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Posts Tagged ‘severance package for pastors’

A friend sent me an article yesterday about a well-known megachurch pastor (although he’s not someone I’m familiar with) who was removed from office by the governing board of his church for “ongoing sinful behavior” over “the past few years.”

Here’s the article:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/april/darrin-patrick-removed-acts-29-megachurch-journey.html

When I read the article, I was impressed by the way the board handled the situation.

In my experience, whenever a pastor is terminated or forced to resign, the board often handles matters poorly.  The board identifies the pastor as their enemy, exaggerates any charges against him, and either fires him outright or forces him to quit.

But the board mentioned in this article, in my view, seemed to do everything in a biblical and healthy manner.

Let me highlight five things that this board did right:

First, the board spoke with their pastor directly about their concerns.

Don’t all boards do this?

No, they don’t.

Too many times, church boards never tell their pastor what they’re seeing or hearing in his life or ministry that bothers them.  They remain silent, hold a secret meeting without the pastor present, detail all his faults, conclude he has to go, and assign someone to tell him he’s fired … or agree to tell him together at the next board meeting.

Individual board members might tell their spouses how they feel about their pastor … or they might tell certain friends in the church … but they never approach their pastor personally.

But thankfully, this board shared their concerns directly with their pastor from the very beginning, so that when he left, he didn’t feel that the board conspired behind his back or fired him via ambush.

One pastor told me he was fired in an email … without any kind of warning.  Another pastor was fired via certified letter.  Other pastors I know have been told they’re fired right after a Sunday service … again, without ever being told that anything was wrong.

Such tactics speak volumes about the lack of maturity on the board.

Second, the board told the pastor that their goal was his restoration. 

Much of the time, this is the key … but missing … element whenever a church board tries to correct their pastor’s behavior.

Think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

According to Jesus, what is the goal when a fellow believer sins against you?

The overarching goal is to win your brother over … to get him to listen to your concerns, repent of his wrongdoing, and change his behavior.

The goal is not to remove the pastor from office or from the fellowship.  That’s the last step in the process (verse 17), not the first step.

I’ve discovered that when a board begins with the end result … “We need to remove our pastor from office right away” … they will wreak havoc on their pastor, his family, the congregation, and even on the board members themselves.

Because all too often, the board really wants to punish the pastor … and engages in what is really a vendetta.

But when the board begins with a process … “We are going to take our time, work the steps, encourage our pastor’s growth, but monitor his behavior” … there may be some fallout, but God will honor such a board’s motive.

Pastors not only have faults they know about … they also have blind spots.  The best men do … even those pastors whose sermons you revere or whose books have blessed your life.  (And that includes John MacArthur.)

If a pastor believes that he will be treated fairly and graciously by the governing board, he’ll be much more open to admitting his faults and trying to work on them.

But if a pastor believes that the board’s attitude is “one mistake and I’m out,” he’ll become resistant to correction … and too many boards operate like this.

And they’re usually the unspiritual ones.

Third, the board was specific about the behaviors they wanted the pastor to change.

In their letter to the congregation, the board mentioned “historical patterns of sin” and “pastoral misconduct.”  They even named the exact behaviors that concerned them.

And, may I add, they gave the pastor plenty of time to change … a few years.

The pastor didn’t have to guess which behaviors the board didn’t like.

He knew.

In addition, the board let the congregation know that the pastor wasn’t guilty of adultery or financial impropriety.

Whenever a pastor is fired, but the governing board is silent about the grounds for dismissal, people automatically assume that the pastor committed adultery or engaged in fiscal shenanigans.

So even though it may not feel like a blessing, it’s wise for a board to say, “We’re dismissing the pastor because he did this and this and this … but we want you to know that he didn’t do this and this.”

The board did such an effective job that the pastor released a statement admitting that the board was right … he was still plagued by certain sins … and that their deliberations were “miraculous and beyond gracious.”

I wish that every dismissed pastor could say that they were treated that justly.

Fourth, the board kept the process as open as possible.

The board not only involved the pastor in the corrective process, but after the pastor agreed to resign, they also told the congregation why the pastor left and encouraged people to send them feedback, including both questions and comments.

They also put their names and email addresses on the contact page so people could easily converse with them.

This is a far cry from most of the situations that I hear about.

I once heard about a church board that announced that their pastor had been dismissed, and then warned the congregation, “You are not to contact the pastor at all.”

If I was told not to contact the pastor, that’s the very next thing I’d do.

You say, “But Jim, wouldn’t your action be divisive?”

My reply: “Unity should always be based upon truth, and trying to find out the truth isn’t by itself divisive.”

You might counter with, “But if you contacted the pastor after the board told you not to, isn’t that being rebellious against God’s leaders?”

Maybe, but what if they’re trying to cover up their own mistakes?  What if they’re more guilty than the pastor?  How can anyone know unless they do contact the pastor?

I’ve noticed that the more hush-hush the board is about their pastor’s dismissal, the more they’re trying to protect themselves … and the more likely it is that they intend to slander the pastor’s reputation to eliminate any future influence in the congregation.

Finally, the board made sure that the pastor and his family were cared for.

The board did this in two primary ways:

*They gave the pastor a severance package.

*They encouraged the congregation to send encouraging notes to him and his family.

I’m embarrassed to say that there are many church boards that plan to fire their pastor, and at the same time, do all they can to make sure that they don’t offer the pastor any kind of severance.

I’m thinking of one pastor in particular who was forced to resign and was denied severance even though he had no savings, Social Security, or retirement income to fall back on.

Boards offer excuses like:

“We don’t have the money to offer the pastor anything.”

“We have the money but let’s earmark it for other projects.”

“The pastor has behaved so badly that he doesn’t deserve any severance.”

“The pastor’s wife works so we’re off the hook and don’t have to give him anything.”

“Let’s let the church vote on any severance package … and arrange matters so they vote no.”

But as I’ve said many times, the board should offer the pastor severance more than 95% of the time because:

*the pastor’s family needs financial assistance even if the pastor has been a rascal.

*it can take a pastor a year or longer for the pastor to find another ministry.

*a severance package minimizes the chance the pastor will start a new church in the community … and use his recently-former church as his mission field.

*it’s the right thing to do.

I also love the idea that the board encouraged the congregation to write positive notes to the pastor and his family.

This practice can provide healing for the pastor, who is tempted to think, “I must be a horrible person for not being able to keep my pastor-job.”

This practice can also be therapeutic for the congregation because they’ll be forced to see all the good the pastor did during his time at the church … and not just the bad.

Whenever a governing board has to correct a pastor’s conduct, it’s very stressful for everyone concerned … and it’s tempting for board members to say, “Let’s just end the anxiety and fire the guy.”

But when a board operates biblically, their actions might even cause their pastor to agree with their conclusions.

How do you feel about the way this board handled their pastor’s dismissal?

I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

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Several weeks ago, I wrote an article called “Ten Suggestions For Pastors Under Attack.”  You can read that article here: https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2015/05/12/ten-suggestions-for-pastors-under-attack-part-1/

I received an extended comment from a former pastor afterwards.  (I’ll call him Rich.)  Rich went through a terrible forced termination at a rural church less than two years ago.  He was there only three years, yet the church tripled in attendance with many people coming to faith in Christ.  By anyone’s measure, his ministry was a huge success.

But some church leaders chose to force Rich to resign.  With Rich’s permission, let me reprint his comment … and then I will endeavor to answer his five questions at the end.

_______________

Hello Jim, I enjoyed your article, and have a few comments on the subject matter at hand. You have known me over the course of the last year and a half, and have been a tremendous help to me in recovering from my ministry loss. What is amazing, and quite eye opening to me is that there are people who sit in the pews, make claims about Christianity, and possess little semblance to Christ other than their empty, and shallow professions. Their sole investment is towards themselves, and how they think church should be done; and they will stifle or eliminate anyone who gets in their way. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING IN THE BODY??! I apologize for the capital letters but I use them to express my emotion and frustration.

You had mentioned that there was a faction that threatened to leave the church if the pastor didn’t leave…my suggestion would be…THEN LEAVE!! The church will continue, and most likely in a much more healthy condition than if they stayed. These people are a cancer, eating away at the foundation of unity of the church body. They are an anchor weighing down the church, as they hold onto graven images that they deem valuable.

You had also mentioned that there was a group of people that brought up a bunch of your “faults” including those of your children. As a minister who has been pushed out of his vocation and is now working in a secular job, I have never heard of anyone in the corporate world making charges or accusations against someone’s children. Quite honestly (and I know this sounds bad for a minister to say) if anyone in the corporate world said anything negative about my children I would punch them in the mouth with no regret.

What is amazing to me is that we allow this subversive behavior to be exorcised within the church body! If anyone went through what I went through with my malicious antagonists there would be lawsuits in the corporate world. The way they tried to fire me after I gave my notice, the way they slandered my name, the way they cut my pay, and took away my medical benefits even knowing that my daughter was suffering from neurological issues and we had a MRI pre-scheduled…it was horrendous!

What I have realized that for many…church is something that many people do to feel good about themselves. They have made a religion of attendance, and are so consumed with being in the “church” they have forgotten or discarded Jesus. The only relevance in the lives of these people is that they are in the building, and having been in the building, therefore they must be sanctimonious. I am very weary of these polyester wearing, artificially flavored, self-centered, pre-packed, power hungry, low self-esteemed, and self serving leaches that suck the life out of the church. They have made a covenant with themselves, and their commitment is only to themselves. I realize that this post is filled with emotion but having been forced from my position because of some power brokers., I am still trying to get back to my calling, and get my life back. There has been a deep injustice, and things for me and my family have been difficult to say the least.

My questions to you are:

Can legal action be taken against such atrocious actions?
Should these people be held liable for their actions?
What can the church body do to prevent these people from their power?
How can the pastor who has been forced out find help getting back on his feet financially, and help into a ministry position?
What steps can the family take who has been affected by the trauma? (My wife is having a hard time considering being back into a ministry position…she does not want to allow herself to be vulnerable again).

_______________

Before answering Rich’s questions, I think his sense of outrage is healthy.  His feelings might make some people feel uncomfortable, but sometimes Christians need to express themselves in strong terms before the wider body of Christ is willing to consider making significant changes in local church ministry.

Let me try and answer Rich’s questions:

First, can legal action be taken against such atrocious actions?

In most cases, probably not.  A labor attorney told me that if a judge saw a church personnel issue on his docket, he would refuse to hear the case based on “the separation of church and state.”  This constitutional provision prevents churches from being taxed but also prevents churches from being accountable to anyone outside of their congregation for internal decisions.

It seems to me that pastors have the following options if they believe they’ve been wronged by a church:

*Tell their supporters inside the church how they’ve been treated and let the supporters handle matters.

*Tell the local denominational leadership what’s happened and ask if they will intervene.

*Tell a church conflict interventionist … a church consultant … or a church mediator if they can step in and help … but this must be done before the pastor resigns … and the church board/faction must agree to it.

*Forgive everyone who wronged you quickly and move on … but it’s nearly impossible to do.

Pastors tell me all the time that they were slandered right out of their church.  It’s true that if you’re employed in a company, you’re much better protected from slander than if you’re a local church pastor.

For this reason, I believe that when pastors negotiate the terms of their call, they need to insist that a clause be written into their contract that after they leave the church … regardless of why they leave … the official leaders must insure they will not be openly slandered.  This implies that if the pastor discovers he is being slandered … and especially if it negatively impacts his ability to make a living … then he’d be justified in taking some kind of action against the church.

Of course, if the pastor slandered the church, don’t you think that he would be threatened with a lawsuit?

Second, should these people be held liable for their actions?

The term “liable” sounds like a legal term and implies that destructive churchgoers can be controlled by secular law.  A better term might be “held accountable” … and the answer is “Yes,” they should be held accountable for their actions.

But this hardly ever happens in churches … and for the life of me, I don’t know why.

The New Testament is very clear that churchgoers guilty of heresy, division, slander, and rebellion must be confronted and asked to repent of their sin.  Paul’s instructions in passages like Romans 16:17 and Titus 3:10-11 are clear that believers must be disciplined for corporate sin.

But when a group forces out their pastor … and that group happens to be the church board … who is going to hold them accountable?  They hold the reins of power … and they know it.

In their minds, they won … the pastor lost … and to the winners go the spoils.

If a faction pushes out the pastor against the will of the church board, then the board can and should take action against the members of the faction … not as retribution, but to cleanse the congregation from sin.  But this is done all too rarely, usually because some people on the board are friends with the rebels.

It’s ironic that some board members have no problem confronting their pastor about an issue but can’t bring themselves to confront their friends about anything.

In the end, God’s people have to believe that God will right all wrongs … either in this life, or in the next life.  As Hebrews 10:30-31 says:

“For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.'”

Third, what can the church body do to prevent these people from their power?

If “these people” refers to the official church board, there are several things the members of a congregation can do to limit the power of those who abuse their pastor.

*Churchgoers need to hear both sides of the story as to why the pastor resigned and left.  If they only hear one side … the board’s side … they can’t make any kind of objective judgment.  For that reason, if I was attending a church where the pastor suddenly resigned, I would not believe the first thing I heard.  (But sadly, brain-dead Christians often do.)  Instead, I would sit down with a board member and hear his side, and then I’d contact the pastor and hear his side.

If one party wants to talk, and the other doesn’t, that makes it difficult.  If neither party will talk (possibly due to a “gag order” in the pastor’s severance agreement), then finding out what happened is going to be hard …  so I’d widen the circle of my knowledge.

The truth will eventually come out … it always does … but by then, most people won’t care anymore.

*Churchgoers who feel that the pastor was mistreated can insist that members of the church board tell them the process that the board used to deal with the pastor.  In fact, I’d ask for a copy of the process in writing.  And if I didn’t get it, I’d assume that the board either didn’t use any process, or that they used the law of the jungle.

Then I’d take that written process to the pastor and ask if the board followed the steps they’ve outlined.

*Churchgoers can attempt to remove board members through a process outlined in the church’s governing documents.  If only the board stood against the pastor, and everyone else in the church supported the pastor, this might be a real option.

I was once in a homeowner’s association where the five-member board voted to make every homeowner re-shingle their houses at a cost of up to $70,000 per home.  The homeowners rebelled and voted the board out of office … and discovered in the process that three of the five board members had homes with more than $100,000 in damages … and that they wanted everybody else to subsidize those improvements.

Throwing out that board was the right thing to do.  I suppose in some instances, some church boards need to be removed as well.  It just needs to be done very, very carefully.

*Churchgoers can hear both sides, protest the way the church board handled matters, and then leave the church for good.  This is the way most churchgoers register their disapproval when a pastor has been forced to resign.

Fourth, how can the pastor who has been forced out find help getting back on his feet financially, and help into a ministry position?

If a church board forces out their pastor and does not give him a generous severance package … especially if the pastor has a family … to me, that’s a serious offense against God … and should be viewed as a form of retribution against the pastor.

A church board member wrote me recently and said that their new pastor … who had been at the church for less than a year … was not working out.  The board gave him a six-month severance package even though it nearly emptied out the church’s savings.

But that’s the right thing to do, especially since most pastors are only qualified for one thing: being a pastor … and because it takes at least a year for a pastor to find a new position.

If a board doesn’t want to give the pastor a generous severance package, then they need to bring in someone from the outside who will help them negotiate their differences with the pastor.

If the pastor resigns abruptly because he’s being pressured to resign, the board should still offer him something to help him and his family.

But the best thing for the pastor to do is to trade a resignation letter for a severance agreement … and if the board won’t give him a severance, then the pastor should continue as pastor … which may lead to the resignation of the entire board.

If the pastor doesn’t receive any kind of severance agreement, then he has several options for money:

*Find an entry-level secular job … and quick.

*Try and live off the income of the pastor’s wife … if she has any.

*Take early withdrawals from the pastor’s retirement account … provided he has an account.

*Move in with family … if they’re willing … even if they live cross-country.

*Solicit gifts from friends and family on a temporary basis.

But here’s the problem: if the pastor has been forced to resign … and believes it was done unfairly … then he will carry that hurt and pain with him to the next job.

It takes a long time for a pastor to heal emotionally after going through a forced termination.

As far as how to find a new ministry … check out this article:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2014/05/29/seven-options-for-pastors-seeking-a-ministry/

Finally, what steps can the family take who has been affected by the trauma?

This is such a great question that I’m going to write a separate blog article on this within a few weeks.

I’ll just make one comment: everybody in the family needs someone from outside the family who will listen to their thoughts and feelings without judging them.

It’s all right for family members to discuss the situation with each other … but a family can implode if they’re only talking with each other.

I realize this article is quite long, but I felt it was important for you to read the words of a pastor who has gone through a forced termination … and still struggles with its aftermath many months later.

May God help His people to act with kindness, grace, and truth whenever there’s an impasse between a pastor and a group in their church.

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When a pastor is dismissed or involuntarily resigns from a church without having another job, it is customary in the Christian community to give that pastor a severance package.  This is especially important if the pastor would like to stay and serve at the church but has been asked to leave by official church leaders.

Why give a terminated pastor a severance package?

1.   It usually takes at least a year for a pastor to find another ministry.  Because there are fewer church openings than ever today, finding a ministry job is a job.  A severance package allows the pastor to pursue his divine calling, which is why the Lutheran Missouri Synod passed a resolution in 1998 to give forced-out pastors a severance of one full year’s salary.

2.   Most pastors lack the required training and skills to land a secular job that pays them a livable wage.  Many secular jobs require a lengthy certification process – including further education, which costs money – and even if a pastor completes the requirements, there is no guarantee that anyone will hire him.  In addition, many secular employers are fearful that an ex-pastor may spend time trying to convert other employees or customers rather than doing his job.  Because of their divine call to ministry, pastors are often unsuited for other professions.

3.   Since pastors do not pay into unemployment, they are not eligible to receive it.   A severance package – which includes salary plus medical insurance – provides the pastor the best possible bridge to his next position.

4.   After a pastor resigns, he still has to meet his financial obligations.  He has to pay his mortgage, property taxes, and utilities; car payments and auto insurance; food and gasoline bills; and medical insurance for his family, among other payments.  When church leaders want a pastor to resign, but are unwilling to give him a severance agreement, the leaders seem to be engaging in retribution rather than moving toward reconciliation.

5.   The terminated pastor usually has to rebuild his life and ministry, and that takes anywhere from one to three years.  When pastors leave a church abruptly, it devastates them mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, often sending them into depression.  A severance package allows the pastor to pull away from ministry and promotes the healing process.

6.   Many parties carefully watch a church to see how they treat their pastor when he leaves, including: (a) church young people who are thinking about going into ministry; (b) new believers inside the church, who often have a strong connection to their pastor; (c) unbelievers in the community, especially the friends or relatives of church members; (d) the pastor’s supporters, many of whom will leave the church if they discover their pastor has been mistreated; and (e) prospective pastors, many of whom will turn down a church that mistreated the previous pastor.   When a church grants their pastor a severance package, it’s a tangible way of saying, “In spite of our differences, we want to assist you with this transition so that God can heal and bless both you and our church.”

7.   A good rule-of thumb is that the pastor should receive at least one month’s salary for every year of his tenure.  The absolute minimum length of the severance package should be six months, especially if the pastor was asked to resign.  If the pastor has been dismissed after more than six years of service, he should receive a severance package of at least one year.

Common Questions:

*What if our church can’t afford to pay the pastor a severance agreement?

Unless your pastor is guilty of a major offense (like heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior), do everything you can to work things out so the pastor can stay and enjoy a fruitful ministry.  Bring in a mediator, church consultant, or conflict manager/interventionist to negotiate your differences.  Sometimes church leaders seek to dismiss their pastor prematurely without ever working through issues with him directly.  If you truly believe that the pastor needs to leave, then trust God to provide the funds when you need them.

*What if the pastor seems to have disqualified himself from ministry by his misbehavior?

If your pastor has a family, make sure that they are cared for financially.  Whatever the pastor has done to merit dismissal, his family members are likely not responsible.  And be careful of declaring a pastor who is innocent of a major offense as being “disqualified from ministry” as justification for not giving him a severance agreement.

*How should we pay the severance?

You can pay the pastor just like you’ve been paying him all along: either weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.  If you don’t already use direct deposit, this would be a good time to start.  Some churches may choose to pay the pastor a lump sum up-front, or pay him half the money up-front and half at another time.

*What might happen if we choose not to pay a severance?

When you give your pastor a severance package, he may have enough money to move from your community, minimizing the chance that he will interfere in your church’s future plans.  If you don’t give him a severance package, he may not have the funds to move, and he may choose to start a new church in your community – and people from your church may constitute his initial mission field.

But more than anything, Jesus’ Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) applies here: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

*What are some of the stipulations church leaders can put into the severance agreement?

You can ask the pastor (a) not to sue the church; (b) not to start a new church within a certain mile radius; (c) not to disclose the terms of the severance agreement.

*When should the severance agreement be presented to the pastor: before or after his resignation?

If you plan to dismiss the pastor according to church bylaws, then present him with a written severance agreement as soon after you’ve met with him as possible.  The pastor should be permitted to take a few days and ask his attorney to review the document before he signs it.  If you plan on asking the pastor for his resignation, then he may ask for the outline of a severance agreement in writing first.  It is customary for the pastor to trade a unifying resignation letter for a generous severance package.

*Should we ask the congregation to approve or ratify the severance package?

If you ask the church to vote on the severance agreement, you will almost always foster congregational division.  Members will tend to vote on whether or not they like the pastor rather than the merits of the severance package.  It’s better for the official board to negotiate the package with the pastor directly and then announce an outline of the agreement with the congregation at a later time.  I’ve heard about church boards that “kick the can” to the congregation in hopes that they will vote it down.  In my mind, such behavior is despicable and unworthy of a Christian congregation.

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