Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘training church boards in conflict management’

Christian leader Thom Rainer recently wrote a blog post lamenting the “epidemic” of pastoral terminations.  I offered comments about some of his points in my last article:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2017/08/25/thoughts-on-firing-a-pastor/

One church board member wrote the following in the “Comments” section:

“I appreciate this advice.  I have had to be part of a firing and it was not easy.  I wish I had these guidelines then.”

Let me tell you a story as to why church boards need such guidelines desperately.

During my first decade as a pastor, I met another pastor whose church was a half hour away from mine.  Whenever we had pastor’s lunches in our district, we would hang around afterwards and talk.  This pastor – I’ll call him Gene – became my friend.

Several years later, after preaching at his church one Easter, Gene got in his car and began a trip designed to interview prospective staff members the following day … but he never made it.

Instead, on a stretch of highway called “Blood Alley,” Gene’s vehicle was hit head on by a truck.  Gene was helicoptered to the county hospital.  The next day, I went to visit him.

His face was completely bandaged.  He could hardly speak, but at one point, he motioned for me to come closer, and he whispered, “Pray that I will preach again.”

Gene’s recuperation took a long time.  The glass from his windshield had penetrated his skin, and his face had to be surgically rebuilt.

Not long afterwards … and I can’t remember precisely how long … drugs were found inside his daughter’s suitcase at camp.  She vehemently denied that the drugs were hers, and Gene stood with her, but the church board claimed she was guilty, and demanded that she confess her sin publicly.  Gene chose to resign instead.

When I heard that Gene had quit after nine years as pastor, I called him right away.

I asked Gene what kind of severance he received, and he said that he received two weeks pay and a plaque.  After one month, his medical insurance would be canceled.

A short while later, the truth came out: the drugs did not belong to Gene’s daughter.  They belonged to another girl, who was afraid she would be caught with them and sent home … so she hid them in somebody else’s suitcase.

A year later, Gene and I met for lunch.  When I asked him why the board had pushed him out, he still had no idea.  I gave him a new book on pastoral termination, and after reading it, Gene felt he finally understood why he had been removed.

The church called a new pastor … someone I later got to know … and that pastor invited Gene back to the church and arranged for the congregation to apologize to Gene for the way he and his family were treated … a rare occurrence in Christian circles.

The Lord went on to bless Gene abundantly as he did pioneer work in a field not usually associated with Christians.

Let me make five observations about conflict training for boards from this story:

First, every church board needs to operate by a predetermined set of written guidelines before they even discuss their pastor’s future.

But many churches don’t have them.

If you’re a pastor, and your church doesn’t have those guidelines in place, and you’re under attack, it’s like going to court in a third world country.  You know going in you’re not going to be treated fairly.

Such guidelines are best written when people are thinking clearly because when even a few board members … who are supposedly selected for their spiritual lives … become irrational, they can harm their church … and their pastor … for years.

A board can’t create those guidelines when someone starts becoming upset with their pastor.  Their anxiety will cause them to ignore them completely.

Those guidelines should be found in two primary places: church bylaws … which should have a section specifying how to dismiss a pastor … and a special document that might be found in a church/board policy handbook.

However, in the case of Gene’s board, they didn’t have any such guidelines … and the outcome ended tragically.

Second, even when those documents are in place, many boards determine the result they want, and then choose the quickest pathway to achieving it.

Gene told me about a board member I’ll call Don who had undue influence with the board.  Don had money and was a district trustee.  Gene suspected that Don was behind his ouster … and he was probably right.

From what I know, Don used the situation with Gene’s daughter as a pretext to force Gene out.  (But didn’t Don even consider how much harm he would cause Gene’s daughter?)  At the very least, Don had to sign off on removing Gene from office.

And this is why many boards don’t use or want any written guidelines: they have a powerful board member whose influence supersedes any guidelines.

Such a person might ask, “Why use guidelines when you have me?”

In my third pastorate, the elders used to joke that each of them had one vote, but that I as pastor had five votes.

But the Dons who run church boards … even when they’re not the chairman … have ten votes … not because they’ve earned such power, but because the other board members won’t stand up to them.

Christians rightly lament the way that Jesus was mistreated when He stood before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod before He was crucified, and yet He was at least allowed to speak in His own defense.  Many pastors aren’t even accorded that privilege.

Third, the pastor is the only logical person to teach the board how to handle potential conflicts that concern him … but most won’t do it.

The pastor theoretically has more influence over individual board members than anyone else … and yet, when it comes to managing conflict, most pastors choose not to use that influence.

Years ago, when I served on a church staff, a couple of men in the church began to attack my pastor.  I went to a board meeting, told them what was happening, and asked for their help in stopping the verbal attacks.

The board voted 5-2 to do something … but the pastor was one of the “no” votes.  He was afraid that taking on the bullies would make things even worse.

Some pastors might have said, “Men, here’s what Scripture says about how to handle this situation … and here’s what our governing documents say … and I’d like you to read this book and discuss it at our next meeting.  Then we’ll create an action plan and deal with this biblically and courageously.”

But most pastors feel that it’s self-serving to make such suggestions … but I believe they’re wrong.

Whenever the pastor is under attack, the pastor needs to define the process that the board should use.  If he doesn’t, the board will make up their own process, and much of the time, they will blow their church sky high.

It’s right for a pastor to say, “This is how we do conflict around here.”  In fact, church boards are looking for that kind of leadership from their shepherd.  Yes, he can leave the outcome with them … but not the process.

And I believe if the board ignores that process, or short-circuits it altogether, the pastor has the responsibility to blow the whistle on them because the process will determine the product.

I believe all pastors must do the following three things to prepare their leaders for conflict:

First, the pastor must preach on biblical conflict management and resolution annually.

When Paul writes to the church in Rome … or Corinth … or Thessalonica … and he specifies how to address conflicts … he’s addressing those entire congregations.  It is the responsibility of every believer to become a church conflict practitioner.

Second, the pastor must train the official board and staff on biblical conflict management at least annually.

He can do this before or during a board meeting annually.  Or he can do this as part of a regular retreat.

The pastor could even invite a church conflict expert to do that training.

But if the pastor doesn’t take the initiative, it will never happen.

Finally, the pastor needs to make sure that every board member owns a copy of a great book on church conflict … and that they consult it on occasion.

These are the five books that I most recommend:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2015/05/06/five-essential-books-on-pastor-church-conflict/

When the board gets stuck on a conflict during the year … presumably one that doesn’t involve the pastor … the pastor could ask, “What does Leas … or Steinke … or Haugk say about this?”

The problem is that when church leaders become anxious, they look for shortcuts.  The pastor has to teach his leaders, “Let’s look for the best long-term solution, not the quickest short-term one.  These books will help us do just that.”

Fourth, board members need to seek outside counsel when it comes to offering a departing pastor a severance package.

My friend Gene was given two weeks salary and a plaque as his reward for nine years of committed service.

That’s not just heartless … that’s evil.

But where could the board turn for counsel?

I discovered that in Gene’s case, the district knew about the false accusation against his daughter, but chose to do nothing.  They could have insisted that the pastor receive a generous and just severance package, but it wasn’t their practice to interfere in pastor-church conflicts … or so they claimed.

So where can church boards turn for information about pastoral severance?

A few years ago, sensing there is almost nothing about this topic in print, I decided to write an article about severance packages for pastors.  It’s now become my second most viewed article concerning pastoral termination:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2014/02/24/why-give-a-terminated-pastor-a-severance-package/

I have heard stories how my article has expanded the thinking of church boards, and for that, I am grateful.

In fact, sometimes I’ll notice that the article has been viewed 20 or 30 times in a day, an indication that it may be circulating among board members.

I commend every church board member who reads the article because they’re trying to learn what to do … unlike Gene’s board, which treated their pastor with utter contempt.

As the board member quoted at the beginning of this article admitted in the fuller comment I quoted in my last post, church boards usually treat their pastor the way they treat others in the business world.

What they forget is that God called their pastor to their church.

Finally, church boards often want guidance, but don’t know where to find it.

Several months ago, I had the privilege of consulting with three different church boards about their pastors.

I was referred to each board by the same Christian leader.

One board really listened to me and took my counsel to heart.  They made a change and secured an intentional interim pastor who later wrote me and thanked me for my counsel.  Things were looking up for them.

Another board chairman contacted me but didn’t agree with my counsel.  The last I heard, trouble was looking for his church.

While I don’t claim to be infallible, people like me …. who serve as outside consultants … can save a church time, money, and heartache just by considering another perspective.

Last year, I helped a pastor on the East Coast face down the bullies in his church.  He told me, “Jim, you have the best stuff on pastor-church conflict on the internet.”

I don’t know how to evaluate his observation, but I do know this: most church boards who struggle with their pastor need someone to listen to them … to guide them … and to advise them … and if they have to turn online for help, I hope my writings prove beneficial.

The boards that go it alone are the ones who cause the most damage to their church and pastor.

The boards that seek conflict training and outside expertise are the ones who cause the least damage.

How well trained is your church’s board in conflict resolution?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: