Posts Tagged ‘restoring a former pastor’

Many years ago, I became friends with a pastor in my denominational district who led a medium-sized church.

We had lunch together … saw each other at district meetings … and spent some time in conversation.

Then one day, my pastor friend … let’s call him Keith … was forced to resign after nearly a decade of ministry.

When I asked what happened, Keith told me that drugs were discovered inside his daughter’s suitcase at camp.

Even though she insisted that the drugs weren’t hers, a lynch mob from church formed, demanding that she repent in front of the congregation … and accusing her father of not managing his family well.

Choosing to believe his daughter, Keith resigned rather than subject her to public humiliation.

He was treated horribly, receiving only a small severance package and losing his medical insurance virtually overnight … ultimately a form of retribution.

After Keith quit, I invited him to lunch, and he poured out his heart to me.  I was the only pastor in the district to hear his story.

Everybody else forsook him … and believed the story that was going around … that Keith’s daughter tried smuggling drugs to camp.

Only she didn’t.

Sometime later, a high school girl confessed to church leaders that the drugs were hers.  Afraid that her suitcase would be searched, she placed the drugs in the suitcase of the pastor’s daughter … and sat silently by while the pastor’s family was run out of the church.

When anxiety grips a congregation … as it did in Keith’s case … some people become highly irrational, overreact emotionally, and seek to eliminate the cause of that anxiety: their pastor.

On a human scale, who usually keeps a congregation calm?

That’s right … the pastor.

But when the pastor is under attack, his own anxiety level skyrockets, and he’s in no position to calm anybody down.

This leaves two possibilities for alleviating congregational anxiety:

First, anxiety may be relieved if another leader … like the associate pastor, the board chairman, or a widely-respected individual … takes control of the situation and institutes a just and fair process to deal with people’s concerns about the pastor.

The problem is that most churches don’t have anybody like this … and even if they do, they don’t know how to do it.

*The associate pastor may be glad that the pastor is under attack, hoping to take his job.

*The board chairman may be leading the charge against the pastor.

*And those respected individuals may be ignored, avoided, or devalued by those who want to keep the anxiety level high.  (Their adage is, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”)

Second, anxiety may be relieved if the pastor resigns.

And when anxiety hits a certain level in most churches, this is the quickest way to stabilize the congregation and lessen tensions.

But in the process, the pastor is judged as guilty … and never given the opportunity to tell his side of the story.

In Keith’s case, his reputation as a father … as well as his daughter’s reputation … were both smeared for months.

Fortunately, after matters calmed down, the church called a new pastor … someone I got to know a little bit.

And soon after he came, that new pastor discovered the truth about the drugs and Keith’s departure.

*Some pastors would have sided with Keith’s opponents just to gain their favor.

*Some pastors would have ignored the truth so they didn’t have to live in Keith’s shadow (small as it had become).

*Some pastors would have said, “Well, that’s water under the bridge … let’s move on.”

*Some pastors would have said, “Some people liked the pastor … some didn’t.  I don’t want to take sides and alienate anyone.”

But the new pastor sought to pursue righteousness … even though it made some leaders/people in the church look bad.

The new pastor invited Keith and his family back to the church, where that pastor presided over a meeting where the congregation apologized to Keith and his family for the way they had wounded them.

For a while, I lost track of Keith … and then opened the major newspaper in our area one day and read a front-page article about him.

Keith had become a hospital chaplain and pioneered an approach to ministering to a certain class of patients with God’s mercy and grace … and was receiving nationwide attention for his efforts.

Could he have become that successful if his former church had not pursued reconciliation?

Because Keith’s former church was able to resolve their differences with him, they weren’t plagued by guilt and paralyzed by bitterness as happens in most churches.

That new pastor wisely understood that a congregation that has mistreated a pastor from the past cannot fully heal until there is an admission that the pastor was wronged and there is an attempt to reconcile with him.

After all, if God’s people can’t reconcile with a previous pastor, what hope do they have of reconciling a lost world to Jesus?

In their book Extreme Church Makeover, Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander tell the story of a pastor named John who discovered that “the church had not dealt fairly with their previous pastors …”

The authors write:

“John shared his observations with the current church board.  Although the primary players were no longer in the church, the same pathology seemed to continue – which is almost always the case.  Getting rid of a pastor or ungodly lay leaders doesn’t solve the problem by itself … it was obvious that past issues had only been covered up and not resolved.”

Pastor John “encouraged the board to contact Jerry, the previous pastor, and ask him if he would be willing to come back to the church for a special service of reconciliation.  They discovered that Jerry was still hurting from the devastating experience and had not returned to the ministry.”

When Jerry stood before the church body, the board read a list of offenses the church had committed against him and asked for his forgiveness … and after he forgave them, Jerry later returned to the ministry.

I know many pastors who were abused and then forced out of their positions.  These are good men who wish they could heal.

Some healing takes place when they unilaterally forgive their detractors … but complete reconciliation can only take place when a church and its leaders take responsibility for the way they treated their previous pastor … and let him know that they’re sorry for the way they mistreated him.

If you know of any churches that have pursued reconciliation with a previous pastor that underwent termination, I’d like to know about it.  Please write me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org with the details.

But sadly, this kind of reconciliation happens all too rarely … probably less than 1% of the time.

Why do you think that is?

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