The title may seem a bit crass -- and actually it is -- but that is precisely the question that I am asked most often as a stated clerk by elders: "How do we get rid of our minister?"
It is a question that is either posed by elders and church councils who had not been involved in a candid conversation with their pastor, or it is asked by elders and church councils after such candid conversations have led nowhere.
I vividly recall the conversation from the chair of council who actually began our phone conversation with that question. I quickly learned that he was the one having difficulty with his pastor and he simply wanted him 'gone'. He had not shared his thoughts with the pastor, with council executive or with the entire council. He was strongly encouraged to do so. He was especially encouraged to become engaged in candid conversations with the elders and with the pastor to determine if this was simply a personality conflict or if there actually were legitimate concerns.
If a council has legitimate concerns about their pastor's preaching, pastoral care, work habits, whatever ... they need first be aired with the pastor. If there doesn't seem to be any resolution to the concerns, the classis-appointed church visitors should be brought in for advice. If there are clear indications that there is a conflict that may not be easily resolved, the denomination's Pastor Church Relations Committee has excellent staff who can help a council, a pastor, and a congregation deal with those areas of conflict.
More often than not, whenever there is a mood within a council room that the minister should receive and accept a call, that inevitably happens. In many cases, after much painful conversation, the pastor is given six months or nine months to receive a call and to leave.
What is sadly missing from this entire process is that neither pastor nor council are forced to deal with issues of conflict. A pastor who has serious issues -- whatever they are -- simply moves on to another congregation without dealing with those issues. Likewise, a church council feels as though they are off the hook and that the 'problem' has moved away.
I once served on a church council during a rather lengthy vacancy where the council spent the first year of their vacancy reviewing why they had been so hard on their pastors over their 30 year history. They concluded that process by writing letters of apology to former pastors who they felt they had wronged.
Too few church councils dare to admit their own shortcomings and do not take the time to review what went wrong and to shoulder at least some of the blame for that 'failed marriage'. We all know of church council members who are strong-headed, stubborn and need to be in control of their pastors. Sadly, they are never held accountable by fellow council members and certainly never disciplined for their lack of grace.
So, before a council looks for ways to 'get rid of their minister', they need to begin by asking: "Is it me?" I have experienced both sides of the coin; when a pastor had serious issues and also where a council had serious issues. May both parties find the grace to accept their own inadequacies.