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Posts Tagged ‘1 Timothy 5:19-21’

When I was under attack eight years ago, nearly all of my supporters remained silent.

Someone stood up in two public meetings and rattled off a list of accusations against me … most of which I had never heard before.

It would have been easy for me to knock down each charge, but our paid consultant made me promise I wouldn’t say anything, so I remained silent.

But I wasn’t the only one who didn’t speak that day.

My supporters went silent as well.

As I listen to stories of pastors under attack, I often ask the pastor, “What percentage of people in your church are for you, and what percentage are against you?”

If the pastor thinks that at least 90% of the congregation supports him, that’s a good sign … and indicates that if push comes to shove, the pastor might be able to survive the attacks made against him.

But if the percentage is 75% support and 25% opposition … or worse … the pastor is going to have a tough time hanging on.

In my case, I was told at the time that 95% of the congregation supported me, and only 5% stood against me.  Out of 400 adults, that meant that 380 people were for me, while 20 people stood against me.

But in the end, those twenty won, and I and my 380 supporters lost.

When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, the percentages were greatly reversed.  Most of the people stood against Jesus, while His disciples went silent.

But in our day, the pastor almost always holds the numerical advantage, yet time after time, a small group of people send him packing.

Why do a pastor’s supporters go silent when he’s under attack?

Let me share four possible reasons:

First, they lack pertinent information.

The pastor knows he’s under attack.

The pastor’s family knows.

The church board assuredly knows.

The church staff probably knows.

The pastor’s attackers definitely know.

The attacker’s allies usually know.

But most of the rest of the church doesn’t know.

Why not?

Because the attacks originate and are perpetuated behind closed doors.

So when the pastor’s supporters finally hear about any accusations, the attackers have been discussing matters for weeks/months, while the pastor’s supporters are hearing about them for the first time.

In my case, my closest supporters were off-balance.  When they initially heard the accusations, they lacked prior knowledge that anything was amiss.

Those accusations knock a pastor’s supporters on their heels.  Even if they feel like supporting him completely, they start to ask themselves, “I wonder if those allegations could be true?”

If Satan has a strategy in these situations, it isn’t to make the pastor’s supporters fully believe the accusations.

No, it’s to make them hesitate defending their pastor.

Because when they hesitate, the momentum starts building against their beloved shepherd.

Second, they become overwhelmed by the attackers’ passion.

When people attack their pastor, they come off as confident … certain … and even crazy.

They claim to have information that the pastor’s supporters don’t have … and use the argument, “If you knew what we know, you’d join our merry band.”

The pastor’s opponents have been digging up dirt … talking to each other … and inciting each other to stand resolutely against their pastor for a long time.

So when they finally make their push to push out their minister, the attackers go on the offensive emotionally … and their approach often flummoxes the pastor’s supporters.

And those supporters have to ask themselves, “Why are these people so worked up?  Since they’re so emotional, maybe there’s something to their rantings.”

Nearly forty years ago, I was the only full-time staff member at my church.  A man approached me in the parking lot after the Sunday night service and told me that if the pastor didn’t start changing his behavior, ten percent of the congregation was going to leave the church.

My impression was that he was trying to recruit me to his cause … which was a lost cause … because I fully supported my pastor … even when I didn’t always agree with him.

But I’ll never forget how determined that man was … and such passion does make one think.

Third, they tend to cut off contact with their pastor.

When I was under attack eight years ago, my wife and I were told to stay away from the church campus while a new board was put in place.  (The old board had resigned en masse.)

However, we were not given a gag order.

While we hibernated at home, how many of our 380 supporters reached out to us?

Very few.

We did receive flowers a few times.

We received a few notes that said “we’re praying for you” or “we love you.”

We had a few people come to our door unannounced.

We received a handful of emails asking, “What’s going on here?”

But few of our supporters ever said, “We believe in you” or “we stand with you” or “we will defend you.”

Most stopped contacting us.

It felt like we were under house arrest.

In many churches, when the pastor is under attack, the church board explicitly tells people, “We do not want you contacting the pastor.”

To be fair, a team of five people had been appointed to investigate the charges against me, and I didn’t want to interfere with their investigation.  (And in the end, they eventually told the church that I was not guilty of any wrongdoing.)

But I felt isolated from the congregation I loved.

The worship team rehearsed in the worship center every Thursday evening.  One night, I was scheduled to meet with the new board, but they weren’t ready for me, so I had to hang around the campus … which I hadn’t done for many weeks.

People … even friends … avoided me.

One man came up to me … quietly hugged me … and moved on.

I felt like an outcast in my own congregation.

Church life was going on … but I wasn’t part of it anymore.

When the pastor is under attack, he is the best source of information to counter the charges of his opponents.

But because there’s a cloud hovering over him, most people circumvent him … and lose their best source of information to counter the allegations.

Finally, they don’t know what they’re allowed to say or do.

Just imagine.

Your pastor has been attacked in a public meeting.  You were there.

The charges don’t ring true … but what if they are true?

You’d like to tell your pastor that you’re praying for him, but you don’t want to bother him at home.

So you do nothing.

Yes, you talk to your good friends at church … but in hushed tones, because you don’t know what you’re allowed to say or do.

And you don’t want to make things worse for anybody.

I get all that.

In fact, members of the church board and staff sometimes tell interested lay people that they should stay silent because “you’re being divisive if you talk about this situation at all.”

But when the pastor’s opponents are vocal … and the pastor’s supporters go silent … the board and the staff can become influenced by the noise.

Rather than remaining silent, this is what I tell the pastor’s supporters to do:

*Locate the latest copy of your church’s governing documents … the constitution and bylaws.

Read and mark up the entire document.  Focus on two key areas.

First, note what the documents say about church discipline.

Second, note what they say about removing a pastor.

*Ask the church board/staff/office manager if the church has a special document delineating the process required to remove a pastor.  If so, ask for a copy.

YOU ARE NOT BEING DIVISIVE BY ASKING FOR THESE DOCUMENTS.  THAT’S WHAT A CARING, COMMITTED, RESPONSIBLE MEMBER SHOULD DO.

*If the pastor is under official investigation or discipline … or even if he has already resigned or been terminated … locate and ask a member of the official board or senior staff for a written copy of the process used to deal with the pastor.

I have encouraged many lay people to do this, and a few have been surprised when the board did produce such a document for them.

But others have been incensed when they discovered that the board wasn’t operating by any process … but were making it up as they went along … usually because they had already determined the pastor’s innocence or guilt based on their own feelings or friendships.

*While trying to discover the process being used, if you are stonewalled at every turn, I would inform the board that you will stop attending, serving, and giving until you are given a written copy of the process they are using.

And I would make a big deal about it with your mature friends.

I am not advocating making angry threats.

I am advocating that the official leaders need to know that they are being watched and that they will ultimately need to give an account to the congregation for their decisions.

IT’S A SERIOUS MATTER TO ACCUSE A PASTOR OF WRONGDOING, AND IN TODAY’S CLIMATE, ONE FALSE CHARGE CAN END A PASTOR’S CAREER … OR END A CHURCH’S VERY EXISTENCE.

In fact, I’d want to know:

*Are you basing your process on Scripture or business?

*Are you trying to restore or remove the pastor?

*Are you using a loving or a harsh approach?

Just read 1 Timothy 5:19-21 where Paul discusses the process of investigating charges against an elder/pastor.  Note especially verse 21:

“I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

Paul says, “The Father, Son, and angels are watching what you’re doing so you better do this fairly and wisely.”

Paul says to Timothy, “Make sure church leaders are never guilty of a process crime.”

There are a lot of pastors these days who are engaged in stupid or sinful practices, and some of them need to leave their church … or the ministry altogether.

But many more pastors are falsely accused of wrongdoing, and because church leaders botch the process, they botch the result as well.

Churchgoers need to let their leaders know, “I will be praying that you will make a just and loving decision concerning our pastor, but I expect that you will tell us the process you are using, and, when the time comes, that you will give as full an accounting of your deliberations as possible.”

AND IF YOU DO THAT, YOU JUST MIGHT SAVE YOUR PASTOR … AND YOUR CHURCH.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There was a murder inside our local McDonald’s three weeks ago.

A woman shot and killed a man – allegedly her boyfriend – inside the restaurant.

Whatever he did or didn’t do, he certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered in public.

This is all we know:

http://myvalleynews.com/local/victim-in-mcdonalds-shooting-identified-as-murrieta-man/

My wife was eating at a nearby restaurant with a friend and saw all the commotion as she was leaving.

I worked two years at a McDonald’s in my late teens, so I can imagine how management handled matters after the police let the witnesses leave later that evening.

It’s possible that:

*Employees were instructed not to talk about the incident with any current or future customers.

*The employees who were working that night were traumatized and offered counseling.

*Some employees heard about the incident later and quit on the spot.

*Those who were inside McDonald’s when the killing occurred won’t want to return for a long time.  And customers like me might choose not to patronize that particular McDonald’s just because of the nightmarish memory attached to it.  (“Wow, somebody actually died right here on this floor.”)

*After the crime scene was thoroughly investigated, all evidence of the murder was scrubbed clean so McDonald’s could open the following morning.

I have a book buried in a box in my storage area called How to Murder a Minister, and although few pastors are ever blown away (I do have a few articles where that has actually happened), many pastors lose their jobs … careers … and reputations when they’re dismissed, even if they did nothing wrong.

There are some disturbing parallels between this incident and the way that many church boards handle matters after they have unjustly forced out their pastor.

Let me reiterate that some pastors deserve to be terminated because they are guilty of a major offense like heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior.  But as I’ve written many times, only 7% of the pastors who are terminated are guilty of sinful conduct.  45% of the time, a pastor’s termination is due to a faction in the church.

So what I write below has to do with those situations where a church board either fires a pastor or forces him to resign for political reasons, not for moral or spiritual reasons:

*Presuming that the board does address the pastor’s departure in public, they will mention it once and resolve never to mention it again.  Their attitude is, “There’s nothing to see here.  Move along.”

That attitude might work for fringe attendees, but the closer to the core people are, the more they want to know “what’s really going on.”  And if membership means anything at all, church members should be told a lot more than they usually are.

*There are people in every church who know the board members personally and may have been fed advance or inside information.  (Certainly this applies to the spouses of many board members.)

But there are also others who had no knowledge of any problems between the pastor and board, and some may be traumatized by the announcement of the pastor’s departure.  This is especially true if the pastor led them to Christ … baptized them … dedicated their children … performed their wedding … conducted a family funeral … or counseled them during a crisis.

Much of the time, the church board doesn’t factor in these people when they railroad their pastor right out of their fellowship.

After their pastor has departed, to whom will these people go when they need prayer … a reassuring word from God … or help with a difficult problem?

Certainly not to anyone on the church board … or anyone on the staff who might have been involved in pushing out their pastor.

Just when they need a pastor the most, these people suddenly find themselves shepherdless.

*When a pastor is forced out, some people immediately withdraw from the congregation because the pastor is the reason they attended that specific church.

And over the coming months … as the board maintains silence about the pastor’s departure … more and more people who loved that pastor will gradually walk away from that church.

Some Sundays, the pastor’s supporters may even watch the church board serve communion … notice that their pastor is absent … and suffer heartache all over again.

*Sunday after Sunday, it will become increasingly difficult for some parishioners to rise, clean up, get in their cars, drive to the church, walk inside, sit down, and feel good because every time they follow that pattern, they’re reminded that the church board “took out” their beloved pastor.

A friend told me about an incident some months after I left our last church.  She came to worship … discovered that she was sitting by one of my most vocal detractors (who was never disciplined) … was traumatized once more … and never set foot in that church again.

In fact, there are people from our last church who didn’t attend any church for years because of the ongoing pain after their pastor was removed.

*All evidence of the “crime” has to be cleaned up and thrown away.  Minutes of board meetings must be concealed and buried.  Board members must pledge strict confidentiality.  They will agree together how they’re going to spin things with the congregation.

Potential questioners are identified … strategies for dealing with them are created … and the board convinces itself, “In a couple of months, everyone will forget all about what happened.”

Because it’s not just the future of the congregation that’s at stake … it’s also the reputations of the board members …  who must keep a tight lid on the tactics they used to force the pastor to quit.

I realize there is a limited amount of information that a church board can give a congregation when a pastor leaves a church … whether the pastor left voluntarily or under duress.

The best boards don’t want to harm the pastor’s career, and know if they did, they might be sued … even if the lawsuit goes nowhere.

The worst boards don’t care about the pastor’s career, but they do care about their reputations … and their power inside the church … so they usually share virtually nothing and hope that everything just blows away.

But I believe that for a church to heal, the leaders need to tell their congregation as much as they can, not as little as they can.

The problem, of course, is that as long as the very people who pushed out the pastor stay on the board, they don’t want to do or say anything to jeopardize their positions.

If they tell the truth, they’ll have to resign.

If they lie, they might be able to stay … so they lie.

Many boards disseminate information through the grapevine … emphasizing their virtues and the pastor’s flaws … and tell people, “We can’t divulge anything about the pastor’s resignation” in public, but they’ll turn around and slander him in private.

But the board has far better options than stonewalling or deceiving people:

*The board can announce the pastor’s departure inside or at the end of a worship service, and at least everybody will officially hear at the same time that their pastor is gone.

*The board can call a meeting of the congregation and share a bit more information … maybe even taking some questions … although most boards won’t be inclined to let people make comments.  (Such people will be labeled “divisive.”)

*The board can meet with people in groups and share additional information in more intimate settings.  A friend told me this is how the board handled matters after her pastor resigned, and I very much like this approach as long as the board is both loving and honest.

But if I’m a member of the church, and the board doesn’t deem it appropriate for me to know why the pastor was forced to resign, I’d do the following two things:

First, I’d contact the pastor and see if he feels free to discuss what happened.  If he doesn’t want to talk about it … or if he’s signed an agreement saying he won’t discuss it … wait a month or two and try again … and keep trying until you get something concrete.  (His wife didn’t sign an agreement, though, and she may be all too happy to tell you what really happened.)

Second, I’d contact one or two board members and ask for two pieces of information: a written description of the process used to terminate the pastor, and the general timeline involved.

The board certainly isn’t violating any law or ethical standard by sharing the process they used to make their decision, but they need to share something or it just may be that (a) one person on the board pressured the others to fire the pastor, and everybody caved, or (b) the board made their decision hastily.

Without knowing the specific charges, the process or the timeline might be all that is needed to determine if the pastor’s termination was just or unjust.

In the case of the woman who committed murder at McDonald’s, she’s currently in jail.  There will be a trial down the road.  Witnesses will be called … evidence will be presented … charges will be brought … truth will be told … and justice will be served.

But deep inside thousands of Christian churches, nobody is ever held to account for brandishing the weapon of deception … decimating the pastor’s career … destroying his reputation … and terminating his friendships.

That is, nobody is ever held to account in this life.

But Judgment Day is coming in the next life, and for those who have intentionally sought to harm their pastor … in the words of a young Bob Dylan … “I’d hate to be you on that dreadful day.”

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As I consult with leaders from various churches, I often hear the following question asked:

Since our church has been shrinking numerically for a long time, what can we do to turn things around?

And there’s usually a corollary that goes along with it:

If we dismiss our pastor, will that single action turn around our church?

I explored this issue several months ago in this blog entry:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2015/07/22/when-should-the-pastor-of-a-church-in-steep-decline-leave/

After I wrote the article, I kicked out the following question to my ministry mentor, who seems to know everybody worth knowing in the Christian community:

At what point should the pastor of a church that’s steadily shrinking voluntarily resign or be involuntarily terminated?

I received responses from six top Christian leaders.  These men are consultants, professors, authors, conference speakers, and former denominational leaders.

Here’s a composite of what they wrote … and they copied each other for maximum interaction:

First, a declining church should invite a consultant/interventionist to do a full assessment. 

One expert wrote, “After the assessment, the pathway forward should be clear.”

In one ministry, I invited one of these six men to do a day of workshops on a Saturday just a few months after I became pastor.  We had 43 leaders attend that day, and we made many major decisions soon afterwards that positively impacted our church for years to come.

A consultant can be expensive, but if the pastor and church leaders are willing to consider what he has to say, the consultant can save the church hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars down the road.  It’s usually misplaced pride that keeps a pastor … and a church … from consulting with a seasoned consultant.

Second, the pastor of a steadily declining church may need to consider leaving voluntarily.

Another expert wrote, “If a pastor comes to the point where he doesn’t know what else he can try that he hasn’t tried already, he should start working his networks for a move – thus giving someone else the chance at guiding the church forward.”

Someone else suggested, “I’ve known about several pastors who voluntarily left a church after an assessment.  At that point, they knew they could not lead the church through the needed steps to produce a turnaround.”

Third, two factors are essential for a church to turn around.

Another expert observed, “Two things are necessary for a turnaround: a willing congregation and a skilled pastor (in most cases I’ve seen both elements lacking).”

The same expert than offered this crucial point: “If the assessment reveals that the congregation shares responsibility for the problem, then it is pointless to think about the pastor’s resignation.  They’ll simply bring in another pastor who will eventually fail.”

Fourth, it takes enormous time and energy for a pastor to turn around a church.

One leader wrote, “If the pastor cannot provide the physical and emotional energy that will be needed to execute a turnaround plan, he should resign.  This inability may be due to health challenges, family problems, or an unwillingness to make the 5 to 7 year commitment required to turn the church around.”

Let me add that by God’s grace, the Lord used me to turn around two churches, but I spent so much energy turning around the first church that I have no idea how I was able to turn around the second one.  Years ago, I read where George Barna said that a pastor can realistically only turn around one church in his lifetime.  I would agree with his assessment.

Fifth, many pastors lack the ability to turn around a church and might need to leave.

Someone noted, “If the pastor is ‘uncoachable’ (many of them are!), incapable of mastering the skills required to lead a successful turnaround, or unwilling to do his job then he should resign or be terminated…. If the pastor is hanging on because this is his last church and he’s padding his retirement, he should be cut loose sooner rather than later.”

Sixth, the pastor of a church that’s been in decline for years probably isn’t the person to turn the church around.

One expert commented, “My predecessor … says that if change hasn’t taken place in five years, change won’t happen.”

Another leader wrote, “The pastor who has been part of a declining church for an extended period, say more than five years, is not the one to lead it out of the death spiral.  And the longer the stay, the less likelihood of success.”

Still another expert observed, “One of the problems is what’s called a coefficient of familiarity, i.e., the longer a leader leads any organization the less impactful his voice is.”

Echoing that last statement, someone else wrote, “In one church I pastored for 14 years, they no longer heard what I had to say.  The church did turn around, but I could lead it no further.”

Finally, the pastor of church that’s been in decline a short while needs to have a clear vision for the church to turn around.

One commentator … a professor and author of a truckload of books on church matters … said, “One of the big questions is does the pastor have hope (vision) for the church’s future.  After 10-12 years of unsuccessful effort, most pastors have lost hope and usually find they can’t restore hope even if they stay longer.”

I trust that these comments from noted church experts have provided insight to you.

What are your thoughts on the future of a pastor whose church is in steady decline?

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One of the most excrutiating 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 but that many of the reasons why boards fire pastors today have more to do with style than sin.  (Please see some of my previous blogs on these topics.)

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 many 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.

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.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to say goodbye to a pastor in a way in which everyone can win.

I just want to see Christian churches handle these situations in a more biblical and redemptive way.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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I was once the pastor of a church where we were building a new worship center.  The church was located in an extremely unchurched community (less than 5% of the population went to church anywhere) and our leaders believed that God wanted us to reach out to the spiritually lost around us.  Demographic studies showed that the community preferred an intellectual approach to the Christian faith (as opposed to an emotional approach) and that they preferred a presentational worship style (as opposed to a participative style).

Six months before the building was completed, I encouraged the worship team to improve the quality of our Sunday services, including using more video and improving our music while singing fewer songs.  One of the women on the worship team, who had always been a friend and supporter, took issue with my vision for our services.  She wanted the congregation to sing for at least half an hour because this approach was meaningful to her.  She began to lobby for her position to the point where I had to call a meeting with her and our worship leader.  We all listened to each other’s viewpoints and she left the room agreeing that if she had any further problems with me or my policies, she would speak with me personally.

But soon afterwards, she was at it again.  She vehemently complained to the chairman of the board (who was a friend of both of ours) about me and used language that was so full of anger that the chairman believed she was ready to launch a serious conflict.  The chairman reiterated my position to her (the board had already approved it) but she was determined to have her way.  After causing heartache to many people, she ended up leaving the church, an outcome that I did not welcome because I genuinely cared for her.  But I couldn’t let her – or anyone else, for that matter – stand in the way of the ministry that God was calling our church to do.

When a believer in a church is upset with the pastor, how should that person handle their feelings?

According to Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21, if I as a believer sin against you personally, you as a believer have the obligation to come and discuss it with me in private.  Neither Jesus nor Paul mention exclusions for pastors.  As a pastor, I have sinned against people on occasion.  When I’ve been aware of it, I have tried to take the initiative and make things right on my own.  But sometimes I’m unaware that I’ve hurt someone.  In the great majority of those cases, the individual who is hurt never comes to tell me how he or she feels.  In fact, I can count on both hands the number of people who have had the courage to come and tell me that I’ve hurt them over 35+ years of church ministry.  I suspect that most pastors have had similar experiences.

Instead, when the pastor hurts someone – consciously or unconsciously – that person usually tells their social network what the pastor has done rather than tell the pastor himself.  A few years ago, a friend told me that a woman in our church was angry with me.  I asked, “How many people has she told?”  Using his hands to count, he concluded, “Ten.”  Then I asked him, “What did I do wrong this time?”  He said, “You didn’t say hi to her one Sunday.”  I told him, “Go back and tell her to talk to me about it.  If she does, then this is really an important issue for her.  If she doesn’t, then it must not be that crucial.”  Of course, she never came and spoke with me, and over time, she collected a plethora of offenses that I had committed against her and shared them with anyone who would listen.

Although many Christians are aware of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, we need to distinguish between personal offenses and policy offenses.  If I personally offend you – whether I’m a pastor or not – then you need to contact me, tell me how you feel, and let me have the opportunity to work things out with you.  Most Christians choose to tell their family and friends instead which just spreads discontent throughout the church.  Sometimes these harbored offenses build up to the point where believers who have been collecting them share them with others, and before long, as believers pool their hurts, the pastor becomes guilty of scores of offenses – and those offended become determined to get rid of the pastor at any cost.

But if a pastor commits a policy offense – that is, he makes decisions about the church’s ministry that attendees don’t like – I don’t believe that Matthew 18 applies.  The pastor hasn’t sinned against anyone personally.  You may feel that he has, but he’s simply making a decision that he believes will advance the ministry.  If you don’t like the decision, you should be able to speak with the pastor or any official church leader (i.e., board member, associate pastor) and let them know how you feel.  They may or may not agree with you, and the policy may or may not change, but at least you’ve gone on record as to how you feel, and that’s the mature way to handle matters.

Of course, if the pastor offends you personally, you may choose to instantly forgive him, and you may also choose to pray that God will help him see the light.  But if you’re upset with your pastor for some reason, please don’t spread the virus of complaining to others.  Either speak with the right person or keep it between you and God.

And if you’re upset with what I’ve written for some reason, you know what to do …

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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