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Posts Tagged ‘pastor staff conflict’

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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Out of all the types of conflict I endured during my 36 years in church ministry, I had more trouble with paid youth leaders than anyone else.

Whether they were called youth ministers … pastors … directors … or student ministry directors, I often struggled in my working relationship with them.

Did I try and micromanage them?

No.  I served three pastors as a youth pastor, and none of them micromanaged me, so I made sure to give them plenty of space to develop their own ministries.

Did I insist they work unreasonable hours?

No.  I expected that they would work a minimal number of hours, but I’ve never been a workaholic, and didn’t expect staff members to outwork me.

Did I yell at them in anger?

No.  I never yelled at any staff member.  There were times I felt like screaming, but by the grace of God, I kept it together.

Did I confront them unreasonably?

No.  Most of the time, if I had a concern or a question about their ministry, I’d walk down the hall and speak with them personally and directly in their office.

I tried to convey several basic expectations whenever I worked with a paid youth leader:

*I expect you to carry out our church’s mission and vision statements.

*I expect you and your adult leaders to attend at least one worship service on Sundays.

*I expect you to be present during office hours … which you set.

*I expect you to be present during staff meetings.

*I expect you to let me know what you’re doing in your ministry.

*I expect you to let me know of any potential problems with youth or their parents.  If you inform me right away about any possible blowback, I will back you to the hilt.

*I expect you to fight for your viewpoint on any area where we disagree, but once I’ve made a decision, I expect that you will abide by it.

Those seem like simple guidelines, don’t they?

Yet I was amazed at how often they were violated.

Most of the time, conflict occurred because the youth leader viewed himself as a pastor equal in authority to the lead pastor.

*The youth leader had his own congregation: the youth group.

*The youth leader had his own staff: adult volunteers.

*The youth leader had his own office and computer.

*The youth leader carried out ministry in specific church rooms.

*The youth leader ran his own budget and planned his own events.

*The youth leader was viewed as “our pastor” by his adult volunteers and young people.

But the youth leader didn’t like having to be accountable to anyone … much less the lead pastor.

I saw this latter point demonstrated over and over again.

*One youth leader went on vacation for two weeks without asking my permission.  He had only been on the job for two months.

*One youth leader told me he no longer believed in our church’s mission/vision.

*One youth leader not only let his adult volunteers skip worship services, but started a home church with them without telling me.

*One youth leader purchased expensive equipment for youth ministry … then kept the equipment at his house.

*One youth leader shared a large room with other ministries, but refused to clean up after using it … even when I asked him to do so repeatedly … upsetting the rest of the staff.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Over time, paid youth leaders created a big headache for me.

On the one hand, everyone expected us to have a thriving youth ministry … especially the parents of middle school and high school parents.

On the other hand, I had to restrain myself from firing several leaders … even though they deserved it … because it takes a long time to find another one.

One time, we had a youth leader whom I really liked.  He was getting ready to graduate from seminary, and I offered him a job after graduation.  The youth group wasn’t big enough to support a full-time person, so I asked him to lead the youth and do some teaching for adults (teaching was his primary spiritual gift), but he refused.

Either he was going to work exclusively with the youth, or he wasn’t going to work at all.

I suspected that he didn’t want to be accountable to me as his supervisor, so I let him walk.

But after he left, boy, did I hear about it!

One parent … with whom I had always gotten along … raked me over the coals in an email, telling me that something was wrong with our church because we couldn’t seem to hold onto youth leaders.

The ensuing search took about a year.  After reviewing nearly 200 resumes, we brought eight different candidates to the church.

Either the youth didn’t think they were cool enough … or they made a bad impression on the staff … or they lacked solid character … or something wasn’t right.

Under pressure, we finally hired someone the kids thought was cool … but one of the adult volunteers came to me a year later and poured out instance after instance of unethical behavior … right at the beginning of the summer.

I took two days to investigate the charges.

Evidence in hand, I confronted the youth leader … who didn’t see anything wrong with anything he had done.  In fact, he later told me that I was the problem.

The youth leader deserved to be fired.  Immediately.  I asked pastor after pastor, “If this person did these things at your church, what would you do?”

Everyone said, “Fire him.”

But that meant that all the events the youth had planned for the summer would be cancelled because we didn’t have anyone else available who could step in.

Against my better judgment, I let him stay … and he ripped me to shreds in private … and a few months later, he finally resigned and left the church.

When I was a pastor, I suffered more sleepless nights over staff issues than anything else … and the majority of those times involved paid youth leaders.

Let me share four conclusions I’ve reached about lead pastors working with paid youth leaders:

First, most young spiritual leaders do not share the values of their pastor/supervisor.

A professor from my seminary told me that since many new students come to the school without a basic sense of morality or ethical behavior, the school puts them through a morality/ethics orientation class when they first arrive.

A Christian counselor told me that our culture is raising a generation of sociopaths who can’t distinguish right from wrong.

I noticed a pattern among several of the youth leaders I supervised: it was okay for them to cut ethical corners as long as they got the job done.

In their world, the ends did indeed justify the means … but not in my world.  (Is it okay for a youth pastor to use four-letter words on youth outings … or to drive well over the speed limit with youth in the car … or to trade equipment bought by the church without anyone’s permission?)

These scenarios raise a key question: should the pastor/supervisor adjust himself to his staff members, or should the staff members adjust themselves to their supervisor?

I stand in the latter camp, but my guess is that most young leaders are in the first camp.

Second, many in the Buster Generation act like they already know everything.

I believe that the Boomer Generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) were willing to learn from the previous generation (the Builders).

For example, Rick Warren (a Boomer) considered W. A. Criswell (a Builder) to be his father in the faith.

And when I was a youth pastor, I certainly obeyed my Builder pastors and submitted to their authority.

Maybe I’m wrong … or overgeneralizing … but I just haven’t seen the Buster Generation (those born between 1965 and 1983) wanting to learn nearly as much from the Boomers.

In fact, I’ve often said that the Busters act like world history began the day they were born.

I saw this attitude most often during staff meetings.  When a ministry dilemma came up, I’d share with the staff what I’d learned about an issue over the years, including mistakes I’d made.

The other staff members were usually appreciative, but many times, I watched the youth leaders roll their eyes and act like, “I don’t need to hear this from you.”

My kids are both Busters, and they’ve told me, “Dad, not everyone in our generation is like that.”  But sadly, all too many are.

I remember reading an article in a Christian magazine about ten years ago where the children of Boomer parents who attended my university severely criticized the way their parents’ generation did ministry … and these were kids in their early twenties.

Paid youth leaders can bring that same mindset into their relationship with their pastor.

Third, many in the Buster Generation hate the institutional church.

I can’t speak for Millennials here .. just for Busters.

Most of the youth leaders I knew did not like the structure of a local church.

They were happy to collect a salary from their church … while inwardly rebelling against it.

There are things that I don’t like about the institutional church as well.  Sometimes we’ve adopted a business model and superimposed it over the local church … and then tell people they have to support the institution with their attendance, time, and money.

That kind of mentality can drain the life out of a local church.

But I had one youth leader tell me that he didn’t believe in the institutional church anymore and that he was looking at other models instead.

That’s fine with me if you accompany that statement with your resignation … but not if you stay inside the church and undermine what we’re doing … which he did.

This disdain for structure and organization may explain why so many younger people choose missions over local church ministry.

I finally began telling rebellious youth leaders, “Look, if you just want to hang out with the youth, and you want nothing to do with the church as a whole, then take an offering every week among the youth, and whatever they put in will be your salary.  But as long as this church is paying your salary, you need to have some connection with the church as a whole.”

Finally, a church that finds a good youth leader should hold onto him for dear life.

I once asked a veteran youth pastor, “What should I look for in a potential youth person?”

He replied, “They have to love the Lord … and they have to love kids.”

I once knew a man who led the youth ministry at one of Orange County’s top churches.  As I recall, he was there for several decades … well into his fifties.

For a long time, I wondered, “How can the church employ someone that old?”

But he worked hard … he loved the kids … and his character was solid.

I don’t know the average tenure of a youth leader anymore, but it’s probably still less than a year.

Yet I subscribe to the axiom, “It is better to have no one than the wrong person.”

It’s tough being a youth leader.  You have to account to more people than anybody else in the church.

In one church where I worked with youth, I was accountable to the senior pastor … the Christian Education Committee chairman … the committee as a whole … the parents of the youth … and anybody who wanted to take a potshot at me.

With a youth group of 100 kids, I was out every Sunday night … every Wednesday night … most Friday or Saturday nights … and all while I was writing a seminary thesis … finishing work for my degree … trying to pay attention to my wife … and caring for our newborn son.

One December, I was out fifteen straight nights.  In the end, I couldn’t keep the pace, and longed to be a pastor somewhere … anywhere … with much less to do.

In my case, I was using youth ministry as a steppingstone to becoming a senior pastor … and I was very upfront about it.

But if you can find someone called to youth ministry who loves Jesus … loves kids … has a solid character … and willingly submits to one supervisor (usually the lead pastor) … then grab him … keep him happy … and never let him go.

Based on the way I was trained, I don’t know what I could have done differently with the various youth leaders I worked with.

I liked them personally.  I tried to spend time with them.  I listened to them.  I fought for them to be treated well.

And yet in the end, my efforts were never reciprocated … and I was often undermined.

My wife told me, “Jim, you’re too nice, and they’re taking advantage of your niceness.  You need to be tougher with them.”

Maybe she was right.

But I also have reason to believe that I was a father figure to most youth leaders, that they had trouble getting along with their own fathers, and that they projected those troubles onto me.

A former missionary once told me, “We could win the world for Christ if missionaries could just get along.”

A corollary might be, “We could have far healthier and better churches if pastors and their staff members could just get along.”

And in my case, that refers specifically to youth leaders.

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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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Remember your first job?

I worked for a butcher’s shop for $1.00 an hour … then washed dishes for three days at a restaurant (quitting because the hours were too late) … then washed vehicles for a few days … then worked for McDonald’s for two long years.

At 19, I was hired by the elders of my church to work with high school and college students for the summer.  At that end of that period, I was hired to work with those same students permanently.

I was a youth pastor in three churches … and later a teaching pastor and an associate pastor.

The sum total of my staff assignments was 10 1/2 years.

And I served another 25 years as a solo or senior pastor.

So I have a pretty good idea what it’s like to be a staff member as well as the lead pastor in a church.

As a youth pastor, I tried to do whatever my pastor asked me to do.

I didn’t pull any passive-aggressive stuff … agreeing to carry out the pastor’s wishes while later refusing to do so.

I wanted to please my pastor … and keep my job.

But as I’ve learned over the years, not all staff members have that attitude … which is why pastors and staffers clash far more than most churchgoers know.

In my previous article, I told the story of a youth pastor (let’s call him Frank) who wasn’t coming into his office at church to work.  Even though his pastor (let’s call him Rick) told him that he needed to clear time off with him first, Pastor Frank chose to ignore Pastor Rick’s directive.

After the pastor tried to clarify matters with Frank, Frank called a board member (let’s call him Joe) who had two kids in the youth group.  Frank told Joe that Pastor Rick had unfairly singled him out for correction and that he was so upset about Rick’s action that he was thinking about leaving the church.

Joe assured Frank that his kids loved him and that he would make sure Frank’s job was safe.

At the next board meeting, during his monthly report, the pastor informed the board of the latest incident with Frank.  Most board members asked a few questions but left staff management in his experienced hands.

But after the meeting, Joe called Frank to tell him that “the pastor is out to get you” and “my family won’t let that happen.”

Because Frank sensed total support from Joe, he felt he had cart blanche to act any way he wanted, even if he resisted the pastor’s supervision.

When Pastor Rick met with Frank every week, Rick could sense that Frank was no longer cooperative.  Rick didn’t know what was happening.

In actuality, the pastor had been “triangled” by the youth pastor.  Because Rick and Frank weren’t getting along, Frank sought out a third party to assume responsibility for their relationship … and Joe played his part just as Frank hoped.

So instead of the pastor supervising the youth pastor … with the board member as the pastor’s ally … now it’s the board member linking arms with the youth pastor against the pastor.

And now, my friends, you have the makings of a classic showdown.

Frank gradually pulls away from Rick altogether, missing staff meetings and avoiding conversations with the pastor.  Rick notices the change but doesn’t know what to do because he can sense not all board members are behind him.

After several months of this cold war, Rick schedules an appointment with Frank for lunch on Wednesday.

When the pastor arrives at the restaurant, he’s greeted by the youth pastor … and two board members, including Joe.

The pastor is now in a serious double bind.

On the one hand, he needs to regain control of his relationship with the youth pastor, even if he has to fire him.

But on the other hand, if Rick does dismiss Frank, those two board members … and their families … and other board members … and their families … and other students … and their families and friends … may all leave the church together.

They will claim that Pastor Rick mistreated Frank.

They might even insinuate that the pastor is mistreating other staff members.

They may even consider taking action against the pastor rather than let the youth pastor leave.

This is going to be a very difficult situation to resolve.

How can this showdown be resolved in a way that honors the Lord, respects all parties involved, and preserves church unity?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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