When Your Pastor is Not a Good Fit For Your Church

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Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever

The committee could not find any specific reasons they wanted the pastor to leave.  Church attendance was healthy, the congregation was responding well to the minister's leadership, and finances were in line with expectations. But there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the preacher, and had been since day one.

"You're just not a good fit for our church" was all the committee could come up with. They wanted him out. If he refused to go peacefully, a movement would be started to oust him forcibly.

If this sounds unlikely to readers, let me assure you it happens quite often.

The wife of a youth minister texted me recently with a similar story about her husband. The administrator and personnel chair had visited him that evening to cut him loose upon just this basis—"you're not a good fit for our church." They informed him the pastor would meet with him the next morning to discuss details of his severance. Just so easily are leaders willing to toy with the lives and ministries of God-called servants as well as with the health, unity and reputation of His churches.

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In many cases, what "you're not a good fit" means is that certain members simply dislike the minister. And since they do not like him, clearly, the solution is for him to go back where he came from.

The presumption of some people is truly amazing.

However, for the sake of this discussion, let us assume the delegation visiting the minister to inform him of the misalignment between himself and the congregation is sincere and well-intentioned.

Let's assume they want to do the right thing. Here are some thoughts for them to consider:

1. First, figure out what that means. "The pastor is not a good fit for us" is too general, too fuzzy, too arbitrary. No doubt plenty of people in the church find he "fits" them just fine. So, what does this mean?

Is it about style or substance? Is it doctrinal and basic, or superficial and changeable?

The well-intentioned leaders of the church–those who want to do the right thing here–should not let their colleagues off the hook with the "not a good fit" accusation. Make them get specific.

Don't be surprised if it comes down to something superficial and flimsy like: The women do not like the way his wife dresses; He did not go to the right school; He neglected to honor a certain family in the church; or, worst of all, he wants to live simpler than we want our pastor to live (I mean, look at the neighborhood where they bought a house! And they're sending their children to public school, if you can believe that!).

2. Even if the misalignment is genuine, this can be good for a church. A "fit" that is too comfortable can be a sedative. You want the pastor to be different, stronger, godlier and with better spiritual vision than the rest of the church. You want the pastor to be a pusher, a change agent, one who asks questions and wonders "why don't we do something about this?"

What you do not want is a spiritual leader who is too impressed with you the membership, too thrilled with the prestige of pastoring "this great church" and too excited with himself for being named your pastor.

Pastors are instruments of a holy God sent to lead us, to prod us, to teach us, to comfort us when we need it and to hound us when we are straying.

3. Even so, what "I" want and what "you" want in the pastor has nothing to do with anything. The only question is: Did God send that person to the church?

If God sent him*, please do the Lord the honor of getting out of his way. Do yourself a favor and get on board. Do the church a favor and stand up to those who would oust him because they don't like the way he ties his tie (or the fact that he doesn't wear one at all!) or wears his shirts outside his jeans (Jeans! Horrors!).

The next time you find yourself on a committee that is a) working against the pastor, b) seeking to oust the pastor or c) trying to change the pastor, ask yourself the big question: Why?

Why are we doing this? Who is behind this? Do they have ulterior motives or are they sincerely trying to do the Lord's will? Will the effect of this be to bless that minister's service for Christ or handicap it? Is this worthwhile?

Then ask it of the others on the committee. And do not take anything less than a solid answer.

There are times I will ask my grandchildren a question about their day, their grades, or some activity they're involved in. Often I will preface it with this:  "I want to ask you something. And you are not allowed to say, 'I don't know.' I want an answer." (When done in love and with a sweet spirit, it generally produces the desired effect.)

Sometimes we have to treat our colleagues in church leadership like children and ask for their reasons for what they are doing.

4. Before leaving the subject, let's state the obvious: It is possible for a pastor to be wrong for a church. (Thought I'd never come to that, didn't you? Smiley-face here.)

Perhaps your church is conservative and the pastor is liberal. Your church is Baptist and the pastor is a Jehovah Witness. Your church is mission-minded and the pastor is anti-missions. Your church is in dire need of hands-on leadership and the pastor wants to live in the next town and drive in on weekends.

Nothing about this is good.

Let's admit the obvious here: Sometimes pastor search committees make huge mistakes. And pastors make mistakes too by going to churches they know they are wrong for.

When this happens, the lay leadership of the church has a major responsibility of dealing with it. They should approach it cautiously with prayer and fasting, seeking the Lord's direction on how to proceed. They will want to call in outside counsel from the denomination and other veteran leaders who will have insights on how to proceed. Let them do nothing precipitously and disruptively, but go forward in faith and love, admitting their mistakes and seeking to bless everyone involved.

Let them do nothing to handicap the ministry of a God-called servant, even if it is the unanimous decision that he needs to leave.

Pray for our leaders. Pray for our pastors. Pray for yourself, that the Lord will guide your steps and "help you to walk on your high places" (Habakkuk 3:19).

(*Note: As always, I write from the standpoint of a Southern Baptist. We do not have women pastors, although women serve in leadership positions and on church staffs. Many good churches doing the work of the Lord do have women pastors.)

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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