Posts Tagged ‘Kent Crockett’

There are times in our lives when a situation arises and we have no idea what to do.

We’re confused … upset … off balance … and despairing.

Believe it or not, there are times when pastors … no matter how well-trained or experienced they are … don’t know what to do, either.

In my own 36-year ministry, I needed more help when conflict surfaced than at any other time.

A conflict could occur through a phone call late on a Saturday night … at a staff meeting during the week … through an anonymous letter … on the church patio after a Sunday service … or from an unexpected visitor to my church study.

Much of the time, I was pretty sure how to handle matters.

But there were times when I didn’t know what to do or say … and I didn’t always handle matters calmly or wisely.

A pastor’s responses to conflict primarily come from his temperament … his experience … and his training … especially his training.

And since seminaries fail to prepare pastors for managing conflict in any meaningful way, pastors must rely upon mentors … and books.

For example, if someone criticizes the pastor severely in a letter, and the pastor doesn’t know how to reply, he might grab a book on conflict from his study bookshelf and formulate a reasonable response.

But if the pastor is sitting in a board meeting, and he’s unexpectedly criticized, he can’t excuse himself, run to his library, select a book, and read about what he should do or say.

In fact, the pastor should be so familiar with this scenario that he instinctively knows how to respond … and that can only occur if he’s already read and assimilated lessons from the best Christian authors on conflict.

Let me share with you the names of five crucial books on pastor-church conflict … and in no particular order:

1. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What by Peter L. Steinke.

I first discovered Steinke’s writings when I was doing background reading for my doctoral project on antagonism in the local church using family systems theory.

Steinke’s book makes great reading for any Christian … lay people, board/staff members, or pastors … because he’s grounded in both Scripture and reality.

There are ideas in this book that I’ve never read anywhere else.  For example, Steinke doesn’t believe, as many pastors are taught, that unity should come before truth, but that truth should come before unity.  That single idea is worth the price of the book alone for me.

Later on, he tells the story of a pastor accused of child abuse, and champions an approach that calls for a fair and just process to play out before exonerating or condemning that pastor.  (The charges were dropped before the pastor ever stood before a judge.)

Steinke’s postscript, called “People of the Charm,” is about narcissism in the local church, and is so good that I practically underlined the entire 11 pages!

Last summer, I had the privilege of attending Steinke’s annual training on conflict management called BridgeBuilder, and I can still see him speaking with perverse delight about various conflict interventions he’s engaged in over the years (more than 200 as of last August).  He is a rare gift to the body of Christ.

This book is available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book editions.  If you don’t have it, grab it … and devour it.

2. Moving Your Church Through Conflict by Speed Leas.

Speed Leas used to write for Leadership Journal, which still publishes articles and books for pastors.  And out of all the authors who wrote on conflict, I felt that Leas was the most practical and insightful.

Eighteen years ago, when I was at a career crossroads, I was reading an article by Leas in Leadership, and I noticed that he lived about an hour away from me … up in the mountains.

So I contacted him and asked if we could get together.  He kindly invited me to lunch and we spoke for several hours.

During our time together, he showed me a closet where he kept copies of many of his writings.  I bought everything he had, and I absolutely loved his manual Moving Your Church Though Conflict.  It’s a masterpiece.

In fact, I so valued his manual that I made several copies of it and put it in different places so I’d always have one in case I misplaced or lost the original.

In his manual, Leas presents his Five Levels of Conflict, for which he is justly famous.

Most churches can handle conflicts at levels one and two.  With level three, positions begin to harden and groups begin to form.

In level four, people begin to say … usually to the pastor … “Either you go or we go.”

In level five, an individual or a group in the church engages in destructive behavior, attempting to destroy the position, reputation, or career of someone else … usually the pastor.

Leas says that when a conflict reaches levels four or five, the leaders must call in an outside party like a mediator, an interventionist, or a conflict manager or the conflict will spin out of control.

Thankfully, when I experienced a horrendous conflict five-and-a-half years ago, I remembered some of Leas’ words at critical junctures, and tried to behave as he instructed.

I bought an e-book copy of Leas’ manual several years ago on Amazon, but noticed that it’s temporarily out-of-print.  Scour the internet and see if you can find one … it’s worth its weight in gold.

3. When Sheep Attack by Dennis R. Maynard.

I used to see this book on Amazon but figured it was lightweight because of its cover, featuring a cartoon of two giant sheep ready to pounce on a fearful minister.

But I’m glad I finally relented and bought the book, because even though it’s relatively brief, it’s full of wisdom and truth.

Maynard states emphatically that there are dysfunctional personalities in our churches … that these people want to hurt clergy … that their methodologies follow a pattern … that their impact is devastating … and that they can be thwarted if the people in a congregation work together.

Based on surveys he took with twenty-five pastors, Maynard states that these pastors were bullied and forced out of their congregations even though their churches were growing and making an impact for Christ.

As one pastor told him, “I still don’t know what I did wrong.  Everything was going so well.  Then a group of no more than a dozen people brought it all to an end.  I just don’t get it … I feel like I was punished for doing a good job…. Please, somebody tell me what I did wrong.”

While the stories in this book are priceless, I also noticed that I marked up nearly every page.

4. Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd by Kent Crockett.

Of all the books I’m recommending, this is the one I wish I had written myself.  In fact, I think so highly of this book that I wrote a review of it on Amazon and gave it five stars, as did almost everyone who has reviewed it.

Having been through forced termination himself, Crockett’s chapter titles include:

“The Secret Church Scandal”

“Satan’s Strategy to Expel the Pastor”

“Do Demons Attend Church?”

“Showdown with the Abusers”

“Life After Leaving: What Do I Do Now?” (This is the best chapter on finding a new ministry/job for pastors that I’ve seen in print.)

Kent is a great writer … he’s written many books, and has an insightful blog … and I’m proud to call him my friend.  In fact, the first time we spoke on the phone, he exclaimed, “Churches are sick!”

You gotta love a guy like that!

In fact, if you look at my book Church Coup on Amazon, there’s a place on my page where it says that my book and his book are frequently bought together … and I’m honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Kent.

5. Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict by Kenneth C. Haugk.

I’ve used this book so much that the binding has loosened and many of the pages have fallen out.

Haugk is the founder of Stephen Ministries.  For years, he’s conducted workshops in churches dealing with antagonism in churches.

The chapters are brief but full of insights.  For example, Haugk says that if a pastor is in his church office, and an antagonist comes by and demands to speak with pastor immediately, the pastor should calmly tell the antagonist that he can’t speak with him now and that he needs to set up an appointment.

This might seem like a small matter, but when I tried this suggestion one time, a man who was gunning for me was so offended that he left the church … thank God … and never returned.

A unique feature of this book is that Haugk collects all the relevant New Testament texts on antagonism in churches and briefly explains each one.

For around $50, pastors and church leaders can purchase five incredible books on pastor-church conflict, and by reading them carefully … marking them up appropriately … and incorporating their insights into everyday church life … a pastor can be well-armed to defuse, manage, and resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise in a local church.


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In his well-written, insightful, and practical book Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd, my friend Kent Crockett relates many true stories about pastor abuse.  Here’s a sampling of these stories told by actual pastors:

“Some unyielding deacons and angry members didn’t like my ideas of reaching out to people who don’t know Christ, so they forced my resignation.  In my final business meeting, I told the congregation, ‘I believe the Lord is leading me to step down and resign as pastor, effective immediately.’  As soon as I said that, about fifteen people who had opposed me stood up, started applauding, and shouted, ‘Hallelujah!  Praise God!’  In the two years I had been their pastor, they had never clapped in church or shouted praise to God.  In fact, they had always opposed displays of emotion in the worship service.  I hadn’t even seen them smile until I resigned and then they all had big grins on their faces.”


“The deacon board chairman came to see me one evening.  He never called to set up an appointment, but just showed up unannounced clutching his gripe list.  The deacon asserted that he represented a ‘growing’ number of disgruntled people who were angry with me, and had appointed him as the liaison of church solidarity.

With seeming delight, he claimed that other members were ‘flooding’ him with concerns about me, although he wouldn’t disclose names because he wanted to ‘protect their identities.’  I later proved his list was contrived and his alleged ‘growing’ number was actually a small group the deacon had recruited.

Casting gentleness to the wind, the deacon tore into me with outlandish accusations.  When I asked what specifically I had done wrong, the deacon sidestepped the issue.  He wasn’t interested in repairing and restoring fellowship, so I refrained from further discussion.  Since I wouldn’t bow to his intimidation, the deacon started a false rumor about me.  Because of the misery I suffered at the hands of this cruel deacon, I resigned as pastor.”


“That small group got against me.  They started lying.  They said I was a gambler.  And then they attacked my wife.  When they can’t get anything on the minister, they go after his wife or his children.  Only by suspending the bylaws were they able to fire me.”


“In one year, 27 ministers in my district were forced to resign their pastorates, without charges of wrongdoing, unethical behavior, or immorality.  Many because they were causing growth.  Most cases it was the power bloc that ran the church that had them removed.  Many have lost their pastorates, many their reputations and many have lost their enthusiasm about staying in the ministry.”


“As I reflect on 35 years of ministry, I realize that many of my former colleagues are no longer pastors.  Somewhere along the line, they left their ‘calling’ and undertook a different path for their lives.  Reflecting on my friends who used to be pastors, I realize that they are now a majority.  Those, like me, who have stayed in ministry are actually the minority.  The attrition rate has been high and the cost to souls is astronomical.

The majority of my acquaintances encountered such turmoil and situational conflict (from church members) that they felt they could not continue to pastor.  Congregations overwhelmed my pastor friends with unrealistic expectations, negative criticism and misplaced anger.  Some congregations even assumed the perfect pastor was ‘out there,’ so their fallible pastor was terminated.”


Let me make four brief observations about these stories:

First, these stories are not an anomaly – they are all too typical.  While the names of the pastors, church leaders, and congregations are all different, the patterns of pastoral abuse remain the same across the board.

I saw a quote recently from a denominational executive.  He said that when a pastor started telling him his termination story, the denominational leader could accurately predict the entire aftermath.

Since there are patterns to pastoral abuse, the Christian community must band together and stop this evil.

Second, the inability of Christians to get along – especially with their pastor – negates the gospel of reconciliation.

Jesus told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Jesus didn’t say, “Love the people in your group only.”  He didn’t say, “Love everyone in your church but your pastor and his family.”  Three times in these two verses, He commands His followers to “love one another” … and that includes the pastor and his family.

When believers visibly love each other, Jesus says, then “all men” will notice that “you are my disciples.”

But when believers avoid each other and hate each other, the world concludes, “The Christian faith doesn’t work.”

As 1 John 4:20 states, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

Third, the pastor’s enemies almost always slander him to force his resignation.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but how can professing Christians blatantly lie about their spiritual leader?

Did Jesus ever lie about a spiritual leader?

Did Paul?

Did Peter … or John … or James … or Luke?

Who in the New Testament has a reputation for lying?


Then how can those who claim to follow Jesus … who is the Truth and always spoke the truth … join hands with the evil one?

How strong is your case against a pastor if you have to use exaggeration and innuendo and false statements to get rid of Him?  Isn’t that the same tactic that was used on Jesus?

I wish churches had trials and the liars could be exposed for everyone to see.

Why aren’t we exposing the liars?

Instead, after the pastor leaves, they end up on the church board.

Here’s what I read yesterday during my quiet time:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his evil deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:20-21).

Finally, believers need to give control of their church back to Jesus Christ.

Doesn’t Colossians 1:18 say that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church” and that “in everything he might have the supremacy?”

We don’t read that any pastor is “the head of the church,” nor the church board, nor the charter members, nor a particular faction.

Instead, we read that Jesus is the head of the body.

Maybe churches should have an annual service where the leaders and congregation acknowledge that “Jesus is the head of this church” and not any specific individual or group.

Let’s be honest: too many people are fighting for control of a church when it isn’t theirs to begin with.


I don’t mean to sound cynical, but after reading the above stories … and many more like them, not only in Kent’s books, but in other books on church conflict … I have one unanswered question:

How can people who use slander and hatred to destroy their pastor really be Christians?

What do you think?








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Have you ever taken a spiritual gifts inventory to discover which gifts God has given you?

Twenty-some years ago, I took the inventory that came with the Network material created by Willow Creek Church.

My primary gift?  Teaching.

My second gift?  Prophecy.

When I took the class “Discovering Your Ministry Identity” at Fuller for the Doctor of Ministry degree, my spiritual gifts inventory produced exactly the same results.

While I’ve always tried to use my teaching gift in love, that prophecy gift makes me seem outspoken, stubborn, and almost obnoxious at times.

I understand that when women feel strong emotions, they usually feel them from the top of their head to the tips of their toes.

That’s how I feel when I see wrongdoing in Jesus’ church.

It doesn’t matter if nobody is listening (or reading), or if I don’t use politically correct terms, or if I need to take a swipe at the behavior of Christian leaders on occasion … I have to speak out.

In fact, I’m not being true to either God or my giftedness if I remain silent.

That’s why I care so much about the involuntary termination of innocent pastors.  In fact, more of us need to speak up and say, “This is wrong and has got to stop.”

Enter Kent Crockett’s book Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd.

While much of Crockett’s book overlaps with my book Church Coup, I love his fresh approach to the subject.

Let me share a few more quotes from his book:

“The devil is unmistakably the instigator of secret plots.  Nowhere in the Bible do we read about God calling for His people to meet secretly and plot the ousting [of] a pastor.  Instead, every instance in the New Testament of plots and secret meetings pertains to ungodly religious leaders who attacked God’s Son and His followers.”

While reading through the Psalms in The Message, I came upon Psalm 64 this morning.  David writes about his enemies:

They keep lists of the traps

they’re secretly set.

They say to each other,

“No one can catch us,

no one can detect our perfect crime.”

The Detective detects the mystery

in the dark of the cellar heart.

My friend Charles Chandler, executive director of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, taught me that when leaders or churchgoers plot to force out their pastor, they will insist on strict confidentiality from the pastor when they inform him of their plans … and that the pastor does not have to comply with their wishes.  As Crockett states, “Satan loves to plot evil schemes under the dark veil of secrecy against God’s messengers …. It’s just too easy for these thugs to concoct stories or exaggerate incidents to discredit the pastor’s ministry and ruin his reputation.”

This paragraph made me both angry and sorrowful:

“The abusers will often approach your friends, trying to persuade them to come over to their side.  They’ll misrepresent the situation, distort the facts, and say, ‘Let us tell you our side of the story.’  If your friend is gullible or has a weak backbone, he or she will cave in to their exploitation, instead of standing up for what’s right.  It’s worth repeating – never underestimate the incredible power of a slanderer to alter people’s thinking.”

I believe that slander is the number one weapon in Satan’s arsenal against pastors.  When half-truths, innuendos, and exaggerations are piled one on top of another, too many Christians choose to believe the “charges” rather than ask, “How do you know these charges are true?” or ask, “What kind of biblical process has been used to uncover this information?”

And the first thing anyone who hears such charges should do is contact the pastor immediately and ask him whether the charges are true.

In his chapter “The Silent Majority,” Crockett laments churchgoers who passively allow their pastor to take a beating without coming to his defense:

“Your supporters understand these antagonists are determined to run you off, and they prefer to stay out of the line of fire when it happens.  When the faction begins persecuting you, the depth of your supporters’ spiritual walk will determine which position they’ll take and which side they’ll choose.”

There are friends from my last ministry who have told me how sorry they are that they did not speak up for me when I was being publicly accused of wrongdoing.  I have never blamed them for remaining silent because it’s rare for Christians to publicly support their pastor when he’s under attack.  But I do believe them when they say that they will never let this happen again.

Unfortunately, too many believers are fooled by the following tactic.  Pastor Mike Johnston stated that he and his wife were friends with a woman for 25 years … and that she pledged loyalty to them … but then:

“I failed to take into account the slander factor, which is the exponential power a phantom allegation proclaimed through an alliance of troublemakers.  These particular pastor abusers banded together and fed her misinformation, which she never challenged.  Since the accusers kept repeating their lies, it convinced her that they must be telling the truth.  Without asking me to respond to their charges, she swallowed the bait, reneged on her promise, and joined their team.  After three months of unreturned phone calls, it became painfully evident our lifelong friend wanted nothing more to do with us.”

Guess what?  The enemy used the same tactic on Jesus, Stephen, and Paul.

I once had a teacher at Biola named Mr. Ebeling.  He was quite a character, but he used to utter the same phrase over and over:

“If Christians would just read their Bibles!”

The enemy’s strategy against pastors is clearly delineated in Scripture … but when he springs his trap, many people take his side and drive out their pastor.

Let’s put a stop to this evil once and for all!

Are you with me?

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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I’m currently reading a book by Kent Crockett called Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd.  Crockett is currently on the staff of a church in Alabama.

In his first chapter, titled “The Secret Church Scandal,” the author writes:

“The secret church scandal we’re talking about is the persecution of the pastor by mean-spirited people within the church, who are the ‘pastor abusers.’  They’re planted in nearly every congregation.  Many are even running the church.  They may be deacons, disloyal staff members, or members of the congregation who are determined to destroy the pastor through personal attacks, slander, and criticism.  Outwardly they may look respectable, but inwardly their hearts are wicked, and their mission is to bring down their spiritual leader.”

I must confess, I cannot understand why professing Christians would ever do such a thing.

Based on my own experience, I can understand why believers might:

*disagree with their pastor’s teaching.

*find him to be arrogant or obnoxious.

*become bored with his preaching or stories.

*choose to leave their church for another.

But how can a believer who has the Holy Spirit living inside of him or her ever try and destroy or bring down a pastor called by God?

Crockett continues:

“Pastor abuse is the scandal that no one is talking about.  The mistreatment of clergy is as horrifying as it is secretive, and the casualties are reaching epidemic proportions.  Over 19,000 pastors get out of the ministry every year.  When the sermon ends on Sunday, over 350 pastors will be gone before the next Sunday service begins.”

These statements are similar to ones that I made in my recent book Church Coup … and no, I did not consult Crockett’s book before I wrote mine.  But it’s amazing how many nearly-identical statements we both made.

What happens after a pastor under fire leaves?  Crockett continues:

“Meanwhile, the revolving door at the church makes another turn.  As the fired pastor makes his exit, the old guard looks to find another pastor who will meet all of their expectations, and history repeats itself with a new victim.  Just like the abusive husband beats his next wife, the abusive church will mistreat its next pastor.”

How can a church prevent this revolving door syndrome?  Both Crockett and I agree that the perpetrators must be given a choice: repent of your sinful actions or leave the fellowship.  Yet Crockett writes:

“Because few churches exercise church discipline, pastor abusers are rarely held accountable for their actions.  This emboldens them to keep attacking God’s shepherds, knowing that no one will challenge their despicable behavior.  Eventually someone must take a stand against the abusers and hold them accountable, or their attacks will never end.  Church discipline is essential is we’re ever going to solve the pastor abuser problem.”

There are times when I feel like I’m talking to myself about this issue, but as soon as I get together with other believers – whether they’re family members or old friends – they’ll immediately start telling me about a conflict that devastated their church years ago, or one they’re going through right now, or one they sense is coming.

Then they’ll tell me about a pastor or staff member who left church ministry … and about family members who have quit going to church altogether … and sometimes they’ll admit that they’ve quit going to church as well.

How can Christians remain silent about this issue?

If we want Christ’s kingdom to expand … if we want our churches to grow … if we believe that Christians should attend and stay in local congregations … then shouldn’t we do all we can to prevent pastors and Christians from leaving the church altogether?

I’m willing to speak up … how about you?

I’ll write more about Kent Crockett’s book Pastor Abusers next time.

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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