Posts Tagged ‘process for dismissing a pastor’

According to widespread statistics, 1500 to 1900 pastors leave church ministry every month due to burnout, moral failure, or forced termination – most through forced termination.

And yet according to Alan Klaas – who investigated the reasons why pastors were forced out in various Christian denominations – only 7% of the time do pastors leave because of personal misconduct, while 45% of the time they leave because of a minority faction.

And much of the time, that faction is composed of the official church board, whether they’re called elders, deacons, or the church council.

The scenario usually looks like this:

Someone on the church board becomes upset with the pastor.  The grievance might concern the way the pastor does his job.  It’s just as likely that the grievance is personal.

He or she does not speak with the pastor personally about the matter but talks to one or more board members instead, who add their own grievances to the mix.  In fact, it’s common for personal grievances to morph into official charges.

The pastor almost never has any idea that these grievances are being discussed.

When a few regular attendees step forward with grievances against the pastor – even though the number of dissatisfied individuals may barely reach 5% of the congregation – some board members will conclude, “We must remove our pastor from office.”

The church board then meets in secret … compiles a laundry list of the pastor’s “offenses” … and concludes that the pastor must be evil.

And because the pastor has become demonic in their thinking, any method used to get rid of him is justified.

Even though the Bible specifies how to deal with these situations, Scripture is ignored.

Even though the church’s governing documents usually spell out the process for removal, that process isn’t followed, often because removal requires an unpredictable congregational vote.

Even though the law lays out parameters, it suddenly becomes irrelevant.

So one day, the pastor attends a regular board meeting, and they ask for his resignation.  Or the board calls the pastor to a special meeting, and when he arrives, he’s told that he must resign or be fired.

And the pastor has no idea that his board has been plotting against him for weeks, if not months.

The carnage to follow may ruin the pastor’s career … split the church … divide friendships … and damage the church for years.

Is there a better way to handle pastoral termination?

I believe there is.

Every church needs a small team of fair-minded individuals whose charter is to teach the congregation the biblical way to resolve disputes … including disputes between the pastor and the board.

Let’s call it The Conflict Resolution Group (CRG) for lack of a better term.  They could be appointed by the board or voted into office by the congregation.

The group could be as small as three or as large as seven.  The CRG might be composed of a military officer … or a human resources director … or an attorney … people who must abide by certain operating procedures in their own professions.

The CRG would become their primary ministry in the church.

Those in the CRG would receive periodic training on church conflict prevention and resolution based on Scripture.  They would help to mediate and resolve various disputes within the church.

And if the church board wanted to remove the pastor, the board would have to consult with the CRG first.


Because too many boards use deceptive and destructive methods to force their pastor to resign … methods the board doesn’t want the rest of the church to know about … including demands and threats.

But under this plan, the CRG would monitor the board to make sure that a pre-determined process was used that would minimize harm to all parties involved.  A couple of CRG members might even attend board meetings, insuring that everyone be on their best behavior.  And CRG members might meet with the pastor – whether he stays or leaves – to make sure that he felt he was treated fairly.

If the board followed a specified process in all their dealings with their pastor, everyone would know that the process was fair.

But if the board refused to follow the process … or they deviated from the process without the CRG’s approval … or they acted without informing the CRG … then the entire board would be expected to resign (as specified ahead of time) and the CRG would inform the congregation that the board tried to circumvent the pre-determined process for removing the pastor.

Let me say this loud and clear: some pastors need to leave their churches for a host of reasons.  No pastor deserves a lifetime contract.

But it isn’t the pastor’s removal that results in massive carnage … it’s the deceptive and dangerous way that removal is carried out … because most church boards don’t want anyone looking over their shoulder when they move to eliminate their pastor.

You need to know: I detest bureaucracy.  If this proposal is just another layer of red tape, then forget it!

But most pastors are accountable to their boards and issue verbal or written reports at every meeting.

Yet while most boards are accountable to their congregations in theory, it doesn’t work in practice – especially concerning pastoral termination – because boards rarely tell the church the real reason why their pastor resigned.

So if a board knows in advance that it will be accountable to a group that’s watching their every move – and if that board knows that any missteps can be reported to the congregation – they will have to handle matters the right way or leave office.

I don’t know whether or not my theory works.  I hope it does.

But I do know this: the way that a typical church board removes a pastor in our day usually results in pain for hundreds if not thousands of people.

In fact, if the process I just described could have been implemented twenty years ago, tens of thousands of pastors might still be in church ministry today instead of sitting on the sidelines with broken hearts.

What do you think of my proposal?

Feel free to comment or send me an email at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org






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