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Posts Tagged ‘when sheep attack a pastor’

When a pastor is under attack inside the church where he serves, it is amazing how quickly many people choose a side.

No matter what, some churchgoers will automatically back their minister … even before hearing any evidence against him.

Conversely, some attendees will believe almost anything bad about their pastor … even if every accusation amounts to smoke.

I was a solo or senior pastor for 25 years, and spent 10 1/2 additional years serving as a staff member in 5 different churches.

In every one of those churches, people approached me to criticize the pastor … one of the unknown hazards of working on a church staff.

I never took the side of the pastor’s critics.  I couldn’t.  He hired me and trusted me, and I could not betray that trust … even if I thought some people’s complaints had merit.

But over the years, I learned that it was smart to be on the side of four practices whenever the sheep attack the shepherd:

First, be on the side of Scripture.

The New Testament is full of admonitions to submit to church leaders.  There aren’t any verses that advocate rebelling against a pastor or trying to force his resignation.

For example, Hebrews 13:17 counsels us to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority.”  1 Peter 5:5 adds, “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.”

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:13 to “hold them [those who are over you in the Lord] in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.”

But what if someone suspects the pastor of sin?

1 Timothy 5:19, speaking of those “whose work is preaching and teaching,” says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder [the context includes paid pastors] unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.”

This means that if someone suspects the pastor of sinning, they (a) have seen or heard him commit an act of sin, (b) consider the sin serious enough to merit investigation, and (c) are willing to go on the record about what they’ve seen or heard … even in front of the entire congregation (implied in verse 20).

But when a pastor is under attack, how often do his critics search for, cite, and observe biblical parameters?

Hardly ever.

A church with a weak view of Scripture may understandably have a weak view of pastoral leadership.

But a church that espouses a strong view of Scripture should never permit people to bypass God’s Word in the interests of emotion or expediency.

Second, be on the side of patience.

The New England Patriots destroyed the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game last Sunday.  I watched the game until it became unwatchable … and that didn’t take long.

But the next morning, there were charges circulating that 11 of the 12 footballs that the Patriots used in that game were under-inflated … presumably so that Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady could grip the ball better during wintery weather.

Four days later, this controversy is still in full swing.  Coach Belichick and Quarterback Brady both deny that they had anything to do with deflating those footballs.

If they didn’t reduce the pressure in those balls, then who did?

We … don’t … know … yet.

If you’re interested in this story, how much does it bother you that we don’t know who under-inflated those footballs?

Can you live with the ambiguity … the mystery … the anxiety?

Judging from what I’m seeing in the news and sports media, many people want to know what happened RIGHT NOW!

The same attitude hovers over churches when pastors are under attack.

People want answers RIGHT NOW.

They want to know what their friends think RIGHT NOW.

They want to know if the pastor is staying or quitting RIGHT NOW.

They want closure … RIGHT NOW.

When church leaders exude calm during a sheep attack, that calm filters out into the congregation.

However, many members can’t handle the anxiety … so they talk … and email … and gossip … and text … and speculate … because they want matters resolved RIGHT NOW.

But unfortunately, it’s this RIGHT NOW attitude that makes conflict worse.

Galatians 5:22 says that patience is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in a believer’s life.  When believers begin to become impatient during a sheep attack, more patient believers need to calm them down rather than rouse them up.

During a sheep attack, some members post nasty things about their pastor on social media like Facebook or Twitter, which only makes things worse.

When I experienced a sheep attack more than five years ago, someone who habitually criticized other church leaders online began ripping into me on social media.  Thankfully, a church leader who knew this person contacted them immediately and told them, “Take it down!”  Fortunately, they did just that before the innuendos could spread any further.

While some people angrily take several steps toward the pastor, take several steps backwards and patiently survey the entire situation first.

Third, be on the side of a fair and just process.

This process needs to be biblically-based and conducted with patience.

Many times, that process has already been spelled out in the church’s governing documents … usually in the church bylaws.

That process may also be delineated in a separate document … or a contract/covenant the pastor signed when he was called to the church … or in denominational polity.

But sadly, some factions inside a church either aren’t aware of these documents, or could care less about them … so they resort to mob justice.

This is where a church’s governing leaders need to take charge.  Whether through a verbal announcement on a Sunday … an all-church email … or a letter to the entire congregation … the leaders need to let God’s people know that they (a) are aware of what’s happening, (b) are planning a fair and just investigation, and (c) will let the church know when they have something solid to share.

I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that more than half of all pastors under attack would be able to stay in their churches if the governing leaders used a fair and just process to investigate people’s complaints and charges against their minister.

A fair and just process would include:

*Telling the pastor what the charges are against him.

*Telling the pastor who is making the charges.

*Letting the pastor face his accusers in the presence of the governing leaders.

*Letting the pastor respond to each charge against him as it’s made.

*Insisting that those who make false accusations against the pastor repent and ask his forgiveness.

*Insisting that the pastor be rebuked publicly for any serious misconduct (1 Timothy 5:20)  and/or letting the pastor resign instead.

Once again, the only way the governing leaders can carry out such a process is if they are first on the side of Scripture and on the side of patience.

In fact, when charges against the pastor begin circulating, I believe the first thing the governing board should do is to meet and agree on a deliberate process.

But too many boards become anxious and start asking themselves, “Is the pastor guilty or innocent?”  Then they make a quick decision … and blow their church apart.

Finally, be on the side of truth.

For a believer, the boundaries of truth are set by Scripture, but I’m thinking here about two things in particular: facts and accurate reporting.

Several years ago, I had lunch with the staff supervisor of one of America’s largest churches.  He told me that two women in the church had recently accused a staff member of a serious charge.

The staff supervisor did not immediately take the side of the women.  He conducted his own investigation into their charges.

His conclusion: the staff member did not use his best judgment, but was not guilty of a major offense, and could continue to serve on the staff.

However, the women were not satisfied with this exoneration.  They continued to share their charges with others, hoping in some way to harm the staff member.

The staff supervisor heard about what the women were doing and put an immediate stop to their actions.  In fact, he told them that if they continued to criticize the staff member, he would institute disciplinary action against them.

They stopped.

Please notice: the staff supervisor wanted to know two things:

First, how truthful were the charges the women made?

His determination: the issue was not as serious as they made it out to be.

Second, how accurately did the women handle the staff supervisor’s decision?

His determination: they were now spreading lies rather than speaking the truth.

I haven’t watched the original CSI program in years, but in the early days, Gil Grissom used to tell his forensic team to “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

Those six words well summarize the idea of “being on the side of truth.”

______________

This Sunday morning, imagine that you enter the worship center of your church, and one of your friends pulls you aside and says, “There are people who are saying that the pastor has been misusing church funds and that he should resign immediately.”

Please, don’t take the side of those who say, “The pastor is guilty and must fry.”

And don’t take the side of those who say, “The pastor is so godly that he’d never do anything wrong.”

Don’t let immature, dysfunctional, and overly-reactive people destroy your pastor and church.

Instead, take the side of Scripture, patience, a fair and just process, and truth.

Do your best to encourage your friends … your family … your ministry colleagues … your church staff … and your governing board to follow these principles as well.

God will smile upon you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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