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Posts Tagged ‘conflict with pastor’

What’s the role of a governing board in relation to its pastor?

Is their job to:

*Support the pastor’s agenda for their church?

*Keep the pastor from making stupid mistakes?

*Prevent the pastor from instituting significant change?

*Substitute their agenda for his?

Personally, I believe a governing board should work in concert with their pastor to discern God’s agenda for their church.

While the pastor may be the one who articulates the dream, once the entire board has discussed and prayed about it, those leaders should back their pastor to the hilt … even if their friends threaten to leave.

At least, that’s what I believe … but it didn’t take me long to discover that mine can be a minority position.

When I first became a pastor, I was 27 years old.  The deacon board chairman was 74 … and the other two deacons were both 60+.

The chairman – who was also named Jim – loved baseball.  We used to travel together on BART to watch the Oakland A’s.  We talked for hours about all kinds of things related to church life.

One day, Jim came to me very upset.  His older sister – who led the deaconesses – was a member of a fraternal organization for women.  (I know that last sentence sounds contradictory, but I don’t know how else to phrase it.)

Jim’s sister was actively recruiting women to join her lodge … and using the women’s missionary meetings to do so.

In addition, Jim’s nephew … his sister’s son … was the head usher, and he was giving the lodge handshake to every man who came to church … trying to discover who else might be a lodger.

Jim felt that his sister and nephew were more committed to their lodge than the church and that their involvement was keeping them from growing spiritually.  (They both knew next to nothing about Scripture.)

In seminary, my Church History teacher said that you could be both a Christian and a lodge member, but you couldn’t be a good Christian and a good lodge member at the same time.

So I offered to do some research on the lodge.  I found some literature on the topic – this was pre-Internet – and secured a tape by an expert in the field.

One night, with Jim’s support, I presented the materials to the entire board … which had added a younger member by this time.

During the ensuing three hours, I was very careful about my presentation.  We weren’t trying to make anyone leave the lodge …no witch hunts allowed … we just didn’t want anyone from our church to recruit people for their lodge.

And we all agreed on this decision.

Shortly afterward, a woman I thought was spiritually mature (I’ll call her Rita) informed me that she had begun attending lodge meetings because of the influence of Jim’s sister.  This was exactly the kind of thing both Jim and I were concerned about.

I shared some concerns with her that I had about the lodge.  She had no idea.

Before I knew it, the board wanted to meet with me … and they were pretty upset with their rookie pastor.

Why?  Because when Jim’s sister and nephew heard about my comments to Rita, they demanded that I apologize to them … or they threatened to leave the church.

The board had two choices at this point.

They could either back their pastor or demand that I apologize.

Guess what they decided?

They demanded that I apologize.

I refused.

Why?  Because I was carrying out the directive of the deacons.  We had researched the issue together.  We had discussed it together.  We made a decision together.

But when their friends threatened to leave, the entire board collapsed on me.

I ended up visiting the home of Jim’s sister and nephew, along with a deacon.  I listened to their pain and tried to make them understand my/our concerns.

They lacked the theological foundation to understand my viewpoint.  It was like talking to a couple of cats.

That experience took a toll on me.

I broke out in hives all over my chest due to the stress of the situation.

I no longer trusted the board.  We had made a decision together but they all wilted on me.  How could I ever trust them again?

When I asked for my lodge materials back, one of the deacons refused, claiming the materials had caused enough trouble.

My family went on a scheduled vacation.  When I returned, I wondered if I’d still have a job … and the board wondered if they’d still have a pastor.

Several weeks later, the leader of a sister church five miles away called and invited our church to initiate merger talks with them.

Two months later, our churches formally merged … and the church I came to as a rookie pastor no longer existed.

I have often wondered if God closed the church down because the deacons chose friendships over faithfulness.

Fortunately, I’ve only been betrayed by a church board twice … and the story of the second betrayal won’t be in blog form.

It will be in book form.

The overall lesson from this story is this: when a pastor and a board agree on a decision, both parties need to support each other in public.

On rare occasions, the pastor or a board member can revisit an issue … inside a board meeting.

But when a board backs the pastor’s detractors rather than their pastor, they shouldn’t be surprised if the pastor either resigns or starts looking for a new ministry.

It just occurred to me that all four of those board members eventually left that new church separately and angrily.

I sure wasn’t going to chase them down.

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