My family has actually experienced numerous accounts of pastor abuse and the major organized ones have happened to us three times. One in which we survived and two we were forced to leave. I witnessed another two happening at church with other pastors. The one most recently was only a few weeks ago. That’s what prompted me to go back to this topic of pastor abuse and antagonists at the church.
Pastor abuse is in my opinion, probably one of the worst things that can happen in the church. It is often described as an “earthquake.” It destabilizes a church, it is a violent change in church leadership, people often get hurt and leave the church (in good cases, go to another church, in worst, stop believing in God). However, I think the most profound damage is in how it negatively affect the congregation’s trust in pastors and possible distortion of the Scripture by the abusers to make the wrong look right as well to assert their authority.
What happened a few weeks ago forced me go back to this painful topic, looking for answers, help, advises, whatever I can find.
While researching on this topic, I looked up some titles and ministries. One is Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations under Attack by G. Lloyd Rediger, Antagonists in the Church: How To Identify and Deal With Destructive Conflict by Kenneth C. Haugk. As I read these books, I found the experience I had and had witnesses were very similar to what was described in these books. I find these two books to be very biblical and progressive in confronting problems of pastor abuse and antagonist in the church.
The Wounded Minister by Guy Greenfield is a good one as well, and that’s the one which I actually read the whole thing in Chinese and bought two copies, both gifts. Greenfield book is actually one of the rare books on this topic that has been translated into Chinese. However, The Wounded Minister has a big session fashioned in a self-therapy book after the fact. It has some contents about what to do while being attacked but more of it is about helping pastors making sense of what happened and to recover afterward, which is a fantastic thing and it is a very good book.
The Clergy Killers and Antagonist in the Church are more comprehensive in identifying the problems, spotting problems beforehand and analyze the problems and give sound advice on what to do at different stages. The Antagonist in the Church is actually a classic in this topic, it’s pretty old but there is a 2nd Edition available at the Stephen Ministry which is headed by the author, Kenneth C. Haugk, who is a pastor and clinical psychologist. On a side note, the Stephen Ministry sounds amazing and seems to be doing some good work on helping people. It is headquartered at St.Louis, Missouri and holds workshops and seminars around the US. It is one of the ministries that really take a serious look at the problem and is well organized.
The other books are When Sheep Attack by Dennis R. Maynard, which I haven’t read yet but it has very good rating and review.
As a Chinese living in Hong Kong, I must say the same things described in these “English” books happen in Hong Kong and Australia as well. I seen it happen in US, Australia and Hong Kong, pretty much places I have been to. I am pretty sure they happen everywhere but I must say the Americans are the ones who are responding to it the fastest in an organized, systematic and pronounced way.
I was reading on Amazon.com about these books and I found several comments about pastors who wished seminary taught them about these things. I wonder at that too, I know many young people who went into seminary who were very pure and optimistic and full of sunshine, never expecting these things to happen and got really discouraged when they do. Even veteran pastors became depressive and shocked when these things happen. However, I know some, who were very involved in the church before going to seminary and devoting their lives to serve full-time, knew that these kind of things happen at the Christian community but even so, they still find it hard to adjust when they have switched to the clergy sides of things. Some mentioned that their friends at church treated them differently when they became pastors.
Personally, I think seminary should, in some ways, give seminary students exposure about antagonist at the church and expect them yet not be all defensive when they enter into the field. That is one big problem, you don’t want new pastors to be all defensive when first serving, yet you have to prepare them and give them the biblical principles to guide them through these things if they do happen.
What I am seeing is that many people at the church would apply business approach to these problems, especially with the deacons and elders. They would probably calculate what would satisfy most people, what decision would hurt the least people and disregard what’s right and wrong biblically. They would look at it more like how a manager would solve a business problem.
The persecution of pastors by determined antagonists at church is an epidemic problem and there needs to be a respond, biblical, well-thought out, organized respond by the denominations about this problem. It is like a war where you have soldiers (clergy) being killed and forcefully taken off the field by its own people. It is like you have an army fighting the enemy but instead of having your enemy killing your generals, captains, you have your own soldiers (traitors) backstabbing your best soldiers, commanders, captains etc.
These are quotes from Wounded Minister on how serious the problem is:
There are numerous wounded ministers, and this large number of abused clergy cuts across most all denominational lines. It is a plague that afflicts the church at large.
The problem is a growing phenomenon. Numerous publications of observations and research indicate that it is in fact a major problem approaching crisis proportion.
The same report also indicated that 41 percent of congregations who fired their pastor had done so at least twice before.
In my own denomination (Southern Baptist), it has regularly been reported that between 2,000 and 2,500 ministers are forced out of the ministry each year. Other denominations as well as independent churches are reporting similar problems of significant magnitude.
Antagonists in the church, this very small number of them, probably just 1-5% or less depending on the size of the church, is killing individual churches in very big ways.
I hope these books will be translated well into Chinese and that something like the Stephen Ministry would develop in the Chinese Christian world. We need this.
The world is changing, the antagonist is changing, the environment is changing, we need to change. We need to develop and be well-prepared, as much as we can,
I think that layman church leaders and pastors have to be educated on the very real danger of antagonists in the church. Laymen are often not sensitive to this topic at all. They become like deer standing in front of a speeding car. The same can be said for pastors as well. Some of them became delusional and did not know what hit them until it is too late. In the Wounded Minister, with the author being a very experienced pastor and educated Christian teacher in the highest esteem, even he was attacked and he could not find help from his laymen leaders.
All during this time, I began to alert several other leaders of the church about what was happening. To a person, they told me there was nothing to worry about. They could handle any problems that might arise. When the problems began to arise, these good but naive people said that prayer could solve these difficulties. “The Lord will take care of it.” In fact they did next to nothing but allowed the antagonist freedom and room to operate. So they took full advantage of their passivity. The attack increased.
I met with small clusters of supportive people. I could tell they did not have the stomach for confrontation and conflict. I felt very much alone.
Laymen and pastors need to be trained to deal with conflict, to be able to identify problems and antagonists before the fire starts going. You have to stop the arsonist, make sure the house is fireproof as much as possible. Once the fire starts, it is often too late.
We can not control anything or prevent people from being upset and hurt, but Christians need to be educated on this and how to handle it in a biblical Christian manner. I think every Christian should be trained on conflict resolution, small group leaders and other position of layman leaders need to learn about antagonists in the church.
Anybody who are candidates to become deacons or elders need to be proven men and women of God as described in the Bible:
1 Timothy 3:8–13
Qualifications for Deacons
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
They should be trained as well and make sure they have good theology and good understanding of the Bible and good application.
Pastors and seminaries students should be trained as well.
There need to be support group for pastors. Something that each denomination should do.
I think it is long overdue that the different evangelical denominations have some kind of system or committee in place, hopefully with some full-time staff to oversees church conflict. They have to be experienced and trained in these matters, with people who a full of the Holy Spirit, uncompromising and fear God (basically the same basic requirement to be a deacon).
That One Time
I must share that in the one that my family survived, it was because the head of the denomination actually came down to church and heard the matter out from both sides. There was an overseer with authority who intervened and committed to doing the biblically right decision. He told the two leaders to step down from their serving positions, and they decided to leave the church along with their followers.
There was an “earthquake” at church that day. Four to five active families and a few others left the church that day, including the head of the choir. Half the choir left.
These families included my friends. We stopped seeing each others and we were just boys and girls. We were innocent. There was hardly a choir after the earthquake. But did it do the church good? Was it for the best? It was.
After the left, a wave of newcomers came and filled the positions the left voided. The small church doubled its attendance within 2 years and saved up enough money to purchase their own church building in about 5-7 years time. It was beautiful and warm. It was progressive and energetic. We have church members visiting us decades after we have left telling us it was the fellowship they had in their whole life. And they, going to new churches, didn’t really affect the churches they went to afterward.
The funny thing was, we met some of these follower families who left a few years afterward and they were nice and friendly to us. One of them admitted and actually protested to his leader that the pastor did nothing wrong, but his family left anyway because of their close friendship and relationship.
Thinking back, I felt that it could’ve been prevented, it was really the problem of a few individuals, the antagonists, and if people just not listen to them, everything would’ve been nice. Friends wouldn’t be separated, there wouldn’t be so much bitterness and hurt. If we stood firm and listened to these antagonists and everybody talked to them, talked them out of it and helped them to see what happened, it would’ve been solved. That’s wishful thinking. But as the books above described, some antagonists can’t be convinced.
What happened is that people’s relationship blinded them of good judgement, of what is most important, God.