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Posts Tagged ‘termating a pastor’

The most-read article on this blog is called “If You Must Terminate a Pastor.”  It’s been viewed 3 times more than any other article, indicating that many church leaders seek help with this problem.

Right now, I’m working on an e-book targeted for church decision makers – especially church boards – that are thinking about removing their pastor from office.  Tentatively, the first chapter is about why pastors are special … a consideration most decision makers block from their minds when they want to remove their shepherd.  Here is an excerpt from that initial chapter in draft form.  Feel free to comment.  

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I know a lot about pastors, far more than I know about people in any other profession.  My grandfather was a pastor.  My dad was a pastor.  My father-in-law and step-father were pastors.  (They were both missionaries, too.)  In seminary, I got to know professors who had dedicated their lives to training pastors, as well as fellow students who sensed God’s call to ministry.  In my own life, I’ve held eight church positions over thirty-six years, and today I work with pastors from various denominations in a non-profit ministry.  I like pastors.

But as a church decision maker, it’s possible that your experience with pastors has been limited.  Maybe the only pastors you’ve known are the ones that have served your present church.  Or maybe this is your first assignment as a church decision maker and you’ve been a bit surprised by what really goes on behind-the-scenes.

Let me share with you several truths about pastors that you need to keep on your frontal lobes as you consider removing your pastor from office:

First, your pastor has been called by God to ministry. 

Through a convergence of events that He orchestrated, God selected your pastor – out of thousands of individuals – to serve Him in church ministry.  The call may have come all at once like a bolt of lightning, or it may have come upon your pastor gradually over time.  But your pastor did not call himself to ministry – God called him.

My Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Charles Feinberg, used to tell prospective pastors, “If you can do anything other than being a pastor, do it.”   Why did he say that?   Because the best pastors are the ones who know that God has called them and don’t quit when things get rough.  Many seminary students have no idea what it’s like to be a pastor, and if they really knew what it takes, the majority would probably drop out.  The hours are long.  The pay isn’t great.  The emergencies never stop – and neither does the criticism.  Especially the criticism.

Many years ago, a man who was a bit odd asked if we could meet for lunch.  He didn’t come to church very often.  He wasn’t a member.   To my knowledge, he had never volunteered for any ministry.   He didn’t have any friends at church.  But during our lunch together, he tried to tell me how to preach.   I had a style that I had developed over more than thirty years, and this occasional attendee was going to tell me how to teach God’s Word?  He could barely put two sentences together.

Not every person who claims that God has called him or her to ministry has really been called.  The call must be confirmed through a process called ordination, which is done by a candidate’s local church.  Although there is no one way to become ordained, the process usually involves the candidate writing out his conversion experience and call to ministry, along with a summary of his biblical beliefs. Then the ordination council – usually composed of pastors from other churches as well as laymen from the candidate’s congregation – examines the candidate, posing questions designed to test his knowledge of Scripture and theology.

When the time of examination is concluded, the candidate is dismissed, and members of the council deliberate as to whether or not the candidate should be ordained.  If the council recommends ordination, the ordination ceremony takes place a few days later – usually in front of the entire congregation – where the pastor takes ordination vows and his call to ministry is officially recognized by those who know him best.

How much do you know about your pastor’s call to ministry?  Do you know when and where he was ordained?  Do you know the name of the church that ordained him?

My friend Charles Wickman, who was a pastor for many years, was fond of saying that a church should celebrate their pastor’s call to ministry on an annual basis as a way of saying, “Our pastor is God’s man for this church.”   When was the last time your church celebrated your pastor’s call to ministry?

This does not mean that you can never remove your pastor from office.  But it does mean that you need to tread lightly if you seek to remove him.   God had His hand on your pastor at one time.   Could that still be the case?

Second, your pastor was assigned by God to your particular church.

While God calls individuals to church ministry in general – which is recognized through ordination – He calls specific pastors to specific churches … recognized through an investigative process often known as candidating.

When a search team from your church initially contacted your pastor, many people were obviously impressed by him.  The search team and pastor probably traded emails, phone calls, and written documents, maybe leading to an interview via Skype.  Then the pastor was invited to visit your campus and meet members of the search team, and if they were sufficiently pleased, your pastor later preached before the congregation and did a question-and-answer session before the entire congregation, the church board, and other relevant groups.

If the search team and governing board received positive feedback about the candidate, then your congregation probably took a vote and invited the candidate to become your pastor.   After such a lengthy investigative process, many people in your church undoubtedly concluded that God had called your pastor to your church.

There’s also a sense in which your church hired your pastor, and any employee who is hired can also be fired.  But when pastors talk about leaving their home and moving their family to serve a new congregation, they invariably tell people that God called them to that church.  I’ve observed that whenever a pastor initially comes to a church, many people refer to the pastor’s call, but if the pastor later finds himself in hot water with church leaders, the language changes. People start dropping the term “call” and start saying that the pastor was “hired” instead.  When leaders stop referring to the pastor’s call, they imply that God wasn’t involved in bringing your pastor to your church and that your leaders were the real reason he came.  But this doesn’t change the fact that at one time, the leaders and congregation of your church believed that your current pastor was God’s man for your people.

Ask yourself: if God clearly wanted him to come here, what evidence do we have now that God wants him to leave?  Regardless of how you currently feel about your pastor, please do not factor God out of your discussions and deliberations.  Just as church leaders sought God’s will when your pastor first came, so too church leaders need to seek God’s will if your pastor’s time at your church is drawing to a close.

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If you were a church decision maker, and you were contemplating forcing your pastor to resign, how much weight would the above arguments have on you?  Let me know.

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