This week I've had conversations with two pastors who are having difficulties in their churches. I'm not talking about some minor differences. These are situations where a small group of people are determined to get rid of the pastor, and if that fails to make it as painful as possible for him to stay. In addition to these two pastors, I'm aware of two others in very similar situations.
In each case, it is a small group within the church that is causing the problems. Some of the things they are doing are beyond belief, and some are illegal, but they are all designed to force the pastor out. One other thing each of these have in common is that the same small group in each church has done this type of thing before.
Several things about this bothers me. One, is that a small group of people in a church can believe that this is the way Christians are supposed to act if they dislike their pastor. In order to rid the church of the pastor, in order to get their way, nothing is off-limit. In their minds, anything they do is permissible as long as it gets them what they want.
Of course, this is the classic thinking of the church controller. As I've defined church controllers before, these people are cancers in the church. They are unhealthy cells that will attack healthy cells, and if they are not stopped they will eventually kill the body. Cancer cannot be cured by ignoring it or covering it with a bandage. Treating cancer requires drastic measures that sometimes results in short-term pain and discomfort but is necessary if the body is to survive.
That brings me to the second thing that bothers me about such churches. Good people are willing to sit by and allow this to happen. A minority of people cannot create discord in a church unless the majority allows them to do so. As a pastor once told me, "The problem in our church is that we have too many nice people who aren't willing to stand up to the few who aren't so nice."
Church controllers need to be confronted immediately by congregational leaders when they misbehave. I know in smaller churches we don't want to upset anyone for fear they might leave, but you should want unrepentant church controllers to leave. Why do you want to keep mean-spirited people who are running good people away from the church? I've seen what happens in a church when controllers are confronted by church leaders. Like most bullies, they get mad and stomp off, and the church begins to grow.
The third thing that bothers me about this situation is that the pastors often feel stuck. In fact, one of them used that very expression when we talked this week. There are few churches in his denomination currently seeking pastors. He has a family to support. He feels he can do little but take whatever abuse the controllers want to give. The pain and resignation in his voice made me hurt for him and his family.
This points once again to one of the advantages of bivocational ministry. As I've told people who attend one of my seminars, my church could have fired me one day and the next day I would have gone right back in the factory, punched the time clock, and worked all week. On Friday I would have received my paycheck and my family would have eaten and maintained a roof over our heads.
Churches that have a history of this kind of behavior need to be told by their denominations that this is no longer acceptable. Denominational leaders such as myself should refuse to sacrifice any more good pastors on the altars of these church's dysfunctions. We should offer to help them become healthy churches before we help them find new pastors, and if they refuse our first offer we should refuse their request to help them find a new pastor. Will we lose some churches by doing this? Probably, but who cares? It's better than losing more good pastors to their dysfunctional behavior.