Thinking Out Loud

July 23, 2013

The Church Policy That Shouldn’t Be

Darlene Kirk smiled at the greeter at the church’s west doors, but with a 3-month old in one hand and a bag of diapers in another, taking a church bulletin was physically impossible, so she simply walked by. Fortunately, her husband Tom had taken the other three children when he left early for the worship team sound check.

Arriving at the nursery check-in station she met Cynthia, who was in her small group.

“Have you heard?” asked Cynthia; and then without waiting for a reply, continued, “The entire church staff has resigned. Everybody including the janitor.”

Darlene just stared at her finally got out the words, “There are 14 people on full-time staff here.”

“It’s a policy;” continued Cynthia, “from before we all started coming here. When the senior pastor resigns the other staff are expected to tender their resignations. It’s supposed to be a courtesy thing, but the new pastor has the option to accept or reject their letters, and the new minister has chosen to accept all their resignations.”

Darlene was non-plussed. “You mean Melissa’s not the Children’s Director?”

“No. And Derek is not the youth pastor, and Maggie is no longer the secretary.”

“So who is going to do those jobs?”

“Right now, it’s up to the new pastor, but he’s not from here, so I don’t know how he’s going to do that before he gets here.”

“This is just wrong.”

“Apparently it’s church policy and it’s a fairly common thing in churches.”

Common or not, I have to agree with Darlene. This is just wrong.  Under whatever conditions it was instituted, it seems to harken back to another time, another place, another set of conditions.

It also reflects a world in which the pastor is all-powerful, all-authoritative. A world where the pastor is a God.

To go along with this, a pastor has to be determined to miss out on what God might have for his own personal, professional and spiritual development; the benefits that come when, over a lifetime, you get to interact with people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests.

It is, if anything, the first step to denying the uniqueness of the town or city in which you are called/sent to minister. It’s an attempt to plug in a ministry module — in this case, the man himself and those who think and act like him — into what is believed to be a “one size fits all” ministry situation.

It turns local church ministry into a revival roadshow where the traveling carnival team pulls into town not for a few weeks of meetings, but for several years. Stories of men who bring their own secretary with them are not unheard of, but given the interaction that a church administrative assistant has with the congregation; it becomes difficult to do this in a location that is completely foreign.

It disrupts the lives and stability of people like Darlene who are trusting Melissa, the Children’s pastor for the oversight and care of her four children, including that 3-month newborn. It changes the dynamic for her husband Tom, a respected worship leader who has been given much latitude by the present Music Director that allows him a freedom in worship that the congregation recognizes and embraces.

It’s also an admission by the incoming pastor that maybe there are people out there with whom he can’t work; with whom he can’t get along.

Or it may be a giant power play.

It shatters the careers of eight of the 14 people in Darlene’s church who are in full-time vocational ministry and moved to this community to further their calling in visitation, discipleship, music, youth (2), Christian education, seniors ministry and urban outreach; all of whom must now circulate resumés and prepare to re-settle, one of whom just arrived six months ago from the other side of the country.

No exceptions. No compassion. No face-to-face meetings with the people just dismissed.

This is standard operating procedure in many U.S. denominations and at least one in Canada. It’s a policy that needs to be repented of.

Darlene opened the door to let Cynthia in.

“Good timing, Cynth; the kids are all settled down.”

“You sounded like it was important.”

“Yeah,” Darlene continued; “We’ve decided to leave Central Church.”

“Is it because of the staff thing?” quizzed Cynthia.

“Yes and no. I can get to know new people, and I’m sure they’ll be qualified; but it bothers us that a system exists that allows this to happen; that everybody accepts that this is how it’s done. Tom found about a fairly new church about five miles further that’s desperate for some help in their music department, and the kids will fit in right away because they use the same curriculum and they know some of the kids from school.  I’m sorry….”

“No, it’s not your fault. We’ve been wondering about all this ourselves…  Maybe we’ll come to visit on Tom’s first Sunday leading the worship.”

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10 Comments »

  1. When I began ministry more than thirty years ago, this was the accepted practice, but only for pastoral staff. It did not include ‘lay workers’ such as nursery or children’s leaders who were not official pastoral staff. Over the years this practice has waned due to the expense financially as well as emotionally it costs a church to replace so many staff at once. I really thought the practice was as extinct as the dinosaur, until I heard recently of a seasoned youth pastor who was unceremoniously asked to resign by his new and somewhat younger senior pastor.

    Churches and pastors really need to wake up to reality and understand what the labor laws are all about.

    Comment by Ralph juthman — July 23, 2013 @ 8:25 am

  2. I’ve never heard of the entire staff being forced to resign by the board because a Sr. Pastor resigns. I do sometimes a new Sr. Pastor coming in will be evaluating staff and occasionally making changes, but never heard of this rule before. Then again I’ve grown up in non-denominational Christian Churches and that’s where I currently Pastor so I’m not an expert on denominational practices.

    Comment by Jeff R. — July 23, 2013 @ 9:02 am

    • Hi Jeff,
      Thanks for writing. In the words of Dave Barry, “I am not making this up.”
      It does happen. This article was triggered by two specific recent stories.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 23, 2013 @ 9:16 am

  3. This really happens? Why would anyone accept that as a term of their employment?

    Comment by trevor — July 23, 2013 @ 9:34 am

    • Good question. Especially someone twice bitten by this policy, as has happened to a few people. But if that’s the denomination you serve in, you smile and say, “Praise the Lord anyway;” and start packing.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 23, 2013 @ 9:47 am

  4. I understand that after a new pastor comes, that his style and ministry goals might find a conflict with the choices of the previous pastor, but this policy just assumes that this will be the case. I think it would be better to believe that through prayer and solidarity of purpose, everyone could work together. If there was an individual problem it could be dealt with individually

    Comment by Cynthia Almudevar — July 23, 2013 @ 11:36 am

    • This confuses me even more. If the ‘style and ministry goals’ of the new pastor conflict with those of the church, why has he been hired? Surely the pastor serves the church, not the other way round?

      Comment by trevor — July 23, 2013 @ 11:48 am

      • Well, there are times that the leadership is at odds with the congregation. When they vote in the new pastor it is because his was the vision that closely matched their own. It makes sense then, especially in a smaller church setting, that the new senior pastor and the previous pastor’s assistant may not share the same ministry ideas. It should not be policy, however, to assume incompatibility.

        Comment by Cynthia Almudevar — July 23, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

  5. I’ve seen this happen here in Western Canada. A new pastor comes in and then you have new asst pastors as well as the old ones hand in their resignation. They can be kept on but it is at the discretion of the new minister and the old board!

    Comment by rickda — July 23, 2013 @ 4:50 pm

  6. Incredible! I’ve never heard of it here. In all the Churches I’ve been involved with, all lay positions are voted in each year by the members at a congregational meeting.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — July 26, 2013 @ 5:39 pm


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