There are all kinds of understandings about the attacks by members — especially those who proclaim themselves to be spiritually advanced, actively involved, long-term members, big givers, etc., etc.– that I know rationally before and after personal attacks.  Here are 12 of them.

1. Such persons have been treating most if not all the pastors/clergy this way for years and perhaps decades — and getting away with it.

2.  They treat people the same way in other groups in the community and if they can get away with it on the job.

3.  They treat some or all of their family members the same way and get away with it in unhealthy families.  It’s probably hell a lot of times in their family.  And were likely to have been treated that way in their own lives by someone important in their life and warply called it ‘love’ or at least ‘normal’ for them.

4.  Somewhere, sometime in their life they stopped maturing emotionally for some reason or reasons in dealing with people.  Some people stop growing emotionally in some parts of their lives in childhood, others in adolescene.  There is pain from their past they are not facing, probably will never face, and may no longer have the capacity to face after all these years.  I do not have the power to make them face it.

5.  I am powerless to change the above.  I am powerless to change the person.  If that is my goal, I am going to fail every time.  If I think I’m going to change them, then I’M THE ONE, with the problem.  That doesn’t mean God can’t change them, but that’s God’s business, not mine.  If I think I’m going to ‘save’ them in any sense of the word, I’m fooling myself.  Neither does it mean I have to put up with unhealthy behavior, or allow it to control the congregation without at least speaking up or dealing with it myself.

6.  The congregation at large and leaders of the church in particular have put up with this behavior for many years, if the person making the attack is a long-term active member.  The congregation has not learned that biblically no one is spiritually mature yet if they are emotionally immature.  Most adults are emotionally immature and not self-differentiated.  Clergy/Pastors in the past have not taught church leaders this, and allow spiritually/emotionally immature people to be key leaders.  They become the pattern in the church for what others see it means to be a leader.

7. The other leaders are likely to have gone through personal attacks by this person many times themselves, and for unhealthy emotional reasons or faulty theological reasons have put up with it.   Some of them have been wounded so deeply they do not have the emotional fortitude to take the person on, or deal with it through passive agressive behavior.  (I have to be very careful not to do this myself.)  They withdraw from the person, and the person really only has a small circle of friends, if any.  If they only knew what most others really thought and felt about them!  If other people are willing to put up with it or not deal with it, that’s their business. I do not have to be willing to do so.

8.  I can teach and disciple people about what it means to be a deeply devoted disciple of Jesus (including Matthew 18, etc.).  If the majority of other leaders in the church are not willing to get behind me publicly in how I deal with this person, there’s nothing I can do about it.  If there are no or few other leaders/persons of influence who are willing to confront or contain the person, there’s nothing I can do about it.  Long-term, deeply conflicted congregations are unhealthy. There’s nothing I can do about it if they are not willing to face the unhealthy behavior and change.

9.  Most attempts to bring deep spiritual and emotional transformation to long-term congregations fail, in the sense of seeing a turnaround for the church as a whole.  Turnaround is the rare exception.   There are many more long-term existing congregations who remain unhealthy and die than turn around.  I don’t need to focus on that fact.  That doesn’t mean God doesn’t call some of us to try. But it’s part of the reality for any clergy/pastor who takes on a turnaround situation, and most of us in denominational life will serve in such denominational churches all our ministry if we don’t get to be part of a long-term turnaround…or if we don’t leave the denomination or leave local church ministry but take another role in the denomination.  I also remember Bill Easum saying most clergy only have one turnaround in them, because of the energy and time it takes.  So choose wisely even to try.

10.  No one else — not the staff, not the leaders, not the personnel committee, or anyone else — can or will set the boundaries for what I am willing to put up with from others in terms of personal attacks.  Only I can do that for myself, and only I am responsible to do that for myself.

11.  Unfortunately, it’s only in the last 6 months (and I’ve been in ministry for many years) that I’ve gained clarity about that for myself.  I’ve had my own emotional growing to do to reach this point, and I’m slow to learn many times.  Here’s my boundary now — I will not allow anyone speak to me or treat me in a personal attack way, that if I spoke to them or treated them in the same way as a paid pastor I would be fired for.  I see this as an actionable extension of the ‘golden rule’ — do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or in Jewish tradition I believe, do not do to others as you would have them not do to you.  I have a personal responsibility to God and to myself not to allow the other person to treat a child of God (me) in a demeaning way — at least without speaking up about it and letting the other person know where my boundary is — every time it happens, with as many people as necessary including from judicatory officials if they personally attack me.

12.  Most clergy and/or judicatory officials give up on the turnaround process before it can happen.  If the church is deeply conflicted, it take years to change a deeply ingrained pattern — and even then most attempts will fail to see a turnaround.  The exception to a long-term process is if  the clergy, the congregation, and the judicatory all are willing to do what’s necessary to restart the church in the first year of the clergy’s ministry in the congregation.  I’ve personally never seen or heard of a situation that hasn’t started that first year in this sense.  It means losing a significant number of existing members including a lot of people you like and basically creating a different congregation. It will be painful in many ways. The pain is part of the change.

If a church is perceived to be it’s last legs already or is less than 100 members, turnaround is more likely to be possible through a re-start than if it is a middle sized or larger congregation — there’s too much money at stake for the denomination to deal with the lost of income to see a middle sized or larger congregation cut in half or more.  If I’m going to attempt a turnaround, I better be committed up front to the long term or it is immoral to start it.

Of course, It’s during the attacks that all of the above has gone out the window for me sometimes.  After the attack if I haven’t stayed focus and the attack still bothers me, I need to ask the question what needs to be changed in ME?  Why is it that I allowed that person to push my button again — and what is that button and why?  I can’t change others but I can do the hard work of facing and changing myself — and the sooner the better for everyone.

I like the books “The Emotionally Healthy Church” and “The DNA of Relationships” when I want to work on my own personal change.  I also like Doug Fields book, “Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry,” which has a lot to say about clergy ministry in general and dealing with people.  I am going to invite as many congregational members and others as possible into an 8-week series of sermons and small groups on “The DNA of Relationships” starting in January.