Posts Tagged ‘forced exit of pastor’

When pastors reach a certain stage in their ministries – especially if they’ve been in the same church for many years – it’s easy for them to conclude that they are immune from experiencing a forced exit.  If a pastor survives five years of ministry in the same place, he assumes that most of his critics have left and that those who remain are willing to follow his leadership.  So it comes as a surprise to pastors when they have been in a church for more than five years and yet still have to battle for control of a congregation.

I attended a prominent Christian college, and during my junior year, I took a class in The Gospel of John.  While the class met too early for my taste, the instructor – who was teaching his first class – proved to be a master teacher.  (Had all my teachers been as clear and interesting as he was, I would have emerged from college with straight “A’s.”)  The following year, I invited this instructor to lead a winter retreat for our high school and college students, and his insights into Scripture produced changed lives, including the life of my best friend, who eventually became an influential pastor himself.

Years later, this instructor became the pastor of a well-known mega-church, and it didn’t surprise me one bit.  While attending a seminary near his church for a doctoral program, I jogged over to the church one morning and walked into the worship center.  It was one of the most massive church auditoriums I have ever seen.  I could just imagine my former teacher mesmerizing and motivating the thousands of attendees with his careful and practical expositional skills.

The pastor had a large vision for reaching even more people for Christ.  This meant updating the church’s music, spending more money on the worship services, and recruiting more gifted volunteers and employees.  But the pastor ended up resigning under pressure instead.  According to the local newspaper, a small group of the old guard disagreed with the pastor’s agenda for the church.  The group believed that their seniority in the church entitled them to be consulted about any future plans and when they weren’t, they created havoc behind-the-scenes.  When the pastor resigned, he cited “personal character attacks” and “disrespect for his leadership” from a vocal minority in the church as reasons why he departed.  He had been the senior pastor of that church for fourteen years!

I went through a similar situation a year ago.  I believed that God was calling our church to reach a younger demographic in our spiritually-resistant community.  Rather than make sweeping changes, I wanted to add a third service and transition to a multi-venue format while keeping the two existing worship services largely intact.  This new vision would have required edgier music, additional gifted personnel, and generous funding, but even though most of the staff and the worship planning team were behind it, the governing board was not.  It wasn’t long before I left the church as well.

Let me draw two conclusions from the above stories:

First, pastors must pay a price for spiritual and numerical growth.  I recently heard Andy Stanley say that no one person in a church should stand in the way of a church’s ability to follow Christ’s Great Commission.  And yet when a pastor tries to reach more people, he is often met with resistance, sometimes from staff members, other times from a vocal minority (which has another agenda altogether), and often from the official board.   Sometimes the price paid is that those who are obstructing progress end up leaving the church – and sometimes the price paid is that the pastor ends up being forced to leave as well.  When the pastor has finally gone, people speculate as to why he resigned, wondering if he was guilty of moral failure or poor health or burnout, when the real reason is that the pastor’s agenda for outreach clashed with the agendas of other powerful interests.

Second, every pastor is at risk of a forced exit.  If any pastor is safe from being pressured to leave a church, it’s a founding pastor.  Almost every attendee who comes to such a church comes after the pastor was already there and usually because of the pastor.  But given a determined opposition, almost any pastor can be fired or forced to resign.  A pastor friend once told me that he looked at pastors who went through forced termination as losers – and then it happened to him.  23% of all pastors have been forced out of church ministry at least once.  While a distinct minority of pastors shouldn’t be in any kind of ministry, many great pastors find themselves in the wrong situation with the wrong group at the wrong time and end up losing their positions and even their careers.  While this scenario may be a fact of church life, it brings needless heartache to everyone involved.

Thankfully, the instructor I mentioned at the beginning of the article has become the co-pastor of a church.  The other co-pastor was also the pastor of a mega-church and he, too, was forced out of his position due to false accusations and denominational pressure.  God’s will was assuredly done in permitting both men to leave their churches and band together in their new setting, but the way they were forced out was diabolical.

If you’re in a church where the pastor is under fire, let me ask you one question:

What will you do to make sure that your pastor isn’t unfairly forced from his position?

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