In a survey of nearly 600 pastors conducted by Texas Tech University, 28 percent said they have been forced out of a previous congregation due to personal attacks or criticism from a small group of members. David Briggs from the Association of Religion Data Archives describes these "factions" within congregations as "clergy killers"—"a small group of members [who] are so disruptive that no pastor is able to maintain spiritual leadership for long."
Such situations are toxic, damaging relationships, even spurring ugly lawsuits. How should a church respond?
Ken Sande, founder of Peacemaker Ministries and an Editorial Advisor for Church Law & Tax Report, says he saw a 2,500-member, nondenominational church in Tennessee flirt with a potentially disastrous force-out.
A few members began complaining about the senior pastor's sermons, saying his teaching no longer "fed them." In time, some church elders joined the chorus of complaints, and within months, the congregation was embroiled in conflict.
A meeting of the church's leaders was called. The pastor, expecting a dismissal, spent the night before carefully preparing a final, parting shot to the elders. At the meeting, as he approached the pulpit to deliver his remarks, a wave of conviction suddenly came over him. He dropped the notes to the floor. And he proceeded to confess his sins with the conflict.
Stunned silence overcame the room as he took his seat. Then, one by one, several elders stepped forward to confess their own mistakes. In a matter of hours, months of fighting were put to rest. "The Holy Spirit moved through the congregation like a wave," Sande recalls.
In the weeks ahead, the pastor ...