Based on the candid responses to the Leadership Weekly article “Clark’s Unforgivable Sin” (July 28, 2003), I quickly deduced, using my astute sense of the obvious, that “forgiveness ain’t easy.”
And it’s a lot more common in churches than we might think. It’s comforting thought, in an odd sort of way, when we as pastors realize it. We are not alone in our conflict.
One young pastor requested additional counsel. He is facing a difficult challenge in the form of an angry, controlling church leader. The conflict has already escalated to the breaking point. The pastor has gone to the angry man, one-on-one, trying to find common ground. There is none. This war of control is headed out of control, toward a showdown, something the pastor desperately wants to avoid.
Here’s what I told him. Let’s see if my advice is similar to what you would have said:
1. You need elders.
Unless the Lord comes back or this man has a lightning strike change of heart, the situation you described is not going to get any better with further one-on-one coffee chats.
Since you have already dealt with this man in private, you now need to move to “phase two.” This is found in the Matthew 18:15-17 the “Conflict Instruction Manual” from Christ. You need to gather a couple of godly men to pray with you and form a plan of action. Men with proven integrity and a strong Christian witness.
Part of that plan needs to include these trusted men going with you to visit with the angry man. You need witnesses to back up everything that is said later. And the angry man needs to see that you have the support of trusted, wise, even-tempered men of God.
One thing is certain:
The man you are dealing with must be confronted about his behavior, because if he is not, he will continue to “run off” pastors and hurt more sheep in the flock. The pastor said in his e-mail that the angry man has already succeeded in ousting two previous pastors.
Several years ago when I was knee-deep in my “angry man” contest. I felt a little like Moses. Who was asked by God to help liberate his people from an oppressor. I knew this was something I had NO human strength to accomplish. I was scared to death, but through the reading of God’s Word, the assistance of trusted elders, and the encouragement of mature, praying members of our church, I was given the strength and courage to confront the angry man’s behavior.
2. You need prayer warriors.
In addition to the wise elders you will bring alongside you, you need to hand pick a handful of mature people who will covenant to “pray you through the crisis.”
When I knew I was to embark on one difficult meeting with our “angry controller,” I invited (begged) my prayer group into my living room. We prayed that God would control the meeting, that I would not retaliate, that my behavior would reflect the character of Christ, and that God’s will would be accomplished. I went into that meeting with trusted older men by my side, and with that trusted group of believers on their knees back at my house, covering us all with prayer.
3. You need to be ministering to the other sheep.
In the time you have left before the showdown (which I’m afraid seems inevitable at this point, from what you’ve described) I would suggest that you minister to the rest of your flock in as many ways as you can. This will not only get your mind off of your own needs, but it will reinforce in your members’ minds that you ARE doing your job (something the angry man says you are not doing).
Shepherd your sheep. Don’t visit other members’ homes to talk about the conflict. Don’t go to recruit an army. Go there to minister to their needs. Steer the conversation away from the conflict. Pray for the sheep you are visiting. Serve them. Love them. Protect them. Do everything you can to keep them out of harm’s way. (I actually asked some of our older sheep NOT to come to the showdown meeting, since I knew they could be crushed by some of the things that would be said.)
If you have been truly ministering to the rest of the flock, they will ultimately support you after the smoke clears. Don’t count on them to speak up when the conflict reaches a public showdown. They may not be able to verbally support you in a public confrontation with this man since they’ve been bullied by him for so long. They don’t know how to tell him the truth about how his behavior makes them feel. He has never let them before.
But afterward—after someone (like you) has spoken the truth about how much his behavior has hurt others—they will be glad someone (like you) had the backbone to tell the truth. You are their shepherd. So shepherd them.
4. You need to be reading the Bible.
In your “off hours” when you aren’t sweating great drops of blood in prayer, read God’s Word. Here’s a short list of passages that God used to give me courage in my dark hours prior to the major confrontation: Matthew 18:15-17, Matthew 18:21-35, Matthew 5:43-48, 1 John 3:11-24, and Many of the Psalms.
5. You need not to retaliate.
The most difficult part in my conflict was not becoming as angry toward the angry man as he was toward me. I found myself praying for strength not to retaliate. It became a daily prayer (sometimes dozens of times a day).
In my Bible reading I was also touched by Paul’s words to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:1-2) about not speaking harshly to an older man, but rather appealing to him respectfully. I kept picturing my own father (who was gentle and respectful) as I spoke to the angry man in our church. It kept me from blowing my stack and blowing the conflict completely out of proportion.
6. You need to establish the ground rules for the showdown.
When the final showdown took place, the angry man began discrediting innocent members of our congregation. Before the meeting had started, though, I had told him that I would not allow anyone in our congregation to disrespect other members. I had told him that he would be allowed to say what he wished, as long as it was done respectfully.
When he began reeling off falsehoods about other members, I called the church to prayer. That’s where the battle was finally won. As the church prayed, the angry man left the building. We were finally free from his control. God took his church back that evening.
I don’t know exactly what you may be facing, but I have a fairly good idea. And I know that the same God who brought victory and healing to our church (and for its young pastor who was scared saliva-less by confrontation) can do the same for you and your church.
7. You need to do the right thing.
It won’t be easy. (This kind will only come out with prayer and fasting.) But if you’ll hang in there and keep telling the truth, God can use you to free your church from someone who has been controlling it as though he owns it. He does not. The church belongs to no man. It belongs to God.
Be courageous. Regardless of the outcome, God will ultimately honor those who do the right thing. It may be costly, but you still have to do the right thing. Know that you aren’t alone. There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of other pastors facing similar situations right now.
And don’t forget that Jesus was sinless, and he still had plenty of conflict! In fact, for you to be sharing in the fellowship of his suffering probably means you are doing something right.
Oh yes, and one other thing. Treat this man with gentleness and respect, but don’t shirk back from speaking the truth. You can have both compassion and conviction. Speak the truth, but with love. Be strong and courageous, and do the right thing. Keep saying to yourself, over and over again, “The battle is the Lord’s.”
If you are dealing with this issue, you do not need to face the challenge alone. Jesus has conquered every challenge so you can move from your present situation to a life of overcoming hope. Invite him to lead you in your journey. He will forgive, comfort, and heal you.
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