Lloyd Rediger, author of Clergy Killers, writes:
“Collateral damage” is a military term that designates the damage done to areas and people near to a military target that has been hit with explosive weapons. It also illuminates a painful phenomenon in organized religion. Spouses, family members, and close associates of a deeply distressed and abused pastor often suffer such collateral damage.
As Dr. Rediger points out, pastors aren’t the only ones to feel the painful, and sometimes irreparable, damaging effects of a relentless antagonist. Here are eight critical reasons churches need to pay more attention to disciplining these harmful members:
1. The pastor’s spouse. Even if the pastor receives counseling or the encouragement and support of other members in the church, often his or her spouse is overlooked. The spouse bears a deeper burden—not only is he or she hurting for their partner, but they also have to deal with their own grief and frustration and the disturbance the attacks bring upon their entire family.
2. The pastor’s children. People forget that children will bear the scars of their parent’s treatment at the hands of clergy killers. Some children will leave the church and even their faith behind. What kind of God and “Christians” would permit such injustice?
3. The pastor’s extended family. Parents, siblings, and other relatives share in the pain. Also, those already skeptical or against “organized religion” will find all the more reason to stay away from the church and faith.
4. Leaders in the church. It is not rare to find those members who valiantly fought the battle alongside the pastor, only to be burned themselves, leave the church. These good, honest people will often stay away from leadership for a long time—sometimes forever.
5. Members in the church. Similarly, those members (often godly and generous givers) who have seen their beloved leader slandered and damaged will leave. They will be wary of getting actively involved in another church again.
6. Youth in the church. Members tend to underestimate the effect that a conflict and departure of a pastor has on the youth of the church. If youth perceive a wrong rewarded, they have less confidence in a God of love and justice, and are more inclined to choose other religions—or none at all.
7. The church itself. A split church takes a long time to heal and recover its energy, finances, and growth. Some will never be the same again. Sadly, those very members who caused the problem in the first place will stay on. They’d rather hammer the last nail in the coffin called the church than apologize, ask for forgiveness, and admit to any fault on their part.
8. The community. Once again the community witnesses those “hypocritical Christians.”
Leaders and members who love your Lord and churches, please think about this and be willing to hold the antagonists in the church accountable for their destructive behavior.
Dr. Snyder’s new book, These Sheep Bite: A Fearless Guide to Church Leadership, will be available in paperback soon.