Posts Tagged ‘pastors under attack’

I just dropped a final payment and a sharply-worded letter in the mailbox to my former cable company (let’s call them Corrupt Cable) a few minutes ago.

Last April, Corrupt bought out my previous cable company (which I was very happy with) and immediately began alienating their new customers.

The bills were higher than they had been.  When I called customer service – which I did every month – the reps would tell me I owed one amount, but the subsequent bill would be larger.

When my bill in July was double what the customer rep said that I owed in June, I immediately cancelled (I was on a month-to-month contract) and contacted another company, which came the next day and exceeded my expectations with their professional attitude and performance.

I called Corrupt’s customer service again, asked how much my final bill was, and sent in that amount.  But Corrupt later billed me twice the amount the rep said I owed.

That was it for me.  I sent Corrupt management a strongly-worded two page letter along with a check for the amount the rep said I owed.  Corrupt countered with a letter threatening my credit if I didn’t pay them the remaining balance immediately.

I have never written the word “Corrupt!” on a check before, but I just did.

Now here’s the deal: I don’t want to hurt Corrupt’s CEO or force him from office.  I don’t want to destroy the company or its shareholders.

I just don’t want to think about them or talk about them anymore.  I am done with the Corrupt Cable Company forever.

But in many churches, when someone becomes upset with the pastor, they want to hurt him.  They want to target him.  They want to force him from office.

And they want revenge.

It’s my contention that many pastoral terminations are really the result of one or more church leaders seeking retribution against their shepherd.

More and more, I’m hearing stories of pastors and staff members who are forced out of their positions, and when they’re done sharing, I say to them, “You know what this sounds like to me?  Revenge.”

Let me share with you a composite of situations I’ve heard about firsthand.

Tom (who is now in his early 60s) has been the lead pastor of New Life Church for fifteen years.  The church has grown steadily and has a weekend attendance of 1100 people.  Tom and the board hired an associate pastor named Joe five years ago, and the first several years went well, but over the past two years, Joe has made Tom’s life a living hell.

Joe (who is in his mid-40s) is surrounded by family and friends who think that he’s a better leader and preacher than Tom and that he’s more culturally relevant.  Joe’s wife has been especially vocal in this area.

Some members of Joe’s group (which numbers about thirty) have started to make snide comments about the church and its leadership on social media.  Though they don’t mention Pastor Tom by name, it’s obvious they’re aiming their barbs at him.

By contrast, when Pastor Joe does anything in public, he’s praised on Facebook and Twitter by the FOJ Brigade.

At this point, the ideal solution is for the official board to intervene and tell Joe that (a) he still works for Pastor Tom; (b) he needs to tell his supporters to knock off their social media campaign; (c) if Joe has any concerns, he should discuss them with Tom first; and (d) any deviations from their instructions will result in Joe’s dismissal.

But because most church boards are afraid of conflict, and because some board members like Joe more than Tom, this solution isn’t likely to be implemented.

If Pastor Tom does nothing, he’s going to be driven from his position within a short while, because Joe’s followers are starting to smell blood.

But if Tom goes to the board and enacts too heavy-handed an approach, some board members will turn on him and back Joe instead.

So Tom decides that he will talk to Joe in private first.  Tom will tell Joe what he’s seeing with his attitude and ask Joe what he plans to do about it.

Tom’s plan doesn’t work and, in fact, upsets Joe greatly.  Ten minutes after their meeting, Joe is texting and calling his group, telling them, “How dare the pastor talk to me like that!”

Tom comes out of their meeting dazed and confused, while Joe calls a couple of board members that he senses are sympathetic and negatively exaggerates both Tom’s tone and words.

The verdict?  Pastor Tom can’t get along with the staff (even though he gets along with everybody but Joe) and he can’t get along with important people (like Joe’s followers).

So Tom has to go.

I wrote the following paragraph in my book Church Coup:

“I have a theory about the mentality of those who seek to target a pastor they don’t like. Because they sense that what they’re doing is wrong, they have to (a) exaggerate any charges to the level of a capital crime; (b) find others who agree with them to alleviate their guilt; (c) justify their actions by convincing themselves it’s for the common good; and (d) work up their hatred so they follow through with their plan. While this progression sounds like the kind of diabolical rage one might find in politics or war (or the prelude to a murder), the last place we’d expect to find such irrationality is inside a church.”

Over the next three months, Joe’s revenge against Tom manifests itself in five ways:

*Joe lets scores of people know – both directly and through his minions – that Tom should no longer be the pastor at New Life.  Joe details Tom’s inadequacies for anyone who will listen, including veiled swipes at his age.  As news spreads through the church underground, people add their own grievances against Pastor Tom to Joe’s list.  Some people start saying that if Tom doesn’t leave, they will.

*The church board absorbs Joe’s complaints against Tom and calls a special meeting to deal with the conflict.  Since nobody on the board has a clue how to handle matters, the easy way out is to dismiss Tom, even though he isn’t guilty of any major offense.  Because the board lacks any impeachable offense, they decide to justify their actions by “gunnysacking” Tom – listing as many faults and petty offenses against him as they can create in a single meeting.  They come up with seventeen reasons why Tom must leave but make a pact they won’t tell Tom anything.

*Keeping Joe informed at every turn, the board then ambushes Pastor Tom at their next regular meeting and informs him that he has a choice of resigning (with a small severance package) or being fired (without a severance package).  When Pastor Tom asks for the charges against him to be read, the board declines.  When Tom pleads for them to let him defend himself, they refuse.  The charges against Tom are merely a smokescreen for personal hatred.  When Tom becomes upset, they add that to their list.

*Pastor Tom resigns and receives a three-month severance package.  However, he’s told he must (a) clear out his office (and all his books) in two days; (b) turn in his keys immediately afterward; (c) never set foot on the church campus again; (d) not discuss his dismissal with anyone or his severance will be curtailed; (e) cut off all contact with everyone at the church.

*After Tom’s resignation is read to the congregation, Joe and his minions want to make sure that Tom’s supporters (at least 95% of the congregation) won’t cause any future trouble, so they spread rumors that (a) he was having an affair; (b) he was using drugs; and (c) he had trouble in previous churches that never came to light.  Several of Joe’s supporters also call the local district office and exaggerate the charges against him to make sure that no church in the denomination ever hires him again.  The district minister complies.

Some quick observations:

First, this whole situation was handled politically, not spiritually.

When revenge is involved, church politics rule.  It’s all about maximizing power … counting noses … denying the pastor due process … and checkmating him personally and professionally.  It may not look or sound like revenge, but it is.  Where’s the Bible in all this?

Second, the church board wimped out.

Had I been on New Life’s board, I would have recommended that Pastor Joe be confronted for challenging Pastor Tom’s authority.  If he wouldn’t repent, I would recommend his dismissal instead.  Tom didn’t do anything wrong; Joe did.  And it’s far easier to get a new associate than a new lead pastor.  But the board went with the squeaky wheel rather than any semblance of fairness or righteousness.

Third, the church lacked a predetermined process for handling complaints against the pastor.

Every church needs such a process.  It automatically kicks in whenever dirt starts being thrown at the pastor.  Because church boards often operate politically, I believe that another group in the church needs to monitor this process: a CRG (Conflict Resolution Group).  It’s not their job to make decisions about a pastor’s future.  It’s their job to make sure that the board and the church treat the pastor fairly: according to Scripture, the church’s governing documents, and the law.  And if the CRG’s directives aren’t followed, the entire board should be asked to resign rather than the lead pastor.

Fourth, treating Pastor Tom badly will come back and bite the church … hard.

Yes, people will leave the church, even if they never find out the details surrounding Tom’s departure.  But more than this: unless Pastor Joe and the complying board members repent, do you really believe that God is going to bless New Life Church in the future?  If so, you and I worship a different God.

Finally, God seeks redemption for His leaders, not revenge.

Allow me a personal word.  When I left my last church ministry nearly seven years ago, the entire church board resigned because they initiated a coup that failed.  They wrote and signed a resignation letter that was cruel and demeaning and intended to provide me with the maximum amount of pain.  (I have read it only three times.)  They obviously were upset with me about some issues, but they never sat down and talked with me about them.  Instead, they concocted a plan designed to checkmate me at every turn, and when their plan backfired, they left enraged.

There was never any attempt at restoration or redemption.  It was all about retribution and revenge.

Several weeks ago, I found out that two couples from my former church who had been friends for forty years severed their friendship over the way I was treated.  One couple bought into the gunnysacking charges the board made against me, while the other couple – which never heard from me directly – defended me to the hilt based on the pettiness of the charges themselves.  While this new information made me sad, I thought to myself, “This is what happens when people seek revenge against their pastor.”

When church leaders hear complaints about their pastor, they have two options:

First, they can lovingly bring the charges to their pastor’s attention, let him face his accusers, ask him for explanations, and remain open to his staying.  That’s redemptive.

Second, they can angrily spread charges behind the pastor’s back, refuse to let him face his accusers, insure that he’s not permitted any kind of defense, and remain determined to get rid of him.  That’s revenge.

We all know these verses, but they’re a good reminder during such times:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17,19,21).

What are your thoughts on what I have written?














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It’s mid-afternoon on a Tuesday.

As pastor of Grace Church, you’ve just about recovered your energy from last Sunday’s service … and you’re looking ahead to the following Sunday’s worship time.

Suddenly, the phone rings.  It’s John, one of your board members.  He sounds anxious.

“Pastor, I’ve just heard and confirmed that a petition is being circulated to call for a vote to remove you as pastor.  I don’t have all the details, but I thought you ought to know.”

With that one phone call, your world will never be the same.

Because I’ve written a book on the topic of forced termination called Church Coup … because I write a blog on pastor-church conflict … and because I know firsthand what it’s like to be attacked from within your church … I regularly hear the stories of pastors who have already gone through this horrendous experience.

But what about the pastor who has just received word that a group of people from inside the church want him to leave?  What, if anything, should he do?

Let me present ten suggestions for pastors who have just confirmed they’re under attack (five this time, five next time):

First, trust your pastoral instincts.

If you think you’re under attack, you probably are.

If you think someone hates you, they probably do.

If you think a group wants you to resign, you’re most likely correct.

Could you just be paranoid?  Yes.  Could you be overreacting?  Of course.

But the most likely scenario is that you know in your heart of hearts exactly what is going on.

When I was under attack more than five years ago, some people from the church came around me and tried to encourage me.  They would say things like, “I can’t believe So-and-So is against you” or “I’m sure you’re reading this wrong” or “Maybe this will all blow over in a few weeks.”

While I appreciated their attempts to make me feel better, I knew deep inside what the endgame was: to force me to quit.

And in almost every circumstance, my instincts were right.

The more years you’ve been in church ministry, the more finely-tuned your instincts are.  While they’re not infallible, they’re incredibly accurate.  Unless you have clear-cut evidence that they’re wrong, trust them.

Second, locate several comforting passages of Scripture and read them daily.

When you’re under attack, you usually can’t concentrate for very long.

If you can maintain a quiet time schedule … including reading through books of the Bible … then go ahead and do it … but realize that you may end up reading the words but not deriving much from their meaning.

Two books of the Bible deal specifically with attacks upon God’s servants: the Psalms and 2 Corinthians.

Time after time throughout the Psalms, David laments that his enemies are trying to harm him … even kill him.  The way David felt several thousand years ago mirrors the way many pastors feel today when they’re under attack.

In my situation, I perused the Psalms until I found Psalm 35, and for several weeks, my wife and I read that psalm every evening before we went to bed.  If you can identify one or more psalms that work for you, maybe you can park there for a while, and let God’s Word fill your mind and soul.

Paul wrote 2 Corinthians because some people in Corinth were questioning his qualifications to be an apostle.  Paul opens up his heart and expresses his feelings in a way he doesn’t do in places like Romans or Ephesians.  It’s great therapy.

If you find difficulty praying, it’s okay to shoot “arrow prayers” up to God during the day like “God help me” or “God save me” or “God give me wisdom.”  Jesus was in so much pain on the cross that He only uttered a few words at a time, and our Father understands if you can’t pray as long or as deep as you’re accustomed to doing.

Third, confide in believers from outside the church.

When you suspect you’re under attack, proactively contact two types of friends who are not in your church:

*Contact personal friends who are believers.  These are people who call you by your first name.  They don’t know you as “Pastor.”

Share with them what you’re going through.  Ask them to pray for you … and with you right then.  Ask them to check in on you over the next few weeks.

When I was under attack, I regularly called several friends, including one who is a pastor, and two who were former board chairmen.  While they were honest with me, they also let me know that our friendship superseded whatever my opponents were saying … and they usually saw matters more clearly than I did.

*Contact professional friends who can provide perspective.  This includes seminary professors … Christian counselors … church conflict interventionists … and fellow pastors.

Five days after our conflict surfaced, I spent 14 hours on the phone one day with Christian leaders.  They were generous with their time … provided much-needed insights … and let me know that I wasn’t alone.

If you can, take notes during these conversations.  You’ll be able to relay their thoughts much better to your wife and family, and the notes may be useful down the road if matters go south.

Fourth, identify and meet with your supporters from inside your church … cautiously.

I spoke recently with a woman who was trying to bring a charter school to her community.  She told me that a school leader held some face-to-face conversations with two school board members and came away convinced that both members would vote in favor of the project.

Both ended up voting no … along with the rest of the board.

The lesson?  During times of crisis, don’t assume that people who have supported you in the past will continue to support you in the future.

And don’t assume that people who say they support you will continue to do so … because some will flip on you.

In fact, some may become double agents … acting like they’re your supporter but passing on whatever you say to your detractors … and you may not find out who these people are until it’s too late.

How can you tell who your supporters are?

They’ll use “we” language (“Pastor, what are we doing to do?”) … threaten to leave the church if you leave … encourage you not to resign prematurely … defend you to the hilt when people criticize you … and share any conversations they have with your opponents with you.

Assume that unless you’ve done something impeachable … like commit adultery, steal church funds, or commit a criminal act … most people will continue to support you, at least initially.  After all, the great majority of people who attend your church are there because of you … and not because of your detractors.

Fifth, gauge the opposition against you: both who and how many.

This is a difficult step to take, but it’s necessary.  Consulting with your supporters, you want to find out:

*Who is against you?  Don’t be surprised if your opposition includes a staff member or a few board members.  Some church leaders sense that if they can overthrow you in a coup, they will gain more power in the church by default.

When I discovered that some top church leaders were standing against me, I was devastated.  Nobody had ever sat down with me and said, “Hey, Jim, I’m concerned about your behavior or about this aspect of the ministry.”

Looking back, those who ended up opposing me went silent whenever they didn’t like something I had said or done.  That’s why I didn’t know they were against me.

You have to shake off the shock of discovering that an associate or close friend has turned against you.  It says far more about them than it does about you.  They lack the courage to confront you to your face and are only willing to go public when they’ve pooled their grievances with others.

*How many are against you?  I haven’t read this anywhere, but here’s what I think:

If the entire church board is against you, you cannot survive as pastor.  No matter how bad you feel, or what people are saying about you, do not resign without a severance agreement. Trade your resignation for a severance agreement … but don’t resign until you have one in place and it’s been reviewed by an attorney.  If you resign without a severance agreement, you will put a tremendous strain on your family financially, and you will kick yourself for a long time.

Here is a blog article I wrote for board members on severance agreements.  Feel free to send them the link:


If a vocal faction is against you, try and find out how many people are in the faction, as well as their names.  Know your opposition.  If they are making demands and threats, they’re probably at the point where they’re telling people, “Either the pastor leaves or we leave.”  If the faction doesn’t include any board members, staff members, or spiritual leaders, you may be able to survive provided that your board and/or your staff stands behind you.

During my second pastorate, a vocal faction … mostly composed of seniors … held a secret meeting … created a list of my faults (and included my wife and two kids) … approached the church board with their list … and demanded that I be fired.  Because their list consisted of petty items, the board stood with me and the entire faction left the church en masse.

If several members of the church staff are against you, and their complaints are petty, call a public meeting and expose their opposition.  Some will probably resign immediately because they don’t want to go on record against you.  I know a pastor who did this many years ago and now leads one of America’s greatest churches.

Just because some prominent people are against you doesn’t mean that you should resign.  And just because ten or fifteen percent of your congregation is against you doesn’t mean you should quit, either.

It all depends upon the strength of your support from the church board and staff.  If they stand with you, you can survive any uprising.  But if several of them wilt on you …  especially because they’re friends with your opponents … that’s a different story.

I’ll share five more suggestions next time.

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How do you handle harsh criticism that is directed at you personally?

Most people don’t handle criticism very well.

Some people lash out at their critics.  Others engage in swift retribution.  Many turn to drink or drugs.  Some rush into counseling.

But when pastors are personally attacked, they tend to go into hibernation … especially if those attacks result in a forced exit.

By hibernation, I mean that the pastor holes up somewhere: in his house, a hotel, his car, or even at a friend’s house.

When a pastor hibernates, these phrases go running through his mind:

“I can’t believe what they are saying about me.”

By the time most Christians start attacking their pastor, they have been upset with him for some time.  They’ve probably shared their feelings with family members, good friends, or co-workers.

But the pastor remains unaware of those latent feelings until they surface … and when the pastor hears what is being said about him … or to him … he goes into a state of shock.

Many years ago, someone at my church accused me of a serious charge to my face.  I had received zero training on how to handle such an accusation.

I quickly brought over a staff member … called an attorney … then called the leader of the church board.  I repeated the charge to them and assured them of my innocence … and I was innocent.

My instincts led me to go home for the rest of the day.  I could not believe … and still cannot believe … that someone would make such a charge against me.

Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and in league with the devil, even though neither charge was true.  He often withdrew to desolate places to think and to pray … but I wonder if there were times when His spirit was so wounded by the charges some people were making against Him that He chose to hibernate.

“I can’t believe my friend has turned against me.”

It is difficult for most pastors to form close friendships inside their church family.

The larger a church grows, the more likely it is that the pastor spends most of his time with key members of the ministry staff or governing board.  So by default, most pastors select their friendships from the staff or the board.

After the pastor has carefully selected someone to be a friend, he still remains wary of them.  He wonders, “Can I trust them with information about my background?  About my home life?  About my feelings?  About my future plans?”

Some leaders fail the test right away, and while they remain a co-worker, the pastor doesn’t choose to pursue friendship with them.

But a few leaders seem to pass every test, and after a while, the pastor gradually learns to trust them with an increasing amount of personal information … and this process can take years.

So when one of the pastor’s few friends attacks him … or doesn’t support him when he’s under attack by someone else … the pastor is devastated … and all he wants to do is hide.

Judas’s betrayal wounded Jesus, but at least Jesus knew what Judas was going to do ahead of time.  Most pastors have no idea that a friend has become a traitor until it’s too late.

“I no longer know who to trust.”

I’ve been in hibernation mode before, and it’s downright scary.  You feel like the disciples right after Jesus was crucified … hiding out, afraid for your own life.

During my last church ministry, my wife and I were both attacked by people we thought were our friends.  During that time, I was advised to go into hibernation mode by someone who had been through what I was going through.

People from the church wrote me emails, wanting to know what was going on.

Some people called.  Some came to the door.  A few sent flowers.

But I couldn’t be transparent because when you’re in the middle of an attack, you have no idea who is for you or against you.

Put a little too much information into an email, and it could be circulated all over the church.

Reveal too much on the phone or at the door, and it will be repeated to others … often inaccurately.

I even went through my Facebook friends and “unfriended” anyone I suspected might be against me … or was good friends with those who were.

You choose to stay away from others … for a while … until it’s safe to go outside again.

So you hibernate.

“I have to stay safe until I can think straight.”

Imagine that you have a dream job.  You love the work and the people you work with.

Then one day, your boss calls you into her office, and without any warning, she fires you … ordering you to clear out your desk immediately.

How would you feel?

Confused … hurting … fearful … frightened.

You don’t know who to see … where to go … or what to do.

So you do the one thing guaranteed to keep you safe: hibernate.

That’s how pastors feel when they’re under attack.

In my case, I spent much of my time on the telephone speaking to people outside the church: Christian leaders, fellow pastors, ex-board members, close friends, and family members.

Just the interaction on the phone helped keep me sane.

I also spent time writing out what was happening to me and how I felt about it … which became the genesis of my book Church Coup.

I had many theories as to what was happening, and I was able to test those theories with people outside the church … who often gave me critical insights into what they thought was occurring.

When I was under attack, I discovered that the safety of hibernation helped me make better decisions … put things into perspective … and make wiser future decisions.

If you’re a pastor who is presently under attack, that instinct to hide out may very well be from God.

Let others investigate the charges against you and who is opposing you.  Learn all you can but stay out of sight.

And view that time of hibernation as a gift from a God who will eventually right all wrongs.









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When a pastor is under attack inside his church, he begins to suffer from a condition I’d like to call Damaged Pastor Syndrome.

DPS strikes a pastor when he picks up signals that an individual or a group are laying the groundwork to force him from office.

These signals include church members:

*Making inquiries about church attendance and giving patterns.

*Requesting copies of the church constitution and bylaws.

*Calling district or denominational headquarters.

*Visibly gathering before and after church … even if they don’t travel in the same social circles.

*Increasingly making negative comments on social media about the church and/or pastor.

In addition:

*The governing board may call itself into executive session without the pastor’s foreknowledge.

*Staff members may begin to resist the pastor’s directives.

*Staffers may become secretive while talking on the phone.

*Some church leaders may limit or avoid social time with the pastor altogether.

*Certain board and staff members may stop coming to worship … especially when the pastor is preaching.

Most pastors – nearly 80% – are very sensitive individuals, and when they sense an attack is coming, they quickly acquire DPS.

Let me share a story from my own ministry to illustrate this more concretely.

During my second pastorate, the seniors’ Bible class rebelled against me.

They didn’t like the new music the board had approved for worship.  They didn’t feel I was paying them enough attention.  And the class’s teacher – a former pastor who couldn’t find a job anywhere in Christendom – began to feel powerful as his class focused on the source of their discontent: their pastor.

Before long, rumors of discontent became reality.

A board member found out that a group of seniors were going to hold a secret meeting at a specific time and place.  He told me about the meeting.

I was afraid and anxious.  I couldn’t think.  And I wondered, “Why doesn’t this group like me?  What have I done to offend them?”

My wife and I went to a movie – a Disney cartoon, as I recall – just so I could focus on something other than that meeting.

In the end, it didn’t come off because the supportive board member showed up at the meeting unannounced and took away all their fun.

But that didn’t stop them.  They rescheduled and reloaded.

Because I didn’t know what was happening … and could only imagine the worst … I shifted into survival mode.

In the end, they created a two-page list of complaints against me, my wife, our son (who was 9), and our daughter (who was 6).

When I found out about this, I called a special board meeting and informed the entire group about the plot.

To a man, they stood with me … even though my district minister recommended that I resign.

But for weeks, I was a wreck.  I couldn’t sleep … couldn’t carry on a decent conversation … couldn’t trust people … and couldn’t think about anything other than the attack.

Because I had shifted into fight or flight mode, I was pumping adrenaline at a furious rate to handle the emergency.

The conflict went on for months … until the seniors and their buddies all left the church en masse … forming a new church one mile away.

Now here’s how DPS becomes relevant: when a pastor is under attack, he will be further attacked for responding to the attack like a human being.

For example, when a pastor is under attack:

*If he becomes depressed, he will be attacked for looking gloomy.

*If he becomes fearful, he will be attacked for not appearing strong.

*If he becomes anxious, he will be attacked for not trusting God.

*If he becomes isolated, he will be attacked for being aloof.

*If he becomes ill, he will be attacked for appearing unhealthy.

In other words, the very people who abuse, betray, and criticize the pastor will kick him around even more for not handling himself the way they think he should.

They will ask people in the church: “How can he be our pastor if he isn’t going to set a better example for the rest of us?”

DPS may be the primary reason why pastors end up resigning after enduring a sheep attack.

It took me six months to recover my energy after that group left the church.  The pastor of one of America’s largest churches told me that after he survived a similar attack, it also took him six months to recover, so this may be a pattern.

The group attacking the pastor is correct: the pastor may not be very effective for a while due to anxiety, depression, and fear.

But the group is wrong about why the pastor quickly wilts.  It’s not because he’s a poor example … it’s because shepherds are never prepared for sheep to turn on them and stomp them into the ground.

Since pastors are attacked while on the job, it only seems fair for the congregation and/or church board to assume responsibility for the pastor’s care while he recovers.  This includes a reduced workload … extended time off … funds for counseling … a visit to a retreat center … and creating safeguards to resist another attack.

Because most of the time, it’s not a weakness in the pastor that causes him to collapse under pressure … it’s a weakness in the church system that allows the attack in the first place.

Think about it.










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Alex Trebek was not happy.

The thirty-year host of the TV game show Jeopardy was hosting Kids Week on the program during the first week in December.

One of the contestants ended up $1400 in the red, and according to show rules, she couldn’t compete in Final Jeopardy.

Trebek said to the girl: “We have bad news for you, because you’re in a negative situation, it means you won’t be around for Final Jeopardy, but you’ll automatically pick up $1000 for a third place finish.”

The girl was visibly upset and ran backstage.

The girl’s mother later wrote a letter to Sony, the show’s producers: “If he had taken the time, he would have known, like you do, that my daughter is not a sore loser, and does not become emotional solely over losing a game,” she wrote. “She was upset about not being able to completely play the game to the end… I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for that.”

Trebek was accused of not making a credible effort to make the girl feel better and was asked to re-tape the moment right before the girl became upset and ran backstage.

Pastors go through this stuff all the time.

During my first pastorate, I was reading William Manchester’s biography of General Douglas MacArthur called American Caesar.  I discovered that I knew next to nothing about MacArthur or his accomplishments … like writing Japan’s constitution after World War 2 ended.

During one sermon, I selected an illustration from the book, a story where the Americans won and the Japanese lost.

A young couple attended our church.  The wife was Caucasian … and her husband looked Caucasian.

His wife later told me that he was part Japanese, part Caucasian … and that because of my story, he probably wouldn’t be coming back to the church.

How could I know that he was part Japanese … and how could I know that my story might offend him?

From the beginning of my pastoral ministry, I wrote out my sermons word for word, and then discarded my manuscript as much as I could.

I realize this style isn’t in fashion nowadays because congregations expect their pastors to speak without notes.

But one reason I chose to write out my messages was because I had time to think through how to say what I wanted to say so I would offend the fewest possible people.

But just like Alex Trebek, a pastor never knows when he’s going to say something offensive … or who is going to be offended.

My wife runs a preschool in our home with about 25 kids attending at various times.  She can say the exact same thing in the same way to 24 kids and they’ll comply, but the 25th child will burst into tears.

Should she then aim her directives toward the 24 kids or the one kid who is overly sensitive?

And should a pastor speak to the congregation as a whole or change his language so some people won’t be offended?

I once heard Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church say that about 15% of his congregation might be classified as dysfunctional, while the other 85% were pretty healthy people.  (This was at least twenty years ago, so the percentage of dysfunctional people might be higher now.)  Hybels believed that a pastor should direct his message toward the 85% and direct the 15% toward counseling.

How does that sound to you?

Pastors have two choices when it comes to preaching: they can speak in a politically and emotionally correct way … in which case they won’t say much at all … or they can be themselves before God and just let it fly.

But it’s not just up to the pastor, but up to the church board as well.

If the church board backs the pastor’s right to say whatever he wants before God … even if some don’t always agree with him … that pastor’s ministry can flourish.

But if the board demands that the pastor speak in such a way that he doesn’t offend the wrong people … that pastor’s ministry may not succeed because he’ll always wonder if he’s offending somebody by what he says.

During my last ministry, I said something in a message that really upset one couple.  They complained to the church board and wanted my head.

The board chairman listened to a recording of my message, felt I didn’t say anything wrong, and told the couple just that.

They didn’t stop their crusade against me until they left the church … livid … but I felt supported, and free to continue to say whatever God wanted me to say.

In the end, Alex Trebek wrote the following words to the show’s producers: “If you all think I should retape the opening, I will.  But I want to say that for 30 years I’ve defended our show against attacks inside and out.  But it doesn’t seem to operate both ways.  When I’m vilified, corporate (and certainly legal) always seems to say ‘don’t say anything and it’ll blow over,’ and I’m not feeling support from the producers, and that disappoints the _______ out of me.”

As a former pastor for 36 years, I understand where the Jeopardy host is coming from.

When you’re attacked, if you sense support from those you account to, you’ll forge ahead with greater confidence and boldness.

But if those you account to collapse on you when you’re attacked, your morale will plunge, and you’ll start looking for a way out … which is why Alex Trebek ended his statement by saying, “Maybe it’s time for me to move on.”

My favorite verse on preaching is John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Fundamentalists focus on speaking the truth … but often without grace.

Liberals focus on speaking with grace … but usually have little to say.

But biblical pastors prioritize truth in content … and grace in presentation.

And those are the ministries that make it to Final Jeopardy.




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A pastor wrote me recently and said that he had read my book Church Coup and that he wanted to contact me because he needed someone who understood how he felt.

Several days later, we spoke at length on the phone.

I was struck by how often I hear the same story: the church is going well … yet struggling financially … the board meets in secret … lies to the pastor … asks the pastor for his resignation … brings back that pastor’s predecessor … the pastor’s supporters leave … the pastor and his family are devastated … and the pastor has no idea what he did wrong.

During the course of my conversation with this precious brother, he told me something that another pastor had shared with me recently:

“I am so glad to know that I’m not alone.”

Five years ago, similar events happened to me at a church I served for nearly 11 years.  These thoughts went through my head after I was blindsided by church leaders:

“How long has this plot been in effect?”

What have I done to deserve this treatment?”

“Why is this happening now?”

“Who else knows about this situation?”

“What is really going on here?”

“If I leave, how will I support my family?”

“With housing values so low, what should we do with the house?”

“Will this end my pastoral career?”

“What does God think about all this?”

The pastor going through the process of forced termination feels anxious … betrayed … confused … devastated … and forsaken.

He can’t think straight … is scared to death … can’t see past that very minute … suddenly becomes distrustful of everybody in the church … and blames himself for everything.

Except … he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong.

One part of him feels like he’s supposed to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself.

Another part of him is aching to get them out.

During a forced termination, church leaders often tell the pastor not to discuss what’s happening with anybody else.

But much of the time, their intent is to control the flow of information so they are in charge of the conflict, not the pastor.

Personally, I believe a pastor needs to discuss his thoughts and feelings with other Christian leaders so he can regain perspective.

There were Christian leaders that I wanted to call and consult with, but I was concerned they might have advance knowledge of what was happening, so I crossed them off my contact list.

Instead, I contacted leaders who didn’t know my church … didn’t know my predecessor … and would be willing to give me a fair hearing.

Within several days, I contacted nearly 20 Christian leaders, some of whom I hadn’t spoken with in more then 10 years.  One day, I spent 14 hours on the phone.

Every leader I spoke with seemed to have one or two pieces to my puzzle, but in hindsight, maybe I was reaching out so I wouldn’t feel so all alone.

Jesus never felt more alone than when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane.

*He knew that He’d soon be in gruesome pain.

*He knew that the Father’s protection was being removed.

*He knew that Satan was coming after Him with full force.

*He knew that He would suffer even though He hadn’t done anything wrong.

In His greatest hour of need, Jesus reached out to His three best friends in this world: Peter, James and John.

Even the Son of God didn’t want to be alone during His hour of trial.

If you’re a pastor or a staff member, and you sense you’re close to being terminated or you’ve been terminated, I want to encourage you to reach out to some or all of the following people:

*your oldest Christian friends.

*pastor friends who love you unconditionally.

*older pastors who have experienced a forced termination.

*Christian conflict managers and interventionists.

*seminary professors and classmates.

Many of these people know what you’re going through because they’ve been through it themselves.  Let them encourage you and pray for you.

And although you might not feel like reading Scripture or praying when you’re under attack, know that God is with you, even when you can’t sense His presence or favor.

If I can help, feel free to contact me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and we can set up a time to talk.

When I wrote my book Church Coup, I didn’t do it for revenge, or for personal therapy, or to make money, or to become well-known.

I wrote the book to help pastors, church leaders, and lay people better understand the phenomenon of forced termination and to try and minimize the damage that happens so often to pastors and churches.

Just this morning, a prominent Christian leader cited the statistic that 1700 pastors are leaving church ministry every month.

Let that sink in: 1700!

My guess is that the great majority of those 1700 are being forced out of their churches by just a handful of opponents.

In fact, you’re in great company with leaders like Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham, and many others who were forced to leave their churches prematurely.

You aren’t alone.








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