Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘pastoral termination’

Today is the anniversary of a day that changed my life forever.

Nine years ago this morning, after returning from a mission trip overseas, I entered the office of the church I served as pastor for an 8:00 am meeting with the official board.  We were supposed to discuss our plans for the next year’s budget.

Instead, the board announced that they had terminated our most valuable staff member: my wife.  Their sole charge against her was that she had overspent her missions and outreach budgets by a wide margin.

But she wasn’t their eventual target.  I was.  The board didn’t have enough evidence against me that they could take to the congregation for a dismissal vote, so they went after her instead, assuming I’d resign if she did.

I’ve recounted the story of the fifty-day conflict that ensued in my book Church Coup (which may be the most detailed and complete account of a pastoral termination ever written).  I revisit the story in this blog every October 24.  As one of my advisors told me, “You never want to forget what it felt like to go through that awful experience.”

The purpose of telling my story is for pastors, board members, and churchgoers to learn what to do and what not to do during a conflict with the pastor.  I am not telling my story to garner sympathy or to gain followers.  By relating my experiences, I still hope to teach.

So let me share some snapshots of what I experienced over the seven weeks of the conflict.  Many stories are outtakes from my book while some are based on information I received after the book was published in the spring of 2013.

After more than 35 years in church ministry … I still can’t believe the following events happened to me … but they did.

_______________

The board told me that they would give my wife a choice: she could resign or be fired.  They said they felt so strongly about their decision that they were all willing to resign, the implication being that if she didn’t resign, they would.

And the following week, because she didn’t resign, they did.  (To this day, I wonder who advised them to try that tactic.)

If she resigned, that would take the pressure off them … and that was her initial reaction: to just quit.

But when she thought more clearly, she didn’t believe she had done anything wrong … and she was positive she had not overspent the amount the board claimed.

So she didn’t quit immediately, as the board hoped she would.  We both decided to wait and see if we could discover the truth behind their decision first.

Kim’s dad (a former pastor and Christian university professor) told her, “If you didn’t do anything wrong, don’t quit.”  A Christian counselor who had advised us for years told me, “If she resigns, that would be a lie.  Make it a battle.”

We didn’t want to make it a battle, but the board had not made enough of a compelling case for my wife to say, “You’re right, I messed up, I will resign.”  We needed more information.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought the church board would take such drastic action.

But they did.

_______________

For years, my wife worked for a pace setting company in Silicon Valley, and she sometimes had to fire employees … but always by the book.  She was upset with the board because they had not followed any kind of protocol.  She kept telling me that her rights had been violated.

Several months ago, my wife visited that company again, and briefly told her story to the organization’s founder and president, who agreed that my wife had every right to sue the church/board for wrongful termination.

On the one hand, Paul commands Christians not to sue other Christians in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.  I get that.

On the other hand, too many Christian organizations … especially churches … do violate the rights of staff members and pastors when they terminate them … and they do deserve to be sued.

But the separation of church and state usually protects such churches.

I wish some churches would be sued successfully … if only to teach church leaders to use biblical procedures … and due process … when they’re thinking about terminating pastors and staff members in the future.

Because if those same leaders were treated in a similar fashion at their workplaces, they would probably sue the pants off their companies.

_______________

On the night after the board met with me, they convened a meeting of the church staff to announce my wife’s termination.  Not only did the board add several more charges to their list, but such a meeting was probably illegal.

An advisor who later became my mentor told me that in our state, if my wife had been in a secular company, she could have sued them for four to six million dollars for telling her co-workers why they had fired her.

Five nights later, when my wife finally met with two board members at my request … so they could tell her to her face why they had terminated her … she told them that she could sue them for the way they had handled things.  This wasn’t merely an emotional outburst … this was based on the careful way she fired employees for years at that Silicon Valley company.

A former board member from that church told me emphatically over a period of years that the board violated the church constitution and bylaws when they terminated my wife.  The governing documents clearly stated that staff members could only be fired upon recommendation of the senior pastor to the official board.  When the church voted to approve those documents, my wife was already a staff member.

One night, while walking along the Bay on a very dark night, I ran into another former board member who told me it was going around that my wife and I were planning on suing the church.  It wasn’t true … we weren’t planning on suing anybody … but many churchgoers believe the first thing they hear without confirmation.

The church board totally bungled the way they handled things, and when my wife called them on it, we became the bad guys … and had to be destroyed.

All too often, this is the way Christians handle their conflicts.  We’re godly … they’re ungodly.

_______________

When my predecessor retired and left the church in December 2000, he and his wife moved to another state.  But they eventually moved back to California … and settled in the very city my wife and I have made our home the past six years.

My predecessor became the president of a parachurch group, and that group’s founder also lived in our city at the time.  The founder told me that several years before 2009, while they were playing golf, my predecessor told him that he was going to return to the church I was pastoring.  The founder told him, “No, you can’t do that!”  But my predecessor seemed determined.

This information tells me that the plot to get rid of me went back months … if not years … before the board acted against my wife.  As a megachurch pastor who knew my predecessor told me eleven days after the conflict surfaced, “You have no idea how much you have been undermined.”

That same pastor told me that he had heard my predecessor make the exact same charges against my wife using the exact same terms that the board used.  To what extent did my predecessor formulate or refine the charges against her?

Because my predecessor had been in ministry for years, his counsel seemed legitimate to the board.  They most likely trusted him without questioning his motives or strategies.

But in the process, the previous pastor clearly violated pastoral ethics … which the board undoubtedly knew nothing about.

A year after I left, guess who returned to the church to preach at the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services?

That’s right … my predecessor … who had his fingers in the church board, the church staff, and the congregation for many years.

God rest his soul.

_______________

I’ve never given a moment’s thought to returning to my former church.  I served there ten-and-a-half years, resigned, and left it for good.  How wrong would it be for me to interfere in the church’s governance so many years after leaving?

Why did my predecessor even want to return?  My guess is that his Fan Club were telling him that things at the church were really bad and that only he could save the church.

In fact, several years before the conflict surfaced, I heard a report attributed to my predecessor that our church was losing attendees … when the opposite was true … and I informed the church board of the rumor without naming its source.

But we had grown steadily and were the largest Protestant church in our city.  We had a positive reputation for miles around.  We had built a new worship center.  My wife and I had both been keynote speakers at the area Sunday School Convention.  In our community, where a church of 150 stood out, we were like a megachurch.  A Navy chaplain once told me that when he was stationed near India, and knew he was going to move to our community, someone recommended that he attend our church.

Why did things seem so bad to a tiny group of people?  Because they didn’t have positions of power … and that was intentional on my part.  They were not behind our mission and vision.  They were not behind me as their pastor … and I knew it.  They were able to serve … just not in positions of influence.

But they thought that because they were founding members, they deserved preferential treatment.

One time, my predecessor visited the campus and told me that a woman from our church was calling him constantly to complain about me.  I figured as much.  While I was pleasant around her, I couldn’t let her be a leader because I didn’t trust her.

And I felt the same way about some of my predecessor’s other fans.

When people once held power in a church, but no longer do so, they will sometimes do anything to get that power back … even if they have to violate half the New Testament to do it.

_______________

One woman did her best to disguise her opposition to me, and I had to interact with her on a regular basis.  After a while, pastors develop a sixth sense about such people.

After the board and associate pastor resigned, I called two public meetings of the congregation to announce their decisions.  During one of the meetings, a friend went into the women’s restroom and this woman was crying because, she said, she was afraid they weren’t going to get rid of me.

After we left, this woman openly bragged about how she and some others in the church worked the plot that sent us packing.

I could never plot against a pastor.  I’d leave the church first.

God calls a pastor to lead and teach.  He doesn’t call anyone to force out an innocent pastor.  So why is it so easy for many Christians to join a coup against the person that God called?

If you have a good answer, I’d like to hear it.

_______________

The primary charge against my wife concerned finances.  I continue to maintain that the numbers that were verbally announced to me at the board meeting had been massaged.

For example:

*My wife had committed funds to some vendors for our annual Fall Fun Fest on Halloween … but we hadn’t yet held the event to recoup any of our expenses.

*As I mentioned in my book, several thousand dollars were mistakenly sent overseas … and undoubtedly counted against her mission budget … when she had nothing to do with that decision.

*When my wife was putting together a team for a mission trip to Eastern Europe, we had to buy the plane tickets in advance … and one person backed out.  We tried, but weren’t able to recoup the funds for one leg of his journey.

*When our mission team flew to Moldova, we brought along extra suitcases filled with items for poor people and the vulnerable children … but even though we were told in advance by an airline executive that we wouldn’t have to pay extra for each leg of our journey, we were overcharged for the suitcases anyway.

My wife or I could have explained these decisions had we been given the opportunity … but no one on the board asked us or the bookkeeper anything about these expenses.

The budgets of two unrelated ministries were thousands of dollars in the red … but to my knowledge, no one ever addressed those deficits with the leaders that managed those budgets.

No, my wife … our most effective staff member … was singled out for special mistreatment.

In the spring of 2009, I went to the board and asked for funds to visit two churches in Southern California to learn about their multi-venue services.  The board approved those funds … and then they were charged to the worship budget without the leader’s knowledge or consent … sending his pristine budget into chaos.

Were other unrelated expenses charged to my wife’s budgets without her consent or knowledge?

When I finally asked for the board’s accounting, I received something incoherent from the bookkeeper.  When my wife asked to see the board’s numbers, they did not give them to her.

When my wife finally met with the bookkeeper a month after the conflict surfaced … and the board members had all quit … the numbers told a completely different story.  When a nine-person investigative team examined matters a month after that, they concluded that “there was no evidence of wrongdoing” on our part.

Was the financial charge against my wife a bluff to prompt us both to resign?

_______________

Someone made a public charge that I mismanaged church finances.  That was an outright lie.

What’s ironic is that even after the conflict erupted … and even after I left the church … I was still a central person concerning church finances.

*When the board refinanced the loan for the worship center, I had to sign the document.  If the credit union had known the board’s plans, they might not have approved the refinancing.  When companies make loans to organizations, they want to know in advance that the leadership is going to remain stable.

I wonder what the board told them about their pastor’s long-term prospects?

*During the conflict, the church bookkeeper stopped by my house once or twice a week so I could sign checks, which I’d do on top of her car on the street.

*Months after I had left the church, I was still the key person concerning the church’s credit cards.  The bookkeeper was still contacting me, asking me to call the company and give them directions.

If I had really mismanaged funds, would I have been able to do any of those things?

When a pastor mismanages funds at church, it’s often because his own financial house is in disarray … but our personal finances were and are pristine.

It’s so easy to throw general charges around without being specific and without doing it to the face of the accused.

_______________

When the composition of a church board changes, it can throw the entire congregation off-balance.

For years, I had worked with three men on the board who were all older than me.  We had been through a lot together.  I trusted them, and their actions indicated that they trusted me.

One moved away about six months before the conflict surfaced.  He was the person who always had my back.  The other two termed out but stayed in the church.

Had even one of those men still been on the board, the coup never would have taken place.  They would either have stopped it or exposed it.

In the end, the new board in 2009 was composed entirely of people younger than me.  They lacked the experience and maturity of the older men … one of whom had experienced a church split years before in another church and would never have tolerated the tactics used by my opponents.

Someone on the board ended up leading the coup.  I always knew his identity.  May God forgive him for all the lives he harmed in his attempt at personal payback.

_______________

The board never attempted anything resembling restoration.  It was all about punishment.  As Charles Chandler from the Ministering to Ministers Foundation told me, the board members were personalizing matters.

As a Christian counselor asked me, “Where’s the redemption in all this?”

There wasn’t any pathway to redemption.  Coups don’t involve restoration.  They can be bloody or bloodless, but they are always about one thing.

Getting rid of the leader at all costs.

If you can show me where in the New Testament we find such behavior commended, I’d be grateful.

I’ve been searching for years … and I still can’t find it.

_______________

Wherever you find deceit and destruction, you find Satan.  Jesus called him “the father of lies” and “a murderer from the beginning” in John 8:44.

Based on some of the stories I’ve heard, I don’t believe Satan is centrally involved in every church conflict.  Some believe that he is.  I don’t.

I look for deceit and destruction.  Someone in ministry suggested adding “doubt” to the calculus as well.

There was definitely deceit in our conflict.  There were a lot of falsehoods going around: exaggeration, character assassination, misrepresentation, false allegations … it was all there.

And there was a lot of destruction as well.  Satan’s aim in most church conflicts is to destroy the pastor’s well being … reputation … and career … but ultimately, to destroy the church itself.

Although I was not personally destroyed, my effectiveness for future ministry was.  I don’t claim to know if that was the aim of anyone in the church.  Maybe so, maybe not.

But I do know this: Satan gained a foothold in the lives of too many of God’s people in that church.  Hatred and two-faced hypocrisy are not from God.

_______________

Most pastors who are forced out of a church are never exonerated.  Their reputations are ruined, at least inside their former church.

But I was exonerated … twice.

The first time, a consultant the transition team and I hired during the conflict issued a report that the board had acted “extremely and destructively” and that my wife and I had been abused.

The second time, an investigative team of nine people from inside the church claimed that “there was no evidence of wrongdoing” on our part.

But some people could not allow those verdicts to stand.

When I left the church in December 2009, I was told that 95% of the church supported me.  A year later, I was told that support was down to 20%.

I don’t know the truth of either percentage.  But I do know that throughout 2010, there was a whispering campaign inside my former church to pin the blame for the entire conflict on me.

When an interim pastor (a friend of my predecessor’s) came to the church several months later, he convened a meeting of the old and new boards, and made everyone who knew the truth about the conflict promise that they wouldn’t discuss it with anyone.  So when people attacked my reputation, those leaders were told not to counteract any lies and to remain silent.

But what about the people who were spreading falsehoods inside the church?  Why didn’t anyone warn them to stop destroying the reputation of their previous pastor?

Because unity is based on truth … not lies … such diversions do nothing to heal people’s souls.

Even though I urged people to stay, scores of people eventually left the church and either changed churches … changed faiths … or sat at home for years because nobody had the guts to tell the church the truth about what happened.

Just another Christian cover up.  Business as usual.

_______________

One day, I met with the rookie district minister to share my side of the conflict.  He listened politely and later helped reveal the part my predecessor played in the coup.

Several years later, when I was in New Hampshire, the DM called me out of the blue one Sunday morning to tell me that “I respect you and admire you.”

While that was nice, there was evidence to the contrary, so I didn’t know what to think.

But I had once served in the same church as an executive from that same denomination, and when he heard about the conflict … not from me … he told a friend, “[The church] owes Jim an apology.”

While I would welcome any kind of apology, nobody has ever apologized to me for their role in forcing me out of office.

Because if I’m innocent, they’re wrong … and I’ve learned that many, if not most, Christians hate to admit when they’re wrong.

_______________

This is the last blog article I plan to write on what happened to me in 2009 unless there is some major future development.

The accusations against Judge Kavanaugh brought back a truckload of hurtful memories because the same tactics used against him were used against us.

My wife and I live in Southern California and are content with our lives.

We live about an hour from our son, his wife, and our three grandsons.  I wouldn’t trade being near them for anything in this world.

Our daughter – who was so strong for her dad and mom during the conflict – still lives in the Bay Area and leads a fruitful life.  We love her dearly.

God gave me a ministry to pastors and board members who are going through conflict, and I’m grateful for all the people I’ve been able to help.

Just last year, I advised a pastor from the East Coast who was able to beat back his own church’s coup attempt.  He stayed … and his opponents left.

I pray that happens more often.

I’ve written 596 blogs over the past eight years.  I plan to write four more and then take a break … maybe a long one.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

One of the most common complaints that church leaders have about their pastor is this one:

“He acts like a dictator.”

This complaint usually states that the pastor:

*spends money without authorization

*makes major decisions unilaterally

*withholds valuable information from key leaders

*verbally abuses staff members

*threatens people who try to confront him

*doesn’t listen to people’s concerns or complaints

*becomes angry easily

All too many pastors want to run the church their way … and they will take down anyone who tries to oppose them.

The difference between leaders and dictators:

*Leadership requires collaboration.  A pastor who is a good leader has to make presentations for various projects to the church board, staff, and other key leaders to seek their approval.

But a pastor who is a dictator bypasses that collaboration and makes major decisions unilaterally … and then expects key leaders to support him fully.

*Leadership requires ownership.  In my last church, we built a new worship center, a project that eventually cost about two million dollars.  The building team worked on the plans.  The church board handled the financing.  The staff gave their input at every turn.  We asked the architect to stand before our congregation and present his plans … allowed people to ask questions … and then held a meeting where people shared their input.  We later listed every word people said on the church website which let everyone know we took congregational input seriously.

We needed broad ownership in decision making so that we could have broad ownership when we asked people to give toward the building.

But a pastor-dictator will bypass as many of those steps as possible.  He and a few of his buddies inside the church will do most of the work … and then expect people to buy in with their finances … and things usually won’t go very well.

*Leadership requires patience.  I once heard a prominent pastor say that it takes four years to make a major change in a church.  A good leader will devise a process where he charts a clear course … people’s complaints are heard … their objections are answered … and change is not rushed.

But a pastor-dictator is always in a hurry.  He doesn’t want to give the complainers any kind of forum because they might waylay his plans.  He doesn’t want to devote any time to answering objections because he’s thought things through and that should be good enough for everyone else.  The dictator thinks it’s his church far more than it’s the people’s church.

*Leadership requires love.  I once knew a pastor who took a ministry class in seminary.  The professor told his students you have to “love the sheep” and then “lead the sheep.”  My friend approached the professor after class and said, “That was really great … you have to lead the sheep then love the sheep.”  The professor said, “No, you have to love the sheep and then lead the sheep.”  Big difference!

The pastor who is a true leader loves his people and then leads them.  He motivates them by recommending ministries that are in their best interests.

But the dictator doesn’t even lead his people.  He manipulates the congregation into doing what are in his own best interests.  He bulldozes them … threatens them … and sends out the signals, “I alone know what is good for this church.”

To quote Paul Simon, such an attitude “sure don’t feel like love.”

*Leadership requires humility.  The leader’s attitude is, “I believe this is the direction God wants us to go as a church.  I’ll need your help along the way.”

But the dictator equates his own wishes, words, and plans with the will of God … and to question him is to doubt the Lord Himself.

If you’ve read my words …

What can you do about a pastor who is a dictator?

First, realize that most pastors who have adopted a dictatorial leadership style are rarely going to change. 

Such pastors have enjoyed at least some success with their style which is why they keep using it.  But whether it’s a personality flaw, or a narcissistic bent, or a defense mechanism, most dictators never change.

You can plead with them to become more collaborative … threaten to leave the church … or send them for counseling … but it won’t do any good.

I have never known a dictatorial pastor to alter his modus operandi.  Have you?

Now if a pastor has exercised a collaborative style, and temporarily becomes dictatorial, that’s different.  Sometimes a pastor senses that unless he pushes a project hard, nothing’s going to happen.  I had to do that at times, but if people called me on it, I backed off and tried to reset matters.

In this article, I’m talking about pastors who have demonstrated unilateral dominance from Day One.

Second, realize that dictators will keep going until someone tries to stop them.

Once a dictator has momentum, that person will continue to use their domineering style because they’re getting results.

And if nobody ever calls them on their tactics, they’ll just keep using them.

The only way to stop a dictator is to stage some kind of an intervention.  Let them know that what they are doing is counterproductive to the leadership and the congregation.

Much of the time, church leaders will tell me, “He’s a dictator, but boy, is he a great Bible teacher!  He really knows the Word!  Our people love his teaching!”

But sometimes, good teachers make lousy leaders.  Many Bible teachers would rather spend all their time researching, writing, and delivering messages than doing anything to improve their leadership skills.

If so, let the pastor teach … and get someone else on board to lead the church.

Third, realize that dictators sow the seeds of their own destruction.

Once you’ve woken up to the fact that your pastor is a dictator, know that a Day of Reckoning is bound to occur … and maybe soon.  Godly, gifted, intelligent people rebel inwardly against dictator-pastors … and if they conclude that things won’t change, they’ll quietly head for the exits.

Here is what will happen:

*your best leaders will leave the church first

*key ministries will be curtailed due to a lack of volunteers

*staff members will be laid off due to lack of funds

*those remaining will be the passive takers, not the active givers

*the dictator-pastor will then jump ship as soon as he can

This may not sound kind, but it’s better to take out the dictator before the death spiral occurs than to do nothing and watch your church slowly die.

Finally, the only way to deal with a dictator is to defeat them.

That means you’re going to have to fight them for control of the church.

And if you do engage them, I guarantee it’s going to get nasty … and bloody … and people are going to get hurt … including you and your family.

For this reason, if you’re in a church with a dictator as pastor, it’s preferable that you and your family quietly look for another church.

But if you’re determined to stay, you’re going to have to deal with your pastor … and there are ways to do this that are consistent with Scripture and the Christian faith.

If I was a board member, and I felt that the pastor had to go to save the church, I’d take the following steps:

*Call a special meeting of the official board away from the church campus.

*Express your concern about the way the pastor has been operating.  Share real-life examples.

*Go around the room and let each board member share how they feel about the pastor.  If the pastor has strong support, and you can’t convince them of your position, mentally make plans to leave the church.  YOU CAN’T DEAL WITH A DICTATORIAL PASTOR UNLESS YOU HAVE FULL BOARD SUPPORT.  If you do have full board support, then:

*Take time to pray and read Scripture together.  Ask God for His guidance … and for courage.  Confronting a dictatorial pastor will be among the hardest things you will ever do.

*Consult your church’s governing documents.  Hopefully there’s a section that lays out how to hire and fire a pastor.  If not, obtain the governing documents from three other churches that are governed like yours and summarize their process in a few steps.  Then write out what you believe are the best practices for terminating a pastor and adopt them as a board.

*Do not make a laundry list of all the pastor’s shortcomings.  That’s destructive.  Instead, focus on the one or two areas that concern you the most … no more than two.  (People can’t change in multiple areas of their lives.)  Come up with several examples under each area of concern.  You’re going to share these concerns with the pastor.

For example: “Pastor, whenever we ask you to give a report of your activities at the monthly board meeting, you just say, ‘Everything’s fine.’  But we need much more information than that!  We’d like you to bring a one or two page written report to every board meeting so we know specifically what you are doing.”

That’s a reasonable request.  (I brought a written report for years to every board meeting.)  But the dictator usually resists such accountability.

*Prayerfully ask two people to meet with the pastor to express the board’s concerns.  If possible, the chairman should be one of those people.  (Otherwise, the pastor will wonder, “Does the chairman know about and agree with this confrontation?”)

*Ask the pastor to meet the two board members at a neutral location, like a restaurant, rather than in the pastor’s study or someone’s home.  While you want privacy, it’s harder to make a scene in public.

*Give the pastor a choice.  Tell him, “We love you and we’re happy for you to remain our pastor, but we need to see the following changes in your life and ministry or else we will take further action.”  Then share with him how you want him to behave in the future.  If he becomes angry, wait until he calms down.  If he storms off, you’ll have to meet with him again.  Tell him that if he leaves the meeting and contacts his supporters, you will recommend to the board that he be dismissed immediately.

*The pastor has four options at this point:

First, he can act like you’ve never met and continue operating as usual.

Second, he can contact his supporters, tell them about the meeting, and thereby institute an all-our war within your congregation.  YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR THIS POSSIBILITY.

Third, he can agree to make the changes you’ve suggested … in which case the board has the right to monitor his progress.

Finally, he may outwardly comply with the board’s wishes while starting to search for a new job.

I can’t give you a flow chart for what might happen under each option, but these kinds of situations can become unpredictable fast!

Let me share with you the single best way of dealing with a dictator-pastor.

Don’t hire one in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

When a pastor is forced to leave his congregation, who is to blame?

Some inside a church will instantly proclaim, “The pastor is completely responsible for his demise.  He is 100% at fault.”

Others will insist, “The pastor isn’t to blame for his departure.  It was that spineless board … that heartless faction … or even the devil himself that caused this mess!”

The truth usually lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

In my book Church Coup, I quoted church conflict expert Speed Leas, who wrote about a research project along this line:

“While we could find some situations that were primarily the congregation’s ‘fault’ … and we could find some that were primarily the pastor’s ‘fault’ … these occurrences were rare.  Most of the time we found a mixture of congregational and pastoral causes that defied unraveling as to who ‘started it.’  Asking the question ‘Whose fault is it?’ in the church seemed to tangle people up … more than it helped … in our research into 127 ‘involuntary terminations’ or firings, we found the need to find fault to be one of the most characteristic and least helpful dimensions of the conflict … it is almost never the case that one party is exclusively in the wrong.”

This issue has been rattling around in my head for years, so let me mention five common scenarios involving a pastor’s departure … along with a general assessment of responsibility in each case:

First, if a pastor is guilty of a major offense, he is fully responsible for his own departure.

If a pastor is guilty of heresy, he should be fired and removed from office.

I read about a pastor many years ago who began teaching universalism, the belief that everyone – even Satan – will eventually be saved and go to heaven.

Since universalism perverts the gospel (if everyone can be saved, why did Jesus die?), the church was justified in removing that pastor from office, although he caused untold damage in the process.

If a pastor is guilty of sexual immorality, he should be removed from office as well.

I heard about a pastor who had an affair with a woman in his church for twenty years.  Twenty years!

How could he preach from the Holy Bible … serve Holy Communion … and even relate to the Holy Spirit while engaging in such conduct?

When the church board finally discovered the pastor’s misconduct, they took steps to remove him from office quickly.

Some experts believe these are the only two offenses that should merit a pastor’s forced termination, but I’d like to add a third: criminal behavior.

If a pastor has physically abused his wife … engaged in fraudulent financial behavior … assaulted people violently … or embezzled funds from his church … how can he stay as pastor?

He can’t.

When information about the pastor’s excessive misconduct comes to the attention of the church board, they should still:

*meet with the pastor

*ask him for his side of the story

*deliberate together prayerfully

*ask him to repent, if they discern he’s guilty

*aim for his restoration, not his destruction, if they remove him from office

But even if the board doesn’t handle the pastor’s departure perfectly, the pastor who is guilty of one of The Big Three has cooked his own goose.

However, this doesn’t mean that God is done with such individuals forever.

Second, if a church board has warned a pastor about a problem, and he’s failed to change his behavior within a reasonable time, the pastor is usually responsible for his own demise.

This scenario makes some assumptions … that the church board has:

*identified an area of the pastor’s life or ministry that needs changing

*spoken to the pastor directly and seriously about their concerns

*given the pastor enough time to turn things around

*monitored the pastor’s progress through the use of markers

*told the pastor what will happen if he doesn’t comply with their directives

Let’s say a pastor makes occasional insulting comments on Facebook to people from his church.  And let’s say that five people he has insulted are hopping mad and threaten to leave the church if the pastor’s behavior continues.

Once the church board approaches the pastor about this matter, he should do all he can to comply with their wishes, even if he doesn’t agree with each example they cite.

The pastor might choose to eliminate his Facebook page altogether … or write a message on Facebook apologizing for his behavior … or resolve to only write positive comments from now on … or at least refrain from saying anything that could be negatively interpreted.

But if the pastor continues to make insulting comments after being warned against it, then the pastor is to blame if the board reluctantly asks for his resignation.

There are church boards that work the steps I’ve listed above, but most boards don’t operate in such a clear manner.  They become anxious about the pastor’s behavior … handle things reactively rather than proactively … finally meet together in secret to discuss the issues … and only speak with the pastor directly when things have spun out of control.

And by then, it’s usually too late.

But if the board does everything right, and the pastor doesn’t change after a reasonable amount of time … he shouldn’t be surprise if he’s asked to pack his bags.

Third, if it becomes obvious that the pastor isn’t a good match for the church or the community, the blame for the pastor’s departure should be shared equally.

That is, the board should assume some of the blame, and the pastor should assume some of the blame.

Thirty years ago, I put out some resumes and had several phone interviews with search teams.

One was in Bay City, Michigan.  Another was in Rochester, New York.

The search team in Michigan liked me, but they asked me this question: “How would you feel about living so far away from your family in the West?”

Up to that time, all I cared about was leaving the church I was pastoring.  But they made me think about something I hadn’t really considered … and they were right.

Had I gone to Bay City, that church would have become our family, and neither my wife nor I would have seen our own parents or siblings very often.

If the board hadn’t asked me that question, and I had gone to Bay City, and it didn’t work out, they would be partially to blame.

But if I had gone there, and it didn’t work out, I’d share the blame as well.

I once heard about a pastor who was called from the South to a large church in Northern California.  His teenage daughter was forced to leave her boyfriend behind.

The girl became so depressed and distraught that the pastor resigned and returned to the South after less than a month in California.

It’s easy to say, “The pastor was totally at fault.  He never should have left the South.”  But it’s possible the search team didn’t look at the situation as carefully as they should have.

Mismatches usually reveal themselves pretty quickly.  It’s best if both the pastor and the search team admit, “We thought this would work out, but we can’t see it happening.  We’ll both take responsibility for this situation and not blame the other party.”

Fourth, if the board is happy with their pastor’s ministry, but the pastor is under attack, and the board fails to support him adequately, and the pastor resigns, the board is more at fault than the pastor.

Let’s say that Pastor Warren has been at Mercy Fellowship for six years.  And let’s say that Mercy’s attendance and giving have both doubled during that time.

And let’s say that ninety percent of the congregation loves Pastor Warren and that they are solidly behind his ministry … including the elders.

But one day, five people from an internal faction ask to meet with two of the elders.  They claim that Pastor Warren hasn’t been attending denominational meetings … that the church isn’t giving enough to the denomination … and that if things don’t change quickly, thirty people will leave the church.

So the two elders share this conversation with the other elders, and they speak with Pastor Warren at their next regular meeting.

Pastor Warren responds, “That’s right, I don’t attend denominational meetings.  I went to some my first several years here, but I found them to be a waste of time.  I’ve shared my stance with the elders before.  And we don’t give much money to the denomination because frankly, all we’re doing is propping up a bureaucracy run by a good old boys network.  I’d rather we invest in more productive ministries.”

The elders now have a choice.  They can back their pastor, or they can back the faction, but if they don’t back their pastor, he may choose to resign … and that will hurt the church far more than if the faction left.

I once knew a pastor who grew a megachurch.  One day, he fired a staff member.  The board hired him back.  The pastor resigned.

Pastors aren’t infallible.  Sometimes they get things wrong.  But the board needs to know that if they fail to support their pastor publicly, the pastor might choose to resign instead … and that will leave the board in charge of the church until they call a new pastor.

Finally, if a board fires a pastor without warning or explanation, the fault lies almost exclusively with the board.

Pastors aren’t mind readers.  They assume that things are going well unless somebody says, “We’re concerned about this particular issue.”

And a pastor should feel that wayYou can’t minister effectively if you’re walking around all day asking, “I wonder who’s mad at me?  I wonder if I’ve done something wrong?”

But a common scenario I hear from pastors is, “I thought everything in my ministry was going fine.  And then the board called me into a meeting after the morning worship service and they fired me.”

A board that would do that is composed of cowards.

If a church board is upset with their pastor, they have a responsibility to:

*schedule a meeting with him

*tell him to his face what their concerns are

*allow the pastor to offer feedback

*create a plan with the pastor’s input

*revisit the plan at reasonable intervals

How much time should the pastor be given?

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke says twelve to fifteen months.  If there hasn’t been sufficient improvement by then, the board has every right to remove the pastor.

The beauty of this approach is that the pastor can decide whether or not he wants to stay.  If he thinks the board has been unfair … or that he can’t change … or that he doesn’t need to change … then he has time to search for another ministry.

But most boards don’t do this.  They fail to tell the pastor their concerns directly … speak only among themselves … blame the pastor for not changing … work themselves into a high state of anxiety … and then fire the pastor abruptly.

And when a board fires an innocent pastor (that is, he’s not guilty of any major offense) suddenly, they’ve now bought their church two to five years of misery … or a gradual death spiral.

_______________

I believe there are times when a pastor needs to be removed from office.

But even when that becomes necessary, the pastor still should be treated with dignity, compassion, fairness, and grace … not abuse, insensitivity, injustice, and revenge.

The pastor and his family should also be given a generous severance package so they can transition financially into their next season of life.  Church boards that fire their pastors with little or no severance are denying the faith they claim to believe.

And the church board should tell the congregation as much as they can … not as little as possible … about why the pastor left if they want to reestablish trust.

Can you think of any other common scenarios that I missed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

During my second pastorate, there was an older couple in our congregation who came to abhor me.

We got along very well … at first.

This couple … I’ll call them Ron and Dolores … moved from the Midwest to Silicon Valley in the early 1980s.  They came to our church because of its Swedish roots … and because they liked its denominational affiliation.

Ron became a board member.  Dolores immersed herself in women’s ministry.  They became established leaders.

And then I became their pastor.

Ron wanted me to love the denomination as much as he and his wife did.  So he made it possible for me to attend a week of meetings at the denominational seminary in Minnesota … during the last week in January.

Ron arranged for me to stay with his son and his family.  I borrowed Ron’s heavy winter coat … and I needed it for the -19 degree weather with the -35 wind chill in St. Paul.

But a short time later, Ron and his wife became enraged with some of the decisions that I made as pastor.

They wanted a nice, safe church where they could enjoy friendships … practice their Swedish customs … and remake our church into the wonderful Midwestern church they’d left behind.

But that wasn’t my vision for the church at all.

I wanted the church to reach people for Christ and grow … which wasn’t on Ron’s agenda.

We began to clash on all kinds of things … especially the music on Sunday mornings.

When I first came to the church, Ron and Dolores sang “Out of the Ivory Towers” as a duet on a Sunday morning … in Swedish.

After I was there a while, I didn’t ask them to sing anymore.  (They were awful.)

And to top things off, I encouraged and championed a worship band made up of younger guys.  (This was the mid-1980s.)

While the band had the full blessing of the church board (Ron had termed out by then), Ron and his wife hated the band.

And even more, they couldn’t stand the direction I was taking the church … away from their beloved Swedish roots.

Dolores eventually quit coming to church.  I tried talking to Ron … who still seemed friendly … but he couldn’t control his wife’s rage.

Eventually, they both quit coming to church … but their anger was spilling over to others.

I knew I had to confront them.

I set up a time to meet with them, and told them casually that I’d be bringing along a board member.

They told me I could come alone, but that I could not bring that particular board member.

I consulted with my district minster, who told me that I should not meet with Ron and Dolores alone.  Instead, I needed to bring along one or two witnesses.

Finally, on a Thursday night in March, two board members went with me to Ron and Dolores’ house.  We did not have an appointment.

They let us in, and then unloaded on us.

After a little while, Dolores got up unannounced and started doing the dishes while leaving the three of us to dialogue with Ron.

The evening did not go well.

During this time, I consulted with Dr. Ed Murphy, one of the world’s foremost experts on spiritual warfare, about the conflict I was having with this couple.

Dr. Murphy told me, “Whatever you do, get them out of the church and off the rolls as quick as you can.”

For the next year, Ron and Dolores looked for another church, while keeping their friendships in our church.

I thought, “Good, they’re gone.  Now we can get some things done.”

But one Sunday, I got up to speak, and Ron was sitting twenty feet away from me … with his arms crossed … and his gaze cemented on my face.

And that’s when I knew the hatred had started.

Ron began spreading discontent … gathering malcontents … and holding secret meetings … all in an attempt to push me out as pastor.

He became the worst antagonist I’ve ever had.

And in the end, he and his wife became full of blind hatred.

Hatred is a cancer in our culture and our churches.

And sadly, some churchgoers have a special hatred for their pastor.

The problem in Christian circles is that most people – including pastors – refuse to believe that other Christians are even capable of such hatred.

So we naively allow such people to wreak havoc in our churches … and only realize our mistake until it’s too late.

So let me share with you five characteristics of the Christian hater in hopes that we can recognize the signs and take action to save our pastors … and our churches:

First, the Christian hater doesn’t like the pastor personally.

*They don’t like the way he looks.

*They don’t want to hear the pastor preach.

*They don’t want to shake his hand after the service.

*They don’t like the pastor’s wife or children.

*They don’t like those who do like the pastor.

In fact, they wish the pastor would just go away … forever.

It’s okay not to like another Christian … even a pastor.  But if you don’t like your pastor, wouldn’t it be better to find a church where you do like the pastor?

Because as long as you can’t stand your pastor, your attitude will rub off on others … making them choose between their pastor and their friendship with you.

Ron and Dolores liked me at first … then they hated me.

When the hatred started, they should have left, severed all ties, and never returned.

But their hatred was enabled by their friends, which included some key leaders.

Second, the Christian hater keeps a list of complaints against the pastor.

And every time they see or hear the pastor, they add to that list.

This is how my father left church ministry more than fifty years ago.

One Sunday, a woman began writing down some complaints she had about my pastor-dad during a worship service.  A friend saw the list and added a few complaints of her own.

Before long, that list grew much longer … even though the issues were all petty.

The list makers turned on my father and eventually ran him out of the church.

Making such a list is a sign of hatred … as is adding to the list yourself … as is asking others to add to the list.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love “keeps no record of wrongs.”

Love does not keep a list of a person’s foibles, faults, or failures.

But hatred sure does.

Ron and Dolores eventually began holding secret meetings with others in the church.

They wrote down as many of my faults as they could think of on the front and back of a green sheet of lined paper.

That list was a silent confession of hatred.

And when you list someone’s faults, you’re trying to do one thing: devalue them so you can destroy them.

Third, the Christian hater can’t hide their negative feelings.

When a hater comes to church, they don’t laugh with abandon.  They don’t smile freely.  They don’t look joyful.

And you can see it on their face.

The hater is also ready to gush out all their bitter feelings against their pastor.

If the hater goes out after the service for lunch, he or she won’t be able to stay silent for very long.

At some point during lunch, the hater will let begin attacking the pastor verbally.  No matter how hard they try to restrain themselves, their hatred will spill out.

Genuine hatred is very difficult to control … and to camoflauge.

The hater usually gives himself or herself away.

A board member kept me informed on what Ron and Dolores were telling others about their pastor.  The board member even crashed one of their secret meetings.

Ron and Dolores knew that the board member supported me completely, but they emptied their verbal guns when he was around anyway … giving away enough of their playbook so we could later counteract their actions.

Haters can’t help themselves.

Fourth, the Christian hater tries to convert others.

When you hate someone, you’re usually in the minority … or all alone.

And there’s nothing worse than hating someone on your own.

So most haters either look for other haters or try and convince their friends to hate someone as they do.

It’s no secret that I don’t like NBA player LeBron James.  While he’s incredibly talented, I find him to be arrogant and childish.  I have always rooted against him and his teams.

During the recent NBA playoffs, I didn’t have anyone to emote with about LBJ, so I found a group on Facebook called LeBron James Haters United … and sent a link they did to another person who dislikes LBJ.

I don’t represent any danger to LBJ or his worshipers.

But when someone inside a church hates their pastor, there’s a very real possibility that they will spread their hatred to others.

That’s what Ron and Dolores did.  Before the dust settled, 25% of our people left the church with them.

They formed a new church … composed of people who hated me.

That was their foundation.

Finally, the Christian hater wants to destroy the object of their hatred.

Thirty years ago, my former denomination held their annual meetings in the Silicon Valley city where my family lived.

My wife headed up a children’s program that met upstairs … and I helped her as much as I could.

But downstairs, Ron was doing his best to destroy me.

Ron had prepared literature about his new church that he passed out to people as they entered the convention center.  It was a violation of protocol … nobody ever promotes their church to the exclusion of others at such meetings … but he didn’t care about that.

And while he was promoting his church, he was vocally criticizing the church he left … and its pastor.

I was horrified.

Due to his hatred, Ron couldn’t stop trying to hurt me.

Leaving the church with his wife wasn’t enough … they had to take others with them.

Forming their own church wasn’t enough … he had to try and hurt my church in the process.

Various pastors came to me and told me what Ron was doing.  When I protested to the leaders of our district, they asked, “What can we do?”

Eventually, a pastor friend took all of Ron’s literature … when he wasn’t around … and threw it in a trash can.

_______________

A few months after the convention meetings, Ron’s influence had disappeared.  The church he founded died after a year, and the people scattered to other churches … although nobody returned to our church.

Ron’s wife died a horrible death on an interstate highway a few years later.  Ron later moved back to the Midwest, remarried, and then died himself.

I tried not to hate Ron and his wife in return.  In fact, a few years after their church disbanded, Ron and I met in a hospital, and had a productive conversation.

We can’t stop people like Ron and Dolores from hating their pastor.

But pastors and church leaders can take action so that the haters find themselves isolated and either choose to repent or leave a congregation.

Haters are aggressive individuals.  They go on the offensive.  Once they get started, they’re tough to stop.

But for the sake of our churches, our pastors, and the gospel … we have to try … and must succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Back in the mid-1970s, I applied for the job of Youth/Christian Education Director at a church in Orange County, California that was nearly ninety years old.

My cousin and her husband attended the church and referred the search committee to me.

I interviewed with the appropriate leaders, and the congregation voted on my call.

Out of 47 ballots cast, the vote was 42-5 in the affirmative.

I was offered the position, and quickly accepted it.

(One of the kids in that youth group went on to become the president of a Christian university.  He’s quoted in the press – both secular and Christian – all the time.  I’m very proud of him!)

I immediately wanted to know who voted against me.

There was a family in the church that had four adults living at home: a husband and wife and their adult kids, a young man and a young woman.  The young man was attached to a fifth adult, his girlfriend.

I heard through the church grapevine that all five of them voted against me.

Why?

Because I graduated from Biola College (now University), and their last youth director was also from Biola … and he had painted the youth room orange without permission.

Once I surmised who voted against me, I wondered, “How hard should I try to show them that I’m really a good guy?”

The mother in the family was the church secretary.  And her husband was chairman of the all-powerful Church Council.

I spent time trying to get to know the secretary, but it was challenging.  She wasn’t very nice.

Her husband wouldn’t give me the time of day, and later cheated me out of funds by refusing to break down my salary into taxable/non-taxable categories.

Both of them were rigid legalists.

Now here’s the reason I’m telling this story:

Most of the time, when someone votes against a pastoral candidate or criticizes that pastor publicly, those individuals become likely candidates to oppose their pastor in the future.

Once churchgoers – including board members, staffers, and key leaders – take a public stance against their pastor, they almost always maintain their stance until either they leave … or the pastor leaves.

Once they go public with their opinion, they rarely adopt a different view.

They bide their time until they can prove to the pastor’s supporters that he/she was right … and they were dead wrong.

The couple I mentioned above were later involved in forcing out the pastor of that church.  I expected they would then set their sights on me but the Lord allowed me to leave soon after the pastor did.

Let me share a second example.

In 1999, I was invited by a pastor friend to become his associate pastor with the idea of succeeding him as senior pastor if things worked out.

I came to the church in June 1999 and was hired by the church board.

The pastor announced in January 2000 that he would be retiring the following December … nearly a year later.

By this time, I was preaching … teaching classes … leading a small group … and starting my Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary.

The congregation had to vote on me before I could become pastor.  I had to win 75% of the ballots cast.

The longer I stayed, the greater the chance that I would do or say something offensive … and that could hurt my chances of winning any vote of the congregation.  (It’s not expedient to candidate for a position for almost a year!)

So I went to the pastor and board and said, “I’ve been here ten months now.  If you want me to become your new pastor, I’d like you to vote on me sometime in April.”

If I won the vote … and since things were going great, I was certain I would … I’d become the senior-pastor elect, and that would give me the authority to accelerate the transition.

So one April Sunday, church members cast their ballots.  The vote was 76-4 to call me as pastor … a 95% affirmative vote.

But, just like the vote mentioned earlier, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

I was pretty sure I knew who two of the naysayers were.

There was a man in the church (let’s call him Harry) who had become both a board member and a Sunday School teacher.  In many ways, Harry was the senior pastor’s right-hand man, and his class was large, giving him great influence.

Harry and the pastor were about the same age … had similar views on money … and even took a vacation together with their wives.  The four of them were becoming increasingly close.

And then I came along.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my very presence made me an immediate threat to Harry.

When Harry got together socially with people from the church, he not only roasted me, but misrepresented things I said and believed.  Some of the things he said filtered back to me, so I knew that he didn’t like me.

And given his forceful personality, I knew that if he was going public with his complaints, there was almost nothing I could do to change his mind.

One day, Harry and I met alone at the church for two hours.  He asked me some questions about ministry, and I gave him my honest answers.

We had diametrically opposite views of the direction our church should take.

He wanted to use a retail approach to church growth.  For example, he felt we would grow quickly if we just advertised on television.

That kind of approach makes my skin crawl.

He not only didn’t like me, he didn’t understand me, and couldn’t seem to relate to me at all.

So when that vote was taken, I knew … knew … that Harry and his wife were two of those four “no” votes.

After the election, one of my best supporters came up to Harry and his wife and said … loudly … “Why don’t you congratulate Jim on today’s vote?”

They did so … but their hearts obviously weren’t in it.

Six months later … two months before I was scheduled to become the senior pastor … Harry and his wife left the church … in anger.  Harry immediately tried to negotiate his way back, asking for full access to me at all times.

I told Harry I couldn’t grant his request … and he and his wife never returned.

In essence, Harry wanted to run the church through me, but I couldn’t be anyone’s man but God’s.

Based on these two stories, let me share five principles about how a pastor should view his early opponents:

First, it’s not wise for a pastor to try and track down who voted against him.

Although I was curious about the five people who voted against me in the first story above, I don’t remember being obsessed by it.  But it didn’t take long for me to find out who those five people were … and as I recall, I didn’t seek out the information.  It somehow came to me instead.

But in the second instance, I knew that Harry and his wife did not think I should be pastor of the church.  Most people were very complimentary of my ministry when I first came.  In contrast, Harry never said one positive thing to me during that whole time.

Other than Harry and his wife, I never did discover the identities of the other two people who voted against me … although after a few months as pastor, I could have hazarded some educated guesses.

Second, although pastors cannot afford to be paranoid, it helps to know the names of those standing against him in the early days.

Most people who vote on a pastor will tell their relational circle how they voted … and they will explain or create a rationale for doing so … even if their friends disagree.

If the pastor does or says something stupid, they’re liable to tell family or friends, “Don’t look at me … I didn’t vote for the guy!”

If a pastor can casually find out who voted against him, that knowledge can become extremely useful.  This gives the pastor time to figure out how to minister to his critics … or at least neutralize them.  (For example, a pastor shouldn’t let such people into leadership.)

Third, if a pastor can win over some of his initial detractors, he should seize the opportunity.

I can only recall winning over two people who initially stood against me.

In my second pastorate, I received a vote of 51-5 to become the church’s senior pastor.  And once again, I wondered, “Who voted against me?”

There was a middle-aged couple who attended the church, and I somehow discovered that they were two of the “no” votes.

I tried to get to know them, but they weren’t interested … and the woman always glared at me.

It went on like that for three years.

Then suddenly, the woman’s mother became ill and died.  I ministered to the family, and I watched their attitude toward me change overnight.

Suddenly, I became “their” pastor … and we enjoyed a great relationship for many years after that.

That’s the key: to become their pastor.

And sometimes, that takes a long time.

Fourth, some people initially oppose a pastor, not because they don’t like him, but because they assume he won’t notice or like them.

Most churchgoers don’t oppose a pastor because they disagree with his theology, or because they don’t like his stance on some social issue.

Instead, they’re afraid he won’t give them … or their family … or their ministries … sufficient attention.

This is where I sometimes failed.

As an introvert, I was often exhausted after preaching a sermon.  I didn’t have much energy left to say to the woman who glared at me all the time, “Hey, why don’t you and your husband go out with my family for pizza after church?”

Frankly, my wife and I didn’t have the money for shoes or car repairs, much less meals with people I didn’t understand.

But I needed to send some signals to that couple that I wanted to get to know them better and that they were valuable to our church … and if I sensed somebody didn’t like me, I sometimes avoided them instead.

Some of a pastor’s opponents are mean-spirited bullies who use intimidation to get their way.  Once a pastor has sized up such people, he needs to pray or escort them out of the church … and if they leave, let them go.

But others are just wounded people who wonder if the pastor truly cares for them.  And once they know that he does, they’ll become the loyalist of supporters.

Finally, although a pastor might be able to win over a few of his initial opponents, he needs to accept that some people will always oppose him.

I don’t think a pastor can win over everybody who initially stands against him:

*Some people are stubborn.

*Some people don’t want to lose face by admitting they’re wrong.

*Some people feel their influence would be jeopardized by switching positions.

*Some people are cantankerous and contrary by nature.

*Some people pride themselves on being the “loyal opposition.”

So the best of pastors can’t change everybody.

But if a pastor knows who his early opponents are, he can take steps to love them and to address their concerns … even if he never understands them.

_______________

But on rare occasions, the Lord can do amazing things even in the lives of those who vote against a pastor.

When I was nineteen years old, my church asked a former member and missionary to candidate for the position of senior pastor.

I didn’t fully agree with him … and neither did some others in my relational circle.

During his second of two sermons, he told us that God had called him to pastor the church.

I thought, “So why hold an election?”

In the end, I voted against him … as did six other people in my circle.

But 87% of the people voted for him, and five months later, he became the church’s second senior pastor.

Right before that pastor arrived, I was hired to work with youth for the summer.

That new pastor became my primary ministry mentor for decades.

And I ended up marrying his daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

I once had a conversation with a pastor who had been asked to leave his church by the official board.

His attitude was, “Okay, I’ll resign.”

And according to him, he and his wife then quietly left the church.

The way he told the story, he didn’t ask for any severance … didn’t feel any anger … didn’t tell anyone what happened … and didn’t need any time to recover.

Personally, I think he was either lying to me or greatly exaggerated how well he handled his departure.

Because most pastors who are forced out of their churches don’t recover quickly.  According to my friend and mentor Charles Chandler, founder of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, it takes the average pastor one to three years to heal from a forced termination.

And in some cases, I believe it can take longer than that.

In my last blog, I wrote about the first three stages that a pastor goes through after being forced to leave a ministry:

Stage 1: Shock

Stage 2: Searching

Stage 3: Panic

Let me share the final three stages with you:

Stage 4: Forgiveness

I’ve heard pastors tell me their stories but try and excuse or explain the behavior of the official board or an antagonistic faction.

If the board wasn’t at fault … if they did everything right … then the pastor should feel little to no anger, and he probably doesn’t have to forgive anyone.

But if the board violated Scripture … and possibly the church’s constitution/bylaws … and lied about the pastor’s offenses … and demonstrated callousness rather than compassion … and offered little to no severance … then the pastor rightfully feels angry, and he will have to forgive his opponents before he can truly recover.

Some boards know that the way they’re treating their pastor is wrong, but they do it anyway.  These are usually boards that are run by bullies and people who are powerful/wealthy in the church or community.  The bullies have sociopathic or narcissistic tendencies and force others to do their bidding.

These boards must be forgiven.

Other boards … maybe most … think that the way they’re treating their pastor is right, but if they asked him … and probably the majority of their congregation … they’d say, “You’re handling matters horribly.”

These boards must be forgiven as well.

Surveying those who crucified Him, Jesus prayed in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus was treated horribly.  He didn’t do anything wrong but was crucified on trumped-up charges.

Yet from His perspective, Jesus granted His enemies unilateral forgiveness.  He forgave them for their sins against the Father and the Son.  He chose not to hang onto personal anger and bitterness.

But He did not offer His enemies bilateral forgiveness … or reconciliation … from the cross.  That offer would come later.

Now here’s the problem with pastors who have undergone termination: what the pastor really wants … and needs … is reconciliation … but it isn’t possible.

He has to settle for unilateral forgiveness instead.

Let me share how this works from my own story.

The board at my former church may have been upset with me over a few issues, but for months, they did not bring them to my attention, nor did they ask me to repent.

Instead, at our final meeting, they brought up an incident where I had already asked for their forgiveness and changed my behavior.

Then they mentioned a second supposed offense which I deny to this day.

In neither case did they allow me to respond to their charges.  They engaged in a scripted monologue that made them feel better but made me feel angry.  The climate in the meeting was, “We’re right, Jim, but you’re wrong.”

It’s hard to defend yourself when it’s six against one.

Yet eight days after our final meeting, all six board members resigned together.

Based upon their resignation letter, they never wanted to see or hear from me again.  In fact, if you read their letter, you would conclude that they hated me … which is how I interpreted what they wrote.

Then a week later, at two public congregational meetings, someone stood up and rattled off a list of charges against me which the board had never shared to my face.  In fact, it was the first time I had heard of all but one charge.

According to the church consultant present at those meetings, I suffered abuse and slander.  He later wrote that the board had acted “extremely and destructively.”

Those six board members chose not to interact with me anymore.  To this day, not one of them has ever tried contacting me for any reason.  Any personal relationships we had were destroyed when our working relationship was severed.

The board is no longer an entity.  I doubt if they have annual reunions.  If I wanted to reconcile with them, what would that look like?

I read a book once about a pastor who tried to do just that.  A year after he left his previous church, he called the board together and tried to reconcile with them.

But they were even more angry and adamant about the pastor than they had been the year before!  Their hearts had hardened toward him, not softened.

I have never heard of a pastor who was able to reconcile with a board or a faction that pushed him out of office.  Maybe it’s happened … I’m just unaware of it.

Individuals from the board or a faction might desire reconciliation, but most of the time, they’d have to initiate contact with the pastor.

I can count on one hand the number of churches that I’ve heard about that brought back a pastor and admitted they sinned against him when they ran him out of town.

But in most of these situations, the board members who sent him packing are no longer on the board … and they probably wouldn’t agree with the church’s decision anyway.

The problem with reconciliation between a pastor and the board that terminated him is that they would have to rehash the story again … both sides would probably end up taking the same stances they took in the past … and the pastor would be hurt all over again.

In my case, I was not guilty of any major offense.  I tried to work with the board, but our value systems were just too different.  One or both of us needed to leave.

Since reconciliation isn’t possible, granting unilateral forgiveness is the only thing a terminated pastor can do.

The timing of genuine forgiveness depends upon two factors: the severity of the injustice and the sensitivity of the pastor.

In my case, it took me six months before I could forgive those who ended my pastoral career.

Why did it take so long?

I wasn’t ready.

This means going to the Lord alone or with family … confessing any sins that the Lord leads you to confess … and then asking the Lord to forgive those who sinned against you, just as Jesus did in Luke 23:34.

If you can pray once and let things go, great.  In my case, I’ve had to forgive some people multiple times as I’ve heard about new offenses they committed against me.

But if you don’t forgive those who hurt you, you will not be able to recover from your termination.

Forgiveness is essential.

When you’re ready, give the Lord your anger … let it go … and ask Him to right any wrongs.

And then trust Him to do just that.

If you want additional help, let me recommend the books on forgiveness by David Augsburger and Lewis Smedes.  Augusburger is more biblical and deeper … Smedes is more practical and shares great stories.

Stage 5: Distancing

What do I mean by distancing?

After you have formally forgiven everyone who attacked and hurt you, you have to put some distance between you and (a) your former congregation as an entity, and (b) nearly everyone in that congregation.

Let me share a mistake I made along this line.

When my wife and I left our last church in December 2009, we not only had to move everything in our house, we both had offices at church as well.

We put everything in two moving pods … including at least two hundred boxes of my books … but we still had to leave some items behind … and we moved nearly 800 miles away.

I left three large filing cabinets full of files in the church office, and wasn’t able to return for them for three months.

When I returned, it took 21 Banker Boxes for all those files.

But it was extremely painful to return to the church.  The interim pastor had set up camp in my former office of ten years … I could see him through the large window … and the church was planning to do a memorial service for a woman who had been one of my biggest supporters … but now I wouldn’t be conducting that service.

One night on that trip, I drove by the church in the rain … and it was the last time I ever saw the sign and the building.

I’ve returned to the city where we lived and worked several times, but I refuse to drive by the church.

It’s just too painful.

On several occasions, I met with friends from the church, but they wanted to talk about the real reasons why I was pushed out … and that was hard as well.

On one of those trips, I invited a good friend out to breakfast, but he never asked me one question about how I was doing, and talked about how much he liked the new pastor instead (even though his family left the church soon afterward).

The last time I visited the city was six years ago, and I promised myself I would never go back.

That’s what I mean by distancing.

To recover, you need to distance yourself:

*from seeing the church campus again.  If you have to remember what it looked like, find some old photos.

*from spending any time with anyone who isn’t 100% your friend.  Eight years later, I probably have 15-20 friends left from my former church … and that’s mostly on Facebook.

*from any of your detractors.  There were people who claimed to be my friends when I left the church who flipped on me a few months or years afterward.  Their disloyalty was so painful that I started pulling away from anyone I couldn’t fully trust.

*from hearing how the church is currently doing.  If you don’t have contact with people who are at the church, you won’t have to hear how things are going.  Most of the time, a church that pushes out their pastor will suffer as far as attendance, giving, volunteers, and morale for the next two to five years.  I have no idea how my previous church is doing in any detail.  I took my hands off the church years ago … and that’s the best gift I can give any successor.

*from the area where the church is located, if possible.  Visit restaurants and stores in the area, and you’re bound to see someone you don’t want to see.

When I was in college, I worked two years for McDonald’s in Anaheim.  While I’ve driven past it a few times since I moved out of Orange County in 1981, I haven’t stopped there for a burger or tried to see if anyone I knew in the early 1970s still works there.

They’ve moved on … as have I.  McDonald’s no longer defines me.

That’s how pastors have to view their former churches.

Finally, there’s:

Stage 6: Perspective

You can’t have perspective on a forced termination until you’ve forgiven those who have hurt you and have put distance between you and your former church so you know they can’t hurt you again.

As long as you’re stressed, depressed, or in pain about your termination, your thinking about what happened to you will be skewed.

And it takes time to gain that perspective … sometimes a lot of time.

While self-reflection in this area is a good thing, you’ll gain far more perspective … and much more quickly … if you ask others for assistance.

I recommend:

*talking with several pastor friends.  My pastor friends let me know that my departure did not change our friendship.  That was their greatest gift to me.  I also had meetings with a lot of prominent pastors, most of whom told me about the conflicts that they went through.  Wounded pastors bond quickly and easily.

*talking with a church consultant or conflict expert.  If you want to know what really happened in your situation, these are the guys you want to speak with.  If I can help you in any way, please email me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org  I love to hear new stories about pastoral termination … and I know I can help.

*talking with one or two Christian counselors.  I visited two counselors … both women … and both came highly recommended.  (My wife saw them both as well.)  Both had been in ministry so they understood the dynamics.  Most pastors don’t see a counselor after a forced termination, and that’s a huge mistake.  If a pastor doesn’t see a counselor, he will tend to bleed emotionally all over his wife and children, and after a while, they may not be able to take it anymore.  The right counselor will listen to your story without judgment or condemnation … point out flaws in your thinking … help you discern healthy and unhealthy responses to your termination … and help you move forward.  Make sure you see a Christian counselor who understands people in ministry!  They will also understand spiritual warfare.

*talking with several of your supporters from the church … especially if they know the back story.  Because I wrote a book about what happened to me, I spent hours emailing and calling people who knew what was said and done after I left.  For example, two weeks after our departure, the new board chairman told the congregation that an investigation was done and “there was no evidence of any wrongdoing” on our part.  I would never have known that unless several people told me it had occurred.

I had invested 35 years in pastoral ministry, but my final year was horrible.  The church was landlocked, so I didn’t see any hope for growth, and the board was obsessed with money, even though we had plenty of funds for ministry.

After two bad board meetings in a row, I visited a counselor, who tested me and told me, “You’re severely burned out and headed for a breakdown.”

But I was so committed to ministry … to my church … and to my career that I would never have resigned voluntarily.

Looking back now, I see that the Lord in His mercy removed me from office.  Things at the church were going to get worse with that board … not better … and more conflict was going to be the result.

As I’m fond of saying, I didn’t retire … the Lord retired me.

People sometimes ask me, “Don’t you miss church ministry?”  And I always tell them the same thing, “No, I don’t.  Thirty-five years was enough.”

My wife and I run in a preschool in our house.  It took us nearly four years before we settled on our new career, but it’s gone very well, and we’re nearly always full.

We have nights and weekends free … can go to church with our son’s family and our three grandsons … and lead quiet but fulfilling lives.

I resonate with the words of Joseph, who told his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good …”

When you focus more on God’s wise and good plan than the hurt and the pain caused by your detractors, you’re well on your way to recovering from your ecclesiastical nightmare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my case, I had to pray this prayer on multiple occasions because the board that wanted me gone thought they were clever in the way they handled matters but bungled them so badly I toyed with the idea of calling my book Bungled instead of Church Coup.

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: