It was a train wreck in the making. The senior pastor had been called when the church was averaging about 400 in worship and he led a growth initiative that took the church to nearly 1000. But between the 400 and the 1000 came a revelation to the church’s leadership, including the board. The senior pastor was a loose canon who could draw a crowd, but he had a tendency to alienate the people around him when in close proximity – and he was a smidge or two too heavy handed with the staff at times.
But he’d grown the church from 400 to 1000. How bad could that be? So instead of dealing with the problem up front, the leadership opted to create a team-based decision-making structure. Five staff members, including the senior pastor, would work on a consensus basis in visioning, programing, and ministry.
Did I mention it was a train wreck in the making?
The team-based decision-making process covered a multitude of issues. There was staff discord pretty much from the beginning, but they managed to make it look like they were “keeping it together” for several years. Part of the reason they kept it together was because the church managed to see steady growth until they reached a bit over 2000. And growth will hide a multitude of problems … and perhaps even a multitude of sins.
The train wreck began with a poor programming decision that turned into a worse financial decision. Neither of those issues, however, would have been significant problems if there weren’t serious staff issues. Key leaders saw the writing on the wall and switched from team players to turf-protectors. Soon thereafter, staff turnover became an issue. The senior pastor’s proclivities for bullying was magnified and the higher the stress, the more of an anxious presence he became.
Then the train hit the trestle and the whole train derailed. The senior pastor lost his credibility with the staff, with key leaders, and even with much of the congregation. A slew of key leaders left. Attendance quickly began to wane. Giving plummeted. And that’s when the board stepped in to manage and to mitigate. And that, my friends, was the real train wreck.
Let’s Review: The role of an effective board is to set policy and to hold the senior pastor accountable for the effectiveness of his/her leadership … in other words, they ask whether or not the senior pastor is reflecting the church’s values, is aligned with the mission, and attaining the vision.
In this case, the board decided that the best thing was to put personalities over and above what was best for the church. Instead of removing the senior pastor and the duplicitous leadership team members, they promoted the senior pastor to star leader and put into place an accountability team to reign in the pastor. Time will tell if the plan will work, but in the words of Albert Einstein, “The same minds that have created a problem cannot be the same minds that solve it.”
All of this would have been avoided if the church’s leadership, including the board, understood one simple church leadership dictum:
Church Leaders Are Called to Put the Good of the Church Above the Good of an Individual
… or even above the good of a group – even if that group is a majority.
All of this could have been avoided if the church’s leadership had acted when it was first discovered that the pastor was a “loose canon.” Yes, there was growth. And yes, it’s difficult to reprimand or remove a senior pastor when things seem to be going good. But in this case, the pastor wasn’t living within the congregation’s values. He had already shown himself to be antagonistic with some staff members. The signs were there, the problem had already surfaced, but the board chose personality over what was best for the church. And 1600 people later, the board – a different group of men and women – made the same mistake.
Church leaders … your job is to do what’s best for the church. Your job is to make the very difficult decisions, even when the decisions are going to be unpopular. Even when decisions go against the majority’s will. (A biblical note – there is not a single instance in the Bible where the majority ever “gets it right.” Not once. Majority Rules is very American, but it’s not a Christian value or practice.) Removing a popular leader is hard. It’s even more difficult when they are getting good results. But if a leader is a “loose canon” or a “bully” or doesn’t reflect the congregation’s values, mission, or vision, then leader – that’s what the kingdom demands.