Posts Tagged ‘secret church meetings’

There’s a scene in the new James Bond film Spectre where the British spy sneaks into a meeting filled with international villains and thugs shrouded in shadows.  Though he has to run for his life after being discovered, Bond gains valuable information he could never have gathered otherwise.

That scene made me wonder: what if a faction of seven people in a medium-sized church held a secret meeting designed to create a strategy for forcing out their pastor … and two church leaders watched the whole meeting on a hidden camera?


“The meeting will now come to order,” Greg confidently proclaimed.  Greg was the leader of sports ministries for Brookside Church.

“Many of us have felt for a long time that Pastor Ben is not the right man for this church.  Over the past few months, several friends have come up to me after the service and said that they don’t like Ben’s preaching.

“In addition, a lot of us are really upset that Ben dismissed Pastor Scott, who worked so well with our young people.  My kids really liked Scott a lot, and were very unhappy when he left.

“Those are just some of the concerns we have about Pastor Ben.  But before I start, let me introduce the others I invited to this meeting:

“You all know my wife Marie.  She’s been taking soundings from some of the women in her small group Bible study.

“Then there’s Max, one of our oldest members who has watched pastors here at Brookside come and go over the years.  Max is here to represent the seniors.

“I want to welcome Pete and Jo, who worked with the high school group under Pastor Scott.  They never saw any of the misbehavior that Ben claimed Scott was guilty of before he was let go.  They represent our youth.

“I’m glad that our Associate Pastor, Phil, could join us tonight.  He has worked with Ben for several years and doesn’t like the direction he’s taking the church.  Once Ben is gone, Phil is willing to step in and take over the leadership of Brookside.  He’s a much better leader and preacher than Ben.

“It’s also a privilege to have Arnold, one of the board members, with us this evening.  Arnold has witnessed Ben’s behavior firsthand in official meetings these past few years.  Because I’ve heard Arnold question several of Ben’s past decisions, I decided to approach Arnold, and he’s all in with us.

“So let’s go around the room.  I want to hear why each one of you believe that Pastor Ben needs to leave our church … the sooner the better.”


With an expertise in surveillance that no one knew about, Arnold decided to accept Greg’s invitation to attend the meeting as a “double agent” and hide a small camera on his clothing where it couldn’t be detected.

His aim?  To expose Greg and his cohorts by recording the entire meeting … even if such a practice was illegal.

The camera fed pictures and sound directly to the computer of Steve, the worship pastor, a loyal supporter of Pastor Ben’s.  Brandon, another board member, watched the proceedings with Steve in his home office … all without Pastor Ben’s knowledge.  (The two leaders wanted to give the pastor deniability.)

When Greg started soliciting grievances against Pastor Ben, Brandon leaned over to Steve and whispered, “Did I miss something, or did they neglect to start the meeting with prayer?”  Steve whispered back, “You’re right.  How could God ever bless what they’re doing?”


Greg asked his wife Marie if she would keep a list of everyone’s grievances.  Marie asked, “Should I write down who made the complaints?”  Greg quickly responded, “No, that information won’t be necessary.  We’re just trying to pile up charges.”

Pete and Jo decided to go first.  Jo began, “As you all know, Scott was here just eighteen months.  Our two kids really liked the way he ran the youth group.  He had them doing service projects and always had time to listen to their problems.  I don’t know why Ben fired Scott, and I don’t really care.  My kids loved to come to church when Scott was here.  Now they won’t come at all, and they blame it all on Pastor Ben.”

(Back at Steve’s office, Steve said to Brandon, “Pete and Jo’s kids probably came to church once a month when Scott was here, if that.  They may have loved him, but not enough to show up on a regular basis.”)

Greg responded, “Sounds like Ben doesn’t care about the youth.  If he did, he would have kept Pastor Scott on because it’s hard to find a good youth man.  In fact, Ben should have been the one to leave!  Marie, write down that Ben doesn’t care about the youth.”

(Brandon turned to Steve and said, “You know why Ben fired Scott.  It’s because Scott was hired to work full-time and he didn’t even work half that time.  Ben warned him over and over … and kept the board informed … but Scott refused to change.  He deserved to be canned.”)

Max, representing the seniors, was next.  He said, “You know, Pastor Ben supposedly visits people when they’re in the hospital, but I don’t think that’s true.  Two months ago, I went in for some tests on my heart and had to stay overnight.  I kept waiting for Ben to visit me, but he never did!  Another senior said that Ben never visited him in the hospital, either.”

(Steve said to Brandon, “Ben didn’t visit Max because he was on vacation!  Ben asked me to do hospital visitation while he was away, so I visited Max, but he neglected to mention that fact.”)

Marie asked her husband, “What should I write down, Greg?”  Greg thought for a moment and then said, “Put down that Ben doesn’t care about the seniors of this church … or about people who are sick.”

Greg went fishing again.  He asked Marie, “Tell the others what you told me about Ben’s daughter Lacey last night.”

Marie replied, “Remember how Lacey was going out with Jeff, whose parents run the Guest Ministry?  I heard from a reliable source that Jeff broke up with Lacey because she was pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.”

Greg exclaimed, “Oh, brother!  That’s two charges right there!  First, Marie, write down that Ben can’t manage his family because his daughter got pregnant, and then write down that Ben is immoral because he tried to cover up the fact that his daughter planned to kill her baby.”

(Steve and Brandon, watching this horror show unfold on Steve’s computer, couldn’t believe their ears.  Steve told Brandon, “That’s a flat-out lie, and Pastor Phil knows it.  Ben told us in a staff meeting one day why Lacey and Jeff broke up.  It’s because Jeff was pressing her to have sex with him, and she told him she was only going to have sex after marriage.  Why doesn’t Phil speak up and say something?”)

Coincidentally, it was now Phil’s turn to knife his pastor.  Phil said, “I never liked Ben from Day One.  There was just something about him that I couldn’t connect with.”

Phil proceeded, “My main concern about Pastor Ben is that he doesn’t listen to our ideas.  I’ve told him over and over that I don’t agree with his emphasis on reaching out to people in our community.  After all, those people aren’t attending our church, and they aren’t paying the bills!  Why should we focus our attention on people who aren’t here?  We need to focus on the Christians who come here instead!”

Phil’s outburst caused everyone in the room to nod their heads in agreement.  “Our people come first,” Greg added.

(Brandon said to Steve, “This is hard to watch.  What about Jesus’ Great Commission?  What about all the lost people around us who are hell-bound without Christ?  If Ben focuses just on our own people, the church will begin to die.”)

Greg then asked Marie, “Can you read back the charges against Ben so far?”

Marie listed six charges:

*He doesn’t care about the youth.

*He doesn’t care about seniors.

*He doesn’t care about the sick.

*He can’t manage his family.

*He stands for immorality.

*He doesn’t pay attention to our people.

This process continued throughout the evening.  Three hours later, the group had 17 charges against Pastor Ben … including two that intimated that Ben had mishandled church funds … both sure winners once they went public.  Now they had to decide what they were going to do with those charges.

Greg, who had done this sort of thing in two previous churches, gave the group a game plan:

“First, I think we need to talk up these charges throughout the church.  Over the next two weeks, slip a charge or two into your conversations with friends and family members.  Find out who else doesn’t like Ben.  We need to develop a larger critical mass before we can act.

“Second, we need Arnold to share these charges with anyone on the board who might be sympathetic.  Arnold, can you think of any of the seven board members that you can recruit to our cause?”  Arnold replied, “I think I can sway two members to our way of thinking.”  (Arnold played along even though he had no intention of harming Pastor Ben.)

Greg continued, “If we can win four of the seven board members to our side, it’s only a matter of time until Ben is toast.  But if the board protects him, we may need to meet with Ben ourselves as ‘concerned church members.’

“Third, I’ll call the district office and let Wayne, the district minister, know that there are many people here at Brookside who think that Pastor Ben should leave the church.  My experience is that Wayne will listen to my concerns … want to know some of the charges … and tell me that he’ll be praying for our church.  District guys tend to believe the first thing they hear, so if and when Ben calls him, he’ll probably believe us over Ben.  That’s an advantage for us.

“Fourth, let’s solicit more charges from people who have left the church.  Marie and Jo, why don’t you look through the directory, see who has left Brookside over the past year, give them a call, and find out why they left.  Then make a list of those charges and bring them here next week.

“Finally, we need to stay underground and yet stay aggressive.  Don’t tell anyone what our plan is.  Don’t tell anyone who is in this group.  Let’s just keep things among ourselves for now, agreed?”

Everyone nodded their heads.

Greg concluded the meeting by saying, “If you want to talk among yourselves, use your cell phones.  No texts … no emails … and no instant messaging.  If anyone learns anything new over the seven days, please call me on my cell and let me know.  Otherwise, we’ll meet here next week, same time and place.  Good night.”

(Even though it was a long evening, Steve and Brandon now knew the entire plan.  They planned to meet with Pastor Ben the next day … tell him about the plot … reveal the names of the plotters … and help Ben create either a counterattack or a solid defense.  Ben’s future and their future were intertwined.)

Let me make seven observations about secret meetings in churches:

First, secret meetings are called either by the church board or by a church faction.  They are almost always invitation-only.  The clandestine nature of the meeting makes group members feel powerful.  Secrecy is what binds everyone together.  Take out one “secret member” and the whole scheme might come crashing down.  The faction cannot afford to have anyone who disagrees with them present.  It would ruin the entire exercise.  It usually takes only seven to ten people to “take out” a pastor, regardless of church size.

Second, secret meetings aren’t called to investigate charges against a pastor.  They are called to create charges – true or untrue – and to pile up as many charges as possible.  The charges only need to seem plausible.  The sheer volume of charges is what’s most important.  How can a pastor even answer charge after charge?  He can’t … and that’s the idea.

Third, secret meetings by their very nature create false accusations.  The group meets to pile up charges, so accusations aren’t vetted.  The most plausible charges are assumed to be true.  If the group cared about truth, they would give the pastor their list in advance … along with the names of his accusers … and let him rebut them, one by one.  But they don’t want him to rebut the charges … they want him to be ensnared by them.

Fourth, secret meetings don’t begin with offenses the pastor has made against the congregation, but offenses he’s made against individual group members.  Personal gripes somehow morph into official charges.  In this case, seven people fool themselves into thinking that they’re speaking for 300 … and they’ll try and fool the pastor into believing that, too.

Fifth, secret meetings involve one-way charges.  Group members serve as judge, jury, and executioners.  The pastor doesn’t know what the charges are, or who is making them, so he can’t answer them.  By the time he hears about the charges … and he will only hear about a few … a sizable percentage of the congregation will believe them, and he will not be given any fair and just forum to defend himself.

Sixth, secret meetings are designed to enhance the power of people who currently feel powerless.  Pete and Jo wanted Scott to stay, but Ben made him leave.  Phil secretly wants to be the pastor, but he can’t be as long as Ben is around.  The plotters must include someone from the church board and/or staff, or they won’t be successful.  They need inside support.  Those who attend and participate in secret meetings are saying two things, loud and clear: “I want to have more power than the pastor, and I want to exact revenge upon him for marginalizing me.”

Finally, secret meetings are always about one thing: destroying the pastor’s reputation, position, and even career.  Group members convince themselves that they are meeting for the good of the church and to carry out God’s will.  But the truth is that in almost every case, they are meeting for their own good and to do Satan’s will.  They aren’t meeting in the light, but in the darkness.

I thought I’d end this article with the words of John the apostle from 1 John 2:9-11.  They fit this scenario so well.  Just replace the word “brother” with “pastor”:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

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Have you ever attended a “secret meeting” at your church?

I have … on at least three occasions.  On each occasion, I as senior pastor met with the church board to discuss disturbing allegations that had come to light about staff members.

So what I’m about to write about does not primarily apply to officially called meetings of a church’s governing board … unless the board violates Scripture, church bylaws, and the gospel.

But have you ever had a group call a secret meeting about you?

Yes.  I know of one definite secret meeting where I as pastor was the topic of conversation, although there have probably been others that I’ve never found out about.

During my second pastorate, a former board member (I’ll call him Bert) resisted changes that the church board and I had implemented in our worship service.  Bert and his wife left the church and began attending elsewhere, but a year later – invited back by a few disgruntled individuals – he returned.

And right after Bert’s return, someone called a secret meeting.  I was the unwilling focus of discussion.

The first attempt at meeting secretly didn’t work.  A board member – who supported me 100% – showed up at the meeting unannounced.  The meeting was quickly cancelled.  (Secret meetings are no longer fun when they’re no longer secret.)

But the second meeting came off successfully.  I was later told that 17 people attended the meeting.  (That was better attendance than we sometimes had for midweek Bible study.)

Guess who became group spokesman?  That’s right … my good friend Bert.

The group sat in a room and listed every sin … every offense … and every thing they didn’t like about me … my wife … my 9-year-old son … and my 6-year-old daughter.

They came up with quite a list.  If they had only shown the list to me, maybe I could have repented of those sins and experienced instant sanctification.

But they didn’t show me the list … they wanted to show the list to the church board.

Fortunately, those 17 people couldn’t keep their mouths shut, and someone tipped me off to their tactics.  The Secret Meeting Coalition wanted to meet with the church board to confess all my personal and professional sins.

So the following Saturday morning, I called a meeting with the church board in my office.  First, I needed an answer to a crucial question:

“How do you feel about what the SMC is doing?  Do you agree with them?”

The board assured me – to a man – that they stood behind me 100%.  In fact, they said that if I resigned, they would all quit as well … which would place the church squarely in the hands of the SMC.  Not good.

I then offered two suggestions:

“How about if two of you meet with two of their representatives?”

That evened the playing field … opened up the chance for dialogue … removed a lot of emotion from the meeting … and provided the best chance for me to be treated fairly.  The board made this suggestion to the SMC, and they agreed to it.

“Rather than letting them read their whole list of charges against me, why don’t you answer each charge as it’s being made?”

The board thought that was an excellent idea, and that’s what they did.

After the two groups met, I was informed of the charges against me and my family.  Mercifully, I can only remember a handful of them.

For example, I was accused of not reprimanding a woman in the church who wore her dresses too short … and the SMC was right about that.  (Besides the fact that this woman’s marriage was falling apart, I never thought it was my place as a pastor to ever tell specific women how to dress.)

The SMC also brought up that my wife’s slip was showing one Sunday.  (But if it bothered somebody so much, why didn’t they love my wife enough to speak with her directly instead of telling 16 other people about it?)

Every single criticism was precisely that petty.  (If I had been guilty of just one major offense, they wouldn’t have had to manufacture miniscule offenses.)

After the two board members answered every single criticism, the SMC probably held several more secret meetings.  They eventually left the church en masse, formed a new church in a school one mile away, and used our church as their sole mission field.

Let me make five observations about secret meetings in churches:

First, secret meetings are not found anywhere in the NT.

Secret meetings are spiritually dysfunctional … relationally damaging … highly political … and psychologically unhealthy.  The secrecy itself says far more about group members than it does about anyone the group is focused on.

Peter Steinke, in his brilliant book Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach, states: “When we are anxious … we are imprecise, vague, covert, less transparent.  We operate in darkness.  Secrecy is a deadly virus.  Undetected, it can do untold damage, lasting for years.  How can a congregation be a healthy community if it lives in darkness, keeps skeletons in the closet, and allows destructive disease processes to continue?”

Second, secret meetings are an unbiblical way to handle people’s grievances. 

If someone was upset with me or my wife personally – according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15they should have spoken with us directly, not about us to others.  If they didn’t like the answer they received from us, they could have proceeded to bring in witnesses as Jesus specifies in Matthew 18:16.  And if they were still unhappy about our personal conduct, they could have used the process Paul specified for correcting pastors in 1 Timothy 5:19-21.

But how was listing my faults and sharing them with board members going to help me to become a better person and pastor?

If someone was upset about a church policy – like changes in the worship service – they could have spoken with any board member because we had all agreed on the changes together.  If they didn’t like the answer they received from a board member, they had two options: stay and submit to church leadership, or leave the church peacefully.  A secret meeting was not going to resolve any of their concerns.

But when people pool their grievances, they automatically become divisive.  Joe is upset with the pastor for Offense A … and now Madge is upset with the pastor for Offense A as well.  She takes Joe’s side … carries his offense … adds a few of her own … and the whole group falls right into the trap that one author calls The Bait of Satan.

Division in a church begins when people begin to pool their grievances.

Third, secret meetings tend to overfocus on one personusually the pastor.

These meetings are specifically arranged to find a scapegoat for the unresolved anxiety experienced by some group members.  “We’re feeling uncomfortable right now, so let’s blame how we feel on the pastor – and if we can make a case against him, we’ll all feel ecstatic very soon.”

But the church would have been in far better shape spiritually if those who had met to hypercriticize their pastor met instead to confess their sins … read Scripture together … pray for church leaders … and engage in a service project for somebody else.  But for some reason, they never found the time to do that.

Fourth, secret meetings reveal the immaturity of participants.

Let me quote Peter Steinke once again: “Secret meetings are not arranged for the welfare of the whole community, nor are they dialogical in nature…. Secrets support immaturity.  Underground murmurers in a community are usually insecure, dependent, and childish people.”

Why is this?  Because participants in secret meetings do not feel strong enough to share how they feel with their pastor or leaders.  They only feel strong when they meet with fellow malcontents.  But when they do, nobody will challenge them … nobody will disagree with them … and nobody will love them into health.  And when they finally leave the room clinging to a list of somebody else’s faults, they are silently confessing that they don’t know anything about grace or redemption.

Rather than becoming angry with people who resort to secret meetings, we should genuinely feel sorry for them … and if they don’t repent, pray them right out of the church.

Finally, secret meetings consist of ecclesiastical vigilantes.

These people ignore the teachings of Scripture on reconciliation … bypass due process as outlined in church bylaws … and decide to take matters into their own hands.  Their group alone knows what’s best for the church!

That particular group of vigilantes couldn’t make a go of their new church.  They found attracting newcomers was hard going, although I have a feeling that they never figured out why.  Their church eventually disbanded.

And you know what was ironic?  When two of the people in that group died, I was asked to conduct their funerals.

I assumed that everyone in that group hated me, but they didn’t.  Only a couple of people in that group really hated me.

It’s been 25 years since that secret meeting took place.  I’ve learned a lot since then about healthy and unhealthy behavior among Christians.

And one of the things I’ve learned is that many of the secrets that arise out of secret meetings eventually become known.  Nothing stays hidden forever.

And yet tonight … all over this land … Christians will be holding secret meetings … most of them aimed at their pastor.

To quote from an old folk song, “When will they ever learn?”


Check out my website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find my story and recommended resources on conflict.  I will also be leading 3 seminars addressing church conflict on Saturday, August 17 in Temecula, California.  The details are on the website.  I’d love to have you join us!

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