How to Lose a Pastor in 30 Days
A Pastoral Transition can be tricky, but with a congregation and board putting principles into place, God can be glorified in the midst of a pastoral change.
A sermon delivered to the congregation of Eastside Community Church on July 31, 2016 in preparation for the new pastor. Click to the right for the audio and/or read the sermon notes (not verbatim with the audio).
Rev. Matthew E. Morgan, MA, LPC
Certified Minister, Licensed Professional Counselor
Matthew E. Morgan molds his work as a husband, father, therapist, minister, and general Renaissance man (*salute* General Renaissance) into discussions of worldview and philosophical ideals … or sometimes just to find things to laugh at.
I remember my son’s Michael’s first trip to Disney World. He was still in a stroller because it was easier than trying to keep track of him, but still big enough to be independent. He had a camera that his aunt had given him and loved taking his own pictures. He went through his memory card pretty quickly and so when we were back in our room, we downloaded all of his precious memories to my laptop.
I want you to close your eyes for a moment. Picture the wonders of the Magic Kingdom. Now imagine you’re under 3 feet tall … in a stroller. Yes, we had megabytes upon megabytes … of mega-butts. In that moment, I felt so sorry for my son. This was the way he saw the world.
It was easier to carry him after that. I’d put him up on my shoulders and let him ride up there until his legs fell asleep. Interestingly, even though I’m only 5’4”, his height plus mine gave him an amazing vantage point. He could see Mickey. He could see rides. He could see … candy.
It’s about perspective. The right perspective can make or break things for a person or group. With the right perspective amazing things can happen.
Remember the story in the Old Testament, when the army of Aram was besieging Israel? (2 Kings 6:8-17). Elisha kept warning the King of Israel where the Arameans would be – and that frustrated the attacker. The Aramean king wanted to find out who was betraying his secrets, but it turned out it was Elisha the prophet. They sent a reconnaissance mission to find him. When they did, the enemy sent an army after Elisha – literally: horses, chariots, the whole nine yards. They surrounded the city. When Elisha’s servant woke up and saw it, I’m sure he might have tinkled … a little.
In fairness, I’m sure most of us would go and get our Depends. We see obstacles – big ones. Money. Health. Housing. Insurance. Elections. Guns.
We need Elishas. We need people with the right perspective – the ones who can look at a field full of enemies and say:
“Don’t be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (I Kings 6:16 NASB)
Better yet, we need those who will take what they see and impart that knowledge to others.
And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (I Kings 1:17 NASB)
With the right perspective, we can meet challenges with wisdom, knowledge, and power.
Some of you may have heard a rumor to the effect of us getting a new pastor. Those of you who are not paying attention may still be wondering when the Prestons are coming back from vacation. Still – as it says in the book of Dylan – The Times, They are a Changin’.
I’m sure there are some mixed emotions. I stayed quiet during our meeting with Pastor TJ and Betsy; I was listening not only to them, but to us as a congregation. I think we all fall into some sort of continuum – either we expect that everything is all going to be miraculously wonderful or we think that everything is going to fall apart. The good news is that most likely you all are wrong.
Things will change.
Not all change is bad.
In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. -Ben Franklin
I can promise you that much. I’ve been fortunate and unfortunate to have been through pastoral changes before. Martha and I have been through a pastor being removed for moral failings, through a church merge, through two boards deposing their pastors over differing opinions, through a youth pastor leaving with no warning, have left three volunteer positions of ministry, and somehow survived two of our favorite pastors up and moving to Utah.
I know a thing or two about watching the changing of the guard.
But remember, I went to Bible College. I have friends who are pastors from Hawaii to Maine, Puerto Rico to Canada – and I know missionaries across the globe. Sometimes I wish I could be one of them. I will be the first to admit that I don’t understand my calling to ministry. Though I remember that just after we moved back to Ohio from North Dakota, I received word that three of my friends all lost their ministerial positions for one of the most heinous reasons ever. They were bringing the “wrong type “ of people in to the church – essentially upsetting the status quo of their church. That was one time that I was glad that my calling was not on the standard path.
See, like with my son, God has blessed me with the ability to try to see the world through the eyes of others. This can be good. This can be … not good. See, some people minister cross culturally. I minister counter-culturally. If a church is gung-ho about praise songs, I’m interested in hymns. If we slip into legalism, I preach grace. If everyone is cheering for the Buckeyes, I am too still – no way I’m cheering for Michigan.
Why do I say all this? I have a unique perspective on what our church is going through. Normally I like to keep things light-hearted, but today I’m going to ask that you pick up your feet a bit – or borrow some steel-toe boots from your girlfriend.
I’m not seeking to intentionally offend any one person. Please be assured that nothing here is personally directed at you – at least not from my standpoint. I’m going to lay down some principles to help with the transition.
I believe that if we enter into the next season of ministry with grace and allowing God to move in our hearts, Eastside Community Church is going to flourish. And so I hope you will hear my heart with this message today. You see, I have been there – I’ve seen good pastoral transitions and I’ve seen bad. I want good.
So I’ve entitled this message, “How to Lose a Pastor in 30 Days.” This is NOT a challenge. Please don’t come over after church and say, “Matthew, I can lose that pastor in 29 days.” “28 days!” “27!” The average minister’s time in a pulpit … is 9 months. My goal is to NOT lose Pastor TJ in the next year.
I do want to share about some common mistakes in the church with the hopes that we won’t fall into those … and instead will make a whole slew of new mistakes.
I am coming from the Bible of course – it’s, after all, a pretty good book for learning about ministry. But I also am using an incredible book written by a friend of mine – interestingly one of the ones who lost his position due to drawing the “wrong” crowd.
I will highly recommend this as reading for … well … everyone. I think particularly board members and district officials should take some time to study this book: Why Your Pastor Left, by Christopher D. Schmitz. I’ll have more information on it later – as well as a discount code you can use.
So here we go: 9 ways to lose a pastor in 30 days.
How to Lose a Pastor in 30 Days
Question His Calling
I will never forget one of the early days in our ministry, when Martha and I were youth sponsors. The board called the entire youth staff into the church because we were attracting the wrong crowd to our youth events. It was messy. It was crazy. But it was alive and vibrant. Yet there we were defending our actions. Then one of the board members had the audacity to question whether we were even called to the ministry.
Most of you know my wife as the sweet caring woman who wants to take care of meals for sick people.
That day I learned that there are limits to that sweetness. I determined that I never ever want to be on the receiving side of a woman filled with righteous anger.
Chris says it this way:
A Pastor’s vision for his or her church is closely tied to their self-worth, just as keenly as it is to his or her calling. It is a picture of their hopes and dreams as guided by God: a thing to be carefully planned for and strived to attain (Schmitz, ch 4)
If you wrote down, “Yes” on your vote, then I assume that you recognize the calling that Pastor TJ has on his life. You may not understand it fully yet – and he may not either – but it should be evident that he is called to the ministry. But please understand that you affirmed that he is not only called by God to the ministry – but that he has been called to Eastside. Now this calling can be at any stage.
I Kings 16:6-13
One of the most interesting Biblical examples is King David … or rather Shepherd David. Saul was ready to anoint the new king, goes to Jesse and goes through each of his boys until he finds David. The red-faced lad came in long enough to have some oil poured on him, have a stranger tell him in front of all of his brothers that he would be king, and then goes back to tend the sheep.
Pastoring is not a matter of fits or ability; it is a matter of calling (Schmitz, ch 1)
The bottom line is that we may disagree with that things that are said or done, but once we have affirmed that someone does have a call on their life, we should be very careful to affirm that every chance we get and not use it as the easy attack point.
“Disillusionment and drama is the HIV of ministry killers – while they don’t always kill, they lower protection against other diseases and eventually another ministry-killer finds weakened resistances and overwhelms a pastor (Schmitz ch 4)
Fight his Authority
The second way to lose a pastor in 30 days is to fight his authority. Like any sort of governing position, there’s a strange dichotomy that’s going on. The church certainly brings in the pastor and affirms his or her call. But that means that you are bringing in that person and asking them to be the authority in your life – particularly in spiritual matters.
But what happens when we try to take that authority back? Or when we ignore the authority that he or she has?
Anytime people try to usurp God’s purpose and plan for His people, the result is friction (Schmitz, ch 5)
If we challenge this authority, things will heat up. I like what Schmitz says about this:
It is a Christian’s duty to uphold and support our leader, to encourage him or her, and to guard against their assassination. It is true that sometimes the leadership may become distracted (by people, circumstances, or even sin,) but that does not lessen the severity and burden of the divine call upon their life (Schmitz, ch 5)
Now this doesn’t mean that we don’t ever challenge authority. But it has to be done the right way. One of my favorite examples in the Bible comes from when Moses was wearing out from dealing with all the disputes of the people.
Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.19 Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. (Exodus 18:17-19a)
This was the right way to challenge authority. Jethro came with a plan – and his personal agenda did not include usurping the authority that was there. He both affirmed Moses’s call and challenged his methods.
Pray for your pastor. Encourage him and challenge him in private and give him your advice – but don’t mandate that he or she follow it because God is the chief counsel, and all the field experience and expertise that a layperson may possess is insanity in the face of God’s omniscience (Schmitz, ch 5)
Will there be conflicts with Pastor TJ – and any other authority figure? Yes. And that’s not such a terrible thing.
Conflict can be good. It is valuable for taking counsel and seeing new viewpoints and finding middle ground that might not have been conceived of (Schmitz, ch 5)
But this has to be done the right way – with love, honor, and respect.
Have Unclear Expectations
The third way to lose a pastor is to burden him with unclear expectations. So what do you expect of Pastor TJ? Is he supposed to know your burdens? How you work? Should he know everything that you have been through in the last few years? Should he know what is needed in our community?
The best way for a pastor to meet the needs of his staff and congregation, as well as the lost, is to develop that missional heart that yearns to be as effective as possible in his or her field. We must stay current on the needs of our community around us. (Schmitz ch 6)
At the same time, we can’t expect him to be everything. His job is to equip us for the work that God has given us.
And [God] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12 NASB)
When I was a youth pastor, I worked to develop the leadership around me. It was a tough decision, because on one hand I felt like I should be able to do everything. Yet, at the same time, I knew I couldn’t. Because I’m more cerebral, I knew I could connect with some of my students. Yet, there were others I couldn’t. So I found a youth sponsor who I brought in specifically to be the fun-and-games type who could connect with the athletic ones. With that established, I later developed a youth council – picking five teens who could offer leadership in each of the areas of worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, and prayer.
” They don’t micromanage or dictate how their staff does their ministry, but they empower and release them to operate under divine guidance. They never write off a niche or people group; they might recognize a limited capacity and restricted ability to be effective so they may knowingly wait until they are better resourced or staffed to reach target markets. But they don’t expect that ‘The Church’ is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ entity and they act accordingly.” (Schmitz, Ch.6)
If you feel like Pastor TJ or that Eastside in general is falling short of your needs, I want you to seriously and prayerfully consider that God may be calling YOU to do something.
“One of the reasons that pastors, especially ministry staff and associate pastors, leave is because they are so disconnected from the ministry that they burn up, burn out, or self-destruct. Stretch and educate your lead pastors so that they learn the best way to empower and release their staff, thereby growing the Kingdom of God. Support them and encourage them and publicly validate and affirm the staff and ministry associates, but do so without instilling jealousy or causing possible division and segregation.” (Schmitz, ch. 6)
Give Him Cause for Financial Concern
The fourth way to lose a pastor is to give him cause for financial concern. We all know that every pastor goes into the ministry specifically for the wealth and fame it gives him or her (not). But yet that still lends itself to many of the following statements:
- “Things are tight enough already; the pastor should be a “tent-maker”and be more like Paul (receive no money for the ministry and get a second job for all income).
- Our pastor doesn’t have kids/ is single/ is retired so he doesn’t need as much.
- Our pastor is young, we had to struggle for a while too when we were young.
- I remember when I only earned $ X.xx a week… and I survived: he or she can too.
- We give him a parsonage. If I had free housing I could live on a fraction of what I earn.
- If we pay him too much he won’t need to trust the Lord.
- A pastor doesn’t really work more than a day or two a week; they should be more grateful that they receive what they get.
- Pastors are not supposed to be rich; being poor keeps people humble.”
I remember that when God had originally called me to the ministry, one of the biggest arguments He and I had was about being poor. Yet we see in the psalms:
I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread. (Psalm 37:5 NASB)
That leaves us wondering – what happens when pastors are struggling for money. Granted, this isn’t a new occurrence. Nehemiah noticed the same thing during the rebuilding of Jerusalem:
I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. 11 So I reprimanded the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” Nehemiah 13:10,11
The problem was not God’s failing – it was man failing to give the people of God what they needed.
How does this play out for us? How will Pastor TJ earn his paycheck? Do we pay by the number of seats filled? By the hour? Or do we give to him with the thought that he will honor God in exchange.
Be Jealous of Him or Others
The fifth way to lose a pastor, is to be jealous of him or others.
We have an interesting dynamic here at Eastside. I’m sure no one in here has watched Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, but I’ve heard there’s a town hall scene in there, where everyone is named “Johnson.” I have to laugh at our church, because about every other person has the title of Pastor.
It can be an incredible blessing when everyone works together in this way, but it can also become complicated.
It is a good pastor that recognizes how every member of his staff or team fulfills a different role, doesn’t feel it necessary to be the “best at everything,” recognized his own weaknesses, and who actively seeks to surround himself with people who are better than he or she is at certain aspects of ministry. Doing so brings excellence to Kingdom work. (Schmitz, ch. 8)
In other words, we all bring something different to the table and should celebrate it. Even Paul measured this phenomenon in his ministry as the Corinthians had apparently become jealous of one another:
For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? (I Cor 3:4, NASB)
Disrespect His Boundaries
Moving right along, the sixth way to lose a pastor is to disrespect his boundaries.
It used to be that the minister was the most respected person in the community. He was highly educated, socially conscious, and was a servant to all.
“What does respect entail? Specifically, in regards to ministry, what is different than being a CEO or business leader? There is only one real difference and that is the divine calling of God. Ironically enough, despite being hand-picked by the eternal, almighty God of the Universe, Pastors typically get less respect than corporate leaders or business officials. Honor a pastor (even a staff pastor or ministry associate) at least as much as you would the head manager of the bank you utilize or the superintendent or principal of the school your child attends.” (Schmitz, ch. 9)
- Financial Areas – Give him checked control over ministry areas
- Authority / Judgement – Don’t contradict his decision or undercut his choices
- Personal Boundaries – You do NOT own the pastor (grades @ gca)
- Personal Life – let them live separate from their pastoral duties; their family should never take the back seat
- Ministry – do the work asked
- Calling – learn what it is
- Sacrifice – lonely profession; usually nothing to fall back on; no support
The bottom line for respect, is to consider scripture. If you can find a clear cut scriptural prohibition or order, then God’s boundary takes precedence. If not, perhaps it’s good to give the pastor his space.
Take Away Growth Opportunities
Growth is a natural function of life. When we take away growth opportunities, we run the risk of losing the pastor. Everything needs to grow: up, out, old … or mold. The pastor is no different. We need to give him chances to grow and expand his skills and his calling.
Now, this has an interesting side effect. Sometimes we are fortunate and the pastor will grow in depth and will narrow the scope of his or her ministry.
In some cases, growth will lead them away – as it did with Pastor Kelly and Greg. But when that happens we are to send them out with joy and excitement.
Peter encourages us to grow as believers:
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (II Peter 3:17-18)
Demand as Much as Possible from the Pastor’s Spouse
As may husbands or wives will know, it’s one thing to upset an individual. It’s an entirely different thing to attack a spouse. The eighth way to lose a pastor in 30 days, is to demand as much as possible from the pastor’s spouse.
It’s important to realize, the church is not getting a 2-for-1 deal. On one hand, she has an entirely different calling in her life and that should be celebrated, encouraged and helped.
Just recently, after a heavy snowstorm, I overhead my father volunteer me to clear my schedule to give free computer tech support. Thanks Dad … I think volunteered him to plow the person’s driveway. Pastors sometimes do this same thing to their wives.
On the other hand, TJ and Betsy are one flesh – one mind. We need to care for them as one and work hard to protect their marriage as it is integral to their ministry. Consider the following statistics from Leadership Magazine.
Marriage Problems Pastors Face (Leadership, Fall 1992)
- 81% Insufficient time together
- 71% use of money
- 70% income level
- 64% communication difficulties
- 63% congregational differences
- 57% differences over leisure activities
- 53% difficulties in raising children
- 46% sexual problems
- 41% Pastor’s anger toward spouse
- 35% differences over ministry career
- 25% differences over spouse’s career
We need to both give them space, but also give them support so that they can focus on their callings.
Question His ability to Parent His Children
Related to the previous way, the ninth and final way to lose a pastor in 30 days is to question his ability to parent his children.
Family should be an “untouchable” area, an area that, for most people, there can be no outside manipulation or influence without express consent from the pastor (Schmitz, ch. 13)
Those who have or are raising children know that it’s a difficult job and in all honesty, there’s no right way to go about it. The Bible does give a mandate for leaders:
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?). (I Tim 3:4-5, NASB)
But this doesn’t mean the pastor will be free of problems. Some children will choose their own paths. Good pastors still raise kids who make bad choices, get pregnant, talk back, eat the communion elements, etc. But that does not make the parent a bad parent.
How to Lose a Pastor in 30 Days:
- Question His Calling
- Fight his Authority
- Have Unclear Expectations
- Give Him Cause for Financial Concern
- Be Jealous of Him or Others
- Disrespect His Boundaries
- Take Away Growth Opportunities
- Demand as Much as Possible from the Pastor’s Spouse
- Question His ability to Parent His Children
If you want to know more, once more, I recommend the book Why Your Pastor Left by Christopher D. Schmitz.
Coupon Code 3HS7WFP8
You can order a copy on Amazon, or if you order it directly from Createspace, Chris is offering a copy for $10 with the coupon code. Also, be sure to check out Chris’s webpage.
So let’s sum this up in terms of positives:
How to Keep a Pastor and Grow a Church:
- Encourage His Calling
- Let Him Cast a Vision and Lead
- Make the Church Boundaries Clear
- Honor God with Your Pocketbook
- Affirm Each other in Ministry
- Respect Others’ Boundaries
- Pray for and Encourage the Pastor’s Success
- Love the Pastor’s Wife
- Offer Grace to His Family
I want to close with a rather lengthy quote from Dr. John MacArthur:
“Fling him into his office. Tear the “Office” sign from the door and nail on the sign, “Study.” Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the flock of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.
Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing.
Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.
Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.
Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!
Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day—“Sir, we would see Jesus.”
When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the community’s weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.
Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word.
And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left—God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.
And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.”
Let’s close in prayer. Please stand with me as we pray for Pastor TJ, Betsy, and their sons
How to Lose a Pastor in 30 Days
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