Posts Tagged ‘correcting a pastor’

“What else don’t you like about the pastor?”

John, a former board member and longtime attendee at Hope Church, asked this question of the thirteen people who were meeting in his living room one warm Thursday evening.

“His clothes are really blah … not fashionable at all,” commented Mary.

“And I don’t like the way he does his hair,” chimed in Patty.

“And that car he drives,” added Pete.  “It may be paid off, but it’s a real eyesore.”

“Okay,” John summed up, “we’ve now listed eighteen things we don’t like about Pastor Phil.  Let’s take a break and see if we can come up with a few more.  In the meantime, Cheryl, why don’t you read them back to us?”

Cheryl dutifully read each “charge” to the group … and many members nodded their heads approvingly as they heard them recited.

Welcome to the “gunnysacking the pastor” meeting.

I first heard the term “gunnysacking” from a woman in my last church who was a professional conflict manager.  She used it to describe the ugly process that occurs when a group gathers all their complaints against their leader in one bag … and then pours it out on top of him or her all at once.

Gunnysacking occurs in a church when a group of churchgoers meet to make as many allegations as possible against their pastor in hopes that he will hear their charges and resign.

It’s akin to brainstorming everything that you don’t like about a person.

Let me make ten comments about the art of gunnysacking a pastor:

First, gunnysacking is a cowardly activity.

Gunnysackers lack the courage to handle any concerns they have about their pastor in a biblical and loving manner.

If they’re upset about the pastor’s clothes or car, they should speak with him directly rather than with their friends.  After all, what can their friends do about the pastor’s clothes or car?

But instead of speaking with their pastor personally, they only share their petty grievances with people they know feel the same way … and it doesn’t help anyone.

Second, gunnysacking is intended to be a shortcut.

Gunnysackers ignore the protocols that their church has already set up to handle complaints against the pastor.  These protocols are usually spelled out in their church’s constitution and bylaws.

But those processes take time, and often require the cooperation of the official church board.  And by the time gunnysackers find each other, the last thing they want to do is wait.  Their anxiety makes them want to act … now.

In my experience, unless a pastor is guilty of a major offense (heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior), the faster the gunnysackers act, the more damage they will ultimately cause.

Third, gunnysacking wreaks of desperation.

Gunnysackers sometimes air their complaints to church staff or board members.  If they can find a leader who agrees with their complaints, they may very well try and recruit that person as an ally.

But if they try and find allies … and no leader bites … then they figure, “We’re just going to have to do this ourselves.”

The gunnysackers I’ve known shared a narrow view of how church should be done.  And when the pastor didn’t meet their expectations … there was only one solution: he has to go … and we’re willing to provide the push.

For this reason, gunnysacking is an activity of the flesh, not the Spirit.

Fourth, gunnysacking substitutes a quantity of charges for quality charges.

In the average evangelical church, if the official board discovered that the pastor had been engaging in sexual immorality with Bertha Blue at the local motel, they would most likely fire the pastor immediately.

If you have one substantive charge, you don’t need to add more.

The only reason a group piles accusation upon accusation is because they lack anything impeachable.

I once was presented a plethora of negative information about a staff member.  I stayed home and investigated the charges over two full days, and, sad to say, the charges were all true.

I could have confronted him with at least seven to ten indiscretions, but I chose to present him with just the two worst infractions.

When we met, he denied the charges, but I had the evidence in my hands, and he resigned soon afterwards.

If I had added more allegations to the two strong ones I already had, it would have been cruel and come off as revenge … and revenge has no place among Christ’s people.

In my mind, the whole gunnysacking process is a silent confession that the “sackers” lack any substantive charges.  They throw accusations at the wall, hoping some of them stick.

Fifth, gunnysacking is an attempt to make “my complaint your complaint.”

If I don’t like the way the pastor wears his hair (a complaint made against my pastor father many years ago), that’s my personal feeling.

And to even ruminate on that for more than a few seconds smacks of pettiness and a lack of authentic spirituality.

If I’m sitting in church Sunday after Sunday, and I really can’t stand my pastor’s haircut, then I either need to leave the church or ask the Lord to help me accept my pastor.

But if I choose to share my feelings with an entire group, I’ve crossed a line, because now I’m trying to take my private feelings and turn them into official charges … even if they’re not used in the end.

And, my friends, that is just plain evil.

Division in a church begins when people pool their complaints.  Gunnysacking is among the most divisive activities that can ever take place inside a congregation.

Sixth, gunnysacking is ultimately a destructive behavior.

Let me tell you how I was “gunnysacked” as a pastor three decades ago.

I’ve told this story before, but in my second pastorate, the seniors had a Sunday School class which was taught by a former pastor in his late sixties.

He was very disgruntled because he wanted to serve as a pastor or a missionary, but because of his age … and two divorces … nobody would hire him.

So in his class, he railed against some of the practices the elders and I had agreed upon … changes we felt were necessary to reach our community.

The seniors quickly coalesced around the former pastor, and one night, seventeen people met for a single purpose: to create so many charges against me that the elders would ask for my resignation.

The purpose was not constructive … it was destructive.

They not only attacked me, but they attacked my wife, my nine-year-old son, and my six-year-old daughter.

That’s sick.

They claimed that my wife’s slip was showing one Sunday.  (If just one of those people loved her, shouldn’t they have told her personally?)

And one complaint about me was that the drummer’s wife wore her dresses too short.  (Again, why didn’t one of the gunnysackers speak with her personally?  Why was that my job?)

Every single charge was that petty.

Seventh, gunnysacking denies the pastor due process.

In my case, the “Oust Jim” group planned to meet with the elders, read their charges aloud, and then figured that the elders would agree with them and ask me to leave.

There are two huge problems with this scenario.

First, the pastor’s accusers get to bypass him completely and never have to make any charges to his face.  And when churchgoers don’t meet with their pastor directly with their complaints, they almost always tend to exaggerate.

Second, the pastor never gets to hear the charges against him nor answer them.  In fact, he doesn’t know what is being said about him nor who is making charges against him.

And by any measure … biblical, cultural, personal, or organizational … that is just plain wrong.

Years ago, I spoke with a pastor who went to a meeting with several hundred disgruntled churchgoers.  Predictably, they turned into a mob, and both the pastor and the church were severely damaged.

So for that reason, I believe that whenever gunnysacking is occurring, the official board needs to become involved.

Eighth, gunnysacking requires the official board to intervene and redirect the gunnysackers toward a healthy, biblical process. 

In my situation thirty years ago, I heard what the gunnysackers were doing, so I spoke with the board chairman, Richard, about how I felt matters should be handled.

I told Richard that he should do two things:

*Tell the gunnysackers to choose two representatives to make their charges.  The elders should also choose two representatives.  A two-on-two meeting is much more fair than having seventeen Jim Haters meet with four elders.  The numbers alone would make any meeting emotionally lopsided.

*The two elders should answer each charge instantly after it’s made.  The two reps from the pastor hating group should not be allowed to read all of their charges at once.

To his everlasting credit, Richard agreed with my counsel and fully carried it out.

If I had to do it over again, I’d add a third piece of counsel:

*The gunnysackers should be told to go back and organize their complaints:

They should write the name of the original complainer next to each complaint.

The original complainer should then be told, “You are responsible for making this complaint yourself.  The rest of us will not be getting involved.  It’s not really our complaint … it’s yours.  We’re not going to carry your offenses for you.”

The complaints should be divided into two categories: personal and policy.

The personal complaints require that the complainer set up an appointment with the pastor and share their complaint(s) to his face.

If the complainer refuses to do this, then the complaint is, from that time on, a non-issue.

Most gunnysackers won’t do this because they know … deep in their hearts … that their complaints are both petty and mean.

The policy complaints require that the complainer set up an appointment to meet with two representatives from the official church board.  Since the board makes policy – usually in conjunction with the pastor – most complaints about the ministry should start with them.  The pastor should be left out of policy grievances unless he made policy unilaterally … and if so, those policies can be brought to the church board for discussion.

Ninth, gunnysackers want to end their relationship with their target.

The best way to handle complaints against a pastor is to handle them as they arise.

Deal with them one at a time.

If you want to end your relationship with your child, just dump ten things they’ve done wrong on them all at once.

If you want to send your spouse packing, just recite all their faults in one glorious bundle.

If you want to get fired, just tell your boss all the things you don’t like about how he or she manages things.

If you want to keep a relationship with someone, you deal with one issue at a time … as each one arises.

If you want to end a relationship, just keep score and drop the whole load on them at once.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that “loves does not take into account a wrong suffered.”  In other words, love doesn’t keep score.

But hate sure does.

Finally, gunnysackers expose themselves as allies of the enemy.

I can’t find one place in the New Testament where God’s people got together and compiled a list of their leader’s faults.

The disciples never did this with Jesus … and Paul’s followers never did this with him.

This is not how God operates.  The Holy Spirit knows that God’s people are fragile, so rather than convict us of 26 sins at once, He tends to hit us with one or two at a time.

After all, who can change 26 things about themselves at a time?

But this is how Satan operates.  The accuser of the brethren loves to convince believers that they are bad … worthless … and unfit for the Master’s use.

And he hopes that we become so discouraged … and even depressed … that we stop loving and serving God with a devoted heart.

I hear about gunnysacking attempts in churches quite a bit.  Sometimes the complaints even originate with the church board.

I have a suggestion.

Instead of holding meetings to attack the pastor, how about holding meetings to pray for the pastor instead?











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A friend sent me an article yesterday about a well-known megachurch pastor (although he’s not someone I’m familiar with) who was removed from office by the governing board of his church for “ongoing sinful behavior” over “the past few years.”

Here’s the article:


When I read the article, I was impressed by the way the board handled the situation.

In my experience, whenever a pastor is terminated or forced to resign, the board often handles matters poorly.  The board identifies the pastor as their enemy, exaggerates any charges against him, and either fires him outright or forces him to quit.

But the board mentioned in this article, in my view, seemed to do everything in a biblical and healthy manner.

Let me highlight five things that this board did right:

First, the board spoke with their pastor directly about their concerns.

Don’t all boards do this?

No, they don’t.

Too many times, church boards never tell their pastor what they’re seeing or hearing in his life or ministry that bothers them.  They remain silent, hold a secret meeting without the pastor present, detail all his faults, conclude he has to go, and assign someone to tell him he’s fired … or agree to tell him together at the next board meeting.

Individual board members might tell their spouses how they feel about their pastor … or they might tell certain friends in the church … but they never approach their pastor personally.

But thankfully, this board shared their concerns directly with their pastor from the very beginning, so that when he left, he didn’t feel that the board conspired behind his back or fired him via ambush.

One pastor told me he was fired in an email … without any kind of warning.  Another pastor was fired via certified letter.  Other pastors I know have been told they’re fired right after a Sunday service … again, without ever being told that anything was wrong.

Such tactics speak volumes about the lack of maturity on the board.

Second, the board told the pastor that their goal was his restoration. 

Much of the time, this is the key … but missing … element whenever a church board tries to correct their pastor’s behavior.

Think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

According to Jesus, what is the goal when a fellow believer sins against you?

The overarching goal is to win your brother over … to get him to listen to your concerns, repent of his wrongdoing, and change his behavior.

The goal is not to remove the pastor from office or from the fellowship.  That’s the last step in the process (verse 17), not the first step.

I’ve discovered that when a board begins with the end result … “We need to remove our pastor from office right away” … they will wreak havoc on their pastor, his family, the congregation, and even on the board members themselves.

Because all too often, the board really wants to punish the pastor … and engages in what is really a vendetta.

But when the board begins with a process … “We are going to take our time, work the steps, encourage our pastor’s growth, but monitor his behavior” … there may be some fallout, but God will honor such a board’s motive.

Pastors not only have faults they know about … they also have blind spots.  The best men do … even those pastors whose sermons you revere or whose books have blessed your life.  (And that includes John MacArthur.)

If a pastor believes that he will be treated fairly and graciously by the governing board, he’ll be much more open to admitting his faults and trying to work on them.

But if a pastor believes that the board’s attitude is “one mistake and I’m out,” he’ll become resistant to correction … and too many boards operate like this.

And they’re usually the unspiritual ones.

Third, the board was specific about the behaviors they wanted the pastor to change.

In their letter to the congregation, the board mentioned “historical patterns of sin” and “pastoral misconduct.”  They even named the exact behaviors that concerned them.

And, may I add, they gave the pastor plenty of time to change … a few years.

The pastor didn’t have to guess which behaviors the board didn’t like.

He knew.

In addition, the board let the congregation know that the pastor wasn’t guilty of adultery or financial impropriety.

Whenever a pastor is fired, but the governing board is silent about the grounds for dismissal, people automatically assume that the pastor committed adultery or engaged in fiscal shenanigans.

So even though it may not feel like a blessing, it’s wise for a board to say, “We’re dismissing the pastor because he did this and this and this … but we want you to know that he didn’t do this and this.”

The board did such an effective job that the pastor released a statement admitting that the board was right … he was still plagued by certain sins … and that their deliberations were “miraculous and beyond gracious.”

I wish that every dismissed pastor could say that they were treated that justly.

Fourth, the board kept the process as open as possible.

The board not only involved the pastor in the corrective process, but after the pastor agreed to resign, they also told the congregation why the pastor left and encouraged people to send them feedback, including both questions and comments.

They also put their names and email addresses on the contact page so people could easily converse with them.

This is a far cry from most of the situations that I hear about.

I once heard about a church board that announced that their pastor had been dismissed, and then warned the congregation, “You are not to contact the pastor at all.”

If I was told not to contact the pastor, that’s the very next thing I’d do.

You say, “But Jim, wouldn’t your action be divisive?”

My reply: “Unity should always be based upon truth, and trying to find out the truth isn’t by itself divisive.”

You might counter with, “But if you contacted the pastor after the board told you not to, isn’t that being rebellious against God’s leaders?”

Maybe, but what if they’re trying to cover up their own mistakes?  What if they’re more guilty than the pastor?  How can anyone know unless they do contact the pastor?

I’ve noticed that the more hush-hush the board is about their pastor’s dismissal, the more they’re trying to protect themselves … and the more likely it is that they intend to slander the pastor’s reputation to eliminate any future influence in the congregation.

Finally, the board made sure that the pastor and his family were cared for.

The board did this in two primary ways:

*They gave the pastor a severance package.

*They encouraged the congregation to send encouraging notes to him and his family.

I’m embarrassed to say that there are many church boards that plan to fire their pastor, and at the same time, do all they can to make sure that they don’t offer the pastor any kind of severance.

I’m thinking of one pastor in particular who was forced to resign and was denied severance even though he had no savings, Social Security, or retirement income to fall back on.

Boards offer excuses like:

“We don’t have the money to offer the pastor anything.”

“We have the money but let’s earmark it for other projects.”

“The pastor has behaved so badly that he doesn’t deserve any severance.”

“The pastor’s wife works so we’re off the hook and don’t have to give him anything.”

“Let’s let the church vote on any severance package … and arrange matters so they vote no.”

But as I’ve said many times, the board should offer the pastor severance more than 95% of the time because:

*the pastor’s family needs financial assistance even if the pastor has been a rascal.

*it can take a pastor a year or longer for the pastor to find another ministry.

*a severance package minimizes the chance the pastor will start a new church in the community … and use his recently-former church as his mission field.

*it’s the right thing to do.

I also love the idea that the board encouraged the congregation to write positive notes to the pastor and his family.

This practice can provide healing for the pastor, who is tempted to think, “I must be a horrible person for not being able to keep my pastor-job.”

This practice can also be therapeutic for the congregation because they’ll be forced to see all the good the pastor did during his time at the church … and not just the bad.

Whenever a governing board has to correct a pastor’s conduct, it’s very stressful for everyone concerned … and it’s tempting for board members to say, “Let’s just end the anxiety and fire the guy.”

But when a board operates biblically, their actions might even cause their pastor to agree with their conclusions.

How do you feel about the way this board handled their pastor’s dismissal?

I’d love to hear from you.





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You’re in the fast lane on the freeway.

A car going 25 mph faster than you’re going crosses four lanes and cuts in front of you, forcing you to brake suddenly.

You’re rightfully furious.

How should you handle things?

You’re walking around at home without shoes.

You accidentally stub your toe on an immovable bookcase.

You’re in mortal pain.

How should you handle things?

You’re sitting in a worship service waiting for the pastor to begin preaching.

The pastor announces that a staff member … a close friend of yours … has resigned.

You’re positive she was forced out … and you’re angry.

How should you handle things?

The typical way we humans handle anxiety is to react emotionally.

We swear at the driver who cut us off.

We scream when we stub our toe.

We blurt out, “Noooooooo!” when our friend resigns.

We react automatically … instinctively … reflexively … and immediately.

And often … mindlessly.

God has wired us for self-preservation, so when we feel threatened, or sense that an injustice has been done, we act naturally … and sometimes foolishly.

Several weeks ago, an 18-year-old young man was shot and killed by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri.

Many local residents reacted by protesting and marching … but some … including members of the press … pronounced the policeman guilty even though they have no idea what really happened.

The American justice system does not permit citizens to take justice into their own hands, and for good reason.  Better to let a grand jury hear the evidence and return with a possible indictment several months later.


Because when we’re emotionally reactive, we can’t think straight.  We’re focused on the way we and others feel.  We’re not thinking process … we’re thinking relief.

And reactivity usually leads to greater reactivity … and that’s how wars start.

Several weeks ago, I attended a training session for Bridgebuilder, a church conflict intervention process designed by Dr. Peter Steinke.

During the course of the training, Dr. Steinke made two observations that especially intrigued me.

Observation #1: Steinke said that when a pastor is doing something that bothers or upsets church decision makers, the pastor needs to be confronted and given time to make changes.

(This does not refer to heresy, sexual immorality, or a felony).

How much time?

Steinke says the pastor should be given 12 to 15 months to make changes, and if he hasn’t made them by then, he should be asked to resign.

But in evangelical circles, pastors are often fired outright or asked for their resignation without any kind of formal confrontation and without any corrective process.

Why does this occur so often?

Because the governing leaders … sometimes in collaboration with staff members and/or a faction … can’t tolerate their anxiety.

So they resort to emotional reactivity, and then they’re shocked when the pastor protests his dismissal, or the pastor’s supporters become angry and leave the church en masse.

And when this happens, those same leaders often resort to lying to cover up their mistakes … and to scapegoat the departing pastor.

If the governing leaders of your church want to blow it to smithereens, then force out the pastor without speaking to him directly and without using any kind of deliberate process.

It’s guaranteed: the emotional reactivity of the governing leaders will lead to emotional reactivity in others … and negatively impact your church for years.

Observation #2: Steinke says that when a church is in conflict, he recommends that they engage in a 2-4 month process to work through the issues … which is what Bridgebuilder is all about.

Rather than making instant decisions that will harm many people, it’s crucial that God’s people take time to move from emotional reactivity to rational reflection … as hard as that process may be.

Seventeen years ago, I was pastoring a fantastic church.  Over the previous five years, we had experienced virtually no internal conflict.  If people didn’t like something, they just left.

But we eventually had to move our Sunday service from one location to another five miles away, and in the process, we lost 1/3 of our congregation … and their donations … overnight.

The stress started taking its toll on several leaders who were involved with finances.  A key couple left the church, and soon after, another key couple stayed home one Sunday, which they didn’t normally do.

The uncertainty of our situation made me extremely anxious.  Was our congregation about to unravel?

I confided in a wise Christian leader, and he told me, “Jim, it’s too soon to know what’s going to happen.  You need to let this play out.”

He was right.  The more anxiety I demonstrated, the more anxious I made everybody else.

If you’re experiencing conflict in your church … your workplace … or your home … there are two ways you can manage matters.

You can react instinctively … move quickly … and try and find instant relief.

Or you can respond wisely … devise a deliberate process … and work the process until most people agree upon solutions.

The arrest … trials … passion … and crucifixion of Jesus took less than a total of ten hours.  Those who executed Jesus have been castigated and pilloried for twenty centuries.

If the Jewish and Roman authorities had taken more time, would they be viewed any differently by history?

Think about it.











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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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