Posts Tagged ‘forcing a pastor to resign’

Five years into my second pastorate, I was reviewing my sermon one Sunday morning in a small room in our educational building.  Although I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, I could hear the booming voice of the teacher of the seniors class through the wall.

Without mentioning me by name, he was pounding away at some of the changes I’d been instituting, implying that he was the guardian and protector of the old, more orthodox ways.

After hearing his critiques, I felt like drawing away from him and his class, not toward them.

That group eventually met and compiled a list of my faults, even including my wife and two young children in their “Jim-is-horrible-and-has-to-go” list.

My crimes?

The faction didn’t like the changes the board and I had been making to the worship service (and I made them all with board approval) and to the church’s governing documents.

But I think the real reason for their attack is that they felt that I was neglecting them, and they were partly right, because some of them were really nasty.

The ringleader of the faction also called my district minister, who told me on the phone one night that he thought I should resign.

But I didn’t.

I felt like it.  My heart was broken … my nerves were frayed … and my resolve was all gone.

But I stayed … largely because the church board backed me to a man … so the faction moved a mile away and started a new church.

I know what it’s like to be under attack as a pastor, and I know how awful it feels to have Christian people – who claim to love Jesus – calling for your head.

Some Christian leaders believe that when a pastor is under attack, he should quickly and quietly resign and leave the church intact.

But I don’t believe that such an automatic response is either biblical or wise.

So when pastors are under attack, why don’t they immediately quit?

First, most pastors have a strong sense of God’s call.

When a pastor is invited to lead a particular church, he believes that God has called him to that place.

And for many … if not most pastors … they won’t leave that place unless God clearly calls them away.

Most of the time, a pastor believes that God is calling him away when another church or ministry invites him to be their new leader, and the pastor senses that God is behind it.

But short of such an overture, most pastors believe that when God has called them to a church, they must stay … unless God un-calls them in some fashion.

Is it possible that God can use an attacking faction to un-call a pastor?

I suppose so, but there’s one huge problem with that scenario: the pastor can’t hear the voice of God coming through his attackers.

In fact, he usually hears a distinctly ungodly voice coming through his opponents instead.

Second, most pastors lack a Plan B in case their church situation doesn’t work out.

Most pastors that I know are 100% committed to their current congregations.

They aren’t looking around for greener pastures, perusing pastoral openings, sending out resumes, or doing proactive networking.

Because looking for another ministry position causes a pastor to lose focus and have diminished energy, most pastors are counseled to stay in their present congregations and work through the problems rather than run from them.

So when a faction starts tossing their grievances around the church, the pastor’s instinct isn’t to quit … it’s to identify the problems and solve them.

During my second pastorate, I wanted to quit every other Monday … but I didn’t.

That resilience served me well, because I never seriously entertained quitting during my third and fourth pastorates … a total of nearly 18 years … until leaving was the only option in both situations.

I once knew a pastor who was forced out of his church.  He and his wife quickly moved across the country where he secured a job working with his hands.

But many of us in ministry … and I include myself … only know how to do one thing in life: pastor a church.

So once God calls us somewhere, it’s our tendency to stay, not leave.

Third, most pastors hope and pray that someone – especially the church board – will neutralize or defeat the attackers.

When a pastor is under attack, he cannot effectively lead a charge against his opposition because he is emotionally wounded.

He can strategize.  He can amass a defense.  He can fall to his knees in prayer.

But he cannot take on his critics by himself.  He will need reinforcements.

If nobody comes to the pastor’s defense, and the attackers don’t leave the church, the pastor will be forced to quit.

But if the church board – or some strong, veteran Christians – comes to his aid, the pastor can often survive.

I was a pastor for nearly 36 years, and although I was attacked at various times by individuals, there were only two occasions when the aim of the attacks was to force me out.

The first time, as I mentioned above, the church board came to my defense.

The second time, a group of seven people surrounded my wife and me and again came to our defense … but over the past few years, I have learned how exceedingly rare this is, because the pastor’s attackers will vilify anyone who supports or defends him.

In the last chapter he ever composed, the apostle Paul  wrote, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.  May it not be held against them” (2 Timothy 4:16).

When no one comes to the pastor’s support in the midst of an attack, he’s usually dead meat.

And in such situations, the pastor may choose to resign, not because he was attacked, but because nobody came to his defense.

I have a pastor friend who was once enjoying a fruitful ministry in a church.

He was falsely accused of something, so he went to the church board to ask for their support.

He told them, “You know that accusation is not true.  You know me better than that.”

But rather than supporting their pastor, the board cowered, so the pastor resigned.

He didn’t quit because of the false accusations.  He quit because of tepid support.

Fourth, most pastors hope and pray they can outlast their opposition.

Even though many pastors under attack become emotional basket cases, this thought permeates their brain: “If I hang on, and dig in my heels, and keep doing my job, my opponents will all leave the church.”

Sometimes that sentiment works … and sometimes it doesn’t.

When the attacking faction reaches the point where they’re telling people, “Either the pastor leaves, or we will,” the faction will usually turn up the heat on their pastor.

They will intensify their attacks by making increasingly outlandish charges … creating more and more accusations … soliciting still more charges from former members and staffers … and pressuring staff members and board members to join their cause.

If the church board states unequivocally that they are behind their pastor, the faction will probably leave the church … blaming the pastor on the way out.

If the board is split … some supporting the pastor, others supporting the faction … the pastor may be able to stay as long as any detracting board members don’t join the faction.

But if the board wilts and fails to support their God-called leader, the faction will sense they have permission to go after the pastor.

In the first church where I was attacked, my opposition left the church together.

The second time it happened, the church board resigned en masse, but my other opponents stayed.

I didn’t leave when my detractors wanted me to leave … I left when I sensed that God wanted me to leave.

And there’s a huge difference between the two.

Fifth, most pastors hope to buy time to figure out what to do next.

They don’t resign right away because they have nowhere to go and no visible means of supporting their families.

I think it’s cruel to terminate a pastor involuntarily without providing for his immediate financial future.

And even if the pastor is a jerk, if he has a family, I believe the church has an obligation to care for them.

Let’s imagine that a pastor makes $60,000 a year, and that he gives 10% of that amount to the church.

Over five years, he’s tithed $30,000.  Over ten years, he’s tithed $60,000.  That’s a lot of money.

Most employees don’t give back 10% of their income to their employers … but pastors do.

Yes, the pastor gives those funds away freely, and yes, he shouldn’t expect anyone at church to return those funds back to him.

But since he has freely given, if the board wants him to quit, shouldn’t they freely provide him with a workable separation package?

There are board members in some churches who don’t want to give the pastor any severance at all.  They want to control the money after the pastor leaves, so they concoct reasons why they don’t have to give the pastor any severance.

I think that kind of behavior is despicable.

It usually takes a pastor a minimum of one year to find a new ministry … and if he’s not currently serving in a church, it can take even longer.

When a pastor comes to a church, he puts his faith, his future, and his family in the hands of the congregation and its leaders.

So if they’re going to force him to leave, they need to take care of his family … with a severance package of at least six months.

When I counsel pastors, some receive a three-month package … some receive six months … but only a few don’t receive anything.

Personally, I believe that a pastor under fire should not agree to resign until the church board offers him a written separation package.

And if they won’t agree to give the pastor anything financially, then the pastor should stay and keep on doing ministry until either the board quits or they agree to take care of the pastor and his family.

I believe there are three scenarios where a pastor may consider quitting unilaterally and immediately … even without a separation package in place:

*If the pastor is guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, he should offer his resignation to the church board … the sooner the better … although the pastor still has a family that requires care.

*If the pastor’s family is being attacked, he may choose to resign to stop the abuse.

*If the pastor’s detractors begin a campaign against him … soliciting signatures on a petition, calling for a meeting to vote him out, engaging in slander via the telephone … then the pastor may want to quit so that God’s people are not permanently damaged.

I don’t pretend that what I’ve written is the last word on this issue, so I invite you to join the conversation.

Under what circumstances should a pastor under attack just leave?













Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: