“The things you have heard from me….commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore…(are to be) a good soldier of Jesus Christ….” (II Timothy 2:2-3)
If your pastor is a godly, humble man who is leading the congregation to minister effectively and become healthy spiritually, give thanks and support him enthusiastically.
You are the envy of a lot of other churches.
The caller the other night said he is a lay leader of his church, a strong tither, and a volunteer who can be counted on. The church he loves so much is into freefall with members deserting it in droves and going to other churches, while his pastor is a liar, a bully, and on the way to becoming a dictator. Church attendance is one-half what it was when the preacher came a few years back.
What to do?
He had story after story of pastoral malfeasance. The preacher had run this good staff member off, spent money for that project without church approval, fired employees without cause, and lied to several people.
After a while I said, “I’ve heard enough. Can I tell you what the bottom line is?”
Has this pastor violated the church’s constitution and by-laws in such an egregious manner as to warrant his dismissal?
He said, “I don’t know. I’ve not seen the constitution and bylaws in a long time.” I said, “Find it. Read it. Learn it so well you can quote it by memory.”
1) Every church needs–must have!–a written constitution and by-laws to govern itself. Otherwise, a new pastor may decide to fill that vacuum and operate the church as he pleases. Then, unless you have some strong traditions to fall back on and extra-strong lay leaders to stand up to him, he will get by with it.
Someone reading this asks, “Joe, aren’t you always pro-pastor? You’ve said as much in the past.” Answer: “Since I pastored over 42 years and know that side of the work best, I’m prone to take the pastor’s side in disputes. But I’m not blind. There are bullies in the pulpit and pastors with bad mental health who are destroying the churches where they were sent to shepherd God’s people. They should be dealt with firmly.”
2) The constitution and by-laws need to be kept up to date.
I am well aware that pastors generally prefer to leave that document alone when it becomes outdated since it can become a strait-jacket and choke off all spontaneity and freedom in responding to the Spirit. However, by deciding to let the weeds (mold?) grow in the constitution/bylaws, the pastor is a) shirking his responsibility to the church, b) making himself vulnerable to the whims of some lay leaders who may or may not have the best interests of the church at heart, and c) abandoning the church in the future to the whims of its next pastors.
One of the finest things a pastor can do for the next generation of members is to help its lay leadership formulate a wonderful and “living” constitution/by-laws. (By living, we mean it must be continually tweaked to adjust to ever-changing situations. The document that governed the church in the 1960s will not work today.)
3) Once a member becomes convinced that the pastor is damaging the church, his first act should be to get a copy of the Constitution/bylaws and read it from stem to stern, looking for any article that pertains to the pastoral role. There should be a great deal in there which speaks to calling a pastor, terminating him, and the expectations placed upon his ministry. (Believe me, wise pastors study that document before accepting the call to a church. They want to know what they are getting into. So, laypeople should make sure it’s a true reflection of reality.)
4) If the member decides that the pastor has not violated that document (or the “spirit” of the document), in most cases he should back off and not make trouble for the preacher or disturb the church.
5) Thereafter, the only decision will be whether to stay or to leave. But the one option which the concerned member should not pursue is forcing the preacher out, just because he disagrees with his style.
I cannot say too strongly that ousting a pastor because “his style does not fit our church” or “there is a malaise in the church” or “it’s time for new leadership” is always–always!–a bad idea.
This is not to say there is nothing the membership can do when the pastor has become a detriment to the health of the congregation. Often, it involves a team of the godliest, most mature leaders having a “come to Jesus” meeting with him. (Sorry for that phrase, but it expresses the idea as well as any I know.)
6) Anytime a pastor is forced out in a vote of the congregation unless there are serious breaches of ethics, morals, or legalities, in the war that invariably accompanies such actions, good people are wounded, outsiders look on with disgust, the name of Christ is dragged into the dirt, and the church is seriously wounded to the point that recovering will take years.
Better to back off, have the leaders work with the pastor to make adjustments and corrections, trust the leadership, and devote yourself to prayer and encouragement for all involved.
7) Your overriding concern is for the church.
I can hear someone protesting, “That’s exactly why we are concerned. He’s killing our church.”
I asked the caller, “Does the pastor have his supporters?” He does. “They’re in the minority,” he said. “There are those who like him and would support him no matter what, those who support him because he’s the pastor, and those who will never leave the church no matter what a preacher does.”
To lead an insurrection and oust this pastor would cause far more problems than it would solve (again, this assumes there are no violations of morals, scripture, legalities, etc).
Keep reminding yourself of Matthew 16:18. This is the Lord’s church and He will build it. He is the Owner and Operator of every church in which He is pleased, and as a member (or the pastor even), I am not. He died for it, and I didn’t. He loves the church more than I ever could.
So, whatever you do, do no harm to the church.
Do no harm.