My friend was telling me about the woes of a church in the next town.
“They got a new pastor. He moved in and took over. When he got wind of something going on in the church weekday school he didn’t like, he called the principal and teachers in and fired them. He sent the students home and told them the church didn’t have a school any more.”
I said, “He closed the school?”
“Just like that. Did it on his own authority.”
“Was the school in trouble or anything?”
“Not to my knowledge. We know people who sent their children there. It seemed to be a fine school.”
“So what happened?”
“Everyone is upset. Some of the members left and went to other churches, and attendance is down in that church.”
“Not to my knowledge.”
I find this incredulous.
What kind of church, you have to wonder, turns over the whole shooting match to a new pastor without any kind of guidance or understanding about his limits.
Without any accountability.
I think I know. Churches that are run over and victimized by such pastors are usually loosely organized, casually set up, and skeptical about oversight by anyone. Their administrative philosophy, if they have one, is something like “If God calls the pastor, He will guide him.”
The church that does this is asking for all the trouble it’s going to get.
Pastors are human. They make mistakes, have ego problems, misunderstand their roles in the church, sometimes misinterpret Scriptures, and endure the same temptations as everyone else.
They need a lot more than some churches are providing.
—Pastors need a clear understanding of their role before they are employed. They need to know what the congregation is expecting, where their authority ends.
A pastor I know was informed by the search committee that he would be expected to mow the church lawn and keep the facility looking good. The Lord did not lead him to become their pastor, you will not be surprised to hear. But I give them high marks for telling the prospective preacher before he arrived on the scene and then hitting him with that little bit of news.
—New pastors need to receive a copy of the church’s constitution and bylaws. And if the church doesn’t have one, they should get one. And keep it current.
That document spells out how the church is to be operated. It is for the protection of everyone. So why do churches not have constitutions and bylaws? My observation is that two reasons account for this: a) the pastor does not want to be held accountable to a document so he can free-wheel it, and b) laziness on the part of everyone. It’s just easier to “go along to get along.” But churches without a constitution and bylaws are putting themselves in harm’s way and will deserve the trouble they get. Sad to say.
—Pastors need to know to whom in the church they are accountable. If the answer to that is, “God only,” you’re asking for trouble. They are, we all are, accountable to God, true enough. But we need a little more help than this.
The pastor who thinks of this as a burden is looking at it wrong. This group can be his best friend in the church.
Every pastor needs an accountability group, no matter what it’s called. If it’s the deacons (I do not recommend that) or personnel committee or administrative committee or something else entirely, this should be a) spelled out in the constitution and bylaws and b) explained to the pastor before he agrees to accept the call to that church. Without accountability, the pastor can run a church into the ground and there’s little anyone can do about it.
The stories I could tell.
A word about the accountability group. It needs to be small, no more than four. It needs women and men, all of them mature and godly. And they need to meet with the pastor at least quarterly. These can be casual times of sweet fellowship and prayer when things are going well. But there absolutely has to be a moment when the chair asks two questions: a) Does anyone need to call the pastor’s attention to something? b) Pastor, is there anything you need our help on?
The little group should be stable, with everyone serving three years at a time, and rotating among the membeship, so that no one or two people see themselves as the authority over the pastor.
They are not the pastor’s employer. They do not hire and fire. They are there as the representatives of the congregation to help the pastor keep things focused, to stay out of ditches.
The bottom line, then…
A new pastor needs a) a clear understanding of the church’s expectations of him concerning his duties and his limitations; b) a copy of the church’s constitution and by-laws, that are current and being followed; and c) an accountability group of some kind.
I know a church whose longtime pastor is seriously ill and yet will not give up the pastorate of his church. He’s long past age 65 and basically incapacitated. And yet, because the church has no written policies–which is all the constitution and bylaws are–there is no person or persons with the authority to represent the congregation before him and rescue this church. Meanwhile, it’s dying and he does nothing about it.
The internet and one’s denominational office will have all the help a church ever needs on how to write and keep current such a written policy. Pastors need it. The church needs it.