Pastors Surviving Mutiny

Mutiny is a conspiracy among a group of people, typically by soldiers or crew of a ship, who openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject to.  It’s criminal in military but in the realm of ministry it’s often commonplace.

I didn’t always equate “leadership” with “pain”. I equated leadership with vision, strength and success. I see it differently now.

I realize with responsibility comes difficult decisions, painful seasons, as well as rewarding victories.  Leaders are problem solvers.  The better we are at solving problems the better we are as leaders. 

Turns out, leadership can be painful and problems are consistent.  I discovered that there is always another problem or ‘challenge’, as we like to call them, around the next corner.  The next one is just dressed differently, maybe in a tie instead of a t-shirt and the latest Jordan’s.

I’ve talked to many pastors who’ve been through a kind of mutiny in their church leadership or staff.  They endure it and continue to lead or it takes their legs out from under them. 

The greatest wounds can come from those whom a pastor loves and has invested greatly but are so easily led away and not recognizing that “the Lord’s leading” and integrity must be both be considered and are always a crucial factor. 

People are the greatest source of joy in our lives. People are also the source of our greatest pain. Either way, Jesus asks us to love them and to pastor who we can.

A few years ago I’d gone to Cancun on vacation.  Holly and I had three weeks to play and get refreshed. It was great… blue water, white sand, chips and salsa and no pressure.

When I returned, one of the pastors on staff came into my office and said as he sat down,

 “I’ve always been faithful to you, haven’t I?”   (Uh oh.)

 “Well….” Hedging, “…yes, you have,” I said.  (So far!)

 “I think I may have made a mistake while you were gone,” he said hesitantly.

As the memories of white sand and blue water began to flow out of my soul like water going down a drain, I looked at him waiting, with a little fear, to hear what this ‘mistake’ was.

 “I’ve started having meetings in my home and we want to start a church,” hsaid, as a sick feeling slowly invaded my stomach.

 “Wait. What? You’ve started meetings in your home?”

 “I’ve wanted to start a church for some time now and I just felt God was saying to me that this is the time,” he asserted. 

This is the time? I thought, while I was out of town?

“So, while I’m paying you to help me pastor ‘this’ church, you invited some members of ‘this’ congregation to your home and are planning to start your own church??  Does that sound ethical to you?” I asked, hoping to reveal some logic.

“Well, several people had come to me and were thinking of leaving Oasis anyway and I want to lead this new church.”

“Did you wonder what is about you that caused people to feel safe enough to come tell you what they did not like about the church and know that you would probably agree with them rather than help them see it differently?”

At this point I began wondering if he would say anything in this conversation that did not sound worse than the last statement made.

“We’ve taken up a couple offerings to help get started. …I probably should’ve have waited and talked to you about it…” he said reflectively.  

(“You think!??”)

“Bob,” (let’s call him) “why didn’t you talk to me first? You said, ‘You’ve always wanted to start a church’ – but you never mentioned that to me. Ever. Not even once.” 

Insert cricket noises here.

“Have I ever said or done anything that would make you think I would react negatively or would not support you?”  I asked.

“No. Never.”

“Please don’t do it this way.  Please,” I reasoned. “If you do, relationships will be broken that will never be repaired. Some people will be so hurt they will never attend another church.  There’s a better way.”

But in his mind, God had spoken. I remember hearing Pastor Bill Hybels say that it seemed like every four to five years a healthy growing church has a major staff problem or failure. “Really?” I thought, 


Later, sitting with my wife staring at the wall in the darkened living room, I finally conceded, “I don’t think I can take this anymore. This is too hard.”  

I remember thinking to myself, “Maybe I can get my old job back as a software salesperson or that limo driver position… Maybe, but probably not.” This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to the desperation of Elijah. Granted, I haven’t even come close to raising someone from the dead, but I definitely wanted to quit.

Every emotional issue that I’ve ever had surged to the surface. Some despair, a little shame, anger, confusion, not wanting to trust people, depression, feelings of betrayal, (throw in a little germ-o-phobia) and you’ve got the picture.   

Well as we knew would happen, people left Oasis, family after family and friend after friend over the next few weeks.  Friendships broke apart that would never mend.  Some people left the church never to return to any church – ever. 

The questions were unrelenting:

“Is the bleeding ever going to stop?

“Can I ever trust people again?’

“Could I get Michael Franzese, former Mafia boss, who’s now a Christian, to be on our Board of Directors?”

Conversation after conversation began with, “I really love Oasis and all that the church has done for my life.  I don’t know where my life would be without this ministry…” and ended with, “…but I’m leaving the church.”   

The next few weeks were about as enjoyable as walking through minefields.  In spite of the pain, I did keep showing up each Sunday. We prayed and worshipped.  We loved the people.  We taught the Word and led people to Jesus.  I didn’t end up quitting or raising someone from the dead. (Still working on it though.)  

People kept coming. And slowly but surely lives continued to be altered forever. I know that Jesus builds His church. Through every transition, especially the painful ones, He proves faithful to make us stronger and better than we were before. For thirty years, we have pastored a great church… And every four or five years someone gives us the chance to love them like we had not intended.

In these moments I have learned a few important lessons:

First, we must keep loving people and we cannot allow ourselves to lead from bitterness.  Sometimes the greatest pain produces our greatest lessons.  To be a great leader we have to excel at forgiveness. 

Second, people are going to do what they ‘want’ to do. There’s nothing you can do but keep doing the right thing and trusting God.

In transition and often in pain, leaders can lose faith or their sense of self. Their story crumbles to the ground; their dreams fade; others choose to face the pain, push through and get stronger. 

I’m glad that God has called me to the kind of leadership He has as a Pastor. But I’ve had to decide to keep going, to trust again, to face the pain and get stronger somehow.  I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.

And God reminds me, “… Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV

What is a lesson that you’ve learned in difficult leadership situations?

Grant Muirhead4 Comments