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.

Posted in Oversight of Souls, The Pastor's Soul
5 comments on “How does a pastor face being attacked and betrayed by one of his most supportive church members?
  1. Brad Evangelista says:

    Very helpful and encouraging. Thank you.

  2. Brian,

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been in pastoral ministry for over 26 years now and have had several of these occurrences. The points laid out above brought back one of the most recent (and that was eight years ago now). No matter how much time passes between that very painful situation and parting, it still hurts very much. The man who left, while perhaps not a “best friend”, was a very outspoken supporter of me and my ministry. The 180º turn that happened almost over night, came with such vitriol and came five minutes before three consecutive Sunday worship services was so stunning, it almost left me unable to preach each of those Sundays. After the second attack, I had my elders on “the lookout” for him. He still made it to me, and then gave a thorough tongue-lashing to my elders as well. To this day, the part that grieves me most is he would never agree to sit with all three of us, lay out his grievances, listen to us or even pursue reconciliation.

    Your advice is very sound. It’s amazing how much it reflects this situation some years ago. May God bless you. I wish I could add, “…and keep you from these attacks” but I know God uses them to keep us humble, to shape us and His flock, and even to weed out some of the chaff from the wheat.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. OSMUND UGWU says:

    Thank you man of God for this wonderful write up and revelation that you penciled down to heal some wounds and broken hearts which i am one of them. I am highly releaved by this piece of work and i must look for the related book of yours. God bless you.

  4. Leland says:

    That’s all fine and dandy, but what does one do if the Pastor is the one spreading gossip and vicious lies because someone called out his lies? It goes both ways.

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