Let me begin by clarifying something. I don’t believe in ghosts as taught by historical or cultural fiction. I’m referring to those bothersome complaints or untraceable rumors which plague a church and the ministry of a pastor.
Concerned Church members are bothered by these complaints because if they are serious enough of an issue, the Church will decline. The fear is, before the declines ruins what we have here, perhaps we need to make changes to preserve the Church.
Often, the complainers talk to carriers. The carriers, who are not as bothered by the complaint as much as they fear the changes in the Church, either take the complaints to other carriers or to Church leaders. Often these leaders are the deacons.
By this point, the problem is affecting the Church. It is affecting its ministries, message, unity and fellowship. To deal with the problems at this point is tantamount to putting handcuffs on a ghost.
Let me also be clear about something important. If the allegation are due to a moral or doctrinal issue with the pastor, it should be dealt with aggressively, but with caution. The pastor must be accountable to the congregation for his moral life and the accuracy with which he handles the Word of God. However, whispering and spreading discontentment through the congregation is not how we are instructed to handle this.
Most major issues can be handled easily if the deacons or leaders would meet with the pastor, question him, investigate the charges, and either deal with the error or dismiss the charges publicly.
As far as other complaints, often the deacons or Church leaders are called, or reached through their wives, to address the discontentment about which members are hearing. And often the deacons choose to take action, but they attack the wrong end of the problem. A split frequently occurs in the deacon body between those who are committed to be led by the Truth of the Bible and those who would defend the Church at all costs.
Often, appeals and pleas for those who have complaints to come forward are met with silence and inaction. The word gets around that those who have a problem with the pastor will not, under any circumstance, come forward. The problem with untraceable, unsubstantiated complaints is the spiritual reason they stay hidden.
Satan and His minions know that as long as a complaint is un-addressable, it will appear larger than it really is. It can create more damage in the Church if it remains under the surface so it can eat away at the fellowship like a cancer. That is Satan’s purpose for these kind of problems. Removing the pastor will not correct this problem.
A targeted pastor is handicapped in dealing with the problems because he cannot get to the source to correct any misunderstanding, as forgiveness for any mistake, or address any error in the source.
As a son of a pastor who battled this problem faithfully for over 50 years and now a pastor who sees this continually arising, and as a counselor who sees this particularly plaguing new pastors in established Churches, I have considered this, prayed about it, and spent sleepless nights over it, all the while asking God for wisdom to negotiate these trouble waters. How do you deal with the ghosts in a Church?
- Bathe everything in prayer.
Of course, that is a given. “The prayer of a righteous person (or a person made righteous) has great power as it is working (James 5:16b).
It is important to remember that our enemies do not bear flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). The real opposition behind the ghosts is demonic influence which can best be battled, and defeated, through prayer.
- Keep the leaders focused on the proper end of the problem.
If the Church leaders/deacons choose to pick up the task of dealing with ghosts, keep them focused on the rumor mongers, both those who whisper and those who welcome and repeat the complaints. The Bible, the only instruction manual for the Church, gives clear directions in dealing with these issues. Any target of a complaint should be able to face his accusers without the shrapnel of gossip (Acts 25:15).
- Be sensitive to, and proactive towards, the cold shoulder.
Although the ghosts prefer to remain anonymous, they really point themselves out when they display coldness and dismissal when you try to greet them. Either these are the complainers or the ones who have picked up an offence.
When you observe coldness and dismissal, if you follow the clues, you are closer to the source, and therefore closer to the resolution. You may attempt to address it immediately by asking, “Would you like to have a private word with me?” The response to this question will certainly give you direction in what seemed to be uncharted waters.
Our you may wish to contact the person who is cold later to set up a meeting. Either way, they are no longer hiding in anonymity, and may be more willing to deal with the issues.
- Consider that every complaint could have some legitimacy.
Humbly hearing complaints can polish your ministry, alert you to blind spots, fortify your shortcomings and clear up any misunderstandings. Listen humbly and take the complaint to God in prayer for His enlightening direction before you respond.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).” Opposition sharpens us for further battle. Resistance creates strength and endurance.
Iron never enjoys being sharpened. But we were never promised that we would enjoy being sharpened or being shaped by what the potter allows to pressure us (Isaiah 64:8).
I am eager to hear your comments about this topic.
Tim White is pastor of Second Baptist Church of Lamesa, TX. He is a published author and journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.