The occasion of this message was a series I delivered to a church where I serve as Interim Pastor. In the past this congregation had some difficult staff issues and as part of helping the church get ready for when they call a pastor, I delivered this message as the third in a series of four in 2008.
“Heaven Forbid” OR “How To Fire A Pastor/Minister” (1 Chron 16:22)
Caveat: Everything I’ll say by way of illustration comes from my experience & not this congregation. My experience is that three of the four churches I’ve served fired the pastor prior to me… not including other staff they forced to resign. With that said…
I’ve been in discussions with an individual who is a frustrated with what’s going on at their church. This person is not a malcontent, one who criticizes, or trouble-maker. They love the Lord and want their church to grow… be strong… build up believers… and reach the lost for Christ.
The things this person is troubled over are not doctrinal… they aren’t moral or ethical either. If they were, there would be no question about what to do. Instead the issues are much more nuanced… much more difficult to address… much more subjective. What are the “problems?”
In the past two years the Wednesday night schedule has been turned upside down five times. The Sunday night schedule has been vamped, re-vamped, & re-vamped again. The music is unbearably loud for many people. The pastor is out of the pulpit 8-10 Sundays a year. There have been staff problems… which they are working on & hopefully have gotten better. There are about 100 more in Sunday School than worship. Members are talking among themselves about all these things as dissatisfaction grows.
This person told me they decided: 1) Not talk to anyone in the church about their dissatisfaction, 2) Not to let anyone else in their church talk to them about the situation, 3) To pray for their pastor.
Aside. If every church member would do those things when there are issues in their church, we would be MUCH better off! As it stands, that kind of attitude is pretty much absent from our congregations. And we’re all the worse off for it…
Here’s the rationale behind the person who made those three commitments. They told me, “That is God’s man, I’m not going to disparage him in any way. God will take care of it. The Scripture is clear about how I am to relate to God’s man & I will not violate it.” 1 Thess 5:12…
Respect those who labor among you & are over you in the Lord & admonish you, 13 & to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders & submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this w/ joy & not w/ groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
1 Tim 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
1 Chron 16:22 Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!
Those are the reasons this person is determined to follow the path they’ve chosen. When that person stands before God, they will NOT be ashamed! Would that more would follow that path.
Listen! God will not allow an unfaithful minister to abuse the Bride of Christ. He will handle & chastise them. The Chief Shepherd loves His sheep passionately… is jealous of them… & will not allow them to be neglected or treated harshly by anyone… including & especially the Pastor.
So what should be done when a ministerial staff member does… or is doing something… that is not good for the church? What should the leadership of the church do when the minister is hurting the congregation but is NOT immoral, unethical, illegal, or doctrinally heretical? Is the church membership just to grin & bear it till he moves… retires… or dies?
My answer is there are many things you can do. Let me point you to a few things that are consistent with Hebrews 13:17b, “Let them do this with joy & not with groaning…”
1st: Pray for them. During good times, pray for them. During normal times, pray for them. During hard times, pray for them! This is God’s will for His glory & your good! You might be surprised how God will change them WHEN you pray on their behalf!
2nd: Encourage them. Most of what they hear in a week are problems, complaints, & life’s difficulties. It is refreshing to have someone call just to encourage & be built up. Send them a card & smile when you see them. Do this particularly when times are tumultuous. Especially his wife!!!
3rd: Affirm them. When they do something good… tell them! When they get it right… pat them on the back. A positive word of affirmation goes a long way.
4th: Be determined to help them be successful. I get frustrated w/ critics who sit back & wait for something to go wrong. They look for ways to undercut the minister, then pounce & criticize him to anyone who’ll listen. If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
This is preventative medicine. Now let’s consider what to do if/when things do go off center. Oh… the only way you’ll have any credibility from this point forward is IF you have done the things I’ve already mentioned!
There are times the minister needs help & correcting. Paul did that with Peter[i] & Barnabas[ii], then Pricilla & Aquila did it with Apollos.[iii] Yet it should be done properly & in order. Sadly, churches wait until too much damage is done to be corrected… OR they pressure him until he leaves.
So here’s the process… which comes from Mt 18:15-18. A person who loves the minister, and the minister KNOWS he is loved by this person, should go to him in private and talk with him (Mt 18). This person MUST go with humility & brokenness… in love for the minister in keeping with Galatians 6:1-2. He must be honest with the minister about the gravity of the situation and the issues at hand.
As part of this… come along side the minister to help him in whatever the problem is. Hopefully there won’t be a need for anything further. However… if he won’t listen or continues improper behavior, then another person who loves the minister should go with the first person to talk to him again.
If he still won’t listen or change his behavior, then bring him before a body of men who love him and want him be successful where he is now. Have a plan to aid and assist him for his good… which will also be good for the church. This is God’s will and is called… REDEMPTION.
DO NOT ambush him by having a group of men sit him down and tell him everything he’s done wrong since he arrived at the church. DO NOT include people who are his adversaries. DO NOT already have ultimatums for dismissal OR a severance package… that’s is NOT redemptive.
If he is STILL unwilling to listen to men who are trying to help and encourage him… who meet with him a number of times to help him succeed… then at some point they will have to follow thru with the rest of the process. Which is to bring him before the church AS A LAST RESORT!
Then the church is to hear the matter… and follow the recommendation of the ones WHO HAVE TRIED TO RESTORE AND HELP HIM. This is Mt 18:15-18…
The thing to remember is that even Christians will be judged… not in relation to salvation… but regarding obedience to the Scripture. See 1 Corinthians 3:12-15…
There is a catch. The minister is not the only person this process applies to. Churches will “discipline” the minister to the point of firing him… WHILE allowing worse sin in the lives of members! Churches hypocritically allow other members to be mean, cheats, gossips, divisive, drunks, thieves, adulterers, & all kinds of other things… but get rid of a pastor for much less. Mt 18 applies to all church members… not just ministers.
So where are we now? How do we tie all this into a neat little package? This is a process. A process of studying Scripture… seeking God’s guidance… loving one another… & being the people God wants us to be. A body that loves & cares for one another enough to be Biblical in our conduct.
“Heaven forbid” you ever have to implement this process all the way to the end. I just can’t help but know that IF the process is done with the goal of redemption and restoration, both the minister and the church will be blessed!
The blessing is that Jesus was “turned out” from heaven by God even though he was TRULY innocent. He didn’t deserve any of the ridicule & punishment heaped upon him. Yet he took it b/c His will was for us to be forgiven of our sin so as to be reconciled to God.
[i] Galatians 2:11-14.
[ii] Acts 15:36-41.
[iii] Acts 18:26.