Quite frankly this is a topic which no pastor really wants to discuss (even less have people in his church discuss). But it is a very important issue in so many church situations.
See also: Tract ch42 Cox- Destitution of Pastor
The Pastor is not an Employee of the Church
Our first observation and establishment of doctrine is that the pastor is not formally an employee of the church. Although the church pays his salary, it is not an authoritative relationship where the church establishes what the pastor’s duties, times, schedule, etc should be. Exactly the opposite is the biblical teaching. The pastor is the “employee” of God, and the pastor is directly responsible to God for his conduct, doctrine, actions, attitude, etc. The biblical concept of “pastor of a flock” is always that the pastor is the “governor”, which makes the executive decisions for the flock. He decides where to go and what to do, and how long to stay at a place.
So all concepts of church boards which are to restrict, constraint, order, or in any other way manipulate and control a pastor simply have no biblical warrant. This is not without say there are some very important counter considerations here.
The point is that the church cannot just dismiss a pastor because he changed something in the church building and some people don’t like that. Some pastors have an order of service which “is different than the pastor before him” so some want him out. These kinds of considerations are all “out of order”, and no church wanting to be pleasing to the Lord will allow this pettiness to overtake the spirit and vision of the church to remove a pastor.
The Pastor is a Man of God, Called by God to a Ministry
Having said all that, there are very definite reasons and arguments for the removal of a pastor. Petty disagreements with the man simply is below what any group of men who consider themselves “men of God” should consider or do.
The correct view of the pastor is that he is a person uniquely called to a specific ministry. A preacher can still be a preacher even if he doesn’t have a specific place to preach at the moment (like for example an evangelist). But a pastor is never a pastor if he doesn’t have a flock at his charge. His being of a pastor is always linked with his calling to a place.
The correct reason for removal of a pastor is because he no longer fulfills his calling. This is a hard reason to push through a situation, but it is the only biblical one I can see.
Biblical Reasons for the Destitution or Removal of a Pastor
Pastors have requirements.
In observing the fact that God has established requirements for those in the ministry, it is imperative that we understand why and how this works. Requirements are character guidelines that a man must follow or he is disqualified from ministry.
Before entering a position, the people of that church that is calling the pastor should excessively study the man and his spiritual character to truly know the person before allowing him to take the leadership of a church. Here I would note that 1 Timothy 3 mentions that the deacons “are likewise” to be tried before installation into their ministries. This gives us warrant to have a trial period before actual (permanent) installation. We would exhort that it is not fair nor pleasing before the Lord to have a person change his housing to a church only to be turned away after a short period of time. A lot of prayer and examination should be spent before asking a pastoral candidate to come to the church and work for a trial time (probably a year is a good length for the trial).
1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 should be exhausitively studied before hand, and these principles and standards should be readily seen in the preacher’s life. Also the wife and children of the pastor are on trial here. A man can hide a lot, but his wife and children seldom can hide bad elements for very long.
Requirements are before entering and during functioning as a pastor.
Likewise as the pastor must fulfill the spiritual requirements before entering a church, he must maintain his fulfillment of them the entire time he is ministering as a pastor. The failure to continue in one or more of these requirements is sufficient grounds for the church to examine him, exhort him to change, and possibly to destitute him from his position.
Let me just comment as a pastor and a missionary, God has stacked the deck here against the false prophet. If any minister begins to act more like a wolf than a child of God, a man of God, then these factors come hard to bear against him, and justly so.
I have a lot of tracts on the Pastor-Church relationship in my English Tract site. Please go to www.coxtracts.com and look under the Church category in the left hand column.
Let’s just put the blame here where it belongs. If a church calls a pastor to be their pastor, and after having done that, they realize that they didn’t do their job well in studying the candidates, waiting on the Lord in prayer, and then selecting the one God would have for them, then they will have to pay the price. Unfortunately, what I have seen is a bunch of spineless church members who at the point of turning over their ministry and ministry resources (years of tithing from faithful people of God) to a false prophet, most of the time the members turn tail and run, leaving it all to a man with a wicked heart.
As in marriage, there is no substitute for doing it right from the beginning. A church MUST TAKE SERIOUSLY their charge from God to find a true man of God, and never settle for anything less. They must demand and require that their pastor follow the Bible, and remove him if he is not. There can be no medium ground here, and if the church members abandon that ministry to a wolf, God will hold them responsible for this in eternity.
Who removes the pastor from his charge?
Having seen many cases of “bad pastors”, I think this question needs addressing. The church cannot and should not remove the pastor from his office. The concept behind this is that if the church contracted the pastor, and there is a laboral (employer-employee relationship) then just as the church “put him into this office”, they can corporatively “remove him from this office”.
I don’t think this is correct by any means. The church isn’t who puts people into the ministry, but God is. Somewhere in all of this, God’s calling is lost.
Having said that, IT IS THE LOCAL CHURCH WHO HAS TO REMOVE A BAD PASTOR. But notice the difference. A local church recognizes the calling of God on a minister to come and occupy the position of pastor, so they don’t call him, nor do they have an absolute authority over him. But the local church (the spiritual men of that church excluding the pastor) are the ones who decide which candidate does have the call of God to come and minister among them.
Equally, these men should be the ones who have to vigil and exhort at times (even without removal), and they should be the ones who actually remove the pastor because he no longer fulfills the requirements of the ministry. In many cases, the simple requirement of being gentle, calm, patience, and loving is enough to remove many a pastor. But the spiritual men of that particular local church should be the ones who actually do the removing of the pastor if he refuses to step down voluntarily.
Here there are other considerations also in place. A good church constitution (thing which we never see in the Bible as being used) is a good orderly way of making a “loophole” to make it feasible and possible to remove a pastor. Any pastor that refuses to abide by a constituition or statement (yearly signed by him) obliging him to fulfill the biblical requirements of pastor or step down simply disqualifies himself.
Another very important element here is to ALWAYS HAVE A GROUP OF SPIRITUAL MEN IDENTIFIED to review and enforce if necessary this requirement. Churches with elders already have this apparatus in place, and they are one step ahead of the rest in protecting themselves. Obviously an unscrupulous pastor will remove those elders contrary to him, and replace them with “yes men”, and the system breaks down anyway. But at least there is a visible and identifiable “way” to remove a bad pastor if it is necessary.
The hope of every church is to never have to go through these steps, and again, it is a thousand times better to never have entered the wrong person, than to have one enter and have to remove him.