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COMMENTARY: A pastor gives advice on chasing off pastors Chris Shoemaker, Jun 1, 2012
By Chris Shoemaker Special Contributor
In my 25 years as a United Methodist (16 as a pastor), I have come to realize that in every church there are at least a few laity who just cannot stand their minister. Maybe you are one of them. Perhaps you disagree with his or her theology. Or, you do not see eye to eye on issues of mission and/or evangelism. Maybe you just cannot bear to hear another of his or her sermons. No matter the reason, you want your pastor GONE.
Don’t worry, I’m here to help. Today, I will teach you how to get rid of your pastor.
To begin, you need to understand your ultimate goal. Your goal is to have the Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) vote out your minister. This is also your toughest obstacle, because the SPRC exists in part to protect your minister from exactly what you’re about to do. The key to victory lies in understanding just how difficult serving on the SPRC can be.
Serving on the SPRC can be the toughest job in the church. It’s not for everybody. The reason it’s such a difficult job is that constructively supporting and encouraging your pastor can put you at odds with your friends, families and even spouses.
Once you understand this, your approach is clear: While you can address SPRC members directly, it is much more effective to turn the members’ friends and families. If you can place SPRC members between supporting their minister or damaging relationships with their family or friends, your preacher will be packing soon!
I once heard a layperson say: “Blood’s thicker than water—and a preacher ain’t even water.”
The most effective way to turn people against your minister is to link the preacher’s traits and personality to the problems and weaknesses in the church—even if the pastor has nothing to do with it. Instead of saying “If Pastor So-and-So’s sermons were better, more visitors would come to our church,” try “Don’t you think Pastor So-and-So is too quiet? If our church wants to grow, we’ll need a preacher with a stronger voice.” We all know that feuding families or cliques can rip a church apart. However . . . “If Pastor So-and-So was better at understanding people, she could stop the fighting and unite our church.”
See what I mean? “Assassinating” clergy takes a subtle touch and the right blend of lies. Bold, direct attacks are always an option, but are usually risky as they can be polarizing. Such attacks are best saved for the coup de grâce, if necessary.
Perception and reality
Another helpful tip is never to say “I.” Don’t let anyone know that your opinions of your pastor are yours alone. “People are saying” or “There’s talk going around” are effective. At the least, always say “we,” even if it’s just you.
This is important: It does not take an army to get rid of a pastor, just the perception of an army. An SPRC Chair once told me “perception IS reality.” You want people to wonder who’s unhappy with the minister—and how many there are. While they are wondering just who is unhappy, their minds will tend to automatically lean toward the worst-case scenario—the more financially powerful church members. This brings me to my next point.
In the church, money doesn’t talk—it SCREAMS. Of course the less financially stable your church is, the louder that screaming will be. This brings us back to the SPRC. While this committee is supposed to support and protect the pastor, many SPRCs see themselves as HR Committees—with the primary job of protecting the corporation (the church). If the presence of your pastor is seen as a financial danger, you’ll be welcoming a new pastor.
If you are fortunate enough to have the financial pull yourself, just use it. I know of a church that “fired” an award-winning volunteer because one family controlled 30 percent of the church’s income. At a board meeting, this family openly threatened to withhold their tithe until the volunteer was gone. The treasurer quickly concluded that the church would go bankrupt within six months, so the innocent volunteer was removed at that very meeting.
If enough money stands opposed to your pastor, or the SPRC perceives that enough money stands opposed, chances are good that your minister just became a real problem. If a church is forced to choose between its bank account and its pastor, the pastor usually loses.
Of course, if your church has a prayerful, careful SPRC that works together to separate fact from fiction and perception from reality, deeply cares for the pastor and his or her ministry, and realizes that God is the true provider for the church, all of the above is useless. Good luck!
The Rev. Shoemaker is pastor of Cuthbert UMC in Cuthbert, Ga.