Getting Rid of a Minister

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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.

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Might sound a bit simplistic, but I think councils would save themselves  a lot of unnecessary conflict if they would just follow Matt. 18.  While this doesn't solve all the problems, it would a majority of them.  I had a council go to the church visitors instead of to me.  Despite the council never having talked to me directly, the council met privately with the church visitors.  You can imagine how hurt I was.  Hard to work through an issue when it gets to this point.  I no longer trusted my council and it wasn't long after this that I left.  Since coming to my last charge 7 years ago, it's been wonderful.  Can see now how God allowed me to go through that wilderness in order to bring me to green pastures and still waters.  Sadly, it almost seems after the way that council treated me, God  removed his hand of blessing from them.  In hindsight,  I don't claim to have handled everything perfectly, but I also believe God doesn't look kindly upon his servants being mistreated. 

Thanks for this article.  I think Peacemaker Ministries has good materials to help with such conflicts too

http://www.peacemaker.net/site/c.aqKFLTOBIpH/b.958123/k.CB70/Home.htm

Community Builder

I think it's also important to raise the issue of Article 17 here. The chair of our classical ministry team has what he calls his "PIT" list, "Pastors In Transition". When a church and/or a pastor want a separation, and it can't be done soon enough or quietly enough, or the pastor won't or can't take a call away, a lot of things start to happen, few of them positive. 

Both churches and pastors try to avoid the stigma of Article 17, which is too bad, because it was developed to address the stigma. I don't know what can be done about that, unless we all decide simply to use it more. 

Good advice I heard once was "don't wait too long to call church visitors" when you see a conflict develop between council and pastor. Wise church visitors and a good regional pastor make up a team that can care for both the pastor and the church in conflict. 

Also don't wait to long to engage Article 17 if differences appear irreconcilable. Having a pastor dismissed quietly and then lingering often doesn't help a lot either. 

Community Builder

It is unfortunate that Article 17 has received such a 'bad rap'. It is increasingly being used by churches as a valid and reasonably painless way for congregation and pastor to part ways without pointing blame at anyone.

 

Much of the discontent within churches today comes from our involvement in, and flirtation with, the corporate world. We have some ministers who view themselves as CEOs, bent on imposing their vision for the church upon a church council. We also have some church councils who view themselves as the corporate boardroom and the parishioners as shareholders. If they don't like what their pastor -- viewed as employee -- is doing, he is first of all given some time to shape up but invariably told to ship out.

Many CRCs -- both congregation and pastor -- have lost that sense of calling. Churches don't often view their pastor as 'a man of God, called to lead this flock', rightly or wrongly. He is often called to fill a position for a period of time.

Thanks Keith, for an excellent statement(s).  I know of too many cases where PJ's situation is repeated over and over, mainly due to the 10/25 statement by Keith.