By Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson is a native of Pennsylvania, and is an ordained minister and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (2006) where he received his Theological Masters degree (Th.M). Keith pastors a church in the Villages, Florida, while his wife, Patti, serves on the Care for Pastors team. They have three grown children. When not serving, they escape to their favorite place on earth; the beach.

    Ministry Betrayal: Why I Did Not See It Coming

    Tuesday, May 23, 2023

    My story

    I expected the pastorate would be difficult, but it has proven to be far more difficult than I ever imagined. As a second career, I had years of leadership experience in a family retail business. There I learned the value of a strong work ethic, relationship building, honesty, integrity and conflict resolution. All of which would serve well in ministry. But what I did not see coming was the personal attacks launched at me and my wife.

    At first the personal attacks rocked me back on my heels. I felt like a quarterback standing in the pocket, set to throw and being blindsided and driven into the turf. And once back on my feet discovering it was one of my teammates. Let me explain.

    Right out of seminary I accepted a position as an associate pastor. Imagine my surprise when a few years into a thriving ministry the senior pastor, who I enjoyed a good relationship with forced me to resign. With that he conjured up stories and worked behind the scenes deceitfully to carry out his plan. I felt betrayed. Why God? Why would you allow an arrogant, deceitful man to prevail? One may expect this to happen in business, but in God’s holy church? The Lord was silent, but He did send help.

    The Lord provided a godly mentor that year, who for nine months counseled me, guided me toward forgiveness. Even today I enjoy the wisdom and friendship of the man God provided to help me so many years ago. So what’s next?

    The Lord moved us to a church in another state where I have served for fourteen years.

    While I have many goals, an overall goal is to teach truth and love well. And while I have strived to do that, it still has been a tough ministry. There has been fruit. I have seen lives changed through Jesus Christ. But once again the attacks have been consistent. Frequently, I have been amazed at the immaturity of believers. I have learned that when God moves, Satan is right there moving too. It would take months of blogs to tell you all the betrayals, hurts and personal attacks we have suffered. The worst of which always come from those we trusted and worked closely with. Those wounds take time to heal.

    Can you relate?

    Where do I go from here?

    I can tell you where I went. I questioned my call to ministry.

    At times I felt like the greatest fool. I left a thriving career, the security of extended family and spent our life savings to fund six years of seminary. I uprooted my family from the only home we knew and moved them half-way across the country to do all this. We did it with excitement and anticipation of how the Lord would use us. We invested ourselves loving, helping, guiding, visiting and teaching others sacrificially. But when insults didn’t stop me, they aimed at my wife. Really?!

    More than once in the last fifteen years I thought I would have to walk away to protect my wife who repeatedly suffered assaults on her character.

    Keeping Afloat

    What do you do, when everything inside you says get out? The advice I received from trusted, godly mentors was that I needed to leave. But as men and women who walked with the Lord for many years, they all added one question. Has God released you from this church? I hated the answer, He had not. I asked, I begged, I pleaded to be released. I even searched for other positions, but none felt right. I wanted to jump ship, but God would not allow me. So, what do you do when God says stay? It’s pretty simple, you stay.

    Why I didn’t see it coming

    I failed to apply what I saw in the Bible.

    The prophets suffered and many died for the message.

    The Apostle Paul suffered greatly. I reread 2 Corinthians 4 and was reminded that he frequently was under pressure, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair; hunted down but not abandoned by God. Not a pretty sight.

    Basically, I underestimated the reality and ferocity of the spiritual battle.

    Misery loves company and the company of those afflicted is notable

    Years ago, I listening to Dr. Charles Stanley’s message to a group of seminary students. In that message he spoke of his rocky beginning at First Baptist of Atlanta.

    He not only suffered betrayal, but was punched in the face on the platform by a deacon in the meeting while two thousand witnesses looked on. It was that meeting that he was voted in as Senior pastor. And he stayed anyway.

    I recently heard another message as Dr. Chuck Swindoll addressed a group of seminarians at his alma mater. He said that it would take hours and hours to relate to them all the betrayals, hurts and wounds he has suffered. He then repeated the words I heard him speak twenty years ago in a seminary chapel.

    “When God wants to accomplish an impossible task, He takes an impossible man and crushes him.” Sobering words. Moses testifies to us, David felt it, the Apostle Paul experienced it too. So, who do I think I am that I will not suffer for the cause?

    Do I like the answer, no. But obviously this is what I signed up for.

    So, when another hurt comes as I am sure it will, I will remind myself of these truths:

    Lessons learned:

    When conflict comes, my first question is, Lord, am I sinning and bringing this conflict on myself?

    If the answer is no then this not discipline, it is development.

    In other words, God is not doing this to me. He is doing it for me.

    And so, why didn’t I see it coming?

    I underestimated the personal cost of entering the spiritual battle.

    I remember:

    1. The church is not a playground; it is a battleground. So, expect Satan to attack.
    2. Satan never misses church and he always has operatives ready to engage.
    3. God allows His servants to be crushed. It’s part of making us like Jesus (Ro. 8:29).
    4. The conflict may not be a sign of what I am doing wrong, but what I am doing right.
    5. If there’s no conflict, it may be an indicator that I am not making a difference.
    6. I have adopted Dr. Charles Stanley’s advice that guided his life: “Obey God and leave the consequences to Him.”

    That simplifies my life to one thing, I live to please Him. I entrust the hurts to Him.

    What would you add to this list?

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