When termination is in order


As a former pastor, Index Editor J. Gerald Harris admits to seeing church conflict often from the point of view of clerdy. However, there are points when it's time for a minister to move on, he says. JOEL CARILLET/Getty As a former pastor, Index Editor J. Gerald Harris admits to seeing church conflict often from the point of view of clergy. However, there are points when it's time for a minister to move on, he says. JOEL CARILLET/Getty

Baptist Press has reported that four in ten pastors will be forced to leave a church either by firing or pressured resignation at least once during their ministry careers. We have already addressed the subject of unjustified terminations, but in this editorial we will discuss those situations where pastors or church staff members are dismissed for good reason.

Having served as a pastor for over 41 years I have a tendency to side with pastors because I realize how difficult, how fraught with challenges, and how lonely the ministry can be. My heart goes out to the great majority of pastors who are divinely called, inspired to serve, dedicated to the task, and surrendered to the will and work of God. However, not every minister is worthy of his role in the church; and there are times when termination is necessary.

Some 452 Southern Baptist pastors and staff members were forcibly terminated in a recent year. Many of those could have been avoided if pastors had employed the necessary precautions and been spiritually alert.

Four reasons for justifiable termination

First, there is laziness. Pastors should be zealous and passionate in their labor for the Lord. Today there are great temptations to download a sermon from the Internet for Sunday morning, market the church as a substitute for hard work, and rely on one’s cleverness to get by.

It takes time and energy to maintain a consistent devotional life, craft two or three expository sermons a week, develop a comprehensive Bible study ministry, provide for the needs of different age groups in the church, plan an extensive outreach program, and set the example in winning the lost, visit the sick and shut-ins, cultivate relationships, provide counseling, oversee the stewardship ministry of the church, cast a vision and implement it, etc.

God’s Word says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might: for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Eccl. 9:10).

It is highly unlikely that a church will do much more than their pastor and if he is lazy it is probable the most important work in the world will not get done, the saints will flounder, and the sinners will fall into eternal retribution. Laziness may well be a just reason for termination.

Second, some pastors simply do not have good people skills. The ministry is all about loving and serving people. Yet, some pastors seem to prefer themselves above others. A shepherd must love his sheep for it is his responsibility to feed them, water them, lead them, groom them, protect them, and deliver their lambs.

The best kind of shepherd does those things as a labor of love. He is even willing to give his life for his sheep.

It doesn’t take long for a congregation to realize whether or not their pastor loves them. Yet some people – and yes, even pastors – just simply have abrasive personalities.

They give advice when it has not been requested. They assume many things about a person before talking to him/her. They are manifestly insensitive to the feelings of others. They criticize others unfairly whether the criticism is justified or not. They assume a false expertise on every issue in life. They look at issues with an intractable rigidity. And unfortunately, many of these pastors with such harsh personalities think they are Mr. Congeniality and when they are terminated it is a colossal surprise to them.

If anyone has ever told you that you have a harsh, unpleasant personality take Dale Carnegie’s Course on How to Win Friends and Influence People. Better yet, ask God to give you a Spirit-controlled temperament and work on it.

Third, performance issues in some cases may be a justifiable reason for the termination of a pastor. While I would never recommend this for all churches, there are some churches where a performance review of the pastor and staff would be extremely helpful. The church personnel committee or some fair and faithful members who have not only the church, but also the best interest of the pastor/staff at heart, could administer this performance review.

No pastor should be terminated for performance issues unless fair and consistent assessments have been made and reviewed with the pastor or staff member whose work effectiveness is in question. The pastor being reviewed should be given a clear set of performance targets and a reasonable time to achieve those targets.

Every effort should be made to help the pastor/staff member become effective and successful. If someone can be reclaimed for the Lord’s service through a mentorship or an oversight group, it will bring glory to God.

If a pastor or staff member has been brought on board who is obviously lacking in ability I have often wondered if the search team who called him should not be fired instead. That is why search teams must be diligent and prayerful in fulfilling their duties.

Fourth, some pastors are justifiably terminated because they make unwise and unchecked decisions. I believe in a pastor-led church, but I also believe a pastor is wise to get feedback from his deacons, finance committee, trustees, or some representative group of leaders in the church before attempting to lead the church in a certain direction that will significantly impact the church.

Some pastors arbitrarily make decisions to change the style of worship or obligate the church to purchase land or change the time of worship and Sunday School without input from anyone else. Making random decisions without consulting with others and carefully weighing every aspect of the ramifications of the decision can be disastrous. Decisions that are purely subjective and the “my way or the highway” mode of leadership could land a pastor in the unemployment line at the Welfare Office. Get a strong consensus before launching off in a direction uninformed.

Finally, there is immorality. Satan loves to find a pastor’s point of vulnerability and launch his most vicious attack at that place where he is most susceptible to temptation.

When the Apostle wrote Timothy, his young son in the ministry, he told him what to flee and what to pursue. He said, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (I Tim. 2:22).

The Bible is clear in cases of marital infidelity, sex outside of marriage, practicing homosexuality, and engaging in incestuous behaviors with children or teenagers. These examples of immorality are completely unacceptable for church leaders. In most cases restoration is possible, but the primary goal of restoration is to return the minister to full fellowship with God in love and dignity.

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