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Posts Tagged ‘the church board and pastoral termination’

For many years, I have listened to pastors, board members, and parishioners tell me about the conflicts that have occurred in their churches.

Yes, there are some immature pastors out there, and sometimes they deserve to be dismissed.

But all too often, governing board members take a minor conflict with their pastor and make it worse by the injudicious way they handle matters.

From what I’ve gathered, there are two kinds of boards when it comes to pastoral conflict: the immature board, and the mature board.

Let’s contrast them in five ways:

First, the immature board relies initially on business practices, while the mature board relies on Scripture.

When some small business owners hear complaints about their pastor, their attitude may be, “If the pastor worked for me, I’d fire him immediately.”

Sometimes it doesn’t take long for a few other board members to sing the same chorus … and then the entire board decides to remove their pastor from office.

But a church is not a business … it’s a collection of Christians for whom the Bible is “their authority for faith and practice.”

So before business practices come into play, the mature board will say, “Let’s examine the relevant biblical passages on correcting a pastor before we inject any business practices into our decision-making.”

And then they’ll examine Deuteronomy 19:15-21 … Matthew 18:15-20 … Galatians 6:1,2 … and 1 Timothy 5:19-21, among others.

Only after studying the scriptural admonitions will they sift through which business practices might be relevant.

Second, the immature board engages in reactivity, while the mature board responds wisely.

Many years ago, country singer Lee Ann Womack had a hit song about a woman who took away her man.  Womack sings mischievously, “I really hate her, I’ll think of a reason later.”

Unfortunately, that’s the identical sentiment that immature boards have about their pastor.

Their pastor isn’t guilty of heresy, or sexual immorality, or criminal behavior.

No, but a key person in the church … the associate pastor’s wife … the office manager’s husband … the board chairman’s brother … just doesn’t like the pastor.

In fact, their feelings may be much stronger than that … a single person may actually hate the pastor.

While these feelings may not have originated inside the governing board, they’re so strong that they begin to gain momentum and spread inside the inner circle.

But the mature board doesn’t react suddenly to these kinds of feelings.  Instead, they respond in a measured but sensible fashion.

The mature board challenges feelings of dislike and hatred … tries to discover what’s underneath those feelings … and tells the complainers, “Look, these simply aren’t biblical reasons for getting rid of a pastor.  If you don’t like him, we suggest you leave the church, because most people here don’t just like the pastor, they love him.”

Third, the immature board gives up quickly on improving pastoral relations, while the mature board pulls out all the stops.

Several weeks ago, I attended church conflict intervention training with Dr. Peter Steinke, who has done more than 200 such interventions.

Dr. Steinke said that when church leaders are having problems with their pastor, the pastor needs to be given 12-15 months to change.  (Naturally, this does not apply to cases of heresy, immorality, or criminality.)

But immature boards become captured by anxiety and aren’t willing to give their pastor time to improve his performance.  After a few mistakes and complaints, they want him out: NOW!

Church boards need to remember that pastors may appear fully grown physically and educationally when they come to a church, but they still have some growing to do spiritually and emotionally … and God may want to use their church to help his growth along.

Mature boards realize they have many options at their disposal when they’re having trouble with their pastor, including mediation, bringing in a consultant, attending a conflict workshop together, and encouraging the pastor to seek counseling or take extended time off.

But immature boards think: “The pastor is either all good or all bad.  Since he’s not all good right now, let’s toss him overboard.”

Do board members treat their family members the same way?

Fourth, the immature board seeks retribution, while the mature board seeks restoration.

One Sunday, the pastor says something deemed inappropriate in his sermon.  In fact, several people claim they’re highly offended by what he said.

The matter makes its way to the governing board.  The wife and older daughter of one board member are particularly incensed.

What should the board do?  Demand the pastor apologize publicly?  Express their collective outrage?  Censure him?

The immature board will look at who is offended … their position in the church … and hit back angrily at the pastor for his remark.

The mature board will share their concern with the pastor and let him address the issue … always seeking to treat him fairly and lovingly … knowing any one of them could make a mistake themselves.

Finally, the immature board blames any conflict solely on the pastor, while the mature board realizes there’s sufficient blame to go around.

If a pastor begins his ministry on a Monday, and he shoots and kills a staff member three days later, okay, the pastor is solely to blame for that conflict.

But when a pastor has been in a church for a few years, but some people want to get rid of him, is that scenario always the pastor’s fault?

The pastor may be responsible for letting a conflict fester … for not apologizing for his misbehavior … for doing something without authorization … and for saying something really stupid.

But are any of those shortcomings reasons he should be dismissed from a church?  If they’re honest, aren’t all the board members guilty of the same indiscretions at times?

Much of the time, after a pastor has been dismissed, the church board tries to ruin the pastor’s reputation.

He becomes a convenient scapegoat because he’s no longer around.  Things that should have been said to his face are unfairly circulated behind his back.

If the pastor knew what was being said about him, he could easily correct any misstatements.  But when he doesn’t know what’s being said, gossip and speculation are easily substituted for fact.

The pastor’s character, conduct, and ministry are painted in the worst possible light … and sadly, all too many people believe the house spin because they never run what they hear by the pastor.

The board will then sit back and let the pastor’s reputation take a pounding because then no one will know what part they played in the conflict.

The immature board says, “The conflict we had is 100% the pastor’s fault.”

The mature board says, “While the pastor hasn’t demonstrated perfect behavior during this impasse, we haven’t handled matters brilliantly, either, and will do what we can to make things right.”

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Whenever a conflict in a church involves the pastor and governing board, those conflicts are stressful, and when people are under stress, they say and do things that are more childish than adult.

During such times, we pray that our pastor and spiritual leaders will behave in a Christian manner, and that they will not resort to name-calling, lying, slander, and destruction.

Immature boards do.

Mature boards don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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