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Seduced by Power

Forget money and sex. The real temptation is “king me.”

by Gary Sinclair

A neighboring pastor’s ministry imploded. It was a slow, inward collapse over a five-year period, with the blast at the end rather than the beginning. Jim was a gifted communicator, a man of vision brimming with potential. But he was slowly seduced by his power. His giftedness to lead was overtaken by a drive to control. There were warning signs that could have alerted him to his peril, but neither Jim nor his church recognized them.

Jim came to Englewood Community Church* with an impressive resume. He trained under one of the world’s premier pastors. The church that had plateaued began to grow again under Jim’s leadership. They revamped some structures, added a contemporary worship service, and expanded the annual holiday music programs for which the church was known.

The energetic pastor’s tell-it-like-it-is preaching style was appreciated by the church’s stalwarts and newcomers alike. Jim headed and completed a building campaign in his first three years. When Jim ran a meeting (which was most of the time), it was thoroughly planned and each person understood his task before leaving for home. Englewood church, once aging and a little clunky, now operated like a well-oiled machine.

But few people realized what was happening behind that façade. Englewood’s pastor was being seduced.

Warning signs

Englewood was a trusting church. Most members could remember only two pastors. Both had long tenures. One died in office and the other left for a prominent ministry opportunity at a time when most pastors would have retired. The church respected the office of pastor and generally gave those who held it freedom to innovate. That, combined with their joy at Jim’s early successes, might account for their failure to see the changes in Jim and his relationship to the leaders.

Shrinking accountability. It started with the youth minister incident. The church’s board of deacons, according to the constitution, are the church’s spiritual authority, and the pastor is ultimately responsible to them. On those rare occasions when the board told Jim he should do a particular thing, he had—until the complaints arose from the youth department. Several members reported a discipline problem to the deacons. Youth pastor Scott wasn’t handling it to their liking, and some dissension was spreading. The deacons wanted to meet with Scott, but Jim didn’t want his protégé brought before the board. “I’ll take care of it,” he told them.

He never did. And no one on the board said anything more about it.

After that, Jim began to ignore other board suggestions and sometimes vetoed their actions. But, because everything was running smoothly, no one seemed to mind—not at first.

Erosion of trust in others. Another shift took place with the hiring of the new associate pastor.

Jim was getting busier. From his perspective, Jim was simply keeping the ministry growing, but he agreed when the deacons said he needed some help. Perhaps they intended to retrieve some of their former responsibilities, but the plan evolved into hiring an associate pastor.

Jim offered to conduct the search himself. “After all, I know the kind of person we need,” Jim told the board. He soon hired a full-time ministerial staff member without the involvement of the personnel committee or a vote of the board.

Jim’s presence in church programs became more noticeable. He restructured the education program, then announced the changes to the leadership team. There was no doubt that he was a gifted leader, but his attitude began to reflect a deadly presupposition: “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.”

It wasn’t that Jim didn’t trust others. He simply trusted himself more. He desired to build his people into capable leaders, but he felt intensely the weight of others’ mistakes. Jim thought he was being prudent by ensuring things didn’t fall apart. But most of his leaders began to think, You don’t trust me.

Redefining loyalty. Soon the emphasis was on the church projecting a polished image, a smooth-running operation led by a content, unified leadership team.

This spirit caught on, and not many people were willing to fuss over something that might upset the morale. Most leaders determined their concerns were probably minor and said nothing. Those who spoke up found their objections unwelcome.

A few began to leave the church. Jim suggested that their exit was probably for their good and the good of the church, but as is often the case, their departures were more indicative of the disease than the cure.

Loyalty and dissention were redefined. Loyalty came to mean agreement, not with Scripture or with the mission of the church, but with the pastor. Eventually Jim was surrounded by those who would tell him only what he wanted to hear. Those who did question Jim’s leadership decisions were met with chastisement for “complaining” and being “unsubmissive.”

Guarded by loyal followers, the pastor is insulated from fair criticisms of his ministry. And he is not likely to see its oncoming collapse.

Withdrawing from people. This may be the most obvious warning sign; but since it usually develops later in the cycle, it’s often noticed too late to make a difference. For Jim it came near the end.

Jim became busier and more isolated. With such important decisions to make and so few people he trusted, Jim worked alone. His leadership team did not bother him. The staff remained at a distance, turning to each other for prayer and support. While the associate staff and the deacons each maintained a sense of teamwork among themselves, their camaraderie had little effect on the church or on Jim. He had few meaningful relationships, and small accountability groups didn’t fit into his packed schedule.

His contact with fellow ministers dropped off. While exciting things were happening at Englewood, he readily told us, his peers, about them. Later, Jim became increasingly critical of the church and the leaders, an obvious warning sign that I see much better now. After the implosion, I wished someone could have talked to Jim. Perhaps we could have averted his resignation.

Jim left the church after his key relationships turned sour. He’s in business now. I fear it’s becoming another fix for his power habit.

Smarter moves

Most members of Englewood still wonder what really happened. It’s hard to explain that their pastor was felled by an ugly mistress. “The deacons should have stopped that a long time ago,” one member said. True.

Jim wept that he should have seen the signs. True.

Some pastors who are seduced by power have huge television empires. Others pastor churches of less than one hundred. None of us is exempted by ministry size.

This power-mongering is not to be interpreted as bold leadership either. It bears some of the same external characteristics, but the lust for power kills effective leadership. It cultivates mistrust and sets staff members to rewriting their resumes. Eventually, it sends members in search of new churches.

Wondering what we could do to avoid succumbing to the temptation, five leaders and I visited with the staff of a well established church with a solid reputation for godly leadership. The church has a dozen full-time pastors and a multi-million dollar budget. They agreed for us to sit in on their staff meeting, after which we met with individual associates to talk about their specific ministry areas.

The pastors, their senior pastor included, answered every question we asked with candor and vulnerability, sharing successes and failures. Though blessed with resources and influence, they modeled for us a form of servant leadership very different from what we might have expected in such a powerful ministry. I came away with several conclusions on safeguarding myself.

We must humble ourselves through prayer. I must constantly ask God to help me monitor my pride. It is only as I read God’s Word and admit my fallenness before Him that I keep it all in perspective.

We must vividly remember our place as servants. We are called to lead, to cast the vision, to challenge poor assumptions, teach the Word in everyday language, and help others see the big picture of what God could do in our fellowship. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?

But we are commanded to serve people all the while. Paul’s reminder in Philippians 2 of Jesus’ humility is a poignant picture of the attitude we must adopt. And 1 Peter 5:2-3 reminds us that we should be “eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

We must surround ourselves with accountability and counsel. Seek out a team of people similar in theology and vision, but different in abilities, personalities, and life experiences. Let their diverse perspectives be refining influences on you.

Ask your team members, or other leaders to let you know when you’re pushing the power envelope. You may not feel you’re overstepping the boundaries of pastoral power, but others may. Remember “Intention is one thing, perception is everything.”

I try to have a private lunch with every one of my key leaders each year. They do most of the talking, and I just listen. This past year one of our deacons had a critical, but helpful suggestion. I began to work on it, and then asked him later if he saw a change. Today, I’m a better pastor for it, and he knows that I value what he thinks.

We must constantly give leadership away. Gore Vidal is reported to have said, “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Perhaps what makes power so seductive is its promise that we can minister more effectively without the conflicting visions or methods of others.

We get seduced by power when there are too many people relying on what we say, what we think, what we decide, and what we determine for the future. Like Moses learning to delegate, we must pass the baton of responsibility to capable others who will run many races of their own.

The church we visited is already developing a plan to replace its senior pastor in the next ten years. They want to do everything possible to assure their people that the church can be just as vibrant with someone else in the pulpit. Even the senior pastor is not irreplaceable. It takes a confident servant leader to encourage his church to think that radically.

Power itself isn’t evil. Power propels airplanes, lights cities, and wins wars. It also packs a charge that will destroy our ministries unless it’s properly used.

*The names have been changed.

Christianity Today, Inc./Leadership journal.
Fall 2001, Vol. 23, No. 4, Page 99


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Preacher in the Hands of an Angry Church

by Chris Armstrong
Jonathan Edwards’s church kicked him out after 23 years of ministry, but the crisis proved his greatness was not merely intellectual.

As messy dismissals of ministers go, the 1750 ejection of Jonathan Edwards by his Northampton congregation was among the messiest. The fact that it involved the greatest theologian in American history—the central figure of the Great Awakening—is almost beside the point. The fact that it took place in a New England fast moving from theocratic “city on a hill” to democratic home of liberty is more relevant.

But another aspect is worth a closer look: Friends and enemies alike agreed that in the long, degenerating discontent, Edwards continued to love and pray for—or at least tolerate and refrain from attacking—his people, even when they bared their fangs.

Salary controversies and power struggles marked his ministry during the 1740s. In the infamous “bad book” episode of 1744, some teen boys in the church distributed a midwife’s manual, using it to taunt and make suggestive comments in front of girls. When the culprits were summoned before the church, their response, according to documents of the proceedings, was “contemptuous … toward the authority of this Church.”

Edwards chose to read before the church a list containing, indiscriminately, the names of both the young distributors as well as the purported witnesses. Some parents were outraged at Edwards.

Another issue was Edwards’s personality and style as a minister. At the outset of his ministry at Northampton, for example, he decided that he would not pay the customary regular visits to his congregants, but would rather come to their side only when called in cases of sickness or other emergency. This made him seem, to some in the church, cold and distant.

An Edwards “disciple,” Samuel Hopkins, later wrote that this practice was not due to lack of affection and concern for his people: “For their good he was always writing, contriving, labouring; for them he had poured out ten thousand fervent prayers; and they were dear to him above any other people under heaven.”

Rather, Edwards had made a clear-eyed assessment of his own gifts and decided that he was unable to match the graceful gregariousness of those ministers who had a “knack at introducing profitable, religious discourse in a free, natural, and … undesigned way.”

Thus he would “do the greatest good to souls … by preaching and writing, and conversing with persons under religious impressions in his study, where he encouraged all such to repair.”

Edwards’s ministry might yet have endured, however, were it not for the death of his uncle, Colonel John Stoddard, in 1748. Born in 1682, 21 years before Edwards, the colonel had built a friendship with his nephew. A sharp thinker, a county judge, and a savvy politician, John was a militia colonel who had become commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts western frontier by 1744. Stoddard wore—at least in the secular sphere—the mantle of his father and Edwards’s grandfather, “pope” of the Connecticut Valley, Solomon Stoddard.

Edwards found himself often leaning on his uncle’s influence to navigate the affairs of the church. Thus when Stoddard died, Edwards lost not only an uncle but a powerful ally and confidante.

As Iain Murray put it in his biography of Edwards: “There would be no open criticism of Edwards as long as Stoddard sat appreciatively in his pew beneath the pulpit in the meeting-house Sunday by Sunday.” Once the colonel was gone, however, that changed dramatically.

Stoddard’s heir-apparent as Hampshire County’s leading figure was Edwards’s cousin Israel Williams, a Harvard graduate, imperious in manner and implacably set against Edwards. In his early nineteenth-century biography, descendant S. E. Dwight named Israel and several others of the Williams clan as having “religious sentiments [that] differed widely from” those of Edwards. Their opposition soon became “a settled and personal hostility.” Williams served as counselor and ringleader to Edwards’s opponents. Joining this opposition were another cousin, Joseph Hawley Jr., 21 years Edwards’s junior.

Visible saints, hidden agendas
The same year John Stoddard died, an event finally pushed the hostile faction into open revolt.

For years, Edwards had been uncomfortable with the lenient policy on membership and communion set by his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’s predecessor at Northampton. Stoddard had allowed almost anyone to join and to partake, hoping that membership and communion might encourage true conversion. In 1748, Edwards changed the policy and told an applicant for church membership that he must first make a public “profession of godliness.”

Thus Edwards rejected the “Halfway Covenant”—the longstanding compromise of the Puritans who had, generations after planting their religious colonies, found their church membership dwindling. That compromise had reversed the traditional Puritan requirement that new church members be “visible saints,” godly in word and deed.

When the congregation saw that Edwards intended to return to the earlier, stricter Puritan position, demanding not only a profession of faith, but also evidence of repentance and holiness, a firestorm arose. Many of the church’s leading members felt Edwards’s innovation was a direct threat.

Two revivals had produced many converts, but, as biographer Patricia Tracy put it, “Men and women who had been recognized as visible saints in Northampton still wallowed in clandestine immorality and flagrant pride.”

Though Edwards knew, as he notes in his letters, that he was likely to lose his pastorate as a result, he stuck to his principles.

A council of the congregation put a moratorium on new memberships until the issue of criteria could be resolved. Edwards told them he planned to preach on his reasons for changing the policy. They forbade him to do so. Edwards began to write a book on the matter. Few read it, and too late to do much good.

In 1750, a council was called to consider whether the congregation would dismiss its minister. No one doubted what the conclusion would be.

Edwards’s friend David Hall noted in his diary the minister’s reaction when on June 22, 1750, the council handed down its decision:

“That faithful witness received the shock, unshaken. I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good … even to the astonishment of many who could not be at rest without his dismission.”

46 and unemployed
Edwards wrote that he now found himself a 46-year-old ex-minister “fitted for no other business but study,” with a large family to provide for. Although he knew “we are in the hands of God, and I bless him, I am not anxious concerning his disposal of us,” he fretted over his situation in letters to friends. Yet neither the distressing conditions nor the continuing antagonism of his opponents drew him out to open attack.

Remarkably (and partly because of financial need), Edwards agreed to continue preaching at the church while they searched for a replacement. But his Farewell Sermon also indicates he acted out of continued concern for the flock. He continued through mid-November, despite the Town maliciously barring him, a month after his dismissal, from using its common grazing land.

Finally in December 1750, after an anxious autumn during which he had even considered removing his entire family to Scotland to accept an invitation there, Edwards accepted a charge in Massachusetts’s “wild west,” the Indian town of Stockbridge. There he would labor the rest of his life, pursue his theological thinking to its most brilliant heights, and create one of the most enduring missionary biographies of all time, the life story of his young friend David Brainerd.

Belated praise
In 1760, his former enemy, cousin Joseph Hawley, wrote to Edwards’s friend David Hall, confessing that “vast pride, self-sufficiency, ambition, and vanity” had animated his leadership in the “melancholy contention” with Edwards. He repented of his earlier failure to render the respect due Edwards as a “most able, diligent and faithful pastor.”

Hawley concluded, “I am most sorely sensible that nothing but that infinite grace and mercy which saved some of the betrayers and murderers of our blessed Lord, and the persecutors of his martyrs, can pardon me; in which alone I hope for pardon, for the sake of Christ, whose blood, blessed by God, cleanseth from all sin.”

On June 22, 1900, exactly 150 years after Edwards’s dismissal, a group gathered at the First Church in Northampton to unveil a bronze memorial.

H. Norman Gardiner, a professor of philosophy at Smith College and chairman of the memorial committee, characterized Edwards’s ejection as “a public rejection and banishment” that remained “a source of reproach to his church and people.” He noted the “hatred, malice, and uncharitableness which characterized the opposition to him,” for which, to Gardiner, no apology either contemporary or modern could atone.

Edwards would have disagreed, arguing instead that even such deeply wounding actions as the aggravated and wrongful dismissal of a pastor from his pulpit of 23 years are not unforgivable. In that understanding, as in so much else, Edwards was far ahead both of his enemies and of many of us today.

2003 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Winter 2003, Vol. XXV, No. 1, Page 52

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Advice to Our Church During the Political Election Year

I’m writing this piece to you, dear people of God, to offer some guidance regarding how we should conduct ourselves during the course of this heated political election season. I (and perhaps you too?) am concerned that we deviate from our main objective and focus as a church, which is Jesus Christ.

We ought to be a church that has as our main concerns the clear perspectives of Christ’s kingdom and teaching.  Social, political, personal and other such important concerns are secondary to loving, honoring and glorifying God through Jesus Christ.  I say clear, because we can often find not-so-clear support in the Bible for our own political or social views which so easily distract or cause us to deviate from our purpose as Christ’s local body.

So, permit me to lend some guidance for how we can treat these political and social issues, but more importantly, treat others during this intense season.

First, each one of us should be convinced in his own mind about his position.  This is the general or broad principle of Ecclesiastes 7:25 and Romans 14:5.   Each one’s political view is best informed by the Word of God (Psa. 119:169; Rom. 14:5), and not merely informed by one’s cultural, familial or other influences.  At the same time, this is not a call for anyone to be sloppy about his or her political perspective. Again, using a broad application of certain scriptures, one should not be double-minded (Jas. 1:5-8), but should say what he means and mean what he says (Matt. 5:37; Jas. 5:12).

Secondly, each of us should recognize that everyone has an opinion, but that not all opinions are equal, nor are they all always valid (including our own).

An opinion is “The judgment which the mind forms of any proposition, statement, theory or event, the truth or falsehood of which is supported by a degree of evidence that renders it probable, but does not produce absolute knowledge or certainty” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language).

It would be prudent if each person has a well-informed opinion to share, not merely one that is based upon little knowledge (Prov. 28:26), feeling or intuition (Prov. 25:2).  Well-informed opinions bring a higher value to good discussions. Ill-informed opinions serve no one.
Further, we should respect one another through the love of Christ, even if we do not agree with or respect the other person’s opinion(s). Please note that in our congregation we do have a diverse group of people.That’s a very biblically healthy thing.  Opinions about social and political matters range from one side to the other, with much in the middle. We are to be reminded that Jesus’ own disciples held to quite divergent, indeed hostile, political and social positions. Consider Simon the zealot living and working side by side with his enemy Matthew the tax collector.

Thirdly, each of us is called to have the humble mind of Christ (Mic. 6:8; Phil 2:5ff; Rom. 12:3, 10; 1 Pet. 5:5).

All division, discord or fighting stems from an abundance of pride and a lack of humility (1 Tim. 6:4f; Jas. 4:1-3, 6).  This easily includes the propensity to try to impose our own political or social agenda or perspective upon others. So when we don’t get what we want (such as trying to make others agree with our own views) we make fertile ground for fights and discord within the church.

Humbleness means that each one of us is not seeking to please self.  This is to say that I/you/we are not to be:
(1)  Arrogant (Rom. 12:16; Jas. 4:16)
Which means one does not insist on my own way, ideas, or beliefs just because they are mine.
(2)  Domineering (1 Pet. 5:3)
(3)  Stubborn
(4)  Unreasonable (Ex: Gal. 6:3; Jas. 1:22)
(5)  Unyielding To be unyielding means one must not stand hard on things he believes when the truth and facts clearly counter his position.

Humility will take a genuine interest in others and in what they have to say (Rom. 12:9, 10). Humility is teachability, a willingness to give an ear to other perspectives in order to learn what others believe and perhaps why they believe them.  This is not a call to receiving all other views without discretion or discernment, but it is a call to be proactive in graciously and patiently listening to others.  Too many fights take place over straw men and too many divisions happen because of a deliberate and judgmental ignorance.

Humility is also thinking rightly about oneself (Rom. 12:3, 10, 16, 17), seeing oneself before the face of God. When we meditate on the implications of living before the presence of an almighty, sovereign Lord we will be more aware of such things as who we are even in the midst of a politically heated time, who God is with respect to elections and the future of our country,  and so forth.

Additionally, a humble person is teachable (Job 15:8; Prov. 26:12; Eccles. 7:16; Isa. 5:21; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 8:2), and willing to change his mind about any matter if the other view bears legitimate weight and based upon revealed truth.

Therefore, each person can be (ought to be?) passionate about his position, but not arrogantly obnoxious about it (Prov. 11:2; 13:10; 21:4; 28:25; Mark 7:22; 1 Pet. 5:5).

Fourthly, each one has a right to state his position or speak his conscience in a godly manner (with grace, truth, clarity, kindness, etc.).  However, we should exercise wisdom and choose appropriate times in which to voice or discuss our views.

Fifthly, if it is a matter of an ongoing debate, the discourses should be tempered with humility and other Christ-like qualities.  For example, one should have restrained control of his attitude and tongue through gentleness and patience (2 Sam. 22:36; Ps. 18:35; Gal. 5:22, 23; 1 Thess. 2:7; 1 Tim. 3:2, 3; Jas. 3:17).

The biblical idea of gentleness, a very important character quality and precious to God (1 Pet. 3:4), is not that of being weak or sentimentally passive. Rather, gentleness is that of being patient, mild, reasonable, full of grace and graciousness.  This is exercised by not insisting on  own way or our own perspective. Jesus, the God-Man and omnipotent Lord of the universe was gentle.

The Bible portrays gentleness as seeing people as sensitive beings, deals with people where they are, and treats them with respect (1 Cor. 10; 1 Pet. 2:23).

It really is feasible for us to hold to divergent political and social views and still be fellow believers in Jesus Christ.  I think of the example of J. Gresham Machen, founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and of Westminster Theological Seminary who voted for a Roman Catholic Democratic presidential candidate. On things biblical he was about as conservative as you can get, but on other matters he held to various views.  Fellow believers denounced his opinions and some even vehemently questioned whether he was a Christian because he did not hold to the same social or political ideas as they.  That’s just wrong.

The gentle person shows carefulness in choosing words and expressions so as not to unnecessarily offend (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25; Tit. 3:2). I am not saying that we can or should never offend.  There are appropriate times for that. For example, biblical truth and the Gospel would be a couple of main things that offend others.  Jesus’ exchanges with the high priest, the king and with the Roman governor demonstrate patient restraint. Jesus was blunt and truthful, but not loathsome.  Yet, at other times, Christ gave strong, forceful rebukes which were quite offensive.  Those occasions happened when Jesus was protecting his sheep from wolves, or clearing human or satanic impediments to the mission God the Father had for him.

A gentle person reflects care, affection and goodwill toward others (1 Cor. 13; Eph. 4:2). He is not callously abrupt, obnoxiously critical or arrogantly judgmental.

We must not be pugnacious. Literally, this means one is not a striker, not prone to violence, and not a fighter. We are not to be physically abusive. But by implication one is not is not to be mean-spirited with words. He doesn’t lash out when someone says something about which he disagrees. Neither does he incite arguments or alienate people through an attacking manner.
He does not follow through with an uncontrollably hot temper (Prov. 3:30; 15:18; 17:14; 20:3; 25:8; 26:17; Phil. 2:3).

A gentle, humble, godly person must not be quarrelsome. That means he is generally averse to verbal fighting or contentious arguing.  This is different from debating where you present and argue your position. The wise person knows what, when, and how to argue/debate rightly.
One ought not to be eager to make his point in order to get his way.  He is not to be a contentious disputer (1 Tim.6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:22-26; Tit. 3:9)  Biblical gentleness does not relish or overly delight in crushing others by defeating their ideas and beliefs.
On the positive side, the godly person has a sense of peace, tranquility, and calmness.  He is a peacemaker – one who is able to bring calm to a stormy situation; not stir up a storm (Eccles. 10:4; Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18; 14:19; Heb. 12:14; Jas. 3:17).

As believers, we are called to be just (Tit. 1:8). This means to be upright, righteous, and impartial in dealing with people. A just person is able to forget personal interests and seek the truth in situations, in interpersonal conflicts, or as an umpire over differences, especially differences of opinions.  Being just also calls each to speak what is right, while maintaining the  ability to hear various sides and weigh the evidence, facts, or arguments honestly (Deut. 16:20; Ps. 82:3; Prov. 21:3; Isa. 56:1; Rom. 13:7; Col. 4:1).

In short, the godly believer exercises the fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:23; Phil.4:5), especially in the context of the life of the assembly of God’s people.

If one cannot persuade others of his own position he should be content that he tried, and follow through according to a biblically informed conscience.  At the same time, one should be mature and secure enough to permit others to hold their views without condemnation, rebuke, or ridicule.

Having said all this allow me to conclude by providing specific ways to apply this:
1.     We have such a divergent group of people when it comes to political and social views. This is not a bad thing. We need to continue to actively respect one another and refrain from judging (condemning) each other.

2.     Unless we are having an obvious discussion about certain “hot” topics we should refrain from making political or other statements that are not germane to the subject at hand.  There are opportunities and venues we could arrange for us to do this. Note: I am not saying we are to be quiet about our views. It’s a matter of when and where to say them.

3.    We should be careful about making personal political pronouncements during times when we have guests (especially during worship).   For example, you might feel passionate about a     political position and voice that opinion, but to voice that with guests present could too easily     distract them from knowing that we are first and foremost about Jesus Christ and not about, say, a conservative or  liberal social or political agenda.  In other words, it would be simply wrong for someone to go away believing that we are primarily about “right-wing     Republicanism” or “liberal socialism.”

In any case, we always need to exercise discretion, kindness, and love while uplifting and making much of Jesus. Other matters are secondary (even if important) and are appropriately discussed in other contexts.

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A Prayer for a Conflicted Church

This is a prayer by a fictitious elder of a fictitious (but could be a familiar) church. Nevertheless, it is one prayer that ought to be prayed in many of Christ’s churches today:

“Lord, we’ve been a terrible church.  We’ve not only offended our pastor and his family, we’ve not only failed to protect them, encourage them, love them and lift them, but we have failed you too.  We have been cranky and mean.  We have allowed the sins of gossip and slander, grumbling and complaining, hiding or fighting to take over us.  We’ve been a disgrace to your name, O Lord!  We put up with the cranky and the crabby too long.  Allowed the goats to hurt the sheep, the tares to smother the wheat, our wayward brethren to weary our body.  Forgive us, Lord!  May you change our souls and the very soul of this church!  We want to live by your heat and light; to be willing clay pots in your mighty hands.  We want to be a people gripped by the Cross, grasped by the Spirit, grounded by your Word, and gladdened by your joy.  Help us, O Lord, to be a Gospel people who live by truth and grace and love. In Jesus’ awesome name!”  And with him came a chorus of amens.

Taken from the last chapter in The Perfect Pastor? (Xulon Press; 2007).

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How to Gracefully Leave a Church

Being a member of a local church means you have taken a vow or pledge of commitment to the church. The vow or pledge a serious commitment to the Lord and his local Body.  There may come a time when because of circumstances you either must leave or have a desire to leave the church. We expect that all members of this particular church will do so with love, truth and grace.

A.  What are some good reasons and circumstances for leaving this local congregation?

1.      When you need to relocate to another geographical area that would make

it a burden to travel and participate in the life of the church.

2.      When you have come to a different and informed conviction about certain

doctrines where in good conscience you cannot support the teachings of

the church.

3.    When it is apparent the Lord is directing you to actively serve in another

congregation of  like faith and practice. Leaving under this circumstance

should be done in consultation with the pastor, elders and other godly


            4.   When the philosophy of ministry or the direction of the church violates

your biblically informed conscience.

5.       Of course there are other legitimate reasons. Transferring to another

church should not be so much a matter of  running away from a problem

or conflict so  much as being led to another congregation.

B.    What are some wrong reasons and circumstances for leaving the local


         1.       To avoid coming under church discipline or following through with the

discipline process (which, if you will recall, is to restore you to Christ

and his church). Once the discipline process has begun and is a matter

of record, the pastor and elders are duty and conscience bound to

complete it.

            2.   When you have a conflict with someone in the church and you have

not taken the  steps to resolve the conflict and reconcile. Biblically, you

are free to leave after you have taken the correct steps to make things right.

            3.   When you don’t feel like being a part of the church, but do not have

any good biblical or moral grounds for leaving.

            4.   When your children are bored with church.

C.   What is a gracious way to exit the church?

1.       Don’t let problems or convictions linger or fester indefinitely. Speak

to the pastor and/or elder(s) to resolve the issues as soon as possible.

It would be sinful to exit the church without reconciling.  Furthermore,

you would just be bringing the problem(s) with you to the next church.

            2.    No matter what the circumstances are, be courageous and do the

righteous thing by talking in person with the pastor or elder(s).

                        a. Do not send a letter or email. If need be, write a letter and bring

it with you to dialog in person.

                        b. Let them know what you are thinking and where your heart is.

    c.  Be willing to listen and receive sound, biblical advice from them.

3.  Make arrangements with the elders to exit the church, and do so graciously.

a.   The elders will be able to give instructions on how to transfer.

b.  If you leave sinfully or with unresolved conflict, the elders will not be

able to give you a letter of transfer or a letter of standing.  Should

the other church inquire as to the circumstances the elders are

obliged to speak the truth (without gossip or slander).

(from Appendix Q in The Perfect Pastor? Xulon Press; 2007)

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Pastoral Politics (the book)

Pastoral Politics (Why Ministers Resign) was written by Dr. John Gilmore.  Here are some quotes from his book:


Some regard preachers as those who should “take orders” from churches, slog it out in the field over long hours, rather than work as honorable messengers to convey and relay truths from the great storehouse of truths, the Bible.

Society thinks churches are where people seek God.  But, as it turns out, some people seek churches where they will not hear about a God who repudiates their opinions or makes them aware of their spiritual need.  Too many churches become favorite places to escape God, yet allow the sinner to think he or she is religious and acceptable.

When people substitute selfish motivation and church participation to effect their own salvation, negative repercussions will ensue, and the pastor’s presence and presentation will be opposed.  Rather than heeding a pastor’s words of warning – rather than embracing a pastor’s message, it is much easier to devise means to bring an end to his or her witness.  Killing the pastor is an option that surely has been considered, but thank God that option is rarely used.  Expulsion of the pastor, however, is the accepted method of choice for most disgruntled church members, although it is not always the course of action that is immediately taken.  It is sometimes preferable (and fashionable) to immediately bring pressure on the pastor’s personal style of ministry so that the gospel message and witness is so whittled down that offense is removed.  If pastors don’t watch, congregations may mold them any which way.

The prophet Jeremiah was told his troubles would increase in his ministry (Jer. 12:5-6).  According to Vernon Grounds, “A faithful witness for Jesus Christ may sooner or later plunge us into situations so tough and tiring that they will tax our resources to the breaking point…Get ready, the river may rise.”

Jesus wanted spiritual shepherds who were tough-skinned, resolute, and steady.  “The wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13 NIV).  Good shepherds do not scat when a wolf snarls and snaps.  Good pastors don’t back down from incursions of theological error, nor retreat from personal attacks.

Jesus didn’t measure up with Jewish expectations.  Hans Kung writes:  “For those who supported law and order, he turned out to be a provocateur, dangerous to the system.  He disappointed the activist revolutionaries by his nonviolent love of peace.  On the other hand, he offended the passive world-forsaking ascetics by his uninhibited worldliness.  And for the devout who adapted themselves to the world, he was the uncompromising.  For the silent majority he was too noisy, and for the noisy majority he was too quiet, too gentle for the strict and too strict for the gentle.

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101 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

How many Christians are aware of the passage in the New Testament,
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (ESV, Hebrews 13:17)?  Okay, forget about how many. What about you? Were you aware of that verse? If you were aware, have you given it much thought?

When searching for a publisher for The Perfect Pastor? one major publishing house said that “You won’t find anyone who would give you a nanosecond of a New York minute to read about (the life and work of) pastors.”  Sad, but apparently true.

Pastors are definitely called to serve in Christ’s local church. One aspect of that servitude is an attitude or response to these servants that often come with the calling. That attitude or response that is not dissimilar to how things are perceived:  You must be there when I need you. Until then I don’t think much about you. And I certainly do not need to be concerned about your joy.

The latest studies reveal that thousands of pastor leave their churches every month. And hundreds of those pastors leave the ministry altogether. The average duration of a pastor in full-time, remunerative ministry is five years. And it’s 13-18 months for the youth minister. There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest reasons is the lack of hope.  The lack of hope that perhaps his gifts are of value, that his work and service is meaningful and purposeful, and that he is appreciated as a person and as a pastor. It is rare to find a pastor who really has a deep sense that he is appreciated or is wanted.

Now, my objective here is not to evaluate the above statements. Rather, my concern has to do with the fact that there are responsibilities God has called the church to with regard to their pastor(s).  One of which has to do with seeing to it that the church lets them serve as overseers and shepherds with joy!

A previous blog speaks to how to encourage your pastor. I want to suggest typical ways people and churches discourage their pastor, how they rob their pastor(s) of joy. Here is an incomplete list:

1. Treat him as if he is the messiah, expecting him to save your life.

2. Reject him when he doesn’t save the day.

3. Demand that he meet your so-called needs and your personal desires.

4. Be angry or disappointed when he does not do what you want him to do.

5. Be angry or disappointed when he does not do what you have told him to do.

6. Be angry or disappointed when his family does not meet your approval.

7. Be angry or disappointed when his family does not meet your expectations.

8. Be rude toward his wife.

9. Be rude toward his children.

10. Be critical about his wife and/or children.

11. Be critical toward his wife and/or children.

12.Expect his wife to be better and more perfect than other women in the church.

13. Expect his children to be better and more perfect than you expect your own.

14. Find ways to drain the life out of his wife and/or children.

15. Shun his wife and/or his children.

16. Impose nonbiblical legalisms on him, his wife and his children.

17.Do not allow his wife to develop friendships within the church.

18. Do not allow his wife to develop her own set of friends.

19. Complain about him to his wife.

20. Complain about him to his children.

21. Have selfish, ungodly, nonbiblical or unbiblical expectations of him.

22.Tell him how to dress (explicitly or by subtle criticisms).

23. Tell him what to eat or not eat.

24. Show little or no love for him.

25. Work him to death.

26. Add nonbiblical or unbiblical requirements to his job description.

27. Add your own expectations to the list of things he does.

28. Pressure him to be performance oriented, focusing on things rather than upon people or God.

29. Do not give him time to do the things required and mandated by God and God’s Word.

30. Keep him over-busy. Drain the life out of him.

31. Tell him you believe he is doing enough, but then give him more things to do.

32. Tell him how your previous pastor(s) was better at doing things than he is.

33. Tell him how your previous pastor(s) was better at being a pastor or a godly man.

34. Show disrespect for him. Dishonor his role and position.

35. Expect him to be your close friend.

36. Do not allow him or his family the freedom to develop their own personal and private lives.

37. Refuse to listen to his biblical and godly counsel.

38. Refuse to follow his biblically informed vision.

39. Reject or refuse to support his biblically informed mission.

40. Show disloyalty to him.

41. Often compare him to other pastors, preachers and teachers.

42. Come to him with articles, books, DVDs or other materials to show him how he is to think and be like those other “good” men.

43. Be bored with or unsupportive of his teaching.

44. Sleep often during the sermons.

45. Tell him or others how much you appreciate other teachers, but never tell him you appreciate him.

46. Tell him or others how much you like to listen to other pastors (especially the popular ones), but do not really care to hear your own pastor.

47. Take as much from him as possible and never or rarely give back to him (and his family).

48. Rarely or never use your spiritual gifts to serve him or help him grow or to bless him.

49. Tell him how to preach.

50. Tell him how to teach.

51. Tell him how to lead.

52. Tell him how to counsel.

53. Tell him how to evangelize.

54. Tell him who to evangelize.

55. Tell him how to pray.

56. Imply or tell him he is not doing enough.

57. Imply or tell him he is not doing the right things.

58. Imply or tell him he is not doing things right.

59. Criticize the worship.

60. Argue with him in meetings.

61. Cut him down in front of others in the church.

62. Complain about the fellowship in the church, and expect him to fix all the problems.

63. Grumble about the numerical growth or lack thereof.

64. Tell him how to spend his time, even his spare time.

65. Resist his desire to disciple you.

66. Resist his biblical admonition, counsel or rebuke.

67. Don’t allow him to have spare time.

68. Call him on his vacation time.

69. Don’t give him vacation time.

70. Give him little vacation time.

71. Never give him a sabbatical, even if he has been at church for many years.

72. Do not pay him a decent salary (which ought to be the average or mean income of the church membership)

73. Interrupt his prayer time to satisfy your wants.

74. Interrupt his study time to satisfy your wants.

75. Restrict or find ways to keep him from growing mentally.

76. Restrict or find ways to keep him from growing spiritually.

77. Do not support or encourage his desire to do continuing education (at conferences, school or seminary).

78. Restrict or find ways to keep him from having fellowship with others who can build him up.

79. Lie about him.

80. Use the truth to slander him and his reputation.

81. Help to spread rumors about him.

82. Gossip and complain about him.

83. Be more favorable toward the assistant, associate, intern or youth minister than toward him.

84. Find ways to put division between him and the assistant, associate, intern or youth minister.

85. Tell him or others how much you wish he was like a previous pastor or your favorite pastor or one of the big named and popular pastor.

86. Complain to him regularly.

87. Rarely or never be kind to him.

88. Reject his kindnesses.

89. Be intentionally inconsiderate.

90. Be rude to him.

91. Embarrass him.

92. Make fun of him.

93. Be angry with him. Show anger, resentment and hostility toward him.

94. Keep a running account of all the negative, wrong or sinful things he has said or done.

95. Rejoice when something bad happens to him.

96. Rarely or never put on a best construct regarding him, his life and work.

97. Be impatient with him.

98. Expect him to be hospitable, while you are rarely or never hospitable.

99. Be critical of his wife.

100. Expect his wife to be a second pastor.

101. Impose unbiblical expectations upon his wife (she “must” be the pianist, music leader, Bible study teacher, nursery worker, etc.)or upon his children.

In other words, do all that you can to rob him of the joy God wants him to have in his service to God and God’s people. Rob him of the encouragement God tells you to give him. Steal love that you owe him through Christ; instead suck the life out of him.


© D. Thomas Owsley  2011

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Filed under Abuse in the Church, Abusing Pastors, Conflict and the Church, Pastor & Church Relationship