Time after time, we hear of a pastor leaving his church (and, yes, it is always a he who does such a thing) to plant another congregation in the same neighborhood and, in the process, a significant percentage of the first congregation goes with him.
I am not referring to pastors that are sent out with the blessing of their congregations to plant new congregations in their communities. Many congregations have found that an effective strategy for extending the Gospel. Nor am I referring to pastors terminated by their congregations for standing up for the Gospel, such as Martin Luther, perhaps even Jonathan Edwards.
I am referring to the pastor who, without the support of the congregation and/or denomination, voluntarily decides to leave the congregation with whom he has promised to serve as pastor in order to start a new congregation in the very same community, and who, in the process, takes a significant percentage of the congregation with him. I am referring to the pastor who chooses a course of action that divides the very flock he was called to unite under the headship of Jesus Christ.
Anyone familiar with Scripture wonders how such conduct has become commonplace in America. Do we need more references than Proverbs 6:16 & 19 where we read that there are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him, the seventh being a person who stirs up conflict in the community?
In the light of such behavior, I am wondering if it is time to include non-compete clauses in the calls issued by congregations to clergy. Clearly, biblical injunctions against sowing dissension don’t seem to deter divisive deeds. Plus, church discipline and denominational structures apparently lack what is necessary to keep these pastors from bludgeoning their congregations.
Maybe it is time to try a legal option—a non-compete agreement.
A non-compete agreement is a legal contract between two parties whereby one party agrees not to compete with the other for a period of time. It is designed to prevent someone who signed it from competing directly with or from working for a competitor.
Non-compete agreements are standard practice in the business world. Before beginning work with a company, many sales men and women are asked to sign a statement promising that they will not leave the company, with their clients, to start their own businesses. Similarly, when one person sells his or her company to another, the seller promises that, for a given number of years, he or she will not start a new business providing the same services as the business he or she sold.
With respect to calling a pastor, then, a congregation could add a non-compete clause to the call letter. By accepting such a call, the pastor would enter a legal agreement with the church to not leave, without the congregation’s blessing, in order to start a new one in the neighborhood. If he does, he would be subject to prosecution.
Or, maybe, it is best to keep doing what we have been doing: lament such behavior, pray for those who practice it, let the Lord deal with them, and press on. Maybe that’s a better option than airing our dirty laundry in civic courts—which could be interpreted as just piling one sin on top of another.