Having grown up in a different tribe, it seems common among churches of Christ for the elders to get rid of the preacher periodically. I would be interested in your observations. Also, this usually seems to be a unilateral decision by the elders, often shocking the members. That doesn’t seem right to me. Thanks.
I have something like 10 years as an elder. I’ve been in church leadership nearly my entire adult life. And this is a very common reaction. And I don’t know an alternative.
First, in Churches of Christ, like all denominations with autonomous congregations, the elders (deacons in Baptist churches) have the power to hire and fire the preacher. Some denominations have no eldership and leave it up the congregation as a whole or the adult men. But Churches of Christ are far from unusual.
Churches with an “episcopalian” structure believe in apostolic succession, and so the preacher is usually hired and fired by a higher supervisor, typically a bishop for the local diocese — and there are many variations on the theme.
Now, in a Church of Christ, suppose the elders are unhappy with the preacher’s job performance. They’ve counseled with him. They’ve prayed with and for him. They’ve done what they know how to do to get him to do a better job. And they’ve slowly come to realize that the man they love is just not right for the job. He may not have done some overt awful act. He’s just not a good fit. He isn’t able to do what the elders believe the church needs to be done.
So what is the process for terminating him? Well, most elders meet with the preacher, terminate him, and then announce it to the church. But, of course, if the elders keep their mouths shut before then, it comes as a complete surprise to the congregation.
How can that be avoided? Should the elders play politics and discretely let word of the firing slip? Should they talk behind the preacher’s back, complaining of his job performance to a few non-elders, in hopes that rumors spread and the church is prepared for the termination? Should they hold a hearing and ask for congregational input, even though they know 100 times more about the minister and his job performance than the members?
When they fire him, should they announce to the congregation the entire performance review process? The meetings? The prayer sessions? The requests for better performance and the disappointments? I mean, do you want to be the preacher sitting there when the elders spend 20 minutes detailing his deficiencies to the church? Most elders don’t have the heart to do that.
What if the preacher asks to be given the opportunity to resign — so he has a better chance of getting hired at a church where he’s a better fit? Do the elders kindly permit this? Or is this dishonest to the church? Is the church entitled to know what really happened — even though this means the preacher may become unemployable? In the age of social media and cheap long-distance calls, word spreads across the country literally at the speed of light. The church will not keep their knowledge confidential. The elders will have texts from 12 states away before they can order Sunday lunch.
So I don’t know the answer. Obviously, the optimal solution is that the minister works out and he stays until he retires. Or he leaves when “called” to another job. No elder wants to go through a preacher termination.
I guess the second choice is that the preacher can be rehabilitated. Hopefully, he can be persuaded to raise his game to whatever the elders’ expectations are. And sometimes that happens. Some preachers can grow in office and become much better at their jobs than when they began.
But not all of them.
Let’s take a difficult case. The preacher is a good speaker and teacher, and he is organized and a good counselor. But somehow, his kindness and gentleness at work come at the price of hatefulness to his wife and children. The church never sees this. Only a very few who are close to the family — such as the elders. The elders see this plainly, but the preacher and his family hide it from the church and are very well practiced at doing so.
The preacher is counseled by professionals, and does not get better. His hatefulness at home is deeply rooted, and the counselors fail to solve the problem. The family is living a lie. The preacher doesn’t practice what he preaches, and the elders know that the church couldn’t stand to be in the same room with him if they knew how he behaved in private. The hypocrisy is too much for them to bear, and they decide to terminate him — with generous severance, continued benefits, and every effort being made to see that he continues to get help.
What do you tell the church? How do you keep them from being shocked? Or do you leave him in the pulpit?