What to do about pastors who ride the church into the ground

Recently in this blog, we said pastors should be terminated abruptly if they are guilty of flagrant indecency, proven immorality, confirmed illegality, and serious heresy.

Several friends wrote to ask about pastors who are not guilty of those serious breaches, but are simply deadbeat preachers.

One said of her pastor, “He’s not guilty of any cardinal sins, but he simply stands by collecting a paycheck when the congregation has dwindled down from 250 to 50. All the programs and ministries are no longer functioning. Many changes were forced upon the people, changes they did not want.”

Her pastor receives a hefty salary while watching the church die around him and doing nothing about it.

She added, “When asked about all the people who were leaving–three-fourths of the church!–he says, ‘Well, they shouldn’t be here if they don’t want to be.’  And these are people who have worshiped there forty and fifty years.”

She wanted to know what I had to say about that situation.

Unfortunately, she’s not alone.  I’ve heard from several about such pastors who are dead weights on the congregation.

I have two thoughts: a) A lazy do-nothing pastor should be ushered out of the ministry as quickly as it’s determined that he is beyond helping. b) However, the blame for his continuing in the pulpit and hastening the church’s demise should be laid at the feet of the lay leadership.  They clearly decided not to deal with the man.

In most cases, the members who remained are the passive ones willing to let the pastor do whatever he chooses and as little as he pleases.

What does a church do with a deadbeat pastor?

1) Define “deadbeat.”  That could mean one thing to one person and something else to another.

One person described their pastor as one who does not make pastoral calls, is not available for counseling, preaches unprepared sermons, and gives no hands-on leadership to anything. That is precisely what I would call deadbeat.

2) There are several ways of dealing with such a preacher. Here are some considerations and suggestions….

a. Ideally, you personally should schedule a visit with the preacher. He hears you and repents and changes his way.

But if he truly is a parasite on the body of the redeemed, he will slough you off.  When that happens, you try something else.

b. Does your church have in place elected lay leaders such as deacons (with their officers), a personnel committee (with officers), or an administrative committee (ditto)?  If so, after trying unsuccessfully to deal with the pastor personally, go to Plan B.  Make a visit to the leading layperson(s) and share your concern.

c. What  provisions are in your church’s constitution and bylaws?  Study it and look for orderly and acceptable ways to bring issues to the attention of the pastor or the congregation in a regular business session.

This means, of course, that churches should keep these documents up to date and in working order, and that leaders should know them backward and forward.

Some of my pastor friends say with poorly-concealed delight that their church does not have a constitution and it frees them to do things their way.  This is unbelievably short-sighted.  I ask them what about the next preacher? What if he is a dictator or tries to take the church from your denomination or to make it into something unbiblical? Without proper safeguards, the membership may be helpless.

d. If the pastoral situation is in serious need of immediate action, a small group of elected leaders would be the ideal ones to visit the pastor and bring this to his attention.  That could be the three chairpersons above (deacons, personnel, administrative) or something resembling that group.

Please note, while I do think such a small group should call on the pastor from time to time to pray with/for him and encourage him, and while I believe they are the proper ones to deal with him when he is lazy or out of control, they are not his boss and exercise no authority over him.

The worst people to deal with a wayward pastor are those known to be against him. He will not listen to such members, and will discount anything they say.  The best ones to speak are people who have loved him and supported him.

3) The leaders chosen to call on the pastor will want to consider the following:

a. Each must have demonstrated faithfulness and loyalty to the Lord’s church.  If they haven’t, nothing they say will carry weight with the pastor.

I like to tell congregations that “there is a way for you to oppose a program the pastor and deacons are bringing before the church and carry the day.” That gets their attention. That way is for you, the individual member, to build a reputation as firmly in the pastor’s corner, faithful to the Lord, always responsible, and forever positive. Then, when something comes up which you cannot accept and you stand to speak out, you should have their undivided attention.

b. Spend much time in prayer and even fasting, seeking the Father’s hand to be with you in this and His will to be done. See Nehemiah 1 for how he waited on the Lord before approaching his king.

c. In meeting with the pastor, one member of the team is the spokesperson, but the others must speak out and take a stand. If they remain silent, a pastor intent on getting his way might assume the stronger member has intimidated the others.  He needs to know where everyone stands.

d. If the pastor accepts the criticism and offers to make some changes, I suggest that the leadership team hear him out, then inform him that they would like to confer with one another and get back to him the next day. They should go ahead and make the appointment.

e.  When the team meets in private, each one voices his/her concerns to see if a consensus is possible.  If even one member of the team backs off, the others should also.  Without unity among the lay leadership, the wheels can come off this train in a hurry.  (Therefore, the leader would simply tell the pastor, “Our group cannot agree on what to do next. I would suggest, pastor, you proceed with the changes you mentioned last night during our visit.”)

f. If and when the pastor begins to do better, encourage him in private. Listen to other members to see if they are noticing the difference and if this is being well received.

Let me say before ending this that nothing is more important than seeking God’s will in prayer and obeying Him, no matter how unorthodox it seems or what counsel you receive to do otherwise.  Every church situation is unique and therefore one size does not fit all.

No one loves the church more than the Lord Himself.  Always bear in mind that according to Matthew 16:18, this is Jesus’s church and He is in charge.  He is both Owner and Operator. The single most important prayer you will always want to offer to Him is, “Lord, what will you have us to do?”

Then, go do it.  He has never been wrong yet.


4 thoughts on “What to do about pastors who ride the church into the ground

  1. A lot of this depends on if the leadership is at fault too and wishes to take responsibility. Sometimes bad leadership will blame the pastor for their errors. Other times it is the pastor who is at fault but the leadership still likes him, regardless of what the congregation thinks. Sometimes the largest donors still like him. That pits the lesser donors against the large donors. This is not a good situation.

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