A pastor I know once visited a church he’d served some years before. During the visit a member of that church had apologized for the way he’d acted while my colleague was his pastor. This man had generally seemed intent on making this pastor’s life miserable. He was sorry. My friend was impressed, until someone else in the church told him that this man was acting the same way towards their current pastor.
Some people are repeat offenders; so are some churches. That is an aspect of the article 17 situation we don’t always pay a lot of attention to. Some recent articles in the Christian Courier call on pastors to up their game, but pay less attention to the congregational expectations and dynamics that contribute to the conscious uncoupling of a pastoral relationship.
Some measures are in place. Classes can appoint an oversight committee to discern when a church is ready to call a new pastor, but the expectations for these committees are not always clear. Churches are encouraged to obtain the services of a specialized transitional minister, but these are not always available. Further, once an oversight committee and transitional minister have completed their service, there is little in place to ensure that a church follows through on the plan. A church visitor told me that when he asked a council how the work they had done with their transitional pastor had figured in their calling process, he got only blank looks. They did not know.
We could suggest beefing up the oversight committee process. We could suggest a Presbyterian approach and appoint something like a moderator to oversee a church’s calling process. We could give classical interim committees more authority to ensure that appropriate steps are taken before a church can issue a call. These, however, are all external solutions that would not necessarily address the congregational culture that contributes to repeat offenses.
I recently heard of a congregation where one member had figured prominently in the departure of at least two pastors. That member is now under a lifetime ban from positions of leadership. While that may sound severe, sometimes a church simply has to say “enough is enough.”