So we began the process of slow painful change, as opposed to slow painful death. In the midst of that, my father had organised a learning trip to the USA to see the amazing work being done by denominational leader Paul Borden. My friend Wayne Field and I went on that trip and were amazed by what we saw happening. Churches were being transitioned from dying, relatively ineffective places into purpose driven and life giving organisations. It took radical structural and cultural change, but they did become effective. I got close to Paul Borden, listened to every word he said, and went to everything, including visiting one Spanish Church in California where Wayne and I were the only two who observed a teaching and preaching session.
As we drove back in the car, late at night, and Paul was half asleep, he said something which stuck with me ever since. When your church goes through radical change, people will leave. Some will get upset, some will leave quietly, others will leave in a blaze of conflict. It will be either you or them. And so it happened.
The next part of my series is potentially the most inflammatory so I have changed names, although many people will know exactly who I am talking about. I will try to be totally open and truthful, and not defamatory.
A deacon, lets call him ‘Bob’ came into a deacons meeting one Friday night late. He said his wife had left him, he had come home from a week away and she had cleared out the house and taken their daughter and gone.
I was young and niave and did not really know what to say. We went on with the deacons meeting as per normal.
The next week Bob and I were talking and after he had said that he did not feel supported by the church I offered to come and pray with him every week. This I did for some time. His expectations of that time were far different to mine. I expected a time when we would pray together, he would share some of his burden and I would hopefully minister to him. His motivation in meeting was that I was a young pastor and needed guidance. Bob saw himself as a prophet, and our church could do with his leadership.
My biggest problem was that I was a people pleaser, and he was a people abuser, a potent mix. One Wednesday morning in particular I remember knocking at his door, and receiving no reply and being so relieved, thinking he was not home. I drove all the way home, a fair distance, and while I down the shop celebrating with a cheese sausage I got a call on my mobile, it was Bob. He wanted to know where I was, and would not believe I had knocked on his door. He insisted I come back to his house, and…..I did.
The relationship had turned toxic. This was highlighted when Bob confronted my wife, ‘shaped up to her’ after church one Sunday. She was about 6 months pregnant at the time with my first son. I saw it and went and stood between Bob and her. It was the first time I really stood up to him.
Bob had borrowed a book off me and I wanted it back. I know that sounds ridiculous. So I went to his house for what I knew would be the last time. I asked for my book back and Bob gave it to me. After I took it I said to him I would not be visiting him again, our times had become toxic and unhelpful. What happened next remains etched in my memory. As I pulled out of his driveway and wound up my window, Bob chased me down the street screaming things at me, not swear words, more like prophetic judgments.
The climax of the conflict occurred one Sunday morning when Bob stood up after Eliot had announced we were celebrating the children that day, and Bob screamed out something like ‘you can’t worship children, you must worship God!’ Of course his point was ridiculous. Eliot was in no way saying we should worship children, and Bob was way out of line with his angry outburst.
I walked up the front and after some time of insisting Bob left, one person accompanied him out, I am eternally grateful to that person. But it was the end of the line for Bob.
I am not saying I handled the subsequent discipline process well, but a lot more came out about the situation, and the Baptist Union was called in. At the meeting where the announcement of Bob needing to leave the church was given, Bob did not turn up and he never returned.
Bullies will retreat if you face up to them, they will shoot themselves in the foot.
Set boundaries, be clear, be sure of yourself, don’t repay kind with kind. Say the truth in love.
I made so many mistakes it was ridiculous. Most pastors love people, thats our biggest strength and our biggest weakness. But the scars from Bob still run deep with me. I am still working it all out, 15 years later. Thank God for the pain though, because I am so much more effective as a leader and have helped so many pastors with similar issues.
Postscript: There are some people who will see the events above very differently to me. Thats okay. I fully expect to see Bob in heaven. I forgive him. I am letting go of the hurt and pain and disappointment I feel in myself for who I was and who I am. But I can’t see us ever being friends until Heaven nor is he welcome back at Inglewood Church. Fellowship has been broken. God is gracious. God is good. Feel free to comment but please don’t tell me to be reconciled with Bob, you don’t know the whole story, and as much as we would like things to have a nice reconciliation, history and the Bible tells us that does not always happen.