I wrote this article in response to a recent consultation I had with church leaders who were in a difficult situation. The pastor of their church was a good teacher and preacher. But some church leaders felt that he was failing to cast a clear vision and failing to lead the church. These leaders believed it may be time to remove him from the pastorate. Others wanted to urge him to find a new church to pastor within a given time. So they asked me for advice to guide them through this difficult question and how to proceed. Questions like this deserve much more than my opinion, so I led them to look at the Scriptures.
First of all, we must always bear in mind that the church belongs to Jesus. He told us through the disciples that our job is to make more disciples. Jesus himself will build the church (see Matthew 16:18). In other passages, we learn that Jesus built his church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, but that He himself is the cornerstone on whom the whole church is built (see Ephesians 2:20).
The church is not to be managed like 21st Century Western corporation but by the spiritual principles gleaned from Scripture. The New Testament defines two officers for the church: Elders and deacons, each described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. Notice that these passages describe the high character required to serve in these positions, not the duties or tasks associated with each. God judges people according to their character, not their outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7).
So, when it comes down to answering our initial question, I would have to respond, “It is never appropriate to remove the pastor, except in the case of unrepentant sin” (1 Timothy 5:19). Among these, I would suggest these sins worthy of immediate removal and rehabilitation:
- Moral failure (1 Timothy 5:20) – Adultery, pornography, etc.
- Ethical failure (1 Timothy 3:3, 1 Peter 4:15) – Lying, deception, etc.
- Biblical failure (1 Timothy 4:1-11) – Teaching false doctrine or heresy.
- Legal failure (Romans 9:1, 2 Corinthians 11:31) – Commiting a crime.
And, again, two or three eyewitnesses would be necessary to bring such charges. Nothing less than this warrants removing the pastor from the role as shepherd and leader of the church.
I have also been asked about the idea of asking the pastor to find a new church or place of service within a given amount of time. I find this question to be nearly as disturbing because usually those seeking the removal of their pastor are working toward the same end, but cloaking the true reasons. This kind of reasoning is usually sought when there are no biblical grounds to remove the pastor, but one or some fall into one of these statements:
- We don’t like his leadership or the direction he is taking the church.
- He’s not a good administrator.
- He lacks vision or can’t/won’t cast a vision.
- He’s not a good leader.
- We just don’t like him.
These are inappropriate reasons for seeking the removal of the pastor. I can think of only two instances in which it might be appropriate to ask the pastor to leave in an honorable way:
- Failing to shepherd the flock – John 21:15-17, Acts 20:28
- Failing to equip the saints for the work of ministry and to build up the body of Christ – Ephesians 4:11-12
The problem with these accusations is that they are much more subjective and even more difficult to prove. These accusations can be supported largely by personal opinion but absent of hard fact. No doubt that every single church experiences conflict, and sometimes that conflict is between pastor and parishioner. A better approach is that every church should have these two resources:
- Accountability group for the pastor.
- Well-developed plan for conflict resolution in the church.
I will address these two concepts in other articles. I want to close with this thought. Willfully removing the one God has anointed to preach the gospel and shepherd the people in the church is very serious. At the very least, doing so risks damaging the fellowship for years, dividing the church, breeding disharmony and disunity, and bringing God’s judgment on those leading the effort. Those who take actions to remove the pastor or force his resignation unduly by any means should know that they will stand before God to explain and justify their actions.