Hardly a week goes by that I do not hear of another multiple staff desertion without blessing, release or honor. A senior pastor or staff pastor suddenly hears God and leaves their church. The destination is not another city but just down the road.
Churches split. Relationships break. Offenses abound. Accusations fly. And everyone loses--except Satan. "But," the departing pastor protests, "I heard from God. I was in the right. The senior pastor wasn't obeying God. This city needs a church that does it right."
Often, the last person to hear about a staff pastor's departure is the senior pastor. Kept in the dark until the last minute, while the associate steals sheep, the senior pastor is often forced to make the best of a bad situation. To keep the rift from exploding, the pastor weakly blesses and releases, trying to cover up sin.
Years ago I left a mainline denomination. Months ahead of my leaving, I gave my notice and my reasons. I said some things for which I had to repent. But I left the town, honoring the covenant I had made years before at my ordination. I had signed a code of ethics in which I promised not to split a church, take a church out of the denomination or start a new church just down the block from the old one. That denomination had many things with which I disagreed, but having a code of ministerial ethics simply was a "God idea," which I signed and followed.
Are there no ethics among Spirit-filled, nondenominational pastors? In writing about Pentecostal history, Harvey Cox, in Fire From Heaven, noted that one way our movement grew so rapidly was through splits and divisions starting with the Azusa Street revival. Historical fact doesn't sanctify human egotism, greed, offense and downright rebellion. The fact is, it's possible to leave righteously and honorably. Here are just one observer's suggestions:
1. When planning to leave, go to the senior pastor and share your heart well in advance of your departure.
2. Refuse to make a decision to leave based on offense.
3. Leave with a blessing. Refuse to take the bait of Satan or to give reason for others to be offended.
4. Get out of town.
5. Guard your tongue.
6. Be led by the Spirit, not by your feelings, rationalizations, or offended sheep who may use you to voice their hurts.
Carefully study 1 Corinthians 3, Acts 15 and 2 Corinthians 11. If you leave with offense, dishonor or a curse, then what you birth in future ministry may well be an Ishmael, not an Isaac. * Larry Keefauver is a teaching pastor at The Gathering Place Worship Center in Lake Mary, Florida. He is the author of numerous books, including Experiencing the Holy Spirit (Nelson).