How-Pastors-Survive-a-Difficult-Church

There are great rewards in the pastoral call. And there are times that there is great pain. In this post I have asked Chris Bonts to share his experiences in a difficult church, one where he eventually left under pressure. I encourage you to get his newly-released eBook on this topic.

Thom: As much as you feel comfortable, will you share with us the story of your church?

how_to_finalChris: For starters, every church is a difficult church on some level.  After all, they are filled with fallen sinners and led by fallen sinners!  The situation that prompted the writing of this book was a situation in which I was called to lead a church that faced a number of challenges, some of which I was ill-equipped to lead them through, others which the congregation (from my perspective) was unwilling to address.

Like many churches, my situation was comprised of factionalism, resistance to change, too much debt, a history of conflict, divisiveness, and short pastoral tenure.  Each of those issues presents a challenge to pastoral ministry and leadership.  When they are coupled with other issues, they can be overwhelming.

In addition to inheriting a church with a host of issues, I also inherited a church with tremendous administrative demands, which was a major area of weakness for me.  My administrative shortcomings (which I have since addressed in significant ways) actually made my situation worse.  I found it difficult to stay on top of issues, keep everyone informed of changes, cast vision, and motivate ministry teams to pull in the same direction in ministry in a church that size.  In a typical church I might have overcome those issues in time to grow into the pastor this church needed.  Given the lack of general church health and specific challenges this church faced, my lack of administrative expertise proved to be a major hurdle.

In addition to my church’s history and my shortcomings, there was one key event that produced greater conflict within the church early in my tenure that seemed to solidify a couple of key groups in their opposition to my ministry.  It was a church discipline issue that presented itself six weeks after my arrival at the church.  This was not a minor case of disagreement, one in which I could bide my time and slowly bring the church along.  It was a major issue of sexual sin that was exposed in a very public way.  To refuse to address it would have meant a blatant disregard for Scripture and would have given the appearance that our church condoned the actions of the individual in question.  In calling our church to pray for the repentance of the individual in question (without naming the person) and discussing what would happen should the person not repent, I started a firestorm of controversy and complaints that lasted until the day I left (I literally received email complaints about my handling of the situation four years after the fact).

This church had never discussed church discipline in her history, a fact confirmed by many longstanding members.  The shock of such a discussion apparently encouraged several influential members to dig in their heels in opposition to their ministry.  One man personally voted “no” for every item that came up in a business meeting after that event, just to make a point.  Another member told me he made a point to stand up and vote “yes” triumphantly in the very first business meeting after my departure!  Another lady made a point of saying loudly, “Praise God” when I announced my resignation from the pulpit.  It was a challenging church to say the least.

Thom: How long were you into this ministry when you discovered it would be a difficult church?

Chris: I discovered soon after I arrived that it was going to be a much more difficult church than I had imagined.  When I was a candidate for this church, I was told by numerous individuals that it was a great church, with tremendous potential, that it just needed a few programmatic tweaks before seeing some significant growth.  Six weeks after I arrived, an unavoidable church discipline situation presented itself, which revealed just how many difficulties I would face.  From that point forward, it never ceased to amaze me the lengths some folks would go to in an effort to criticize me over minor issues.

Thom: What are some of the signs that let you know it would be a very difficult ministry?

Chris: This question is unfortunately too easy for me to answer.  I have personally counseled scores of pastors in difficult situations.  There is a common challenge that presents itself in these types of churches.  A truly difficult church, in my opinion, is marked by factions that care more about their vision for the church than obedience to Scripture and individuals who will attack a pastor personally in an effort to protect their desired direction for the church.  I know from personal experience that I am not the only pastor who has been falsely accused of issues in an effort to convince others it was time for a change in leadership.

Thank you, Chris, for your transparency. In part two of this interview, Chris shared how a pastor should leave a difficult church.

What do you think of this story? Do you have similar experiences? How can we help pastors who are going through such difficult times?

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Comments

  1. says

    It still amazes me when I find a higher degree of integrity in the board room than I do in the sanctuary. Sad to say but there are unbelievers who I might go to for advice first before the brethren…and it truly saddens me to say that.

    • says

      John,
      Your comment illustrates why we must commit ourselves to discipling new believers when God sends them our way. Don’t give up on the church! Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Chris

    • Ryan says

      I recently left a position as a student minister in a church similar to this. As a student pastor, it presents more problems, or it seemed to be this way. The Senior Pastor, especially one that has a long tenure there, seems to have more respect from the congregation. I was brought in because the church wanted to reach young families. I brought in ideas and strategies that I had seen work in the past, yet they were continually shot down. They were disregarded by the pastor as well as the congregation. It seemed as if the church wanted to change everything without wanting to change anything. It was extremely difficult. My wife and I prayed through it and God led us to leave and we followed Him. The bad thing is that a youth pastor doesn’t get any support as compared to the senior pastor, and it just put me in a lose-lose situation. It seemed as if the pastor had caved into the mindset of the rest of the church. I enjoyed this post, in that you handled the situation Biblically and with conviction of the Holy Spirit.

      • Rick says

        Ryan, I am truly sorry for your experience. Unfortunately, it is all to common for progressive student ministry pastors. Senior pastors are facing the same issues. Times in the American churches are changing dramatically, and it is those like you who will have to struggle through the changes. Don’t give up, the Lord will lead you to a place where you can serve with enthusiasm and support.

        • John Mushenhouse says

          Psalm 9:9 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

          Just keep on loving jesus and everything will be ok

          Either jesus told us the truth or He is a liar. I know Jesus tells the truth for He is the truth.

  2. Mike says

    Chris, good interview. I have been there, done that, and hope to never do it again — it takes a lot out of you as a Pastor. One thing that helped me through it was I always brought them to what God’s Word said about the issue. While this didn’t stop some of them, it took a lot of their control away (no self-respecting Baptist would admit they really don’t believe the bible); and two, I prayed, prayed, and prayed. I asked God to reveal to the congregation the hearts and intents of those individuals who were causing the problems (and He did, which took away the listening ears of many). It took about a year and a half, to work through this and then the whole personality of the church flipped over night, attendance doubled and it became a blessing to minister there. Oh, I still had some issues from time to time from a small group who were never happy, but they didn’t have the support of the rest of the congregation to do any real harm at that point. The sad part was after I left there, this group was allowed to grain control again and they ended up splitting the church. I believe there are two main reasons why this stuff goes on in a church – Sin, and a lack of ever truly being discipled (thus you have the spiritual nursery running the church).

    • says

      Mike,
      You are absolutely right about the imperatives of grounding our leadership decision in the Word of God and discipling our membership. The marks of a truly difficult church often present themselves in matters of preference that aren’t specifically addressed in Scripture. When members dig in their heels on those issues and make their complaints about those issues primarily, it can make for a rough time in ministry.

      Thanks for participating in the conversation!

      Chris

  3. JJ says

    I am currently pastoring a difficult church. The most difficult part deals with the concept of church discipline.

    Here’s what’s going on: I recently met with my deacons to ask if they would like to consider revising our out-of-date church covenant. I gave them several reasons why we should update it. Gladly, they all agreed that it should be updated.

    I told them that it may be best to have a covenant that has simple statements of the expectations, privileges, and responsibilities of members, one that has bullet points.However, after more reflection, they began to get concerned about the very nature of a covenant. The deacons’ concern was that we shouldn’t hold members accountable in any way. One deacon in particular began to realize that a membership covenant means membership accountability and he was concerned that if members are held accountable, then we may run people off from the church. And worst of all, he feared that we could gain a bad name in our community.

    So this deacon said that a new covenant would be okay as long as it is not “enforced.” Then out of nowhere he added “I’m never going to vote someone out of this church.” This seemed a bit odd because we hadn’t talked directly about voting anyone out. I replied to him saying “Well, in certain circumstances we may have to remove a member from our fellowship. For example, if a member is involved in gross sin and refuses to repent and be restored after we’ve lovingly confronted him. . . It has a clear scriptural basis.” He replied to me “I ain’t voting no one out ever!” I said to him “What if God’s word plainly tells us to remove an unrepentant member from our fellowship. Would you do it then?” And he said “No. . . And that’s the difference between you and me.” I couldn’t believe my ears!

    Then a second deacon spoke up and agreed with the first one. He said that he himself used to be a drunkard (while he was a church member!). He said that if anyone from the church had ever confronted him about his drunkenness that he would never have stepped foot back into our church again. Therefore he concluded that the new church covenant should not have anything about accountability or discipline.

    Well I only have three deacons. So while all three of them think it’s a good idea to update the church covenant, two of them do not want it to be enforced. And they do not want church discipline to ever be a part of our church. I’m not really sure where to go from here. How can we never confront members who have rejected Christ?

    Worst of all I’ve inherited a membership roll that is full of drunkards and fornicators. They are people who I see around town, but who I’ve never seen in our church. There are so many in our community who are church “members” and who need to be lovingly confronted. But I don’t feel like I can start this process without any support.

    I’ve only been here for 18 months, but obviously the temptation to leave is very strong.

    • says

      JJ,
      Hang in there. It may be a few years before you can turn the tide on an issue like that. Just make sure formative church discipline is taking place long before you seek to implement corrective church discipline. Emphasize the importance of Christians edifying and encouraging one another. Seek to build a culture of commitment to one another and pray for a change of hearts. It may not be imperative to address the church covenant this early in your tenure. Focus on building relationships and one-on-one discipleship.

      I am praying for you brother! Thanks for sharing details about your situation. I hope my book is an encouragement. Don’t give up on your church!

      Chris

      • JJ says

        Chris – Thanks for your response. I guess I was attempting to address the church covenant because of Dr. Rainer’s research. He’s reminded us that a necessary ingredient for a healthy church is emphasizing meaningful membership. Our current church covenant is the old J. Newton Brown one that says that we won’t accept anyone into membership who participates in selling alcohol as a beverage. I was bothered that if we were going to accept new members, that we couldn’t accept grocery store or Wal-Mart employees (according to our current covenant). What are your feelings on ignoring the current covenant? I feel like if it’s the covenant, then it should be enforced on some level. I don’t feel right ignoring it (even though the church has ignored it for decades – in spite of a huge copy of it hanging in our main hallway).

        Anyhow – thanks for your encouragement. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my comment. I look forward to reading your book!

        • says

          JJ,
          I know exactly what you are going through. Sometimes in local church ministry, we need to think of ourselves as triage nurses, diagnosing problems, then deciding in what order they need to be addressed. For example, if a gunshot victim comes into the E.R. and in addition to the location of a bullet X-rays reveal that he has what appears to be a cancerous growth in his lungs, the doctors cannot treat everything at once. First, they would have to treat the gunshot wound and allow the patient to recover from that procedure. Then they would be able address the cancer. To try to treat the wound and the cancer at the same time could kill the patient.

          In your situation, you may have to ignore some issues (church covenant), in order to address others that may be more pressing. In my opinion, the lack of concern for the covenant is symptomatic of greater issues that may be better addressed by focusing on the gospel and how it applies to relationships within the church. Until members grasp that issue, they rarely see the need for a church covenant.

          You are absolutely correct to place an emphasis on meaningful church membership. Keep plugging along, slowly. I am praying for you and your church. Shoot me a message on twitter (@cmbonts) once you finish my book. I would love to know what you think.

          Blessings,
          Chris

          • JJ says

            Chris – Wonderful illustration for my situation. Very helpful. That’s a great perspective. I appreciate your willingness to interact with me. Praying God’s blessings on you!

    • Burns says

      This may be the old man talking, but I think you should find 4 more deacons that think like you do, and then vote the other 3 off the deacon board!! Then you can start your church covanat.

    • Keith Church says

      JJ, concerning Chris’ comment about the fact it may take years to see the church change. I might add that is entirely correct. Short of a tremendous movement of God’s Spirit to bring real repentance, you are in for many, many years of struggle. I have heard it said many times it takes 7-10 years to become pastor of a church. I think it’s more like 10-20. I was in a difficult church for 7 years and made one major change (we added an early service) that led to our church to increase in membership, giving, missions, ministries, and baptisms, but it was not what the entrenched members wanted and it divided the church. In retrospect I should have waited another 5 years to implement that change. That’s just my experience and others will be different, but the point is God may leave you there for a very long time before you see real movement. Obey Him every day.

  4. On My Way Out says

    I am currently negotiating a severance package to end a six year ministry in a difficult church. I am the second pastor in a row to leave under duress, and a third was lucky enough to find something else. He had to capitulate to their wishes for two years, though. The first three years were wonderful, and we were able to turn around a dying church. In the fourth year, the old guard came back in, and it has been difficult from then on. We have spent the past eight months with a consultant. He ended the process at the last public meeting. The trustees had a secret meeting the next day to decide to go to a part time pastor. At this point, leaving is a relief. Just praying God reveals what is next for my family soon.

    • says

      Brother,
      I know your pain, both personally and through counseling a number of other pastors in a similar situation. As painful as your ordeal is, God will still use it to help you grow as a Christian, pastor, father, husband, and leader, if you allow him to do so. Let me encourage you to read my book. Much of what I cover will be beneficial to you now and in your next ministry stop.

      Since Dr. Rainer allows his comments to go to moderation prior to posting, it is safe to reply with your email address, which he can then forward to me. I would like to correspond with you and discover how I can pray for you moving forward.

      Hang in there,

      Chris

    • Rick says

      Oh my! I have been the recipient of “secret meetings”, usually when I was out of town on vacation. I am truly sorry for you and will be praying.

      Rick

    • No longer in ministry says

      At least you are going to get some sort of severance pay. The last church I served failed to give my last months pay (which was outlined in their by-laws a severance). In addition, I have not worked for the past two and one-half years. Recently, my wife has been informed her hours will be cut. Life with no job or prospects for work in the future is what you are risking when you take a stand for truth. The really sad part is that you risk being left alone with no support or help.
      Stick close to Jesus because He my soon be your only friend

      • Rick says

        I am sorry to hear about your situation. I will be praying for you both. My wife and I went through almost the exact thing, for 2 years, and my wife was diagnosed with cancer when I was “asked to resign” after a secret meeting. As you have said, there is no help available, nor any recourse for the way churches treat heir pastors. It is very unfortunate, but you are correct when you say that it is one of the many prices to pay when you stand for the truth. The “dark night of the soul” is reserved for those who are in the Lord’s Hand.

    • Keith Church says

      God will take care of you brother. I left a church after 7 years and it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I have never been divorced (married 22 years), but this must be what it feels like. It’s been a little over a year and my heart still aches. Please remember this, you did not fail, and God is still on plan A. You will question 1,000 times if you could have done something different or if you should somehow have stayed just a little bit longer, but all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. This seems bad now, but God is working graciously in every circumstance no matter how trying it seems. He will open another door for you but it may not be what you think. Be sensitive to the Spirit and do not feel you must rush back into another church ministry. God may give you another type of ministry for a while. Trust Him minute by minute, and if you really start feeling down, please get whatever help you need to get through it. God bless, Keith.

  5. says

    Trying to handle specific conflict resolution i taught my board Matthew 18. The chairman said, “Pastor brought up Matt 18, and that’s nice, but I think…” and set the Bible aside without even looking inside. Grrr…

  6. says

    Chris,
    I have seen that happen in numerous situations. It is a common occurrence. Just keep modeling appropriate ways to handle reconciliation and pray for changed hearts. Discipleship is a time consuming and messy process because we all have passages of Scripture we hesitate to apply directly to our lives.

    Just remember, you can lead a horse to water…:)

    Thanks for commenting. I hope my book is a blessing.

    Chris

      • Rick says

        Thom,

        There is so much here about the spiritual needs of the church, and of the pastors that God has called. Is there a way that those of us going through these things have regular prayer for one another?

      • says

        Thom, I have a desire to purchase a home here in Colorado Springs as a mission house, but also to help pastors who have been dismissed from their churches. Perhaps to give them 6 months where they do not have to pay rent, utilities, etc., just to let them pray, think, heal. I was wondering, do you know of any sources that may be interested in helping to fund such a thing?

        Sincerely,

        Ron Watkins, Heritage Baptist Church, Colorado Springs

  7. Brett Clements says

    JJ,
    My heart goes out to you brother. We are currently seeing evidence, in my opinion, of God calling His Church back to the Bible. Church Discipline is at the top of His List (His Word). Every great Revival recorded in Scripture occurred with a call from God to His People to be holy. That is true of Israel and The Church. We are the chosen evangelism arm of God to carry the message, share the message, and evidence the message of the Gospel. The evidence is holy living made possible by Holy Spirit.
    Sadly, too many “churches” in America have left the Foundation on which Christ builds. The Church is The Body Of Christ. The Body of Christ is regenerate believers. Regeneration is prophesied by the Word, proclaimed by the Word, a product of the Word, all by the power of the Word. The Church is alive by the Word and can only live by the Word. Any organization where leaders openly deny the Word of God either risks dying as a local Church or may ceased to be long ago. My prayer for you and the congregation is for God to reveal the importance of His Word to the people. Afterward for the people to desire a place saturated by the Word and transformed by the renewing of minds. Your leadership is vital RIGHT NOW.
    You are there for such a time as this!
    If the people begin to see the importance of the Word while you preach It, live It, and love by It your deacon issues will become non-issues. The people will demand Bible believing, practicing leaders.
    I recommend a expositional series from Psalm 119 and John.
    The existence of the local Church depends on it.
    The salvation of the community depends on it.
    Make that clear to your people. The salvation of their children and grandchildren are at stake. Are they willing to risk it?
    Brother, this is a hill worth dying on. Carefully with discernment.
    Lead brother lead!!
    You may have to walk slow sometimes bexause it sounds like the people will be walking in unusual territory.
    Preach it right. Preach it often. Preach it Grace!
    God will do the real work.
    Should the people refuse the Bible God will honor you for staying true to His Word.

    • JJ says

      Brett – Thanks for your encouraging words! I’ve really thought about a series on Psalm 119. It may really be a big help. I appreciate your encouragement towards holiness. Sometimes I feel like the only one in my church who ever thinks about it. . . The church isn’t a country club. It’s a family of people called out from the world to model Jesus back to the world. We’re supposed to be different. Thanks for your prayers!

    • Rick says

      Wonderful words, strong and powerful. God’s grace will sustain, and His Word and Spirit will empower.
      It is interesting to note: I am hearing more often that God is doing a special work in His churches, that revival is going to be painful for the people, but the result will be purity and real joy. 1 Peter 4:17 is first, then the blessings.

  8. Daniel says

    Hello Chris, thanks for sharing. I want to encourage all the pastors out there as well who are struggling. Four years ago i was asked to resign as senior pastor of a church in NC. Many of my deacons and the church said scripture was not important and culture should guide in decisions. Several deacons supported the idea that homosexuality was alright. I had deacons who said they didn’t believe in the bible. I was asked to resign because I refused to ordain a woman and install men who made threats, yelled at me, were drinking, visiting adult books stores and a whole lot more. I was told the vote of the church superseded scripture and my convictions. I lost my house, job and spent two years using up my retirement and living on food assistance, but God took care of me, my wife and four children. God gave us time to heal and then restored us into ministry. Men, keep the faith, trust God, He loves you all!

    • says

      Daniel,
      What a powerful testimony of perseverance. God was gracious and faithful in seeing you through those ordeals. I pray your current situation is a much healthier one. Press on for His glory!

      Chris

  9. Ken Jerome says

    I live in this world, as an Intentional Interim. Some churches are more difficult than others, that is for sure.
    From the people who fight wild fires, I learned a lesson that all of us pastors need to learn.
    The carry a pack on their pack that contains a fireproof “tent”. This tent will only last a short time, but it will keep them safe for time. When the wind changes, and it does, the fire can overwhelm them. They can crawl into that “tent” and survive.
    We have these “firestorms” in church life, we must learn to survive. Those are days when we must find a friend, a quite place and not just react to the situation. Galatians 4:6-7 (NIV) 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. This is my favorite verse for living through a firestorm.
    Don’t forget to whom you belong.
    Don’t forget who called you.
    Don’t forget how much He loves you. – Those are days to crawl into the lap of “Abba, Father” and let Him love you. – He is our “tent” in the firestorm.
    Don’t let this kill your spirit, or your family. If that happens, there is no shame in running away. Usually those fires were burning before you came on the scene.
    The last thing, DON’T BE A HERO. You are too good waist, your family is too valuable to your life and ministry. We are not sacrifice our families. If you have to make a choice between a church and your family. – Choose your family – that church will get over it – you will not survive that.

  10. Rick says

    Thank you for your openness. I can say that, as I read through this interview, it it nearly an exact replica of what I have been through in the past 12 months. It is difficult to understand the churches statement that Scripture is the rule for faith and conduct, and yet to discover that the actual rule is something far different. It is very tempting to simply give up, yet there are those who want and need the changes. It has been a time to learn trust and “stick-to-it-iveness”. I do not know how long I can last, and if my family begins to suffer it will be much harder.

  11. MIchael says

    I appreciated this article. God moved me from a very similar situation 7months ago. I was at my former church for 6years and it was a long process to leave. I began noticing signs of trouble early in the ministry, but shrugged them off because there are always issues in every church. At the passing of every year, the heat of opposition was turned up and new tactics were tried to force me to leave. My wife and I, feel called to plant our lives at a church and stay so we prayed & hoped that God would move. Every time we recommitted ourselves to stay it seemed they recommitted themselves to fight. The last two years were a nightmare. God was faithful and brought us to a place that has been fresh water to dry and thirsty souls. The problem I am facing now, is that my former church’s interim pastor is contacting me about the church. He has bought into the line that they sell every pastor, “we’ve never had a leader like you.” He had decided that he wants me to come back and let the church apologize to me for the bad separation. He has convinced them (or so he thinks) that to move forward means they must say they are sorry. I told him that I’m not comfortable going back because it hasn’t been long enough for them to fully understand how they hurt me and my family, and I can say that because I don’t understand all the pain myself. It brought up a lot of hurt, pain, and anger because they have a long laundry list of people they need to apologize to that only begins with me. I have been afraid that this would be coming because they are very close to finding a new pastor. I have dreaded that phone call of because I don’t know what I would say to another considering that church.

    • Rick says

      Michael,
      I have been in your situation also. I understand the hurt, and the reluctance to “go back for apologies”. There are times when a pastor must stand his ground, although it is not popular for pastors to do so these day. I am in agreement with you, that going back is not going to accomplish anything in the lives of the people, other than making them feel better about something they have done. The interim may be very sincere, but the fact is: he is now the leader and they need to let you be free from their influence.
      Of course, be careful that you do not become bitter. Hebrews 12:15 warns us that it will be a defiling thing, especially for you and your wife. Ephesians 4:31 teaches us to let it go. The pain will not go away, and the memories will return. But, the Grace of God can sustain you and give you victory. Pray for the people, but don’t go back to them.

      • Michael says

        Rick,

        Thanks for the kind words of encouragement. I do pray for them and God has been merciful through all of this and I can say He has delivered me from bitterness and put me & my family in a place of healing & rest.. I’m not going to go back and I am free from their influence. Your words were wise and I appreciate them.

        • says

          Michael and Rick,

          I certainly understand your pain in these situations. You were both placed in difficult situations and forced to make difficult decisions. Just be careful that you do not close the door on some kind of reconciliation before the Lord does. The gospel is powerful to change hearts. If not returning, I would just ask the current pastor to convey that there is no bitterness on your part and no need for an apology before you forgive the congregation. You already have.

          Thanks for participating in the conversation.

          I am praying for you both as you move forward in your ministries.

          Chris

          • Rick says

            Chris,

            Thanks for those comments. I agree that we need to forgive whether others do or not. ANd, thanks for your prayers.

    • Mike says

      “He had decided that he wants me to come back and let the church apologize to me for the bad separation. He has convinced them (or so he thinks) that to move forward means they must say they are sorry. ”

      Michael,
      I believe in one way that he is right about their need to recognize the sinfulness of their their behavior and repenting of it if they want to heal and grow. I think that having you come back isn’t the solution. When someone is convicted by God that they have wronged someone, they don’t wait for a scheduled meeting to do it — they go in person, call or write that individual admitting they were wrong and asking for forgiveness. And since what they did impacted the whole church, they get up before their congregation and do the same thing. When is repentence not repentence? When you have to schedule it.

      May God bless you brother in your future ministries for your faithfulness.

  12. Brett Clements says

    To all who are in the valley, i remember what Dr. Junior Hill says concerning difficult pastorate’s. He reminds us of the Valley of Baca- “While you are in the valley dig a well for the next guy to drink from.”-

    Yes, you are the one hurting now but in your decisions remember they can be glorifying to God while laying tracks for others to follow later. Every day and every decision holds eternal weight. May God strengthen the hurting to remain faithful to His Word and helpful to His Body, amen.

  13. kerry says

    I have lived it, this is right on target with the real world of being a pastor. thank you so much for sharing bro. Chris and bro. Thom.

    • says

      I have been pastoring for 13 years and in what can be considered a difficult church. We just experienced in our church another split one of maybe 6 in 38 years. I have been here just over 4 years and the group that left felt unsatisfied with me as a pastor and left with a guy who had been an associate pastor in the church who I had to ask to step down because he was not allowing the church vision to move forward. With his critical spirit and desire to be the pastor of his own church he continually undermined me. We are hurting as a church. This man continues to contact our church members in a attempt to draw them to him. We have asked God in solemn assembly to heal us and forgive us as a church from the sins of divisiveness, following leaders, being arrogant, and being bitter toward those who have left. I know God is healing us at this moment it feels like a whole new church but ministry is so tough. I continue to seek The Lord for strength and direction. Thank’s everyone for your comments the have encouraged me this morning.

  14. john mushenhouse says

    This is how I survived.

    John 16:33

    These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

    trusting in Jesus through prayer and bible reading.

    It always works.

      • John Mushenhouse says

        1 Cor. 10:13

        No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

        Trust in Jesus It sure beats all man designed plans.

        Jesus never fails

  15. Darrel says

    I can relate to an abusive and uncariing people. I pastored two churches that shot down every vision and mission possible. I brought professional people and invited them to attend church conference. However, it was still difficult to pastor. Meanwhile, God has lead me to plant a church and God knows I do not have as many problems. I believe when you inherit other PROBLEMS it becomes a bigger problem.

  16. Daniel Moore says

    How Pastors Survive a Difficult Church….I would imagine is a good book. I am in my 19th year in a difficult church. How did I do it? Stubborn love! I am stubborn when it comes to Scripture and its application. I am stubborn in showing love and grace and mercy. The secretary of this church when I came had run off about four pastors in her tenure. Another pastor was just fired for his incompetence. The pastor before me became widowed at age of 70 and then made the “mistake” of re-marrying an outsider (a widow from another church). So they run him off after 11 years of faithful service. The secretary was divorced and upset when the pastor remarried. This same secretary was the choir director, pianist, and treasurer when I arrived. There was also the worship of the Baptist calendar. I blew that big time. We had 200 names on the rolls and only 35 in worship. I managed to convince the congregation to at least remove those who we found out were deceased. We had issues with finding people to fill vacancies. The two deacons (women) who ran the church would say, “He/she is not qualified” whenever I had suggested a candidate. So I just began praying, visiting, and inviting people to my home for dinners. I built relationships. I also began a series on teaching church discipline, managing conflict, and mentoring individuals for specific positions. I was not afraid to confront those in sin. I was truthful, scriptural, gracious, and firm. I discovered the secretary/treasurer was messing with the finances of the church. I talked with the two deacons to see if they had knowledge, got their support, and confronted her. She called a meeting of her friends in the church to see about firing me. They told her to apologize, repent, and she did not have the votes this time because I had too many friends. I have always found that praying lots, submitting to Scripture and doing it well goes a long way. I also believe I am not here to please the church but to please my Lord and Savior as I minister and care for His flock. What helped me more than any thing else was my 20 years in the Army. As a Section Sergeant, NCO in Charge, and a First Sergeant, I had learned to train and take care of my troops. The NCO Academies taught me more than seminary can when it comes to people. People are ornery. People need discipline. People need a firm but caring hand. And people need an example. Leaders lead by example. Jesus did!

  17. TWB says

    I am currently pastoring a difficult church with a long history of conflict. A church discipline issue presented at the one year mark of my ministry in this church. Many in the church stated that the issue should have been addressed years earlier., From time to time it continues to be a sore spot in our church some 2 1/2 years later. The person involved and his supporters continue to be problematic from time to time. I have inherited additional issues that some in our church say should have been addressed in years past. I’m praying and seeking daily to trust in the Lord for wisdom and insight to love and lead the church in manner that would glorify Him and advance His kingdom. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of the book.

  18. APastorWhoQuit says

    Dear Chris,
    Thank you for your blog, and your book, which I just started reading.
    About 31/2 years into starting and leading a church plant, I quit. The new church had established some awesome ministry in our community, but were experiencing difficulty assimilating new members into the body. Some of the new people we reached ended up assimilating into our sending church. I had a growing sense that our new church should consider coming back ‘home’ to our sending church as a branch campus, (something I knew could possibly cost me my job, yet it was the right thing to do, in my view.) After weeks of prayer and discussion, neither church was willing to enter into talks about this, so I sensed leading that it was time to leave. My family and I are back at the sending church, serving as a lay leaders. I never hear about the daughter church at the home church. As far as I know, the daughter church never speaks to the sending church. This breaks my heart because I see so much potential for churches to work together in ministry, yet leaders seem unwilling and/or unable to come to the table and talk about it. Does this happen often? Or am I breathing some bad air?

  19. says

    I have been blessed to have served several churches like the ones listed. My current church grew too fast at first and when fighting started, we didn’t know what to do. I contacted you, Dr Rainer at Lifeway and you sent someone to help us navigate these difficult waters. When the dust settled, we had utilized the local police, a private detective and postal inspectors. As well as an outside conflict specialist to moderate “the business meeting”. Unfortunately it wasn’t just church members in the midst of the fight but staff as well. All the staff at the time either left or were fired.
    I said all that to say that there are times to leave. But, 1) there are times to be assured that when God says, “Stay” we stay. The Lord will fight for us. 2) We also need to ask for help.
    God is good and His church will endure.
    BTW, I am still at that church, by God’s grace.

  20. Nancy says

    Wow! How I do recognize myself and my first pastorate. The church admitted that it had problems with communication, but did nothing to address that. I am not sure at what point I stepped on the wrong person’s toes because no one, not even the members of the Pastoral Relations Committee, would come to me and tell me what was going on.

  21. R says

    We were fired from a difficult church in NC for standing on the Scriptures. The man’s comment above re: deacons embracing homosexuality and the like rings true in our experience as well. It took a couple of years before the Lord opened a door for us to serve again (in a different state). Our present congregation are nice folks but the deacons don’t come to church. I’m confident in God’s sovereignty but have struggled with the fear of man when it comes to confronting them about non-attendance. Pray for us as the confrontation is this Sunday. Pray that I will speak truth, full of grace and love, and that God will grant them ears to hear and repentance.

  22. John Jackson says

    Wow!!!! I thought I had it bad but I’m going away to give God thanks that my pimple is not the tumour I thought it was. My situation is slightly different the biggest obstacle i have is the “retired” former pastor who refuses to worship elsewhere. She manged to see off her immediate successor by undermining his authority at every step, compounded by him not understanding her motives or the politics. Her belief was that upon his departure that their would be a clamour for her return and she would swoop in and save the day. Her successor’s departure resulted in a split in the fellowship with some members feeling that he had been unfairly treated. To her horror they did not call for her reinstating but looked elsewhere (that would be where I came in). This resulted in her being even more aggressive in her actions than previously. Along with all the Biblical steps and protocol ( prayer,fasting and counselling) I have had to utilise wise external counsel. I first of all set about dismantling subtly the power base she had left there -loving people is an amazing thing when they have known nothing but bullying. The deacons were the first on the list -you can’t serve two masters if you continue to attend the weekly prayer meetings at her home when the church prayer meeting is going on then you have made yourself redundant. If you really think that someone at the age of 76 who having reduced the membership from 200 to 46 is really best placed to make it grow again then you really haven’t got a clue and that in itself should make you consider your position. They told me they loved the church and wanted to do what was best for the church so I asked them to demonstrate it in their service to God and the church and help me heal it. I have to say that 5 years on they have been faithful to their word and their service. I set about making it my duty to visit every member on the roll and some not on the roll in their homes over a period of 6 weeks. Just to let them know I wasn’t a “two headed monster” or the “spawn of satan” I was honest about what I saw and why I had come but most importantly about where we were going. By the end of 6 weeks we had 120 people in church compared to the 30 who had greeted my arrival this should gave been a cause of happiness for us but it served to aggravate the retired minister who abandoned all subtlety and openly tried to challenge in me several services with the aim of causing returnees to leave.
    I must confess I have never been more angry in a church setting than over those weeks but was unable to show it because I knew that was the purpose of the confrontations. It worked out for the good as it destroyed what little support she had remaining in the congregation far better than anyone else could,to the point that that some of those who were her strongest supporters asked me to seek an injunction banning her from the premises! 5 years on she is still there refusing to go elsewhere and occasionally tries to”wind me up” with some incredulous stunt( that in itself is another story) but she is largely ignored which is a sad end to a ministry. Sadly we have lost new people on the way due to her behaviour and reputation ( is that the church with the crazy ex-pastor?) but we are past it and on the other side as we are growing spiritually and numerically which has been the biggest rebuttal of a return to being a difficult church -nobody except her wants to go back there.

    Sorry if it seems a ramble but just wanted to say “don’t give up!” Situations are temporary but God is permanent – if He called you He will keep you!

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