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Posts Tagged ‘reconciliation between pastors and church boards’

Pastor John came to Calvary Church fifteen years ago.

The ministry went very well.  Unbelievers become believers.  Believers became devoted disciples.  The church built a new worship center and positively impacted its community for Jesus.

Then one day, Pastor John came to a board meeting where the chairman announced, “We’ve decided to make a change.  We want you to resign.  If you sign this agreement, we’ll give you three months of severance pay.  If you don’t sign, you’ll be fired and get nothing.  Your choice.”

Stunned and frightened, Pastor John signed.

Five years later, Pastor John still doesn’t feel right about what happened.

He never heard from the board why they felt he should be removed from office.  While he’s heard rumors, he doesn’t know the truth … and it bothers him … a lot.

On top of that, John’s relationships with each of the board members ended that night.  He never saw or heard from them again.

If the board had told John what he’d done wrong, John could have admitted his errors, asked for forgiveness, and reconciled with every person around that table.

Even now, John would like to reconcile with them, but he senses it’s too late.

Why do terminated pastors and the boards that dismissed them rarely reconcile?

First, many Christians view the pastor-board relationship as an employee-employer relationship.

Let’s say there’s a small business owner named Brad on the board.  Brad hires a young man from the church named Ralph to help him part-time.

But after a few weeks, Brad doesn’t feel that Ralph is working out, so Brad fires him.

When Ralph sees Brad at church, he avoids him because he feels that Brad doesn’t like or respect him.  And after a few months of dodging, Ralph leaves the church.

Brad doesn’t feel the need to chase after Ralph.  He hired him … fired him … and that’s business.

In the same way, many church boards conclude, “We’re not removing our pastor because we don’t like him personally.  We’re removing him because he’s not doing the job.  That’s business.”

But in this case, the pastor believed he was doing the job, and since nobody on the board ever spoke to him about his performance, he has the right to wonder if his dismissal was personal.

And if it was, he wants the opportunity to make things right.

Second, decision-making groups almost never admit they make mistakes.

When church boards make a unanimous decision … even when it’s wrong … they’re going to defend their decision until Jesus returns.

Because if one person admits they were wrong, that makes everybody else on the board wrong as well … and nobody wants to indict their colleagues.

However, I do believe that individual board members may later regret their decision to terminate a pastor … or the way they chose to dismiss him.

A friend once told me that his father – a church board member – voted to terminate his pastor … and that his decision haunted his dad for the rest of his life.

My guess is that there are thousands of current and former board members who regret their decision to force out their pastor … but it’s rare for them to do anything about it.

A megachurch pastor once told me that four staff members tried to force him from office.  When their plot failed, they all resigned.

The pastor didn’t hear from any of those staff members for years.

Then one day … seven years later, as I recall … the pastor received a letter of apology in the mail from one of the staffers.

Sadly, that’s probably the best that can be expected.

Third, the composition of church boards changes all the time.

Steve, Dave, Bill, Ron, and Doug were all members of the board that pushed out Pastor John.

But the following year, Steve and Dave went off the board, and two new members took their place.

The next year, Bill moved away, and someone took his place as well.

So after five years, it’s possible that the board members that dismissed Pastor John either aren’t board members any more, or that they all live in different locales.

Because they’re no longer an entity … even if the Holy Spirit convicted each of them of sin … how could they reconvene to make things right?

They would no longer be authorized to speak for the church … just for themselves.

This wouldn’t prevent Doug, for example, from contacting Pastor John and saying, “I was wrong to remove you from office.  Please forgive me.”

But how could Doug admit that he did wrong without indicting his fellow board members?

When Pastor Guy Greenfield wrote letters to those who tried to destroy his ministry, not one person … including any of the board members … contacted him to apologize for the way they drove him out of their church.  (He recounts this story in his book The Wounded Minister.)  He reached out for reconciliation, but nobody was interested.

This was the case as well for J. R. Briggs in his new book Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure.  When he tried to reconcile with the elders who had hastened his departure two years before, nobody was interested in admitting they had made any errors.  In fact:

Fourth, the positions of many board members harden over time.

In the case of Pastor Briggs, he just wanted to leave and start a new church … and was ordered not to do so by the elders.

(This is absolutely ridiculous.  Once Pastor Briggs had left, he was free in the Lord to start a church anywhere he liked.  The board could have negotiated any concerns they had with Pastor Briggs’ plan instead of forbidding him to plant a church … which he went out and did anyway because once he resigned, those elders no longer had any authority over him.)

In fact, one of the pastors told Pastor Briggs “that leaving the church and starting ours was sinful – and that God would, as a result, continue to limit my small ministry, possibly for decades into the future.  He said my ministry and our church were illegitimate and dishonoring to God.”  (That’s the scarcity theory in action.)

Pastor Briggs hoped that after two years, the position taken by church leaders would have softened.  Instead, their position seems to have hardened.

We all have what’s called “the self-justifying bias.”  This means, “If I say it, it’s right.  If I do it, it’s right.  If I decide it, it’s right.”

But there are objective standards of right and wrong when it comes to pastoral termination found in:

*The New Testament, especially Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Timothy 5:19-21.

*The church’s governing documents … the constitution and bylaws.

*Federal and state laws as they apply to firing an employee … as well as offenses like slander, libel, and the violation of privacy.

As long as board members continue to remain friendly with one another, the chances are near zero that any of them will ever admit they did anything wrong.

If anybody tries to point out any errors they made, they would simply close ranks and defend the group’s decision to the hilt.

Finally, nobody wants errors long covered up to be exposed.

Someday, I would love to do a research project by interviewing church board members who were involved in terminating their pastor.

My guess is that in most cases, the board violated one, two, or all of the objective standards for termination mentioned above.

If that’s the case, how likely is it that anybody from that board would want to reexamine how they handled the termination process?

They wouldn’t.

Their attitude would be, “That happened a long time ago.  Let’s all move on and let God sort it out.”

Of course, that sentiment wouldn’t work in the business world, but it seems to work wonders in the Christian community.

When an ex-pastor believes that the church board violated him in the way they terminated him, all he can do is forgive the board unilaterally.

Nobody will make any arrangements for reconciliation years later because nobody wants to admit that they did anything wrong … or anything worthy of forgiveness.

It’s all too uncomfortable.

_______________

Jesus and Peter split before the cross, but reconciled after the cross.

Paul and Barnabas split over John Mark, but reconciled later.

Christians sometimes don’t get along and split up.  It’s regrettable, but it happens.

But shouldn’t they at least desire to reconcile … especially if they are Christian leaders?

If Christian leaders refuse to reconcile, what hope is there for reconciliation among Christian workers … divorced Christians … estranged parents/children … and believing friends?

What are your thoughts about this issue?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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