What to say to a Church Bully

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joe-mckeeverBy Joe McKeever

(This is the type of article some church people will find objectionable. I’m fully aware of that and am willing to run the risk of the flack from writing it. If it results in one congregation standing up to a member who has held the church in a stranglehold and run off preacher after preacher, if it puts just one bully out of business, it’ll be worth the flack. This is a far bigger problem than most people realize.)

No church bully thinks he’s one. He’s just (ahem) looking out for the interests of the church, since a) no one else seems to be willing to do it and b) even though it’s a difficult task, he has the courage to step up and do this difficult thing.

Cooper Manning, oldest son of Archie and Olivia Manning and thus older brother of football champions Peyton and Eli, admits that he gave his little brothers a hard time when they were children. “I never thought of it as bullying,” he says.

They never do.

Bullies—whether at home or in the workplace, on the playground or in church—think of themselves as a) natural leaders, b) gifted for ruling and c) willing to speak up and take action when everyone else backs off.

In their minds, it’s all about strength and courage, vision and leadership. Let’s talk about church bullies.

Someone is calling the shots behind the scenes at your church, perhaps running off preachers, intimidating new pastors or pushing his own agenda as though he knows best what God wants in this place.

Know anyone like that?

We think of Diotrephes in the little epistle of 3 John. The apostle John writes, “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren [traveling missionaries who need hospitality in their ministry], either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church” (NASB).

He loves “the preeminence,” is how the KJV puts it.

Sound like anyone you know?

Someone, you say to yourself and your spouse, ought to stand up to such a person and see if he can’t be put out of business before he destroys the church. He’s already ruined the ministry of several preachers and besmirched the good name and reputation of this church.

Someone should. Not you, of course.

You’re too nice to do that. And maybe a little fearful?

My question to you is: What are you afraid of?

“Well,” you reply, “I wouldn’t know what to say. Mr. Bully is a powerful person in our town. And he has a way with words. Why, he can cut people off at the knees with just a few words. I couldn’t stand up to a person like that.”

So, you’re not a fighter? Is that what you’re saying?

Good. You’re just the one for this job.

In fact, the last person who needs to take on a tyrant is another strong-willed, acid-tongued, outspoken church member who is the equal of Mr. Bully in every way.

The best person to stand up to him is the sweet-spirited and humble little lady who teaches Sunday school to the senior women and has not risen in a church business meeting to question the leadership in her lifetime.

Second best would be some older man who has served the Lord quietly for a generation or more, going about his work, always supporting the church program, loving his pastors and never engaging in gossip.

OK, we’ve got our leader. It’s you. Now all we need is a plan.

Pray. Ask the Lord. Listen to Him. Wait on Him.

Listen to church members around you. Surely you’re not the only one concerned about what Mr. Bully is doing to pastors and your church. Who are they? What are they saying? Listen and learn.

Bide your time. Again, listen to the Lord and obey Him. And remember this: The Lord is not pleased when His children wimp out.

By listening to the typical church member today, you’d think all God has is wimps.  In his wonderful book (from 1986) No More Mr. Nice Guy! Stephen Brown tells of attending a gathering of Christian leaders in Washington, D.C. During a lull in the session, a black bishop rose and asked to speak.

“My friends,” he began, “I have a message for you from the Lord. The Lord says that if you Christians ever get over your fear, you’re going to be dangerous.”

Brown says in His first miracle, Jesus turned the water to wine. Ever since, “Christianity has been turning the wine back into water.”

“Now when they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Don’t wimp out, Christian. “Be strong and of good courage” (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9, 18).

How to Confront a Bully and Live to Tell About It

You ask him a question. That’s all.

Just hold him accountable for what he has done.

What question should you ask? Whatever the Holy Spirit puts in your heart. Trust Him to tell you. It could be something like:

“I’d like to pose a question to Mr. Bully. I know you were chairman of (whatever) committee. How was the decision made to (do whatever)?”  Then sit down and be quiet. (Do not overspeak. The simpler and more direct your question, the better.)

“Mr. Chairman, I wonder if Mr. Bully would like to respond to the rumor that he is responsible for our pastor leaving.”

“Mr. Moderator, may I ask what offices Mr. Bully holds in the church?”

“Brother Pastor, could we ask Mr. Bully to explain to the congregation why he is leading the movement to get our pastor fired?”

1. Be sure you know what you are talking about. Few things are more embarrassing that rising in a business session ready to set some people straight when it becomes obvious that you have your facts wrong.

2. Know the answer you are going to hear before you ask it. Lawyers say never to ask a question to a witness you don’t know the answer to; otherwise the matter will blow up in your face.

3. Be sweet and kind but persistent—wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove (Matt. 10:16). No inflammatory language. Nothing but kindness. Do not allow Mr. Bully to outsweet you or outspiritualize you.  Claim the high ground and stay there.

4. Do not lose your cool. Saying too little is better than saying too much. The last thing you want is to make Mr. Bully appear to be wronged and yourself the aggressor.

5. If no one else in the church rises to support your questions or to further challenge Mr. Bully, don’t push it. You cannot do this by yourself. But trust the Lord to work on people’s hearts. These things sometimes require more than a one-hour business meeting.

6. Do not let this be a personal thing, as though you and Mr. Bully are enemies. Your concern is for the welfare of your church, the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ and the man whom He has sent as the shepherd of His flock. You are not trying to humiliate anyone.

7. If Mr. Bully gets upset and displays his temper, good. Let people see him for what he is.

8. If he threatens to leave and “take my substantial contributions with me,” remind everyone present, “This is the Lord’s church, and He doesn’t need any of us.” This might be a good place to quote the line from Psalm 50 that goes, “If I were hungry, I would not ask you; the cattle on a thousand hills are mine.”

9. Where is the pastor in all this? Standing by, observing, sending up urgent prayer messages to heaven, hoping you and the rest of the membership are going to be strong and finally put Mr. Bully out of business, that’s where! If you do, or if tonight’s business meeting signals to Mr. Bully that his days are numbered, there will be joy in the pastor’s home throughout the night.

10. Do not get into a tit-for-tat argument with Mr. Bully’s wife or adult children who rise to his defense. Do not take that bait. Be sweet. Saying less is better than too much.

What happens next?

11. If the pastor is moderating the meeting and feels impressed by the Lord, he might ask the congregation at some point, “Does anyone have a motion to make?” And then wait. See what God does.

Once the pastor knows that the membership has Mr. Bully’s number and that they are reining him in, he becomes encouraged to resist the man himself. After all, what is going to happen—mark my words—is that the pastor’s office phone will ring early tomorrow morning. It’ll be Mr. Bully trying to cut his losses and still come out on top.

This is critical now, pastor. Don’t you wimp out. Do not give in to him.

Ask the Lord what to say to him.

If necessary, ask if you can call him right back in a few minutes. (Don’t give him a reason. You could be in your bathroom or have someone standing there. Just say, “I need to call you back. Give me three minutes.”)

Then get on your knees and ask the Lord what you should say.

And remember, pastor, this is not about you. Even though you will feel it is in some respects and if Mr. Bully is neutralized, you will feel you have just been handed a wonderful present.

But you are going to love the Bully family and be kind to them. After all, they are bruised now. They had taken pride in Dad’s domination of the church (they wouldn’t have called it that in a hundred years, but no doubt felt he is the leader of the laity and stands up to lazy pastors, that sort of thing) and now he has been humiliated.

Do not apologize. You didn’t do anything in that business meeting but moderate. The congregation rose up and held him accountable and took whatever action they did. Just assure them of your love and tell them, “It’ll be all right.” Then shut your mouth.

Don’t you undo in private what the congregation has finally gotten up the nerve to do.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication. For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

Nine Issues Regarding Pastors and Office Hours

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By Thom Rainer

I know. I’ve been there.

Almost every week, and sometimes two or more times a week, a lay leader would wait in the church parking lot to see what time I arrived. He would also come back in the afternoon to see what time I left.

I was pastor of the church. This layman’s perspective was that I earned my pay by being in the office over 40 hours a week.

In a more recent scenario, the lead pastor of a church I know required all of the other pastors to have set office hours. But he also expected them to be relational and in the community. He kept track of their hours in a very legalistic way.

So what should a pastor and staff do regarding church office hours? What should be the expectations of the church members about their schedules? Allow me to respond by noting nine key issues.

  1. Pastors must be out of the office on a regular basis to be a relational presence in the community. The most effective pastors I know give relational presence a priority. That presence is to both church members and those who aren’t members of the church.
  2. The office hours of a pastor demand flexibility due to unexpected issues. A pastor must rush to the hospital when he gets word that a teenage girl was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Such emergencies and events can neither be planned nor neglected.
  3. The pastor’s office often is not conducive to sermon preparation. It is not unusual for a pastor to spend 20 hours or more per week working on sermons. But it is not unusual for the pastor’s office to be the source of multiple interruptions. Sometimes a pastor must go elsewhere to get the sermon done.
  4. Most pastors have evening responsibilities. Their only time off, therefore, may be during a weekday. Obviously the pastor can’t keep office hours for those days.
  5. A few pastors are lazy. Thus, the overused joke that the pastor is “visiting the greens” (i.e. the golf course) has been repeated too many times. Yes, some pastors do take advantage of their flexible schedules. But don’t assume that all pastors fit this category. Most pastors have a greater challenge with workaholism. And insisting on rigid office hours is not a solution to a problem of laziness.
  6. Some laypersons have unrealistic expectations about pastors’ office hours. They are certainly the exception, but just a few can make life miserable for a pastor. As I noted above, one layperson made my life pretty uncomfortable.
  7. The best situations I have seen take place when the pastor and the church have an informal understanding about office hours. I strongly prefer informal agreements since pastors have totally unpredictable schedules. I know of one example where the church asks the pastor to be available for 20 hours a week for meetings, counseling, and drop-by visits. But the church members clearly understand that the schedule cannot be rigid.
  8. Some pastors prefer to have clearly designated office hours for a part of the week. When I was a pastor, I designated Monday as an office day for staff meetings and meetings with church members. If an emergency occurred, the church understood. If they needed me at other times, which they did frequently, I understood. But I tried my best to protect Mondays to be in the office for meetings.
  9. The office hours of church staff other than the lead pastor should reflect the nature and needs of that position. A student pastor, for example, should be in the schools and the community more often than in the office. An administrative pastor may spend the bulk of the week in the office.

What is your perspective regarding pastors and office hours? What do you think of my nine issues? Let me hear from you.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on December 1, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Seven Ways to Deal with CAVE Dwellers in Your Church

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By Thom Rainer

They are in every church. They are critics. They are naysayers. If your church has regular business meetings, they will be the negatively outspoken people.

They often begin sentences with “I love you pastor, but . . .” And the moment you hear “but,” you cringe. You wait for the verbal assault.

Critics and naysayers are in every church. They are CAVE (Consistently Against Virtually Everything) Dwellers (This phrase originated with Curt Coffman in his work on disen-
gaged employees.). They can make your life miserable . . . unless you learn to deal with them.

I am not the best role model for dealing with CAVE dwellers. When I was a pastor, I struggled with critics and naysayers. I still do. So I asked some church leaders who, in my opinion, have a very healthy approach to these people. Here are seven things I learned from them.

  1. Accept the reality that every church and organization will have CAVE dwellers. You will deal with them in a more healthy fashion if you are not blindsided by them. And you will realize than the green grass of other churches may be a bit brown.
  2. Pray for your own attitude. I am glad Jesus did not hold my sins against me through his death on the cross. My attitude should be like His, and I should seek prayerfully to have the right attitude toward CAVE dwellers.
  3. Pray for the CAVE dwellers. Even if you consider them your enemy, we are supposed to pray for our enemies. Sometimes I have to ask God to give me the grace to pray for these people because they have hurt me so much.
  4. Stay above reproach. Don’t stoop to the negative, gossiping, bickering, and deceitful level of CAVE dwellers. Pray that God will give you the strength, wisdom, and grace to live above such attitudes and actions.
  5. Spend more time with positive church members. CAVE dwellers can be the squeaky wheels that demand constant oiling. If you spend too much time with these members, you will become emotionally and spiritually drained. Be intentional about spending time with church members who energize and encourage you.
  6. Spend more time with church leaders in other churches. You will develop invaluable friendships and camaraderie. And you will soon discover you are not alone with these issues.
  7. Ask other members to help you deal with CAVE dwellers. I recently heard from a pastor who did just that. He was shocked to find more than one encouraging church leader willing and ready to help him deal with these people. The comment from one of these positive members hit home: “Pastor, we did not know you were having to deal with these issues. We wish you had told us sooner.”

Yes, you will always have people in your church who seem to be consistently against virtually everything. They are emotionally draining. They are discouraging. And they never really go away.

Our challenge, in God’s power, is to deal with CAVE dwellers in the most positive and God-honoring way we can. So, how do you deal with CAVE dwellers? What would you add to the seven ways I noted above? Let me hear from you.

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on November 17, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Top Ten Sources of Discouragement of Pastors and Church Staff

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By Thom Rainer

I love those men and women who serve local churches. I love their commitment and sacrifice. And I wish I could do more to help them remain energized and encouraged.

In this post, I share the results of an informal Twitter poll where I asked pastors and church staff to share with me those areas of ministry that discouraged them most. My motivation for doing so is primarily my love and concern for these church leaders. It is my prayer that this awareness will encourage church members to be even more supportive of and prayerful for these leaders.

Here are the top ten sources of discouragement of pastors and church staff listed in order of frequency. Admittedly, there is overlap in some of these responses, but those who responded often made their own distinctions. A representative quote follows each category.

  1. Conflicts/complaining/murmuring. “I find myself physically exhausted at the end of the week just from dealing with naysayers. My problem is exacerbated by naysayers using social media as their outlets.”
  2. Lack of fruit and spiritual maturity in church members. “I invested two years of my life in him. But his life today is as carnal as it was two years ago.”
  3. Apathy. “The low level of commitment of so many of our members really discourages me. Sometimes I wonder if my ministry is making any kind of difference.”
  4. Church members who leave the church for seemingly silly or no reasons. “It breaks my heart to lose a church member just because we made a slight change in the times of worship services.”
  5. Expectations by members/lack of time. “It seems like I am expected to be omnipresent. I just can’t keep up with all the expectations of me.”
  6. Performing tasks where the pastor/staff does not have competencies. “I know nothing about finances. I am not a good administrator. But both functions consume my time.”
  7. Meetings/committees. “I would rather get my teeth drilled than go to our monthly business meetings. It’s nothing more than a forum for complainers and whiners.”
  8. Family concerns. “The attacks on my wife for no good reasons have caused me to get my resume out. I can’t stay any longer.”
  9. Staff issues. “Every day at the church is stressful because of staff conflict.”
  10. Lack of volunteers. “So many church members seek their own preferences, but are unwilling to serve others.”

Some of the other sources of discouragement that did not make the list but had multiple votes are: loneliness; communication problems; members who hold tenaciously to tradition; divorce/family problems among church members; low pay; and counseling.

Please pray for your pastor and staff. They are under attack consistently. They not only need your prayers; they need your clear and consistent encouragement.

What do you think of these sources of discouragement? What would you add? Let me hear from you.

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on November 12, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Seven New Trends in the Pastor Search Process

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By Thom S. Rainer

If there is anything consistent about the current state of how churches find and call pastors, it is the inconsistencies of the process for each church. It is inconsistent by denomination and by each church individually.

I have the opportunity to interact with a number of churches looking for pastors, and with pastors who are being considered by churches. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed changes and trends in the process. Let me highlight the seven most frequent changes I’ve discovered.

1. Social media has become a major reference to check on potential pastors. More churches and pastor search committees are looking at blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media venues of potential candidates. One search committee member told me he read four years of blogs of a pastor their church is considering. He said that he could tell a lot about the leadership and personality of a pastor by reading his articles and how he interacts with those who comment on the blogs.

2. Two background checks are more common: criminal and credit. Most church search members will not disqualify a candidate who has some issues in his background legally or credit related. But they do want the candidate to be upfront about any issues; and they want to know how he is dealing with those issues today.

3. More leadership questions are asked. In the past, Bible and theology rightly dominated the questions asked of a prospective pastor. Today those considering these pastors want to know more about his leadership qualities. “We had problems with two of our last three pastors,” one church member wrote me. “But none of those problems had anything to do with their theology; they just had terrible leadership skills.”

4. Churches scrutinize the prospective pastor’s church website. I have been surprised how much churches depend on a website to find out information about a prospective pastor. They certainly expect to hear sermon podcasts there, but they are looking for much more. Rightly or wrongly, they often evaluate the pastor by the quality and the content of the site.

5. Fewer search committees are going to the prospective pastor’s church to hear him preach. I am hearing more often that they view such a move as disruptive to that pastor and the church. They have other options available to hear him preach. Of course, they lose the advantage of seeing and hearing that pastor in his current context.

6. Churches are depending less on traditional resources to seek prospective pastors. More are depending on informal networks to seek these pastors, rather than denominational or similar sources.

7. More churches are asking questions about the emotional intelligence of a candidate. Is he self-aware? Is he moody or temperamental? How motivated is he? Is he empathetic? Does he have good social and interpersonal skills?

There are several other trends I am watching closely. But these seven are the dominant trends in the pastor search process. Though they are ranked in order of frequency of comment, they are really all very close in their overall importance in the ways churches seek to find and call a pastor. So the number one issue, social media and the pastor, is not that much more dominant than the number seven issue, the emotional intelligence of the prospective pastor.

What other trends have you seen?

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on October 29, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

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Thank you so much for being a part of The Pastor’s Helper.
In Christ,
Barry Davis
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