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The Pastor Point System

During my last pastorate, a senior couple – who were both very supportive of my ministry – lived in a local retirement home.  The man eventually died, and his wife asked me to conduct his memorial service at the retirement home so the seniors wouldn’t have to leave the premises.

I had agreed on a time for the service with the widow, but then we spoke a second time on the phone, and she wanted to change the time.  On the day of the service, I became confused about when I was supposed to be there, and showed up 30 minutes late … to a packed room of anxious seniors.  Fortunately, the widow was an incredibly gracious person, and she smoothed things over for me, but my mistake could have been disastrous had she been vengeful.

Dr. Leith Anderson (one of my professors in the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary), in his book Leadership That Works, discusses the concept of “parish poker.”  Although Anderson isn’t a gambler (and neither am I), he states that at the beginning of every poker game, each player is given a certain number of chips.

In the same way, Anderson claims, a pastor is given 50 to 100 chips when he comes to a new church.  After that, he either gains or loses chips depending upon that church’s unique value system.  Anderson cites a few examples:

*Preach a good sermon (+2 chips)

*Preach a bad sermon (-8 chips)

*Visit sick person in the hospital (+7 chips)

*Sick person dies (was expected to recover) (-10 chips)

*Sick person recovers (was expected to die) (+40 chips)

*Bring cookies to monthly board meeting (+1/2 chip)

*Lose temper and shout at board meeting (-25 chips)

In his book, Anderson tells the story of a new pastor who was called to a conservative mid-western church.  He came a few weeks early to settle in, and on the Saturday before his initial Sunday, the pastor gave away the pulpit to another congregation … without asking permission.  According to Anderson, that decision cost the pastor 2,000 chips, which means he’d have to preach 1,000 good sermons just to get back to zero … which would take 20 years!

That pastor was done before he even started.

Here is why “parish poker” or “the pastor point system” matters: because as a pastor’s total points nosedive, he’s increasingly likely to be terminated.

There are two ways to be terminated using the point system:

First, you lose a massive number of points at once.  Examples:

*Tell your church that everyone will be saved (-5000 points)

*Have an affair with a board member’s wife (-5000 points)

*Embezzle funds from the children’s ministry (-5000 points)

*Hack into the associate pastor’s computer (-5000 points)

Second, you stop gaining points but steadily lose points over time … eventually plunging toward zero.  Although this isn’t easy to do, some pastors have mastered the art.

To switch the analogy to banking, they are great at making withdrawals … and poor at making deposits.

Based upon the 36 years that I served in 9 different churches, let me add some events/incidents that involved me as pastor:

Failure to use the Scofield Reference Bible (-3o points)               

Visiting seniors at home to shoot the breeze (+20 points)

Letting youth attend Christian rock concerts (-100 points)

Holding a missionary conference (+25 points)

Discovering your son peed on the church lawn at the conference (-25 points)

Having a band during Sunday worship (-200 points)

Baptizing a new convert (+10 points)

A longtime family leaves the church (-40 points)

Conducting a funeral for a longtime member (+35 points)

Confronting a staff member about misbehavior (-75 points)

Earning a doctoral degree (+5 points)

Failing to say hi to someone one Sunday (-15 points)

Raising almost a million dollars one year (+80 points)

Falling behind the church budget the next year (-300 points)

Let me make five observations about this point system, especially as it relates to pastoral termination:

First, as I did this exercise, it was simple coming up with minus points, but challenging to come up with plus points. 

Maybe I forgot all the good that I did … or maybe it’s just easier to remember the criticisms than the compliments.

When a pastor first comes to a church, it seems like he can do no wrong.  But a few years later, it can feel like he can’t do anything right.

I don’t think a pastor can do much to acquire a lot of points at once, even if he wins the mayor to Christ.  You build your points slowly.

But if you mess up, you can lose a lot of points quickly … and it’s usually not what you did or didn’t do, but who you offended that matters.

Second, value systems vary – sometimes wildly – depending upon the church or the person. 

In my first pastorate, I was expected to visit all the seniors in their homes at least quarterly … just to talk.  But in my last three pastorates, nobody expected me to visit anybody in their home.

In my second pastorate, the head of the deacons as well as the head of the deaconesses (they were married to each other) both left the church because I wouldn’t forbid our young people from attending Christian rock concerts, which were still in their infancy.  In the churches I served subsequently, that was never an issue with anyone.

If a young pastor grew up in a church, and only knows one way to do ministry, he may have a hard time in his first or second pastorate if he tries to impose the value system of his home church onto his new one.  The point system in every church is different, and it takes a while to learn what’s commendable and what’s condemnable.

In fact, one of the wisest things a new pastor can do is to get to know those who know the history of the church, and to discover what will get you applauded … or assaulted.

In my second church as a youth pastor, an entire family opposed my ministry because the previous youth pastor – whom I knew – had painted the youth room orange without permission.  Since we both had gone to Biola, this family assumed I would operate as he did.

Third, a pastor needs to accumulate a lot of points up front to survive his inevitable mistakes. 

My father-in-law, my first and best ministry mentor, told me that when I first became a pastor, I should (a) work very hard my first year and develop a reputation as someone industrious, and (b) choose a Bible book with a positive message to preach from.  (He suggested Philippians.)  In other words, he was telling me, “Slowly acquire lots of points … and don’t do anything to lose points.”

Then the wife of one of the deacons announced she was divorcing him, and no matter what I did, I was going to lose points … and I did … but not that many.

I know there are people on both sides of this issue, but I really believe that a new pastor has to take his time and get to know people before he starts making changes at the church.  He needs to amass hundreds of points before he begins to say and do things that are guaranteed to lose scores of demerits.

Fourth, double the minus points when you’re dealing with a church bully.

If the pastor hurts Bill, and Bill is a kind and quiet man, the pastor will only lose a few points.

But if the pastor hurts Joe, and he’s loud and opinionated, Joe will tell his network what the pastor did … act like a victim … try and turn others against him … and the pastor will lose many points quickly.

In one church, I suggested going to lunch with a bully, but he didn’t want to know me because he wanted to keep me at arm’s length as a scapegoat.  Whenever I was around him, I kept our conversations brief because I didn’t want to give him any ammunition he could use against me.  I probably acquired a few minus points from him by doing that, but that was better than losing scores of points by opposing him outright.

Most people in a church will give a pastor the benefit of the doubt if they witness or hear about something that concerns him.  But a church bully won’t cut the pastor any slack.

Finally, a pastor may never know when he’s lost enough points to be terminated.

This is because the scorekeeping is never public.  Points reside in the head of a church bully … the wagging tongues of a faction … or secret meetings of the official board.

Pastors inherently know that if they are guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or felonious conduct, their days in a church are numbered.

And pastors often know who the scorekeepers are in a particular church, but pastors usually don’t know the point system the scorekeepers are using.

A pastor might think, “Okay, I didn’t say hi to Jane … that’s probably only a loss of 3 points.”  But if you offend Jane, she might debit you 100 points.

This is why pastors are shocked when the board suddenly asks for their resignation.  By the pastor’s reckoning, he’s up 2,472 points.  By their reckoning, he’s 2,472 down.

Obviously, a pastor can take this point system to ridiculous lengths.  You can’t have a positive, influential ministry if you’re walking around mentally adding and subtracting points all day.

Ultimately, a pastor has to try and please the Lord, and let the point system go.  We aren’t saved by our good works … we are saved by God’s grace.

But sadly, pastors are employed by good works … a point system … and over time, they can lose so many points that they’re toast.

What are your thoughts about the pastor point system?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Swedish pop group ABBA had a career that roughly paralleled the seven-and-a-half years that I was a youth pastor.

I was never crazy about their outfits … didn’t know the two female vocalists were each married to a different male vocalist … and wasn’t aware of their history or histrionics.

But regardless, songs like “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Super Trouper” and even “Mamma Mia” are superb songs.

And for me, music isn’t about an artist’s lifestyle or love life.  It’s about the songs … and if a song is great, I don’t care who sings it.

In times past, some Christians have divided music into sacred music (songs to and about God) and secular music (songs about life and/or love, but not God).

I suppose I once thought that way, but as I’ve gotten older, I find that I only recognize two categories of music: good music and bad music.

A non-Christian can write and perform a good song, while a Christian can write and perform a bad song.  It’s not about the faith of the artist … it’s about the song itself.

And when an artist compiles a collection of great songs, they’ve put out a classic album.

Two weeks ago, I presented five secular albums that I think many Christians would like:

Ten Secular Albums for Christians

Among secular artists, here are five more albums that I believe Christians can enjoy:

Mary Black: Babes in the Wood

Mary Black is one of the foremost female vocalists that Ireland has produced over the past thirty or so years … and maybe the very best.  She’s not a songwriter, but an interpreter of songs.

I first was exposed to her music when I was searching online for songs by The Corrs and someone had mistakenly labeled “Song for Ireland” by The Corrs … but Mary Black was the one who sang it.

If you love Ireland or Irish music, and you aren’t familiar with this song, I encourage you to find it and listen to it.  It’s incredible!

There is a spiritual sense to some of her music, especially on this album, where the first two songs – “Still Believing” and “Bright Blue Rose,” set the tone.  The latter song ends with these lyrics:

One bright blue rose outlives all those

Two thousand years and still it goes

To ponder His death and His life eternally

I bought all of Mary’s albums used from Amazon, and some came very cheaply.  Then I discovered that if you buy music from her website, she will sign what you buy for free if you ask.  I bought two items and ended up with three signatures!

As I’m getting older, I’m looking for artists who are talented but sing about things that I can relate to, and Mary Black’s music fits the bill.  I encourage you to check out her music!

Ray Davies: The Kinks Choral Collection

The Kinks are the most British of all British Invasion groups.  I was never a big fan, but sometime last year, I read a review of The Kinks Anthology: 1964-1971 in, of all places, World magazine (an evangelical Christian print/online magazine).

I started poking around some of The Kinks’ music online, and found myself thoroughly enjoying much of it.  Ray Davies – chief songwriter and vocalist – writes witty observations about life.  Sometimes the music is on the raunchy side (remember “Lola?”), but most of the time, The Kinks’ songs provide insight and perspective on everyday life experiences.

The Kinks Choral Collection consists of many of the band’s most famous songs.  Ray Davies does all the lead vocals, but this time, he’s backed by The Crouch End Festival Chorus … and most of the time, it works.

The album contains songs like “Celluloid Heroes,” which is my favorite Kinks’ song, and one I played for my mother-in-law a few years back.  (She loved it.)  It also includes “Waterloo Sunset,” named the 42nd greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone, as well as “You Really Got Me” and new song “Postcard from London,” a nostalgic look back at the City on The Thames featuring a duet with Chrissie Hynde.

Roughly half the songs come from one of the best albums you’ve never heard: The Village Green Preservation Society, an album that came out on the same November day in 1968 as The Beatles’ White Album.  Rated 5 stars by The All Music Guide, Davies and company look back at the England of their childhood with sympathetic portraits of fascinating people.

Although he doesn’t claim to be a Christian, a lot of songs on this album sound like hymns, such as “Village Green,” which contains this lyric:

I miss the Village Green

And all the simple people

I miss the Village Green

The church, the clock, the steeple

I miss the morning dew

Fresh air and Sunday School

The Kinks aren’t for everybody, but almost anyone can listen to and enjoy this album.  It’s a lot of fun.

Neil Young: Comes a Time; Harvest Moon; Prairie Wind; Silver and Gold

Harvest Moon

Neil Young can rock out as hard as anybody, which is why many people consider him to be the godfather of grunge.

But out of all the music I own, nobody does slow, thoughtful, and simple acoustic music better than Neil Young … so much so that I have an entire playlist devoted to his acoustic songs.

I’m sure the critics can distinguish between these albums – done nearly thirty years apart – but for me, the songs all blend together, which is why I didn’t choose one album above the others.

Memorable songs include “Four Strong Winds” (a song by Canadians Ian and Sylvia from the mid-1960s), “One of These Days,” “Buffalo Springfield Again,” and surprisingly, “When God Made Me,” which again, sounds like a hymn.  Some of the best songs from these albums were done on the DVD “Heart of Gold” which is a top-notch concert from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Neil Young is intentionally unpredictable, which is part of his charm, but if you want some great background music while you’re working or driving, any or all of these albums will work.

Paul McCartney: Back in the U.S. Live 2002

Back in early 2002, Paul McCartney announced that he was going out on tour … his first one in many years … and opening night was just ten minutes from my house.

I thought it unlikely that I could buy tickets, especially because they were going on sale Sunday at 10 am, and you had to call the ticket outlet on the phone … and, of course, I had something else to do during that time.

But my wife got sick and had to stay home from church, and she called at precisely the right time, because when I came home from church, she had purchased three tickets to the concert.  When the show started, I broke into tears because I never dreamed I’d be able to see Paul McCartney in concert.

Paul McCartney is my favorite singer for many reasons, but one is that I can actually sing along to most of his songs.  I’ve now seen him in concert three times and he puts on a phenomenal show.

This album, in my view, has his best selection of live songs, including the song he wrote after 9/11 called “Freedom,” which begins this way:

This is my right

A right given by God

To live a free life

To live in freedom

I remember when many adults and most Christians hated The Beatles, and now everybody seems to love them.  Whatever one thinks about their beliefs or lifestyles or influence, their songs will live on long after the last two remaining Beatles are gone.

Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006

In my view, Bob Dylan is the greatest songwriter of the twentieth century.  He broke all the rules for songwriting in the mid-1960s and is incredibly prolific.  I have more albums by him than by any other artist.

One of my best friends is a pastor and quotes Dylan often in his sermons, and every time he does, I smile because my friend first introduced me to Dylan nearly 50 years ago.

I know, I know … some people can’t stand Dylan’s voice … but nobody sings Dylan like Dylan, and it doesn’t take that long to become accustomed to his style.

Dylan hasn’t officially put out a lot of his best stuff, so Columbia started the Bootleg series in 1998 to clean up the sound from many of his unreleased or live recordings … and to put some bootleggers out of business.

When this album came out in 2008, I listened to it repeatedly.  It has alternate versions of already released songs like “Mississippi” and “Dignity” as well as a smattering of never released songs.

The best song on the album is the last one, the incomparable “Cross the Green Mountain,” a song about the Civil War sang by one of its participants.  It’s one of the most powerful, raw, and brooding songs I’ve ever heard, and you’ll never forget it if you hear it, either.  Just a masterpiece.

I could include many additional albums, but these readily came to mind … and if you noticed, I tend to prefer artists who are roughly my age because we’ve had similar life experiences.

Thanks for letting me indulge my passion for music!

More about pastors and conflict next time.

 

 

 

 

When a pastor is forced out of his position – either by the official board or by a church faction – he is often blindsided.

If it’s the board, they demand that he resign immediately, or else be fired.

If it’s a faction, they lack the authority to terminate him unilaterally, so they make demands – like threatening to leave the church or withhold their giving – unless the pastor quits.

When a pastor is ambushed, it feels like a form of betrayal, and it usually is.  Many pastors have shared with me how devastated they were when they were surprised by leaders they trusted.

But in retrospect, there are usually warning signs of trouble ahead that the pastor missed, either because he didn’t want to see them or because his mind was focused instead on ministry objectives.

Let me share with you seven warning signs that a pastor is in trouble … and these come from my own experience:

First, the pastor stops hearing that he’s doing a good job.

Early in my ministry in my last church, people told me all the time what a great job I was doing.  I remember one man who lobbied to get on the church board just so he could raise my salary.  At times, the praise was almost embarrassing.

But toward the end of my tenure in that church, I heard almost nothing positive about my ministry.  For weeks, nobody told me that they appreciated any of my sermons, which was unprecedented in my ministry there.

The lack of positive comments negatively affected my morale.  Although I was trying to serve God … not just people … I liked knowing that I was effective, and when I didn’t hear anything, I wondered if I should continue.

Second, the pastor notices heightened attempts to control his ministry.

In my last ministry, I worked in collaboration with the church board for about 90% of my tenure.  I didn’t tell the board what to do, and they didn’t tell me what to do.  We had a great working relationship.  They trusted me … I trusted them … and that’s how it had always been over my entire 36-year ministry career.

But over my last year, the board stopped trusting me, and I stopped trusting them.  They starting micromanaging the money and, by extension, the ministry, and began making unilateral decisions outside of meetings and imposing them on me inside of meetings.

I’m sure that in their minds, they were just taking their responsibilities seriously, but they weren’t collaborating with me in any meaningful way, which I resented.  It’s like I wasn’t even there.

When the board starts micromanaging the pastor’s time … or his expenses … or the church calendar … or a budget that’s already been approved … the board is trying to control the pastor … and this may mean that the ultimate control weapon – the pastor’s ouster – may be just around the corner.

Third, the pastor discovers that people who haven’t been friends are becoming friends.

This was something that my wife noticed more than me.  She told me that board members who barely knew each other at the beginning of the year were now hanging out together socially and using affectionate terms like “bro.”

I knew the source of some of these friendships – a Bible study for men that met at the church on Monday evenings.

That same night, I always met with our programming team – the group that planned the worship services.  On occasion, I’d walk upstairs and ask one of the men in the study if he could participate in a future service.

Looking back, many of the men who conspired to take me out were in that Bible study.  I am not saying they used their time to plot my demise.  I am saying that the study helped them form a bond that made it easier for them to run me out.

Fourth, the pastor experiences more external opposition than ever before.

I remember performing a wedding for a couple outside the church at a seaside resort and investing 32 hours of my time in that endeavor.  Yet for the first time in my ministry career, I didn’t receive an honorarium … and I am positive the DJ, wedding hostess, resort, and caterer were not financially stiffed.

I also conducted a memorial service for an elderly man in our church who had died.  I met with his daughter and told her I’d be doing the same kind of service I had done years before for her mother, and she approved.  But ten days after the service, the daughter’s husband called and reamed me out for preaching the gospel in my own church and demanded that I apologize to him for doing so … which, of course, I didn’t do.

I remember asking myself, “What is in the air right now?  It’s open season on me.”  It’s like people weren’t praying for me anymore and that Satan was able to attack me directly.

Fifth, the pastor experiences more internal opposition than ever before.

There was a lady in our church I had known for years, and she asked if her son could be married in our worship center.

Even though our worship center was just a few years old, I had only conducted two weddings there, and they were both on the small side.

If someone was going to be married inside our worship center, I wanted to make sure that the couple were both Christians and that the wedding would be performed by an evangelical minister.

This lady told me that her son was a Christian, and that a pastor from out-of-town would be conducting the ceremony.

Since this was to be our first large-scale wedding in the worship center, I consulted with the associate pastor on this matter.  Since I was going away on vacation, I asked him to verify that the couple were both Christians and that the pastor was an evangelical and, if everything checked out, to contact the future groom’s mother with our approval.

When I returned from my trip, the associate unilaterally cancelled the wedding without verifying anything.

The lady from our church … who was normally a very calm and pleasant individual … wrote me a blistering email of condemnation (evidently wedding invitations were being printed) … and I took the hit without ever revealing the decision by the associate pastor.

Knowing her contacts inside the church, I’m sure that my name was dragged through the mud for weeks.

Sixth, the pastor notices staff members becoming resistant and rebellious.

I was a staff member in five different churches, and I know how much it meant when the pastor trusted me to do my job and wasn’t always trying to micromanage me.

So that’s how I tried to treat members of the church staff … and at one time, we had as many as ten in my last church.

I inherited four staff members from my predecessor … I kept them all on … and I eventually had trouble with three of them.

I met with them regularly as individuals.  We had a weekly staff meeting.  I was always available for consultation or support.

But the word began to circulate among the staff, “If you’re having any trouble with Jim, just talk to the church’s founding pastor.”

And when those staff members did, they become resistant and rebellious.

We only fired one of them, but several others should have been fired because their actions declared, “I don’t have to listen to you anymore.”

Near the end, I was talking one day with a staff member who became angry and started accusing me of “coddling people” who weren’t Christians.  It was totally unlike him … but I found out later that he was in contact with my predecessor … someone he had never met when he was hired.

When staff members and board members plot against the pastor, he doesn’t want to believe it … but it’s often a sure sign that both groups want more power … and that the pastor must go if they’re to gain it.

Finally, the pastor senses that church leaders no longer support the church’s mission.

I believe strongly in Jesus’ Great Commission to “make disciples of all the nations.”  His charter for us isn’t to increase attendance … add people to the membership rolls … get people to join a denomination … or steal sheep from other churches.

Jesus’ charter is for His people to bring people to Christ … to baptize them … and to teach them from His Word … and that means learning how to share Christ with unbelievers and to bring them to your church.

Regardless of what they say, God’s people almost always want their church to be a place where their needs and the needs of their family are met … and yet the only way to win many unbelievers to Christ is to put their needs ahead of the needs of church members.

I had worked hard over the years to help our church become outreach-oriented – and the church board had always complied – but the last board I worked with didn’t support that mission … and I could give countless examples.

When the mission becomes about “us” rather than “those without Christ,” the pastor’s effectiveness will be limited … and he may be through.

I’ve listed seven signs that a pastor is in trouble, and I could have listed many more.

What signs have you seen?

 

 

I grew up in a fundamentalist subculture … both at home and at church … and it affected the way I viewed popular culture.

I didn’t see my first film in a movie theater until I was 19 years old, and even then, it was a Billy Graham film.

While we were allowed to watch Shirley Temple movies on television, the children of the fundamentalist pastor two houses down weren’t even allowed to watch those!

Even though I’ve always loved music, I didn’t listen to the radio on a regular basis until I was 14.  The year happened to be 1968 … a great, great year for music!

I’ve never forgotten how I felt when I heard those first few songs on the radio: “Jennifer Juniper” by Donovan; “Love is All Around” by The Troggs; “A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals; “Lady Madonna” by The Beatles; and “Everything That Touches You” by The Association, to name just a few.

And when I went to Hume Lake Christian Camp for the first time that summer, somebody smuggled in a radio, and all week long, we heard songs like “Indian Lake” by The Cowsills; “Tuesday Afternoon” by The Moody Blues; “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris; “Sky Pilot” by The Animals (a song about a military chaplain in Vietnam); and “This Guy’s in Love with You” by Herb Alpert.

But when we went back to church, we heard that all music on the radio was subversive, unchristian, and even evil, even though there wasn’t any contemporary Christian music at the time (unless it was sanitized folk).

Most Christian kids didn’t pay any attention to the warnings, although I started the habit of listening carefully to every song lyric and avoiding those songs which had lyrics that made me uncomfortable for spiritual or moral reasons.

Over the years, I have acquired a fair amount of vinyl albums (all gone now, including one signed by Johnny Cash) … cassettes (stuck in storage) … CDs (my wife bought my first one in 1991) … and mp3s.

I listen to all kinds of music: classical (especially Bach) … gospel (especially Johnny Cash but including George Beverly Shea) … Contemporary Christian (I love Delirious, Phil Keaggy, Twila Paris, Carolyn Arends and Kim Hill) … and yes, even secular music.

These are my guidelines for selecting secular music:

*I want the artists I hear to have lived reasonably good lives.  Most secular artists have failed morally at times … sometimes very publicly … but some have also done a lot of good (like U2).  Many of my favorite artists, like Bono and Justin Hayward (from the Moody Blues), have been married for decades.

*I want the music I hear to be 90% safe.  Most secular artists slip in songs or phrases that don’t reflect my values, but one objectionable song on a 15-song CD isn’t going to ruin the other 14 songs for me.  I just delete those songs on iTunes.  I evaluate an artist as a whole, not just based on one or two songs.

*I want to hear music that makes me think, gives me a different perspective, or makes me a better believer.  For example, I believe I’m a better person for having listened to U2 and Bob Dylan over the years.  Both have heightened my social conscience.

*I want to see my favorite artists in concert and to feel good about being there.  Over the past several years, I’ve seen Paul McCartney, U2, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Justin Hayward, and next month, I’m going to see ELO at The Hollywood Bowl (and sit on benches at the very back).  I’m always amused by the fact that although some Christians only listen to Christian music, the Christian artists they listen to hear and appreciate many secular artists!  (For example, did you know that MercyMe did a cover of Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down?”)

If you’re interested in any of these albums or artists, I suggest you listen to their songs on iTunes or Amazon before you buy anything.

Having said all that, these are five very good secular albums that I think are safe for Christians … and in no particular order:

Someday by Susanna Hoffs

Susanna Hoffs is the former/sometimes lead vocalist of The Bangles, an all-girl band from the 1980s that played music rooted in the 1960s.  This CD came out four years ago when I was in New Hampshire, and I listened to it practically every day for weeks.  The ten songs on this album are relatively brief, but they have great melodies, wonderful arrangements, heartfelt lyrics … and hearken back to the Sixties.  I have never tired of this album.

Hymns to the Silence by Van Morrison

Hymns to the Silence

Many people only know Van Morrison for his song “Brown-Eyed Girl” from 1967, but he has an incredibly rich catalogue of beautiful, complex music dating back more than 50 years.  I bought this album in 1991 after a glowing review in Time that contained a quote from Bruce Springsteen that said that Van’s music was “way too spiritual.”  This double album – only $9.99 on Amazon or iTunes – contains “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “Be Thou My Vision,” and a song called “By His Grace,” as well as Van-rants like “I’m Not Feeling It Anymore” and “Why Must I Always Explain.”

Although he’s dabbled in various faiths at times, there’s a Christian undercurrent in much of his music (especially in songs like “Whenever God Shines His Light”) and even Phil Keaggy covered Van’s song “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God.”  If you like this album, try Down the Road and Magic Time as well.  I took my wife to a Van concert more than twenty years ago, and his booming voice filled the auditorium.  Van definitely marches to his own drummer, but when he’s good, he puts out some of the most beautiful music you will ever hear.

Home by The Corrs

The Corrs are a sibling-only band from Ireland.  They write their own songs and sing and play on their albums, and usually have a Celtic/pop sound all their own.  This CD … their last for ten years until last November’s White Light … is a collection of traditional Irish tunes with both traditional and contemporary arrangements.  The Corrs are better known in Europe and the rest of the world than in the United States … although I hear their songs in public places all the time … possibly because they aren’t wild or vulgar and have a sense of decency about them.  (I once stayed after a Phil Keaggy concert at a church and the roadies played their album Talk On Corners while cleaning up.)  This is one of the albums I play whenever I need to relax because it’s so soothing.

Spirits of the Western Sky by Justin Hayward

Spirits Of The Western Sky

I like haunting music, and Justin Hayward has mastered the genre.  His compositions like “Nights in White Satin” and “New Horizons” still send shivers up my spine.  My wife and I recently saw him in concert and his voice still holds up fifty years after he began with The Moody Blues.  While The Moodies tour America every year, they don’t plan on putting out any more albums, but thankfully, Justin Hayward put this terrific one out early in 2013.

Many years ago, I read that the Moodies’ bass player/vocalist John Lodge is a Christian, and I recently stumbled upon a ten-year-old interview where journalist Paul Du Noyer asked Justin Hayward, “And where has this search brought Justin Hayward in 2006?”  Hayward replied, “I would have to say Christianity.  I came from a family with a very strong faith, I moved away through all sorts of Eastern religions, through meditation, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, anything else.  It was reading C.S. Lewis, books like Mere Christianity, that helped me to define what I really felt and finally decide.  So I came full circle.”

Justin Hayward doesn’t make any overtly Christian statements in his music, and if he did, his career would be marginalized and his audience might dwindle significantly.  I do love the Moodies’ Christmas album December – even though it’s 13 years old – because it’s held up very well over time, but again, there are no overtly Christian statements in the songs.  But this album is full of great music – mostly featuring acoustic guitars – and you just might like it.

How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb by U2

I once read a journalist who claimed that U2 was too secular for Christians and too Christian for secularists.  U2 writes and sings their songs in parables: if you’re a Christian, you get it, but if you’re not, you can enjoy the music anyway.

Although I love much of their music … “One” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” are two of my all-time favorite songs … U2 occasionally disappoints me lyrically … but not on this CD.

When this album came out in 2004 – and it won a host of Grammy awards, including Album of the Year – I bought a bunch of them and gave them away.  But although U2 can compose and sing a prayer like “Yahweh” … the song that ends the album … they can also indict Christian churches on a song like “Crumbs From Your Table” and wonder what’s beyond this life in “One Step Closer.”

Although Bono and other members of the band are Christians, their songs are difficult to do in church because they often question faith rather than affirm it.  Bono loves the Psalms and wishes that Christian writers today would compose more authentic lyrics … as do I … but it’s hard to sing the lyrics to “Vertigo” on a Sunday morning, even though the songs ends with, “Your love is teaching me how to kneel.”

My favorite lyric on this album is from the hard-rocking song “Love and Peace or Else” where Bono sings, “As you enter this life, I pray you depart, with a wrinkled face, and a brand new heart.”  Christian references abound on this album, but it’s not packaged like the typical CCM stuff.

U2 toured behind this album in 2005, and several weeks before my birthday, my wife asked me what I wanted, and I told her, “I just want to see U2 in concert.”  Fortunately, they were playing ten minutes from our house, and she went online and bought tickets.  We sat behind the band … off to the side … and the large letters on the back of Bono’s jacket spelled out SINNER … a reminder that even when the audience is wildly applauding the singer, he knows who he really is.

I will recommend five more albums next time … and would love to hear about your favorites as well!

 

 

Over my 36-year career in church ministry, I wish I had done certain things differently.  For example:

*I wish I knew more about sermon preparation in my early twenties.  Many of my initial sermons were well-delivered but said little.

*I wish I hadn’t permitted certain individuals to come onto the church board.  While biblical qualifications are important, following your church’s mission and vision are also crucial.

*I wish I had taken more time to network with various Christian leaders.  While I know some important individuals in the Christian community, I don’t know nearly enough.

*I wish I had never become involved with a denomination.  Going to district meetings and playing political games distracted me from serving the churches that called me.

But these regrets are all miniscule compared to the one decision I wish I had never made: becoming the pastor of my first church in Sunnyvale, California.

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By the time I was ready to graduate from seminary, I had already served as a youth/associate pastor in three different churches over a six-and-a-half year period.

But as I prepared for my final year of seminary, I was weary of youth work.  Our son Ryan was born at the beginning of that final year, and I didn’t want to leave my wife or son for even a day … much less a week.

I graduated from Talbot Seminary in June 1980 with a Master of Divinity degree, majoring in Systematic Theology.

And a couple of months later, I had to go to Jr. High camp as a counselor for a week and stay in teepees … and I hated every minute.

When I dropped off campers at the church late one Saturday afternoon, my pastor was there, and he asked me how camp went.  When I told him how I felt, he said, “Jim, we need to get you ordained and get you a church.”

Several months later – on November 11, 1980 – I passed my ordination council and was officially ordained the following Sunday … and I was all of 27 years old.

I could have stayed at my church indefinitely … the ministry was going very well … but all I wanted to do was preach … and those Jr. High kids weren’t exactly great listeners.

How could I find a suitable church?

A former Talbot classmate pastored his own church in Solvang, California, and I wanted to find out how he did it, so I invited him to breakfast.

My colleague told me that he had been offered two other churches before he settled in Solvang … and he wished he had taken the first church.

So that was his counsel to me: take the first church that you’re offered.

It proved to be disastrous advice.

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The church I was serving was in a denomination, and someone told me that I needed to speak with the new district minister of our district … so I did.

I turned in my ministerial profile on April 1, 1981, and six weeks later, I received a call from the board chairman of a church in Sunnyvale, California.

The chairman asked me to speak the following Sunday, so my wife and I flew to San Jose … I met with the deacons … I preached the next day … we met nearly everyone at church … and we flew home.

During this time, I consulted with the district minister from Northern California, who encouraged me to take the church.

The chairman called me immediately and asked me to return and candidate the following Sunday.  I went alone … was offered the call … and quickly accepted.

How I wish I could take back that decision!

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Here is what I didn’t know at the time:

*The church was composed of refugees who didn’t get along in any other church.  I have never met such a group of complainers and whiners in all my life.

*The average age of the congregation was sixty … and with that age came a rigid fundamentalist mindset that ultimately drove me bananas.

*Those older people expected me to visit them in their homes for at least an hour every few months … and that is not my strength!

*The church was located in the multipurpose room of an elementary school … and you couldn’t find it even with a map.

*The church was five years old when I came … and I was their fourth pastor.  (The board had fired the previous pastor after just one year.)

*The board looked through 14 resumes before they contacted me.  Everyone else had wisely turned them down.

*The board claimed that they wanted to reach young couples, but when young couples visited … and later stayed … they weren’t welcomed.

*While the people claimed they wanted the church to grow, their real desire was to be in a church small enough that they could control its every move.

We sang “Victory in Jesus” practically every week … a guy who played the musical saw came to the church uninvited and was always asked to play … we averaged 30 people when I first came, 45 two years later … and when we started to attract young couples, the older people complained about their dress … their kids … and their music.

When Billy Graham came to San Jose in 1981, I went for counselor training at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church … and was trained by Robert Boyd Munger, author of the little booklet, My Heart, Christ’s Home.

I thought, “Maybe by partnering with the Crusade, we’ll be given some leads on people who make decisions for Christ.”

When the follow-up cards were passed out after the Crusade, the largest church in San Jose was given 600 cards … and our church received one … and that person lived far, far away.

We weren’t a real church … we were just playing church.

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I once thought that if you were a great Bible teacher, you could go to any congregation – regardless of demographics and size – and make it grow.

But what I learned instead is that sharp pastors quickly size up such churches and turn them down early in the search process.

About eighteen months into my tenure in Sunnyvale, the chairman of the deacons brought a doctrinal issue to my attention that he perceived as an internal threat.

I researched the issue … held a three-hour meeting with the church board … and we all agreed on a plan of action.

When I began implementing that plan, those involved with the false doctrine threatened to leave the church … the entire board backed down … and then asked me to apologize … which I refused to do.

Due to my conflict with the board, I contacted my district minister … who thought I was such a good preacher that he praised me in a district newsletter … explained the situation to him … and told him I was open to moving to another church.

Since it was relatively easy for me to move to Sunnyvale the first time, I figured it wouldn’t take all that long to move somewhere else.

And that’s when I learned these realities:

*If you’re 29 years old, nobody is going to take you seriously as a candidate … even if you’ve had nearly ten years of church ministry experience already.

My district minister arranged for a “pulpit swap” one Sunday to showcase me to his own congregation in San Jose.  Their interim spoke at my church in Sunnyvale.  The chairman of the pulpit committee loved me … as did many others … but one search team member was away, and he felt I was too young, so that was that.

*If you’re in a small church, you can only make a lateral move statistically.  That is, if you’re in a church that averages 45 people per Sunday, only churches that average around 45 or fewer are going to take you seriously.

*If you didn’t attend the denominational seminary – and I didn’t – that’s going to hurt you with an awful lot of search teams … and it killed my chances for most denominational churches.

*Years later, I was told that I was suspect because I had graduated from Talbot.

*How you perform in your first church can determine the rest of your pastoral career.

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After two years, the city of Sunnyvale announced plans to bulldoze down the school to make way for condos, so we had to find another place to worship.

A sister church five miles away in Santa Clara invited our congregation to merge with them.  Our church would gain a building, and their church would gain a pastor … me.

I didn’t know anything about church mergers at the time, so I did some research … and learned that merger math is usually 1+1 = 1.

In other words, if you put a church of 80 with a church of 50, you’ll eventually end up with a church of 80 … or 50.

I didn’t want to pastor that merged church, so I tried to find somewhere else to go … but I couldn’t find anyplace suitable … and only agreed to their offer to make me pastor at the last minute.

The next seven years were my worst years in ministry.  Almost everyone from my first church left in anger.  They wanted to be in charge of decision making, but now had to share control with leaders from the other church … and I was caught in the middle.

I found myself constantly discouraged, frustrated, and depressed … so depressed that I had to seek professional counseling.

After four months of counseling – seeing him twice a week – my counselor … who had two doctoral degrees … told me, “Your problem is your church.  Get out of it.”

I tried, but I couldn’t.  I spoke with search teams from New York, Michigan, and Washington, but I couldn’t find a suitable place to go.

Nearly ten years later, that first church was still holding me back.

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My family suffered tremendously during those years.

My wife worked in a Christian bookstore … then in day care … and made peanuts.

I recall receiving a raise after my first year but not receiving a raise for the next six years.

I drove a 1963 Chevy Nova that I bought for $200 from my grandmother.  It lacked air conditioning, heat, and a functioning radio … and the springs that came through the driver’s seat kept catching on my pants.

One Christmas, I had to borrow money from my credit union just to buy presents.

Our medical insurance was with the denomination, and it was awful … going up 47% in one year.

We couldn’t afford to buy a house in Silicon Valley because they were far too expensive.  Shacks sold for $400,000.

I wish I could do it all over again.

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What would I have done differently?

Many years ago, when I was reading books for my Doctor of Ministry degree, I stumbled upon counsel from church guru Lyle Schaller.

Schaller said that a young person in ministry should try and become the associate pastor in a larger church.  He said that if you can do that, and stay two years, you can then apply for and be considered as the senior pastor of a church of comparable size.

Let’s say you become an associate for a church of 1200 people, and you stay two years.  You can then apply to be the pastor of churches of 1200 people or less because you’re already familiar with the mindset of a larger church.

Before I went to Sunnyvale and became labeled as a small church pastor who couldn’t make his churches grow, I wish that I had become an associate in a larger congregation instead … or at least aimed higher than I did.

It’s my greatest ministry regret.

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Yes, I know that God is sovereign, and that all things work together for good, and that God allowed me to go through all of those experiences for some reason.

I’m sure that someday, He will tell me why.

I believe Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:18: “But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

Many great pastors started out in small situations, where you can experiment and fail without doing too much damage.

But if you’re in a tough situation for too long … and you can’t make it go … you can easily be labeled by people who don’t know you and have never visited your church.

As I look back upon my life, my biggest regret is that I chose to become the pastor of a tiny, dysfunctional, crabby group of people for my first ministry assignment.

Even Peter and John couldn’t have made that church go.

What’s your biggest ministry regret?

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My wife and I had a great discussion about this blog post after she read it a few hours ago.

She asked me, “So did we waste out lives going to Sunnyvale?”

No, we didn’t … but I wish I had known at a younger age how the evangelical “church system” works.

I could have made wiser decisions … cared for my family better … and accomplished much, much more for Christ’s kingdom.

Yes, God can use our mistakes to further His purposes, but I still wish I could have that one do-over in my career.

Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”

I’ve had a few regrets, this being the main one.

I hope it’s all right that I mentioned it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By far, the article that has received the most views on my blog – out of more than 500 – is an article I wrote in March 2011 called “If You Must Terminate a Pastor.”

This particular article outpolls everything I’ve written … before or since … by at least a four-to-one margin.

I don’t claim that this article covers every facet of pastoral termination.  It’s not the last word on the subject, but may be viewed as the beginning of the conversation.

As a pastor, I sometimes had to deal with wayward staff members … and was attacked by church bullies at various times throughout my ministry … and finally was pushed out of office nearly seven years ago.

This article is directed toward church decision makers … usually members of the official board … and is a plea for them to understand that the way they treat their pastor will affect him … them … and their church for many years to come.

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One of the most excruciating experiences that a supervisor can have is to fire someone from their job.  The first time I had to do this with a staff member, I felt horrible.  Although I did not hire the person initially, I felt partially responsible that the staff member didn’t work out.  I wondered, “What if I had supervised this person better?  What if I had given them more attention?  More training?  More warning?”

Most pastors will leave a church via their own resignation.  They will choose the method and timing of their departure.  In the great majority of cases, they will leave one church for another.  Sometimes they will leave a pastorate to teach in a Bible college or join a parachurch organization.  And one day, they will preach their last sermon and then retire.

But many pastors – surveys now indicate more than 25% – leave church ministry involuntarily.  They are usually forced from office by a faction of ten people or less … sometimes by their governing board.  Most of the time, the process is handled clumsily, resulting in seething anger, ecclesastical division, and incalculable damage.

How can the termination of a pastor be handled in a more biblical and optimal fashion?

An attorney can recommend the legal way to terminate a pastor.  The CEO of a company might suggest how it’s done in business.  The church’s insurance agent might propose ways the church can minimize risks.  And I could mention the way the federal government terminates employees … except they almost never terminate anyone!

If you’d like to read what the Bible says about correcting an elder/pastor, please check out 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (which applies Matthew 18:15-20 to spiritual leaders).  I believe a pastor should be removed for heresy and for immorality as well as felonious criminal behavior and that many of the reasons why boards fire pastors today have more to do with style than sin.

I was a pastor for nearly four decades, and I saw a lot of my colleagues terminated in senseless ways.  If I was still in pastoral ministry, and the board decided I had to go, here’s how I would like that process to be conducted:

First, I’d like to see a possible termination coming.  If attendance was plunging, and giving was going south, and church opinion makers were unhappy, I would probably sense that my time in that place was coming to a close.  And if members of the church board had talked with me about making changes in my ministry, but I either wouldn’t or couldn’t pull them off, that would suggest to me that my days in that church were numbered.

Some pastors have confessed to me that they stayed too long in a previous pastorate and wished they had left before they did.

Last fall, I had lunch with a former mega church pastor.  He had been in his church for more than two decades, but for some unknown reason, attendance suddenly began declining at a rate where nothing he tried worked anymore.  When he preached, he sensed that people weren’t listening to him.  He eventually reached a settlement with the church board and resigned.  The Lord confirmed to his spirit that his time in that spiritual community was over.

If a board has shared their concerns with their pastor, and if matters haven’t turned around after a reasonable time frame (maybe six months to a year), then the pastor should not be surprised if the board openly talks to him about leaving.

But if the ministry is going well, and attendance and giving are holding steady, and the board has never discussed the pastor’s behavior or ministry with him in a formal way, and then the board decides to terminate the pastor … the pastor will rightfully feel blindsided, and the board may very well lose control of the situation.  While the board may have the legal and ecclesiastical right to remove the pastor from office (and in most congregational churches, they don’t have that right – only the congregation does), blindsiding a pastor with termination may be considered a destructive act that results in ripping apart both the pastor’s family and the church family.  (Just know up front that many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church within a few months.)

If I’m going to be involuntarily terminated, I want to see it coming a mile away.  And if I do see it coming, I will try and make my own plans to depart before the board ever has to deal with me.

Second, I would like the process to be fair, not fast. When one member of a church board decides that “the pastor must go,” his anxiety can become contagious.  Before anyone realizes the full ramifications, the entire board may then fall into line and quickly decide to fire the pastor.  While anxiety drives us to make fast decisions, Jesus encourages us to make fair decisions.

Let’s say that a pastor has recently displayed inappropriate anger several times in private.  The board should not convene and decide to fire the pastor immediately.  Instead, Jesus says in Matthew 18:15 that if a believer sins [and this includes the pastor], it’s your duty to “show him his fault” in private [one-on-one, not in a board meeting].  Then Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen …” then you are to take one or two witnesses along, and “if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”  Some scholars believe that the board should be informed between verses 16 and 17, although Jesus doesn’t say that.  In other words, the process is:

*A single believer [maybe the board chairman] talks with the pastor about his sin in private.

*If the pastor refuses to change, that single believer asks one or two more people [a staff member? a friend of the pastor?] to witness a second confrontation.

*If the pastor still refuses to change … only then does it become a board matter.

*If the pastor refuses to listen to the board (that’s three refusals), then either they can terminate him (if the church’s governing documents allow for this) or the church as a whole can vote him out of office in a public meeting (although there will be lobbying and it may become very divisive).

I don’t pretend to know how much time is needed between steps (maybe a month or two between each one?) but Jesus did not necessarily intend for the process to work instantly.  The person being confronted – in this case, the pastor – is not being corrected for getting angry, but for refusing to acknowledge his anger and make the necessary changes in his life.

Before saying, “But pastors should be able to change their behavior immediately,” how long does it take you to make a major change in your life?

That’s why we need to give a pastor some time to make changes in his life.

Third, I would expect to be offered a generous separation package.  The minimal severance a pastor should receive is six months.  If a pastor has been in a church for more than six years, then a good rule-of-thumb is that he receive one month’s salary for every year he’s served in a church.  While some board members might exclaim, “I would never receive severance pay like that at my job,” please realize the following facts about pastors:

*They are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

*They and their family members will suffer tremendously.  It is common for the older children of a terminated pastor to stop attending church and even leave the faith.  The wives of terminated pastors go from being somebodies to nobodies overnight.  If the marriage has already been strained by ministry, the couple might head for divorce.

*The terminated pastor is often in so much pain that he turns to alcohol, drugs, or illicit sex.

*They will lose almost everything dear to them by being terminated: their careers, their income, their church family, their local friends, their house (if they have to leave the community and sell), and their reputations – in other words, they will lose their life as they know it.  (This is why pastors often hang on at a church long after they should leave.)

*They will be stigmatized as a “loser” in much of the Christian community.  As a veteran pastor told me when I first entered the pastorate, if a pastor resigns with no place to go, it’s the “kiss of death.”  If he applies for another church position, his resume will most likely go to the bottom of the pile because he was fired from his previous church.  The Christian world is very small and word gets around quickly.

*They will suffer constant depression, great anxiety, and feel like God has abandoned them.

*They will be shocked to discover that most of their ministry colleagues will turn away from them.

*The terminated pastor usually has to rebuild his life and ministry, and that takes time.  The separation package allows for the pastor to pull away from ministry so he can take stock of his life and begin the healing process.  If the pastor is given a token separation package, he and his family will feel that he has been “kicked to the curb” and it will take them a long time to recover and forgive those who hurt them.

*The terminated pastor will probably not be able to find another church position for at least an entire year … and that church will most likely be considerably smaller than his previous congregation.

We talk a lot in the church today about social justice.  This is ecclesiastical justice.

If a board cannot or will not give the pastor a generous separation package, then they need to think twice – or ten times – about letting him go.  Getting cheap here borders on being unchristian.

Finally, I would welcome the opportunity to resign rather than be fired. If the members of a governing board want to be vindictive toward a pastor, they can fire him outright – but the word will quickly get around the church, and the board will be severely criticized by many while others will angrily leave the fellowship and encourage others to come with them.

When some churches blindside a pastor by firing him, they never recover … and it becomes easier to fire the next pastor.  When I was a kid, my dad felt forced to resign as a pastor, and after the board fired the next two pastors, the church went out of existence.

But if both the pastor and the board announce that the pastor resigned voluntarily, it takes the heat off the board and allows the pastor to leave with dignity.

The optimal win-win scenario is for the pastor to trade a unifying resignation letter for a generous separation package.  That is, the pastor cites multiple reasons for his leaving in his letter, doesn’t harshly criticize anyone in the church (especially the leaders), and encourages everyone in the church to stay and support the next pastor.  Years ago, I learned this adage: “The way you leave is the way you will be remembered.”  Leave bitter, and you will leave a legacy of bitterness.  Leave with class, and you will leave a legacy of class.

A small percentage of pastors deserve to be terminated – maybe even quickly – because they have inflicted great destruction on their ministries, their families, and themselves.  But even then, they should be treated with dignity and their families should be cared for.  But the great majority of terminations go wrong because the board wants the pastor to leave as quickly as possible, and they run the risk of dehumanizing him in the process.

More than anything, I am pleading that church leaders deal with their pastors in a biblical, Christian, and loving way rather than a businesslike, political, and vengeful manner.

And may I remind everyone of this biblical principle from Galatians 6:7: what you sow, you reap.

Or in more contemporary parlance: what goes around comes around.

I have a mentor who used to be a pastor and later became a top executive with two different denominations.

When he was a pastor, he used to tell his staff, “Remember: our jobs could all be gone overnight.”

If someone had told me that before I trained to become a pastor, maybe I would have redoubled my efforts to become a math teacher.

Because from a distance, being a pastor seems like a pretty secure position.

But upon further scrutiny, the truth leans in the opposite direction: most pastors are, in the words of a pastor friend, bound to their churches by a one day contract … revocable anytime.

There are three common scenarios along this line:

First, the pastor disqualifies himself from ministry by committing a major offense.

If a pastor commits even a single act of sexual immorality, and it becomes known to the official board, that pastor will almost always be fired or asked to resign.

If a pastor commits a felonious criminal act, like grand larceny, or fraud, or assault, that could end his ministry as well.

If a pastor struggles with an ongoing sin … such as the megachurch pastor on the East Coast who resigned last Sunday because of a problem with alcohol … that can finish someone’s ministry in a particular congregation as well.

And if a pastor preaches heresy … like the pastor I heard about who started preaching universalism (the view that everybody will be saved and enter heaven in the end) … that can either get him fired or cause his church to empty out.

Most church boards are composed of spiritual individuals who know that their pastor is human and that he can get angry … suffer from depression … become exhausted … and even struggle with family issues … and yet still be a man of God who can be an effective and productive shepherd.

But when a pastor commits a major offense … and it’s discovered … he will usually either offer his resignation or be summarily dismissed.

Second, the pastor might be fired either after a worship service or during a regular/special board meeting.

I once knew a pastor who presided over a church that was growing like crazy … but he had been at the church less than two years when he was fired by the official board.

The pastor went to a regular board meeting.  The elder who had his back was away on a trip.  Knowing this, the other elders decided this was the time for them to make their move.

When the pastor came to the meeting, someone pushed a pre-typed resignation letter over to him.

The pastor was so shocked that he stared at it for 45 minutes.

The letter stated, in part, that he had to resign … clear out his office … turn in his keys … and cut off all contact with the people of the church.

And he would not be entitled to a final sermon or any goodbye party.

His offense?

He did things differently than the previous pastor … even though the church was doing very well.

Sometimes the signs of discontent among board members are there, but the pastor misses them.

And when they finally fire him, the pastor is genuinely shocked by their ambush.

But sometimes, the board makes a decision behind the scenes … often pushed by one of the board members, who is out for revenge … and the pastor becomes ecclesiastical toast.

Third, the pastor might be given a choice: either resign now and receive a token severance agreement, or be fired without any severance.

If the pastor is guilty of sexual immorality or criminal behavior and the board just discovered his sin, I can understand this scenario.

And if the pastor was asked to deal with an issue like alcohol abuse but he hasn’t made any progress … or refuses to change … then I can understand the church board saying, “We’ve done all we can, so we have to ask for your resignation.”

But much of the time, the board never says a word to the pastor about anything he’s done wrong … he comes to a meeting … and the board gives him this ultimatum: quit right now and we’ll pay you to leave … but if you refuse, we will fire you and you will receive nothing.

There’s a variation on this: one or two board members take the pastor out to eat or meet him in his office at church and throw down the same ultimatum.

One pastor told me that when the board asked him for his resignation, he gave it to them on the spot, walked away, and left the area as quickly as he could.

That’s one way of handling things.

But many pastors will want to know things like:

*What have I done wrong?

*Why haven’t you talked with me about this sooner?

*Why are you doing this now?

*What are you going to tell the congregation about my leaving?

*Who is really behind this power play?

The pastor can try and talk with the board about questions like these … and I think he should … because the more the pastor understands the board’s thinking, the more quickly he can heal down the road.

If the board has prepared a severance agreement they want the pastor to sign on the spot, the pastor should tell the board, “I cannot sign this agreement unless I first have it reviewed by an attorney.  I will try and get back to you within a few days.”

But there’s something else the pastor can do: stand up in the meeting … walk toward the door … and tell the board, “You’ll be hearing from me soon” … and quickly leave the building.

When I went through my conflict nearly seven years ago, a church consultant asked me if our church bylaws specified a way to vote the board members out of office.

Since the bylaws didn’t envision that possibility, there wasn’t any mechanism in place for removing the board.

In my situation, I wouldn’t have done that because the board members were all duly elected by the congregation.

If a pastor is asked to resign on the spot, the best move he can make is to tell the board, “I need a few days to think and pray about this.  Can I gave you an answer by Saturday?”

If the board agrees to this scenario, the pastor should assure the board that (a) he may consult with a few people from the church, but (b) he will not lead a counterattack against the board.

But many church boards don’t allow for the pastor to take a few days to make his decision because (a) they want him to leave right away; (b) they’ve already lined up somebody to speak the following Sunday; (c) they’re afraid the pastor will lead a counterattack if they give him any rope at all.

Some pastors in megachurches and larger churches sign a contract before they become the pastor.  The contract spells out the various scenarios up front.

But most small church and medium-sized church pastors don’t sign such contracts and so are open to being railroaded right out of their positions.

Before Jesus went to the cross, He knew what was coming … and knew He would rise again.

Before most pastors are asked to leave, they are blindsided … and wonder if they’ll ever pastor again.

If you’re a church board member …  your pastor has not committed a major offense … but you think he should leave: it’s better for the board if the pastor leaves immediately, but if he does, it may very well kill his church career … for good.

So before you make a major decision that you can’t take back, search Scripture … pray it through … consult with several church consultants/interventionists … and rid your board of every desire to exact revenge on your pastor.

And be very careful … because in a real sense … your life and your job are bound by single day contracts as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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