Posts Tagged ‘church board disciplining a pastor’

If you ever want to wound a pastor for years, fire him unexpectedly.

Here’s a common scenario:

The official church board feels anxious.  Things at church feel unstable.

*Maybe the attendance and giving are going south.

*Maybe some key individuals are threatening to leave.

*Maybe a staff member has met with a board member and shared some behind-the-scenes information about the pastor.

*Maybe one or two board members have been gunning for the pastor for years.

*Maybe the board feels like the church needs a different pastor.

Whatever their reasoning, one day board members congregate … deliberate … and decide together that their pastor must go.

They usually choose one of two times to tell him their decision: right after a Sunday service or during a specially-called meeting … either in the “board room” at church or in the pastor’s study.

Why blindside the pastor?

*There is closure.  That’s it.  There’s no more discussion … no more negotiating … no more sleepless nights for board members.

*There is control.  The board demonstrates proactivity.  They’ve wiped away the past and set up the future with one fell swoop.

*There is containment.  The pastor probably won’t appeal the decision to the congregation.  The pastor’s supporters probably won’t counterattack.

The ambush approach favors the church board.  They call the shots.  They dismiss the pastor on their terms.

However, the only time I feel the ambush approach is justified is when the pastor has committed a major offense like sexual immorality or criminal activity … sinful behavior that has just come to the board’s attention.

Because most of the time, the ambush approach damages the pastor … his family … the congregation … and the board itself.

*It damages the pastor.  I’ve spoken with pastors who told me, “I was fired after the morning service.  I had absolutely no idea that my job was in jeopardy.  And to this day, I still don’t know what I did wrong.”  Ambushed pastors hurt for months … and sometimes years.

*It damages the pastor’s family.  The pastor’s wife goes from being a somebody to a nobody over night.  She loses many if not most of her church friends.  She loses her ministries … feels unstable … and doesn’t know who she can trust anymore.  And above all, she watches her husband suffer in great sorrow.

The pastor’s kids lose their church friends … some friends at school … and their status in the community.  Sometimes they are so devastated that they don’t want to attend church again.  It’s just too painful.  They feel like they were fired, too.  As a child, when my dad suddenly resigned as pastor, I wondered, “How are we going to have the money to survive?”

*It damages the congregation.  God’s people don’t know why the pastor was dismissed … don’t know who they can talk with … don’t know how to relate to the pastor and his wife anymore … and don’t know what’s happening to their church.  The anxiety from the board is passed on to the congregation as a whole.

*It damages the board.  Firing the pastor dramatically might temporarily relieve collective board anxiety, but when angry people from the church start calling various board members … when members demand that the board explain their position in public … when good people quickly leave the church … when the offerings take a nosedive … when ministries collapse for lack of volunteers … when morale plunges for months … when the board has to make many of the decisions the pastor would normally make … the board will discover that firing a pastor creates as many or more problems than it solves.

Is there a better way to deal with a pastor than the ambush approach?

I believe there is.

Years ago, a friend who was a Christian attorney introduced me to this phrase: “corrective progressive action.”

He told me that when a board isn’t pleased with their pastor, they should engage in CPA.

Someone on the board … maybe the chairman … says this to the pastor:

“Pastor, we love you, and we believe that God called you to our church.  We’ve seen your ministry bear fruit in a number of areas, and for that, we are very grateful.  But we have a concern about a specific area (a) in your life, or (b) in your ministry.”

Board members should then share with the pastor in a kind but truthful way what their concerns are.

The pastor should be allowed at this point to ask questions … to ask for evidence … and to explain his side.

But if the board isn’t satisfied with his response, they have the right to say to him:

“We’d like to see improvement in this area over the next six months.  [It’s very difficult for anyone … much less pastors … to make changes in their lives in a 2-3 month time frame.  Six months is much more realistic.]  We’d like you to stop doing this … start doing this … do this differently … or produce this result.  We will monitor your progress this way … and reevaluate matters in six months.”

Now if I’m a pastor, and I want to stay at that church, I’m going to do all in my power to make the necessary corrections.

But if I don’t want to stay there … especially if I feel that the board is being unfair … the board has now given me a six-month head start to find a new ministry.

Yes, the board might still feel uneasy about the pastor.  Some might even feel that the pastor can’t change and that letting him stay is just delaying the inevitable.

But if the pastor finds another ministry … or resigns voluntarily … the board won’t be blamed for his departure, and they can plan for the church’s future much more successfully.

In addition, the board will have demonstrated the Christian virtues of patience, kindness, peace, and love.

I’m with the family systems experts on this one.  I believe that many board members fire their pastor without warning because they are anxious … and when they do so, they are saying far more about themselves than they are about their pastor.

It’s better for the board to spell out their concerns clearly, but take matters a bit slower … believing that even a pastor can change when prompted by love and God’s Holy Spirit.


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