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Posts Tagged ‘pastoral termination’

While sweeping the kitchen floor yesterday, it came to me that I’ve been in a really good place emotionally for the past several years.

After serving as a pastor for 36 years, I was forced out of my last congregation in the fall of 2009.  Of the scores of stories I’ve heard about pastors being terminated since my departure, mine still ranks among the top three worst stories I’ve ever heard.

Despite ten-and-a-half years of successful ministry, my wife and I were abused … slandered … hated … and shunned, especially during our last few weeks at the church and in the months following.

And yet today, I feel completely healed, to the point that I don’t think about those events much anymore.

What kind of stages does a terminated pastor go through to experience recovery?

Let me offer six stages … three today, three next week … and these ideas are mine alone:

Stage 1: Shock

As recounted in my book Church Coup, my fifty-day conflict began on a Saturday morning with a regularly scheduled board meeting.  The board and I were supposed to finalize the church budget for 2010 … only the board made an announcement ultimately designed to push me out of my position.

I was shocked that:

*the board had been plotting while I was overseas.

*two board members who had been supporters were involved.

*the board didn’t hear my side of the story before making drastic decisions.

*they thought they could lead the church better than I could.

*they acted like they knew what they were doing when they really didn’t.

My disbelief continued when I asked the board for documentation of the offenses they claimed had been committed … but they never produced anything coherent.

I thought I knew the six members of the board pretty well, but I was dismayed to discover I didn’t.

And I was especially shocked because I didn’t see the conflict coming.

But most of all, I found it hard to believe that Christian leaders would treat their pastor of more than a decade in such an unjust fashion.

What do I mean by “unjust?”

A pastor is treated unjustly when church leaders violate Scripture … the church’s governing documents … and labor law in their attempts to force him out of office … and when they do it all with a cold, calloused attitude lacking in compassion.

When I talk with pastors who have been forced to leave their churches, they resonate best with that last statement: that they would be treated so unjustly by professing Christians.

The shock lingers on … for months … sometimes years.

The more sensitive you are, the longer it lasts.

You never forget the moment you’re told that someone you loved suddenly died.

And you never forget the exact time a board member tells you, “Your tenure as the pastor of this church is over.”

Stage 2: Searching

After the shock wore off a little, I had two primary questions I needed answers to:

*Who was in on this plot?

*What are they saying that I did wrong?

I wanted to know the “who” before I discovered the “what” because most of the time, the “who” determines the “what.”

For example, if you told two women, “Jim did this … can you believe it?”, one woman might say, “That’s terrible!” and the other woman might say, “That’s nothing!”

It’s often how people interpret the information they’re given that determines whether they oppose or support their pastor.

So who wanted me gone?

I pretty much knew the answer to that question:

*people who wanted our church to have closer denominational ties.

*a handful of individuals I wouldn’t let into church leadership because they didn’t meet the biblical qualifications.

*people who had close ties with my predecessor and longed for his return, even though he had officially retired nine years beforehand.

*a small contingent who didn’t think my wife should be a staff member, even though she made the church go.  (I maintain to this day that some women were jealous of her success and hated her because of it.)

*people who didn’t like the church’s longstanding outreach orientation and wanted to pare down the church so they could better control it.

In a few cases, some people fit all five categories.

Some people weren’t comfortable with the church’s size anymore because they became small fish in a larger pond.  They felt more significant years before … and wanted to feel that way again.

What did they say I did wrong?

There are two sets of answers to this question … what they said while I was still at the church and what they said after I left.

While I was still at the church, the main issue was that my wife was on the church staff … and seemed to have too much influence.

And after that infamous board meeting I mentioned above, I was accused of deviating from the way the board wanted the conflict handled.

What did they want?

My wife’s resignation, followed by my own.  (And I’m convinced the board would not have offered me any kind of reasonable separation package.)

But neither one of us was going to leave voluntarily until the board made their case to our faces.

Two board members met with my wife … at my request … but they failed to convince her to resign.

And they never accused me of doing anything wrong to my face … only behind my back.

Months after I left, I was told that a small group in the church wanted to remove me from office, but they knew they couldn’t win the required vote so they decided to attack my wife instead.

That’s valuable information to have.  It’s hard enough for a pastor to leave a church under pressure … but if you don’t know why you were pushed out, you’ll spend months … if not years … blaming yourself when you don’t know the truth.

And then after I left, I was accused of all kinds of wrongdoing.  You name it, I supposedly did it.

For example, several people of influence claimed that when we built our new worship center, we should have paid for the whole thing in cash.

That would have been nice, but that wasn’t the position of the church board at the time.

Even though we raised more than half the funds, the church voted unanimously to take out a reasonable mortgage for the remaining balance.

And when I was pastor, we had plenty of people and plenty of income to pay that mortgage.

The company that loaned the church the money wanted to make sure that I had no plans to leave the church … that I was going to stay and keep the church stable.

I gave my word that I would stay … but after I was forced out, attendance and giving eventually went down … and from what I understand, the church had some challenges paying that monthly mortgage.

And some claimed that was 100% my fault.

But to this day, nobody has ever convinced me that I did anything worthy of leaving.

If anything, people’s false accusations were designed to make themselves feel better, even though they railroaded an innocent pastor.

Faultless?  No.  Flawed?  Yes.

But guilty?  No.

This stage … trying to figure out who opposed you and why … is so painful that many pastors never work through it.

It’s like being married for years to someone, and then they want you to leave the house … without any explanation.

For me, I wanted to know the truth, painful as it might be, so that I could heal.

Stage 3: Panic

There are two primary kinds of panic after a pastor has been terminated:

*Emotional panic

*Economic panic

Emotionally, you feel rejected.  Months or years before, the congregation voted you into office, and people were glad you came.

But now some … or many … are equally glad you’re gone.

When a pastor is pushed out of a church, there is usually betrayal involved … and nothing hurts more than that.

Someone you worked with … someone you trusted … someone you socialized with and prayed with … suddenly switched sides and joined forces with those who wanted to take you out … and you didn’t know when or why they flipped.

It could be the board chairman … the associate pastor … the church treasurer … or the head of men’s ministry.

Eleven of His disciples stuck with Jesus in the Garden.  Only Judas switched sides.

But how that must have devastated Jesus!

When I was a kid, I betrayed a friend, and couldn’t believe what I had done.  From that moment on, I determined that if someone was really my friend, I would stay loyal to them no matter what … and that included the five lead pastors I served under.

So to this day, I can’t understand why betrayal came so easily to some adults.

Why did they have to hold secret meetings?  Why didn’t they speak with me face to face?

Economically, a pastor depends upon the donations from people inside his church … and when he’s forced out of office, those donations disappear.

If a pastor is given enough severance … a minimum of six months … then he can methodically put together a plan to rebuild his life.

But if he’s only given three months … or less … the combination of emotional rejection and economic deprivation can cause him unbearable stress.

If the pastor has sufficient savings … if his wife has a job with a solid income … if he has skills that he can quickly use in the marketplace … his panic will lessen.

But most pastors are living paycheck to paycheck, and if they’re given a token severance … or none at all … they feel as if they’re in real trouble.

Why do terminated pastors feel such panic?

Because they trained and studied for years … went through the ordination process … sacrificed financially … gave their all to their congregation, trusting that they would care for their pastor … and then found themselves kicked to the curb.

My wife and I now run a business where we invoice our clients every month.  We provide a service, and they pay us for that service.  And when our clients fall behind on their payments, we remind them of their obligations.

But to have your income depend completely upon donations, as I did for 36 years … it takes great faith to believe that God will take care of you through His people.

And when it all turns south, it can cause even the best of pastors to become alarmed.

I will share the next three stages next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back in the 1990s, I read a little sidebar in Leadership Journal written by Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  I recounted this story often over the ensuing years.

Hybels wrote that he briefly visited the church campus for a rehearsal one week night.  The next morning, he received a note in his box from a church groundskeeper.  The note said, “Bill, when you visited last night, you parked in an area that’s off limits to everyone.  Just wanted you to know.”

Instead of lashing out at him, Hybels commended his corrector and told his Leadership audience, “I need to be an example, not an exception.”

And for decades, Pastor Bill from Willow has been an example of Christian leadership … until the recent revelations that may indicate inappropriate conduct on his part toward at least seven women.

There’s much we don’t know about what happened between Hybels and the women who have gone public with their concerns.  Maybe more revelations will surface in the coming days.  And I must confess … it’s difficult to analyze this situation from a distance.  But many people I know have been talking about it … with strong reactions on all sides … and I’ve learned a lot by listening to their observations.

I have no inside or additional information … just my own perspective about this situation.

Willow Creek June 14-15, 2005 006(I’m adding a few photos I took from Willow in 2005 to break up this article.)

Let me pose and attempt to answer four questions about the Willow “train wreck”:

First, what do you think about the accounts of impropriety from various women?

At first, like many people, I didn’t want to believe the charges against Hybels.  We don’t have any video of Hybels’ individual encounters with these women, so they initially fall into a “he said, she said” category.  But when seven women share their stories, and patterns emerge from their narratives, the similarities are most likely true.

*The accounts told by various women go back as far as the mid-1980s through at least 2011, so Hybels can’t claim they all happened when he was younger (and didn’t know the boundaries) nor when he was older (and his judgment was worn down).  The accounts spread over nearly three decades seem to indicate a pattern of behavior.

*The accounts are too detailed and concrete to be dismissed as a conspiracy.  What dismays many of us is that the allegations don’t sound like the Hybels that thousands of us respected.  I have a friend whose wife was in Hybels’ youth group and she says he never would have acted like these women claim he did.  Did something change over the years?

*I can’t wrap my head around why Hybels liked to tell select women how attractive or sexy they were, but Willow’s leaders have had a track record of focusing on the outward appearance of their public leaders.

Twenty-five years ago this month, someone who used to attend Willow hired one of Hybels’ former top leaders to serve as a consultant for our new church.  One of the consultant’s recommendations was to keep those who weren’t “in shape” off the stage, especially if they were singing or acting in a drama.  When I unwisely tried to implement this “Willow value,” a good couple immediately left the church, and I alienated one of the elders as well as some others … and I’ve regretted it ever since.

Maureen Girkins, former publisher from Zondervan, says Hybels told her that “she’d be more successful if she tried to be sexier.”  A Christian leader might think that, but to say it aloud?

*Several women mentioned that Hybels told them how unhappy he was at home.  Many of us in ministry know that the pathway to an affair starts with both the pastor and another woman sharing their marital unhappiness with each other.  It’s dangerous territory.  Why did Hybels, of all people, take that risk?

I attended the first International Conference at Willow in June 1994.  Hybels met with a group of pastors one afternoon and told us that he was in counseling for some “junk” from his past and that he and his wife were in counseling as well.  He was very transparent about his problems even though he and Lynne had written their marriage book Fit to be Tied the previous year.

I think it’s safe to say that this ministry couple had ongoing struggles in their relationship, although that’s not uncommon.

*As Christianity Today noted, “Hybels pressured women into spending time alone with him.”  This sounds like more than mentoring.  He comes off as a man who needed a friend, someone who could understand him.  I’m not trying to minimize his actions … just trying to figure out what he was after.  Was he looking for a listening ear or a wifely upgrade?

*Was anyone else disturbed by several accounts of staffers telling various women that they were “Hybels’ type?”  When a Christian leader gets married, shouldn’t his wife be “his type” from that moment on?  If this detail is true, it sounds like something that would happen in middle school, not in one of the nation’s largest churches.

Hybels wrote books with the following titles, among many others: Christians in a Sex-Crazed Culture; Honest to God?; Descending Into Greatness; and Character: Who You Are When No One’s Looking.  Right now, those titles look a bit ironic.

Willow Creek June 14-15, 2005 007

Second, if these accounts sound plausible, why did Hybels vehemently deny them all?

I can only guess.

Bill Hybels is the most transparent and vulnerable pastor that I’ve ever heard.  At the large-group gathering of pastors at the 1994 Conference, someone asked Hybels how he could be so transparent.  His answer?  He said something like, “It takes too much energy to hide things.”  While I enjoyed the creativity of Willow’s services … their core value of “people matter to God” … and the excellence with which they did everything … I was most impressed with the leadership’s authenticity, which sprang from their senior pastor.

So if Hybels was guilty of any of the infractions presented by these women, I would have expected him to confess, “I did say that … I didn’t do that … I may have done that.”

But that’s not what he did.  Instead, he initially issued a blanket denial, both to his congregation (including an online video) and to the Chicago Tribune, where he said:

“I want to speak to all the people around the country that have been misled … for the past four years and tell them in my voice, in as strong a voice as you’ll allow me to tell it, that the charges against me are false. There still to this day is not evidence of misconduct on my part.”

Why the initial denials?

*Is is possible there is a “megachurch morality?”  Let me share what happened to me eight years ago.

Seven months after I left my last ministry, I was still pretty raw emotionally.  A friend set up a meeting between me and a megachurch pastor.  We spent an hour in his office together.

At one point, the pastor told me a story … which I have since forgotten … but he then told me, “If you share this story with anybody else, and it gets back to me, I will deny it.”

I didn’t forget that statement.

That’s not the kind of thing a pastor with integrity would say.  He was telling me, “If what I’ve just shared resurfaces, I will tell a lie.”  It just rolled off his tongue like it was no big deal.

Is it possible that some megachurch pastors have a “I will protect my reputation and that of my church” at all costs mentality … even if it means lying?  Is this how they stay in power?

I admit this question is based on one incident … but it makes me wonder.

One of my mentors … a man I respect as much as anyone … recently told me that the entitled and privileged in the evangelical world constitute “one sicko sick system.”  I lack his knowledge of what happens on the inside of a very large church, so I’m unsure what to think.

*Is it possible that Willow had a “buddy culture?”  Jodi Walle was John Ortberg’s executive assistant at Willow for seven years.  She writes in this piece on her website (www.jodiwalle.com), “There was probably a naïve ‘buddy’ culture that didn’t place enough emphasis on male vs female.  It shows that Bill was possibly more relaxed and felt too comfortable with women …”

Yes, some of the accusations might have occurred in the context of a “buddy” culture, and Walle wrote her piece before the April 21 revelations from Christianity Today.  But Zondervan publisher Maureen Girkins certainly wasn’t part of that culture.

But the women must have been equally relaxed with Hybels to run with him alone or to visit his hotel room when summoned.  Yes, he held a degree of power over some of them, but didn’t they think twice about such arrangements?  What was wrong with saying, “I’m not comfortable doing this or being here?”

*If Hybels had admitted publicly to any kind of wrongdoing, how would his confession(s) have been received?

Let’s go back to when Hybels’ accusers first went public.  If Hybels had said at that time, “Look, I didn’t use my best judgment in these situations, and I want to apologize to these women personally, and if necessary, in the presence of the elders.”

What would have happened?

I don’t know.  My hope is that upon hearing Hybels’ confession, each woman would have forgiven him completely, and that would have settled the matter.

But what if Hybels and/or the elders feared that if he admitted any wrongdoing … no matter how small … there would have been calls for his termination or resignation?

If Hybels had admitted some degree of culpability … and it somehow became public … he had no way of knowing what the aftermath of his admission might be.  What if someone refused to forgive him and sought revenge instead?

It’s easy to say, “Well, he shouldn’t think about the consequences.  He should just admit his sin and take his lumps like a man.”

But Hybels wasn’t the pastor of an average church, but the leader of one of America’s most influential churches … one that’s become a movement … with an association of churches … and one that trains thousands of leaders.

In a very real way, Hybels was Willow to tens of thousands of people … but if Hybels went down, Willow and all its ministries would be negatively affected … possibly for years.

None of us can say how those admissions would have been used.  Hybels had to have his eye on his succession plan and planned retirement, and knew that in the present cultural climate, even a private admission on his part about a sensitive issue could go public and put Willow and its Association in jeopardy.

I am not saying that Hybels chose to lie.  And I am not saying that he was even conscious that he had done anything wrong.  (It’s easy to rationalize a host of misbehaviors if you’ve been operating under a “buddy culture.”)

But he and the elders had to know that in this particular area … misconduct toward women … it doesn’t take much for people to coalesce against a common opponent … and for the target of their wrath to become toast.

We all watched the dissolution of Mars Hill Church several years ago.  A church of 14,000 people and its satellite campuses vanished into nothingness seemingly overnight.

Willow may be constructed on a more robust foundation, but in today’s climate … especially with the viciousness of social media … anything is possible.

To Hybels’ credit, he finally made the following statements to his church on the night of his resignation:

“… I realize now that in certain settings and circumstances in the past I communicated things that were perceived in ways I did not intend, at times making people feel uncomfortable.  I was blind to this dynamic for far too long.  For that I’m very sorry.”

He continued:

“… I too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.  I was, at times, naive about the dynamics those situations created.  I’m sorry for the lack of wisdom on my part.  I commit to never putting myself in similar situations in the future.”

This is a good start.  As the elders listen to the stories of other women, and as Hybels goes through a time of reflection, let’s pray that this conflict can be eventually resolved.

Willow Creek June 14-15, 2005 017

Third, how should Christians view the organized effort to damage Hybels?

More than eight years ago, a small, vocal group inside the church I served wanted to force me out as pastor.  They didn’t have anything on me, so they went after my wife … who was on the staff … instead.  (These events are recounted in my book Church Coup.)

From the moment the accusations against my wife surfaced, I knew that I would end up leaving.

I brought in a church consultant who did some interviews and attended two congregational meetings.  As a former pastor, he knew instinctively what the opposition was trying to accomplish, and spelled it out in his report.  He contained the damage and helped me negotiate an exit package.

But most of my supporters didn’t think matters were all that serious.  Some were trying to figure out how I could stay while addressing the concerns of the opposition.

But my opponents weren’t in a negotiating mood.  They had organized a plan to push me OUT … and the signs were all there.

I don’t know how much opposition Hybels had from within Willow, or whether anybody currently on the staff or elders wanted his scalp.

But I know the signs, and I don’t believe the group effort involving John Ortberg was just after repent/prevent … trying to get Hybels to repent so they could prevent others from being hurt.

In my view, they wanted to damage his reputation as well.

I have a pastor friend who believes that it takes a megachurch pastor like John Ortberg to confront a megachurch pastor like Bill Hybels.  And because I don’t understand “megachurch morality,” my friend may be right.

My friend also believes that Ortberg had nothing to gain by becoming involved in this situation, although I surmised some possibilities in my article from March 28.

But I’m looking for a biblical precedent here, and having a hard time seeing it.  As apostles, Paul and John took on troublemakers inside churches by name, even though they weren’t present in those churches … but does Hybels fit that category?  And has Ortberg been given the authority of an apostle in today’s Christian community?

Something just doesn’t feel right to me about this.

Several thoughts:

*Division inside a congregation begins when churchgoers pool their grievances against a common opponent … usually the pastor.  I throw my two complaints into the mix … you toss in your four … and pretty soon, we have a list of twenty-four grievances against the pastor … and our twenty-four look twelve times worse than my original two.

Now the pastor is a bad guy who has to go because he committed twenty-four offenses!

In the process, I allow myself to be triangled … to take responsibility for your pain … rather than encouraging you to work things out between you and your offender.

It’s far, far better … and much more biblical … for God’s people to implement Matthew 18:15-17 before they do anything else:

#Go to the pastor privately and directly (Jesus doesn’t exclude Christian leaders from His words) and try and get Him to repent.

#If he won’t listen, take one or two more with you and try again.

#If he still won’t listen, tell the entire congregation.  (At this point, the official church board would probably become involved, and try and speak with the pastor themselves.  If he wouldn’t repent, then they could call a meeting of the church.)

Were these steps followed by each of the initial four women?  I’m not saying they weren’t, but it bothers me in any church that people can latch onto a group that opposes a pastor before they’ve tried speaking with him themselves.  It’s all too easy for a person with one grievance to carry the grievances of others … and it expands the sense of injustice … although it does make people feel powerful.

In my case, no one ever implemented Matthew 18 and came to me directly.  The first time I heard any charges were in a public church meeting … but Jesus doesn’t begin by saying, “If your brother sins against you … tell it to the church.”

More than eight years later, I still feel horribly violated by those public charges … and by that power tactic.  So I can understand how angry Hybels felt when someone started calling pastors and Christian leaders and accusing him of impropriety.

But is it possible that either Hybels or the elders … or both … made it difficult for the women to come forward and share their stories?

*In the Christian community, a pastor’s attackers are rarely confronted or disciplined.  In my last ministry, even though their tactics were not loving or godly, my detractors were not corrected or warned.  Humanly speaking, they got away with it.  In fact, some were later rewarded and given places of leadership.

One of the last places an accused pastor can find “justice” is inside a local church.

In Deuteronomy 19:15-21, a false witness in ancient Israel was given the same punishment that would have been granted the accused.  But this rarely happens in the Christian community today.  Those who slander leaders are almost never dealt with.  A pastor who is publicly accused of wrongdoing is assumed to be guilty.  Thank God the report of Hybels having a ten-year affair was quickly rebutted by Willow’s elders or Hybels could have been forced out by a lie four years ago.

*Why did Hybels’ accusers need John Ortberg’s assistance to confront Hybels?

Both the secular and evangelical presses have melded the offended women and the Ortbergs (and the Mellados) together.

I’d like to separate them out for a moment.

I can understand how the initial four women felt wronged as they heard each other’s stories.  And I can understand how one or two of them might choose to represent their friends and approach Willow’s elders with their concerns.

But why bring in Hybels’ former colleague John Ortberg?  (I just noticed on Amazon that they co-wrote a book together.)  Or did he volunteer to help them?  And it seems all the more odd because neither Hybels nor the elders seemed to respond to Ortberg’s overtures very favorably … especially when he and his group issued their infamous five demands.  (Why did they think the elders would agree to them?  Or were they just posturing?)

The women may have been naive about how these things work, but Ortberg assuredly knew what would happen once the women’s claims against Hybels went public.  He knows how the game is played.

Jodi Walle, Ortberg’s executive assistant I mentioned earlier, wrote an open letter to him on her website.  She asked him:

“How is it that now you are the one to give women a voice?  We have a voice.  It’s our job to use it.  To be current and to go to someone if they have harmed us.  You have nothing to say about any of it.  If anything, you are part of the problem.”

But she could have added, “I know what you are doing, John.  You are pushing hard so that Bill resigns.”

There’s an untold story as to Ortberg’s motives that we may never know … and yes, I’ve read his explanation online.

But Jodi Walle’s open letter to Ortberg paints a different picture of him than some might imagine.  Yet so far, to my knowledge, nobody has addressed Walle’s revelations publicly.

Read it yourself at www.jodiwalle.com

I find the silence very telling.

Hybels alleges … and I have no reason to doubt him … that someone was calling pastors and Christian leaders about him over the past few years, but that kind of whispering campaign … and it was a campaign … was designed to ruin Hybels’ reputation.

And contacting the Chicago Tribune about the allegations was the coup de grace.  Who thought that was a good idea?

But guess what?  The tactic worked.  It usually does … and Ortberg, as an experienced pastor, had to know that.

Paul Simon once wrote and sang a song called, “Sure Don’t Feel Like Love.”

And contacting Christian leaders privately and going to a secular newspaper “sure don’t feel like love” either.

*There are two main ways of getting rid of a pastor when he has not done something clearly impeachable:

First, you gather together multiple charges.

In Hybels’ case, there has been one primary charge: his improper behavior toward women.  There haven’t been accusations (to my knowledge) of mishandling church funds, for example, but there have been various allegations of sexual impropriety.

Second, you gather together multiple accusers … like in the Bill Cosby case.  

And that’s what happened with Hybels as well.

But the better way … and the biblical way … is for each individual to deal with issues as they arise.

However … two women claimed they did confront Hybels about his behavior.  One was Julia Wilkins from the gym (mentioned in the latest Christianity Today article), and the other was Vonda Dyer (who wrote her own story online).  It took great courage for those women to go to Hybels … in his office … and confront him … but in neither case did the women report anything resembling an apology.

Having been a pastor for thirty-six years, I know how difficult it is for people inside a church to confront their pastor about wrongdoing.  I could probably count on two hands the number of people that came to me personally over the years, so they stand out in my mind … and I’m probably a gentler person than Hybels.

When he denied any wrongdoing, it’s hard for me to believe that Hybels couldn’t recall those confrontations … especially since both women could have escalated matters by approaching Willow’s elders instead.

Conflicts in churches could be avoided and resolved if people would just address matters as they occur … and that’s certainly what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:23-26, and what Paul taught in Ephesians 4:26-27.

The Bible doesn’t give us a specific statute of limitations on confronting those who may have harmed us, but to go back twenty years to complain about a comment the pastor made seems vengeful to me.

There are two surefire ways to destroy a relationship: make a long list of someone’s offenses and recite it back to them … and mention offenses they may have committed that go back many years.

This is the way the world works.  This isn’t supposed to be the way the church works.

I just wonder who is influencing whom.

Willow Creek Conference June 12-15, 2006 172

Finally, how should people handle their complaints against a pastor?

This is my own shorthand formula:

First, overlook citations.  Pastors are human.  They make mistakes.  They wear down.  They get silly sometimes.  They aren’t always at their best.  Not every “offense” is serious.

My wife leaves her shoes all over the house.  Sometimes I trip on them.  I’ve asked her for years to put them away, but her habits haven’t changed.

To get along, I’ve chosen to overlook the shoes.  It’s not that important.  And she’s chosen to overlook some poor habits of mine.

I’m not prepared to say how many of the accusations against Hybels fall into the citation category, but I can think of a few that caused me to say, “Oh, brother.  That’s just piling on.”

They should have been overlooked rather than tossed into the mix.

Second, confront misdemeanors.  When a pastor has hurt someone … and he may not be aware of that fact … the person offended needs to speak with him privately.  Isn’t that what Matthew 18:15 teaches?  The burden is on the one sinned against to initiate reconciliation.

Most offenses that a pastor commits are misdemeanors in nature.  The only way to restore matters is for the offended person to take the initiative and lovingly approach the offender.

I’ve had people confront me about things I’ve said or did that hurt them, and when I did wrong, I apologized and asked for their forgiveness.

But I’ve also had people confront me about things that I didn’t do or say, and I wouldn’t apologize just to make the matter go away.

Many years ago, on Easter Sunday, the church I was serving had just finished the first service.  The worship team met to evaluate that service and make adjustments for the second service.  Out of nowhere, a male vocalist (who had a handicap) accused me of saying something cruel about him.  To his credit, he confronted me right away, but I didn’t say what he thought he heard, nor would I ever have said it.

Yet he demanded that I apologize to him.  But should I have apologized to him if I didn’t say what he thought I did?

Pastors are accused of offenses all the time … a few to their face, most behind their back.  It’s why Paul wrote 1 Timothy 5:19-21.  My guess is that most of the offenses that a pastor is accused of fall into the misdemeanor category … but relatively few people will ever confront the pastor to make things right.

Instead, they sometimes elevate clear misdemeanors to personal felonies.

Third, investigate felonies.  Many years ago, a woman approached me with information about a member of our church staff.  To put it mildly, he was not the person he claimed to be.

I spent two days at home making phone calls and doing research to find out if her allegations were true … and they were.  Then I shared my written documentation with the church board and we created a plan to confront him with two of the allegations.

They were both serious enough to result in termination.

According to Deuteronomy 19:15-21, when a person was accused of a crime in Israel, the judges commissioned and carried out an investigation, then issued their findings.

Sometimes pastors are accused of serious matters, and the official church board has to investigate the charges.

There are three primary areas that should cause church leaders to investigate a pastor’s conduct: heresy, sexual immorality, and criminal behavior.

Sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual intercourse outside marriage all constitute felonies that usually result in the immediate dismissal of a pastor.  By this standard, no one has yet accused Hybels of any ministry felonies.

But … and this is the challenging part … they may feel like felonies to the women involved.  Otherwise, why go public with their accusations?

The elders at Willow launched an internal investigation and then hired an outside investigator to examine the initial charges against Hybels.  One might say that both investigations chose to overlook citations nor cite any felonies.

But it seems obvious now that Hybels committed at least some misdemeanors.  They shouldn’t have been overlooked.

But I believe the moment Hybels’ accusers went public, his ministry at Willow was finished.  That’s the era in which we now live.

_______________

Bill Hybels has a secure place in the history of the Christian church.  He has done enormous good for the kingdom of God, even though many people have questioned or disagreed with his methodologies.

I’d like to recount a well-known verse of Scripture … one that many of us learned as a child:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

I pray for Bill and Lynne Hybels and wish them well in the future.  And I pray that if Hybels sinned against any of the women who have come forward, that he would admit his wrongdoing and ask for their forgiveness.

And I also pray that the evangelical community, Willow Creek, and Hybels’ accusers can someday forgive him as well.

May this situation cause all of us to examine our own hearts and reexamine the way we deal with those who wrong us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was a pastor, a friend once approached me at a planning meeting and informed me, “Jill (who wasn’t a team member) is mad at you.”

My initial response was not, “Why is she mad at me?”

It was, “How many people has she told?”

Looking away, my friend used both fingers to count, and then replied, “Ten.”

At that point, I asked, “What did I do to upset her?”

My friend replied, “You didn’t say hi to her one Sunday.”

How was I supposed to respond to such a complaint?

I know some pastors who would have said, “Thank you, friend, for bringing this situation to my attention.  I will contact Jill as soon as possible and try and straighten this whole thing out.”

But I had learned a different … and far healthier … way to handle matters.

If Jill was upset with me, the onus was on her to contact me.  Isn’t that what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15?

“If your brother sins against you, go and reprove him in private.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

My response?

“Please tell Jill that if she’s really upset with me, she needs to tell me personally.  Otherwise, I will assume this isn’t an issue she really cares about.”

Jill never did contact me about that issue.

One of the characteristics of an unhealthy family is that family members fail to speak directly with the spouse or parent or child or sibling they’re upset with.

Instead, they share their feelings with other family members, but never with the object of their discontent.

A common scenario is that Brother Bill tells his Mother Mary that he’s upset with Sister Susie, but Bill never tells Susie directly.

And in many families, as soon as Bill leaves the house, Mary tells Susie what Bill told her.

But that kind of behavior doesn’t just happen in families … it also happens in churches … especially during major conflicts.

Nearly eight-and-a-half years ago, I called a meeting of our entire congregation to announce the resignations of the official church board as well as the associate pastor.

I didn’t want to make those announcements, but somebody had to do it, and as senior pastor, I was the logical choice.

Because the board members and associate pastor had resigned, their viewpoints and opinions should not have carried much, if any, weight with the congregation.

By resigning, they had forfeited their right to speak.  As church conflict expert Speed Leas observes:

“It is understandable that someone who is hurt, not helped, or bored by what is going on in a congregation may choose to leave it.  Indeed, it is understandable that one might choose to leave as a protest, hoping to influence the future policy or staffing.  However, it is not appropriate that once having abandoned the responsibility of running and paying for a church’s ministry, one should have equal weight in telling those who are maintaining it how to run it.  The right to confront an organization’s leadership comes with being responsible for its future.  Therefore, it is important to consider members’ current commitment when they advise what should be done in the future or complain about what has happened in the past.”

But there was someone in the church who had spoken with individuals from the former board as well as the ex-associate.

In my book Church Coup, I called him George.

George decided to stand up in the meeting and speak for the board members and the associate pastor.

In fact, he recited a litany of charges against me, charges he claimed came directly from the mouths of those seven former leaders.

But George’s behavior raised all kinds of problems:

Did the board members give George permission to speak for them?  How would the church know?

Did the associate give George permission to speak for him as well?

How accurately was George conveying their “charges?”  He wasn’t reading a letter from any of them but was rattling accusations off the top of his head.

If people needed evidence or clarification, how well could George represent those leaders?

There’s a word for George’s actions.  He was engaging in hearsay.

No one could verify the validity of George’s charges because he was speaking for people who were absent.

What if the board members or associate had lied to George?

What if George had misinterpreted what they were telling him?

And what if I wanted to respond to those charges?  How could George continue to speak for them?

And was George aware that this was the first time I had ever heard most of those complaints?

Speed Leas comments:

“It is difficult to be in contact with partners who have left the scene.  Sometimes people just drop out; they stop attending or participating in any church functions.  But other times they stay at home and participate by telephone.  Other people then come to the meetings bearing the grievances of dissatisfied persons who are not present to convey their views accurately and responsibly.  This kind of behavior is difficult and annoying to deal with.  Anonymous or relayed communications stay at the point where they began. . . . One bishop I know insists that the participants at conflict meetings only speak for themselves.  He strongly encourages them to make ‘I think,’ or ‘I believe,’ or ‘I know’ statements rather than remarks such as ‘Some people have said’ or ‘A lot of people are upset’ or ‘I am speaking for those who have spoken to me and are afraid to speak out.'”

The more anxious families become, the more they slide into dysfunction.

And the more stressed church families become, the more dysfunctionality becomes the norm.

When a conflict is about something unrelated to the pastor, he can present biblical ground rules for communication and encourage all parties to practice them.

But when the pastor becomes the target of a conflict, he cannot publicly advise the church on how to handle matters.

For a church to survive a public assault on their pastor, the congregation needs one or more godly, sensible individuals to stand up assertively to define what healthy and unhealthy behavior looks like.

Is there anyone like that in your church right now?

Let me encourage you.

If you’re upset with another brother or sister in Christ … even if they’re a leader … you have five options:

*Let it go.

*Tell the Lord alone.

*End the relationship.

*Leave the church.

*Speak with the person directly.

It’s okay to consult with a wise believer provided they can be trusted … but even after such a consultation, you’re still left with only five choices.

And if you’re asked to represent others in public, gently defer … or you’ll be caught in a triangle between two parties.

In Luke 12:13, someone came to Jesus and asked Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus responded, “Okay.  Just give me your address and I’ll go speak with him right now.”

No, Jesus didn’t do that!

Instead, He asked this question:

“Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

Even Jesus stayed out of family squabbles and relational triangles.

If the Son of God was unwilling to speak for others, we should follow His example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was in high school, there was a girl at my church who liked me … and I knew she did.

Because I didn’t feel the same way, I tried never to say or do anything that would make her think I wanted to be more than friends.

She ended up going to my college, although I didn’t recall seeing her around campus.

One afternoon, as I was getting in my car to drive home, she came running toward me and asked if she could speak with me.

She asked me to forgive her.

She confessed that she had liked me for a long time, but because I didn’t reciprocate, she came to hate me instead … and her hatred was eating away at her so much that she wanted to get rid of it … by telling me how she felt.

I verbally forgave her on the spot, which seemed to help her feel better, and she left with a heavy load removed from her shoulders … and transferred onto mine.

But I’ve always remembered that encounter.

The good: it took a lot of courage for her to track me down at school and speak with me, and I’m sure she felt better after our little talk … but I never saw her again.

The bad: I wish she hadn’t told me that she had hated me for several years.  I started wondering, “Who else hates me but hasn’t told me?”

Scripture encourages God’s people to deal with interpersonal issues as they arise.  Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27:

‘In your anger do not sin’; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Paul tells us four things in these two verses:

*It’s normal for believers to feel anger at times.

*It’s possible to be angry without sinning.

*We are commanded to resolve our anger before nightfall.

*When we let our anger fester, Satan gains an entry point into our lives.

Please note that pastors and church leaders are included – not excluded – in these verses.

Unresolved anger can turn into bitterness, and Satan loves to take one person’s bitterness and disseminate it throughout a family … or a church.

As I often say, division in a church starts when people begin to pool their grievances … usually against their pastor.

So God’s counsel to all of us is:

RESOLVE YOUR ANGRY FEELINGS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE … AND RESTORE BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS AT YOUR FIRST OPPORTUNITY.

If every Christian did this, we’d have fewer conflicts in churches, and fewer pastors would ever experience the heartbreak of a forced termination.

But many … if not most … believers fail to deal with offenses as they arise, so they hoard their grievances – which eats them up alive – and end up passing them on to others.

Bitterness then becomes a cancer that eats away at the joy and effectiveness of people’s lives.

People then tell themselves, “I can’t get rid of my anger until I get rid of the object of my anger” … in all too many cases, the pastor.

Let me share two stories that present opposite ways of handling an issue with a pastor.

The first story involves confronting a pastor immediately about an offense.

One Easter many years ago, a man in my church ended our first service with a performance song.  As the singers and musicians gathered at the front to receive directions for the second service, this gentleman approached me and accused me of saying something derogatory about him right after the service.

I assured the man that I did not say what he claimed, but he was adamant.  (It’s not something I would even think, much less say about another person.)

If I apologized to him, it would be a lie … but if I didn’t apologize to him, I knew he was going to spread my “offense” to as many people as possible.

I’m glad he came to me directly before he said anything to anyone else.

But he couldn’t have chosen a worse time.

I understand that singers and musicians can be very sensitive … especially on a big Sunday like Easter.

But pastors can be sensitive as well … especially right before or after they preach.

That’s a sacred time for a pastor.

I can remember times in my ministry where I was so shook up over something someone said before a sermon that I couldn’t wait to finish my sermon and go home.

One person’s need to “unload” can impact an entire congregation.

So if you do need to speak with your pastor about an issue you feel strongly about … wait until he’s done preaching for the day first … or you might indirectly harm your church family.

Or better yet … calm down … forgive him from the heart … and then either speak with him or let it go.

Dr. Archibald Hart believes that before we confront someone, we should first forgive them, and only then should we confront them.

Because otherwise, we may confront them in anger … as the singer did with me … and we end up making matters worse.

_______________

The second story involves waiting two decades to confront a pastor.

In his book Love in Hard Places, theologian D. A. Carson tells about the time a Christian friend took Carson aside.

The friend told Carson that he wanted a private word with him because Carson had offended him. So the two of them arranged a meeting, and Carson’s friend told Carson about an incident that had happened twenty-one years earlier.

Carson and his friend were having a theological discussion and his friend quoted a few words from an author who had written in French. Because Carson grew up speaking French, Carson repeated the French words after his friend because he was unconsciously correcting his pronunciation.

Carson’s friend didn’t say anything at the time, but several decades later, he told Carson, “I want you to know, Don, that I have not spoken another word of French from that day to this.”

Carson apologized for offending his friend, but upon later reflection, Carson felt “there was something profoundly evil about nurturing a resentment of this order for twenty-one years.”

After all, how can you even remember what happened if the incident occurred so long ago?

Hold onto that last line as you read the next story.

_______________

This is my concern about the “Me Too” movement in our culture right now.

It’s not only in the culture … it’s spread to Christ’s church as well.

WORLD Magazine – a Christian publication – ran an article recently that greatly disturbed me.

Twenty years ago, a twenty-two-year-old youth pastor took a seventeen-year-old high school senior girl on a date.

They parked on a secluded road.  He asked her to do something to him that was wrong.

She started doing it … he realized how wrong it was … and he got out of his car, collapsed, and repeated over and over how sorry he was.

This young man confessed his wrongdoing to the young woman.

He also apologized to the girl’s family and her discipleship group, as well as the church staff and the church leadership.

(Most people … even in ministry … would not speak to as many people as that young man did in admitting what he had done wrong.)

And when he admitted his sin, he lost his job.

(I might add, in that state, seventeen is still an age of legal consent.)

This young man ended up moving to another state and eventually becoming a staff member in another church.  Several decades later, he became a teaching pastor in that same church.

He is married with five sons.

The pastor believes that his sin “was dealt with … twenty years ago.”  He disclosed his sin to the leaders of his former church … to his wife before they married … and to the staff of his new church before joining the ministry.

The woman contends that the original church hid the youth pastor’s specific sin from the congregation and then allowed him to resign without public confession.  She claims they engaged in a “big cover up.”

But the pastor said, “Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with [her.]”

The pastor has been placed on a leave of absence.  There is now an online petition calling for the pastor’s resignation, and a book that he’s written has had its publication date canceled.

Because of the backlash of the Me Too movement, there is now a Christian backlash against this pastor as well.

What does this story tell us about the forgiveness of sin among believers … and pastors?

Maybe the following story can shed some light on this situation.

_______________

In his book Pleasing God, the late R. C. Sproul – one of my favorite theologians – tells the following story:

“When I was in seminary, I was a student minister in a small church.  I insulted the daughter of a woman who was a pillar of the church.  The daughter was deeply offended.  I went to her and apologized profusely.  She refused to forgive me.  I went two more times and apologized literally in tears.  Still she refused to forgive me.”

Sproul continues:

“Eventually, the time came for my monthly meeting with the minister who was my pastoral supervisor.  He was an eighty-five-year-old retired missionary who had spent fifty years in the interior of China and five of those years in a communist prison camp.  He was a man of extraordinary godliness.  I went to him with deep embarrassment for the mess I had made of my first pastoral experience.  I told him what I had done.  He listened carefully and then replied calmly: ‘Young man, you have made two serious mistakes.  The first is obvious.  You should not have insulted the daughter.  The second mistake is this: you should not have apologized three times.  After the first apology, the ball was in her court.  By refusing to forgive you, she is heaping coals of fire upon her head.'”

But … and I know this from firsthand experience … a single person who is angry with a pastor can destroy his reputation and career.

We’re living in the time of “one strike and you’re out … forever.”

Most of the time, if someone tries to destroy their pastor, they will indirectly destroy their church as well.

_______________

When I left my last church in December 2009, I knew what was going to happen.

Everybody and anybody who didn’t like me was going to float their grievances against me to others in the congregation.

Although I made mistakes during my 10 1/2 years in that church … as I did in every congregation … I felt I made far fewer mistakes there than in any church I’d ever served.

And yet, how ironic that soon after I left, I was charged with committing far more mistakes in that church than in all my other ministries combined.

When a pastor is charged with wrongdoing, those accusations may or may not say something about him … but they almost always say something profound about his accuser(s).

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15:

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

_______________

My wife and I just received a bill for nearly a thousand dollars.  It was for medical care that she had received fifteen months ago.

We were very upset about the bill, as you might imagine.

In fact, we were positive we had paid that bill completely.

My wife contacted the medical office, but they said that we owed the money.

When we did some research, we discovered that we did in fact owe the money … but that it took the medical office seven months to send the bill to us.

I hate it when that happens.

And I hate it when somebody hoards a grievance against me … especially when I assume that our relationship is fine … when it isn’t really fine at all.

It’s unbearable for a pastor to ask himself, “I wonder who is going to tell me that they hate me next?”

_______________

Pastors make mistakes, and they need to admit their mistakes … ask for forgiveness … and, if necessary, engage in restitution if it’s required.

But pastors aren’t angels, either, and when they sin and repent, they need to be forgiven … or their career and reputation can be destroyed.

I saw a video last night of a shepherd and his flock.  It’s here:

The flock knocks the shepherd over, but when he tries to get up, another sheep charges at the shepherd and knocks him down.

It’s actually pretty funny.

But what isn’t funny is when a pastor does something wrong … admits it … tries to make things right … and is knocked over by the sheep anyway.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was under attack eight years ago, nearly all of my supporters remained silent.

Someone stood up in two public meetings and rattled off a list of accusations against me … most of which I had never heard before.

It would have been easy for me to knock down each charge, but our paid consultant made me promise I wouldn’t say anything, so I remained silent.

But I wasn’t the only one who didn’t speak that day.

My supporters went silent as well.

As I listen to stories of pastors under attack, I often ask the pastor, “What percentage of people in your church are for you, and what percentage are against you?”

If the pastor thinks that at least 90% of the congregation supports him, that’s a good sign … and indicates that if push comes to shove, the pastor might be able to survive the attacks made against him.

But if the percentage is 75% support and 25% opposition … or worse … the pastor is going to have a tough time hanging on.

In my case, I was told at the time that 95% of the congregation supported me, and only 5% stood against me.  Out of 400 adults, that meant that 380 people were for me, while 20 people stood against me.

But in the end, those twenty won, and I and my 380 supporters lost.

When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, the percentages were greatly reversed.  Most of the people stood against Jesus, while His disciples went silent.

But in our day, the pastor almost always holds the numerical advantage, yet time after time, a small group of people send him packing.

Why do a pastor’s supporters go silent when he’s under attack?

Let me share four possible reasons:

First, they lack pertinent information.

The pastor knows he’s under attack.

The pastor’s family knows.

The church board assuredly knows.

The church staff probably knows.

The pastor’s attackers definitely know.

The attacker’s allies usually know.

But most of the rest of the church doesn’t know.

Why not?

Because the attacks originate and are perpetuated behind closed doors.

So when the pastor’s supporters finally hear about any accusations, the attackers have been discussing matters for weeks/months, while the pastor’s supporters are hearing about them for the first time.

In my case, my closest supporters were off-balance.  When they initially heard the accusations, they lacked prior knowledge that anything was amiss.

Those accusations knock a pastor’s supporters on their heels.  Even if they feel like supporting him completely, they start to ask themselves, “I wonder if those allegations could be true?”

If Satan has a strategy in these situations, it isn’t to make the pastor’s supporters fully believe the accusations.

No, it’s to make them hesitate defending their pastor.

Because when they hesitate, the momentum starts building against their beloved shepherd.

Second, they become overwhelmed by the attackers’ passion.

When people attack their pastor, they come off as confident … certain … and even crazy.

They claim to have information that the pastor’s supporters don’t have … and use the argument, “If you knew what we know, you’d join our merry band.”

The pastor’s opponents have been digging up dirt … talking to each other … and inciting each other to stand resolutely against their pastor for a long time.

So when they finally make their push to push out their minister, the attackers go on the offensive emotionally … and their approach often flummoxes the pastor’s supporters.

And those supporters have to ask themselves, “Why are these people so worked up?  Since they’re so emotional, maybe there’s something to their rantings.”

Nearly forty years ago, I was the only full-time staff member at my church.  A man approached me in the parking lot after the Sunday night service and told me that if the pastor didn’t start changing his behavior, ten percent of the congregation was going to leave the church.

My impression was that he was trying to recruit me to his cause … which was a lost cause … because I fully supported my pastor … even when I didn’t always agree with him.

But I’ll never forget how determined that man was … and such passion does make one think.

Third, they tend to cut off contact with their pastor.

When I was under attack eight years ago, my wife and I were told to stay away from the church campus while a new board was put in place.  (The old board had resigned en masse.)

However, we were not given a gag order.

While we hibernated at home, how many of our 380 supporters reached out to us?

Very few.

We did receive flowers a few times.

We received a few notes that said “we’re praying for you” or “we love you.”

We had a few people come to our door unannounced.

We received a handful of emails asking, “What’s going on here?”

But few of our supporters ever said, “We believe in you” or “we stand with you” or “we will defend you.”

Most stopped contacting us.

It felt like we were under house arrest.

In many churches, when the pastor is under attack, the church board explicitly tells people, “We do not want you contacting the pastor.”

To be fair, a team of five people had been appointed to investigate the charges against me, and I didn’t want to interfere with their investigation.  (And in the end, they eventually told the church that I was not guilty of any wrongdoing.)

But I felt isolated from the congregation I loved.

The worship team rehearsed in the worship center every Thursday evening.  One night, I was scheduled to meet with the new board, but they weren’t ready for me, so I had to hang around the campus … which I hadn’t done for many weeks.

People … even friends … avoided me.

One man came up to me … quietly hugged me … and moved on.

I felt like an outcast in my own congregation.

Church life was going on … but I wasn’t part of it anymore.

When the pastor is under attack, he is the best source of information to counter the charges of his opponents.

But because there’s a cloud hovering over him, most people circumvent him … and lose their best source of information to counter the allegations.

Finally, they don’t know what they’re allowed to say or do.

Just imagine.

Your pastor has been attacked in a public meeting.  You were there.

The charges don’t ring true … but what if they are true?

You’d like to tell your pastor that you’re praying for him, but you don’t want to bother him at home.

So you do nothing.

Yes, you talk to your good friends at church … but in hushed tones, because you don’t know what you’re allowed to say or do.

And you don’t want to make things worse for anybody.

I get all that.

In fact, members of the church board and staff sometimes tell interested lay people that they should stay silent because “you’re being divisive if you talk about this situation at all.”

But when the pastor’s opponents are vocal … and the pastor’s supporters go silent … the board and the staff can become influenced by the noise.

Rather than remaining silent, this is what I tell the pastor’s supporters to do:

*Locate the latest copy of your church’s governing documents … the constitution and bylaws.

Read and mark up the entire document.  Focus on two key areas.

First, note what the documents say about church discipline.

Second, note what they say about removing a pastor.

*Ask the church board/staff/office manager if the church has a special document delineating the process required to remove a pastor.  If so, ask for a copy.

YOU ARE NOT BEING DIVISIVE BY ASKING FOR THESE DOCUMENTS.  THAT’S WHAT A CARING, COMMITTED, RESPONSIBLE MEMBER SHOULD DO.

*If the pastor is under official investigation or discipline … or even if he has already resigned or been terminated … locate and ask a member of the official board or senior staff for a written copy of the process used to deal with the pastor.

I have encouraged many lay people to do this, and a few have been surprised when the board did produce such a document for them.

But others have been incensed when they discovered that the board wasn’t operating by any process … but were making it up as they went along … usually because they had already determined the pastor’s innocence or guilt based on their own feelings or friendships.

*While trying to discover the process being used, if you are stonewalled at every turn, I would inform the board that you will stop attending, serving, and giving until you are given a written copy of the process they are using.

And I would make a big deal about it with your mature friends.

I am not advocating making angry threats.

I am advocating that the official leaders need to know that they are being watched and that they will ultimately need to give an account to the congregation for their decisions.

IT’S A SERIOUS MATTER TO ACCUSE A PASTOR OF WRONGDOING, AND IN TODAY’S CLIMATE, ONE FALSE CHARGE CAN END A PASTOR’S CAREER … OR END A CHURCH’S VERY EXISTENCE.

In fact, I’d want to know:

*Are you basing your process on Scripture or business?

*Are you trying to restore or remove the pastor?

*Are you using a loving or a harsh approach?

Just read 1 Timothy 5:19-21 where Paul discusses the process of investigating charges against an elder/pastor.  Note especially verse 21:

“I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

Paul says, “The Father, Son, and angels are watching what you’re doing so you better do this fairly and wisely.”

Paul says to Timothy, “Make sure church leaders are never guilty of a process crime.”

There are a lot of pastors these days who are engaged in stupid or sinful practices, and some of them need to leave their church … or the ministry altogether.

But many more pastors are falsely accused of wrongdoing, and because church leaders botch the process, they botch the result as well.

Churchgoers need to let their leaders know, “I will be praying that you will make a just and loving decision concerning our pastor, but I expect that you will tell us the process you are using, and, when the time comes, that you will give as full an accounting of your deliberations as possible.”

AND IF YOU DO THAT, YOU JUST MIGHT SAVE YOUR PASTOR … AND YOUR CHURCH.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John MacArthur is a famous Bible teacher, pastor, and author.

And he sometimes intimidates me because he seems to be perpetually godly rather than human … and I have a hard time relating to people like that.

Yet MacArthur has certainly played a large part in my spiritual development.

When I was fourteen years of age, I went to Hume Lake Christian Camp for the first time.  John MacArthur was our guest speaker that week.

The first night, he shared about a car accident he once had that changed his life … and he did it with great humor … but his story really got my attention.

Later that week, MacArthur challenged us to read our Bibles every day, and I took his counsel to heart, rededicating my life to Jesus Christ.

When I entered Talbot Seminary (now School of Theology) in 1975, I was well aware of Talbot’s two most famous graduates: MacArthur and Josh McDowell.

MacArthur spoke in chapel one day on the glory of God.  Afterward, my friend Dave and I talked about what made MacArthur such an effective communicator.

To me, it was his authority … his certainty … that he believed what he was telling us with every fiber of his being.

Four years ago, my wife and I finally visited Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, where MacArthur pastors.  I wrote a blog article about our visit which you can read here:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2013/11/25/visiting-john-macarthur/

Several nights ago, this thought kept running through my mind: “I wonder if John MacArthur has any hobbies?”

While searching the internet, I ran across an interview MacArthur gave on his Grace to You radio program in 2004.  If the interview was designed to humanize MacArthur, it certainly succeeded.  The interview can be found here:

https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/80-33/John-MacArthurs-Life-Testimony

MacArthur shared again about the car accident that changed his life … about how he and his wife got together (even though she was engaged to someone else) … about another car accident that nearly took his wife’s life … and how Dr. Feinberg at Talbot reamed MacArthur out for missing the point of a passage when he preached during chapel.

And then the interviewer asked MacArthur this question:

What was the most difficult thing for you as a young pastor?

JOHN: The most difficult thing that ever happens to me, whether it’s when I’m young or old, is disloyalty at the level of leadership. Not because I deserve loyalty, but because disloyalty is so destructive. The hardest thing you’ll ever deal with is false accusation…people who say things about you that aren’t true and undermine people’s trust and confidence and this goes on in my case all the time all over the place. Not so much at Grace Church, anymore. Our people are very loyal. All the critics I’ve outlived. What are they going to bring up that they haven’t brought up in the past, you know. But even beyond Grace Church, there are all kinds of accusations and criticisms that aren’t related to reality made against me. That’s very hard to deal with because I don’t want to be viewed by anybody as unfaithful to the Lord, unfaithful to His Word as an unfaithful Christian. But I think it’s particularly painful at the level of intimacy when you pour your life in investment spiritually into men around you that serve with you and they generate a mutiny against you. That is very hard to deal with…very hard.

That happened to you…

JOHN: Oh, it’s happened several times. Yeah, it’s happened several times. And it’s a shock. You know, your own familiar friend has lifted up his heel against you, the one with whom you broke bread, you know, like the Scripture says about Judas. And I’m loyal. I think the only way to get loyalty is to give loyalty. If somebody in church comes to me and criticized another staff member, they don’t find me a very good listener. I will rise to the defense of all those that are in my care and serve alongside me. People don’t do that because they know they’re not going to get anywhere with me. And I expect in giving that loyalty to receive that back because disloyalty is so harmful to the unity of the church. So that’s always been the hardest thing to deal with. To criticize me personally, is not disloyal. To undermine me and criticize me publicly, behind my back, that’s disloyal.

Let me make four observations about what MacArthur says:

First, no pastor is exempt from leadership betrayal.

If someone asked me, “Can you think of a pastor who has never experienced staff or board disloyalty?”, my guess would have been John MacArthur.

But MacArthur admits … quite candidly … that some men around him generated “a mutiny” against him “several times.”

King David, Israel’s greatest king, knew all about such disloyalty.  He writes in Psalm 41:5-9:

My enemies say of me in malice, “When will he die and his name perish?”

Whenever one comes to see me, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it abroad.

All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, “A vile disease has beset him; he will never get up from the place where he lies.”

Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.

Of course, referring to Judas, Jesus quoted Psalm 41:9 in John 13:18 about their own relationship.

And in 2 Timothy 4:10, 14, Paul mentions two men who betrayed him:

… Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me …

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm … he strongly opposed our message …

If David, Jesus, and Paul all experienced betrayal, then it can happen to anybody … including John MacArthur.

I’m just glad he felt free to admit it.

Second, it’s beyond painful to support leaders fully and receive betrayal instead.

MacArthur confessed:

“But I think it’s particularly painful at the level of intimacy when you pour your life in investment spiritually into men around you that serve with you and they generate a mutiny against you. That is very hard to deal with…very hard.”

My wife and I attended one of America’s largest churches for nearly two years when we lived in Phoenix, Arizona a few years ago.

Three times within six months, I heard the church’s senior pastor talk about a staff rebellion that had occurred nearly fifteen years before.

He was still hurting over what had happened.  Years later, he still couldn’t believe those four staff members would try and push him out as pastor.

I left my last ministry eight years ago.  At one point, we had a staff of eleven people, some full-time, some part-time.

I went to bat for those staff members continually, getting them more money … more vacation time … and even giving part-timers paid vacations.

One staff member made a mistake on his taxes that cost him thousands of dollars, so I went to the board and they covered his mistake financially.

Another staff member literally worked in a closet when I came, so I made sure she came out of the closet and had her own office work space.

How was my loyalty repaid?

Some staff collaborated with my predecessor and I was forced out of office.

MacArthur survived his mutinies.  I did not.

But either way, it’s something you never forget.

Third, loyal pastors cannot understand disloyal leaders.

In the interview, MacArthur said:

“And I’m loyal. I think the only way to get loyalty is to give loyalty. If somebody in church comes to me and criticized another staff member, they don’t find me a very good listener. I will rise to the defense of all those that are in my care and serve alongside me. People don’t do that because they know they’re not going to get anywhere with me.”

Not every pastor is loyal to his staff and board.  I’ve heard some sad stories to that effect.

But the best pastors demonstrate loyalty and expect it in return.  And when the leaders around the pastor collaborate to criticize or take out the pastor, the pastor can’t get his head around it.

I served under five pastors.  In each case, I was the top staff member.

And in each case, I was completely loyal to my pastor.

Did that mean I agreed with everything the pastor said or did?  Absolutely not.

But I wanted each pastor to know that even if everyone in the church turned against him, I would still stand by his side.

So when staff members … and in my last church, board members as well … turned on me, I could not emotionally understand what they were doing.

I still can’t … because it’s something I could never do.

But sometimes I wonder, “Why was it so easy for them to be disloyal?”

Fourth, nothing hurts a pastor more than false accusations.

John MacArthur said:

“The hardest thing you’ll ever deal with is false accusation…people who say things about you that aren’t true and undermine people’s trust and confidence and this goes on in my case all the time all over the place. Not so much at Grace Church, anymore. Our people are very loyal. All the critics I’ve outlived. What are they going to bring up that they haven’t brought up in the past, you know. But even beyond Grace Church, there are all kinds of accusations and criticisms that aren’t related to reality made against me. That’s very hard to deal with because I don’t want to be viewed by anybody as unfaithful to the Lord, unfaithful to His Word as an unfaithful Christian.”

I don’t know what kind of accusations have been made against MacArthur during his long and successful ministry career.

His critics seem to single out his critical tone or his lack of graciousness whenever he deals with controversial issues … and he doesn’t shy away from anything.

In my younger days in ministry, I felt that MacArthur was a bit harsh at times.

But as I’ve gotten older, I thank God for him because he’s one of the few prominent Christian leaders who haven’t compromised or wavered on biblical truth.

What amazes me about the interview with MacArthur is that even though some leaders tried to overthrow him … and that’s the definition of a mutiny … he never quit.  He forged ahead.

You can do that more easily in your thirties, forties and early fifties.  But when a church’s leaders come after you when you’re in your late fifties or early sixties, it’s a different story entirely.

When you’re younger, if you’re “lied” out of your church, you can eventually find another church.  But when you’re older, those same churches won’t even consider you due to your age.

In my last church, I was accused of all kinds of things … especially after I resigned.

But the leaders were cowardly.  Whatever was being said, nobody said it to my face.

To this day, there are probably people who think that I had an affair … that I didn’t really preach the Bible … that I spent so much money that I left the church in massive debt … that I let my wife (who was on staff) do whatever she wanted … that I mistreated staff members … that I wasn’t approachable … and on and on.

When I first heard untrue claims against me, I wanted to defend myself publicly.

But I quickly realized it was futile.  I could not stop the tidal wave of hatred that was washing over the entire congregation.

There was no fair and just forum where I could respond to my critics.

So I just surrendered.

This kind of mistreatment has a name: “mobbing.”

In a church setting, certain leaders bury the pastor with false charges trying to force his departure.

They don’t want justice.  They want revenge.

I’m glad that John MacArthur is still pastoring Grace Community Church nearly fifty years after he began.

How has he done it?

Those who survive in ministry are those who follow Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:21-23:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

And that’s what both Jesus and John MacArthur have done over the years: entrust themselves to Him who judges justly.

May we learn from their example.

 

 

 

 

 

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Greetings!  My name is Jim.

And I care deeply about church conflicts involving pastors … usually with their boards and/or factions in the congregation.

My credentials:

*I have cared about pastoral termination since I was eleven years old and my father was forced out of a church he founded as pastor.

*I have also been a staff member when my pastor was under fire.  In one church, the pastor was voted out of office by the congregation.  In another church, the pastor was threatened by a faction until he lost the will to serve.

*I served as pastor of four congregations.  During my third pastorate, I enjoyed mostly peace.  During my second pastorate, a bully tried to force me out as pastor, but the church board stood with me.  During my last pastorate, I resigned when a small group resorted to abuse to force me out.

*I earned the Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary with a focus on church conflict, studying under Dr. Archibald Hart, Dr. David Augsburger, and Dr. Leith Anderson.  My final project/dissertation was an examination of church antagonism from the New Testament combined with family systems theory.

*I have written the book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict which is available on Amazon.

*I have written 569 blogs, most of them on some aspect of church conflict or pastoral termination.  Some pastors have told me my material is the best available on the internet.

*I have consulted with and advised scores of pastors, board members, and church members over the past seven years in regard to their own conflicts.

My credentials do not make me infallible.  I am learning all the time.  But I have a pretty good idea what constitutes healthy and unhealthy behavior in congregations.

_______________

Based on my knowledge and experience, I wish every church would adopt the following five resolutions concerning their pastor:

First, we resolve to handle conflicts concerning our pastor by consulting Scripture and our church’s governing documents.

Most Christian churches have a statement of faith that says that “The Bible is our authority for faith and practice.”

Faith refers to what Christians believe.  Practice refers to how Christians behave.

Both the Old and New Testaments have plenty to say about what causes conflicts and how to resolve them.  The New Testament in particular contains a host of verses designed to help Christians address, discuss, and resolve the conflicts in their churches.

For just a sampling, look up Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17-20; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 4:25-27; Colossians 3:12-15; 1 Timothy 5:19-21; Titus 3:10-11; 3 John 9-10.

Most church constitutions and bylaws also contain sections that specify how the congregation and/or the official board are to handle conflicts, especially those that involve the pastor.  These sections are usually based on the kinds of biblical passages listed above.  These documents were written when people were calm and rational.

But when people become overly emotional, they often ignore what their governing documents say and resort to the law of the jungle.  And ignoring your governing documents can put your church in legal jeopardy.

Second, we resolve to encourage people who are upset with our pastor to handle matters appropriately, which may involve speaking with him directly.

There are at least five things you can do if your pastor says or does something you don’t like:

*You can let the issue go.

*You can pray that he will change.

*You can discuss your concerns with family and friends from church.

*You can speak with your pastor directly.

*You can leave the church.

My wife and I attend a prominent church in our city.  We enjoy the pastor’s preaching, but I don’t always agree with him.  Several weeks ago, he made some statements that had me puzzled.

What should I do about my feelings?

I chose to speak with my wife on our way home from church.  She agreed with my analysis.

But I then let it go.

I didn’t need to pray that he would change because it was a relatively minor issue.  And I didn’t feel comfortable speaking with him directly because I’ve never met him.  And his statements certainly weren’t worth leaving the church over.

But notice one option I left out: forming a faction … listing all the pastor’s faults … going to a board member or staff member to join your cause … and trying to force the pastor out of office.

It’s not sinful to disagree with your pastor behind his back or to your face.  I know churches where if someone disagrees with their pastor, they’re labeled “divisive.”

That’s hogwash!

Division begins in a church when people get together and pool their grievances, especially when their discontent is focused on their pastor.  And that’s when Satan becomes involved according to Ephesians 4:25-27.

I do believe that if you see or hear your pastor engaged in sinful conduct, you should  address the matter with him directly.  That could involve an email, a letter, a casual meeting, or a formal appointment.

If you know him, that might not be too difficult.

But by contacting him directly, you give him the chance to respond to your concerns without involving others … which Matthew 18:15 commends.

And if you don’t like his answer, you can always escalate matters according to Matthew 18:16.

Third, we resolve to deal with issues involving our pastor as soon as possible.

In healthy congregations, people deal with issues as they arise.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27: “In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

In other words, deal with issues before the sun goes down!

In my third church … the healthiest one I pastored … I said something one time in a sermon that didn’t come out right.

After the service, several people stopped me and asked, “Did you really mean to say _______________________.?”

That’s healthy.  And when I realized what I had said, I laughed!

But in unhealthy congregations, people hoard issues against the pastor to be used at a future date.

When the pastor messes up … as he inevitably will … they compile a mental list of his faults.  And they add to the list over time, sharing their list with others who don’t like the pastor.  (It’s amazing how malcontents find each other, even in large churches.)

After they’ve identified others who feel as they do, they call a secret meeting and present their list of the pastor’s shortcomings.  And then someone in the group says, “How can we let this man be our pastor with all his imperfections?”

Church boards do this as well.  One board member is an Arminian who doesn’t like his pastor’s Calvinistic leanings.  Another board member thinks the pastor doesn’t spend enough time with his children.  And a third board member thinks the pastor doesn’t work hard enough.

Nobody ever discusses their concerns directly with the pastor, but at the right time, those board members may very well vocalize their grievances with each other … minimize the pastor’s strengths while maximizing his weaknesses … and either force him to resign or fire him outright.

And the pastor will wonder, “What in the world did I do wrong?  Why didn’t anybody talk to me about their concerns earlier?”

Fourth, we resolve to let the pastor defend himself against any and all charges.

Jesus defended Himself against the charges made against Him before His crucifixion.  Paul defended himself against Jewish and Roman opponents in the Book of Acts.

So we have biblical precedent for letting leaders defend themselves.

When a Christian leader is charged with a serious offense, letting that person defend themselves is the right thing to do.

Let’s say there are people in your church who suspect that your pastor is having an affair with a staff member’s wife.

And let’s say that someone produces some incriminating evidence against the pastor: a hotel receipt … a photograph … a slimy text message … or footage from a surveillance camera.

Should the board fire the pastor unilaterally?

The board could.  Church boards do it all the time.

But that doesn’t make it right.

I believe the board should meet with the pastor face-to-face … present him with the evidence … and let him have the opportunity to defend himself.

It might take an extra day or two, but so what?  The pastor should be given the opportunity to respond to the charges … or repent for his sinful behavior.

I know a church where the board had clear cut evidence that the pastor was sexually involved with a woman.  They could have fired him outright … but they met with him first … and then the pastor resigned.

But the problem in our day is that boards will often fire a pastor based on allegations or suspicions rather than airtight evidence or reliable witnesses.

And that’s setting a terrible precedent.

I believe the board shouldn’t determine the pastor’s status until they meet with him directly.  And in most cases, the pastor should be able to face his accusers.

Rather than rushing the pastor out the door … and making a host of mistakes … church boards should take enough time to work through a fair and just process.

Finally, we resolve to do everything in our power to work through any issues that we might have with the pastor, viewing termination as a last resort.

The more unhealthy the church, the more the leaders view pastoral termination as a first resort.

The more healthy the church, the more the leaders view termination as a last resort.

Ever know a married couple that wasn’t getting along?  They often have friends who whisper in the ear of the husband or wife, “Just get a divorce.  That’s what I did and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”

But if you’re really their friend, you should ask them, “Have you tried meeting with your pastor or a Christian counselor?  Have you read this or that Christian book?  Have you considered going on a marriage improvement retreat?  Shouldn’t you make a maximum effort to grow your marriage before you throw it away?”

Before tossing a pastor overboard, board members first need to ask themselves:

*Should we ask our pastor to meet with a qualified Christian counselor?

*Should we find a church consultant, a mediator, or a conflict manager?

*Should we ask our pastor to go on a healing or wellness retreat?

*Should we pay for him to attend a workshop or conference that addresses his weaknesses?

*Should we bring in someone who will help our pastor work together better with our board and staff?

The consequences of forcing out a pastor are devastating not only to the pastor and his family, but also to the congregation’s future.  It takes churches two to five years to recover from such a loss … and some never do.

_______________

The goal of making these five resolutions is to “win” over the pastor (Matthew 18:15-17) or to “restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1).

It’s not to humiliate him … or take vengeance against him … or destroy him … but to help him admit his mistakes so he will correct them in the future.

And so he can remain your pastor.

Isn’t this the way you would want to be treated?

 

 

 

 

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