Pastors' Forum



As a pastor who loves to encourage and nurture others, I find it difficult to confront people. Can you give me some do’s and don’ts and how-to’s (or how not-to)? When do you confront and when do you simply overlook something? Can you give me some advice on how to confront a staff member, a volunteer, or a church member about an issue? Also, are there some preventative, “up-front” types of things I can do so that I don’t feel a need to confront issues as often?


Pastor Sam Smucker – Lancaster, PA
Regular meetings with staff members provide a setting to share candidly about the areas you are happy with and the areas that need improvement, which minimizes the need to confront. Confrontation should be in person and not through email or a written note. Clear expectations that are understood by the staff member are also very important. When there is a need to confront, you should do it wrapped in areas you can affirm. When confronting a volunteer or a church member it is important not to go on here-say but with specific areas you can point out that you can discuss. Confrontation should not be done in a way where the person feels attacked. It is important to separate the person from the behavior as much as possible. Sometimes some of us tend to avoid conflict which can make things worse. When a situation does need to be addressed, the sooner the better. Our tone of voice and body language needs to be such that shows love and acceptance and a posture of wanting to help.

Pastor Gary Hoffman – Rocky Mount, VA
I will always start with me. Did I do a good job in training them in what I expected to be done? God’s army is the only army that is sent to the front lines after only 5 minutes of basic training. We need to do better in this area. Like with teenagers, I think you need to pick your battles. Some things are just not worth it. Having a teaching attitude can be a good angle to correct some problems; ”let me show you how I would like this to be done.” But when all else fails, you are the captain of that local ship. Do what has to be done with the attitude of saving the shipmate and not throwing them overboard.

Pastor Dennis Cummins – Puyallup, WA
I am thankful that confrontation isn’t easy for me. This makes me bathe my heart and attitude in prayer before meeting with people that are out of joint. We have a saying around my church that says, “It’s not who’s right, it’s what’s right.” This helps to keep us on point and address the real issues rather than opinions. I recently had a lady confront me in the foyer of the church and call me Hitler several times because she misunderstood the difference between dictatorship and strong leadership. While I didn’t appreciate her sentiment or being compared to Hitler, I listened to the check in my spirit to keep my mouth shut and not say a word. One person said that strong leadership can easily be mistaken for arrogance and pride. There are times that we speak up and there are times that we are quiet, but that is why we have to be prayed up.

If we are personally accosted as the pastor of the church, we don’t need to give defense to that.  We simply need to take the road of humility when we are personally thrown under the bus so long as it is not an accusation of false doctrine or sin against us.  If that is the case we need to ask for their evidence, but if it merely attacks our ego, I think we should let it slide and let the Holy Spirit be our defense.  If it deals with the character and integrity of the church we are to stand strong and not waiver and bring swift and uncompromising correction and discipline if necessary.  Our obligation as an under-shepherd is to protect the church and that means the vision, values and direction of the church.

I personally believe that the Matthew 18 process is overlooked too many times for fear of the ramifications.  But truth is truth and biblical instruction is a multiple choice for those in leadership.  We are to respond biblically through love and let God take care of the rest regardless of the cost.

No matter how well I thought I understood what was going on in a situation with staff or lay person, when I start discussing the issues with people face to face I begin to see things that I misperceived or I blew out of proportion.  So now, in confronting people, I try to do as little talking up front as possible since it helps me to hear their heart and what is going on inside their heads.  I ask a lot of questions, even when I know I could set them straight in a matter of minutes.  I force myself to listen and probe for information.  Then I use these simple phrases to avoid starting an argument, it even works great with my spouse: “This may not be true, but this is how I perceived it”, “this may not be the case, but this is how it made me feel”.  This gives me the chance to say what needs to be said without accusing them or painting them in the corner.  This helps to disengage the defensive mechanisms and talk about what brought us to this place, our feelings.  I also avoid using absolutes like “always and never”.

I personally don’t know of anything that can prevent the need to confront people, but I have experienced how to minimize the need to confront people.  The main thing that seems to lead conflict in churches isn’t over doctrine or moral issues, but preferential issues of how the church is led or how money is spent.  To help clarify how we lead the church and spend church funds can be better defined by Core Values.

The values further define how we accomplish the vision that God has entrusted us with.  If we don’t clearly define these values then other people’s values will be assumed upon the church.  It is hard enough to succeed in a marriage that only involves two people, so it’s no wonder we face more conflict and challenges in the church when it is filled with hundreds or thousands of people with different value systems.  This may sound a bit corporate to some pastors, but the lack of defined, posted and preached values seem to be an essential struggle in the average church.  It simply says to the people in your church, these are the principles by which we make decisions and operate the church.  You as a pastor may value order and neatness, but we just can’t assume that everyone in our church shares that value much less uphold it in the church.  You as a pastor may value a spirit of excellence but to assume the church knows it will bring much disappointment.

While some pastors would argue the importance of a defined value system, much less preach it and post it, I stand firmly behind this principle.  I have found that having a defined value system in place has minimized conflict in our church.  It helps new people walking in our doors to understand how we think and act.  Let’s face it, most people that leave church really wasn’t a fit to begin with.  They had a different value system, they always seemed to be the square peg in a round hole, you say potato and they say…well you get my drift.  So why try to change people we can’t change, I would prefer that they move on right away than to stay and make relationships and pull people out of our church later.  This is why there are so many churches out there, because there are diversities among us, even among churches that have the same doctrinal statement in the same denomination attract different people and it boils down to different value systems.

We constantly uphold our values before our people and new people that want to be partners.  It took three years for people to take us seriously when we implemented them and still to this day people challenge them.  We have been in an enhancement program for over a year now and we have been talking about changing the carpet since it’s old and has tears in it, then sell our current chairs and buy new chairs that match the new color of carpet.  I just learned that we had a couple leave our church two weeks ago because they thought that there was nothing wrong with our carpet and the chairs are still comfortable.  The real reason they left is they have a different value system than we do.  It wasn’t a doctrinal issue or a sin issue, it was a conflict of value systems, but they left because they knew they couldn’t assume their value system upon us.

Clarity is the key. “If we make the vision clear up front we won’t have to defend what we meant to say later.”

Our Values:

1.   The Word of God is the ultimate authority, and all that we do must be Biblically based through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

2.   The message does not change, but the method in which it is delivered must stay culturally applicable.

3.   We honor the God-given vision in our hearts, speech, and actions.

4.   We are an organization of principles.

5.   We don’t feed people fish for a day of gratification, but we teach them to fish to ensure a life of success.

6.   Excellence is the theme in all we do.

7.   We take steps, not leaps, in reaching our goals.

8.   The Truth is paramount regardless of the cost.

9.   Technology will be integrated into the church to help streamline and advance the processes of the ministry.

10.  If it is the “Will of God” then we shall submit to “His Will” and follow His lead.

Pastor Dave Williams – Lansing, MI
Confrontation is never easy for a pastor.  At least it isn’t for me.  I suppose if someone has more of a “prophet personality” it may be less painful, but I’m not sure.

Confrontation is important when there is a swerving away in any of the following areas:

  • Fundamental Doctrines
  • Pastor’s Philosophy of Ministry
  • Pastor’s Vision
  • Pastor’s established guidelines and goals
  • Pure Morals
  • Attitude

For example, I took a three-month sabbatical several years ago.  When I returned, I discovered one of the assistant pastors had taught a class, and actually suggested a different eschatological viewpoint than what I teach.  I immediately sat him down and asked him about the allegations.  He wept, confessed, repented and was spared.

When someone who represents the pastor is “off” in any way, it reflects on the church and the leadership.

One person who is out of sync can drive dozens of people away.  

I have great longevity among my staff members, but in the past 27 years, I was forced to confront and fire a few because of their overall negative impact on the church or other staff members.  One staff person, who always seemed to have a great attitude in my presence, was in fact, driving dozens of people from the church.  In terms of finances, it ended up being to the tune of nearly a million dollars in lost revenue.

When I finally discovered what was going on, I confronted him, although it wasn’t easy.  God holds the pastor accountable to handle these things.  He, of course, shifted blame everywhere except where it belonged, so I offered him three months severance pay and told him that he was terminated.  He took the victim approach and tried to cause problems in the normal fashion of all “victims.”

Whenever a pastor notices negative changes in attitudes and actions, it’s time to confront in love.  Remember the person may have some personal changes in their lives, or may be taking a medication that causes some changes, so deal gently with them, and don’t assume the worse.

With staff and volunteers it’s easier when you have up-front established guidelines, goals, and expectations all in writing.  This is the single most important key: Everything in Writing! 

I have rule here: No male pastor will ever be behind closed doors with a female counselee, secretary.  The door is to remain open at least the width of a hand.  It’s in writing.  Suppose I find a pastor secretly meeting with a female behind closed doors?  Now it’s easier to confront because everything was clear ahead of time.

Members need to know in writing (brochures, letters, workbooks, pamphlets, etc.) what is expected as a member; volunteers, the same thing.  We have what we call “Community Standards,” based on New Testament writings.

Although confrontation isn’t easier, it’s less painful when you have established as much as possible in writing on the front end.

Now, one more thing that will be a huge help to pastors:  Develop sincere, godly, elders who can handle most of the confrontation and discipline among church members and attendees.  I have 24 godly men on a non-official board of elders.  It took me a long time to equip them, but now they handle virtually all confrontation except for staff.

Hope this is helpful.

Pastor David Emigh – Sand Springs, OK
The first thing is to have good rules and guidelines in place in writing.  You need to make sure they are clearly stated and understood.  This will eliminate many problems because people know what is expected from them right from the beginning.

If there is a violation of policy, you can bring it to their attention.  You can say, “Did you understand the guidelines?”  If not, then you have opportunity to go over them again.  I always say, “Are we clear now?”  If it continues, you have a heart problem and you must deal with it.

I have learned to define what a problem is and what an instance is.  Everybody will have instances.  By that I mean they make a mistake.  I never confront on an instance.  If it is repeated, it is a problem and you must deal with it.

In dealing with people I first reinforce my faith in them and let them know I appreciate them and what they do.  Then I address the problem and in closing I reinforce them again.

Rev. Dan Beller – Tulsa, OK
Confronting paid staff, especially associate pastors, is much easier than volunteers or regular members. Any one hired to be a staff member should have a good understanding of policy before they accept a position. One of the responsibilities of the senior pastor is to shepherd staff members, which includes helping them to develop and improve their skills. Any correction should always be done in a private meeting, with christian love and the right attitude. Corrections should be based on established policy and biblical principles.

An example of a policy for associate ministers is as follows: “The church board decides when an associate minister should be employed and sets the salary, but only the senior pastor may invite or dismiss said personnel.” This leaves them totally accountable to the senior pastor. They should not be allowed to complain to any board member or congregation member but only to the senior pastor. Likewise, staff members can only complain to their supervisor but not to each other. This keeps down strife and taking sides with fellow staff members.

In dealing with regular members or volunteers, there should be no public confrontation or embarrassment. In a private meeting, let the person share fully in answering your concerns. It is good to show unconditional love and use gentle questions to lead the person to an agreement to do what is proper and ethical according to policy and biblical principles.

Principle: It is always best to have a good understanding of policy and expectations up front. If this method is followed, it is “instructional,” but if it is done later, it is “correctional.” Instruction is much more pleasant than correction.

Pastor John White – Decatur, AL
After nearly thirty years in the ministry, I have had many confrontations with people about many different things. Be it blatant sin, doctrinal issues, strife or contention, I can never recall a time when I enjoyed the experience. And because it is an unpleasant experience most people avoid confrontations. However, as a leader confrontations are inevitable.

The first question I address before confronting anyone is this, should I confront the individual or party. Does this situation merit a confrontation? Because some things are not as serious as others and confronting the problem would only make matters worse, I ask myself, “is this situation detrimental to anyone, to the individual, to the ministry or to the kingdom of God?  What lasting effects will this problem present?”

Once I settle these questions I move on to the next question, which is, “when is the proper time to confront the person?”  Timing is important in everything we do and we must know the correct time to address a situation.  If we let it go too long we run the risk of letting it get out of control, and if we confront it too soon we could make the problem bigger than it really is.  Pray and get God’s mind on the situation at hand.

Needless to say, we should never confront a problem when our emotions are involved.  Emotions will cause you to say and do things you will later regret. Make sure you are in control and have all the facts.

The next thing I settle is how do I confront the people involved.  Proverbs 9:7-9 states:

7 He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot. 8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. 9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. KJV

The New King James Version Bible Commentary says this of these verses, “A scoffer or mocker is thoroughly set against wisdom and scoffs at the things of God.  How should a person respond to a mocker? It is best not to respond at all. By contrast a wise man accepts correction and responds with gratitude to the one who points out his error.”

So with this in mind, the person I confront determines how I will confront them.

Then the last thing I determine is where the confrontation will take place.  Jesus, when confronting the devil in Matthew chapter four, chose both the time and place of the confrontation.  You too should choose the time and place of the confrontation.  Certainly you don’t want it to be in a public place or in an arena that you are out numbered.  Make sure the place of confrontation is in your advantage in order to minister to those involved effectively.

In summation, these are the basic questions I ask myself; (1) Should I confront?, (2) When should I confront?, (3) How should I confront?, and (4) Where should I confront?  This method has worked very well for me over the years.

Pastor Mark Boer – Boise, ID
Confrontation is both undesirable and necessary for all leaders at some point in ministry.  Knowing this, we must avoid being on the extremes of this issue.  That is, if confrontation is a part of your daily routine, then there are probably some underlining leadership issues that need to be addressed.  At the same time, if a leader never sees the need to confront people, then there are probably problems growing behind the scenes or at least some missed opportunities for growth.

Some guidelines to consider when dealing with behaviors that must be addressed are:

1. Creating a culture in the church of love, acceptance and forgiveness make it easier when confrontation becomes necessary.  It is important that people know that they are not being rejected but rather helped to become more valuable and effective in the ministry.

2. Know the maturity level of the individual.  The book of Proverbs lets us know of the folly of trying to correct a fool.

3. Make sure that expectations are clearly stated.  We certainly want to avoid being overly harsh with someone who didn’t know what we wanted them to do in the first place.

4. If possible, avoid the confrontation when you are upset at their behavior.

5. If there is any chance that you don’t have all the information, be sure to ask questions instead of making accusations. (Proverbs 18:13)

6. Be prepared for the possible response of rejection.  While many people will accept and change, there are some who stiffen their neck and resist your leadership.  What will you do?  Figure that out first.

7. Assess how serious the problem is.  Are you making a mountain out of a molehill?  Although we know it is best to nip things in the bud, we must also discern if it is just magnifying a trivial issue.  If the person has a bad attitude, deal with it, but if their heart is good, many insignificant things can be ignored.

Pastor Judi Tillett – Waynesville, MO
Confrontation if avoided produces compromise, and what we compromise to keep, we lose.  Confrontation if overly utilized has the effect of exercising control, and every minister with balance understands the need to avoid that consequence.  So, to draw on my experience which has sometimes hit the mark of balance and sometimes compromised or seemed controlling, I can suggest four deliberate ‘paths’ that should be considered before the actual moment of spiritually correct confrontation.

  1. BALANCE, which is defined as measuring the weight of the situation.  To avoid inordinate conflict, I try to weigh the offense or need to correct on a scale of one to ten.  If the ‘fault’ or ‘incident’ falls below five, determined by prayer, then I elect to observe the person lovingly, but not to be over zealous.  The Holy Spirit can address the situation.  Two questions that must be weighed accurately, “Does this apparent infraction just effect me personally, or the church body?,” and “How much influence does this person(s) have in the church body?”
  2. TIMING, which is defined as having prayed before attempting confrontation to ascertain my heart is right and to prepare the heart of the person who will be on the receiving end.  The calm produced by prayer, assures continued confidence that you have indeed ‘done the right thing’, even if the person refuses to accept godly instruction or correction.  This prayer time will also reveal if the matter should be addressed with another person to witness the confrontation, or if it is small enough to be presented one on one.
  3. LIGHT, this is defined as sharing the expected result with the person before launching into any other conversation, i.e., “My desire is to share this moment with you in the hope and expectation that we will be closer and more unified in our purpose to serve Christ.”  Of course, that should be true!
  4. PRAISE, defined as developing a path of relational continuance by declaring valuable traits in the person prior to discussing the not so desirable trait.  The general formula is that four strong character traits should be declared by you for each weak one.  This point also substantiates the obligation, strength, and need of prayer and timing before approaching a person to state a perceived flaw.  And it produces a desire in the person to be able to receive from you, as you are aware of their value, not only their need to change or adjust.  These good features emphasized, also help the person not to focus on unworthiness, aided and abetted by the enemy, after the time spent with you.  The four to one ‘formula’ should ensure health and wholeness to the person, which is our goal.

Confrontation, in my opinion, is one of the greatest maturing patterns for a church body.  However, if handled inappropriately, it can allow room for a cancer.  One way to establish a good maturing pattern is to be open in our own times of confrontational change, as everything is the seed principle and we can then anticipate with faith that other people will harvest from our teachable attitude.

Pastor Tim Gilligan – Ocala, FL
I have found that before I confront someone, I should make a good effort to first of all be sure of the facts. And secondly, make sure of my own heart and motives.  Also, through the years, I have been amazed that after praying, I have watched the Holy Spirit precede me and even take care of the issue or make it workable.  One time I was ready to actually release an employee and on the very day that I was ready to call him in, he asked to meet with me and told me that he thought that it was time for him to depart.  Yea God!  However, it does not always work that way.  Here are several guidelines that should be part of your standard equipment as you need to confront someone.  -Speak the truth in love! (Eph.4:15)  Love is the license to speak truth.  You might have truth to speak, but if you are not approaching it from a standpoint of love, you are not authorized.  -Be prepared.  Rehearse your thoughts and approach.  To go into confrontation ill-prepared is unwise.  -Things are received according to how they are delivered.  Make sure that you are using tact, measured words and keeping your emotions in check.  When anger is present, communication is distorted.  -The key to understanding someone else is to switch places with them.  Try to put yourself in their spot and see things from their standpoint.  All behavior is need motivated.  Can you see what it is that causes them to act this way?  -Stewardship is a priority.  Sometimes we are afraid to hurt an individual’s feelings at the expense of the group.  This is poor stewardship in the name of fear.  -Do it afraid.  I would be concerned about you if you weren’t a little disturbed and hesitant to confront.  Yet, you cannot allow fear to keep you from doing what is needful.  -Retaining incompetent, unproductive or divisive people is the worst stewardship.  Do what you need to do, in the right way and do it quickly.  -Get godly counsel to help guide and encourage you through this.  -Be generous.  Be kind and extend as much as you can to them, even in their departure.  This is taking the high road.  -Look for redemption.  Try to preserve relationship.  Push reset when it is possible.  Try for an outcome that would please Jesus!

To avoid confrontation, or to have to do it less frequently, make sure that you are communicating your expectations.  Also check yourself to make sure that you are not part of the problem.

Pastor Ray Almaguer – Glendora, CA
First of all, let me say that this is a good problem to have.  There are many benefits to having multiple services.  It’s great to give people a choice of service times.  Also, your workers can work in one service and attend another.  People can attend classes during one service and attend another.  The pitfalls you need to watch out for are burning out your workers and yourself.  I made the mistake of burning out our church workers during a time when we were running three morning services.

In order to transition from one to two services, I would suggest these things:

1. Be convinced and confident that this is the right thing to do.  If you are doubtful or hesitant, others will pick that up and become hesitant and doubtful too.

2. Before you announce the change, communicate the vision to your leaders. You must get your leaders on board.  They will need to build their teams in order to accommodate two services.  Communicate with them why and how you will make the change.  Let them feel your heartbeat to reach more souls for Jesus.  Let them catch your passion for people.

3. Communicate the vision to your congregation.  When we went from one to two services, I knew the question on most people’s minds would be, “What if I don’t see my friends anymore on Sunday morning?  What if I attend the early service and they attend the late one?”  To counter that thought I challenged the church to be willing to sacrifice some intimacy for the sake of more souls for God’s Kingdom.  When they saw it in that perspective they jumped on board.

4. If you have removable seating, consider removing a few rows of chairs at first so you still have a “comfortably full” feeling in the services.  If the services feel really empty all of a sudden, it can be difficult.  Another idea is to keep your children in the service during Praise and Worship, then dismiss them.

Pastor Joe Cameneti – Warren, OH
We have been holding multiple services for 22 of our 25 year history.  It was just over a year after our inception that we expanded to two weekend services. As we moved into new buildings, we would stop for a season, but the need would arise soon after, and we would start them back up again.  We currently hold three weekend services: Saturday night (5 pm) and two Sunday morning (9 am & 10:45 am).  During Easter and major outreach weekends, we add a second service on Saturday night (6:30 pm) which really seems to meet the temporary need.

I love multiple services and enjoy ministering three times a weekend, but a shift in scheduling and time management becomes essential at this stage.  As we transitioned from two to three services a weekend, it became increasingly evident that I needed to step out of my Wednesday night teaching role.  We began to have our associate pastors cover the Wednesday night rotation, and it worked extremely well!  This gave them an outlet, and it released me to focus on weekends as well as hosting a weekly small group during the fall and winter semesters.

Personally, I think a great rule of thumb for planning to add a second service is when you hit 80% capacity in either your parking lot or sanctuary.  I’ve noticed that once you hit that number, you will usually stop growing.  Each time we needed to add a second service, we asked our ministry volunteers and leadership to “double up” by serving in both services.  This was only a temporary step, designed to get the new service off of the ground until we recruited more volunteers.  It worked well, and it usually took less than six months to staff the new service.  Not to mention, people were honored to help!

I’ve always reasoned with our people, “Look…we’re growing, and we’ve run out of room.  So we’re adding a second service!”  They have always been excited about the growth as well as the increase in attendance options.

Our largest service is the 10:45 am on Sunday.  Our second largest service is Saturday night, and last is the Sunday 9 am.  This will vary according to demographics.  Personally, I think it would be best to start with a second Sunday morning service so that people don’t have to come out on two days.  On the other hand, our people do love Saturday night church, and I’ve always said, “If I wasn’t the pastor, I’d come on Saturday night and sleep in on Sunday morning!”  Bottom line, God will lead you down the correct path!