Posts Tagged ‘Speed Leas’

When a husband and wife aren’t getting along … and they can’t seem to resolve their issues … they may seek out a third party: a counselor.

When an employee feels she’s been wronged by her employer … and she’s tried but can’t resolve the issues inside her company … she may seek redress from a third party: a judge.

But when people in a church are in conflict and they aren’t able to resolve matters, what do they do?

They usually choose up sides … exonerate themselves … demonize their opponents … put their heads down … and attempt to bulldoze their way to victory … even if it splits their church wide open.

There is a better way.

Church conflict expert Speed Leas, in his brilliant manual Moving Your Church Through Conflict, believes there are five levels of conflict in a local church.

Leas says that conflict at levels one through three can be resolved by God’s people within their local church.

But when a conflict escalates to levels four and five, the conflict cannot be resolved inside the church.  It’s gone too far.

The church needs outside intervention instead.

But in my experience, the great majority of Christians resist that idea.

Years ago, I served as pastor of a church where we were being cheated by a building contractor.  He was billing us for his work … we’d pay him … but then rather than pay his sub-contractors, he’d divert the funds to other projects he had.

The sub-contractors were naturally upset that they weren’t being paid and came to us for the money … but we’d already paid the contractor.

We held a board meeting, and it was a bit tense because I wanted us to go to an attorney, while someone else felt it would be a waste of time.

I understand the sentiment: “Look, this is our problem, so we need to be the ones to solve it.  All we’ll do is make the attorneys richer.”

But sometimes, the biggest barrier to resolving a conflict is our pride.  We just don’t want to admit that someone else knows how to handle matters better than we do.

According to Leas, a conflict at Level Four has the following characteristics:

*Each group stops talking with the other, even when they’re in the same room.

*Each group is convinced that the other party “won’t change.”

*Each group no longer wants to win … they want to hurt the other side.

*Each group takes on an air of self-righteousness: “We’re right … they’re wrong.”

*Each group uses threats and demands against the other.

*Each group takes the stance: “Either he/they leave(s) or we will.”

When a conflict reaches Level Five, one side wants to destroy their opponents.

At Level Four, a faction may want their pastor to leave.

At Level Five, they want his position … his health … his family … and his career decimated.

I have been on the receiving end of both Level Four and Level Five conflict, and in both cases, the opposing group left the church.  In the first case, the conflict died down.  In the second case, the conflict got worse.

If a church is having a conflict, the chances are great that the pastor has become involved somehow.  Either he’s perceived as “the problem” or he hasn’t yet “fixed the problem.”  And the anxiety around the church becomes so great that people begin to wonder, “If our pastor is this incompetent or this useless, why should he stay?”

So when a conflict hits Level Four … or if it quickly leapfrogs to Level Five … the church board needs to seek outside intervention as soon as possible.

Here are five reasons to seek outside help:

First, the current church leadership has been unable to resolve the conflict at Levels One, Two, or Three where it’s much more manageable.  If they can’t manage things at the lower levels, they’ll never be able to manage matters at the highest levels.  They need an outsider.

Second, many church leaders have either been in their church for many years, or their present church is the only one they’ve ever known.  They’re so immersed in their present church culture that they don’t know how pastors and boards in other churches handle conflict … but an outside interventionist almost assuredly does.  He will help them broaden their thinking.

Third, pastors and church leaders can become so anxious and stressed about a conflict that they think they’re going crazy.  They become so irrational that all they want to do is get the conflict over with.  An outside interventionist comes in with a clean slate … no emotional investment … and a neutral approach that seeks the good of the church as a whole, not just the pastor, board, or a vocal faction.

Fourth, pastors and church leaders usually lose control of the process when a conflict erupts in their congregation.  An outside interventionist can remind everyone of what Scripture says, what the church constitution/bylaws say, and what secular law says about how Christians are to treat one another.  The interventionist can set ground rules for behavior and remind people when they have crossed the line.

Finally, the interventionist can teach the leaders … and by extension, the congregation … new skills, processes, and resources for managing conflict in the future.

Let me share my story along this line.

Seven-and-a-half years ago, I found myself in the worst conflict of my 36-year ministry career.  I didn’t know which Christian leaders to contact, so I contacted everyone I knew outside my denomination.

The name of a Christian leader popped into my head … someone who had once commended me on an article I wrote in a Christian magazine … so I looked him up online and made a phone appointment with him.

He had been a pastor … a district executive … and a denominational president.  Later on, I found out he was considered to be the best-networked evangelical leader in Southern California.

We had a two-hour conversation.  He gave me more valuable counsel over the phone that day than the other sixteen leaders I contacted combined.

He later became my mentor … and my friend … giving me hours of his valuable time, and advising me at key times when I needed to make a major decision.

My conversation with that leader was free.  He recommended I speak with the head of the consulting firm that he worked for, so a few hours later, I did.

After about a 45-minute conversation, the consulting head told me, “Jim, we need to get someone to your church as soon as possible.”

The next day, our church had been assigned a top Christian leader.  The following weekend, he dropped everything to fly to our area and help facilitate the conflict.

How much did he cost?

Think $5,000 to $10,000.  The better the interventionist, the more they cost.  If someone says they’ll do it for free, they’re probably not very good.

What did he do?

*He met with me and heard my side of things.

*He met with the church staff and interviewed them.

*He met with a group of church leaders and helped formulate strategy for two congregational meetings.

*He later met with both my wife and me.

*He stayed in constant contact with a transitional leadership group.

*He attended the two public meetings and became so incensed that he stood up after the second meeting and scolded the congregation.

*He did investigative work and uncovered a plot originating outside the church designed to force me out of office.

*He wrote a report and gave one copy to me and one to each of the transitional leaders.

*He told me that I had a future in ministry and made recommendations to the transitional leaders for a realistic severance package.

And he did it all in five days.

Who should a church hire as an interventionist?

I recommend … along with many other Christian leaders … that you don’t seek outside help from your denomination, at least initially.

Most denominational leaders aren’t trained in conflict intervention.  Even though they’ll make a pretense of acting neutral, any decisions they make will most likely be political.

And they usually recommend that the pastor leave the church, even if he is innocent of any and all charges.

If you do use denominational services, only go to them if every other avenue fails.

Here are some ideas about hiring an interventionist:

*Contact Peacemaker Ministries.  They often have trained interventionists and mediators in many communities, including former pastors and attorneys.

*Contact the executive pastor of a megachurch.  It’s nearly impossible to make contact with the lead pastor of a huge church, but you can often contact other staff members, like the executive or an associate pastor.

*Contact the seminary your church knows best, or the one you graduated from.  I was able to speak with a professor from my seminary who had extensive knowledge of church transitions and was able to give me valuable feedback.

*Contact Christian leaders who do this for a living, like Peter Steinke with BridgeBuilder.  I’ve had training directly from Steinke, and he focuses on the process that congregations should use to resolve conflicts rather than resolving matters by himself.

*Contact someone like me … a former pastor who has credentials in conflict management.

Two additional ideas:

First, make sure that you allow representatives from both sides to interview a consultant before he’s hired.  Don’t hire someone and then try and impose that person on the other side.  That will create even more conflict!

Finally, do your best to follow the consultant’s recommendations.  I’m amazed when a church hires a conflict consultant and then completely ignores his report.  How arrogant … or stupid … is that?  This usually happens in situations where either the pastor or the board is faulted in some way by the consultant and those leaders refuse to believe that they might be the problem.

By the way, when my church hired an attorney many years ago, that attorney … and someone else from his firm … not only saved our church … they also helped us settle a lawsuit that was eventually filed against us … and we settled for pennies on the dollar.

That incident completely changed my outlook on attorneys.

And hiring that consultant in 2009 changed my outlook on hiring church outsiders as well.

Is it possible that your church needs an outside interventionist?

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There are times in our lives when a situation arises and we have no idea what to do.

We’re confused … upset … off balance … and despairing.

Believe it or not, there are times when pastors … no matter how well-trained or experienced they are … don’t know what to do, either.

In my own 36-year ministry, I needed more help when conflict surfaced than at any other time.

A conflict could occur through a phone call late on a Saturday night … at a staff meeting during the week … through an anonymous letter … on the church patio after a Sunday service … or from an unexpected visitor to my church study.

Much of the time, I was pretty sure how to handle matters.

But there were times when I didn’t know what to do or say … and I didn’t always handle matters calmly or wisely.

A pastor’s responses to conflict primarily come from his temperament … his experience … and his training … especially his training.

And since seminaries fail to prepare pastors for managing conflict in any meaningful way, pastors must rely upon mentors … and books.

For example, if someone criticizes the pastor severely in a letter, and the pastor doesn’t know how to reply, he might grab a book on conflict from his study bookshelf and formulate a reasonable response.

But if the pastor is sitting in a board meeting, and he’s unexpectedly criticized, he can’t excuse himself, run to his library, select a book, and read about what he should do or say.

In fact, the pastor should be so familiar with this scenario that he instinctively knows how to respond … and that can only occur if he’s already read and assimilated lessons from the best Christian authors on conflict.

Let me share with you the names of five crucial books on pastor-church conflict … and in no particular order:

1. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What by Peter L. Steinke.

I first discovered Steinke’s writings when I was doing background reading for my doctoral project on antagonism in the local church using family systems theory.

Steinke’s book makes great reading for any Christian … lay people, board/staff members, or pastors … because he’s grounded in both Scripture and reality.

There are ideas in this book that I’ve never read anywhere else.  For example, Steinke doesn’t believe, as many pastors are taught, that unity should come before truth, but that truth should come before unity.  That single idea is worth the price of the book alone for me.

Later on, he tells the story of a pastor accused of child abuse, and champions an approach that calls for a fair and just process to play out before exonerating or condemning that pastor.  (The charges were dropped before the pastor ever stood before a judge.)

Steinke’s postscript, called “People of the Charm,” is about narcissism in the local church, and is so good that I practically underlined the entire 11 pages!

Last summer, I had the privilege of attending Steinke’s annual training on conflict management called BridgeBuilder, and I can still see him speaking with perverse delight about various conflict interventions he’s engaged in over the years (more than 200 as of last August).  He is a rare gift to the body of Christ.

This book is available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book editions.  If you don’t have it, grab it … and devour it.

2. Moving Your Church Through Conflict by Speed Leas.

Speed Leas used to write for Leadership Journal, which still publishes articles and books for pastors.  And out of all the authors who wrote on conflict, I felt that Leas was the most practical and insightful.

Eighteen years ago, when I was at a career crossroads, I was reading an article by Leas in Leadership, and I noticed that he lived about an hour away from me … up in the mountains.

So I contacted him and asked if we could get together.  He kindly invited me to lunch and we spoke for several hours.

During our time together, he showed me a closet where he kept copies of many of his writings.  I bought everything he had, and I absolutely loved his manual Moving Your Church Though Conflict.  It’s a masterpiece.

In fact, I so valued his manual that I made several copies of it and put it in different places so I’d always have one in case I misplaced or lost the original.

In his manual, Leas presents his Five Levels of Conflict, for which he is justly famous.

Most churches can handle conflicts at levels one and two.  With level three, positions begin to harden and groups begin to form.

In level four, people begin to say … usually to the pastor … “Either you go or we go.”

In level five, an individual or a group in the church engages in destructive behavior, attempting to destroy the position, reputation, or career of someone else … usually the pastor.

Leas says that when a conflict reaches levels four or five, the leaders must call in an outside party like a mediator, an interventionist, or a conflict manager or the conflict will spin out of control.

Thankfully, when I experienced a horrendous conflict five-and-a-half years ago, I remembered some of Leas’ words at critical junctures, and tried to behave as he instructed.

I bought an e-book copy of Leas’ manual several years ago on Amazon, but noticed that it’s temporarily out-of-print.  Scour the internet and see if you can find one … it’s worth its weight in gold.

3. When Sheep Attack by Dennis R. Maynard.

I used to see this book on Amazon but figured it was lightweight because of its cover, featuring a cartoon of two giant sheep ready to pounce on a fearful minister.

But I’m glad I finally relented and bought the book, because even though it’s relatively brief, it’s full of wisdom and truth.

Maynard states emphatically that there are dysfunctional personalities in our churches … that these people want to hurt clergy … that their methodologies follow a pattern … that their impact is devastating … and that they can be thwarted if the people in a congregation work together.

Based on surveys he took with twenty-five pastors, Maynard states that these pastors were bullied and forced out of their congregations even though their churches were growing and making an impact for Christ.

As one pastor told him, “I still don’t know what I did wrong.  Everything was going so well.  Then a group of no more than a dozen people brought it all to an end.  I just don’t get it … I feel like I was punished for doing a good job…. Please, somebody tell me what I did wrong.”

While the stories in this book are priceless, I also noticed that I marked up nearly every page.

4. Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd by Kent Crockett.

Of all the books I’m recommending, this is the one I wish I had written myself.  In fact, I think so highly of this book that I wrote a review of it on Amazon and gave it five stars, as did almost everyone who has reviewed it.

Having been through forced termination himself, Crockett’s chapter titles include:

“The Secret Church Scandal”

“Satan’s Strategy to Expel the Pastor”

“Do Demons Attend Church?”

“Showdown with the Abusers”

“Life After Leaving: What Do I Do Now?” (This is the best chapter on finding a new ministry/job for pastors that I’ve seen in print.)

Kent is a great writer … he’s written many books, and has an insightful blog … and I’m proud to call him my friend.  In fact, the first time we spoke on the phone, he exclaimed, “Churches are sick!”

You gotta love a guy like that!

In fact, if you look at my book Church Coup on Amazon, there’s a place on my page where it says that my book and his book are frequently bought together … and I’m honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Kent.

5. Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict by Kenneth C. Haugk.

I’ve used this book so much that the binding has loosened and many of the pages have fallen out.

Haugk is the founder of Stephen Ministries.  For years, he’s conducted workshops in churches dealing with antagonism in churches.

The chapters are brief but full of insights.  For example, Haugk says that if a pastor is in his church office, and an antagonist comes by and demands to speak with pastor immediately, the pastor should calmly tell the antagonist that he can’t speak with him now and that he needs to set up an appointment.

This might seem like a small matter, but when I tried this suggestion one time, a man who was gunning for me was so offended that he left the church … thank God … and never returned.

A unique feature of this book is that Haugk collects all the relevant New Testament texts on antagonism in churches and briefly explains each one.

For around $50, pastors and church leaders can purchase five incredible books on pastor-church conflict, and by reading them carefully … marking them up appropriately … and incorporating their insights into everyday church life … a pastor can be well-armed to defuse, manage, and resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise in a local church.


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