Posts Tagged ‘pastoral termination; 1 Timothy 5:19-21; correcting a pastor; conflict and the pastor’

Imagine that you’re a governing board member of a medium-sized congregation.

One of your fellow board members comes to you and says, “There is a movement inside our church to get rid of our pastor.  I’m on board … and I’d like you to join, too.”

This isn’t a rare occurrence inside churches.  This scenario happens all the time!

The material below is applicable whenever someone in your church … a faction, a staff member, a board member, or an alliance of critics … wants to force out your pastor.

Let me suggest seven principles that every board member needs to know when some churchgoers want their pastor to leave:

Principle 1: Expect that your pastor will be attacked.

Jesus was attacked by the religious leaders of His day.  Paul was attacked by heretics and church leaders alike.

So don’t be surprised when professing believers raise a clamor against your pastor.  Expect it!

Pastors are often attacked when:

*They institute major change.

*They ask people to increase their giving.

*They take a stand on a controversial cultural issue.

*They try to discipline a staff member.

*They make attempts to reach the surrounding community.

*They initiate a building program.

*They preside over declining attendance.

If your pastor wasn’t attacked last year, he might be attacked this year.  If he was attacked this year, he might still be attacked next year.

When your pastor is attacked, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s done something wrong.  It might well be an indication that he’s doing things exactly right!

Principle 2: Devise a biblical and just process for handling complaints against your pastor.

That process starts by reading, studying, and implementing Paul’s instructions to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:19-21:

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder [includes “those whose work is preaching and teaching” in verse 17] unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.  Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.  I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

Before you say, “I am for or against the pastor,” it’s crucial that you take a step back and ask the other board members, “Which process will we use to evaluate these charges?”

The process must come before the product.

Paul felt so strongly about using a fair process whenever a Christian leader was attacked that he told Timothy “to keep these instructions without partiality” and “to do nothing out of favoritism.”  In fact, he strengthened his caution by stating that three witnesses would be watching how the pastor would be treated: the Father, the Son, and angelic beings.

Besides studying 1 Timothy 5:19-21 and other relevant New Testament passages, I encourage you to:

*Examine your church’s constitution and bylaws and see if there’s already a process in place for removing a pastor in those documents.

*Locate and consult with a labor attorney about the right and wrong ways to dismiss an employee in your state.

*Speak to a church consultant, a Christian conflict manager, or a Christian mediator about the issue.

If you’d like some specific guidelines for handling these situations, you might check out my book Church Coup on Amazon which can be downloaded as an e-book:


Principle 3: Discover who is unhappy with the pastor and the nature of their charges.

You want to know (a) all the names of those who are upset with the pastor, and (b) exactly why they’re upset.

This is thoroughly biblical.

In Deuteronomy 19:15-21, Moses states that for someone to be convicted of a crime in ancient Israel:

*The accusers need to go on record: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed.  A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  This idea of multiple witnesses is repeated in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21.

What usually happens is that the pastor’s accusers don’t want to go on the record.  They prefer to hide in the dark and support one of the pastor’s more vocal critics.

But you can’t let this happen.  You want the names of all the pastor’s critics.  Romans 16:17 says to “watch out for those who cause divisions.”  How can you watch out for them if you don’t know who they are?

Once you ask for the names, watch some people head for the hills.  But that’s good: you’ll have fewer people to deal with.

Once you have their names, you want to know precisely why they’re at odds with your pastor.

If it’s a matter of church policy, the pastor’s critics should be able to speak openly with any board member since the board usually makes policy.

If it’s a matter of the pastor’s personal behavior, encourage the critic to speak with the pastor directly … and leave the board out of it, at least initially.  Many of these situations involve petty complaints that nobody needs to hear about except the pastor’s accuser and the pastor.

However, if someone believes that the pastor is guilty of a major sin … like heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior … then the board will need to do an investigation.

In Deuteronomy 19:18, Moses says that when a man is accused of a crime, “The judges must make a thorough investigation …”

Principle 4: Tell the pastor who is upset with him and why.

After your investigation is complete, the pastor needs to know the names of his accusers, and what their specific charges are.

It is unfair to say to the pastor, “Some people are upset with you.”  His first question will be, “Who is upset with me?”

It is unfair to say to the pastor, “Joe is upset with you” or “Mary is so hurt that she’s stopped coming to church” unless you also tell the pastor why they’re upset.

This is where church boards often blow it.

Too often, they don’t want the pastor to know who is upset with him because (a) the pastor’s accusers are their friends, (b) his accusers are influential/wealthy, (c) his accusers have threatened to leave the church en masse unless the pastor is removed, or (d) some board members agree with the pastor’s accusers.

And, of course, all this is done in the name of confidentiality.

But I believe strongly that the pastor has the right to know the names of those who are upset with him.

In fact, let me take this further: he has the right to face those same accusers … even if they’re on the church staff or the governing board.

In Acts 25:16, Porcius Festus spoke with King Agrippa about Paul: “I told them [the Jewish leaders] that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges.”

But knowing the identity of your accusers and defending yourself against their charges is more than a Jewish practice (Deuteronomy 19:15-21) or a Roman practice.

According to 1 Timothy 5:19-21, it’s a Christian practice as well.

It’s easy at this point for a church board to say, “Well, Bill has threatened to leave the church if we don’t fire the pastor.  Bill has been here a long time … he has lots of family members in the church … he employs many people here … and if he leaves, there goes his money.  And if Bill goes, others will leave as well.”

But you can’t let a bully dictate how you’re going to treat your pastor.  Give in to Bill here, and he’ll run the church by default for years.

Instead, call a special board meeting … invite the pastor and Bill … let Bill make his charges … and let the pastor respond after each charge has been made.

If Bill has a real case, he’ll come to the meeting.  If he’s on a power trip, and knows his case is flimsy, he’ll leave the church in a huff.

Let him go.

Believe me, it’s easier to find another Bill than another pastor.  (And Bill can only return if he comes to a board meeting and repents for his foolish behavior.)

If Bill does come, let him make his charges.  If anyone else is willing to go on record, let them come as well.

When the charges have been made, and the pastor has had his say, then the board needs to go to the next step:

Principle 5: Deliberate together – prayerfully and carefully – about the pastor’s future in your church.

If it’s been demonstrated that the pastor has committed a major sin that disqualifies him from ministry, then the board needs to remove him from office … and as 1 Timothy 5:19-21 mentions, the board needs to tell the church something (after first consulting with an attorney).  The board should prepare a severance package and discuss the pastor’s exit from the church.

However, most of the time, the board will discover that the pastor’s critics strongly overreacted and turned a minor offense into a major sin.  If this is the case, then you need to exonerate your pastor as soon as possible … and if much of the church knows about your deliberations, you need to do this publicly.

If you believe the pastor needs to work on some issues to be more effective, then tell him specifically what your concerns are.  You don’t want to go through this experience very often!

If the pastor feels that the board has been unfair in the way the board handled matters, he may quietly begin to look around for a new ministry.

But if he believes the board has been fair and followed Scripture, he may become even more effective because he knows that if there’s another flare up, the board will use a biblical and deliberate process to address his critics.

I’ve told this story several times over the years, but I know a pastor who was severely criticized by four staff members.  They banded together, attacked him, and wanted him to leave.

The pastor was devastated.  The only way for him to survive the staff coup was to call a public meeting of the congregation, which he did.  When he did that, three of the staff members quit.

At the meeting, the pastor sat in a chair and fielded questions from the congregation for several hours.  His credibility intact, the pastor emerged from that meeting stronger than ever.

That pastor went on to become the leader of one of America’s largest churches which has impacted a major metropolitan city for Jesus Christ.  I know … I used to attend there.

So the whole idea that, “Well, since the pastor has been attacked, he’s damaged goods” is unbiblical thinking.  Jesus was attacked on many occasions, wasn’t He?  Did the attacks themselves discredit him?  If not, then why do attacks automatically mean that a pastor has to leave his church?

Principle 6: Aim for restoration, not for winning.

Too often, those who oppose the pastor want to win … and that means the pastor must lose.

Winning means that the pastor has to leave … and that me and my group now have more power than ever.

But when Christians seek to win at all costs, the chances are good that everybody will end up losing.

In my book Church Coup, I describe in detail a conflict that I experienced in my last church ministry.  Some people in the church were so determined to win that when the dust settled, the church lost its top ten leaders.

There was no attempt to restore anyone.  It was all about winning and losing.  That may be how the political and business worlds operate, but the church of Jesus Christ has a different set of values.

Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17 that when a brother sins … and your pastor is your brother … you should aim to win your brother over … not defeat him soundly … and this often takes time.

Paul makes the same case in Galatians 6:1 where he says that “you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”  Again, winning is not envisioned.

The more a board tries to win a conflict with their pastor, the more damage they will cause their church family … and the damage can last for years, if not decades.  The more a board tries to restore their pastor, the less damage they will cause their church family.

Principle 7: Tell the truth about your pastor … and insist that others do as well.

The news has been filled recently with the story of Brian Williams, NBC anchor for their nightly news broadcasts.

Mr. Williams has been caught exaggerating about events where he was present, and lying about events where he wasn’t present.

It’s hard to watch someone destroy their own credibility in public.

But if you want to destroy your own credibility as a church board … and that of your entire church as well … then simply lie about your pastor.

When some people want to get rid of their pastor, they lie about him.  They accuse him of unbiblical beliefs … question his financial ethics … run down his family life … and accuse him of doing things he never did.

And believe me, the lies hurt.

I know this all too well.  I can fill several pages with the lies that have been said about me over the years … but so can every pastor.

But if there’s one person in the world you want to speak accurately about, it’s a man or woman of God.

The ninth commandment warns us, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Jesus said that Satan “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  When Christians lie about a pastor, they are doing the devil’s work for him.

And the lying is almost always an attempt to destroy the reputation of a man of God.

I beg you: no matter how you feel about your pastor … even if he has caused you and your church some grief … speak about him with the utmost accuracy … and insist that others do as well.

If you permit others to destroy the pastor’s reputation, it’s the same as if you were doing it yourself.

I know all too many pastors who are no longer in Christian ministry because people lied about them.

But isn’t the church of Jesus Christ to be known for proclaiming the truth rather than falsehoods?

If you want God to bless your church, then follow these seven principles when people are complaining about your pastor.

If you want to destroy your church, then just let your emotions run haywire and make it up as you go along.

I’m praying that you’ll follow these principles!


Today marks a milestone for this blog.  This morning, I recorded view number 100,000.

This is a niche blog.  I don’t write about current political issues, or doctrinal questions, or sports teams … although I’ve touched on just about everything over the past four+ years.

No, I try and write about pastors and church conflict.  That’s my field of interest and expertise.  In fact, it’s just about all I care about these days.

Most of my best-read articles have to do with pastors and conflict.  I want to bring to light issues that are usually shrouded in darkness.

Blog titles and articles whiz through my brain every day.  Sometimes if I nail down a good title, an article writes itself.

Today’s article flowed from my brain through my arms and fingers so quickly that I couldn’t write fast enough.  Other days, it’s a bit more of a struggle.

But I want to thank every one of you who reads this blog, whether this is your first time or you’ve been here many times.

I want to thank my son Ryan for setting up the basic format when we started in December 2010.  It’s been my baby ever since.

If you have any suggestions to make the blog better … or you want to suggest a topic … just use the comments sections and I’ll respond as soon as I can.

Thank you, Father, for using this blog to make a difference in the lives of many pastors, church leaders, and churchgoers.












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