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Imagine that the following letter was written to the church board by a pastor who was unfairly terminated five years before …

September 29, 2017

Dear Board Member,

You probably hoped that you would never hear from me again, but I’m asking you, as a fellow member of God’s family, to read my letter below.

I will never forget the day you terminated me as pastor of Christ Church after twelve years of ministry.  It was the last Sunday in September 2012.

We had started a new series on the Sermon on the Mount.  My text that morning was Matthew 5:11-12:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

How ironic that after that particular service, you would ask to meet with me in my study and announce that I was being terminated immediately!

Since that meeting, I’ve had five years to reflect on what you did … and why … and I’d like to ask you five questions.  I’d welcome an answer … either through email or a letter … so we can all obtain some closure.

Here are my questions:

First, why was my termination so abrupt?

If you were unhappy with me or my ministry, why didn’t you ever talk to me about it directly?

If someone on the board had said to me, “Pastor, we think your preaching is unbiblical or unhelpful,” we could have discussed it openly.

If someone felt that the church wasn’t growing at the rate it should, we could have benefited from an honest dialogue.

If someone believed that I wasn’t the best fit for the future, you could have told me and I would have started looking for another ministry.

But when you fired me without warning … after I had just preached my heart out in two services … you not only damaged me and my family, but the entire congregation.

We could have resolved any issues as long as we did so together.  When you decided to deliberate in secret without ever seeking my input, you crossed a line.

How was I a threat to you or the congregation?  What danger did I pose?

Second, why didn’t you follow Jesus’ steps for correction in Matthew 18:15-17?

Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

You never did that.

Then Jesus recommends adding one or two witnesses if His directive in verse 15 doesn’t work.

You never did that, either.

Then He said in verse 17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

You did do that.

You announced to the church that I had been dismissed as pastor, but you never followed Jesus’ directives in verses 15 and 16 about having private meetings first.

Even if I had committed adultery or stolen funds from the offering plate, you still should have worked the steps that Jesus outlined.

The church bylaws specified that was the process, not only for correcting the pastor, but also for correcting staff members, board members, and church members.

We used Matthew 18:15-17 when we corrected Steve, our associate pastor, in 2008.  We used it again when we corrected Bill, our fellow board member, in 2011.

Why did you feel that I was the exception to that longstanding guideline?

If you had followed our Savior’s directives, I might have sensed that something was wrong, and taken steps either to resolve the issues, or find another ministry.

But you never did.

Jesus says that when the steps are followed, you have “won your brother over.”

But when you don’t follow His steps, everyone loses.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve often wondered if you were exacting revenge on me for some mistake on my part.

If not, why did you blindside me?

Third, what did I do that deserved termination?

To this day, I still don’t know.

Our church was growing numerically.  Our giving improved five percent from the year before.  We had more small groups than at any time in the church’s history.

I thought we were doing well, and more importantly, I thought you thought we were doing well.

People were coming to faith in Christ.  We baptized five to ten people every quarter.  Many people told their family and friends about our church.

You never told me, “We should be growing at a more rapid rate,” or “We need more money to pay our bills.”  When the statistical reports were given at the monthly board meeting, not one board member ever said, “We should be doing better than this.”

Eighty to eighty-five percent of all churches aren’t growing, but Christ Church was in the top fifteen to twenty percent of churches nationwide as far as growth.

I don’t really know what else I could have done.  I worked fifty to sixty hours every week.  I gave the church my heart and soul.

When you announced my firing, I asked you what I had done wrong … but you didn’t tell me … at least, not to my face.

Five years later, I still wake up in the middle of the night, wondering what I did wrong … and how I could have avoided termination.

As hard as it might have been on you, I’d sleep much better today if you’d been honest with me five years ago.

But while you didn’t tell me why I was released, you did tell others.

Fourth, why was I hurried out of the church?

It takes a pastor at least a year to find a new ministry these days, but you only offered me two months of severance pay.

You told me to take it or leave it, without letting me pray about it, speak with my family, or consult with my network.

You told me to clean out my office in three days.

You didn’t permit me to preach a final sermon or say goodbye publicly.

You instituted a gag order on the staff and board not to talk about my departure in any way.

Why did you treat me like a pagan or a tax collector instead of your brother?

My wife and I suffered humiliation and shame from the way you handled matters.  Was that your intent?

Because of the way you treated me, there will be a cloud over me for the rest of my life.

Finally, why didn’t you protect my reputation after I left?

I’ve heard rumors since I left … ugly, nasty stories … about why I was really terminated.  I don’t know where these rumors originated, but I thought I’d recount several for you.

“He used the church credit card for personal purchases.”

Not true.

Who thought I did this?  Why didn’t you ask me about it personally?

I had a twelve-year track record of financial integrity.  Didn’t that count for anything?

“He seemed too friendly with the office manager.”

What does that mean?

We were friends, yes … every pastor wants to get along with his office manager, who can make or break his ministry.

But I have always loved and been faithful to my wife, as you well know.

Some of you seemed pretty friendly over the years with women who weren’t your wives.  Should I have called you out without any evidence?

If so, how would that square with Paul’s instructions toward church leaders suspected of wrongdoing in 1 Timothy 5:19-21?

“He made decisions without consulting the board.”

Which decisions?

Every pastor makes hundreds of decisions every week.  You never told me, “We want to be consulted on these specific issues.”  I used my best judgment … which seemed acceptable to the board for nearly my entire tenure … on every decision I made.

When did things change?

“He didn’t manage his family well.”

My wife and I have been happily married for 27 years.

Shana our daughter, and Brad our son, both attended nearly every church service and brought friends before they entered college.

They both earned undergraduate degrees … and both have solid jobs.

Even though they don’t live nearby, we see them several times a year, and our family is doing very well … as it always has.

Shana married a fine Christian man.  Brad still hasn’t found the right woman, but he’s doing great.

How did I fail as a husband or a father?

I’d like to know why you as godly leaders didn’t put a stop to those rumors when they were being circulated after my departure.

If I had heard such rumors about any of you, I would have put a stop to them immediately, and recommended that anyone concerned speak with you personally.

But I wasn’t afforded the same courtesy, was I?  Why not?

If I had to hazard a guess, is it because you wanted to harm my reputation so I couldn’t interfere in church life in the future?

But do you know how much pain you’ve caused us by not refuting those rumors, either privately or publicly?

We’ve not only lost friendships we enjoyed for years, but those rumors may have kept me from obtaining two ministry jobs where I was a finalist.

I could tell by the way the questions were slanted.

_______________

Since I left Christ Church five years ago:

*I’ve been forced to take a secular sales job that doesn’t pay even half of what I earned as a pastor.

*My wife has suffered from depression and anxiety attacks and attends church once a month … at best.

*I’m not involved as a church volunteer because whenever people hear I’m a former pastor, they shy away from me.

*My wife is still under the care of a Christian counselor.

But from what I’ve heard, Christ Church has suffered as well:

*Your attendance is less than half of what it was five years ago.

*The church staff has fallen from nine to three staffers.

*You’ve lost many good people … primarily because you never told them why you terminated their pastor.

*You’ve had three pastors in five years.

Was it worth it?

_______________

So if you had to do it over again:

*Would you fire me abruptly?

*Would you ignore the process Jesus specified in Matthew 18:15-17?

*Would you avoid giving me reasons for my dismissal?

*Would you still keep me from saying goodbye?

*Would you fail to protect my reputation?

If the answer to even one of those questions is “no,” then why don’t you contact me and admit your error?

I promise that I will forgive you.  That will benefit the congregation, you as individuals, and me and my family.

It could be a new beginning for everyone.

Many Christians believe that unity trumps everything, including truth.

But I believe the New Testament teaches that truth comes before unity.  In fact, I believe that unity is always based upon truth.

With that in mind, I’ve sent this letter via email to former and current church leaders, some of whom will undoubtedly contact you about it.

That’s why I call this an “open letter.”

I’ll let those leaders decide where to go from here.

I’m not about revenge but reconciliation.

How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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