it came time to prepare packets for Council members and contact them individually.

I met with the mayor in his office.

After our presentation to the Council, we won a unanimous 7-0 vote.  It was one of the great moments of my life!

The elders of that church and I had a lot to learn after our defeat before the planning commission … and after we did our homework, God blessed us with a favorable decision.

But when a church board is having trouble with their pastor … and if they’re thinking about forcing him to leave … the last thing many boards do is ask outsiders for counsel.

Why don’t boards ask for counsel?

*Some board members think, “We have to keep everything confidential.  We don’t want anyone to know what’s happening between us and the pastor.”  They may be concerned about their own reputations … that they won’t be perceived as competent managers or peaceful believers.

*Others boards think, “We don’t need any outside counsel.  Just look at the composition of this board: a CEO, an attorney, a salesman, two small business owners, a school principal, and an accountant.  We’re all professionals.  We know what to do with wayward employees.”

*Still others think, “I suppose we could contact an outside consultant, but we know more about our church and our pastor than that person ever will.”

*The pastor probably knows who could be contacted for counsel, but the board won’t be inclined to consult with his network.

*And because of the nature of the conflict, the board can’t ask the pastor for help … even though he might be able to help them more than anybody else.

There are several problems with this kind of thinking among board members:

*For starters, a church is not strictly a business.  While it shouldn’t be run like a bad business, the purpose of a church isn’t to make money or reward investors, but to transform people’s lives spiritually.  Just because board members have experience in the “real world” doesn’t mean they understand the unique dynamics inside a congregation.

*Many people in a church view their congregation more as a family than a business.  Their relationships … including their relationship with the pastor … are on their frontal lobes far more than the church’s budget or buildings.  Most people will view a board-pastor clash negatively … no matter how the board frames it … because it will disrupt that “family feeling.”

*Although pastoral terminations are an increasingly common occurrence in the Christian community, the great majority of churchgoers … including board members … have never experienced the aftermath of a termination before.  They may feel that they can control the narrative and keep everyone in the church united, but they are woefully unprepared for the unpredictable events that happen after the pastor leaves.

For example, I was once thinking about firing a staff member, so I consulted with an experienced pastor.  He told me, “Well, after you let this person go, you’ll have three tough months, and then things will revert to normal.”  But when a board dismisses a pastor, they might experience three tough years … or their church may never recover.

*Outside experts may not know much about “our church” and “our pastor,” but those who have studied even two or three terminations know infinitely more than those who have never experienced even one.

Those who contact me most often are pastors under fire … pastors who have just been terminated … and board members who are having trouble with their pastor – including those who may be thinking about forcing him to resign.

While asking questions about each situation, I am constantly amazed at how many church boards think they know what they’re doing even though they’re only consulting with themselves.

Allow me to share my experience from six-and-a-half years ago.

The conflict I experienced in my last church surfaced in October 2009.  At that time:

*I had been a pastor for 35 1/2 years … 10 1/2 years in that same church.

*I had a longtime interest and passion in church conflict and pastoral termination.

*I had watched three of the pastors I served under as a staff member suffer attacks.  One resigned under fire, while another was voted out of office.

*I had an extensive library on conflict and termination which I knew well … and that library grew significantly when I wrote my doctoral project.

*I had a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary with an emphasis on church conflict.

And yet, in the week following the surfacing of the conflict, I contacted 17 Christian leaders, asking for their counsel … including seminary professors, church consultants, megachurch pastors, and former board chairmen.

Why did I do that?

*I needed to know what was really going on.  I thought I knew, but I wasn’t completely sure.

*I was too close to the situation to see things objectively.  I needed the advice of people who could see both the conflict and my situation dispassionately.

*I needed to know what my next moves should be … and what I shouldn’t do or say.

*I also needed to know what might happen inside the congregation over the next few days.  For example, here’s what I wrote in my book Church Coup about a conversation I had with a church consultant who has since became a mentor:

“Wilson said that when the board met with the staff … that was a serious offense in our state.  If the board had acted in a similar fashion in a secular organization, the aggrieved person could have sued them for millions of dollars. Wilson also asked if I was pastor of the church founded by Norman, and when I confirmed that I was – and that the communication between us had become sparse – he wrote: ‘Does not surprise me on Norman – and I have a hunch that THEY have dialed him in!’ Wilson predicted that if the board resigned, thirty to fifty people would also leave with them, and those who were in touch with the Holy Spirit (especially those with the gift of showing mercy) would later tell me that they knew something was wrong but couldn’t put their finger on it.”

I then recounted another conversation:

“Later that morning, I had a conversation with someone (I’ll call him Richard) who runs a Christian consulting firm. Richard immediately asked me about the personal and vocational lives of the board members. He believed that what was happening in their private lives had a direct bearing on how they were handling church matters. Richard stated that many boards are struggling with three primary issues in our day: they experience fear because God is not big enough for them; they struggle with stewardship because they believe the church is ‘all about us’ and not a lost world; and they struggle with faith. Satan has figured out how to defeat us by using power as an aphrodisiac. Richard suggested that one way we could seek redress was through arbitration.”

Before a church board tries to force their pastor to quit … or fires him outright … they should consult with the following individuals:

*A labor attorney to make sure they’re “dotting their i’s” and “crossing their “t’s” legally.  This should also involve a thorough discussion of any relevant passages on pastor-church conflict in the bylaws.

*A biblical expert … maybe a seminary professor … who can tell them what Scripture does and doesn’t say about terminating a pastor.

*A church consultant who is well-versed in pastoral termination who can (a) help the board decide if the pastor needs to be corrected or fired, and (b) walk the board through how to take action so there is minimal harm done to the pastor, his family, and the congregation.

*Several experienced pastors who either know what it’s like to be under fire or who have undergone termination themselves.  Listening to such pastors will give the board increased sensitivity.

What about denominational executives, like a district minister?

Probably 90% of the time, they’ll side with the board instead of the pastor because (a) they just want the conflict to go away, (b) they don’t have a clue how to resolve matters, and (c) they just want to keep the money flowing from the church to district coffers.

What about contacting a former pastor from that church?

Most boards don’t know about the rivalries and jealousies between pastors from the same church.  For that reason, I don’t recommend this approach.

What about contacting a board member from a church that already terminated a pastor?

If the termination was just and handled thoughtfully … maybe.  But if the termination blew up in the board’s face … why go there?

How about contacting a Christian mediator?

If a board decides to go this route, they need to interview the mediator, and let the pastor interview him as well.  The board cannot force a mediator down the pastor’s throat … and vice versa.

What are the benefits of a board seeking outside counsel?

*The board learns better how pastors think.  For example, pastors are often thinking “outreach,” while board members are thinking “maintenance.”  How tragic to force out a pastor who is just trying to take Christ’s Great Commission seriously.

*The board expands their thinking from “let’s get rid of the pastor” to “we need to keep our church healthy during this process.”

*The board learns about the pitfalls and land mines involved in terminating a pastor.

*The board will hear differing approaches … giving them better options from which to choose.

*The board will learn how their own emotional reactions can blind them to reality.

*The board will learn the importance of giving the pastor a fair and just severance package if they choose termination.

Why don’t boards seek thorough and experienced counsel more often?

*Pride.  They don’t think they need any help.

*Consulting with outsiders takes time, and some board members are so anxious that they just want to get things over with.

*The board usually doesn’t have a budget for seeking outside help, but good counsel isn’t cheap.  Yet spending $5,000 to $10,000 now may save the church hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years.

*Many boards are too incompetent to know that they aren’t competent.

Where does God factor into all this?

I left this issue until last because, in my view, many boards that struggle with their pastor don’t consult with God and then do His will … they ask God to bless their decisions and then move full speed ahead.

And that’s why God doesn’t bless them when they move to remove their pastor.  They never asked God what they should do … they told God what they were going to do instead.

Personally, I think much of the time, the board wants to fire the pastor because they aren’t used to praying for him … they’re just used to complaining about him.

But if they really met and prayed for their pastor, do they expect that anything would change?

And if they don’t pray for him, what does that say about them?

 

 

 

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I am not entirely comfortable with today’s topic: why some people hate their pastor … but some issues grab me and won’t let me go.

Over the past few weeks, I have not been able to mentally censor this nagging question:

Why do some board members/staff members/church members hate their pastor enough to force him to leave?

Let’s admit that this is a real issue in many situations where a pastor is terminated.  Sometimes the driving force in a pastoral termination is the personal hatred someone has for their pastor … especially in smaller church settings.

Why is this so?

First, some people hate their pastor because he doesn’t adopt their viewpoints on church matters.

There are people in every church who think they know how to run the church better than their God-called minister.

Maybe they do … but they haven’t been entrusted by God … or by the congregation … with the same amount of decision-making authority as their pastor.

I don’t understand such people.  It would be far more sensible … and much less divisive … if such a person either (a) chose to wait and see how some of the pastor’s decisions worked out, or (b) left the church quietly and didn’t make a fuss.

But when people go public against their pastor … even if only inside their own social network … they usually don’t back down or they’re afraid of losing face.

Second, some people hate their pastor because they don’t like his ministry style.

I served under five senior pastors as a staff member over nearly 11 years.

One pastor let me run the ministry the way I wanted.  Another pastor gave me a running commentary every week on how I was doing.

One pastor used to come into my office and solicit my opinion on church matters.  Another pastor spent most of our time together talking about himself.

Several pastors were loud and opinionated; a couple were thoughtful and reflective.

Some complimented me on a regular basis; others rarely said anything encouraging or kind.

I always felt that it was my job to adapt to them and their style.  It was not their job to adapt to me and my style.

But some board members … and especially staff members … believe that the pastor needs to adjust his leadership style to them, not the other way around.

And when a pastor doesn’t make this adjustment, some people will secretly hate him.

Third, some people hate their pastor because he once offended them.

In 36 years of church ministry, I can count on two hands the number of people who came to me and said, “Jim, you said or did something that really offended me, and I’d like to see if we can work this out between us.”

Most of the time, I’d hear something like this instead: “Jim, So-and-So is really upset with you.”

But when most people are upset with their pastor, they don’t want him to know … so they don’t tell him directly.

In some respects, I get this.

When a church is smaller, it’s easier for people to speak with their pastor directly.  He’s more accessible … easier to know … and his reactions are more predictable.

As a church grows larger, it becomes more difficult for people to speak with their pastor one-on-one.  The pastor might not be visible after a weekend service … or attempts to speak with him might result in his saying, “Call me at church during the week so we can set up an appointment.”

That’s great … but what if you can’t leave work to do that?

And what if you can … but you chicken out before making that appointment?

But why blame the pastor when he doesn’t know how the offended party feels?

It’s irrational … but sadly, all too common.

______________

Let me share with you some things I’ve never shared – not even in my book Church Coup – about why I ultimately left my last ministry.

*It wasn’t because I committed a major offense, because I didn’t.

*It wasn’t because the church was going down the tubes, because it wasn’t.

*It wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job, because I was … although I was wearing down toward the end without knowing why.

*It wasn’t because of anything my wife did or didn’t do … even though that was the presenting charge … because she was ultimately exonerated by a 9-person team from inside the church.

No, the real reason I left my last ministry was because two Christian leaders hated me.

One leader was inside the church … and one leader was outside the church.

But why did these leaders hate me?  I certainly did not hate them.

The leader inside the church had his own agenda.  In my view, he wanted to control the money so he could control the ministry.  He never seemed to listen to anything I said, but he wanted me to listen to him, even though I tried but rarely understood his points.  He engineered my departure from within but did not speak with me personally about any of his concerns.

The leader outside the church had an agenda as well.  I’ve protected his reputation for many years, even though he used a scorched earth policy against me.  When the time is right, I may reveal more … not to be vindictive, but to illustrate why some pastors are forced out of their church positions.

How do I know these two men hated me?

*They never told me directly how they felt.

There are many disobeyed commands in Scripture, but Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 have to be right up near the top.

Jesus is pretty clear: “If your brother sins [and that includes your pastor], go and reprove him in private.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

Whatever I said or did that offended these men, they never loved me enough to sit down and say, “Hey, Jim, there is something between us.  Let’s try and work this out together.”

So I assumed that everything was fine … until I was ambushed and betrayed.

*They both spread their feelings to other Christians.

If I tell you that I’m angry with my pastor, you should say to me, “Why are you telling me this?  Go speak with him at once and work things out.”  If you’re too scared to speak with him directly, then take it to the Lord in prayer and let it go … or find a friend or family member who lives several states away and share your feelings with them.

But keep those feelings out of your church, or you may destroy a lot of lives.  Hatred … even of a Christian leader … can be contagious.

Because if I tell you that I’m enraged at my pastor, you may very well add some petty grievances of your own to my complaint.  If I tell my wife about my anger, she may add her own complaints as well.

Before long, I’m focusing only on how the pastor offended me, my wife, and my friends rather than looking out for the best interests of the church long-term.

If these men had come to me, we could have worked things out.  If I was wrong, I would have admitted my part.  I can be sensitive, but I’m also reasonable.

But they never came to me … but did go to others.

The result?  A firestorm.

*They tried to destroy my reputation.

The wife of the leader from inside the church called a friend of mine in another state to criticize me.

The leader from outside the church called another friend to rag on me for a different matter.

In both cases, the callers were hoping that those they called would be receptive to their harsh criticisms.

In both cases, the callers ended up being more loyal to me than to my critics … and told me who called them and what they said.

Six months after I left my last church, I made an appointment with the district leader of a denomination other than the one I had been in for years.  My hope was that I might be able to do some guest speaking in churches … just to be useful.

When I started telling him my story about what happened in my former church, he had already heard it, and guessed the name of the church before I even mentioned it … as well as the name of a leader who pushed me out.

It shook me up, and I never sent him my resume or a preaching DVD because I assumed … rightly or wrongly … “Everybody in the Christian world must know about my situation, so why proceed any further?”

In some ways, I still feel that way.

*They did all in their power to force me to resign.

I cannot imagine hating a pastor so much that you would do all in your power to force him out of office.

In my book Church Coup, I wrote the following:

“I have a theory about the mentality of those who seek to target a pastor they don’t like.  Because they sense that what they’re doing is wrong, they have to (a) exaggerate any charges to the level of a capital crime; (b) find others who agree with them to alleviate their guilt; (c) justify their actions by convincing themselves it’s for the common good; and (d) work up their hatred so they follow through with their plan.  While this progression sounds like the kind of diabolical rage one might find in politics or war (or the prelude to a murder), the last place we’d expect to find such irrationality is inside a church.”

But in all too many cases, that irrationality thrives.

*They never spoke with me again after I resigned.

One of these two men was one of my best friends for at least ten years.  He contacted me every few months, even when we lived hundreds of miles apart.

But when our conflict was brewing in the fall of 2009, the consultant I hired told me that my “friend” was involved in the conflict.

Three other Christian leaders told me about his involvement afterward.  One of them told me, “You’ve been undermined for years without your knowledge, and it’s amazing that your church has done so well during that time.”

Maybe we’ll reunite in heaven.

_______________

You might be wondering, “Jim, have you forgiven these men who hated you?”

Yes, I believe I have … if we’re talking about unilateral forgiveness.

Two months after I resigned and left my former church, I drove nearly 800 miles back to my former community to pick up some valuables that were being stored at a friend’s house.

That night, I stayed in our old house one last time.  (It was up for sale but still on the market.)

I took a walk around the old neighborhood, sat on a bench in a small park … and looked directly across at the house of the leader inside the church who engineered my departure.

He didn’t know I was there, but I prayed and forgave him.  I even asked God to bless his life and family.

The leader from outside the church had been good to me for years, so in some ways it was easier to forgive him.

But if forgiveness means reconciliation … former enemies coming together again as friends … I don’t envision that ever happening.

I wish both men and their families well.  I don’t pray that God will harm them or strike them dead.

But to this day, I still don’t know why they hated me so much … and I guess I’ll never know.

But while we’re at it, there’s something else I’m wondering:

When the hatred of these two leaders manifested itself … among their wives, their friends, and members of my former church … why didn’t anyone say to them, “You’re angry and even bitter right now, and you need to make things right with Jim, or let things go.”

Maybe someone did say that.

I just wish they had listened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A pastor friend who reads this blog told me a story recently that seems paradoxical.

My friend became the pastor of a church several years ago that averaged 45 people on Sundays.

Three years later, the attendance had tripled and the ministry was going great … except that the rapid growth upset some key leaders.

They began making accusations against the pastor … who was shocked by what they were saying and how they started treating him.

So he eventually resigned … those who came to the church because of him left … and the church reverted to its original size.

This pastor was asked recently to attend a function where many of his pastoral colleagues were present … and many of those men pastored congregations on the small side … even smaller than 45.

But they still had their jobs, and if history is any indication, most of them will remain as pastors for a long time.

We might put this ministry paradox this way:

If a pastor grows a church too rapidly, he can find himself unemployed … but if someone pastors a stagnant church, he may keep his position for years.

For an existing church to grow in 2015, a pastor must institute change … which usually involves risk … which creates anxiety among some people … which leads to complaining … which can lead to antagonism, plots, secret meetings, charges, demands, threats, and the ultimate resignation of that pastor.

Let me give you an example of this scenario from my own ministry:

Many years ago, I pastored a church that was growing at a steady pace.  I initially focused primarily on teaching and shepherding … and the ministry went very well.

We crowded out two services in our worship center, so I had to put on my leader hat and make plans to build a new worship center on our property.

This meant putting together a building team … allotting special funds to hire an architect … letting the architect explain his ideas to the congregation … letting the congregation respond to the architect’s proposal … hiring a contractor … starting a capital funds drive … collecting pledges … overseeing construction … dealing with the planning commission … dealing with resistant neighbors … calling in a federal mediator to help with the resistant neighbors … holding a groundbreaking ceremony … overseeing construction for a year … getting final city approvals … and holding a dedication Sunday.

And I’m sure I missed at least a dozen other steps!

I kept the congregation informed at every key juncture.  Every vote that our church took on every building-related issue was unanimous.  In my view, I handled the changes well.

But there was still fallout.  We lost around 8% of our regular attendees.  Some didn’t want to contribute to the building.  Several leaders tried to sabotage the entire project.  And when the building was finally unveiled, some people complained about colors … furnishings … room functionality … you name it.

I once heard that 70% of all pastors resign soon after completing a building program.  I can see why.  You’re so worn out by the time the building goes up that you have little energy left to grow the church.

But just constructing a worship center (called “architectural evangelism”) never attracts new people.  The pastor still needs to exercise leadership to fill the building, and when he begins taking risks again, the whole anxiety/complaining/antagonism/plots/threats cycle starts all over again.

If a pastor chooses to exercise true leadership in a church, then someone is going to attack him.  Most pastors instinctively know this, and because so many pastors are sensitive individuals, most opt not to lead, which is why 80-85% of all churches in America are stagnant or declining.

But when a pastor does lead, he invariably makes some enemies.

If those people perceive that the pastor is strong, they will probably leave the church.

If they perceive the pastor is weak, they may organize to try and force him to leave.

But if a pastor chooses not to lead … but to focus on administration and teaching and shepherding instead … the chances are much greater that he’ll keep his job for a long time … even if his church never grows.

I visited a church several years ago where the pastor had been there for more than three decades.  The church had been in decline for years (the attendance was half of what it once had been) but the pastor was allowed to stay because he functioned best as a teacher and a shepherd rather than a leader.

Although the boat was taking on water, at least the pastor wasn’t rocking it!

By contrast, Dennis Maynard mentions in his book When Sheep Attack that the 25 clergy he interviewed for his study were all leading growing churches when they were forced to resign.

Maynard states that “… several of our participants noted that they believed that returning the parish to its former state of mediocrity was what they thought the antagonists really wanted.  They observed that the antagonists often objected to the increase in attendance and new members.  They resented the expanded program.  They particularly objected to having new leadership raised up in the congregation.  Once the parish is returned to its former size and activity the antagonists are in a better position to, as one priest wrote – ‘run things themselves.'”

The idea that many of the pastors of rapidly growing churches lose their jobs while the pastors of stagnant/shrinking churches keep their jobs isn’t based on a scientific study.  It’s just a personal observation.  But in my mind, it seems to ring true much of the time.

All of this leads me to ask four questions:

First, is it better for a pastor’s career prospects for him to focus on teaching/shepherding rather than leading in any meaningful way? 

In other words, should a pastor focus on a few things and leave the leadership to the staff … the board … or other influencers?

Second, at what point do a church’s lay leaders begin to turn on the pastor of a growing church?

Is it when their friends/spouses threaten to leave?  When the church grows beyond their control?

Third, to what extent can a pastor be run out of a church for doing too much good?

Can a pastor be too successful?  How does a pastor know when he’s in career jeopardy?

Finally, why do Christian leaders permit this kind of sabotage in our churches?

Why aren’t our seminaries teaching prospective pastors that church success can very well lead to eventual unemployment?  Why don’t our denominations support productive pastors over against damaging antagonists?

Jesus wasn’t executed because His following was insignificant, but because His influence and popularity were expanding.  He was crucified for being too effective.

Twenty centuries later, the careers of many pastors end for the same reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A pastor wrote me recently and said that he had read my book Church Coup and that he wanted to contact me because he needed someone who understood how he felt.

Several days later, we spoke at length on the phone.

I was struck by how often I hear the same story: the church is going well … yet struggling financially … the board meets in secret … lies to the pastor … asks the pastor for his resignation … brings back that pastor’s predecessor … the pastor’s supporters leave … the pastor and his family are devastated … and the pastor has no idea what he did wrong.

During the course of my conversation with this precious brother, he told me something that another pastor had shared with me recently:

“I am so glad to know that I’m not alone.”

Five years ago, similar events happened to me at a church I served for nearly 11 years.  These thoughts went through my head after I was blindsided by church leaders:

“How long has this plot been in effect?”

What have I done to deserve this treatment?”

“Why is this happening now?”

“Who else knows about this situation?”

“What is really going on here?”

“If I leave, how will I support my family?”

“With housing values so low, what should we do with the house?”

“Will this end my pastoral career?”

“What does God think about all this?”

The pastor going through the process of forced termination feels anxious … betrayed … confused … devastated … and forsaken.

He can’t think straight … is scared to death … can’t see past that very minute … suddenly becomes distrustful of everybody in the church … and blames himself for everything.

Except … he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong.

One part of him feels like he’s supposed to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself.

Another part of him is aching to get them out.

During a forced termination, church leaders often tell the pastor not to discuss what’s happening with anybody else.

But much of the time, their intent is to control the flow of information so they are in charge of the conflict, not the pastor.

Personally, I believe a pastor needs to discuss his thoughts and feelings with other Christian leaders so he can regain perspective.

There were Christian leaders that I wanted to call and consult with, but I was concerned they might have advance knowledge of what was happening, so I crossed them off my contact list.

Instead, I contacted leaders who didn’t know my church … didn’t know my predecessor … and would be willing to give me a fair hearing.

Within several days, I contacted nearly 20 Christian leaders, some of whom I hadn’t spoken with in more then 10 years.  One day, I spent 14 hours on the phone.

Every leader I spoke with seemed to have one or two pieces to my puzzle, but in hindsight, maybe I was reaching out so I wouldn’t feel so all alone.

Jesus never felt more alone than when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane.

*He knew that He’d soon be in gruesome pain.

*He knew that the Father’s protection was being removed.

*He knew that Satan was coming after Him with full force.

*He knew that He would suffer even though He hadn’t done anything wrong.

In His greatest hour of need, Jesus reached out to His three best friends in this world: Peter, James and John.

Even the Son of God didn’t want to be alone during His hour of trial.

If you’re a pastor or a staff member, and you sense you’re close to being terminated or you’ve been terminated, I want to encourage you to reach out to some or all of the following people:

*your oldest Christian friends.

*pastor friends who love you unconditionally.

*older pastors who have experienced a forced termination.

*Christian conflict managers and interventionists.

*seminary professors and classmates.

Many of these people know what you’re going through because they’ve been through it themselves.  Let them encourage you and pray for you.

And although you might not feel like reading Scripture or praying when you’re under attack, know that God is with you, even when you can’t sense His presence or favor.

If I can help, feel free to contact me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and we can set up a time to talk.

When I wrote my book Church Coup, I didn’t do it for revenge, or for personal therapy, or to make money, or to become well-known.

I wrote the book to help pastors, church leaders, and lay people better understand the phenomenon of forced termination and to try and minimize the damage that happens so often to pastors and churches.

Just this morning, a prominent Christian leader cited the statistic that 1700 pastors are leaving church ministry every month.

Let that sink in: 1700!

My guess is that the great majority of those 1700 are being forced out of their churches by just a handful of opponents.

In fact, you’re in great company with leaders like Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham, and many others who were forced to leave their churches prematurely.

You aren’t alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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