It started with a simple request: "Will you come and moderate a special business meeting at our church?"

As presbyter for 30 churches in the San Francisco area, I agreed to assist. At the time I did not realize this would plunge me into a conflict that would nearly destroy a congregation.

A year after Bill was called to pastor this church, he wanted to change the by-laws to eliminate the periodic vote of confidence and establish an indefinite term of office for the pastor. He aggressively campaigned for a special congregational meeting to approve the idea.

Some in the congregation felt Bill's campaigning signified a shift from pastoral leadership to personal agenda. Rather than leading the church, they felt he was driving it. This polarized the congregation. By the date of the meeting, many members—tired of the politicized atmosphere—had already left the church.

Bill had called me because he thought that a neutral party would restrain the hostility and allow the meeting to proceed with ...

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