It happened again last week. On Thanksgiving morning I received an email from a friend of a friend. The first line read, “It appears I am being forced out of my pastorate.” The story that unfolded in the rest of that email and upon further inquiry is filled with themes that are tragically too common…
“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality” (1 Timothy 5:19-21, NKJV).
Several years ago I preached a message with the same title as this article to the church I serve in Cape Coral. When I mentioned my intentions to a pastor friend, he said, “Tom, haven’t you heard that you never put a loaded gun into the hand of your enemy?” My response then remains my conviction now. First, I do not consider the church I serve to be my enemy. Far from it. Though some individuals from time-to-time have positioned themselves as my enemies, the church as a whole has been and remains the body of Christ and therefore a wonderful means of grace in my life. When a pastor starts viewing the church as his enemy it is a sure sign that he has outlived his usefulness to that congregation.
Secondly, in the sense in which my friend meant it, church members already have a gun. As one who is charged with the responsibility to lead and nurture the flock of God, I want to do everything I can to make sure that it is loaded with the proper ammunition and fired in a right direction.
Even the pastor who rejects any form of congregational government must face the fact that the members have a huge say in his tenure. Regardless of formal suffrage policies, all church members vote in two ways: with their feet and their pocketbooks. Many ministers who have never been officially dismissed have nevertheless been forced out of office by the withdrawal of support by the members.
The pastor-church relationship is a sensitive and vitally important issue. The proper dissolution of that relationship in difficult circumstances needs to be carefully considered in the light of biblical teachings…