When church committees begin to jump the track

“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees formed a council and said, ‘What do we do? For this man does many miracles. If we let him alone, all will believe on him” (John 11:47-48).

After watching the Lord Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, the religious leaders were faced with a choice. They could either do what the common folk were doing and worship Jesus, or not.  My friend Josh Carter, pastor in Memphis, points out what they actually did: they formed a committee.

By creating a committee, we hand off the assignment–the decision on what to do and how to do it–to a group of “others.”

Sometimes that works out.  Often it doesn’t.

Earlier today, a friend in another state texted to say that her nephew, an associate pastor of a church–a young man with seminary degrees and several years of experience–had just received a visit from the congregation’s personnel committee. According to this little group, the minutes of the business meeting in which he had been hired several years back identifies him as a youth director, not associate pastor. Thus they are cutting his pay and hours commensurate with that position.  My friend wrote, “He has plaques on the wall from the church identifying him as associate pastor.”

Veteran pastors know precisely what’s happening here.  What it “ain’t” is a committee trying to be true to the original vision of a staff minister.  What it “is” is a bunch of folks deciding to do an end run on the pastor and trim the sails of a staff member, with the end result being to run him off.

Make no mistake. That’s what the point of this is.

Rogue committees. Maverick committees.  They are all the rage these days, it seems.

At what point, we wonder, does a small group of nice church people start to “go bad?”  Can we spot the trouble-signs in order to be prepared for their jumping the tracks?

Are there identifying and tell-tale signs to watch out for?

Here are several we have identified. You’ll think of others.

1. The chairman says, “I thought it would be best to discuss this without the pastor (and/or staff) present.”  Now, unless the reason for this is a surprise party they’re planning for the preacher, nothing about it is good.

Any constitution and bylaws worth the paper it’s printed on spells out that the pastor is a member of every committee in the church.  Any meeting of a committee that seeks to exclude him is thus illegal.

2. The chairman–or someone in leadership in the committee–says, “Let’s go ahead and do this thing, but not tell the church. The  members just wouldn’t understand.”

Anytime a decision-making group decides to hide something from the congregation, nothing good will come from it.

3. “Let’s not tell the deacons.  They talk too much.”  Ditto.

4. “The church needs us to stay on this assignment and not rotate off.”

And so, they begin to maneuver with the committee on committees to have their rotating off members reappointed. This is probably contrary to the bylaws of the church.

5. “Well, I don’t know what the Bible says–and it really isn’t pertinent to this issue anyway–so let’s go ahead.”

Anyone on that committee needs to say, “Hold on. Maybe you don’t know what the Bible says on this issue, but some of us do.”

It’s all right to be a burr under the saddle of a mustang. They need to be tamed.

6. “I know the bylaws say otherwise, but those things are outdated anyway.”

For most people, revising and updating the church constitution/bylaws is a most boring assignment. And yet, few things will head off a church fight/division better than a well-written document that covers the subject. Pastors in particular should dedicate themselves to see that these are kept current. (I’ve actually known pastors who bragged that their church had no bylaws.  Such ignorance does not deserve an answer.)

7. “I’m so glad to finally get on this committee. There are some changes I’ve been wanting to make.”

Quarantine this guy the way you would someone with bubonic plague.  Watch him like a hawk, and be prepared to challenge any power grab.

8. Chairman: “I’ve invited this consultant to meet with our committee.  I knew you all wouldn’t mind.”

That’s the time for you  to raise your hand. “Mr. Chairman, could we ask the consultant to step outside please while we talk about something important.”  Then, when the door closes, you say, “Now, please tell us what this is all about.”  Be sweet, not threatening, and listen.  It’s critical for committee chairs to know they are held accountable by their membership.

9. No prayer.

This is more an indication of a carnal mind-set than it is an actual affront to the Almighty.  Most of us have numerous quick conversations with friends without feeling a need to begin and end with prayer. But when we do business for the Lord for HIs church, if one place on earth should feature prayer as a major component, this is it.

10. “I know this is outside our committee’s assigned area, but…”

As a committee member, you listen carefully, prepared to put the brakes on anything out of line.  This could be as benign as honoring the pastor on his anniversary, but it’s just as likely to be a power grab by some disgruntled member who is chairing a committee.

11. “Can I say something in confidence in this room and it not be repeated?”

I once asked that of a personnel committee in a church I pastored. The chairman said, “Pastor, I wouldn’t say anything in this room you don’t want repeated.”  Great answer.

12. “The way I read the bylaws, we are not accountable to the pastor or anyone.”

Everyone is accountable to someone.  If the pastor is the overseer of the church–as Acts 20:28 says the Holy Spirit makes him–then all committees and officers are accountable to him.  He himself is accountable to the congregation or any smaller body within the church they designate.

These are merely red flags that may or may not indicate trouble ahead.  As a wise steward of your assigned ministry, and as one who loves the Lord and His church, you are ever alert for any sign of danger.

It takes courage to stand up against leadership of any kind, to “speak truth to power,” as the saying goes.

Do not agree to be appointed to anything unless you sense the Lord’s leadership.  Then, if you find yourself in such a situation, you are comforted in knowing none of this surprises Him and can count on His direction as to what you should do.

As with everything else we do, our object is to glorify the Lord and bless His church.


1 thought on “When church committees begin to jump the track

  1. Wow, great article. 40 years in ministry, made my share of mistakes and have heard of ir experienced much if what you write about here. Bro Joe, most pastors, especially young ones, need to read this.

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