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During my second pastorate, there was an older couple in our congregation who came to abhor me.

We got along very well … at first.

This couple … I’ll call them Ron and Dolores … moved from the Midwest to Silicon Valley in the early 1980s.  They came to our church because of its Swedish roots … and because they liked its denominational affiliation.

Ron became a board member.  Dolores immersed herself in women’s ministry.  They became established leaders.

And then I became their pastor.

Ron wanted me to love the denomination as much as he and his wife did.  So he made it possible for me to attend a week of meetings at the denominational seminary in Minnesota … during the last week in January.

Ron arranged for me to stay with his son and his family.  I borrowed Ron’s heavy winter coat … and I needed it for the -19 degree weather with the -35 wind chill in St. Paul.

But a short time later, Ron and his wife became enraged with some of the decisions that I made as pastor.

They wanted a nice, safe church where they could enjoy friendships … practice their Swedish customs … and remake our church into the wonderful Midwestern church they’d left behind.

But that wasn’t my vision for the church at all.

I wanted the church to reach people for Christ and grow … which wasn’t on Ron’s agenda.

We began to clash on all kinds of things … especially the music on Sunday mornings.

When I first came to the church, Ron and Dolores sang “Out of the Ivory Towers” as a duet on a Sunday morning … in Swedish.

After I was there a while, I didn’t ask them to sing anymore.  (They were awful.)

And to top things off, I encouraged and championed a worship band made up of younger guys.  (This was the mid-1980s.)

While the band had the full blessing of the church board (Ron had termed out by then), Ron and his wife hated the band.

And even more, they couldn’t stand the direction I was taking the church … away from their beloved Swedish roots.

Dolores eventually quit coming to church.  I tried talking to Ron … who still seemed friendly … but he couldn’t control his wife’s rage.

Eventually, they both quit coming to church … but their anger was spilling over to others.

I knew I had to confront them.

I set up a time to meet with them, and told them casually that I’d be bringing along a board member.

They told me I could come alone, but that I could not bring that particular board member.

I consulted with my district minster, who told me that I should not meet with Ron and Dolores alone.  Instead, I needed to bring along one or two witnesses.

Finally, on a Thursday night in March, two board members went with me to Ron and Dolores’ house.  We did not have an appointment.

They let us in, and then unloaded on us.

After a little while, Dolores got up unannounced and started doing the dishes while leaving the three of us to dialogue with Ron.

The evening did not go well.

During this time, I consulted with Dr. Ed Murphy, one of the world’s foremost experts on spiritual warfare, about the conflict I was having with this couple.

Dr. Murphy told me, “Whatever you do, get them out of the church and off the rolls as quick as you can.”

For the next year, Ron and Dolores looked for another church, while keeping their friendships in our church.

I thought, “Good, they’re gone.  Now we can get some things done.”

But one Sunday, I got up to speak, and Ron was sitting twenty feet away from me … with his arms crossed … and his gaze cemented on my face.

And that’s when I knew the hatred had started.

Ron began spreading discontent … gathering malcontents … and holding secret meetings … all in an attempt to push me out as pastor.

He became the worst antagonist I’ve ever had.

And in the end, he and his wife became full of blind hatred.

Hatred is a cancer in our culture and our churches.

And sadly, some churchgoers have a special hatred for their pastor.

The problem in Christian circles is that most people – including pastors – refuse to believe that other Christians are even capable of such hatred.

So we naively allow such people to wreak havoc in our churches … and only realize our mistake until it’s too late.

So let me share with you five characteristics of the Christian hater in hopes that we can recognize the signs and take action to save our pastors … and our churches:

First, the Christian hater doesn’t like the pastor personally.

*They don’t like the way he looks.

*They don’t want to hear the pastor preach.

*They don’t want to shake his hand after the service.

*They don’t like the pastor’s wife or children.

*They don’t like those who do like the pastor.

In fact, they wish the pastor would just go away … forever.

It’s okay not to like another Christian … even a pastor.  But if you don’t like your pastor, wouldn’t it be better to find a church where you do like the pastor?

Because as long as you can’t stand your pastor, your attitude will rub off on others … making them choose between their pastor and their friendship with you.

Ron and Dolores liked me at first … then they hated me.

When the hatred started, they should have left, severed all ties, and never returned.

But their hatred was enabled by their friends, which included some key leaders.

Second, the Christian hater keeps a list of complaints against the pastor.

And every time they see or hear the pastor, they add to that list.

This is how my father left church ministry more than fifty years ago.

One Sunday, a woman began writing down some complaints she had about my pastor-dad during a worship service.  A friend saw the list and added a few complaints of her own.

Before long, that list grew much longer … even though the issues were all petty.

The list makers turned on my father and eventually ran him out of the church.

Making such a list is a sign of hatred … as is adding to the list yourself … as is asking others to add to the list.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love “keeps no record of wrongs.”

Love does not keep a list of a person’s foibles, faults, or failures.

But hatred sure does.

Ron and Dolores eventually began holding secret meetings with others in the church.

They wrote down as many of my faults as they could think of on the front and back of a green sheet of lined paper.

That list was a silent confession of hatred.

And when you list someone’s faults, you’re trying to do one thing: devalue them so you can destroy them.

Third, the Christian hater can’t hide their negative feelings.

When a hater comes to church, they don’t laugh with abandon.  They don’t smile freely.  They don’t look joyful.

And you can see it on their face.

The hater is also ready to gush out all their bitter feelings against their pastor.

If the hater goes out after the service for lunch, he or she won’t be able to stay silent for very long.

At some point during lunch, the hater will let begin attacking the pastor verbally.  No matter how hard they try to restrain themselves, their hatred will spill out.

Genuine hatred is very difficult to control … and to camoflauge.

The hater usually gives himself or herself away.

A board member kept me informed on what Ron and Dolores were telling others about their pastor.  The board member even crashed one of their secret meetings.

Ron and Dolores knew that the board member supported me completely, but they emptied their verbal guns when he was around anyway … giving away enough of their playbook so we could later counteract their actions.

Haters can’t help themselves.

Fourth, the Christian hater tries to convert others.

When you hate someone, you’re usually in the minority … or all alone.

And there’s nothing worse than hating someone on your own.

So most haters either look for other haters or try and convince their friends to hate someone as they do.

It’s no secret that I don’t like NBA player LeBron James.  While he’s incredibly talented, I find him to be arrogant and childish.  I have always rooted against him and his teams.

During the recent NBA playoffs, I didn’t have anyone to emote with about LBJ, so I found a group on Facebook called LeBron James Haters United … and sent a link they did to another person who dislikes LBJ.

I don’t represent any danger to LBJ or his worshipers.

But when someone inside a church hates their pastor, there’s a very real possibility that they will spread their hatred to others.

That’s what Ron and Dolores did.  Before the dust settled, 25% of our people left the church with them.

They formed a new church … composed of people who hated me.

That was their foundation.

Finally, the Christian hater wants to destroy the object of their hatred.

Thirty years ago, my former denomination held their annual meetings in the Silicon Valley city where my family lived.

My wife headed up a children’s program that met upstairs … and I helped her as much as I could.

But downstairs, Ron was doing his best to destroy me.

Ron had prepared literature about his new church that he passed out to people as they entered the convention center.  It was a violation of protocol … nobody ever promotes their church to the exclusion of others at such meetings … but he didn’t care about that.

And while he was promoting his church, he was vocally criticizing the church he left … and its pastor.

I was horrified.

Due to his hatred, Ron couldn’t stop trying to hurt me.

Leaving the church with his wife wasn’t enough … they had to take others with them.

Forming their own church wasn’t enough … he had to try and hurt my church in the process.

Various pastors came to me and told me what Ron was doing.  When I protested to the leaders of our district, they asked, “What can we do?”

Eventually, a pastor friend took all of Ron’s literature … when he wasn’t around … and threw it in a trash can.

_______________

A few months after the convention meetings, Ron’s influence had disappeared.  The church he founded died after a year, and the people scattered to other churches … although nobody returned to our church.

Ron’s wife died a horrible death on an interstate highway a few years later.  Ron later moved back to the Midwest, remarried, and then died himself.

I tried not to hate Ron and his wife in return.  In fact, a few years after their church disbanded, Ron and I met in a hospital, and had a productive conversation.

We can’t stop people like Ron and Dolores from hating their pastor.

But pastors and church leaders can take action so that the haters find themselves isolated and either choose to repent or leave a congregation.

Haters are aggressive individuals.  They go on the offensive.  Once they get started, they’re tough to stop.

But for the sake of our churches, our pastors, and the gospel … we have to try … and must succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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