Posts Tagged ‘responding to pastoral attacks’

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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