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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Facing Attack and Betrayal by Church Members

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The below is a guest post from Brian Croft.  Brian is the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  In addition to contributing to the 9Maks blog, Brian also writes regularly on his own blog at www.practicalshepherding.com  Brian is married to Cara, and they have four children.

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How does a pastor face being attacked and betrayed by one of his most supportive church members?

Some of the most painful situations I have ever faced in ministry is when those whom are your biggest supporters are the ones who turn on you.  I can remember trembling when I read Charles Spurgeon’s advice, “Prepare for when your dearest brother betrays you.”  What, you mean that will happen?

In over 16 years of pastoral ministry, I can still remember the most hateful and painful letter I have ever received.  It was from one of my dearest supporters and defenders of me and my ministry at the time, who had just left the church over a difficult decision I had to make that personally effected this individual. 

How do you face these kinds of hurtful betrayals?  3 suggestions:

Respond with longevity in mind.  The natural reaction we all have is to handle the situation like it MUST be resolved NOW!  The fact is, we seldom  have the power to bring any kind of reconciliation between us and the offended party, especially if they break fellowship and leave the church.  That doesn’t mean we don’t try, but it often is unrealistic that it will take place anytime soon.  This leads to the next suggestion…

Do not say or do anything you could regret years later.  Although the pastor is often the target, the pastor also has the power and platform in the church to manipulate the situation to his advantage.  For example, someone leaves mad over a situation and the congregation at the next member’s meeting wants to know why.  As I found myself in this situation and tempted to vent all the hurt, anger, frustration, and brokenness I felt at that moment to the congregation, by God’s grace I did not.  Make no mistake.  I wanted to, but it just didn’t seem right.  As I look back on that meeting, lashing out at this person not present would have been sinful and only close the door to any future reconciliation with them years later.  So, I remained silent. 

Make sure you have other men around you to help discern the charges.  This is the reason you need other pastors around you.  A personal attack on you, your character, and your ministry requires a more objective opinion to accurately evaluate the charges.  A personal attack by a beloved church member will always stir emotions that will cloud your judgment.  Have other pastors who know you well and can speak honestly into your life assess the criticisms.  Is there any truth to them?  Other biblically qualified men in your church who know the individual attacking you will be your best means for discernment.  Then, submit yourself to those men.

The reason I have chosen to write about this, is because of a meaningful letter I received this past week.  It was written by the same person who wrote that most painful letter referenced earlier.  The gist of the letter is captured in this section:

I have struggled with writing you this letter for several years.  I really did not know what to say or how I would approach it.  I want to apologize to you for the letter I wrote you when we left the church.  I felt hurt and betrayed by you, when really I was being deceived.  Please accept my sincere apology. 

A very sweet letter was also enclosed to my wife.  How kind the Lord is to us in these moments.  Although I still stand by the decision I had to make, I certainly made some bad, sinful decisions in the midst of trying to handle this hurtful situation.  This most recent letter has caused my wife and I to reflect on the genuine humility of this person and the grace of God in the gift of reconciliation with someone who was, and still is dear to us.

Unfortunately, like many of you, I could also write this post about other situations that remain unresolved and tears form in my eyes as I think about those strained relationships.  This will always be a part of pastoral ministry.  However, I am learning God’s time table in these matters is usually much slower than ours.  God matures us as pastors as we wait.  So, in the meantime, heed these suggestions in these most painful moments of betrayal.  Cling to Christ as your comfort, joy, and as the One who will always be with you through them.  Don’t forget to pray that God would one day heal any broken relationships that remain unsettled.  I am learning in God’s amazing kindness and power…He is able.

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Brian,

I have gone through some similar experiences and have also been tempted to unleash my flesh, yet those who are betraying me are still people I love and by God's grace I will continue to be gracious, praying and hoping for a reconciliation in the years to come and always seeking to be honest about any accusation.

Thanks for this encouraging reminder. I am sure it will be a help to many.

God bless,

Rod

Brian,
What would be the circumstances under which something should be said to the church in a situation like that. If the person who leaves is discontent, other people who aren't being Spirit-lead will tend to side with that person causing divisions in the church. That's hard to know what to do in such situations for me. Can you give any guidelines? It's kind of like defending your name--some people say don't defend yourself, but it appears that much of 2 Corinthians is Paul's defense of his name, ministry and apostleship. Thanks for any help.

Brian,
What would be the circumstances under which something should be said to the church in a situation like that. If the person who leaves is discontent, other people who aren't being Spirit-lead will tend to side with that person causing divisions in the church. That's hard to know what to do in such situations for me. Can you give any guidelines? It's kind of like defending your name--some people say don't defend yourself, but it appears that much of 2 Corinthians is Paul's defense of his name, ministry and apostleship. Thanks for any help.

Great question. It is certainly hard to draw a general line. I will say that Paul's defense in 2 Cor. is ultimately a defense of the gospel itself. As the apostle to the Gentiles, if Paul's name and ministry is discredited, so is his gospel. Because of Paul's unique position in history, there is not equal risks at stake for us. However, we certainly represent the gospel as ministers of it. Therefore, a place to start is to defend if the truth of the gospel is being called into question with any charges brought against us. If any charges are being publically brought against any pastor that might bring disqualification, then there appears to be merit to defend implied in the cautions given in Scripture about accusing an elder (1 Tim. 5:19).

Beyond those lines, I am hesitant to go much further to say defend as we will encounter those who don't like us, our ministry, the gospel we preach, and our way of approaching ministry. We will always want to defend for the sake of saving face, which cannot be argued biblically as a good reason. Also, if there is a need for defense, another elder/pastor in your church can often be a helpful mediator in such circumstances.

I hope that is helpful in some way.

Pastor Briant, it is a blessing to read your article.

Specially to me at this time in a little church in the field, in Argentina. (South America)

I take your counsels to use right now in a personal situation.

Blessings,

Rev. Willy Di Giovanna

Brother Brian,
My father is a Pastor and just recently the person he always counted on at church, the co-pastor, betrayed him. He called my dad's supervisor telling him many lies. Unfortunately the bishop believed the co-pastor and not my father. The bishop has told other pastors in the denomination that he was going to take away his pastoral license. It hurts too much because I have seen my father work so hard in his ministry. The bishop talked to the leaders of what he was planning on doing. The leaders of our church disagree and told him if the pastor has to go so will they.

Back in October an evangelist came and gave a word to my dad in front of the congregation. God words were: your right hand will betray you but I will be there with you and it will because greater things are coming for you. Two great known leaders in Arizona came this weekend to a conference; my father asked for advice from them. They told him to leave this denomination because God was talking to him that he needs to get out because he has greater things for him. All of this really hurts! What advice would you give to my father?

What happens when its the other way around? When the leaders betray the members?

This happened to Jesus, when all left him at Gethsemane. Spurgeon was right, be prepared.
First you blame yourself.
Then you examine yourself.
Then you strengthen yourself.
It hurts very much to see those whom you've spent so much time and energy developing turn on you. But those knives in your back turn to medals on your chest when you keep a good spirit.
Never come down to an affected members level, you will regret it. Stay "in the pulpit", stay "on the wall", I have seen many return, sorry and repentant, like the prodigal son, so will you.
Keep your integrity, keep your consecration, above all keep you words good, it will take all that you have to shake the hand of a traitor and say, God Bless you and good luck to you, when you want to vent your astonishment at them, but it will be to your regret.
Shake the hand, give the smile, then find an altar of prayer and pour out your heart to God, and he will tell you, "they do not reject you, they reject me" as he told Samuel...if you have been doing all that you can in a right way, ultimately they reject the good counsel of God, and you must understand that at times, God must prune the lower branches, to not infect the tree and the upper branches that do their job.
Good advice in this article, God Bless the Pastors who share the Christ's sufferings.

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