Best of My Blog: Ten People Who Will Kill Your Church

June 18, 2010

Now we’re on a roll!  I’m continuing to scour my archives in search of my favorite blog posts while I’m out of town through next week.  Today, I’m bringing you the all-time most widely read posts I’ve ever written.  And the thing is, I put off writing these posts for over a year!  Originally a three part series back in July of 2009, today you get the condensed version.

I was part of a church that died.

What made it even more painful was that my family had planted the church. My Dad was the pastor.

Despite our best intentions, our plans, our prayers, the church did not just die, but was killed. It was as if no matter how many times we put Satan on notice to leave us alone, he kept sending the exact wrong people to our doorstep. The church wasn’t killed all at once one day, but over some years as each person came in, chipped away at us, and left.

Ten People Who Will Kill Your Church

The Musician

I know there’s a lot of musicians who read this blog, so I’ll just ask you directly. Why are so many of you a bunch of whiny, insecure-yet-pretentious prima donnas? Honestly, we had a string of musicians all the way back to the beginning of the church who felt they were much more talented, worth more money, and more indispensable than they ever could hope to be. I’ll take an average musician with a good attitude any day over these characters.

The musicians killed the church because the church believed they were indispensable.  Wrong. Try having worship without music. People did it for centuries, and still do it.

The Building

This is the only non-human that had a hand in killing the church. Our church had a rented space, then we bought a piece of land with a little house which we met in. We were living the dream, building a church! Our time in the “church house,” right before we achieved our dream of being a “real” church with a “real” building were the best couple of years of the church’s life.

You know how you always wanted a pony or an elephant when you were a kid? If you had actually gotten one, you’d be ecstatic! That would’ve been great until you realize how much animals eat and you’re the one filling up grocery bags with pony poops. Church buildings are the same way. Even if they have ribbons in their hair, they still poop.

We finally built our building.  But the novelty wore off when the realization came that we had not grown into this large building, and maintenance and money were in short supply.

That building became our idol while it was still a drawing. Then it became our pet pony.

The New Recruit

New churches can have a particular eagerness about them. The people want to please others, do the things the “big” churches are doing. Sometimes that means getting ahead of themselves.

We were eager to hire a second pastor.

Here were his qualifications:
He answered our “want ad,” had not yet graduated seminary, was from a troubled past and still had emotional baggage, was willing to be paid poorly, and had visited our church twice.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet even “big boy” churches do the same thing. They don’t properly evaluate a new pastor, and the fit isn’t right. Well, this guy wasn’t just a bad fit, but a bad pastor, lacking in social skills, preaching ability, pastoral empathy, common sense, and the ability to not secretly solicit money from old ladies for personal use.

Let’s just say, a panda bear would’ve been a better pastor, and that’s saying a lot. Have you ever tried to get pastoral counsel from a panda? It’s even worse than having church in a pony.

The Hijacker

Picture the perfect church visitor. He walks in, eager to meet people. He’s enthusiastic about your little church and wants to participate. He even has skills to contribute to your worship service! He seems mature and willing to serve.

Nothing makes a little church wet its pants faster than new visitors. And if the visitor actually wants to contribute? Let’s get you a nametag right now, new member!

Our hijacker fancied himself a musician. Like many, his skills did not match his ego. Strike one.
He was seminary trained, but not a minister. Strike two.
His family just couldn’t find a church like the one back home. Strike three.

He had designs on us. We were small and thus malleable enough, that he would’ve made short work of molding us into his image. He had the controlling personality of a minister but a weak stomach for the responsibility.

The Snake Oil Salesman

Pastor: “I think we need to expand our influence on our community beyond Sundays and Wednesdays…”

Elder: “I agree. We need to look more important than those Baptists down the street. But how?”

Deacon: “We don’t use our building more than twice a week. How do we put it to good use?

Enter: Snake Oil Salesman: “Friends, I couldn’t help noticing your empty building and monitoring your conversation from the bushes outside. The name’s Lanley. Lyle Lanley. And I come before you good people tonight with an idea. Probably the greatest… Aw, it’s not for you. It’s more of a First Baptist idea.”

Pastor: “Now just a minute. We’re twice as smart as those Baptists. Just tell us your idea, and we’ll vote for it.”

Snake Oil Salesman: “Okay, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You’ve got a building I want. I’ve got people you want. You open your building five nights a week to my non-church related community group. Why, I guarantee that this building itself will make strangers automatically convert and join your congregation! And it will cost you practically nothing, though we can’t pay you anything. It’s win-win!”

From the time you start a church, there will be people who want to use the church, the people, and the money for non-church purposes.  Fact: anything the church sponsors that doesn’t directly relate to worship or missions will cost more than you think and probably yield almost nothing.

The Usurper

Every hero needs a villain. If you’re a pastor, you’re Batman. And your villain probably won’t be likable or charming like Catwoman…unless she’s that Catwoman that came out a few years ago, because that was the worst.

It will be the Usurper’s job to love the church more than anything else…and hate the pastor more than anything else. In fact, the Usurper will love the one and dislike the other so much, she’ll want the pastor’s job! Sure, she may not have seminary training, leadership skills, basic hygiene, or even a calling to the ministry. But an undying lust for power is enough qualification to run a church.

Everyone in your church may be ‘Christians,’ but that doesn’t mean a Christian can’t be an enemy who God will take away if you pray hard enough. Enemies who at think they’re saved fight to the bitter end.

The League of Rebels

Even the strongest villain needs an army of darkness, and it’s likely that your Usurper won’t be alone. Where you find one bug in the house, there’s bound to be more.

If you don’t take care of your Usurper right away (i.e. smack her with a newspaper), you’ll find she’s spawned, like a giant disgusting termite queen birthing tons of hungry little worker-Usurpers, all tearing down, causing disunity. They’ll be everywhere, sowing seeds of dissent against the pastor for any reason, real or imagined. Because when people are fighting for the church they love, it’s not just a fight, it’s a holy war.

The Monster in the Closet

Monsters are everywhere, hiding in plain sight, like the one you thought was in your closet as a child. Churches can be perfect places to hide, because Christians are trusting, forgiving, and sometimes just oblivious.

Churches of all sizes are great for a monster to hide in.  One church may have a child abusing monster hiding in plain sight.  Our monster happened to be a doctor who lost his license in 26 states and was the subject of a Dateline story because of the grotesque things he was doing.  And once a monster found out, it can easily lead to a split. Doesn’t matter how you handle it, people will leave. Don’t be oblivious. Every employer does background checks, looks at internet profiles. At least do yourself the service of Googling someone’s name before you let them become members, so they can confess their sins and get it out of the way.

The Denomination

I’ve got nothing against denominations. But if you don’t have a stomach for politics in your local church, I don’t suggest getting too involved in your denomination.

Our situation was unique. We started an independent church, then we were “adopted” by an association.  From the beginning, we got the feeling that the denominational leadership was not on the same page as we were. We joined a group of people who didn’t fit our vision. We could overlook that though, because one thing did fit our vision:

Money.

Ah, the promise of a big fat bankroll. It was so much easier to build that building with a big organization paying for it! It was a strained relationship, greased by cash. However, that decision would haunt us.  When our monster was outed, the denomination didn’t back us up.  So we endured more conflict than we would’ve as an independent church.

Be very particular about what sort of friends you allow your church to make. You may find yourself tied to an albatross, not a golden goose.

The Pastor

At this point, you might be shaking your heads, saying to yourself, “What was this pastor thinking?”

A lot of bad decisions were made, yes. And he takes his share of the responsibility. But consider this: once this much bad stuff starts happening, almost any pastor’s mental health and leadership will suffer. You can only be attacked so many times before you start living up to the problems you’re blamed for.

One decision that was not clouded by mental fatigue was his committment to God when our Monster was uncovered. He promised God he’d do the right thing, to stand up to an unrepantant victimizer, no matter what the cost. It ended up costing friends, reputations, health, money, jobs, years of work, and a church.

Sometimes, doing the right thing just sucks.

So we walked out of our church building after worship for the last time with nothing left to lose, and an invitation was given to the remnant that was left.

“Whoever wants to show up next Sunday, we’ll have church at our house.”

Best decision ever.

So in a stroke of irony, the founding pastor really was the one to pull the trigger and put the church out of its misery.  And now, we have a “real” house church!

That’s it for my list.  What other characters can you think of – people who can kill a church?

20 responses to Best of My Blog: Ten People Who Will Kill Your Church

  1. It’s early in the morning so I can’t think of any people to add to your list but I will say that I’ve seen a lot of these people in large, established churches, too. The usurper, the monster, the hijacker, the new recruit, and those musicians can impact a church of any size. It’s easy for them to show up in small groups, but sometimes they even make it to the brotherhood of deacons, where their true colors really show. While I’ve never been in a church that went through this, I have heard tales of usurpers splitting some pretty big churches.

    But then I’m Baptist, and everyone knows that we refer to church splits as church plants. 😉

  2. Wow. The true experience of someone who has been there. I guess what’s haunting to me is that I can picture myself being many of those things at various times. Sin is easy to find.

    But here are a few more:

    – The Book Study Boss
    – The Political Roundtable Leader
    – The Undiscipled Convert
    – The Lazy Faithful
    – Harry Potter

  3. Whiny Musicians! I am a church musician, and I am SO WITH YOU ON THIS!!! I’ve worked with plenty of whiners, and there is a single thread that runs through them all—they just think it’s all about them. It’s lack of humility. Bottom line.

    The fact is that music is only important if it’s bad. Music is there to support worship, but it’s far from the centerpiece of worship. So, I have a great tip for all you pastors out there. Make your musicians sing and play from somewhere unseen by the congregation. No video, no nothing, and see who melts down into a self-involved puddle. Prepare for them to tell you that they need to “engage their audience”, which ultimately means that they are there to perform for themselves, not for the Lord. Let em fight you, and if you hear negativity from your congregation, remind them that they’re not here for a rock concert, but to worship the Lord.

    • Spot on, Gina! If only we could do this! A few weeks back, our pastor wanted the chairs to be put in a circle with the cross in the middle, but they couldn’t work it out “logistically” (my guess was because then “people couldn’t see the words on the screen”).

      One of the thoughts that is still percolating in my brain right now is maybe a little…um….different…Rick Warren starts off “Purpose-Driven” with the line “It’s not about you.” But I think I’m discovering more and more that it _IS_ about me – or rather, what God is doing _to_ me. “Leading” worship (how I hate that term) isn’t about getting the congregation amped up and/or emotional, it’s about _ME_ worshiping (and more specifically, me worshiping _GOD_). Going on a mission trip isn’t about how many people I convert, etc. It’s about what God needs to change in _ME_.

      _I_ can’t change people. _I_ can’t bring people into “worship.” Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Me taking on that responsibility (however innocently it starts) is still the equivalent of Lucifer in heaven. He was cast out because of it. I pray a better fate for myself and all others who “lead” in worship at their churches.

  4. I have never been a member of a “new” church, but I have seen my share of old churches die. We went to a small church when I was younger. The church wasn’t killed by outside forces or even the demonination that tried to come in and save it. That church was killed by its members. Its hard to grow a dying church when its members don’t like the community.

    Where two or more are gathered you will always have politics and drama.

  5. In my experience with churches over the years, I can identify with so many of these ‘people who will kill your church’ that it’s positively scary.

    Matt, this needs to be published (not just in a blog) for every new (and established)pastor to read and be aware of. We are SO trusting, and often SO gullible, believing that everyone who confesses to be a christian/believer is perfect. We are all still sinners, saved by grace but still sinners in the process of transformation — and it is awful and ugly what all of us are still capable of. I am with David, above, I truly hope I have never been guilty of being any of those people – but I have my suspicions….

  6. I’ve worked at several churches and I’ve experienced all of those at one time or another. I do think God allowing musicians to have any part in ministry shows his extreme sense of humor and mercy. There is not a more whiny, self absorbed group of people in the church. In my experience getting the new building was the trigger for the leaders freaking out about expenses and wrestling control back from God. Also the internet was the great downfall of several of the pastors I worked for. Finding comfort through porn, unhealthy relationships with women in the church, or complete strangers, killed off several of the men I worked with. Through all those experiences I became very aware that given the wrong circumstances, I would be capeable of them all. I’ve learned a lot over the years about accountability, and the need to have people in my life I can be honest about my struggles with.

  7. Wow! As a member of a dying church (twice now), I can only say, spot on!

  8. My only problem is the snake oil salesman… As a member of a group that meets at churches, including my own, it’s an invaluable place to provide healing. Sure, not everyone will come to faith by going to an AA meeting or two, but I’m an example of someone who came back to faith that very way.

    • I'm really glad to hear that! Of course, I only speak from my perspective and can't take into account the infinite number of cases which prove me wrong. I just know that many churches are eager to use their buildings for anything and everything that doesn't pertain to the mission of Jesus. Of course, AA is a part of that mission though.

  9. One group I would add: Power Brokers. Those are the people that try to control the pastor, often with bribes of one kind or another (offerings, service, attendance, etc.) We learned early on, if it come with strings, just say no!
    I can appreciate this post. I also empathize with everything you and your parents had to face. I also am a pastors kid as well as a pastor’s wife. I watched my dad deal with a number of people over the years and have stood by my husband when he had to make very unpopular decisions for the good of the body (all in context with your list).One of the things I greatly admire about Mark’s leadership, is his willingness to “be the bad guy”. He guards our church with a passion. I loving call him “a wolf killer”. We have seen just about everything over the years, even an asst. pastor fall, blame us, and start his own church 10 miles from us, sullying our good name. What we have truly experienced through everything is God’s powerful Grace and Faithfulness. It is in those gut wrenching times that one really finds God.

  10. Sounds like a long list of no discernment and money chasing.

  11. The great thing about being in the church of Christ: No musicians! In all honesty, that was pretty much me a few years ago when I played for the Baptist church I went to. The big problem with it was that when I saw that my heart was going south and I wanted to just sing with the congregation, people used flattery to pressure me to keep playing and wouldn’t understand why I didn’t want to.

    But heck, the church I go to now wouldn’t even let me sing on microphones (there are like 4 or 5 of us who lead parts a cappella, but everybody sings) until had been a member for like 2 or 3 years. They understood the potential problems. Today, we tend to nip them in the bud before they happen. People’s relationship with God is worth much more than “enhancing” worship…

    P.S. Great points. Pride kills, love heals.
    toethumbs recently posted..New Christmas Song- Wheres the Line to see Jesus

  12. People looking for a church like the one back home is like someone trying to find a girlfriend that is just like his old sweetheart. They are not looking for a good church to attend, they are trying to recreate something they idolize. Every church is different and we should enjoy and appreciate those differences.
    Jeremy Statton recently posted..I do not say cuss words

    • The “church back home” phenomenon should also include the “church of the past.” People who want things to be just like they were a while back (in the same church) are just as dangerous as people who are looking for a church just like one they used to go to. We have to change or we aren’t going to make it. We just can’t function like the church functioned 40 years ago. Things have changed too much.

  13. Everyone in my church (including myself) will find about six they agree with and four they don’t, trouble is we wouldn’t agree which ones. Great post!
    Vegan Pastor recently posted..veganpastor- Uganda Kill the Gays bill could be passed in 72 hours-sign this urgent petition to stop it! http-tco-Zxu1duP

  14. Matt, the enduring truth of this post shows that human nature is reluctant to change. Thanks so much for the clarion warnings – I’ve encountered some of this along my faith journey but not all. Can I ask how this “church death” impacted your dad? I know you’re out of town so I’m not expecting an immediate reply, just curious….
    Tor Constantino recently posted..3 Keys to Accomplish the Impossible

  15. I’m glad I stumbled unto your blog- we have two micro-missions and I’ll be bookmarking this post!

  16. i just stumbled on this blog randomly. my church just died, partly because of the presence of the people you mentioned above, and it makes me wish i had read this post a little earlier, haha. *sigh*

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