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Posts Tagged ‘toxic churches’

“Tell me your story.”

Whenever a pastor under attack contacts me – whether he wants a listening ear, an analysis of his current situation, or some counsel – I encourage him to let me know what he’s going through.

Even though I’ve heard scores of such stories – and have my own to tell – I always learn something that allows me to help someone else down the road.

Years ago, Chris Creech – author of the recent book Toxic Church – heard similar stories from pastors, but he didn’t necessarily want to hear them.

Creech was a new missionary, trying to meet with pastors in hopes that the pastor would persuade church leaders to financially support his plan to teach at a seminary in Singapore.  He had also been a pastor and a church planter for nearly 30 years.

Creech opens his book and all the information below is taken from its first chapter – by recounting a time when he met with a pastor named Bill and his wife Pat to ask for financial support … but the pastor needed emotional support from Creech instead.  Why?

Two elders had just met with that pastor and accused him of saying something that he had never said.  Creech recounts:

“They then asked Bill to offer his resignation.  They promised that if he refused to resign, they would make certain that he was fired.  They refused to listen to Bill’s explanations.  They had determined that Pastor Bill had to go!”

Creech continues:

“Bill was absolutely shocked.  The church was growing.  They had just completed a major building project.  The treasury was doing quite well.  They were even considering a new missionary (me).  How could they ask for his resignation on the basis of charges from nameless individuals and an attack from a person whose words were completely fraudulent?”

Creech then shares the dilemma that the pastor and his wife had:

“Should they fight the charges?  Would anyone believe them?  Would anyone care?  What would happen to Bill’s career if he left suddenly without a plausible explanation?  What church would consider him if he left without a place to go?  What would happen if they stayed to fight the charges and then were forced to leave?  Was there anyone who could help them with the struggle that was before them?”

After leaving the pastor and driving away, Creech was disturbed but wasn’t sure why.  Then it came to him:

“I was troubled because Pastor Bill’s experiences mirrored my own when I was serving a troubled church.  I too had been wounded, and I still felt the pain of being attacked.  When I listened to the lament of my new friends, Bill and Pat, I was reliving the horror that had been a part of my life.”

As Creech continued to meet with pastors and seek financial support, his experience with Bill and Pat was repeated “over a dozen times.”

*One pastor said a member of his church had died because of the attacks against him.

*Another pastor’s child committed suicide after a church member waged “a relentless war against him and his family.”

*Pastors endured serious physical ailments related to their attacks.

*Pastors had been falsely accused of “adultery, doctrinal impurity, or some other ethical or moral misconduct.”

*Staff members often colluded with the pastor’s primary accuser.

One Sunday morning, Creech was preaching, and during the early part of the service “the sanctuary had emptied of many members of the congregation, including the pastor … after the worship, the pastor told me that he had been meeting with the church’s board during the worship service.  He had been fired …”

Can you believe that?  He was fired during the worship service!

And then Creech writes:

“We have now been on the mission field for many years.  All of the struggling pastors I met during our support raising days have been forced to leave their churches with the exception of two.  These two are surviving, but barely…. Three of our supporting churches have closed their doors since we began our ministry in Southeast Asia.  Struggles between pastors and churches were a significant part of the closing of two of these churches.”

Creech’s book – and I’m not done reading it yet, but I highly recommend it so far – dramatizes what is clearly becoming a serious problem in many of our churches.

Let me make four observations based on what I’ve shared from Creech’s book:

First, the problem of pastoral termination is too widespread to be completely the fault of pastors.

Yes, a few pastors are arrogant and narcissistic … a few others are controlling and manipulative … and a few more are just plain incompetent.

But there can’t be that many bad pastors in Christian churches.

Pastors are chosen by God … trained by seminaries … ordained by churches … and called to congregations.  They are highly specialized professionals.

The root cause lies elsewhere.

Second, various church leaders – especially members of the official board – are acting independently of boards in other congregations.

I’m not aware of any blogs, newsletters, or books that encourage church boards on how to push out their pastors.  In other words, this phenomenon is not organized … on earth, anyway.

I see two issues at work when pastors are terminated:

*The church board is unable to think biblically, rationally, and creatively when someone – often another board member, staff member, or key church leader – makes a serious accusation against the pastor.

Board members don’t ask themselves, “What process does the Bible prescribe in this situation?”  They don’t ask, “Why don’t we individually think and pray about this accusation before we take action?”  They don’t ask, “If this accusation turns out to be true, how can we deal with the pastor without pressing for his resignation first?”

Instead, someone blurts out, “I think the pastor needs to go” … another board member chimes in, “I agree!” … and the flame becomes a firestorm.

*The enemy slips into the inner circle of the church undetected.

And he uses the same entry point nearly every time: a church leader who is angry with the pastor over a personal and perceived injustice.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:26-27 that when we let the sun go down on our anger – when we let it fester and grow into bitterness – we give the devil a foothold into our lives and churches.

Just once, when a board member complains about his pastor, I’d love to hear another board member tell him, “It sounds like you have something personal against the pastor.  Why don’t you meet with him and work it out?”

Just once.

Third, church leaders move to power too quickly when love would be far more effective.

When Chris Creech told the story of Pastor Bill’s meeting with the two elders, the elders never tried to use love as a methodology.

Love would have said to Pastor Bill, “We’ve just heard someone make a serious accusation against you.  We’d like to set up a meeting between the two of you.  Our prayer is that this issue can be resolved quickly and peacefully and that you can continue to enjoy a productive ministry here.”

Instead, power said, “We don’t care if this accusation against you is true or not.  In fact, it’s such a serious charge that as far as we’re concerned, you’re through around here!  Pack your bags, pastor, or we’ll pack them for you!”

When the pastor finally resigns, the average churchgoer will hear, “The pastor said something so offensive to someone that he was forced to quit.”

But the reality is that those two elders – possibly without the knowledge of the others – were the real culprits in the pastor’s departure.

In my own case six years ago, the board never tried love.  They went straight to power.  Mass casualties resulted.

Finally, we need strong, determined, principled Christians to stand up to those who bully pastors – even if the bullies are on the church board.

The problem, of course, is that the bullies do most of their plotting behind closed doors.

But inevitably, the plot leaks into the congregation, and some people hear about it.

If I was one of those individuals, I would:

*find out who was on the church board

*ask around to find out which board member was most approachable

*ask to speak with him/her as soon as possible

*ask if the pastor is under fire

*and then ask, “What process are you using to insure that the pastor is treated biblically and justly?”

When there is no predetermined process, the pastor is being evaluated by church politics instead.

Predetermined processes heal pastors and congregations.

Church politics destroy everybody and everything.

I encourage you to obtain and read the book Toxic Church by Chris Creech.  The Kindle edition on Amazon is still selling for only $4.97.

Read Toxic Church … and both you and your congregation can become much healthier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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