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Posts Tagged ‘healthy ways to correct a pastor’

“What else don’t you like about the pastor?”

John, a former board member and longtime attendee at Hope Church, asked this question of the thirteen people who were meeting in his living room one warm Thursday evening.

“His clothes are really blah … not fashionable at all,” commented Mary.

“And I don’t like the way he does his hair,” chimed in Patty.

“And that car he drives,” added Pete.  “It may be paid off, but it’s a real eyesore.”

“Okay,” John summed up, “we’ve now listed eighteen things we don’t like about Pastor Phil.  Let’s take a break and see if we can come up with a few more.  In the meantime, Cheryl, why don’t you read them back to us?”

Cheryl dutifully read each “charge” to the group … and many members nodded their heads approvingly as they heard them recited.

Welcome to the “gunnysacking the pastor” meeting.

I first heard the term “gunnysacking” from a woman in my last church who was a professional conflict manager.  She used it to describe the ugly process that occurs when a group gathers all their complaints against their leader in one bag … and then pours it out on top of him or her all at once.

Gunnysacking occurs in a church when a group of churchgoers meet to make as many allegations as possible against their pastor in hopes that he will hear their charges and resign.

It’s akin to brainstorming everything that you don’t like about a person.

Let me make ten comments about the art of gunnysacking a pastor:

First, gunnysacking is a cowardly activity.

Gunnysackers lack the courage to handle any concerns they have about their pastor in a biblical and loving manner.

If they’re upset about the pastor’s clothes or car, they should speak with him directly rather than with their friends.  After all, what can their friends do about the pastor’s clothes or car?

But instead of speaking with their pastor personally, they only share their petty grievances with people they know feel the same way … and it doesn’t help anyone.

Second, gunnysacking is intended to be a shortcut.

Gunnysackers ignore the protocols that their church has already set up to handle complaints against the pastor.  These protocols are usually spelled out in their church’s constitution and bylaws.

But those processes take time, and often require the cooperation of the official church board.  And by the time gunnysackers find each other, the last thing they want to do is wait.  Their anxiety makes them want to act … now.

In my experience, unless a pastor is guilty of a major offense (heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior), the faster the gunnysackers act, the more damage they will ultimately cause.

Third, gunnysacking wreaks of desperation.

Gunnysackers sometimes air their complaints to church staff or board members.  If they can find a leader who agrees with their complaints, they may very well try and recruit that person as an ally.

But if they try and find allies … and no leader bites … then they figure, “We’re just going to have to do this ourselves.”

The gunnysackers I’ve known shared a narrow view of how church should be done.  And when the pastor didn’t meet their expectations … there was only one solution: he has to go … and we’re willing to provide the push.

For this reason, gunnysacking is an activity of the flesh, not the Spirit.

Fourth, gunnysacking substitutes a quantity of charges for quality charges.

In the average evangelical church, if the official board discovered that the pastor had been engaging in sexual immorality with Bertha Blue at the local motel, they would most likely fire the pastor immediately.

If you have one substantive charge, you don’t need to add more.

The only reason a group piles accusation upon accusation is because they lack anything impeachable.

I once was presented a plethora of negative information about a staff member.  I stayed home and investigated the charges over two full days, and, sad to say, the charges were all true.

I could have confronted him with at least seven to ten indiscretions, but I chose to present him with just the two worst infractions.

When we met, he denied the charges, but I had the evidence in my hands, and he resigned soon afterwards.

If I had added more allegations to the two strong ones I already had, it would have been cruel and come off as revenge … and revenge has no place among Christ’s people.

In my mind, the whole gunnysacking process is a silent confession that the “sackers” lack any substantive charges.  They throw accusations at the wall, hoping some of them stick.

Fifth, gunnysacking is an attempt to make “my complaint your complaint.”

If I don’t like the way the pastor wears his hair (a complaint made against my pastor father many years ago), that’s my personal feeling.

And to even ruminate on that for more than a few seconds smacks of pettiness and a lack of authentic spirituality.

If I’m sitting in church Sunday after Sunday, and I really can’t stand my pastor’s haircut, then I either need to leave the church or ask the Lord to help me accept my pastor.

But if I choose to share my feelings with an entire group, I’ve crossed a line, because now I’m trying to take my private feelings and turn them into official charges … even if they’re not used in the end.

And, my friends, that is just plain evil.

Division in a church begins when people pool their complaints.  Gunnysacking is among the most divisive activities that can ever take place inside a congregation.

Sixth, gunnysacking is ultimately a destructive behavior.

Let me tell you how I was “gunnysacked” as a pastor three decades ago.

I’ve told this story before, but in my second pastorate, the seniors had a Sunday School class which was taught by a former pastor in his late sixties.

He was very disgruntled because he wanted to serve as a pastor or a missionary, but because of his age … and two divorces … nobody would hire him.

So in his class, he railed against some of the practices the elders and I had agreed upon … changes we felt were necessary to reach our community.

The seniors quickly coalesced around the former pastor, and one night, seventeen people met for a single purpose: to create so many charges against me that the elders would ask for my resignation.

The purpose was not constructive … it was destructive.

They not only attacked me, but they attacked my wife, my nine-year-old son, and my six-year-old daughter.

That’s sick.

They claimed that my wife’s slip was showing one Sunday.  (If just one of those people loved her, shouldn’t they have told her personally?)

And one complaint about me was that the drummer’s wife wore her dresses too short.  (Again, why didn’t one of the gunnysackers speak with her personally?  Why was that my job?)

Every single charge was that petty.

Seventh, gunnysacking denies the pastor due process.

In my case, the “Oust Jim” group planned to meet with the elders, read their charges aloud, and then figured that the elders would agree with them and ask me to leave.

There are two huge problems with this scenario.

First, the pastor’s accusers get to bypass him completely and never have to make any charges to his face.  And when churchgoers don’t meet with their pastor directly with their complaints, they almost always tend to exaggerate.

Second, the pastor never gets to hear the charges against him nor answer them.  In fact, he doesn’t know what is being said about him nor who is making charges against him.

And by any measure … biblical, cultural, personal, or organizational … that is just plain wrong.

Years ago, I spoke with a pastor who went to a meeting with several hundred disgruntled churchgoers.  Predictably, they turned into a mob, and both the pastor and the church were severely damaged.

So for that reason, I believe that whenever gunnysacking is occurring, the official board needs to become involved.

Eighth, gunnysacking requires the official board to intervene and redirect the gunnysackers toward a healthy, biblical process. 

In my situation thirty years ago, I heard what the gunnysackers were doing, so I spoke with the board chairman, Richard, about how I felt matters should be handled.

I told Richard that he should do two things:

*Tell the gunnysackers to choose two representatives to make their charges.  The elders should also choose two representatives.  A two-on-two meeting is much more fair than having seventeen Jim Haters meet with four elders.  The numbers alone would make any meeting emotionally lopsided.

*The two elders should answer each charge instantly after it’s made.  The two reps from the pastor hating group should not be allowed to read all of their charges at once.

To his everlasting credit, Richard agreed with my counsel and fully carried it out.

If I had to do it over again, I’d add a third piece of counsel:

*The gunnysackers should be told to go back and organize their complaints:

They should write the name of the original complainer next to each complaint.

The original complainer should then be told, “You are responsible for making this complaint yourself.  The rest of us will not be getting involved.  It’s not really our complaint … it’s yours.  We’re not going to carry your offenses for you.”

The complaints should be divided into two categories: personal and policy.

The personal complaints require that the complainer set up an appointment with the pastor and share their complaint(s) to his face.

If the complainer refuses to do this, then the complaint is, from that time on, a non-issue.

Most gunnysackers won’t do this because they know … deep in their hearts … that their complaints are both petty and mean.

The policy complaints require that the complainer set up an appointment to meet with two representatives from the official church board.  Since the board makes policy – usually in conjunction with the pastor – most complaints about the ministry should start with them.  The pastor should be left out of policy grievances unless he made policy unilaterally … and if so, those policies can be brought to the church board for discussion.

Ninth, gunnysackers want to end their relationship with their target.

The best way to handle complaints against a pastor is to handle them as they arise.

Deal with them one at a time.

If you want to end your relationship with your child, just dump ten things they’ve done wrong on them all at once.

If you want to send your spouse packing, just recite all their faults in one glorious bundle.

If you want to get fired, just tell your boss all the things you don’t like about how he or she manages things.

If you want to keep a relationship with someone, you deal with one issue at a time … as each one arises.

If you want to end a relationship, just keep score and drop the whole load on them at once.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that “loves does not take into account a wrong suffered.”  In other words, love doesn’t keep score.

But hate sure does.

Finally, gunnysackers expose themselves as allies of the enemy.

I can’t find one place in the New Testament where God’s people got together and compiled a list of their leader’s faults.

The disciples never did this with Jesus … and Paul’s followers never did this with him.

This is not how God operates.  The Holy Spirit knows that God’s people are fragile, so rather than convict us of 26 sins at once, He tends to hit us with one or two at a time.

After all, who can change 26 things about themselves at a time?

But this is how Satan operates.  The accuser of the brethren loves to convince believers that they are bad … worthless … and unfit for the Master’s use.

And he hopes that we become so discouraged … and even depressed … that we stop loving and serving God with a devoted heart.

I hear about gunnysacking attempts in churches quite a bit.  Sometimes the complaints even originate with the church board.

I have a suggestion.

Instead of holding meetings to attack the pastor, how about holding meetings to pray for the pastor instead?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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