Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘pastor-board conflict’

Twenty-five years ago, I found myself in one of the most precarious positions I’ve ever faced as a pastor.

The church I served in Silicon Valley had been struggling, and I became convinced that we needed to start over: a new church, with a new name, in a new location, with a new ministry.

This vision meant that we had to sell our church property and find a new place to meet … almost simultaneously.

After receiving congregational approval, we sold the property outright to The Salvation Army (some people must drop more than coins into those Christmas kettles) and after looking at more than thirty buildings, our leaders found a temporary place to meet … but we needed a conditional use permit first.

When we went to the planning commission, they turned us down on a 4-2 vote.

We were stunned.

Now we had to appeal to the City Council … I had to lead the effort … and I had never done anything like that before.

I pulled out all the stops.  I called everyone and anyone who might be able to help.  I even called the city manager of a prominent city nearby and picked his brain on how to proceed.

Then it came time to prepare packets for Council members and contact them individually.

I met with the mayor in his office.

After our presentation to the Council, we won a unanimous 7-0 vote.  It was one of the great moments of my life!

The elders of that church and I had a lot to learn after our defeat before the planning commission … and after we did our homework, God blessed us with a favorable decision.

But when a church board is having trouble with their pastor … and if they’re thinking about forcing him to leave … the last thing many boards do is ask outsiders for counsel.

Why don’t boards ask for counsel?

*Some board members think, “We have to keep everything confidential.  We don’t want anyone to know what’s happening between us and the pastor.”  They may be concerned about their own reputations … that they won’t be perceived as competent managers or peaceful believers.

*Others boards think, “We don’t need any outside counsel.  Just look at the composition of this board: a CEO, an attorney, a salesman, two small business owners, a school principal, and an accountant.  We’re all professionals.  We know what to do with wayward employees.”

*Still others think, “I suppose we could contact an outside consultant, but we know more about our church and our pastor than that person ever will.”

*The pastor probably knows who could be contacted for counsel, but the board won’t be inclined to consult with his network.

*And because of the nature of the conflict, the board can’t ask the pastor for help … even though he might be able to help them more than anybody else.

There are several problems with this kind of thinking among board members:

*For starters, a church is not strictly a business.  While it shouldn’t be run like a bad business, the purpose of a church isn’t to make money or reward investors, but to transform people’s lives spiritually.  Just because board members have experience in the “real world” doesn’t mean they understand the unique dynamics inside a congregation.

*Many people in a church view their congregation more as a family than a business.  Their relationships … including their relationship with the pastor … are on their frontal lobes far more than the church’s budget or buildings.  Most people will view a board-pastor clash negatively … no matter how the board frames it … because it will disrupt that “family feeling.”

*Although pastoral terminations are an increasingly common occurrence in the Christian community, the great majority of churchgoers … including board members … have never experienced the aftermath of a termination before.  They may feel that they can control the narrative and keep everyone in the church united, but they are woefully unprepared for the unpredictable events that happen after the pastor leaves.

For example, I was once thinking about firing a staff member, so I consulted with an experienced pastor.  He told me, “Well, after you let this person go, you’ll have three tough months, and then things will revert to normal.”  But when a board dismisses a pastor, they might experience three tough years … or their church may never recover.

*Outside experts may not know much about “our church” and “our pastor,” but those who have studied even two or three terminations know infinitely more than those who have never experienced even one.

Those who contact me most often are pastors under fire … pastors who have just been terminated … and board members who are having trouble with their pastor – including those who may be thinking about forcing him to resign.

While asking questions about each situation, I am constantly amazed at how many church boards think they know what they’re doing even though they’re only consulting with themselves.

Allow me to share my experience from six-and-a-half years ago.

The conflict I experienced in my last church surfaced in October 2009.  At that time:

*I had been a pastor for 35 1/2 years … 10 1/2 years in that same church.

*I had a longtime interest and passion in church conflict and pastoral termination.

*I had watched three of the pastors I served under as a staff member suffer attacks.  One resigned under fire, while another was voted out of office.

*I had an extensive library on conflict and termination which I knew well … and that library grew significantly when I wrote my doctoral project.

*I had a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary with an emphasis on church conflict.

And yet, in the week following the surfacing of the conflict, I contacted 17 Christian leaders, asking for their counsel … including seminary professors, church consultants, megachurch pastors, and former board chairmen.

Why did I do that?

*I needed to know what was really going on.  I thought I knew, but I wasn’t completely sure.

*I was too close to the situation to see things objectively.  I needed the advice of people who could see both the conflict and my situation dispassionately.

*I needed to know what my next moves should be … and what I shouldn’t do or say.

*I also needed to know what might happen inside the congregation over the next few days.  For example, here’s what I wrote in my book Church Coup about a conversation I had with a church consultant who has since became a mentor:

“Wilson said that when the board met with the staff … that was a serious offense in our state.  If the board had acted in a similar fashion in a secular organization, the aggrieved person could have sued them for millions of dollars. Wilson also asked if I was pastor of the church founded by Norman, and when I confirmed that I was – and that the communication between us had become sparse – he wrote: ‘Does not surprise me on Norman – and I have a hunch that THEY have dialed him in!’ Wilson predicted that if the board resigned, thirty to fifty people would also leave with them, and those who were in touch with the Holy Spirit (especially those with the gift of showing mercy) would later tell me that they knew something was wrong but couldn’t put their finger on it.”

I then recounted another conversation:

“Later that morning, I had a conversation with someone (I’ll call him Richard) who runs a Christian consulting firm. Richard immediately asked me about the personal and vocational lives of the board members. He believed that what was happening in their private lives had a direct bearing on how they were handling church matters. Richard stated that many boards are struggling with three primary issues in our day: they experience fear because God is not big enough for them; they struggle with stewardship because they believe the church is ‘all about us’ and not a lost world; and they struggle with faith. Satan has figured out how to defeat us by using power as an aphrodisiac. Richard suggested that one way we could seek redress was through arbitration.”

Before a church board tries to force their pastor to quit … or fires him outright … they should consult with the following individuals:

*A labor attorney to make sure they’re “dotting their i’s” and “crossing their “t’s” legally.  This should also involve a thorough discussion of any relevant passages on pastor-church conflict in the bylaws.

*A biblical expert … maybe a seminary professor … who can tell them what Scripture does and doesn’t say about terminating a pastor.

*A church consultant who is well-versed in pastoral termination who can (a) help the board decide if the pastor needs to be corrected or fired, and (b) walk the board through how to take action so there is minimal harm done to the pastor, his family, and the congregation.

*Several experienced pastors who either know what it’s like to be under fire or who have undergone termination themselves.  Listening to such pastors will give the board increased sensitivity.

What about denominational executives, like a district minister?

Probably 90% of the time, they’ll side with the board instead of the pastor because (a) they just want the conflict to go away, (b) they don’t have a clue how to resolve matters, and (c) they just want to keep the money flowing from the church to district coffers.

What about contacting a former pastor from that church?

Most boards don’t know about the rivalries and jealousies between pastors from the same church.  For that reason, I don’t recommend this approach.

What about contacting a board member from a church that already terminated a pastor?

If the termination was just and handled thoughtfully … maybe.  But if the termination blew up in the board’s face … why go there?

How about contacting a Christian mediator?

If a board decides to go this route, they need to interview the mediator, and let the pastor interview him as well.  The board cannot force a mediator down the pastor’s throat … and vice versa.

What are the benefits of a board seeking outside counsel?

*The board learns better how pastors think.  For example, pastors are often thinking “outreach,” while board members are thinking “maintenance.”  How tragic to force out a pastor who is just trying to take Christ’s Great Commission seriously.

*The board expands their thinking from “let’s get rid of the pastor” to “we need to keep our church healthy during this process.”

*The board learns about the pitfalls and land mines involved in terminating a pastor.

*The board will hear differing approaches … giving them better options from which to choose.

*The board will learn how their own emotional reactions can blind them to reality.

*The board will learn the importance of giving the pastor a fair and just severance package if they choose termination.

Why don’t boards seek thorough and experienced counsel more often?

*Pride.  They don’t think they need any help.

*Consulting with outsiders takes time, and some board members are so anxious that they just want to get things over with.

*The board usually doesn’t have a budget for seeking outside help, but good counsel isn’t cheap.  Yet spending $5,000 to $10,000 now may save the church hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years.

*Many boards are too incompetent to know that they aren’t competent.

Where does God factor into all this?

I left this issue until last because, in my view, many boards that struggle with their pastor don’t consult with God and then do His will … they ask God to bless their decisions and then move full speed ahead.

And that’s why God doesn’t bless them when they move to remove their pastor.  They never asked God what they should do … they told God what they were going to do instead.

Personally, I think much of the time, the board wants to fire the pastor because they aren’t used to praying for him … they’re just used to complaining about him.

But if they really met and prayed for their pastor, do they expect that anything would change?

And if they don’t pray for him, what does that say about them?

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

A pastor friend recently send me his thoughts after an article I wrote on pastor-board conflict:

“I understand that the pastor has to have some level of accountability and I agree that this needs to be in place however; where is the level of accountability for the board??!!!  Why does the board get such freedom to govern as they see fit, and the pastor bend at their beckoning call?  When I first came into ministry 14 years ago, I was an idealist and wanted to touch lives, help as many people as I could, and set the world on fire for Jesus.  I still have fire for Jesus, but my flame for what happens behind the scenes in churches has grown very dim.  What I have discovered in my pastoral career is pastors who go into a pastorate full of desire and passion, many times must go through a board to get permission to do things in ministry.  The pastor may be the public figure, but the board runs the church with little to no accountability!!”

I’ve thought long and hard about this issue since my friend sent me his comments.  Here are five thoughts on this issue:

First, every church leader needs to be accountable to someone outside his/her group.

This means that:

*a ministry team leader should be accountable to a pastor … a staff member … or a board member.

*a staff member should be accountable to a higher-ranking staffer or the lead pastor.

*the pastor should report to someone … presumably the official board.  (If you want a miniscule church or a church split, make the pastor directly accountable to the congregation.)

*the board should account to another person/group as well, possibly depending upon who selected the board members.

When Paul laid out the qualifications for overseers/elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, he meant for Timothy and Titus to select those leaders.

In our day, that’s probably the equivalent of the lead pastor choosing the board members, which seems awkward because then he’s choosing his own supervisors!

As pastor, I always had veto power over board candidates, and used it often, though I probably let a few slip through the cracks that I shouldn’t have.

But churches ruled by congregational government usually vote on or verify the board members in an annual election.  It’s almost always a rubber stamp because I’ve never heard of any board candidate being voted down.  Most people simply don’t know enough about the leaders who are nominated to reject them … a flaw in our systems.

Second, this “accountability system” doesn’t work in actual practice for official boards.

I served in eight churches over a 36-year period in churches that espoused congregational government.

*The pastor was always accountable to the official board.

In my case, I submitted a written report to the board at every monthly meeting for years and years.  I knew that I was accountable to the board for all that I said and did.  If a board member had an issue with me, they knew they could speak with me directly or ask me a question in the presence of the other board members.  Because I kept the board current on my decisions and activities, I never had major problems with any boards until my last year in church ministry.

*The staff were always accountable to the lead pastor or the associate.

When I had just one or two staff members, they were always accountable directly to me as pastor.  When I had as many as ten staff members, most were still accountable directly to me, although I later asked several staffers to report to the associate pastor … a mistake on my part.

*The board was accountable to the congregation on paper … but rarely if ever reported anything to the church body as a whole … which gradually makes them feel as if they’re accountable to no one but themselves.

Third, the lack of board accountability is likely a major reason why so many pastors are forced out of office in our congregations today.

Think about this: who should the official board in a church account to?

Possible answers:

*Some might say, “The board is directly accountable to God Himself.”

But then why can’t the pastor be directly accountable to God as well?  As Pastor Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa used to ask pastors, “Who do you work for … the Lord or the board?”

But knowing human nature, most Christian leaders would say, “Since pastors occasionally go off track, they require immediate human accountability as well as ultimate divine accountability.”

If pastors require some level of human accountability, shouldn’t board members as well?

*Some might say, “Individual board members should be accountable to each other or to the board as a whole.”

But then why can’t staff members be accountable to each other rather than the pastor?  And why can’t the youth pastor account to other staff members rather than the lead pastor?

This might work at first, but over time … if board members are only accountable to themselves … they’ll go off the rails … no matter how “spiritual” they are.

All too many do.

*Some might say, “The official board should account to the congregation as a whole.”

And I agree.

And yet … this is either done rarely or poorly in churches with congregational government.

Why is this the case?

In most of my ministries, I as pastor became the official spokesperson for the board in public.  So when the board made a decision behind closed doors, I either volunteered or was assigned the duty of sharing that decision with our church family.

Sometimes I’d do that during the announcements on Sunday morning … or through an all-church email or letter … or through a handout in the Sunday bulletin.

Much of the time, I was more articulate than the chairman in public … and I had authority and credibility than most board members lacked.

But by always reporting board decisions to the church as a whole, I made a huge mistake … one that most pastors make:

My actions did not communicate to the congregation that the official board was accountable to the church as a whole.

Let’s say that the board decided that all greeters and ushers had to wear yellow shirts every Sunday, and that they wanted me as pastor to announce that decision during the next worship service.

Even if I said, “If you have any questions or comments about this decision, please contact one of our board members,” many people would be more likely to approach me because I’m the one who made the announcement.

It’s like I had an unspoken pact with the board: “You decide … I’ll announce.”

But in my mind, that seemingly insignificant pattern sends a strong message: the church board is not obligated to report their decisions to the congregation.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Fourth, the presumption is that since there is only one lead pastor along with multiple board members, there’s a check-and-balance system already built into board proceedings.

But I would strongly dispute this argument because without their pastor, church boards sometimes make horrendous decisions.

Ten years ago, I took a sabbatical for six weeks, and spent an entire month in Europe.

While I was gone, something unexpected happened at church, and two staff members went to the church board with a proposal that I would not have approved.

I wasn’t around to consult, so the board made a decision … the wrong one, in my view … and when I returned home, I had to try and undo the damage that was created … but my intervention-after-the-fact ultimately made things worse … even though I handled the situation as well as possible.

I’m not saying that church boards can’t make good decisions without their pastor, but they will always make better decisions with him than without him.

But when the board tries to make decisions about their pastor in secret … and without his wisdom and experience … their decisions may be based on business experience or raw emotion (think hatred or revenge) rather than Scripture or the church’s governing documents.

For that reason … and I’m just guessing here … I’d put it this way:

*When the pastor and board make decisions together, they have a 90% success rate.

*When the board makes decisions without their pastor, they have less than a 50% success rate.

Add to that last statement a couple of spiritually immature members … a degree of high anxiety … pressure from influential or wealthy churchgoers … and the feeling of, “If we get rid of the pastor, we’re in charge of the church now!” … and you can see how many church boards can slip into “termination thinking” without knowing the pitfalls ahead.

Finally, there are three possible solutions to the issue of board accountability:

*The board needs to make every decision in conjunction with their pastor.

Not the associate pastor … not a former pastor … not another church’s pastor … but their own pastor.

But if their pastor is guilty of a major offense, then it’s appropriate for them to meet without the pastor and consult outside Christian leaders – at least five, in my view – so the board doesn’t cherry pick someone they know will agree with them.

There is safety in multiple counselors.

*The board is accountable to a Conflict Resolution Group (call them the CRG) for the way they choose to handle conflict … especially anything involving the lead pastor.

I’ve made the case for this in articles over the past few weeks, but the CRG should serve as a watchdog concerning the process that the board uses whenever they engage in conflict management with the pastor, staff, or congregation.

*The board needs to report as many decisions as possible to the congregation as a whole.

In many churches, this is done on an annual basis through a verbal or written report, but this simply isn’t adequate.

If the pastor has to account to the board at every meeting – usually monthly – then why does the board only have to account to the congregation once a year?  Doesn’t that disparity lend itself to abuse?

If board members don’t interact with churchgoers regularly, they will be woefully out of touch, and in effect, minimize their chances of making God-blessed decisions.

Instead, the board should publish edited copies of their agenda before a meeting … and their minutes (edited) after a meeting … to anyone and everyone who wants a copy.  (Some boards post this information on a bulletin board, but I think it’s better nowadays to send the information via email to those who request it.)

Board members also need to publish their email addresses and let people know that they will read and respond to churchgoer concerns promptly.

The very act of being accountable on a monthly basis will keep board members on their ecclesiastical toes … help take stress off the pastor … and make for a more harmonious and productive church.

And if the board ever has to dismiss the pastor, they will already have a delivery system in place for reporting to the congregation.

There is nothing worse than a board never reporting to the congregation for a year or more … and then trying to establish accountability when they announce that the pastor has left the church.

This is one reason why all hell breaks loose after a pastor leaves: the board doesn’t have a track record of credibility with the congregation.

And what many, many boards do … sad to say … is to lie about the pastor … and destroy his reputation … as a way of covering up how badly they handled the conflict.

I’d love for what I’ve written to be the beginning of an honest conversation with my readers.

What works and doesn’t work for you in what I’ve written?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

This is my 500th blog article, and for the past few months, I’ve been thinking and praying about how I should mark this milestone.

After much reflection, I’ve decided to distill some of the things I’ve learned about pastoral termination that I haven’t written about before.

After earning a doctorate in church conflict … after writing a book called Church Coup … after providing counsel for scores of pastors and board members … and after writing all those blogs …  let me share with you five hidden realities surrounding pastoral termination today:

First, evangelical Christian churches rarely treat a pastor under fire justly.

When a faction inside a congregation attacks their pastor, they don’t consider treating him fairly … they just want him to meet their demands or resign.

When a staff member sabotages his pastor – personally or professionally – he’s not concerned about justice … he just wants to avoid doing what the pastor wants.

When a governing board prematurely forces their pastor to resign, they will avoid Scripture … ignore their governing documents … and later declare that everything they did was justified.

The standard seems to be “how we feel about the pastor” or “let’s make sure the pastor gets what he deserves” rather than anything related to Scripture or even love.

When a pastor is under fire inside his own church, all the rules tend to get tossed aside.

There should be a rulebook for treating a pastor under attack fairly … but most of the time, there isn’t.

I’ve written nearly 100 pages of such a rulebook, but haven’t been able to finish it.  If you think it’s important, please pray that the Lord will help me to get it done.

Ironically, mainline churches – which tend to be theologically liberal – treat their pastors much more fairly than evangelical churches … which claim to believe and practice divine truth.

By the way, I shouldn’t have to say this, but the goal of discipline/correction in the New Testament isn’t revenge, but restoration (Matthew 18:15-16; Galatians 6:1).  My guess it that at least 80% of the time, the restoration of a “wayward” pastor isn’t even considered by the governing board.

They just want him gone … and will use any weapon in their arsenal to accomplish their goal.

We can do better than this … much better.

Second, pastors who have been attacked in the past have a limited pain threshold.

A friend of mine called me several weeks ago and asked if I would be interested in becoming an interim pastor at a church not far from my home.

I didn’t have to think about it or even pray about it … my answer was a swift “No.”

I know some older pastors who have suffered through an unjust termination, and they love ministry so much that they are open to an interim position.

But I’m not … and maybe it goes back to something I learned from Jay Carty.

Jay Carty played basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1968-1969 season.  Lakers’ announcer Chick Hearn once nicknamed Carty “Golden Wheels” because he was so slow on the court.

Carty became a popular Christian speaker.  I once sat next to him at a pastors’ meeting (I told him I still had his autograph from that 68-69 season) and he told me this story:

He said that if you put a fly in a jar, the fly will try to fly out by hitting the lid of the jar once.  The fly will try again a second time, but after that, the fly will give up because it doesn’t want to go experience any more pain.

I’m unsure whether that’s how flies really act, but when it comes to church ministry, there’s definitely some truth there.

Back in the mid-1980s, I survived two separate attempts to get rid of me as pastor in the same church.  Both times, my antagonists left instead of me, but I was bruised and bloodied emotionally for months.

Somehow, God enabled me to lead the rebirth of that congregation (I contributed a chapter to Gary McIntosh’s book Make Room For the Boom … or Bust detailing what happened) but it about killed me.  A nationally-known church consultant told me, “It’s a wonder you’re still standing.”

Even though I was exhausted, a pastor friend told me, “I think you have one more church left in you.”

So I became the pastor of a congregation that seemed healthy.  Attendance and giving nearly doubled during my tenure … we built a new worship center … and we became the largest Protestant church in our city … but church leaders eventually turned on me, and even though I chose to resign, some people were pushing me toward the door … hard.

Even when you’re successful as a pastor, there’s a limit as to how much pain you can take before you reluctantly admit, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Three attacks and you’re out.

Third, the Christian community observes a “winner take all” mentality when it comes to pastoral termination.

When a pastor presides over a growing congregation, he will make enemies … on the staff, on the board, among key leaders … and if they pool their complaints, the pastor’s tenure may end swiftly and harshly.

I’m thinking of a megachurch pastor … one of the best Bible teachers I’ve ever heard … who was forced to resign because he tried to make changes to the worship service.  He received approvals through all the proper channels except he didn’t consult the people with old money … who no longer held official positions … and they made his life a living hell until he quit.

In the Christian community, pastors like that gifted megachurch minister are labeled “losers” if they’re forced out even when they have done nothing wrong.

I have a pastor friend who reads this blog who told me that for years, whenever he heard about a pastor who experienced an involuntary exit, my friend would think to himself, “What a loser.”

After it happened to him, he found himself singing a different tune.

However, the pastor who is pushed out of a church is a “loser” in one respect: he loses most of his church friends … his reputation … his income … his position … his house (sometimes) … his career (often) … and occasionally, even his wife … and all those losses together brand him in many people’s eyes as someone to be shunned and abandoned.

Yet it doesn’t matter if the pastor’s antagonists harassed him … lied about him … or misrepresented him … if he’s forced out, he’s the loser … and by default, those who successfully removed him are crowned the winners.

And in the words of the pop group Abba, “The Winner Takes it All.”

In the Christian world, people don’t care about the details of a pastor’s ouster … they only care about outcomes.

There’s only one problem with this shallow thinking:

By this reckoning, Jesus was a loser, too … as were His apostles.

Even though I was pushed out of my last ministry, I have never viewed myself as a “loser,” but I know that some do, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Except to say that the values of the evangelical community are often more tied to worldly success than biblical faithfulness.

Fourth, those who force out an innocent pastor should be exposed and asked to repent.

Here’s something I will never understand:

If a pastor starts bullying and manipulating people in his church, shouldn’t he be confronted and asked to repent?

Of course … and if he refuses to repent, he’s subject to being removed from office.

By the same token, if a group in a church … even if they’re the governing board … start bullying and manipulating the pastor behind-the-scenes, shouldn’t they be confronted and asked to repent as well?

Yes, they should … but if they’re successful in getting rid of their pastor, nobody will ever ask them to repent.

The governing board won’t.  The staff won’t.  The congregation won’t.  The district won’t.

Even if they know the facts, no single party will approach the pastor’s detractors because the pastor lost and his opponents won.

And in the evangelical world, that’s the end of the matter.  (Remember, according to 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, we’re not supposed to sue one another.)

In fact, if a church is denominational, the district minister will often spin the pastor’s departure and make him look bad … and make those who pushed out the pastor look good … even if the latter group acted wickedly.

I’ve seen this scenario played out scores of times over the years.

This kind of cover up … slander … and lying has nothing to do with biblical righteousness … and everything to do with crass politics.

District ministers in evangelical denominations (many of which are congregational in nature) like to say, “Oh, we can’t intervene in disputes in a local church.  We respect the autonomy of the local church.”

But that bromide is a lie.

Because district ministers do interfere in the lives of local churches (almost always behind closed doors) … and I can tell you story after story where that’s exactly what happened … including my own case.

I have learned over time that 90% of all district ministers handle church conflicts in a political way … not a spiritual way … because they aren’t interested in truth or righteousness … they’re interested in keeping donations flowing from the church to the district office to pay their salary.

And if they side with the pastor … or even hint he’s right and the board is wrong … he’s afraid the church will cut off those funds.

So he either remains silent or aligns himself with the church board … and nobody is asked to even consider their part in their pastor’s departure.

Because after the pastor is gone, the whole conflict can be blamed on him.

Finally, pastors get into trouble when they forget they are persons first, pastors second.

Nine months before I left my last ministry position, I was struggling with whether I could be a pastor anymore.

Instead of being a pastor, I longed to be just a person.

I didn’t want to be Pastor Jim … just Jim.

I would come home from a day at the church office … park my car in the garage … rush inside to eat dinner … and rush back to church for a meeting.

But I didn’t want to go to the meeting … I just wanted to stay home.

I began avoiding tasks I didn’t want to do … and avoiding people I didn’t want to see … and trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

Part of me wanted to tell the church board how I was feeling.  I knew I needed some time away to recover, but when I looked at the composition of the board, I decided I couldn’t risk telling them anything.

That particular group would not have understood.

I reasoned, “If I tell them how I am feeling … because they don’t seem to care for me as a person … they will probably fire me outright or force me to quit.”

And I couldn’t take the chance.

So I decided to tough it out and hope that I’d improve over time … and at times, I behaved uncharacteristically.

People like it when their pastor’s behavior is predictable.  When the pastor becomes unpredictable, some will clamor for him to leave.

I finally went to see a Christian counselor, who diagnosed me with a severe case of burnout … and said I was headed for a breakdown.

Thank God, I didn’t break down … not even when the conflict surfaced two months later … but I came awfully close.

I don’t blame the church board for my condition because I never told them about it … but I do blame them for not saying to me, “Hey, Jim, you don’t seem like yourself.  Are you okay?  Is something wrong?  Can we pray for you?”

There is no doubt that my burnout was the result of being overcommitted to my ministry.  I cared too much … and maybe that was my undoing, but I needed somebody to say, “Hey, it’s okay to back off … we’ll help carry the load.”

I wore the “pastor” hat too often … and longed to be just “Jim” … a normal, anonymous person … instead.

I finally got my wish.

_______________

This is my 500th blog article.  I started writing … with trepidation … in December 2010.

I wasn’t sure if anyone would find … much less read … anything that I wrote.  And because my son warned me that I would attract critics, I braced myself for mean-spirited comments that never came.

Some blog articles have done very well.  Some died the day I wrote them.  In the early days, I wrote three in five days.  Now I only have time for one per week.

From the beginning, my primary passion has been the relationship between pastors and their antagonists in a local church … especially those who pursue the pastor’s termination.

If you’re a subscriber, or an occasional reader, thank you so much for reading what I write.

I try to tell the truth with grace.

When you think about it, let me know if what I write is helpful.

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Not long ago, a pastor told me that a key leader in his church was angry with him.

When I asked the pastor why, he replied that he had refused to marry that leader’s daughter because her fiancée was not a professing believer.

The leader’s attitude seemed to be, “I help pay your salary and volunteer my time around here, so my daughter is entitled to be married in my home church by my pastor.”

The pastor’s attitude seemed to be, “I promised to obey the Word of God at my ordination, and since Scripture forbids the marriage of a believer to an unbeliever, I cannot in good conscience perform that wedding.”

I’ve had church members say to me, “Come on, pastor, can’t you be flexible in this case?  It would really mean a lot to our family.”

I understand that sentiment completely … but the answer still has to be “no.”

But when a pastor doesn’t do something that a prominent member wants him to do, conflict can easily break out.

Pastors are asked to do many things they simply cannot do, either because God’s Word condemns a practice, or because their conscience won’t permit them to do it.

For example, in the churches I’ve pastored, I’ve been asked to:

*Publicly support home schooling while condemning the public school system.

*Stop preaching on any topic that’s even remotely political.

*Give weekly altar calls.

*Forbid the youth from attending Christian rock concerts.

*Go back to singing the old hymns.

*Wear a suit every Sunday (long after I ditched the suit altogether).

*Insist that my two-year-old son sit in the morning worship service.

*Tell people at a funeral that their deceased loved one was in heaven when I didn’t know his/her spiritual condition.

In each of the above cases, I said “no.”

I’m sure that when I refused, I upset some people … but had I said, “Yes,” I would have upset even more.

And more than anything … especially on the preaching issue … I would have upset the Lord.

Most … if not all … pastors believe that they work primarily for the Lord.

So when a board member says to a pastor, “I insist you do this,” the pastor’s attitude may come off as, “I work for the Lord, not for you.”

That board member then interprets the pastor’s attitude as one of non-cooperation … or even defiance … and the board as a whole may start to think, “We can’t control this guy … and he seems insubordinate.  Let’s get rid of him.”

I believe that this independent/control dichotomy is one of the main reasons why there is so much friction between pastors and board members today.

The board forgets that their pastor has been called to ministry by Almighty God … and that call has been confirmed by God’s people through the process of ordination.

Ordination does not confer infallibility (nor insensitivity) on a pastor … but it does mean that the pastor’s call to lead and preach has been recognized by his home congregation.

My friend Charles Wickman, founder of the Pastor-in-Residence program and author of the book Pastors at Risk, told me on several occasions that he believes that every local church should celebrate the anniversary of their pastor’s call to ministry on an annual basis.   It’s a way of reminding the congregation, “This man isn’t ours to control.  This is God’s man.”

Yes, pastors need to be sensitive to the needs and wishes of the board, the staff, and the congregation … and sometimes, they aren’t.

For example, on one occasion, the elders of my church were evaluating my preaching at a retreat.  The quietest board member told me, “I don’t like it when you elevate your favorite baseball team at the expense of my favorite team.”

He was right …  I did that several times a year.

Since it wasn’t a big deal, I stopped.

But when a board member once told me that I couldn’t raise money … I was not a happy camper … and justifiably so.

While this topic needs further exploration, let me ask you:

Do you know how and when your pastor was called into ministry?

Before you insist that he follow your dictates, find out … and you just might learn why he acts the way he does.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: