Recognizing the Patterns of a Church Coup

What to look for in a church on the verge of a hostile takeover

There is nothing new under the sun, including church coups.

The impetus behind this article is the greater frequency of the coups taking place. It is, I guess at least in part, yet another consequence of COVID. They have been around a long time; they are just more frequent now.

For certain, no two coups are identical. Any type of examination or anatomy of a coup will always have exceptions and outliers. Our team at Church Answers has, however, seen patterns that are common to most coups. Here are some of the patterns:

• The target is the pastor. Whether perceived or real, those engaged in the coup think they can do a better job than the pastor. If the pastor does not go along with their “suggestions,” the plan to remove him begins.

• The coup participants are usually church staff and lay leaders. The staff often report directly to the pastor. They are convinced the pastor is bad for the church, and that they offer better solutions. The staff often collude with key leaders or a key leadership group like the personnel committee or selected deacons or elders.

• The coup often includes contrived charges against the pastor. In fact, it is not unusual for the charges to be vague and purportedly confidential for the sake of the pastor’s family. The congregation is often confused and hurt when a coup takes place.

• On several occasions, the coup begins in earnest when the pastor is gone for a while. The pastor may be taking an extended vacation or a few-months sabbatical. The coup participants seize upon the perceived power void and begin to make their moves. The pastor comes back shocked that a group in the church is trying to force him out.

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• About half the time, the coup succeeds and the pastor leaves. Many pastors know that, in a congregational vote, they would not be forced out. But many pastors don’t want to put themselves, their families, or their congregants through the ordeal of a no-confidence vote.

• The church and the coup participants are often hurt the most. Some churches never recover from a pastoral coup. It is like they have an unrepentant sin among them, and the blessing of God is removed. It is not unusual for the coup participants to leave the church ultimately when they are not given the power they expect after the pastor leaves. The coup participants commonly then go to other churches where they wreak havoc again.

• The majority of pastors will face an attempted coup at some point. My words are not meant to be fatalistic. It is simply the sad reality of congregations today. When the motive for being in ministry becomes power rather than service, there is clearly sin in the camp.

For years, I have advocated that churches have prayer ministries specifically for their pastors. Your pastor is in a battle, a real and powerful spiritual battle. You as a church member can have a pivotal role in providing prayer cover for your pastor.

Coups to oust a pastor are real and common.