It is something we deal with as pastors, something we talk about behind the scenes, but it is rarely addressed out in the open. Yet, in the open or not, we must deal with the crazies. I’m not using that term to disparage the mentally ill. Rather, I’m talking about the people in our churches that like to stir the pot and keep things unbalanced. You know them as the people who start rumors, and who deftly undermine those things and the people (including you) that they oppose. The church has always had these people, but the world in which we live today allows them to increasingly operate with impunity. So what is a pastor to do? Here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself, your church, and your family.
- Acknowledge that evil exists in the church. Not that these people are evil, but the enemy will use whatever and whomever to discourage, disparage, and sometimes destroy you, the church, and those you love.
- Develop healthy relationships within your congregation. But that is where the problem is, you may say. Strong relationships with good, spiritually strong people in your congregation are the best antidote to the crazies in your midst. And it is good pastoring.
- Know when to refer. It is not always the case, but there are times when the person you are having trouble with is mentally unstable and an intervention is needed. Having a good counselor for you to talk to, and someone you can refer to is a big help in some situations.
- Have a support network. Pastoring is a lonely business, but you need not be alone. Develop a support group of pastors who regularly pray for one another, will hear you out when times are tough, and will be there in your darkest hours. Pastors need a pastor, even Jesus needed companions.
- Dealing with collateral damage. Marriages, children, health, peace of mind, faith all suffer when a pastor is attacked. Damage inflicted on a minister reaches far beyond him or her. Professional counseling and medical assistance to deal with stress and depression are a must. Don’t be ashamed to get the help you and your family need, or you might end up losing them–and then the enemy has won.
- Learn to identify the crazies and your own triggers. There are many good books on this subject (a few favorites are listed below) to help you identify the problem people in your congregation and to help you examine how you may be inviting attack without even knowing it.
We don’t openly talk about it in the church, but perhaps that is part of the problem. When brought out into the open, this growing issue can no longer operate in the dark. In the light, it can be seen for what it is. It may be difficult to begin the conversation, but it is one worth having with your family, your fellow clergy, and your trusted friends. Together you can all be protected from the crazies.
Books to help you explore the issue of clergy abuse:
- The Wounded Minister by Guy Greenfield, ph. D.
- Clergy Killers by G. Lloyd Rediger
- Antagonists in the Church by Kenneth Haugk
- Surviving Friendly Fire by Ronald Dunn
- Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd by Kent Crocket
- When Sheep Attack by Dennis Maynard
- Well-Intentioned Dragons by Marshall Shelley
Cheri Cowell is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and her first book, Direction: Discernment for the Decisions of Your Life, recounts her church wounding story and the lessons she learned. To learn more about Cheri and her other books visit her website www.CheriCowell.com