Once upon a time, the church I pastor was the “it” church in our area.
People regularly asked what we were doing to reach so many unchurched people. They wondered how I scored a newspaper column in our local paper that reached 63,000 readers weekly.
I liked the sound of those questions. Everyone seemed to say we were doing something right, which implied I was doing something right. I knew better, but it still stroked my ego.
Our church hit its stride numerically and spiritually a few years after I became its senior pastor. I was constantly hounded by the temptation to believe I was the secret sauce behind it, but instead I decided to believe I was merely its pastor during a God-blessed season. I had no idea at the time that this perspective would prepare me to face the impending chaos.
We began attracting families looking for a church making a true impact in our community. I remember their encouraging words: “This church is what we have been praying for! How can we get involved?” I was all too eager to plug them in to meet our growing needs.
The rapid growth was a blessing, but it was burning me out. The influx of new volunteers felt like more of God’s favor. One family plugged in faster than the others. The man of the house, Gordon (not his real name), took it upon himself to organize lunches throughout the work week that brought our people together—often without me. He used Facebook to tell everyone what a great church we were. It was flattering and seemed harmless, but it positioned him in several circles of influence at a rapid pace.
A couple months later, I started getting phone calls, text messages, and emails from various church members describing hurtful things Gordon had said about them and the church. He criticized people for being overweight, publicly slammed a leader for not having backup batteries for a DVD remote, and threatened to make a scene if the worship team sang a song he didn’t like. Four households let me know they were on the verge of leaving because of him. I asked them to hold off so I could sit down with him one on one.
Gordon showed up to the meeting wearing reflective sunglasses that kept me from seeing his eyes. His answers to my questions were similarly deflective. For every issue I named, he shot back, “Those people are insecure.”
I came to dread that phrase in the months that followed. I had several subsequent conversations with him as more members expressed frustration with his words and actions. Each complaint evoked the same response: “Those people are insecure.” While he refused to yield, others grew fed up and moved on. We lost a dozen families over the course of a year because of one man’s attitude.
Finally, after 13 months of confrontation, Gordon and his family stopped attending our services. Only, they didn’t really leave.
Christianity Today: Pastors