How Not to Have to Fire Your Preacher: Keeping the Right Guy, Part 2

i. Help your ministers stay out of financial trouble

Well, it sounded good when I was typing it. I’m not entirely sure how to do this.

Here’s one thought: Every church that’s large enough should have a standing committee of volunteers qualified to counsel members in financial trouble. They will stay busy! Make sure they and the ministers understand that they can get advice on a confidential basis — even the elders won’t know.

j. Help plan for retirement

If your ministers has a health problem, help out with the insurance. Especially if he’s opted out of Social Security, help him make plans for retirement. Set up a 403(b) annuity or IRA-SIMPLE. Help him set money aside.

k. Don’t find yourselves in different theological places

Here’s perhaps the biggest reason good ministers leave: their elders don’t grow in the faith as fast as the ministers do. Your preacher has more time to study. He attends lectureships. He likely has much more Bible education than the elders. It’s not surprising that the elders often struggle to keep up.

Therefore, encourage a culture — an attitude — that the elders and ministers study together. If the ministers are studying the role of women, they should invite the elders to participate. They should read many of the same books.

I mean, preachers are bad to spend three years figuring something out and then marvel at why elders don’t agree with their new position immediately! They need to keep the elders equipped with good books (and blogs!) so they stay together.

Besides, it’s healthier and more fun to learn about God together with others who love him, too. Solitary study is a pretty lousy discipline. Having others to talk to about our studies helps in countless ways.

If the elders refuse to study, it’s time for the minister to send out resumes. Just so, if the elders want to study and the preacher thinks he already knows all the answers and won’t participate, it’s time to look for a preacher with a little humility.

l. Support your preacher

Many a cowardly eldership finds the preacher a convenient scapegoat. He is, after all, just an employee. But the wise eldership makes every effort to support the preacher. He needs to know they “have his back.” Of course, the preacher shouldn’t expect to have his back covered if he runs ahead of the elders without their involvement.

It works like this. If the preacher wants to project the sheet music on PowerPoint, he should talk with the elders first. If the elders agree to this, they may not retreat once people start to complain. You can resign as an elder, but you can’t stab the preacher in the back. Period. Keep your word. Admit to everyone that you approved it and it’s your responsibility — your choice. DON’T BLAME THE PREACHER, even if it was his idea. After all, you are the overseer. Be a grown up.

Moreover, rather than forcing the preacher to push you ever-so-slowly, incrementally toward the next needed change, sit down with him and plan several years ahead. Ask him, “Where do you think we need to be in five years?” Tell him, “Let’s agree on a destination and figure how we can get there together.” That’s much better than, “Oh, no, one more painful change from the preacher!”

m. Deal with motivational issues thoughtfully

What do you do when a minister seems lazy? He doesn’t put in the hours he used to. His lessons seem pro forma. He’s just going through the motions.

Well, he may just be lazy and sorry, but it’s not likely. I mean, he wasn’t lazy and sorry when you hired him. If you just assume he’s lazy, then you have to either fire him or else impose strict rules on hours and such. But if your minister isn’t willing to serve Jesus unless a rule is imposed, well, you really need to fire him. If he’s just lazy.

But the overwhelming odds are that he’s not lazy at all. Rather, his behavior is likely symptomatic of some other problem. Several possibilities come to mind —

* Trouble at home. He may be having marital problems. Talk to him. Ask about his home life. If you suspect a problem, encourage counseling — even offer to pay for the portion of the cost not covered by insurance.

* Clinical depression. It’s a common diagnosis nowadays. Maybe too common. But it’s a real condition that most elderships aren’t trained to recognize. (I’m not.) If you suspect depression, find a pro you can discuss it with. If he believes it may be clinical depression, get him to a professional.

* Burn out. Some preachers work so hard and intensely that they inevitably get worn out. Willow Creek gives Bill Hybels every summer off every year. That 3 months of continuous vacation! And yet they are one of the best-led churches in the nation. A sabbatical of several weeks may be necessary to re-energize your minister.

* Frustration. I imagine this one is pretty common. The minister just can’t get things to happen the way he wants or the way he used to. He built the church from 100 to 200, but it’s plateaued. It’s not as much fun as it used to be. He doesn’t know what else to do. Work just reminds him that he can’t succeed like he used to.

He may need training to know how to work in a larger church. As churches grow, their dynamics and needs change, and most churches hit a point (200 is the first one) where the old methods have to change or the growth stops.

Or maybe the elders need to be trained so they’ll allow the necessary changes (we really need to do a better job of elder training!)

Most of our universities have someone who can help diagnose church growth problems and help you transition to the next stage.

* Repressed anger. Ministers often have quite a bit of unresolved anger (as some of the comments on this site show). And, generally, for good reason. Fortunately, if it’s your minister and he’s angry with you, you are the very people who can resolve the anger. Talk about it. Be compassionate, gentle, and open minded. Work through it.

Sometimes, the elders need to bring in a third-party dispute resolution expert to mediate the issues. Feelings are too hurt on both sides for the sides to talk frankly. A mediator can make sure the two sides can vent and help them come to a genuine resolution. (Yes, I’ve seen it happen.)

* Bad fit. Sometimes the preacher doesn’t have the skill set for his church. Maybe the membership has changed — more blue collar or white collar. Maybe the church had grown beyond his abilities. These things happen. I’ve seen unmotivated ministers leave, go to a church that’s a better fit, and become dynamos.

* Unresolved childhood issues. Every once in a while, you find a minister who has major issues with his father. He unconsciously transfers his resentments or distrust to the elders, who are father figures to him. He may need professional help to work through it. At the least, if he can just become conscious of what he’s doing, he’ll be better able to overcome it.

Sadly, most of these issues lead to a firing or leaving ministry altogether — but most should be resolved differently. Of course, some really do require the minister to change jobs, but even then, if the elders and minister understand why this is, they ought to be able to part amicably.

Conclusion

Shepherd your minister, because you expect him to provide pastoral care for your flock. You’ll do that, too, but in most churches, your ministers are at the frontlines in pastoral care, and they need all the support and encouragement they can get.

Treat your key employees so well that leaving is unthinkable. Loyalty is earned, not demanded.

And when you have to ask a minister to leave, do it in the most compassionate way possible. The rest of the staff is watching and judging the kind of men you are by how you handle those who leave.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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