Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Terminating a pastor

A Facebook friend, Joe McKeever, had a post earlier this week about the problems that arise when a church dismisses a pastor. As he noted, such action causes the church to pay a heavy price, especially if the termination was not warranted. Termination also impacts the pastor and his or her family, and many never recover from the ordeal. Scripture warns us that we need to be very cautious in how we treat those whom God has called into ministry.

I served as the bivocational pastor of one church for twenty years. During that time there were two significant conflicts, both concerning me, but to my knowledge I was never in danger of being terminated. Both were resolved, and we were able to move forward. Unfortunately, that does not happen in every church.

In fourteen years of judicatory ministry I saw some pastors treated terribly by their churches. I could not believe the reasons some churches gave for terminating their pastors. In at least one instance a pastor was forced to resign because many in the congregation quit giving so the church was unable to pay his salary. Numerous pastors resigned because they grew tired of having to deal with church controllers. One of my responsibilities was to assist churches seeking pastors, and in a couple of instances I refused to assist them due to the way they had treated too many pastors in the past. As I explained, I would not sacrifice any more good pastors on the altar of their dysfunction.

What are some reasons churches give for terminating a pastor or asking for his or her resignation?

  • The church was not growing as if church growth is the sole responsibility of the pastor.
  • The pastor would not bow to the whims of the deacons. You will not find anywhere in Scripture that teaches the pastor is to be controlled by deacons.
  • The pastor's family has problems, and if a man does not rule his own household well he cannot lead. A lot of church families have problems. Prayer and support might be a better alternative than adding to their problems.
  • The pastor will not yield to the church controllers. He or she should receive a salary increase when this happens. Finally, someone in the church was willing to stand up to the people who are killing your church.
  • The pastor did not visit me when I was in the hospital. Did he or she even know you were in the hospital? Who called to tell them?
  • The pastor won't keep regular office hours in case someone wants to stop in to talk. Except in the largest churches with staff, most pastors have to much to do to sit around an office in case someone decides to stop by. That's why people make appointments.
Of course, there are many other reasons, but these are some of the most common I've encountered.

We have to admit there may be some valid reasons for asking the pastor to resign. If the pastor is teaching false doctrine or has a moral failure then for the health of the church he or she needs to leave.

Even then a church needs to be very cautious about how this is handled. Before entering the ministry our family left the church we were attending due to the pastor's liberal theology. I was a deacon in the church and therefore one of the leaders. It was obvious to me that the majority of the congregation did not share my concern about his theology. Rather than push the issue, I resigned and we began attending another church. The pastor asked me to address my concerns at the next business meeting of the church, but I knew that would only create disharmony in the church which I did not want. I assured him I was not his enemy and did not want to bring turmoil to the congregation. I would leave a church again before trying to force out a pastor with whom I disagreed. Two weeks after we left my wife was told by a member that she heard we had left because we were unhappy the choir got new robes!

Don't put a pastor on a pedestal, but be careful about how you treat that person. A lot of church leaders are going to answer before God for the way they treated these men and women God called to serve them. That may not be a pleasant experience.

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