It is astounding to me that this happens. And even more astounding that it happens often enough to have been NAMED! God help us.But they all cried out together, “Away with this man…” – Luke 23:18Since this is my first blog entry, and hopefully not my last, I guess I should give a very short introduction. I’ve been a practicing counselor for 30 years; I’ve served twenty of those years in church and para-church ministries; I have always provided services to pastors and their families for no fees; Steve Brown was my pastor for many years; I am the Executive Director of PastorServe South Florida – a ministry to care, support, counsel and love on pastors; I’m also a doctoral student researching clergy stress, burnout and mobbing. Mob what?
The fact that you are reading a blog for pooped pastors means that you may well have experienced something that until fairly recently has not had a name attached to it. It's a devastating experience that often results in pastors leaving the ministry. It's called mobbing. Although this may not sound familiar, every pastor I talk to tells me they have either been mobbed or know a dozen other pastors that have experienced it.
Mobbing is related to workplace bullying, organizational power factions, forced resignations, and forced terminations. Mobbing is defined as the prolonged malicious harassment of a coworker by a group of other members of an organization to secure the removal from the organization of the one who is targeted. Mobbing involves a small group of people and results in the humiliation, devaluation, discrediting, degradation, loss of reputation and the removal of the target through termination, extended medical leave or quitting. It is a traumatizing experience that often results in significant financial, career, health, emotional and social loss. Mobbing is unjust, unfair and undeserved. In a church setting the organization includes staff members, elders, deacons, and congregation members.
Church mobbings can be set in motion by a church member, elder, deacon or staff member. The target might be a senior pastor, associate pastor, or ministry staff. Usually there is a focus on some issue of disagreement (robes or no robes) that triggers the mobbing. Sometimes there are just vague “problems.” The pastor is rarely confronted by individuals seeking to solve an actual problem or there may be a bullying attempt to control the pastor. The mobbing begins as others are pulled in and are persuaded that the target is the problem. In churches there is rarely, if ever, a chance for the pastor to face his accusers because of the “people are saying” syndrome and “they” don’t want to cause problems! Mobbing is progressive and eventually the targeted pastor is so confused by the unfairness of it, and so in shock by the brutality of it, they simply don’t know what to do. In addition, pastors are often told not to talk to anyone or they will split the church and that would not honor Christ. Spiritual, emotional, relational and financial ploys are all available to the mob as weapons, tactics, and strategies employed in the removal of the target.
The impact of mobbing on pastors and their families is profound and traumatizing. The personal impact includes deep humiliation, anger, anxiety, fear, depression, and isolation. There is often a profound sense of shame (guilt is “I’ve done something bad,” shame is “I am something bad”) that works to redefine all previous accomplishments as meaningless and all future hopes as dashed. In short, mobbing often convinces the target that they are failures and always will be.
The spiritual impact can also be profound and often result in a crisis of faith and leaving pastoral ministry. Pastors serve Christ and love people and when “Christians” treat them with such contempt and malice, how can a pastor come to grips with that? Persecution from non-believers is one thing but execution by congregants is an enormous betrayal. The pastor attempts to find biblical solace and comfort but mobbing is so unjust and so unfair, and the pain so profound, that they often feel abandoned even by the Lord. They know that it's not true but emotionally and spiritually they are devastated.
Every relationship is impacted by a mobbing. The spouse and children pay an especially high price as they watch their loved one being unjustly mistreated and are often the recipients of the pain being expressed by the pastor. Unfortunately that pain is expressed through anger, resentment, conflict eruptions and isolation. Most frequently the pastor is so confused and ashamed at what is taking place they remain silent and isolated from family and friends which only serves to deepen the trauma. They are fearful that even their family members believe they have brought this upon themselves.
While a mobbing is taking place the pastor and his family do not know who they can trust or who they can talk to. Fearing further reprisals they remain silent, deepening their isolation, and become either depressed or physically ill. It is a vicious cycle that, because of the shame attached to it, doesn’t end when they leave the church.
What’s a pastor to do? For starters, talk to someone who can help you understand what has happened to you. Now that you have a name for it you can begin to release some of the shame you have been feeling. For many of you reading this, just having a name put to your experience is comforting. Given the traumatizing affect of mobbing, I believe its imperative you find an experienced counselor to help you in the healing process.
Finally, talk to the Lord and honestly express your pain, confusion, fear and resentment. Take the time to pray with your spouse about the pain and fear asking the Lord to enter into it and provide comfort beyond what you are capable of experiencing. Psalms 34:18 tells us that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit and David tells us in Psalm 62 to pour out our hearts to him for God is our refuge. Also know that Christ can provide a special comfort to you because he too was mobbed and he loves you.
Everyone knows that there are abusive pastors in the church. May God save his church from them. But there are also abusive churches and church members. And they can wreak havoc. Unfortunately, hurting people can say and do all sorts of cruel things to a pastor, and there is seldom anyone to speak up for the pastor. Almost every pastor I know has put up with shameful treatment from members of the flock, and many still bear the scars. May God save his church--and his servants--from such things.