(I hope you will read all the way through to the comments at the end, and a couple of add-on notes we felt were necessary to add.–Joe)
The preacher friend sent me a note to say that the virus had spread to his church too. He’ll soon be moving back to his home state and trying to start over.
I asked for a favor. “Sometimes when you feel up to it, write me about what happened to you. What did the committee say, what were their reasons? What did you do and what do you wish you had done?”
I hate this.
It’s like divorce. Nothing about it is good. Sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils and you do it for your own survival but it’s still awful.
But a divorce is a defeat. A divorce sends a message to the world, the kind of message we don’t want to be sending.
When churches elect to terminate a pastor forcibly, they’d better have some good reasons, is all I can say.
From all I know of Scripture, the Lord does not take kindly to those who mess with His messengers and those who tamper with the unity of His body. Both issues are on the table when a church decides to oust a pastor.
Technically, I suppose, my friend was not fired. But the little group of members brought considerable pressure for him to resign. “If we take it to the church and the congregation terminates you, there won’t be any severance.”
How they knew what the congregation would do is beyond me. In my experience, those little groups often receive a stern comeuppance when the matter is aired before the whole church.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that was what they wanted to avoid, having to go public with their bullying tactics.
And so this terrible plague continues.
I post something like this on my website and my mailbox is soon filled with pastors saying, “I’ve been through that. God bless that pastor. God help His church.”
Question: Are there good reasons to fire a pastor abruptly on the spot?
Short answer: Sure, for proven immorality, documented illegality, flagrant indecency, and outright heresy.
Those, may I say, are rarely the reasons churches get rid of preachers.
Well then, what are the reasons for not firing a preacher abruptly and forcibly? All the other conditions.
You do not fire a preacher because you don’t like him, the congregation thinks he is a poor fit for them, you find his sermons boring, or his leadership is lacking something.
When the leadership comes to the conclusion that the pastor is personally obnoxious or mismatched for their church or that his sermons are lousy or his leadership non-existent, there are ways to deal with him. And that way is not for a little group of self-appointed leaders to sneak around on the prowl and threaten the preacher with a scandalous firing unless he goes quietly.
This is the way of cowards, not the faithful men and women of God.
I’ll give you my assessment on the number one reason churches terminate pastors and send them packing for reasons other than those listed above (immorality, illegality, indecency, and heresy). The lay leadership of the church has failed to stand up to a pastor who has been negligent in some areas. Instead, they have put it off onto others, postponed it, shied away from it, stalled, worried about it, gossiped about it, watched the church suffer as a result of the preacher’s misdoings and their inaction, and now that conditions have reached critical mass, they say “it’s gone too far now,” and they pink-slip him.
They fire the preacher for their own failures.
This is the coward’s way out. The way of unbelief. An abrupt firing will do great damage to the minister and his family, limit his ability to get another church, and bring “this” church into disrepute for having treated a minister in such a manner.
Sorry if that sounds harsh.
What is the healthy approach to this matter?
Every church should have in place a small team of key lay leaders who visit the preacher occasionally, if for no other reason than to remind him they’re there and in place.
I will say again: the preacher needs to know they’re there. He needs to know that if he is negligent or worse, they will be all over him like sunshine on a cornfield.
When things are going well, let them visit him and brag on him. At those times, make the meetings brief–five minutes in the pastor’s office will do–and end with a couple of people praying for him.
When things are going badly, but the preacher is working hard to get the church healthy and matters back on track, the group will visit him and love on him and pray for him. They will encourage him.
A pastor needs to know he has not been abandoned to stop this train wreck alone, and that all the responsibility is all on him.
You will be blessing him and honoring Christ by the leadership dropping in for a few minutes to encourage him and then pray for him.
And when things are going badly in the church?
When and if the time ever comes that matters have come to a head and you need to talk straight to him, then you have the people in place and a precedent started. You have credibility with him. He knows you love him and you care for what he’s trying to do.
He will listen to you.
When that happens…
1). Do nothing without sound counsel from denominational advisors and two or three veteran pastors who can be trusted.
2) Do nothing without a great deal of prayer and even fasting. This is scary territory and you want to tread softly.
3) Do nothing with less than full agreement among the church leadership.
4) So treat this pastor that he will forever bless your church, and when the news gets out–as it will–other churches will be inspired by yours and other pastors would not mind having their names submitted to your next search committee.
God bless and lead you, my friends, to honor your pastor, strengthen your church, and to leave your community with a great respect for the congregation that meets at your address.
One of my pastor friends pointed out (wisely, I think) that the “little group” which visits the pastor occasionally “just to let him know they are there” should rotate its membership lest they too become impressed by their power and start calling the shots. He added that no one in the group should be opposed to the preacher. If that is the case, they should automatically recuse themselves from serving.
It’s amazing we have to state such a thing, isn’t it? But he’s right. So, let me make a couple of points….
1) This “little group” has no power. It cannot tell the preacher what to do or what he should have done. They are not “the pastor’s advisory group.” (I shudder!)
2) They are a prayer-support team for him. They are his encouragers. (What should they be called? My answer: Don’t call them anything. They are not one more layer of church bureaucracy. They are a few leaders who love the Lord, love each other, and believe in the office of pastor. They are people of courage.)
3) And if he gets in trouble, these people can be his rescuers. If someone is attacking him unfairly, they can stand up and defend him. If the entire congregation is out of line in their demands on the pastor, this “little group” can go before them and call them back to reality. (Anyone ever seen such a thing? It has to be rare. Many a church could have been rescued before it self-destructed had a few leaders banded together and spoken truth to them, in love and with firmness.)