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Posts Tagged ‘pastoral severance agreement’

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

I have a pastor friend who reads this blog, and periodically, he tells me that most board members who participate in the termination of an innocent pastor do it out of ignorance rather than malice.

In other words, they think they know what they’re doing, but they really don’t.

He may be right.

Sadly, I have experienced personal hatred and wrath from some board members over my 36 years of church ministry, so I know firsthand that some pastor-board conflicts result from unbridled bitterness.

But certainly not all do … and much of the time, pastoral terminations are handled badly simply because members of the official board don’t know what they don’t know.

So let me share with you four things that most church boards don’t know when they’re thinking about terminating their lead shepherd:

First, they don’t know the biblical process for dealing with the pastor’s shortcomings.

Every believer … and every church leader … needs to study Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 in great depth.

Jesus tells His followers what to do if a spiritual brother (or sister) sins … especially if that sin is committed against someone personally.

Jesus says in verse 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.”

Jesus is speaking here about personal sin, not church policy.

And He doesn’t exclude pastors, board members, and church staffers from His directive.

I believe that if someone has a personal issue with the pastor, they need to speak with him directly, and if they have a policy issue with him, they should speak with anyone who makes the policy … which is usually made by members of the church board.

Let me apply verse 15 specifically to pastors:

“If your pastor sins against you … by telling an offensive joke, by failing to greet you one Sunday, by getting visibly angry while playing basketball … go to him personally and privately and share with him what you have seen or heard him do.  Do not involve others at this stage.  If your pastor agrees with your view and asks forgiveness, your relationship has been restored, and there is no need to involve anyone else.”

If someone thinks the pastor drives an expensive car … or that he shouldn’t mention his vacations from the pulpit … or that he should dress better when he preaches … then that person either needs to speak with the pastor personally … pray about the situation … or let it go.

But this isn’t how most Christians handle their feelings about their pastor’s humanity, is it?

No, they share their feelings with their family and friends … especially their church friends … and usually, the pastor’s alleged shortcomings are dissected while he himself knows nothing about these discussions.

And as people talk, they share their own personal criticisms or grievances against the pastor, and before you know it, the pastor seems like Satan incarnate.

This is probably the single greatest sin a congregation can commit against its pastor: to indict, judge, and sentence him for his mistakes without ever speaking with him personally.

In fact, I’d say that most of the time, the sin of not obeying Matthew 18:15 is a far greater violation than the petty offenses a pastor has supposedly committed.

The official board … and the top staff members … need to insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first whenever someone has a personal grievance against their shepherd.

The pastor needs to teach this verse to the key leaders in private and the congregation in public, but then those leaders need to enforce the practice of Matthew 18:15 on the entire church family … or the pastor’s ministry will be in constant jeopardy.

Please note: Matthew 18:16 (involving one or two others) only applies if the first encounter with the pastor doesn’t work out, and Matthew 18:17 (involving the entire congregation) only applies if the first two steps haven’t worked.

And yet, in many churches, Jesus’ first step in Matthew 18:15 is ignored, and the board permits individuals to jump right to telling others and telling the church.

I know pastors who resigned voluntarily because the church board didn’t protect them from complaints made by members of the congregation.

And all the board needed to do was insist that Matthew 18:15 be used first.

These verses are often mentioned in church constitutions/bylaws as a way of resolving church disputes.

If a board doesn’t obey these verses when they’re having problems with their pastor … or somehow find a way to skip around them … many people will suffer.

Second, they don’t know that the faster they proceed, the more mistakes they’ll make.

If a pastor is guilty of heresy, sexual immorality, or a criminal offense – The Big Three – then yes, the church board needs to act with a degree of haste.

But most of the time, pastors aren’t guilty of The Big Three, so if the board and pastor are struggling in their relationship, the board can devise a reasonable long-term process that’s fair to both the pastor and the church.

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke believes that when church leaders are struggling with their pastor, they should give him twelve to fifteen months to make any necessary changes.  If the pastor hasn’t or won’t change, then he’s subject to being terminated after at least one year.

This allows the pastor to seek personal counseling … go for continuing education … find a coach or mentor … or put out his resume.

And many times, within that year, the pastor has time to make good decisions, and the issue has resolved itself.

But when just one or two board members become anxious … sometimes because their friends are threatening to leave the church “unless the pastor is dealt with” … their anxiety can spread to others, and within a brief period of time, the board has decided that the pastor has to go.

Rather than work a process and live with the anxiety, they overreact emotionally … claim that God is behind their feelings … and fire the pastor to relieve their anxiety.

When the pastor finds out that the board has abruptly decided to terminate him … especially if they haven’t given him any time to make changes … the board’s anxiety is passed on to the pastor, who may become panicked, depressed, and desperate … and justifiably so.

(Please remember that pastors aren’t angels, they’re human beings.)

In such cases, the breakdown in relationship doesn’t lie with the pastor, but with the board.

The older a person gets, the harder it is for them to change.  People do change as they age, and pastors can change, too … especially as they rely upon the power of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

But people usually need time to change.

In 1990, I reinvented my approach to ministry.

My basic personality remained, but I learned new approaches to leadership, worship, evangelism, growth, giving, administration … and many other pastoral tasks.

And when I changed, my ministry changed … for the better.

So I know it can be done … and in my case, nobody made me change.  The desire came from within.

I think church boards give up on pastors way too fast … and they often do so without ever having spoken with the pastor in a direct way about their concerns.

And that’s not the pastor’s fault.

Third, they don’t know how important a generous severance agreement is when they pressure the pastor to resign.

Let me say this loud and clear:

A pastor is not a standard employee.  A pastor is someone called by God.

It’s taking longer and longer to hire a pastor today.  From the time the search team in your church started looking for a new pastor, to the time they hired your current one, how long did things take?

One year?  Two years?  Longer?

Before a pastor is called to a church, he usually receives a formal letter of call.  And that letter usually says, “We believe that God has called you to our church at this particular time.”

Included with that letter of call is a document specifying the pastor’s salary, housing allowance, retirement funds, medical insurance, and ministry expenses, among other things.

And in a sense, the relationship of a pastor and a church is very much like a marriage.  The pastor leaves his old way of life and commits himself to that church 100% … and trusts them to take care of him and his family.

When I left Arizona in 1999 so I could assume a position at a church in Northern California, I left my son behind (and it about killed me emotionally).  We sold our house.  I left my stepfather and mother and sister and other family.  I left friends behind.

I moved nearly 800 miles away because God had called me to that church … but at least I was moving from one church position to another.

But the greatest nightmare any pastor has is to be forced out of his church position without any other position waiting.

In case any board members are reading this article, let me distinguish two kinds of pastors:

First, there’s the pastor who has disqualified himself from ministry because he has committed a major offense.

Second, there’s the pastor who is being asked to leave a church because his gifts and personality no longer match what the board feels the church needs.

Even though the pastor was called by God to your church years ago, that doesn’t mean he’s entitled to a lifetime appointment.  Unlike college professors, pastors should not be given tenure.

But why punish the pastor and his family financially because circumstances have changed since the pastor came to the church?

If you believe that God called your pastor to your church, then if you want him to leave, you must believe that God is calling him away … even though he probably has nowhere to go.

Then you need to give him a generous separation package. 

He gave up his whole life to come to your church.

He doesn’t have another source of income.

And he hasn’t been spending his time at your church taking courses to do something else with his life.

He’s been “all in” with your church … and now he needs you to be “all in” with him.

If you don’t give him a generous package:

*You may put great stress on his marriage because his wife will feel like she needs to support the family financially.

*You may embitter his children … regardless of their age.

*You may send your pastor into the depths of emotional despair.

*You may force him to tap into his retirement account prematurely.

*You may very likely end his ministry career.

It’s the same thing as a husband divorcing his wife without offering her any alimony or child support.

Trade the pastor a generous separation package for a unifying resignation letter.

When I left my last ministry in 2009, I encouraged everyone to stay at the church … and I reiterated that when I preached my last sermon.

My sentiments were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in future donations to that congregation.

But if you mistreat the pastor by offering him a skimpy separation package, the word will get around … no matter how careful you are … and your church will lose many people and a lot of money.

Probably tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.

Fourth, they don’t know that many people are more committed to their pastor than they are their church.

Let me share with you three things that will happen if you force an innocent pastor from office:

*There will be a general sense of anxiety and unease in your congregation.

This can be alleviated somewhat by weekly updates from the church board, but it may last for many years.

And if you’re able to secure a good interim pastor … especially an intentional interim … that will help as well.

But every Sunday, when people come to church and don’t see their former pastor, many will wonder, “Why isn’t our beloved pastor preaching this week?  I wonder how he’s doing?  I wonder why he really left?  And I wonder if someone pushed him out.”

And that anxiety can last for months, if not years.

*Many of the pastor’s supporters will leave the church … regardless of the reason.

To keep people in the church, some boards decide to blame the pastor’s departure completely on him … and some even manufacture charges against him.

Some even place a gag order on everybody … especially board members and staff members.

Such heavy-handed tactics rarely work, and aren’t consistent with the holy life that God requires of all His followers.

So expect that many of your best attendees … volunteers … and givers will leave the church … not altogether, but slowly.

And when that happens:

*Expect that you will have to cut back on your ministries.

You may not have enough money to pay some of your key staff members.

You may have to cut back one of your worship services.

You may not be able to fund some of your annual events.

A friend of mine came to a church of 50 people.  Three years later, the church stood at 150.  The board pushed him out, and the church reverted to 50 people once again.

Those 100 additional people were more loyal to the pastor than to the church, so they all left.

And most church boards don’t know that.

Several years ago, I recounted my story to one of the world’s leading experts on churches.  When I finished my narrative, he said, “How’s that church doing today?  It’s probably not doing very well, is it?”

Most churches that push out an innocent pastor never fully recover.

I began this article by mentioning a pastor friend.  After he was terminated by the church board … after a Sunday service, no less … the leaders may have thought, “Now we can do what we want around here!”

A few years later, that church went out of existence.

_______________

How can board members learn what to do when they’re having problems with their pastor?

*They can read a book … but I’m unaware of any such book right now.

*They can attend a seminar … but I’m unaware of anyone who is doing them.

*They can contact their denomination or local district … but they usually offer little help except to try and convince church leaders to keep giving money to the denomination.

*They can contact an expert in pastor-church conflict … a consultant, a conflict manager, an interventionist, a mediator … and they’re often of great help … but you have to pay them well.

Two pastors have told me that my material on pastor-church conflict is “the best on the internet.”

I don’t know if that’s true or not.

But accessing my articles doesn’t cost anything financially … and you can pass them on to others.

If I can help you with your situation, please let me know by emailing me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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