Bushwhacked by the Board
I have just completed 10 years at First Church. I have been in the pastoral ministry for 20 years and these past 18 months have been the most difficult in my years of serving churches.
First Church, prior to my leadership, had experienced 10 years of a slow decline. Upon coming, I began to refocus the attention of the congregation to outreach. During these past 10 years, the church has experienced consistent growth – numerically and financially.
In January 2007 the “wheels came off.”
The Elder Board moved against me, calling for my resignation and forcing the resignation of my son who had served as youth pastor for 4 years.
After hiring a consultant to look at where we stood, and what we needed to do, we had added a
§ Saturday worship service
§ Assistant Pastor
§ Admin Asst in Children’s dept.
We also had discussed extensive governance changes -- moving our church from a congregational model to an elder model of governance. We were about ready to present to the congregation for implementation.
The church consultant we hired had found our church, on his evaluative tools, to be “very healthy.” Our highest scores were in the areas of Member Satisfaction, Mission / Outreach / Evangelism, and Church as Community.
In October 2006 we had a change to our elder board. There were 2 new people elected that were not part of the planning process. These individuals were given all the materials to bring them up to speed and a board member offered to coach them about our process of planning and initiatives. I discovered some time following that that one of the new board members declined.
I also discovered that my senior associate pastor, when exiting the planning meetings with the consultant, had disparaged the meetings, the process and the results to some staff and elders.
One of the elders took the responsibility upon himself to talk to some people that have left the church. No, we have not had a "mass exodus."
He had confronted me at a December board meeting about these people that were so hurting and asked me what I thought about that. I told him I would like to talk with him more but I would not be able to speak clearly about it unless I knew who he was referring to. He has a history of coming to the board meetings with an issue and then confronting me rather aggressively, without the courtesy of telling me ahead of time or discussing with me so I can be prepared to respond.
On Sunday, following a meeting of the elders w/o me, he delivered a packet of his "findings". It included a three page letter from him along with letters from about 10 people that had left the church that he had interviewed along with one letter (unsigned) from a support staff and a few letters from some people who are still attending that basically vilified me.
You would not have believed how he presented the "findings" at the board meeting. After he and another board member read 5 different scriptures, making allusions to pastors taking advantage of sheep and not doing their job and God judging them, he then began listing a bunch of words and said, "how do you respond to these issues?"
I had to stop him and say, "I'm sorry, I thought you were still reading Revelation 2:4, would you list those "issues" again please?" I began writing as he listed them... "Intimidating, manipulative, unethical, deceptive, inaction, confidentiality broken, division, lying, nepotism, my way or else, use the pulpit, power corrupts."
He stated, "these are the issues, how do you respond to them?"
I was flabbergasted. Sunday night I had read through the letters from the people who had left and the others and I found that several had inaccurate statements, half-truths and outright fabrications.
I asked why he had chosen to not come in and speak with me as he had said in the last board meeting he would do. He sidestepped my question.
The encounter was adversarial and accusatory immediately.
I asked if they wanted me to address each of the letters individually or just to share my comments. They replied, "speak to the issues." So, I began to address them. As I began to speak, I was interrupted and one of two elders would go off on a long diatribe about my failings and the hurt of these people or bringing up things/issues I had never even heard of before.
I am so grieved by the lack of respect offered, for the lack of biblical process. I asked them if my comments were going to make any difference or were their minds made up already. I started with one. He said I was putting words in his mouth. I stated that my perception was that he had arrived at that meeting with his mind made up. I then asked another if his mind was made up already. He made a few comments and then said, "My mind is already made up." I stated, "So nothing I can say or my commenting on these letters is going to make any difference?" He said, "No". "So you are going to make up your mind having only heard one perspective?" He replied, "yes."
I then went to some of my prepared comments:
1. You need to know that many of these letters contain lies/fiction and half-truths.
In fact, they are not based on facts, but emotions and perceptions.
2. Some of you have arrived at a decision after hearing, reading these letters – that was listening only to one side.
3. Some of you had a decision formed and then went out and found supporting arguments and testimony.
4. In any court system, both sides are heard from before a decision is made.
In fact, scripture is very clear about how these things are to be done.
And that has not been done in this case, at all.
Is my speaking to you tonight going to make any difference?
Do you want to know the truth?
I then began polling some of the other men.
The bottom line at the end of the meeting was one elder was calling for my son (who had been hired to do the youth ministry) to be fired. He said the board had a right to do that. He and two others were calling for me to resign. I referred to the Constitution and Bylaws reminding them that they could not remove me. That could only be done by the membership.
They went ahead and made a motion to go on record of asking for my resignation. It passed 5 in favor, 2 opposed. I have contacted our district leadership and will decide what I am going to do. I can call for a vote from the membership.
In February 2007, I invited our district denominational officials to come and give assistance and intervention (as a result of the elders calling for my resignation). There were five elders who were opposing me and two who supported me.
The district intervention team came and took testimony from myself, my son, staff and the elders. The five adversarial elders demanded binding arbitration.
The district intervention team recommended that the church come under district supervision and the elder board be dissolved. Their first draft of recommendation also included the dismissal of the senior associate pastor.
The district intervention team has also requested that I go through an assessment and coaching process and that the church go through another assessment.
The senior associate pastor was part of ongoing discussions among himself and the opposing elders about my removal. He also polarized people that were loyal to him. He has now left and taken a church out of the area.
How could I have handled this staff person differently or more effectively?
How could I have handled this crisis differently?
What should be my next step?