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Posts Tagged ‘pastor-board conflict’

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

I have a pastor friend who reads this blog, and periodically, he tells me that most board members who participate in the termination of an innocent pastor do it out of ignorance rather than malice.

In other words, they think they know what they’re doing, but they really don’t.

He may be right.

Sadly, I have experienced personal hatred and wrath from some board members over my 36 years of church ministry, so I know firsthand that some pastor-board conflicts result from unbridled bitterness.

But certainly not all do … and much of the time, pastoral terminations are handled badly simply because members of the official board don’t know what they don’t know.

So let me share with you four things that most church boards don’t know when they’re thinking about terminating their lead shepherd:

First, they don’t know the biblical process for dealing with the pastor’s shortcomings.

Every believer … and every church leader … needs to study Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 in great depth.

Jesus tells His followers what to do if a spiritual brother (or sister) sins … especially if that sin is committed against someone personally.

Jesus says in verse 15:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

Jesus is speaking here about personal sin, not church policy.

And He doesn’t exclude pastors, board members, and church staffers from His directive.

I believe that if someone has a personal issue with the pastor, they need to speak with him directly, and if they have a policy issue with him, they should speak with anyone who makes the policy … which is usually made by members of the church board.

Let me apply verse 15 specifically to pastors:

“If your pastor sins against you … by telling an offensive joke, by failing to greet you one Sunday, by getting visibly angry while playing basketball … go to him personally and privately and share with him what you have seen or heard him do.  Do not involve others at this stage.  If your pastor agrees with your view and asks forgiveness, your relationship has been restored, and there is no need to involve anyone else.”

If someone thinks the pastor drives an expensive car … or that he shouldn’t mention his vacations from the pulpit … or that he should dress better when he preaches … then that person either needs to speak with the pastor personally … pray about the situation … or let it go.

But this isn’t how most Christians handle their feelings about their pastor’s humanity, is it?

No, they share their feelings with their family and friends … especially their church friends … and usually, the pastor’s alleged shortcomings are dissected while he himself knows nothing about these discussions.

And as people talk, they share their own personal criticisms or grievances against the pastor, and before you know it, the pastor seems like Satan incarnate.

This is probably the single greatest sin a congregation can commit against its pastor: to indict, judge, and sentence him for his mistakes without ever speaking with him personally.

In fact, I’d say that most of the time, the sin of not obeying Matthew 18:15 is a far greater violation than the petty offenses a pastor has supposedly committed.

The official board … and the top staff members … need to insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first whenever someone has a personal grievance against their shepherd.

The pastor needs to teach this verse to the key leaders in private and the congregation in public, but then those leaders need to enforce the practice of Matthew 18:15 on the entire church family … or the pastor’s ministry will be in constant jeopardy.

Please note: Matthew 18:16 (involving one or two others) only applies if the first encounter with the pastor doesn’t work out, and Matthew 18:17 (involving the entire congregation) only applies if the first two steps haven’t worked.

And yet, in many churches, Jesus’ first step in Matthew 18:15 is ignored, and the board permits individuals to jump right to telling others and telling the church.

I know pastors who resigned voluntarily because the church board didn’t protect them from complaints made by members of the congregation.

And all the board needed to do was insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first.

These verses are often mentioned in church constitutions/bylaws as a way of resolving church disputes.

If a board doesn’t obey these verses when they’re having problems with their pastor … or somehow find a way to skip around them … many people will suffer.

Second, they don’t know that the faster they proceed, the more mistakes they’ll make.

If a pastor is guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or a criminal offense – The Big Three – then yes, the church board needs to act with a degree of haste.

But most of the time, pastors aren’t guilty of The Big Three, so if the board and pastor are struggling in their relationship, the board can devise a reasonable long-term process that’s fair to both the pastor and the church.

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke believes that when church leaders are struggling with their pastor, they should give him twelve to fifteen months to make any necessary changes.  If the pastor hasn’t or won’t change, then he’s subject to being terminated after at least one year.

This allows the pastor to seek personal counseling … go for continuing education … find a coach or mentor … or put out his resume.

And many times, within that year, the pastor has time to make good decisions, and the issue has resolved itself.

But when just one or two board members become anxious … sometimes because their friends are threatening to leave the church “unless the pastor is dealt with” … their anxiety can spread to others, and within a brief period of time, the board has decided that the pastor has to go.

Rather than work a process and live with the anxiety, they overreact emotionally … claim that God is behind their feelings … and fire the pastor to relieve their anxiety.

When the pastor finds out that the board has abruptly decided to terminate him … especially if they haven’t given him any time to make changes … the board’s anxiety is passed on to the pastor, who may become panicked, depressed, and desperate … and justifiably so.

(Please remember that pastors aren’t angels, they’re human beings.)

In such cases, the breakdown in relationship doesn’t lie with the pastor, but with the board.

The older a person gets, the harder it is for them to change.  People do change as they age, and pastors can change, too … especially as they rely upon the power of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

But people usually need time to change.

In 1990, I reinvented my approach to ministry.

My basic personality remained, but I learned new approaches to leadership, worship, evangelism, growth, giving, administration … and many other pastoral tasks.

And when I changed, my ministry changed … for the better.

So I know it can be done … and in my case, nobody made me change.  The desire came from within.

I think church boards give up on pastors way too fast … and they often do so without ever having spoken with the pastor in a direct way about their concerns.

And that’s not the pastor’s fault.

Third, they don’t know how important a generous severance agreement is when they pressure the pastor to resign.

Let me say this loud and clear:

A pastor is not a standard employee.  A pastor is someone called by God.

It’s taking longer and longer to hire a pastor today.  From the time the search team in your church started looking for a new pastor, to the time they hired your current one, how long did things take?

One year?  Two years?  Longer?

Before a pastor is called to a church, he usually receives a formal letter of call.  And that letter usually says, “We believe that God has called you to our church at this particular time.”

Included with that letter of call is a document specifying the pastor’s salary, housing allowance, retirement funds, medical insurance, and ministry expenses, among other things.

And in a sense, the relationship of a pastor and a church is very much like a marriage.  The pastor leaves his old way of life and commits himself to that church 100% … and trusts them to take care of him and his family.

When I left Arizona in 1999 so I could assume a position at a church in Northern California, I left my son behind (and it about killed me emotionally).  We sold our house.  I left my stepfather and mother and sister and other family.  I left friends behind.

I moved nearly 800 miles away because God had called me to that church … but at least I was moving from one church position to another.

But the greatest nightmare any pastor has is to be forced out of his church position without any other position waiting.

In case any board members are reading this article, let me distinguish two kinds of pastors:

First, there’s the pastor who has disqualified himself from ministry because he has committed a major offense.

Second, there’s the pastor who is being asked to leave a church because his gifts and personality no longer match what the board feels the church needs.

Even though the pastor was called by God to your church years ago, that doesn’t mean he’s entitled to a lifetime appointment.  Unlike college professors, pastors should not be given tenure.

But why punish the pastor and his family financially because circumstances have changed since the pastor came to the church?

If you believe that God called your pastor to your church, then if you want him to leave, you must believe that God is calling him away … even though he probably has nowhere to go.

Then you need to give him a generous separation package. 

He gave up his whole life to come to your church.

He doesn’t have another source of income.

And he hasn’t been spending his time at your church taking courses to do something else with his life.

He’s been “all in” with your church … and now he needs you to be “all in” with him.

If you don’t give him a generous package:

*You may put great stress on his marriage because his wife will feel like she needs to support the family financially.

*You may embitter his children … regardless of their age.

*You may send your pastor into the depths of emotional despair.

*You may force him to tap into his retirement account prematurely.

*You may very likely end his ministry career.

It’s the same thing as a husband divorcing his wife without offering her any alimony or child support.

Trade the pastor a generous separation package for a unifying resignation letter.

When I left my last ministry in 2009, I encouraged everyone to stay at the church … and I reiterated that when I preached my last sermon.

My sentiments were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in future donations to that congregation.

But if you mistreat the pastor by offering him a skimpy separation package, the word will get around … no matter how careful you are … and your church will lose many people and a lot of money.

Probably tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.

Fourth, they don’t know that many people are more committed to their pastor than they are their church.

Let me share with you three things that will happen if you force an innocent pastor from office:

*There will be a general sense of anxiety and unease in your congregation.

This can be alleviated somewhat by weekly updates from the church board, but it may last for many years.

And if you’re able to secure a good interim pastor … especially an intentional interim … that will help as well.

But every Sunday, when people come to church and don’t see their former pastor, many will wonder, “Why isn’t our beloved pastor preaching this week?  I wonder how he’s doing?  I wonder why he really left?  And I wonder if someone pushed him out.”

And that anxiety can last for months, if not years.

*Many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church … regardless of the reason.

To keep people in the church, some boards decide to blame the pastor’s departure completely on him … and some even manufacture charges against him.

Some even place a gag order on everybody … especially board members and staff members.

Such heavy-handed tactics rarely work, and aren’t consistent with the holy life that God requires of all His followers.

So expect that many of your best attendees … volunteers … and givers will leave the church … not altogether, but slowly.

And when that happens:

*Expect that you will have to cut back on your ministries.

You may not have enough money to pay some of your key staff members.

You may have to cut back one of your worship services.

You may not be able to fund some of your annual events.

A friend of mine came to a church of 50 people.  Three years later, the church stood at 150.  The board pushed him out, and the church reverted to 50 people once again.

Those 100 additional people were more loyal to the pastor than to the church, so they all left.

And most church boards don’t know that.

Several years ago, I recounted my story to one of the world’s leading experts on churches.  When I finished my narrative, he said, “How’s that church doing today?  It’s probably not doing very well, is it?”

Most churches that push out an innocent pastor never fully recover.

I began this article by mentioning a pastor friend.  After he was terminated by the church board … after a Sunday service, no less … the leaders may have thought, “Now we can do what we want around here!”

A few years later, that church went out of existence.

_______________

How can board members learn what to do when they’re having problems with their pastor?

*They can read a book … but I’m unaware of any such book right now.

*They can attend a seminar … but I’m unaware of anyone who is doing them.

*They can contact their denomination or local district … but they usually offer little help except to try and convince church leaders to keep giving money to the denomination.

*They can contact an expert in pastor-church conflict … a consultant, a conflict manager, an interventionist, a mediator … and they’re often of great help … but you have to pay them well.

Two pastors have told me that my material on pastor-church conflict is “the best on the internet.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not.

But accessing my articles doesn’t cost anything financially … and you can pass them on to others.

If I can help you with your situation, please let me know by emailing me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Over the past six years, I’ve heard many heart-wrenching stories about pastors being attacked by church leaders.

One pastor of a large congregation was fired without warning and without any severance.

Two pastors were falsely accused of stealing money from their churches.  In both situations, their attackers brought in law enforcement.

One man served three churches as pastor … and was forced out of all three.

And I’ve heard about many coup attempts, either by the board or the associate pastor.

Out of all the stories I’ve heard, ours is still among the top three worst conflicts.

(You can read Part 1 of this article by clicking on the green link above the title on the left.)

Once allegations have been made against a pastor, he has to trust whatever process was already in place to allow him a fair hearing, or his position … and maybe his career … are toast.

The length of our conflict was exactly fifty days from the board meeting on October 24, 2009 until our last Sunday on December 13.

When the board met with me in October, they attempted to checkmate my wife and me in various ways.

One avenue they used … and it’s used by most boards that attack their pastor … was to impose a gag order on me in the name of “confidentiality.”

The board tells the pastor that they don’t want him discussing their concerns with anyone else.  That’s how they control you.

The board told me to keep matters private (they never asked me), but I never agreed to any confidentiality because I knew it was a trap.

But the biggest trap of all was the board’s threat to quit.  They said, “We’re all willing to resign over this issue … and we’ll give Kim the choice of being fired or resigning.”

But the strong implication was that if she didn’t resign, they would all resign instead.

Why did the board issue such an ultimatum?

I can only guess.

I don’t know exactly how many pastors, staffers, board members, and churchgoers I’ve worked with over the past six years, but I still haven’t heard any stories about a board that threatened to resign en masse.

In my 36 years of church ministry, I never issued even one ultimatum in a meeting.  It’s a power move.

If I said, “I must get my way, or I’ll quit,” someone might respond, “Then we want your resignation tomorrow morning.”

One pastor friend told me he would have said, “I’ve had enough of this.  You want to resign?  Let’s have your resignations right now.”

Not one of the many boards I served with over 25 years as a solo or senior pastor ever would have pulled such a stunt.

The board’s threat wasn’t spiritual in any way.  They didn’t leave any room for discussion or negotiation.

The board had arrested, judged, and sentenced my wife without meeting with her directly or letting her respond to their charges.

And they never made their case to me.

I was told verbally that my wife had overspent her budgets, and when I asked for a figure, I knew it was way overblown.

The signal that the board wasn’t playing fair is that they didn’t prepare a list of her spending for me.  As the pastor … and a board member … wasn’t I entitled to see it?

The night of October 24, the board met with several staff members, and added two charges to their list.

Five nights later, when two board members met with Kim (at my request) to explain their actions, they added even more charges.

Why wasn’t the overspending charge enough?

If a pastor is caught having illicit sex in a hotel room, that’s all you need to fire him.  You don’t need to say, “And you were rude at a board meeting three months ago” as well.

So why add charges?

When Kim didn’t resign immediately after the board made the overspending charge, they had to add charges to force her to quit.

And that was not only cruel, it was also a form of retribution.

There is no justification for the way the board acted.  They violated the church constitution which clearly stated that the senior pastor had to recommend the termination of any staff member to the board before anyone could be dismissed.

Someone was pushing matters … hard … so Kim would resign of her own accord.

And the expectation was that when she quit, I would quit as well.

_______________

Several years after the coup attempt, I asked someone inside that church, “What are the chances that the board was really after Kim and not me?”

Their reply: “Zero.”

So if the board wanted me to resign, why didn’t they come after me directly?

Because, in my view, they didn’t have anything impeachable they could use against me … not even my minute-long rant … and certainly nothing they could tell the congregation … so they went after my wife instead.

As someone on the inside later told me, they viewed us as a single entity … Jim/Kim, if you will.  (If you nail Kim, you nail Jim.)

Even though we didn’t work together very often, we did … and do … love each other very much … even though I quickly corrected her whenever she stepped out of line … something I did in the car and at home (and with a level of scrutiny no other staff member had to endure)!

Five days after that October 24 meeting, Kim still had not quit.  We both sought outside counsel, and were told, “If Kim doesn’t think she did anything wrong, and she resigns, that would be a lie.  Let the board fire her instead.”

But the board didn’t want to fire her, because they would have endured the wrath of most of the congregation.  They had to make it look like she resigned herself even though they had already “terminated” her.

At this point, I’m going to pull a veil over what happened next to Kim.  Let’s just say that Satan attacked her in a brutal fashion, and that I feared for her very life.  She was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Her suffering was the primary reason I eventually resigned.

After the dust settled, I was able to forgive people for what they did to me, but found it extremely difficult to forgive those who had hurt Kim … not only because she is my wife, but because she was the person who best exemplified our mission.

If the board had only followed Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 instead of business practices, matters might have turned out much differently.

Because six days after the October 24 meeting … the day before Halloween … the associate pastor resigned.  And the day after Halloween … the entire board resigned.

Looking back, what was the single most difficult matter for you?

It was having people I thought were my friends turn on me without waiting to hear my side of the story.

The associate pastor turned on me … as did the entire board … as did my predecessor.  That’s eight Christian leaders.

And I was told by someone on the inside that I could have survived the board’s departure, but that the associate’s betrayal ultimately did me in.

Their approach wasn’t biblical … spiritual … loving … or redemptive.  In fact, it felt like hatred.

It was devastating to know that false narratives were circulating around the congregation.  Based on my personal character and ministry history, most people had to know they weren’t true.

Every time I saw someone on the campus after that, I wondered, “What do you know?  Are you for me, or against me?”

I knew who some of my opponents were.  It was no surprise.  But when long-time friends turn on you … it’s heartbreaking.

After the board resigned together, they should have stuck to their initial narrative.

But they didn’t.  Allegation after allegation leaked out from those leaders as justification for their departures even though they had never discussed those issues with me personally.

Their attitude seemed to be, “That charge isn’t gaining traction.  Let’s try another one.”

The aim of my detractors was to destroy my reputation, and they didn’t seem to care how they did it.

And I had no forum in which to defend myself.

When churchgoers hear accusations against their pastor, but he doesn’t answer the charges, they assume the accusations are true.

And that’s when the pastor loses most of his church friends.

Dennis Murray writes: “Antagonists see themselves as saving the parish from a pastor that could more accurately be labeled a reprobate.  They are equally determined that their fellow parish members and all the folks in the greater community see things their way.  In order to establish bragging rights they try to control the story.  They need to do so by making sure that their target does not have any opportunity for rebuttal.”

When the “fire Kim” plan backfired, the “destroy Jim” plot was put in its place.

And it worked well.

I didn’t get my side out until I published my book more than three years later … and by then, my viewpoint was irrelevant.

If I had to do it over again, I would have written out the allegations I had heard … responded to each one on paper … and then made sure that my supporters distributed them throughout the church after I left.

That might have stopped some of the lies that were circulating about me … but, of course, my detractors would have just created new ones.

One day, I received an anonymous letter in the mail.  It demanded that we both RESIGN.  Kim and I were both scheduled that night to meet with the newly-elected board, and I gave the letter to someone who tried to determine who sent it … although he never did.

Kim met with the new board … they even prayed for her … and I met with them afterwards to announce my resignation.

We both appeared to be stubborn at times in our interactions with top leaders, but our seeming intractability wasn’t personal obstinance.  Instead, we were both completely committed to the church’s outreach mission which had been approved eight years before.

On my last Sunday, I urged the church to keep its outreach orientation.

But as soon as we left, our ministries were dismantled and the church quickly flipped back into maintenance mode.

What lessons have you learned from this experience?

Let me share four lessons as they relate to a church’s mission:

If a church really wants to reach its community, that mission must stay on track at all times.

Kim and I had learned this lesson at our church in Silicon Valley.

The staff, board, and key leaders were completely behind the mission of reaching lost people … on paper and in practice.

That commitment created incredible purpose, synergy, and power … and for that reason, that will always be my favorite church.

But during 2009, the commitment to mission was on paper among the board and associate pastor, but it wasn’t being carried out in practice.

There were people who rallied around us because of the board’s actions.  They were the ones who had made the church grow for years.  They served selflessly and gave generously.

By contrast, most of the board members had little to do with the church’s success, and four of the six did not serve in any extra-board capacity.

After creating great damage, the board and associate ran away.

But Kim and I didn’t run.  We waited until a new board was elected … until an investigation was completed … until we were offered separation packages by the new board … and until we had one last Sunday to say goodbye and offer people closure.

If staff members aren’t on board with a church’s mission, they should resign.

Can you imagine how it felt to have the outreach director fully committed to the mission while the associate pastor wasn’t?

It created friction between them.

The associate knew that he wasn’t in sync with the mission.  He told me near the end of his tenure that he should have resigned a long time before.

Why not fire staff who resist the mission?

I know someone who pastored a megachurch for years.  He fired a staff member, and the board instantly rehired him.  The pastor quickly resigned.

When there is conflict between the pastor and a staff member, boards sometimes stand with the senior pastor, and sometimes stand with staffers … and no one can predict which way they’ll lean.

One of my biggest regrets is that I let the associate pastor wiggle his way onto the church board in a non-voting capacity.

Kim warned me what would happen if I let that occur.  She was right.

When the board attacks the pastor, they attack the mission as well.

Pastors know that it’s difficult to convince a church to be outreach-oriented on paper, much less in practice.

When a church calls a pastor, they are looking for someone who fits their culture and community.

If it’s true that only 15-20% of all churches are growing … and that 80-85% are stagnating or declining … then forcing out a growth pastor can be suicidal for a church’s future.

What are the chances that the church will hire another pastor who has the training and experience to do successful outreach?

The odds aren’t very good.

A congregation can find scores of pastors who will pursue maintenance, but it’s challenging to find someone who understands reaching a community.

And once outreach is killed off, it can take years to resurrect it … so many churches end up wandering in the wilderness instead.

When the mission has been surrendered, the pastor has to leave.

If a church’s leaders want to change the mission, they need to go through the pastor rather than around him.

The board could have told me, “We don’t want to do outreach ministry anymore.  It requires too much risk-taking … it costs too much … and it’s creating too much conflict.  We want to be a church that reaches Christians instead.  That’s how we really feel.”

Had they been that explicit, I would have quietly looked for another ministry and then departed.

I came to the church because I only wanted to pastor an outreach-oriented congregation.  Having spent years spinning my wheels in churches going nowhere, I could never go back.

_______________

As you’ve read my story, please don’t feel sorry for me or for my wife.

The Lord catapulted us out of ministry because He knew that the outreach sentiment among the leaders had changed and that we couldn’t be in a church like that anymore.

As I’ve said on many occasions … we left at the right time … just not in the best way.

Did we make mistakes?

Of course.  Even the best pastors and staffers do.

But to this day, I maintain that we never committed any major offenses, and certainly nothing that merited the mistreatment we received.

In fact, many of the offenses we were later charged with had to do with how we handled the 50-day conflict, not how we handled our ministries.

Why revisit the coup eight years later?

*It’s a way of cleansing my soul.  Pastors who experience a forced termination are afraid to discuss it with anyone, much less write about it.

But I’m here to say, “I understand what you’ve gone through and how you’ve been feeling.  And the more you discuss it, the more quickly you will recover.”

If I can help you or someone you know with a coup attempt or a pastoral attack, please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org.  I love hearing people’s stories … and I know I can help.

*I want pastors and Christian leaders to read my account … both on this blog, and in my book … and ask, “How would we handle a similar situation?  What would we do differently?  Let’s create or strengthen procedures that are biblical, just, loving, and redemptive.”

I spent hours with the pastor of a megachurch and his wife last year, and they bought copies of my book for their top leaders to read and discuss.  I felt humbled and honored by their actions.

*I want my friends to know why I’m no longer in church ministry.

It takes pastors one to three years to recover from a “sheep attack,” and much of that recovery is emotional.

Three years after leaving my last church, I became interim pastor of a wonderful church in New Hampshire.

After I returned to California, my director wanted to send me to another church back east, but after Kim and I spent four days there, we decided against it.

I spoke with my ministry mentor the day after we returned home.  After I told him what happened over those four days, he said, “Jim, if you and Kim go there, it will permanently damage your souls.”

Our souls were already damaged.

Thank God He specializes in healing damaged souls.

 

 

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“You never need to explain yourself to anyone.  Your true friends don’t require an explanation.  And your enemies won’t believe anything you say.”  Dr. Dennis Murray, Healing For Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack

On October 24, 2009 – eight years ago today – a coup was attempted at the Bay Area church I had pastored for nine years.

The official board consulted with … and likely collaborated with … the church’s founding pastor (my predecessor) to push me out as pastor.

Somewhere along the line, the associate pastor signed onto the coup, along with churchgoers who were loyal to my predecessor.

Even though I wrote my book Church Coup (published in 2013) as a cautionary tale, I revisit the conflict on this blog every October 24 to see if my perspective has broadened and deepened.  (If you’d like a more detailed description of what happens inside a church when a pastor is attacked, my book – which is on Amazon – may be of interest to you.)

I have no desire to convince my detractors that they behaved unwisely or even cruelly, so this article is not aimed at them, but I am including information I’ve never shared before.

This time, I’ve decided to answer eight questions about the conflict, and hope that my responses will provide insight into coup attempts involving other pastors.

We’ll do Part 1 today, and Part 2 in two days.

What was the coup really about?

I believe the coup was really about stopping the church’s mission, which was designed to reach people without Christ.

When I was hired as associate pastor in June 1999, the senior pastor – a friend for years – wanted me to continue his efforts to reach unchurched people.

We served together eighteen months, and then he retired and I became senior pastor.  (The congregation had approved me as senior pastor-elect seven months before.)

Over time, I had earned solid credentials.

I had been the senior pastor of an outreach-oriented church in Silicon Valley for seven years and had served as teaching pastor of a similar church.  I had also received extensive training from Willow Creek and Saddleback Churches.

My wife had undergone the same kind of training and had served alongside me at the Silicon Valley church.  When it came to outreach-oriented ministry, we both knew what we were doing.

So I wasn’t changing the church’s charter, but clarifying it … expanding it … and furthering it.

Several months after I became pastor, I invited Dr. Gary McIntosh – one of the foremost experts on growing churches in the world – to lead a series of workshops for our leadership team, and 43 people came.  The time with Gary was extremely productive.

We also had a professional facilitator inside the church oversee the creation of our mission and vision statements … starting with congregational input, and ending with board approval.

So I received wide support for our mission during my first few years, which enabled the church to grow numerically in a highly resistant community and to construct a new worship center.

But toward the end of my tenure, the mission was being sabotaged from within.

Who was sabotaging the mission?

We hired an associate pastor in early 2007 who told me before he was hired that he wanted to be in an outreach-oriented church, but after he arrived, he began to resist the mission because it made him too uncomfortable.

We called a husband-wife team as our youth directors a few years before that, but long after they were hired, they confessed that they didn’t believe in the mission, either.

It was difficult serving alongside key leaders who weren’t with us … and their lack of support eventually became obvious.

For years, I received my greatest support from the official board, and our church grew to become the largest Protestant church in our city.

And with that support, I was able to overcome most staff resistance.

But as 2009 approached, we lost three key board members.  All three men were older than me.  All three supported me fully.  And all three constantly had my back.

As we added new board members, every one was younger than me and involved in business.  I naively assumed they were all behind our outreach mission.

On paper, they were.  In practice, they weren’t.

They began viewing the ministry through “maintenance eyes,” not “mission eyes” … and in my view, had a “money comes before ministry” mentality.

But the one person most committed to an outreach-oriented church was my wife Kim.  I could always count on her.

How did the conflict about mission lead to your departure?

I once had a conversation with a pastor friend whose church was growing rapidly.  He told me, “There are many people in this church who are trying to change our direction so we only reach Christians, but I can’t let that happen.  You have to keep the mission of reaching people for Christ front and center or the church will go off track.”  His comment always stuck with me.

For most of my time in that church, both the leaders and the congregation were solidly behind the mission.

But as we got deeper into 2009, my wife and I were continuing to go in an outreach direction, while the associate and the board were going in an opposite direction … without any formal discussion.

Let me share one story to illustrate this polarization.

As the summer of 2009 ended, we had a part-time staff member in charge of small groups.  She did a great job, putting together thirty groups at one point.  But when she moved away, the small group ministry fell to the person originally hired to oversee it: the associate pastor.

Only he had never been in a small group in his life.

Every year, we announced that year’s groups at a small group fair.  The leaders would stand behind tables and present their groups to interested parties.  People would sign up at the tables and write down their phone numbers/email addresses.

In an outreach-oriented church, the leaders contact those who signed up. We reach out to them.

But the associate pastor vehemently believed that those interested should call the leaders instead … and then accused me of “coddling” people when I disagreed.

I wasn’t coddling anybody.  I wanted the maximum number of people in those groups because that’s where real life change happens in a congregation.  And the best way for people to join a group is for someone to invite them.

But the staff member with zero small group experience thought he knew better than the pastor with more than twenty years of small group experience … and that ministry began to collapse.

And that’s how my last year at the church went.  Resistance, sabotage, passive-aggressive behavior … and I could feel it.

And when that kind of climate develops, you’re going to make some mistakes … and every one will be recorded and counted against you.

Just for the record, those who resisted my leadership were all in contact … and later collaboration … with my predecessor.

When did matters finally come to a head?

The year 2008 was the best year our church ever had.  We had 785 people on Easter Sunday … had nine Sundays over 500 people … and enjoyed our highest average Sunday attendance ever … all on a one-acre campus that was nearly invisible from the street.

You might recall that 2009 was a difficult year economically, and after two years of generous giving in our church, we were about five tithing families short of meeting our budget, which caused great anxiety on the board.

Even though Kim had made plans for outreach events and two mission trips, the board set up procedures designed to slow or limit those activities.  Most of the staff were frustrated by the board’s micromanagement, but the board expected me to keep the staff in line.

I wanted to start a third service to reach a younger demographic, and so with board approval, eleven of us – including two board members and two staff members – visited two churches in Southern California to learn how to add that service.

After many months of work, the board turned down my proposal for a third service at a special meeting, and it became evident that we weren’t in sync.

On paper, our church was still outreach-oriented.  In practice, it was starting to flip backwards.

At the next regular board meeting, we started at 6:00 pm and were still going strong by 10:00 pm.

About 10:10 pm, the chairman stated that the church budget was frozen for the rest of the year and that nobody should even ask for more funds.

I was shocked.  Nobody had discussed this with me in advance, but it was clear that the board had colluded together in making this decision.

Trying to be conciliatory, I told the board that I had already announced to the congregation that we were going to produce a special drama for our upcoming anniversary called A Divine Comedy.  We had already obtained the script and were in the process of holding auditions.  The play was going to cost some money, but if we couldn’t find it in the budget, then I told the board, “I’ll ask several people with the gift of giving to donate the funds.”

The chairman responded to my comment by saying, “No.”

What?  The board was telling the pastor that he couldn’t raise money?

I should have calmly asked, “What do you mean, the budget is frozen?  Who made that decision?  When was it made?  Why wasn’t I included?”

Instead, I lost it.

I don’t know how long my rant lasted … maybe a minute? … but I told the board that it wasn’t fun working with them anymore and that the staff didn’t want to take any risks because the board had started micromanaging them. (Managing them had always been my job, not theirs.)

After the meeting, I spent a long time conversing with the chairman.  I felt awful about the way I had reacted … and knew that everything I told him would quickly get back to the others.

I immediately sought out a counselor to find out why I had reacted so badly.  After hearing me and testing me, he concluded, “You are severely burned out and headed for a breakdown.”

(Why did I burn out?  The construction of the worship center … finishing my doctoral program … and dealing with board and staff resistance all took their toll on me.)

After sharing this story with a pastor friend, he told me, “Jim, you had every right to be angry.”

I told him, “Maybe so, but I got too angry.”

Many pastors lose it in a board meeting on occasion, but in twenty-five years as a pastor, I never had.  In that church, I had a nine-year track record of remaining calm in meetings, but now I had messed up.

I felt like a colossal failure.  I never became angry after that, but I know my rant was used against me.

A more mature board might have met together and said, “Jim seems to be under great stress right now.  He’s meant so much to this church.  Something is troubling him, and we need to find out what it is.  Let’s send two board members to meet with him and see how we can help him overcome his frustration so we can all work together in harmony.”

But that’s not what happened.

In the end, the board never spoke with me about that night again.  They should have.  I was too embarrassed to go to them.  I wanted them to speak with me as a sign of love.

Instead, they did something else.

They waited until we were overseas on a mission trip … and then went after my wife.

Why did they go after your wife?

Kim is an amazing woman … maybe too amazing.

And she does a lot of good … maybe too much good.

The board hired Kim in 2001 as full-time outreach director after a search process produced twenty possible candidates.  Kim was the only person to survive the first round.  She was hired on merit because she knew more about outreach ministry than any other applicant even though others had more formal education.

(One time, we let a major outreach group use our facility for a training meeting.  Kim walked into the room and heard the leader using her material.  They had stolen it from her outright, but that shows how much her approach was valued.)

Kim was the best leader in our entire church.  She had vision … passion … charisma … a great work ethic … and a heart that beat for lost people.  As our mission statement put it, she loved to “share God’s unconditional love.”

In fact, several months before October 24, a board member told Kim, “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to this church.”

She learned people’s names.  She learned about their families and problems.  She recorded what she heard and used that information to help people become assimilated into church life.  She started new ministries … recruiting and training leaders to take them over.  She shared her faith everywhere.

And she did it all with contagious enthusiasm and a smile.

She was the most indispensable person in the entire church … including the pastor.

But she made a few enemies along the way because she believed so strongly in our church’s outreach orientation … and because, in my view, some individuals were jealous of her influence.

On October 24, the board told me they had terminated Kim’s position effective immediately because, they said, she had overspent her budgets.

When I asked how much she had overspent, I was given a number verbally.  I should have asked for written documentation, but I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I did ask for it three days later, but received nothing coherent.  Kim then asked for the documentation again two days later when she met with two board members, but was given nothing.

Was it all a bluff?

The bookkeeper later met with Kim and determined she had overspent her budgets by a negligible amount … light years away from the number I was given at the October 24 meeting.  A nine-person team from inside the church later investigated all charges and concluded there was no evidence that either Kim or I had committed any wrongdoing.

At that October 24 meeting, the board told me to tell Kim that she had a choice: she could resign or be fired.

And then the chairman made a statement I still can’t believe: the board felt so strongly about their decision that they were all willing to resign.

_______________

I’ve answered five questions so far, and will be responding to the final three questions in two days.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the fall of 2009, my wife and I went on a missions trip to Moldova with three other people.  After spending several days in London to recuperate and see some sights, Kim and I traveled north to Wales, Keswick, Edinburgh, and York before returning home.

trip-to-the-uk-1-oct-2009-061trip-to-the-uk-1-oct-2009-319  trip-to-the-uk-1-oct-2009-512 trip-to-the-uk-1-oct-2009-532

Whenever I look at photos from that trip, this little voice tells me, “The whole time you were away, the church board back home was plotting to end your ministry.”

As I’ve recounted in my book Church Coup, the official board met with me on October 24, 2009 and announced a decision designed to end my tenure at the church I had served effectively and faithfully for 10 1/2 years.

Talk about an “October surprise!”

Forty-three days later, I resigned, and preached my final sermon a week later.

I’ve been through many tough times in ministry, and managed to overcome each situation with God’s help.

But not this time … because the spirit in the church had changed.

When I refer to such a “spirit,” I’m talking about an atmosphere … a climate … a mood that I could feel … though others may not have sensed it.

In fact, one way of looking at that fifty-day conflict is to identify the spirits that drove some to push out their pastor.

As I’ve listened to the stories of many pastors and church leaders since my departure, I’ve learned that these spirits are usually present before a pastor is forced to resign … as well as during any extended conflict.

As I see it, there are at least seven spirits that drive a church coup:

First, there’s the spirit of resistance.

For years, we were the largest Protestant church in our city of 75,000 people … by far … excellent numbers in a city with only three decent Protestant churches at the time.

But an underground resistance movement… fueled by someone outside the church … slowly expanded and reached a crescendo by the fall of 2009.

Most of my time as pastor, both my leadership and preaching were well-received … but near the end of my tenure, things had changed.

Resistance is the feeling a pastor senses that certain leaders and members are no longer following his leadership.

I first started detecting resistance when we started a building program around 2002.  I let the congregation have input on both the architect’s drawings as well as our fundraising plan.

And every vote involving the building was unanimous.

We lost about eight percent of our people during that time, and two individuals in the inner circle tried to sabotage the project.

As a leader, I never forced my ideas on people.  I made proposals, stated my case, asked for input, addressed objections, called for an official decision, and then moved forward.

If various individuals didn’t like my proposals, they had many opportunities to voice their displeasure in public.

But they didn’t … they went underground instead.

By the time 2009 rolled around, I could feel the resistance, especially when I preached.  To quote Phil Collins, there was “something in the air.”

No matter what I did – perform a wedding, conduct a funeral, propose a change – there always seemed to be pushback.

Especially from the church board.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not please them.  They never told me I was doing a good job.  They never tried to encourage me.  I always felt like I was on trial.

And their resistance started wearing me down.

Second, there’s the spirit of bitterness.

Regardless of church size, it only takes seven to ten people to force a pastor out.  If that minority is determined to oust the pastor … and are willing to use the law of the jungle … they often succeed.

Some people were angry with me because I took positions contrary to theirs on matters like baptism … women in ministry … outreach events … worship style … you name it.

A handful shared their disagreements with me and we worked things out.  Most told everyone but me about their anger and pulled others into their web.

For example, as our new worship center neared completion, I created seven principles for the way we were going to run our worship services.  I went to the church board and gained unanimous approval for those principles.

But a woman on the worship team disagreed vehemently.  She began complaining about me to anyone who would listen, to the point that the board chairman had to intervene.

I invited her into my office, listened to her concerns, explained my position, thought we had an understanding, and assumed that was the end of it.

Until she started complaining again.

A few months later … having caused much division … she and her family left the church.  It hurt.  I thought we were friends.

I’m unsure if she ever forgave me.   And when people feel and express bitterness toward their pastor, that bitterness spreads, and eventually wears a pastor down … and can tear a church apart.

And all too often, the bitterness morphs into a vendetta.

Third, there’s the spirit of hypocrisy.

A hypocrite is a play-actor … someone who acts one way in public but another way in private.

While hypocrites act in a spiritual manner outwardly, they are completely different people inside.

Pastors can sense those individuals and families who aren’t behind them.  You try and move toward them, and love on them, but sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

There was a couple in that church who had been there since the church started.  No matter what, I just couldn’t seem to connect with them.

Let’s call them Bo and Jo.

I ministered to them when there were deaths in their family.  I intentionally sought them out for conversation after services.  They were cordial but rarely warm.

I knew they were good friends with my predecessor but tried to ignore that connection.  After all, what could I do about it?

Eight days after the conflict started, the entire church board resigned, and a week later, we held two already-scheduled congregational meetings designed to announce the board’s departure.

After 24 years of leading healthy congregational meetings, all hell broke loose that Sunday.  A few members became unglued and publicly sided with the board.

After the second meeting, Bo came up to me and said, “I’m praying for you, brother.”  I looked at him and said, “Are you, Bo?”  (I knew he stood against me.)

A friend later told me that Jo was crying in the ladies room because she was afraid that I wasn’t going to be kicked out as pastor.

Before I resigned, I was informed that Bo and Jo played a crucial role in forcing me out.

Jesus knew who the hypocrites around Him were and called them out.  I sensed who some were but never knew what to do except keep them out of leadership.

If you don’t want me as your pastor, there’s a simple solution: leave the church.

But people like Bo and Jo don’t want to leave.  They want their pastor to leave instead … even if he isn’t guilty of any major offense … because in their minds, it’s their church, not his church.

And, of course, they know best.

And because hypocrites are experts at playing a part, pastors may not know who they are, so they can’t proactively work things out with them.

Fourth, there’s the spirit of cowardice.

When it comes to interpersonal squabbles at church, most Christians are cowards.

If they’re personally offended by someone, they don’t approach the person who hurt them as Jesus instructed in Matthew 18:15 … they complain to their network instead.

This is especially true when it comes to pastors.

Whenever someone had the courage to tell me directly they were upset about something, I always thanked them for speaking with me personally … but it rarely happened … not because I’m scary, but because people find it uncomfortable to confront their pastor.

But sometimes, what people are thinking and feeling about their pastor is based on inaccurate information … and God’s people may not want to hear the truth.

Last year, I heard about a church where someone accused the pastor of stealing a small amount of money.  Instead of speaking with the pastor privately, this individual reported the pastor to the authorities, and then told many others in the church about his accusation.

As the charges bounced around the congregation, some felt emboldened, and added their own personal gripes about the pastor to the mix.

The pastor was driven from office even though the evidence clearly showed he had done nothing wrong.

His career was destroyed over a lie.

Christians become cowards when:

*board members are upset with the pastor but never tell him how they feel.

*members allow false accusations about their pastor to spread.

*everybody is afraid to confront the ringleaders who initially attacked the pastor.

*people who know the truth won’t share it for fear of being vilified.

If God’s people would just grant their pastors the protections Scripture offers them in Deuteronomy 19:15-21, Matthew 18:15-17, and 1 Timothy 5:19-21, we could put an end to the epidemic of pastoral terminations once and for all.

But that will require a spirit of courage that is sadly lacking in most congregations… and it requires working hard to disintegrate the groupthink that grips so many.

Fifth, there’s the spirit of gullibility.

Many years ago, I began an Easter service by announcing that the President of the United States had suddenly resigned.

After hearing gasps all over the room, I exclaimed, “April Fool!”

If I tried that today, someone would check out the news on their smart phone before I ever got to “April Fool.”

But churchgoers who often check out the facts regarding the news rarely check out negative information they hear about their pastor.

If I was a regular churchgoer and I heard a serious rumor about my pastor, I would want to know:

*the original source of the rumor.

*who is spreading the rumor.

*who they’ve been talking with.

*how solid their information is.

*the views of different staff and board members.

If I believe the first thing I hear, then I’m really gullible.  And if I pass on that information without verifying it, I could well be passing on a lie … and destroying both my pastor and my church.

But wise, mature, discerning Christians check out the veracity of what they hear before they do anything else.

Yet in all too many churches, people hear negative information about their pastor … instantly believe it … spread the story to others … and then can’t revise the narrative because it will make them look bad … so they continue to perpetuate half-truths and outright lies.

During our conflict, after board members resigned, they and their wives jumped on their phones and called as many people as possible.  (A friend from out-of-state told us who called her and what was said.  Why call her?)

When I was telling my story to my ministry mentor several years ago – a former pastor and denominational president – this is the point at which he said, “Jim, I am so sorry.”

It’s one thing for people who hate their pastor to spread vicious rumors about him.  It’s another thing for good Christian people to believe them … especially when the pastor has a decade-long track record of integrity.

What hurts more than anything is that most people never bothered to pick up the phone to hear my side of the story.

The week before I resigned, Satan attacked my family in a horrible way.  Few people know the story.  I’ll spare you the details.

During the attack, I received a phone call from a newly-elected board member who told me about the latest charge against me.  He told me the source of the rumor … where that person heard it from … and exactly what they were saying.

Because he called, I was able to snuff out the rumor with facts, which I’m sure he passed on to the other new members.

I could have snuffed out all the rumors if people had just contacted me … and I still can … but by this time, nobody cares.

Don’t the conquerors write the history?

Sixth, there’s the spirit of blindness.

By blindness, I mean that a pastor’s attackers believe they see his faults clearly.

They just can’t see their own.

Let’s modify Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:3-5 a bit:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your pastor’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your pastor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your pastor’s eye.”

Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1 (with one modification) are also appropriate here:

Brothers, if your pastor is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

God’s Word does not say that you are to watch your pastor’s life and then tell others about every little thing he may have done or said wrong.

No, Scripture says that before you deal with those caught in sin, you should first “watch yourself” to make sure you have a humble, loving approach so you can restore the wayward person.

And if you don’t first “watch yourself,” you aren’t qualified to address anyone’s sin.

Whenever a pastor is pushed out of a church, there are usually a few narcissists and sociopaths involved.  People who have these personality disorders never admit they do anything wrong at home … at work … or on the road.

They bring that same mentality to church, and when they sense their pastor is vulnerable, they move in for the kill … and never feel badly about the part they play.

What’s amazing to me is that many churches allow such spiritually blind people to be their leaders.

Finally, there’s the spirit of destruction.

There is a spirit behind these seven spirits … and it’s not the Holy Spirit of God.

As Ephesians 2:2 specifies, it’s “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” … Satan.

As I say quite often, Satan has invaded a church when two factors are present: deception and destruction.

Or we might say … deception leading to destruction.

Jesus said in John 8:44 that Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning” … and He was addressing His comments to spiritual leaders.

When a pastor has done something wrong, those in a church controlled by the Holy Spirit will gently and lovingly confront him with the goal of restoring him spiritually and even vocationally.

But under similar circumstances, those influenced by Satan will harshly and hatefully condemn him with the goal of destroying him both personally and professionally.

Instead of identifying Satan’s work in their own lives, such people gleefully detect satanic influence in their pastor.

As Neil Young sang, “I don’t feel like Satan, but I am to them.”

My wife and I could not only sense Satan’s influence during the conflict … we could taste and feel it.

It’s something you never forget.

After the church board resigned, I hired a church consultant … with the assistance of five well-respected congregational leaders.

After interviewing some leaders, and witnessing two horrendous congregational meetings, the consultant wrote a report where he exonerated my wife and me and faulted others.

Then a nine-person team from the church looked into the charges against us and publicly announced that we were not guilty of wrongdoing.

But one year later, the tables had turned, and friends sadly informed me that my reputation inside the church had been decimated.

The verdicts of the consultant and nine-person team no longer mattered.  My opponents had to win.  I had to be destroyed.

The hit job on me was so complete that after I left the church, not one person – including family, friends, or colleagues – felt that I should ever pastor again.

After 36 years, my church ministry career was over.

_______________

Several months after I resigned and moved to another state, I had a conversation with a church consultant from the Midwest.  I kept asking him, “Why did these people … who claimed to be Christians … act the way they did?”  Because I could never act that way toward anyone else, I couldn’t get my head around it.

The consultant told me, “Jim, the opposition to your ministry was probably there for years, but you didn’t see it because people covered it up well.  When you were attacked, their true feelings came spilling out.”

_______________

I’m going to end this article by quoting Galatians 5:19-23:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hated, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Which terms best represent those that try and force out their pastor?

Hint: it’s not the second group.

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Not long ago, I heard about a church that held a members only meeting.  The leaders said that several members had engaged in serious sinful practices and had been placed under discipline in hopes that they would repent and eventually rejoin the fellowship.

The wayward members were named and their sins were specified.  But the leaders also took pains to delineate the process they had used in each case to try and win back their brothers and sisters.

The process they used was based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17, which begins:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” 

Sadly, since there wasn’t any repentance from the disciplined members, the leaders were engaging in Jesus’ last step: “tell it to the church.”

I was shocked when I heard about this meeting, not because the leaders did anything wrong, but because they did everything right.

In a nutshell, they handled matters spiritually … not politically.

But too often in our day, when a church board is upset with their pastor, they approach matters politically rather than spiritually … and in the process, devastate the pastor, his family, the congregation … and the leaders themselves.

Let me give you an example:

Chris has been the lead pastor of Harmony Church for seven years.  The church has grown under his leadership and become one of the most effective churches in their community.

In October, a group of fifteen people ask for a meeting with Martin, Harmony’s board chairman.  They agree to meet at the home of Carl, the group’s leader.

The Group of Fifteen recites a list of things they don’t like about Pastor Chris, including:

*the way he dresses when he preaches.

*occasional references to his favorite sports teams.

*the kind of car he drives.

*the haircut his fourth grade son sports.

*the fact that his wife doesn’t work outside the home, which all the women in the Group do.

And on and on and on …

Martin tries defending Pastor Chris several times, but finally, Carl throws down an ultimatum:

“Martin, we’re telling you right now: either Pastor Chris goes, or we go, and if we go, we’re going to form a new church nearby and take as many people as we can with us.”

Martin looks around at the fifteen people in Carl’s living room and feels sick inside.  The chairman feels that the ministry is going well … that Pastor Chris has been a solid leader and preacher … and that the Group is overreacting.

But he doesn’t tell them that.  Instead, Martin says, “Let me speak with the other board members and I’ll get back to you.”

Martin quickly decides to call a meeting of the nine-member board without Pastor Chris’ knowledge.  When Martin reveals the conversation he had with the Group, he’s disheartened to hear that four board members agree with Carl’s complaints … and add some of their own.

As the board talks into the night, Martin feels increasingly helpless.  He doesn’t want to fight.  He just wants peace.  But the more adamantly the four board members make their case against Chris, the more Martin senses that several other board members are now wilting.

After closing in prayer, Martin asks the board members to keep everything confidential and to meet again the following Saturday morning at a restaurant outside of town.

When Saturday rolls around, Martin discovers that the four board members who oppose Chris have successfully persuaded two more members to join their cause.  Only Martin and two other members support their pastor … and even then, their support seems tepid.

Several hours later, the board has agreed to ask Pastor Chris for his resignation and to give him a three-month severance package.  Because most board members don’t want to go on record against Chris, they ask that Martin and Jeff – the most outspoken member – deliver the bad news.  In the name of unity, Martin reluctantly agrees.

The following Monday night, Martin and Jeff meet with their pastor in his study.  They tell him:

*there are people in the church who are against you.

*some board members think your time at the church is up.

*the board is asking for your resignation.

*you will be given a three-month severance package if you resign tonight.

*if you don’t resign tonight, we will fire you without any severance.

Chris is both angry and devastated.  He feels betrayed.  He didn’t see this ambush coming.

He asks the two men, “Will you give me 48 hours to think and pray about this?”

They answer, “No.  Our proposal is final.  Take it or leave it.”

Not knowing how to support his family financially without any severance, Chris takes the deal, and promises his written resignation the following morning.

Having operated politically to force out Chris, the board continues to handle matters politically to cover up their involvement in Chris’ resignation.

Over the next three months:

*Attendance plunges nearly 50% while giving shrinks by 40%.

*The best people in the church leave while the malcontents remain.

*Parts of the children’s ministry and youth group are shut down due to lack of volunteers.

*Pastor Chris and his family move to another state and move in with Chris’ brother.  Chris takes a job as an overnight custodian to support his family.  His wife becomes suicidal.  His children vow they will never attend church again anywhere.

*The district minister intervenes and tries to get Burt – his oldest friend – a job as interim pastor.

*Watching the fallout, three of the board members and nine of the Fifteen leave the church anyway.

*The board becomes so overwhelmed without Pastor Chris’ leadership that they regret forcing him out.

But this sad story never had to happen.

Let me share five mistakes that Martin made because he operated politically rather than spiritually:

First, Martin should have stopped the Grievance Festival at Carl’s house after the first few complaints.  He should have told the Group:

“According to Scripture, a pastor should only be disqualified from ministry if he has committed a major offense without repentance.  Do you have any evidence that Pastor Chris has committed such a major offense?  Has he engaged in heretical teaching … sexual immorality … criminal behavior?”

Since the answer would be a reluctant “No,” Martin should have continued:

“Here’s our policy at Harmony Church.  According to Matthew 18:15, if you have a personal concern with anyone in the body, including the pastor, you need to speak with him directly or let it go.  This covers matters like the way he dresses and the car he drives.  I don’t tell you how to look or what to drive, and we aren’t going to do that to Pastor Chris.”

“Next, if you have a policy concern, you may speak with any board member (because we make policy together), and we will either answer you immediately or bring your concern to the next meeting.  Before I leave, I need assurance that you will do what I ask and not take this any further.  Agreed?”

If I were Martin, I’d go around the room and make sure that each person agreed.  If anyone refused, I’d let them know that I was bringing their name before the board, that Pastor Chris would be in that meeting, and if they caused any trouble, they would be brought before the board for discipline.

But because Martin let the complaining fester, he threw his pastor to the wolves.

Second, Martin should have disagreed with Carl’s assessment of Chris’ ministry on the spot.

The chairman should have said, “While I understand your concerns, Carl, I believe the ministry has been going very well, and that Pastor Chris is the right man at this time in our church’s history.  I support our pastor fully.”

Then he should add, “If you believe that God is leading you to leave the church, then leave quietly.  If you’re just frustrated, then stay and work things out.  If your children were having trouble at school or work, you would probably counsel them to stay and talk things out.  If you’re determined to leave, I won’t stop you, but if you’re determined to make trouble, then I recommend that you all leave … tomorrow.”

But by not speaking up for Pastor Chris, Martin’s silence emboldened the Group, who figured they were starting to turn the chairman their way.  Martin’s reluctance to stand up for Chris also later empowered them to recruit several board members to their line of thinking.

Third, Martin should have informed Pastor Chris of the meeting right away.  

But because he failed to inform his pastor about the plot, Martin deprived himself of Chris’ training, wisdom, experience, and resources in handling what was really a coup.

And because Martin kept things to himself, he felt overburdened and anxious.  By the time he met with the board, he just wanted the whole thing to go away.

I once pastored a church where a group of malcontents called a secret meeting to list various complaints against me.  The board chairman not only told me about the meeting, he found out the place and time and showed up for the meeting unannounced.  His presence was so disconcerting that the group cancelled their meeting.

In another church, the chairman called to let me know that an older woman was very angry with me.  He stood up for me and told her how to handle things but wanted me to know there might be trouble on the horizon.

When a board chairman stands up for his pastor, the bond between them grows stronger, and most of the time, with the chairman’s support, the pastor can withstand any coup.  But when the chairman goes silent – or wilts – one can sense the devil sneaking in the church’s back door.

Division has begun.

Fourth, Martin should have researched and presented to the board a process for handling the complaints against Pastor Chris. 

The issue is not, “Should Pastor Chris stay?”  It’s much too soon to even talk about that question.

The issue is instead, “What process will we use to evaluate the complaints against our pastor?”

When the discussion goes right to “should he stay or go?” the approach will be political.

But when the discussion launches into “what process will we use?” the approach will tend to be spiritual.

The political approach to charges against a pastor involves:

*hyper-scrutinizing his life, family, and ministry for petty offenses … then throwing all those offenses at the wall as if to say, “How can such a flawed person lead our church?”

*letting people pile complaint upon complaint without evaluating their veracity.

*allowing people to make charges behind the pastor’s back but not to his face.

*attacking his humanity as if he were pure evil.

*forcing him to quit, and if necessary, destroying his reputation and career.

The spiritual approach to charges against a pastor involves:

*only allowing immediate dismissal for a major offense such as heresy or sexual immorality.

*asking each person who makes a charge, “What evidence do you have that your charge is accurate?”

*letting the pastor meet his accusers and allowing him to respond directly to their complaints (most will never do this).

*reminding people that the pastor is a flawed sinner like everybody else and that he’s a pastor because God called and gifted him … not because he thinks he’s better than others.

*extending a pastor God’s love, mercy, and grace as Galatians 6:1,2 specifies.

Finally, Martin must make sure that both the pastor and his detractors operate out of the spiritual realm.

We expect pastors to operate spiritually.  We expect them to obey Scripture, pray through their decisions, admit when they’re wrong, love people rather than harm them, and seek restoration rather than destruction.

But 95% of the time, a pastor’s detractors operate politically.  They gather together, organize, list complaints, plot, agree on an action plan, and attack, attack, attack.

In other words, a pastor’s detractors use power and control to get the outcome they desire: his departure from their church.

But most pastors aren’t trained to operate politically, so they’re at a disadvantage … and God forbid that the pastor use that same power!

When a pastor is under attack, he can’t lay down the ground rules for the conflict.  He’s so wounded he can barely function.

So the church board – supposedly composed of godly individuals – has to make sure that the conflict is handled spiritually.

This means that the board members must:

*consult their Bibles for wisdom.

*spend time in prayer and listening to God.

*operate by their church’s governing documents.

*slow down rather than speed up the process.

*seek what is best for the congregation, not just their own group.

*do what is right before God rather than being intimidated by who or how many are complaining.

If the board operates politically rather than spiritually, they end up siding with the pastor’s detractors by default.

If the board operates spiritually, they may lose a few people, but they will protect and preserve their congregation …and hopefully, their pastor.

Now here’s the deal: God cannot and will not bless this church … or any church … until it stops operating politically and starts acting spiritually.

And in most cases, the church can’t operate spiritually until those who operated politically admit their wrongdoing and seek forgiveness from everyone … including their former pastor.

When I went through a severe church conflict nearly seven years ago, a pastor read me the following verses from James 3:15-18:

Such wisdom does not come down from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

There’s a lot to absorb here, but I have a single question for you:

When there is a conflict in your church, will your board act politically or spiritually?

The answer to that question may very well determine your church’s health and future.

But here’s an even more personal question:

When there is a conflict in your ministry, will you act politically or spiritually?

The answer may very well determine your health and future as well.

 

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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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