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The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.  Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?  Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.  1 Corinthians 6:7-8

Many years ago, when my family lived in Silicon Valley, we lived next door to a family that scared us half to death.

For example, one night around 11:15, I saw a glow outside our bathroom window.  When I opened it, I saw that our neighbor’s roof was on fire.

Matt, a young man in his early twenties, had lit a pillow on fire while smoking.  Not thinking, he quickly threw the pillow outside his window onto the roof …and tried to put out the fire by barraging it with glasses of water.

From time-to-time, Matt and his buddies would be drinking outside late at night, and they would sit on our front lawn … right by our bedroom window.  Strong disagreements sometimes ensued between Matt and his colleagues.

One time … around 3:00 am … I saw Matt slug his girlfriend after an argument … after which I immediately called the police.

Let’s put it this way: if our family was having problems, the last place we would go for help would be Matt’s family.

In the same way, when families in a community hear that Christians in a church are fighting … and resigning … and leaving … that’s the last place they would go for help … and that feeling might last for years.

This thought reminds me of a conversation that was relayed to me after a major conflict surfaced in my last ministry.

Someone was asking about our church, and an individual in city government replied, “You don’t want to go there.  They’re having problems.”

Until that time, as far as I knew, our church had a glowing reputation throughout the community.  We marched in our city’s annual parade (where people sometimes cheered when we walked by), were members of the Chamber of Commerce, participated in events like Relay for Life, and adopted a school, among other things.

But our conflict quickly spilled outside the congregation and made its way into people’s ears and homes.

Let me make four observations about how major conflict affects a church’s reputation:

First, churches in conflict turn off those they’re trying to reach.

Last night, my wife was watching a news show, and clips were shown of a well-known politician uttering hateful and vile language.

I instinctively blurted out, “You are not welcome in our house,” and muted the sound.

I do the same thing if a television debate becomes too nasty or volatile.  The rancor deeply disturbs my spirit and adds to my stress level.  I don’t need it.

That’s exactly how most unchurched people respond when they hear about a church that’s fighting.  Families have enough conflict of their own.  They don’t want anymore … especially from people who claim to love others unconditionally.

Much of the time, when a church forces out an innocent pastor, the news gets around the community, and those who considered visiting the church refrain.  If they visit any church, it will be one where people seem to get along.

The best “church shrinkage” strategy is for a congregation to let its differences hit the grapevine … including social media.

Second, churches in conflict negate their message of reconciliation.

Dr. Francis Schaeffer claimed that love was the final apologetic for Christians.

Jesus told His disciples in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Is the converse also true?

We might put it this way: “By this all men will doubt if you are my disciples, if you hate one another.”

By the time a conflict gets around a community, the core issue is largely forgotten … and people focus on the relational fallout instead.  (“The people at that church don’t get along.”)

How can churches that claim to embrace the gospel preach effectively about Jesus when it’s obvious they’re not living its core belief?

We Christians basically have two messages: love God and love one another.

Major conflicts contradict both messages.

Why would anyone be attracted to Christ when it doesn’t seem to be doing any good in the life of His followers?

And why would anyone think that a “fighting church” could help them with their own relational problems?

Third, churches in conflict negate the process for reconciliation.

The gospel is the message of reconciliation.  But the New Testament is clear there is a process for reconciliation as well.

That process is often found in a church’s governing documents.  The process is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-20 and amplified by verses like Luke 17:3-4; Galatians 6:1-2; and 1 Timothy 5:19-21.

I believe that when church leaders follow the teaching of Matthew 18 seriously, most conflicts inside a church can be resolved, and those conflicts will not spill out into the community.

But when church leaders ignore Matthew 18 … especially when they go straight to power and play church politics … one can almost guarantee that the conflict will get around the community.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 lay out deliberate steps, and the time between steps may take weeks, if not months.

Godly leaders are patiently willing to work those steps.

But anxious, immature leaders don’t want to work a process, so they envision the outcome they want and then devise shortcuts to get there … and in the process, wreak havoc on their congregation.

As Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, a lawsuit between believers is one such shortcut.

Paul says that those who sue other believers “have been completely defeated already” and “cheat” and “wrong” their brothers.

From time-to-time, I advocate for what I call a Conflict Resolution Group in every church.  Composed of at least three spiritual and wise individuals, this group’s charter is not to manage/resolve conflicts when they arise, but to train, coach, and make sure that believers – especially leaders – follow the biblical directives for conflict resolution.

Because, sad to say, it’s often church leaders who violate the biblical reconciliation process the most.

The governing board needs a group they’re accountable to for the process they use, but not the decisions they make.

Finally, churches in conflict implicitly confess they don’t know the pathway to reconciliation.

Evangelical churches tend to resolve major conflicts in one of three ways:

First, they force out their pastor and blame him for the entire conflict.

Whether the pastor started the conflict, or whether he couldn’t fix it fast enough, it’s amazing how many churches end up scapegoating the pastor for all their troubles.

Because when the pastor is 100% responsible for a church’s problems, those who blame him never have to admit they did anything wrong … and when they hire a new pastor, they get to remain in their current ministries.

Second, they either allow or encourage disgruntled people to leave the church.

Pastors and other leaders often assume that if a contentious faction leaves their church, the congregation will quickly resort to health.

Maybe yes … probably no.

The departing faction may end up at another local church … and use their former church as a mission field, thus perpetuating the conflict.

Finally, they act like nothing happened and sweep the issues under the carpet.

This is the default position in most evangelical churches.

*The pastor has been fired … but the leaders won’t talk about it.

*A staff person has been dismissed … but nobody will answer questions.

*A faction has angrily left … but the leaders act like everything is fine.

And in the process, we Christians never learn from our leaders how to address issues, disagree honestly, respond biblically, and work toward wise and loving solutions.

To use a football analogy, all we do in our churches is punt … punt … punt.

Is it any wonder then that all too many Christian couples divorce … that Christian parents stop talking to their adult children … and that Christian friends stop talking to each other for good?

Church leaders don’t model conflict resolution for us.  They model conflict avoidance instead.

Have you ever been in a church that handled conflict openly?

No, they’re all managed behind closed doors, where demands and threats may be used to end matters.

But in the process, God’s people never learn how godly people are supposed to handle conflict.

As Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 6:5:

Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?

Sometimes I wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

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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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Would your church be better off without your present pastor?

Sometimes I’m surprised by how many lay people – especially board members – think this way.

Here’s a typical scenario:

Joseph is called to be the pastor of Trinity Church, which averages 80 people when he arrives.

Three years later, average church attendance stands at 240, meaning that Trinity has tripled in size.

While most churchgoers are excited by Trinity’s growth, three veteran couples – along with two board members – are very unhappy with Pastor Joseph.

Why?

They claim that he preaches too long … doesn’t offer enough invitations for salvation … doesn’t use enough Scripture when he preaches … isn’t involved in denominational work … and doesn’t listen to their ideas.

Most of their complaints are smokescreens … except the last one.

That’s the real issue: these pioneers sense that they’re losing control of their church.

Go back and read that last sentence again and note three key phrases:

these pioneers = since they’ve been in the church longer than most, the 8 believe that their feelings take precedence over the rest of the church.

losing control = the pastor’s values, ideas, and plans are being adopted by 95% of the congregation … while theirs aren’t being taken seriously by anyone.

their church = they mistakenly believe that the church is owned by human beings –  not Jesus Christ – who boldly proclaimed, “I will build My church!”

In all too many churches, some people are uncomfortable unless they’re running the church.  And when the pastor becomes too successful, they feel threatened … especially when he’s attracting too many newcomers … who seem to adore their pastor without knowing much of anything about the pioneers.

And the pioneers resent the influx of newcomers because they don’t know them and can’t control them.

In this case, the three couples and two board members – a total of 8 people – begin holding informal meetings … especially in restaurants and in each other’s homes.  These meetings are initially closed to anyone else.

The purpose?  To stop the chaos … and all the newcomers … and return the church to the way it used to be … when they were in charge!

If they’re that unhappy, why don’t the 8 just leave?

Because most of the time, they feel that they’ve invested too much time, sweat, and money to let someone else – even their pastor – run the ministry.

And so, 8 people meeting in secret will attempt to subvert the will of the other 232 people in the congregation just so they can alleviate their own anxiety.

It’s the height of selfishness … but this is precisely what happens in thousands of churches every year.

Of course, the pastor is too busy focusing on leading, preaching, counseling, and loving people to even pay attention to those secret little meetings.

And he’ll continue to be unaware when each of the 8 works their network and tries to recruit a few more people to join their subversive cause.

And then one day … after a Sunday service … or during a regularly-scheduled board meeting … the church board will ask the pastor for his resignation.

And the pastor will be so shocked that he’ll give it to them.

And after the pastor leaves, the following five things will happen at the church:

*The church board – and their network – will exaggerate charges against the pastor in an attempt to ruin his reputation so that people in the congregation drop all contact with him.

*Most of the pastor’s supporters will gradually leave the church – something the 8 never foresaw.

*The 8 will not be venerated, but vilified by most of the pastor’s supporters … causing several of them to leave the church.

*The congregation will struggle financially for a long time because (a) the pastor’s supporters took their money with them; (b) the church will now need to hire an interim pastor … usually at the same rate of pay that the pastor received; (c) the church will need to put together a search team for a new pastor; (d) several staff members will be released because the church can no longer pay them; (e) some ministries will have to be dismantled because the church can no longer staff them or fund them; and (f) overall costs will jump 10-15%.

Finally, the congregation will never fully heal because few people will ever learn the real reason why the pastor resigned … and most church leaders won’t want to tell the real story.

Wouldn’t it have been better for the 8 to leave the church quietly if they were that unhappy?

What do you think?

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While browsing through various tweets on Twitter two days ago, I ran across a three-month-old blog post on the topic of pastors and suicide from Brian Dodd.  Here is his article in full: http://briandoddonleadership.com/2013/04/10/pastors-and-suicide/

Dodd states that the pastoral profession has one of the top three suicide rates of any profession, along with doctors and attorneys.

The author had a pastor friend who took his own life, leaving behind a wife, two children, and three grandchildren.  The deceased pastor’s suicide note had been posted for a brief time on Facebook.

Then Dodd said this:

As Christians, many of us should be embarrassed at how we treat pastors, church staff, and their families!!!! Embarrassed!!!  These people pray for us daily, go to God on our behalf, study for years to get better equipped to serve us, live in glass houses, sacrifice more than we will ever know, each week feed us God’s Word, and tell us what Jesus thinks about the issues of our life.  And we have the unmitigated gall to question their communication skills, insights, biblical knowledge, and leadership skills.”

Here’s the coup de grace:

“If you are someone who is always hassling your pastor, talking bad about him/her, listening to people’s ‘prayer concerns,’ or leading the charge to have them removed, please do us all a favor and just stop.  It’s acceptable to address issues, just not in a way that demeans people.  And if you can’t do that, do us all a favor and just leave the church … NOW!!!”

My sentiments exactly.

Dodd’s article led me to another one by Steve Vensel on the phenomenon called “mobbing.”  Vensel has been a practicing counselor for 30 years.  Steve Brown – a wonderful preacher and writer – was Vensel’s pastor for many years.  Vensel eventually earned a PhD from Florida Atlantic University by writing about the issue of mobbing.  Here’s his initial blog post on this topic: http://www.poopedpastors.com/blogs/mobbing/

The following are my questions followed by Vensel’s answers:

What is mobbing?

Mobbing is defined “as the prolonged malicious harassment of a coworker by a group of other members of an organization to secure the removal from the organization of the one who is targeted.”

What does mobbing involve?

“Mobbing involves a small group of people and results in the humiliation, devaluation, discrediting, degradation, loss of reputation and the removal of the target through termination, extended medical leave or quitting.”

What happens after a person experiences mobbing?

“It is a traumatizing experience that often results in significant financial, career, health, emotional and social loss.  Mobbing is unjust, unfair and undeserved.  In a church setting the organization includes staff members, elders, deacons, and congregation members.”

How do these people act before mobbing begins?

“The pastor is rarely confronted by individuals seeking to solve an actual problem or there may be a bullying attempt to control the pastor.  The mobbing begins as others are pulled in and persuaded that the target is the problem.  In churches there is rarely, if ever, a chance for the pastor to face his accusers because of the ‘people are saying’ syndrome and ‘they’ don’t want to cause problems!

How do pastors respond to mobbing?

“Mobbing is progressive and eventually the targeted pastor is so confused by the unfairness of it, and so in shock by the brutality of it, they simply don’t know what to do. . . . pastors are often told not to talk to anyone or they will split the church and that would not honor Christ.”

What is the impact of mobbing on pastors?  (For me, this is the most thought-provoking statement in the article.)

“The personal impact includes deep humiliation, anger, anxiety, fear, depression, and isolation.  There is often a profound sense of shame (guilt is ‘I’ve done something bad,’ shame is ‘I am something bad’) that works to redefine all previous accomplishments as meaningless and all future hopes as dashed.  In short, mobbing often convinces the target that they are failures and always will be.”

Did you catch that?  Mobbing “works to redefine all previous accomplishments as meaningless and all future hopes as dashed.”  This means that after a mobbing, the typical pastor cannot identify any ministry successes in his past and cannot envision any ministry success in his future.

Vensel goes on:

“While a mobbing is taking place the pastor and his family do not know who they can trust or who they can talk to.  Fearing further reprisals they remain silent, deepening their isolation, and become either depressed or physically ill.  It is a vicious cycle that, because of the shame attached to it, doesn’t end when they leave the church.”

I have never received a satisfactory answer to the following two questions:

How can professing Christians act this way toward someone called by God?

And how can professing Christians allow mobbing to occur in their own church?

I went through this experience nearly four years ago, and its effects are ever with me.  I wrote a book to help me work through what happened, but most pastors don’t have that luxury.

I’m going to try and learn more about mobbing a pastor, and when I do, I’ll pass on my findings to you.

What are your thoughts on mobbing a pastor?

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

 

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