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Posts Tagged ‘disciplining a pastor’

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:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/april/darrin-patrick-removed-acts-29-megachurch-journey.html

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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