He introduced himself as Bryan, said he was from a church of our denomination in a town an hour away, and had read my article which ran in Rick Warren’s Pastor’s Toolbox. I asked which one.

“The one called ‘Dealing with Difficult People in Your Church’,” he said. “Remember it?”

“Oh, I do indeed. And that brought you here today?”

“In a way. My question to you, sir, is what if that difficult person is the pastor?”

“We didn’t address that possibility, did we?”

“No. You touched on some good points, and I don’t have any problem with that. You said there will be difficult people in every church, that God will use them to get the rough edges off our ministry, and that we should stay focused on the Lord, because ‘it’s not about you.’ How’s that?”

“I’m impressed. But, tell me about this difficult pastor.”

“He’s the obstacle to every creative idea anyone ever has. He refuses all counsel except his own. He insists on every decision going his way. When members come to him for counsel, he breaks their confidence by repeating what they told him. He pits friend against friend. I’ve even seen him turn a husband against his wife in order to protect his position.”

“Wow. This is heavy. He sounds like a nightmare.”

“That’s not the half of it,” Bryan said. “He talks out of both sides of his mouth, doesn’t mind lying to you, and misuses his position as pastor in order to excuse his family from sin.”

I said, “Bryan, you and I just met. So, you will understand my caution here. I’m going to be your counselor on this matter, but I’m not anyone’s judge. If things are as you say they are, this guy is a serious problem and needs to be removed, not only from your church, but from the ministry. But I assume he has his own version of this story.”

“I understand all you have is my word. I could have brought a dozen church leaders with me to back it up. But I didn’t come for you to pass judgment. I just wanted to get your opinion about what to do. It’s tearing our church up.”

“How has it affected things?”

“Attendance is down. Contributions are awful. People are demoralized. The staff is discouraged, and we’re thinking of getting our resumes out.”

“Bryan, has anyone tried to deal with this? Has he been confronted with his behavior?”

“We tried to obey the order in Matthew 18. But whenever anyone has gone to him privately or in twos or threes, he cuts off contact with them and ostracizes them from the church.”

“No doubt he says God called him to that church and he’s in charge.”

“Almost word for word, that’s what he says.”

He continued, “A few times in business meetings where the congregation can speak from the pews, people have challenged him. But he comes armed with a few carefully chosen Scriptures about obeying the pastor and not touching God’s anointed. The church members are intimidated into silence. The way he treats them scares the other members off from ever confronting him.”

“God’s people can be too nice, sometimes, can’t they?”

“We let people run all over us, especially when they do it in the name of the Lord.”

“So, Bryan, what’s your take on this matter? What do you think would be the right thing to do here?”

“He needs to be fired. Too bad our denomination doesn’t have bishops who could step in and stop this.”

“Since we don’t have them, let’s consider an approach that should work just as well. The object being to get the pastor out of the pulpit, and hopefully into some kind of treatment for paranoia or mental illness.”

I continued. “First, Bryan, my opinion is that you should stay out of it as much as you can. You’re a staff member and the lay leadership of the church should step up and do their job.”

“That suits me,” he said. “Confrontation is not my strong suit.”

“It’s not for most Christians. I picked up a line somewhere: Beware the fury of a patient man. We should be patient people, but eventually, we have to stand up and be counted.”

“You think the deacons should step in and take over?” he said.

“First, please notice that I’m saying that IF things are as you report, he needs to be terminated. Secondly, the way to do that is very simple: the elected leadership of the church should get together and make sure they all agree, then go to him and ask for his resignation. They should do it calmly and clearly, and definitely. If he agrees, they work out some kind of compensation package for him since he has to take care of his family.”

“What group are you talking about?”

I said, “Every church is different. In one church, it would be the deacons. In another, it would be the deacon officers and the chairmen of several committees, say, personnel and finance. Maybe the head of the women’s ministry. Basically, it’s a half dozen of the most influential people in the church. The ones, who, when they stand before the congregation to tell what happened, the church will trust them.”

“How much notice should the pastor give the church before he leaves?”

“None. After this confrontation, the last thing you want is to let him back in the pulpit. There’s no telling what a guy in his frame of mind would do or say. Remember, you are trying to protect the congregation. He’s done enough damage already. You want him out and you want him out immediately. Get his keys to the office.”

“How do they tell the church?”

“The leaders will probably figure the best way to do that. They might explain that the pastor has been under a lot of strain lately and the church was suffering, and the leadership decided that it was time for him to leave. They could announce that suitable severance pay would be granted him to take care of his family. The church always wants to be fair to the pastor’s family.”

“You know some people are going to be upset.”

“If things are the way you described, not as many as you might expect. But you’re losing members already, from what you said.”

“Right,” he said. “Big time.”

I said, “Bryan, they need to deal with this in the pastor’s office. They need to have the lay leadership in complete agreement on this. And, if necessary, they might want to pull in the director of missions for your area, someone who might carry a little extra weight with the pastor.”

“What you do not want is to have a knock-down, drag-out business meeting to deal with this. That kind of open warfare takes no prisoners and leaves few survivors. There’s collateral damage from these battles, where good people end up taking sides and fighting and hurting one another. I pastored a church once that had come through a major fight a couple of years before I arrived. People carried the anger and guilt for the next decade. For all practical purposes, they were useless to the Lord’s work.”

“Furthermore, the church is mortally wounded. The reputation of the church is blackened for a generation. The community will not want to receive a gospel this congregation is preaching since they have represented it so poorly.”

“Bottom line, Bryan, the lay leadership needs to exercise courage and stand together and handle this. They need to come together and get on their knees and seek God on this, then if this is God’s will, they should go down the hall and knock on the pastor’s door and do their duty.”

“They should have one spokesman, the most mature person in the group. Someone whose integrity is unquestionned. And the other members should back him up. Let the pastor know everyone is in agreement and he has no support.”

Bryan said, “You mentioned getting professional help for him.”

“The director of missions can tell you the nearest counseling center provided by our denomination. In most cases, they don’t charge pastors anything, so this should not be a matter of money. But the pastor needs to understand that he cannot get back in the ministry anywhere until he gets on top of his behavior problems.”

“Can our church stop him from going to another church to pastor?”

“Probably not. But if the next church is wise, they will check into his background and that’s when you all tell them what he did. That should put a stop to it. However, some churches are very foolish and too trusting. They’ll believe anything the pastoral candidate tells them. That’s how we end up with crooks and scam artists and other kinds of nuts in the ministry tearing up the Lord’s churches.”

“It’s interesting to hear you admit this. I had the impression from your writing that you always took the pastor’s side.”

I said, “Unfortunately, mental illness is found in both the pulpit and the pew. My experience is a little lop-sided since I pastored for 42 years. I just talk about what I know. And I know that some pastors get a raw deal from controlling church bosses. I suppose that’s my own particular pet peeve.”

“Would you pray for us?”

“Let’s do it now.”

“Father in Heaven, your church is in trouble. This man who is supposed to be the shepherd is abusing the flock. Now, would you strengthen the leadership of this church to see clearly what they need to do. Lead them and give them courage. May they not be put off by the fear of what people think or what the pastor might say. You protect them. And we pray for this pastor and his family. If he needs professional help, we pray he will humble himself to receive it. If he needs to be out of the ministry, would you handle that. Above all, protect your church, the Body of Christ. Do not let the enemy gain a victory here. Keep the congregation together in unity and love. May they trust their leadership and support them. For Jesus’ sake, in Jesus’ name, by Jesus’ blood. Amen.”