Facing Attack and Betrayal by 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.