I grew up in a pastor’s home.
In fact, my father was in the first graduating class of Talbot Theological Seminary. (He’s in the back row, second from the left.)
I grew up in Anaheim, California … just two miles from Disneyland. My father went door-to-door sharing his faith and won many people to Christ. He planted Bethany Baptist Church in nearby Garden Grove. The small church grew steadily.
One Sunday night when I was nine years old, the phone rang at our house. My parents roused my brother, sister, and me out of bed, put us in the family station wagon, and drove us to the home of the head deacon. When we arrived, I noticed that some chairs had been set up for a meeting.
My siblings and I were placed in an adjacent bedroom. While my brother and sister slept, I heard church leaders – some of whom had taught me Sunday School – verbally crucify my father. Needless to say, the whole episode upset me greatly, although I didn’t really understand what was happening. What had my father done to make church leaders so angry? I couldn’t figure it out.
My father survived the next two years as pastor, but when two brothers who had left the church six months before were elected to the deacons, my father immediately resigned. He took a job as a milkman to support our family, getting up at 4 am to go on his route. Fourteen months later, he began feeling pain in his abdominal area … and six months later, he was dead of pancreatic cancer at the age of 38. I was thirteen at the time.
The people of that church ran out the next two pastors, and the church eventually folded, selling their property to another church before True Jesus Church assumed ownership.
Growing up without a father during my teenage years forced me to grow up quickly. My dad’s death caused me to depend upon the Lord and gave me a greater sensitivity toward the suffering of others.
At nineteen, I met my future wife Kim, who had lived in the Middle East for five years as a missionary kid.
Two years later, we were married … and 42 years later, we’re more in love than ever.
Over the next fifteen years, while I attended college and seminary, I sat under the ministry of six different pastors:
*One pastor resigned in the middle of a business meeting due to a church power struggle.
*Another pastor resigned due to moral failure, although few people knew it at the time.
*Another pastor was forced to resign after an extremely productive ministry.
*Another pastor was voted from office during a contentious business meeting.
*Another pastor was mercilessly attacked by antagonists until he lost the will to serve … barely limping to retirement.
During seminary, we rarely heard anyone talk about the phenomenon of forced termination, although one pastor who spoke in chapel told us that “churches eat pastors for breakfast.” I took an elective class on Managing Church Conflict, although there were only eight students in the class. A few months after seminary graduation, I was ordained to the gospel ministry.
After serving as a youth pastor in three churches over 7 1/2 years and graduating from seminary, I was called to become the pastor of a church in Sunnyvale, California. Two years later, our church merged with a sister church in nearby Santa Clara. Seven years after that, we sold our property and started a new church with a new name in a new location in the light industrial area of our city. After leaving that church in early 1998, I became the teaching pastor of a new church in Glendale, Arizona, and then was called to serve as associate pastor at a church in Alameda, California, where I succeeded the senior pastor eighteen months after my arrival. My wife and I left that church in December 2009.
During my 36 years of ministry, I have been able to identify fifteen individuals who met the criteria of a “clergy killer.” Five of these individuals were in churches where I was a youth pastor, while I dealt with ten of them myself as a pastor. Three tried to force me to resign during my second pastorate, but because the entire board stood with me, their group all left the church together.
My third pastorate was by far my best ministry. Our church saw many people come to Christ and we baptized 100 people over 5 years. I cannot recall a single antagonist during that entire time.
But I had so many unanswered questions about congregational antagonism that I made church conflict my focus when I entered the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary in 2000. I wrote my doctoral project on “Conflict Transformation: A Biblical Model Informed by Family Systems Theory” and received my degree in 2007.
During my last ministry, a group of CKs were successful in forcing me to resign, even though I was not guilty of any major offense. I spent the next three years writing a book about that 50-day conflict, offering many suggestions as to how pastor-board impasses can be handled in a more biblical and redemptive manner. My book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict was published by Xulon Press in March 2013 and is available on Amazon.
I have also written more than 550 articles on my blog, most of them with a special emphasis on conflict between pastors and church leaders. You’ll find the blog here: http://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org
In early 2011, I formed Restoring Kingdom Builders, a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry whose purpose is “preventing and resolving church conflict biblically.”
I have a passion for teaching pastors, church leaders, and congregations how to handle conflict situations in a biblical, healthy, and redemptive fashion. If you’re interested in having me speak at your church, or present workshops on preventing and resolving conflict biblically, please check out the “Speaking” section on my website.