Among Southern Baptist churches in Texas, 85 pastors were reported fired by their congregations in 2003?a number lower than actual figures because of limited reporting yet
much higher than what should be, said Deron Biles, SBTC Minister-Church Relations director.
Biles laments what he views as a near epidemic of pastor firings?a trend fueled by many factors, most notably poor communication between church members and staff and an unwillingness among contentious parties to resolve differences, he said.
Biles is aiming to help churches and their leaders resolve differences humbly and biblically in a book he is writing?due out later this year?titled “Before You Terminate.”
“It’s rare that we don’t hear about some kind of church conflict every week in our office,” Biles reported. “Here’s my basic assumption in the book. My conviction is every forced termination is sin. It may be sin on the part of the pastor, it may be sin on the part of the church, or both. But it may also be sin on the part of the pastor search committee that didn’t do a good job as they were bringing that pastor on the field. It may be the sin of the interim pastor who didn’t prepare the church to call its next pastor. But I believe any time that relationship is broken by forced termination, it is sin.”
Biles argues that church conflicts usually mirror conflicts found in the New Testament and there are scriptural principles that must be followed before termination should be considered. In his book Biles lists five questions that must be addressed by all involved parties.
>1. Do we fully understand the root issues of the problem?
“I’m convinced a lot of the struggles and battles that we have in the church or conflict we have in the church is unresolved because we never get to the root cause of the problem,” Biles told the TEXAN. “We’re fighting over superficial issues but we’re not at the heart of it. And you can’t solve a problem when you’re only putting out fires that are indirect causes of the problem. In some churches that may go back years, but until you get to the heart of the problem you’re not going to be able to resolve it.”
>2. Have we addressed our problem with ALL the people involved?
>3. Have we sought the Holy Spirit’s leadership in our problem?
>4. Have we sought outside wise counsel in our problem?
>5. Have we tried every other alternative?
In addition, Biles lists eight steps churches should take before even considering termination, among them biblical confrontation, repentance, forgiveness, listening, mediation and, if necessary, possible re-training, separation or church discipline.
Biles said conflicts may be related to members who are habitually contentious and in such cases church discipline could be warranted.
Too often, churches adopt a football coach mentality towards the pastor; if a “winning season” is not attained, they fire him. “I’m not saying termination should never be considered, but I am saying a measure of grace should be exercised,” Biles contended.
He said one aim of the book is to help churches understand the value of supporting their pastor and his family.
“A pastor who feels loved in his church is a pastor who can deal with conflict.”
Pastor terminations are comparable to divorces, Biles said, “and in many cases just as painful. The difficulty is perpetuated by the fact that the church is going to keep calling pastors.” Thus, some churches become known as “pastor killers.”
The average Southern Baptist pastor’s tenure is three years, though a pastor’s most effective years occur after five years, Biles noted.
“To the same degree that the enemy attacks marriages, I’m sure that the enemy loves and would love to see break-up in churches,” Biles said.