(The following is based on an interview with a former pastor I’ll call Tony. While the story is true, the names of people have been changed.)
“Tony, you’re a liar. You’re going to have to leave the church.”
Pastor Tony heard the words, but they made no sense. It felt like he’d just been tackled by a 300-lb. linebacker—speared, more like it—and hammered into the ground. The eyes of six deacons seated grimly around the conference table stared blankly at their pastor. Tony grabbed a gulp of air and said, “Excuse me?”
“You have a pattern of deception in your life, Tony,” said the chairman of the deacon board. “You’re a liar. You’ll need to resign.”
Tony Kendall had been at his church for just three years. The congregation had embraced Tony and his wife Emily with enthusiasm. They loved Pastor Tony’s passion in the pulpit and his knack at connecting Scripture with life. He had hit the ground running. He got the staff pulling in the same direction and sparked renewed vision among the people for blessing the city.
But before long, Tony knew there were problems. In fact, the first sign of an approaching storm appeared the first week he was at the church. One of the trustees took Tony out to lunch and told him the deacons and trustees weren’t on speaking terms. Tony was shocked. This had certainly not come up in the interview process. How could the spiritual leaders of the church allow such a thing?
When the deacons asked Tony to start a contemporary worship service, Tony accepted the challenge but warned them it would not be easy. And Tony was right. It was not easy. Beliefs about worship are about as hard to change as a Long Islander’s accent. But as it turned out, the contemporary worship service was the least of Tony’s problems.
Tony butted heads often with Matthew, his assistant pastor. Matt knew he was on the way out, and made plans to start a church elsewhere in the community. But he would not go quietly. Matt had an ally on the deacon board who was also the board chairman. Matt had often run to Steve whenever he didn’t like something Tony had done or said. Now Matt told him the content of his latest conversation with Tony. He had even recorded the conversation and sent Steve a copy. So several weeks later, at the next board meeting, the chairman asked Tony about something he had told Matt.
“Did you say that or not?”
Tony honestly couldn’t remember. The conversation was several weeks old. “No, I don’t think so. I certainly don’t remember it.”
Steve slammed his fists on the conference table. “Tony, you’re a liar!” He pulled his iPhone out of his pocket and played the recorded conversation for all to hear.
“Well, I guess you’re right. I did say that.”
“You’re going to have to leave the church, Tony,” the deacon said. “There’s a pattern of deception in your life. You can either resign now or we’re going to vote to kick you out of the church.”
Tony was speechless. Yes, he was wrong. He didn’t have his facts straight about a conversation with his assistant pastor. But did this rise to the level of an irreparable breach of trust, a sin that merited dismissal?
What Tony knew that the other deacons sitting around the table that night did not, was that Steve had had a long-running dislike for Tony. He didn’t care for Tony’s preaching. He questioned Tony’s motives for ministry. Whenever Tony looked down at Steve from the pulpit, he would scowl back at him. Matt, the assistant pastor, had totally convinced this fellow leader that Tony was a fraud.
Tony knew it was over. He could fight to stay, but Steve held all the cards. Tony slumped in his chair and said hardly a word the rest of the meeting. His brain was pounding with questions. “What will I do? Where will I go? What will I tell Emily and the kids? How will we sell our home? It’s underwater. How can this be happening?”
As he started his car and pulled out of the church parking lot, Tony knew many tears would fall in the Kendall home that night.