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Posts Tagged ‘removing a pastor; dismissing a pastor; process for pastoral termination’

You’re sitting in church one Sunday morning.  At the end of your pastor’s message, he sadly states that he has an announcement to make.

He’s resigning as pastor of your church.

Listen carefully.  If the pastor doesn’t mention what his next job is – or if he’s retiring – chances are that he was forced to resign, either by the church board or by a powerful faction in the church.

But why?

Is it because the attendance and finances have been sliding downward?

Possibly.

Is it because he’s secretly guilty of moral failure?

Could be.

Is it because the board believes your church needs a new pastor for its next phase?

Maybe.

But if you could trace the problem back to its source … in far too many cases … you would discover a startling fact.

The pastor said or did something that ticked off just one person in your church.

It could be a board member … or a staff member … or a key leader … or the wife of someone prominent in your congregation.

But no matter how hard you try, you might never be able to find out who that person is … or what they’re really angry about.

Why not?

Because that person will do their best to cover their tracks.

Why not just say, “The pastor personally offended me, so I want him to leave our fellowship?”

But how does that last phrase sound?  Petty?  Unspiritual?  Selfish?

Yes on all counts.

So the offended party (called Mr. Perpetrator throughout this article) will not tell others that the pastor has personally offended them.  That would make Mr. Perpetrator look bad.

Instead, Mr. Perpetrator will start doing three things:

First, he starts to build a case against the pastor.

Mr. Perpetrator starts privately knocking the pastor’s preaching: “The pastor isn’t feeding us … he doesn’t preach enough against sin … he isn’t relevant … he’s not biblical enough … he’s too intellectual … he preaches too long.”

Of course, the pastor’s preaching was good enough for several – if not many – years, but now it’s bad because Mr. Perpetrator doesn’t want to hear the pastor’s preaching because he’s angry with the pastor.

Mr. Perpetrator starts privately knocking the pastor’s leadership: “I don’t like our direction … the pastor needs to emphasize prayer more … we could be taking in more money … and I know others who agree with me.”

Of course, you’ll never learn the names of those who agree with him because they’re probably his family members and good friends.

Mr. Perpetrator starts privately knocking the pastor’s personality: “The pastor is too loud … he’s not sensitive enough … he seems moody … he’s far too quiet … he needs to be more aggressive.”

Of course, when the pastor starts to sense that Mr. Perpetrator is against him, the pastor will act differently around him than around his supporters.

How long does this case-building phase last?

I once heard a Christian psychiatrist – who had counseled hundreds of pastors and their wives who had been forced to leave a church – say that it takes Mr. Perpetrator about a year to gain the required number of supporters – usually only 7 to 10.

By using false accusations, and repeating them over and over again, that one year time frame can quickly be condensed.

And the whole time, the pastor has no idea what’s going on.

Second, he begins gathering a list of the pastor’s offenses.

If the pastor is guilty of a major offense like heresy, doing something illegal (like embezzling funds), or sexual immorality, church leaders have all the ammunition they need for termination.

But according to Alan Klaas (quoted in Gary Pinion’s book Crushed: The Perilous Side of Ministry), when a pastor is forced to leave a church, only 7% of the time is it due to his personal misconduct.

So 93% of the time, a pastor doesn’t resign because he’s done something morally or spiritually impeachable.

No, he resigns because of The List.

Mr. Perpetrator sends out feelers and begins to compile a list of grievances that people have against the pastor.  Anything goes.

And once the list is compiled and put on paper, the pastor will be arrested, tried, judged, and sentenced without his knowledge … or without being able to mount any kind of a defense … and the congregation has no idea this is happening.

A former pastor recently told me why he left his last ministry.  The small list of charges included the fact that two years before … at a social event … the pastor walked by a woman and bumped her accidentally.

For two years, nobody said anything to the pastor about this alleged offense.  For two years.

But when Mr. Perpetrator wanted to get rid of the pastor, this petty act was turned into a charge.

The pastor didn’t know anything about this incident and couldn’t recall it happening.  He had no idea he had offended this woman.

And when the charge was made, the pastor asked if he could present a defense … but it was already too late.  Mr. Perpetrator just went on to the next petty charge.

This scenario is replicated in church after church.

And the whole time, the pastor has no idea what’s going on.

Finally, he recommends that the pastor be dismissed.

The recommendation nearly always has to go to the governing board of the church: the deacons, the elders, the church council … whatever it’s called.

So Mr. Perpetrator chooses his moment carefully.

He makes his recommendation when he’s positive he has enough board support … or when the pastor catches wind of the plot … or right before the new budget goes to a vote … or when the pastor is on vacation.

If Mr. Perpetrator does his job, he almost always wins board support.

(I will never understand this, but it’s true.  Board members rarely stand up for their pastor even if they know he’s innocent.  If I was a board member, I’d make the plot public and force the board to resign.  Politics aside, I’d rather stand beside a spiritual pastor than an unspiritual board.)

Why does he win support?  Because nearly every time in church life, personal friendships trump biblical principles.

The board then assigns someone to draw up a letter of resignation.  Board members discuss how much, if any, severance to give the pastor.

Since he’s already gone in their mind, they usually vote to give him as little as possible, regardless of the needs of his family.

Then they choose when they’ll inform the pastor of their decision and whether he’ll ever get to preach again in that church.

And the whole time, the pastor has no idea what’s going on.

I recently shared a meal with a pastor who went through this experience.  One minute, he was the senior pastor of a church.  Then the board called him into a meeting, and 15 minutes later, he had been fired … and wasn’t allowed to bring a final message.  He and his wife … through choked tears … were only permitted to say goodbye to the church they loved.

That’s all the congregation saw.  The pastor and his wife … crying … and saying goodbye.

So the congregation focuses on the pastor … and his motives for leaving … and what he might have done wrong … and why he chose to abandon them.

The church family has no idea that Mr. Perpetrator has been building a case against their pastor … collecting grievances against him … and finally recommending his dismissal.

And to make sure that no one ever finds out, Mr. Perpetrator retreats to the shadows … lays low … and acts completely innocent.

Just like a ten-year-old kid.  Who, me?

But if Mr. Perpetrator was really a man, he would have sat down with the pastor – if and when the pastor first offended him – and worked things out with him.

Just like an authentic, spiritually mature man.

But because they can’t see inside the heart of Mr. Perpetrator, few people will ever know what he did and how he did it … except one.

As Hebrews 10:31 reminds us:

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 

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