Posts Tagged ‘steps for removing a pastor’

Greetings!  My name is Jim.

And I care deeply about church conflicts involving pastors … usually with their boards and/or factions in the congregation.

My credentials:

*I have cared about pastoral termination since I was eleven years old and my father was forced out of a church he founded as pastor.

*I have also been a staff member when my pastor was under fire.  In one church, the pastor was voted out of office by the congregation.  In another church, the pastor was threatened by a faction until he lost the will to serve.

*I served as pastor of four congregations.  During my third pastorate, I enjoyed mostly peace.  During my second pastorate, a bully tried to force me out as pastor, but the church board stood with me.  During my last pastorate, I resigned when a small group resorted to abuse to force me out.

*I earned the Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary with a focus on church conflict, studying under Dr. Archibald Hart, Dr. David Augsburger, and Dr. Leith Anderson.  My final project/dissertation was an examination of church antagonism from the New Testament combined with family systems theory.

*I have written the book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict which is available on Amazon.

*I have written 569 blogs, most of them on some aspect of church conflict or pastoral termination.  Some pastors have told me my material is the best available on the internet.

*I have consulted with and advised scores of pastors, board members, and church members over the past seven years in regard to their own conflicts.

My credentials do not make me infallible.  I am learning all the time.  But I have a pretty good idea what constitutes healthy and unhealthy behavior in congregations.


Based on my knowledge and experience, I wish every church would adopt the following five resolutions concerning their pastor:

First, we resolve to handle conflicts concerning our pastor by consulting Scripture and our church’s governing documents.

Most Christian churches have a statement of faith that says that “The Bible is our authority for faith and practice.”

Faith refers to what Christians believe.  Practice refers to how Christians behave.

Both the Old and New Testaments have plenty to say about what causes conflicts and how to resolve them.  The New Testament in particular contains a host of verses designed to help Christians address, discuss, and resolve the conflicts in their churches.

For just a sampling, look up Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17-20; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 4:25-27; Colossians 3:12-15; 1 Timothy 5:19-21; Titus 3:10-11; 3 John 9-10.

Most church constitutions and bylaws also contain sections that specify how the congregation and/or the official board are to handle conflicts, especially those that involve the pastor.  These sections are usually based on the kinds of biblical passages listed above.  These documents were written when people were calm and rational.

But when people become overly emotional, they often ignore what their governing documents say and resort to the law of the jungle.  And ignoring your governing documents can put your church in legal jeopardy.

Second, we resolve to encourage people who are upset with our pastor to handle matters appropriately, which may involve speaking with him directly.

There are at least five things you can do if your pastor says or does something you don’t like:

*You can let the issue go.

*You can pray that he will change.

*You can discuss your concerns with family and friends from church.

*You can speak with your pastor directly.

*You can leave the church.

My wife and I attend a prominent church in our city.  We enjoy the pastor’s preaching, but I don’t always agree with him.  Several weeks ago, he made some statements that had me puzzled.

What should I do about my feelings?

I chose to speak with my wife on our way home from church.  She agreed with my analysis.

But I then let it go.

I didn’t need to pray that he would change because it was a relatively minor issue.  And I didn’t feel comfortable speaking with him directly because I’ve never met him.  And his statements certainly weren’t worth leaving the church over.

But notice one option I left out: forming a faction … listing all the pastor’s faults … going to a board member or staff member to join your cause … and trying to force the pastor out of office.

It’s not sinful to disagree with your pastor behind his back or to your face.  I know churches where if someone disagrees with their pastor, they’re labeled “divisive.”

That’s hogwash!

Division begins in a church when people get together and pool their grievances, especially when their discontent is focused on their pastor.  And that’s when Satan becomes involved according to Ephesians 4:25-27.

I do believe that if you see or hear your pastor engaged in sinful conduct, you should  address the matter with him directly.  That could involve an email, a letter, a casual meeting, or a formal appointment.

If you know him, that might not be too difficult.

But by contacting him directly, you give him the chance to respond to your concerns without involving others … which Matthew 18:15 commends.

And if you don’t like his answer, you can always escalate matters according to Matthew 18:16.

Third, we resolve to deal with issues involving our pastor as soon as possible.

In healthy congregations, people deal with issues as they arise.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27: “In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

In other words, deal with issues before the sun goes down!

In my third church … the healthiest one I pastored … I said something one time in a sermon that didn’t come out right.

After the service, several people stopped me and asked, “Did you really mean to say _______________________.?”

That’s healthy.  And when I realized what I had said, I laughed!

But in unhealthy congregations, people hoard issues against the pastor to be used at a future date.

When the pastor messes up … as he inevitably will … they compile a mental list of his faults.  And they add to the list over time, sharing their list with others who don’t like the pastor.  (It’s amazing how malcontents find each other, even in large churches.)

After they’ve identified others who feel as they do, they call a secret meeting and present their list of the pastor’s shortcomings.  And then someone in the group says, “How can we let this man be our pastor with all his imperfections?”

Church boards do this as well.  One board member is an Arminian who doesn’t like his pastor’s Calvinistic leanings.  Another board member thinks the pastor doesn’t spend enough time with his children.  And a third board member thinks the pastor doesn’t work hard enough.

Nobody ever discusses their concerns directly with the pastor, but at the right time, those board members may very well vocalize their grievances with each other … minimize the pastor’s strengths while maximizing his weaknesses … and either force him to resign or fire him outright.

And the pastor will wonder, “What in the world did I do wrong?  Why didn’t anybody talk to me about their concerns earlier?”

Fourth, we resolve to let the pastor defend himself against any and all charges.

Jesus defended Himself against the charges made against Him before His crucifixion.  Paul defended himself against Jewish and Roman opponents in the Book of Acts.

So we have biblical precedent for letting leaders defend themselves.

When a Christian leader is charged with a serious offense, letting that person defend themselves is the right thing to do.

Let’s say there are people in your church who suspect that your pastor is having an affair with a staff member’s wife.

And let’s say that someone produces some incriminating evidence against the pastor: a hotel receipt … a photograph … a slimy text message … or footage from a surveillance camera.

Should the board fire the pastor unilaterally?

The board could.  Church boards do it all the time.

But that doesn’t make it right.

I believe the board should meet with the pastor face-to-face … present him with the evidence … and let him have the opportunity to defend himself.

It might take an extra day or two, but so what?  The pastor should be given the opportunity to respond to the charges … or repent for his sinful behavior.

I know a church where the board had clear cut evidence that the pastor was sexually involved with a woman.  They could have fired him outright … but they met with him first … and then the pastor resigned.

But the problem in our day is that boards will often fire a pastor based on allegations or suspicions rather than airtight evidence or reliable witnesses.

And that’s setting a terrible precedent.

I believe the board shouldn’t determine the pastor’s status until they meet with him directly.  And in most cases, the pastor should be able to face his accusers.

Rather than rushing the pastor out the door … and making a host of mistakes … church boards should take enough time to work through a fair and just process.

Finally, we resolve to do everything in our power to work through any issues that we might have with the pastor, viewing termination as a last resort.

The more unhealthy the church, the more the leaders view pastoral termination as a first resort.

The more healthy the church, the more the leaders view termination as a last resort.

Ever know a married couple that wasn’t getting along?  They often have friends who whisper in the ear of the husband or wife, “Just get a divorce.  That’s what I did and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”

But if you’re really their friend, you should ask them, “Have you tried meeting with your pastor or a Christian counselor?  Have you read this or that Christian book?  Have you considered going on a marriage improvement retreat?  Shouldn’t you make a maximum effort to grow your marriage before you throw it away?”

Before tossing a pastor overboard, board members first need to ask themselves:

*Should we ask our pastor to meet with a qualified Christian counselor?

*Should we find a church consultant, a mediator, or a conflict manager?

*Should we ask our pastor to go on a healing or wellness retreat?

*Should we pay for him to attend a workshop or conference that addresses his weaknesses?

*Should we bring in someone who will help our pastor work together better with our board and staff?

The consequences of forcing out a pastor are devastating not only to the pastor and his family, but also to the congregation’s future.  It takes churches two to five years to recover from such a loss … and some never do.


The goal of making these five resolutions is to “win” over the pastor (Matthew 18:15-17) or to “restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1).

It’s not to humiliate him … or take vengeance against him … or destroy him … but to help him admit his mistakes so he will correct them in the future.

And so he can remain your pastor.

Isn’t this the way you would want to be treated?





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