Thabiti Anyabwile on Removing Fallen Leaders

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I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention. Have you noticed that recent months and years have recorded the fall of some very prominent church leaders? And that’s just the prominent leaders. Beneath those headlines are a good number of lesser-known cases. And with each story there comes a litany of stories featuring betrayed congregations, broken hearts, stalled ministries and reproaches to Christ’s name.

One thing congregations should know but are seldom taught is when and how to remove an ungodly or fallen leader. It’s part of the membership’s job description and not doing it means either a disqualified person continues in an office hurting the church or a congregation is ripped apart in disunity and confusion.

I tried to give some attention to this in Reviving the Black Church. As the recent high-profile cases indicate, this is not a problem unique to any one church or ethnicity. So it’s something all churches sometimes face and all churches need a plan for addressing. Here’s an excerpt from Reviving that I hope will be helpful to congregations and fellow church leaders should they—the Lord forbid—have to remove fallen and ungodly leaders.

Some Practical Considerations When Removing a Fallen Leader

The process for actually effecting the removal is as important as the decision to remove a fallen or disqualified pastor. A few procedural principles can help make the difficult task of removal more effective and healthier for the congregation and the fallen.

First, congregations and denominations should establish very clear and strict policies for defining and sanctioning clergy misconduct. Some denominations have general policies but fail to specify sanctions or procedures. Many others, especially traditions that prize the autonomy of local congregations, have very little in the way of policies or guidance for churches to use. If a church makes hiring and firing decisions independent of denominational hierarchy, then conscientious pastors and informed church members should ensure their local churches stipulate in their bylaws, handbooks, personnel manuals, and employment contracts the biblical grounds for disqualifying and removing pastors. Not only should the policies and procedures be established, but they must also be dutifully followed in order to protect the church. The Catholic Church maintained policies and procedures during the entire period of the pedophile scandal. Those documents did little to protect children and families because they were not enforced.

Second, during and after reports of clergy misconduct, congregations should look to the plurality of leaders overseeing the church instead of looking solely to a senior pastor. One important benefit of plural leadership is its ability to keep a flock shepherded and tended during crisis. Multiple gifted and qualified elders at the helm, exercising and enjoying mutual responsibility for one another and the church as a whole, greatly improve the chances of properly correcting an erring leader and pursuing just biblical responses. Their role should be clearly defined in policies and procedures for correcting and removing erring leaders. Because they function as peers, they’re able to engage other leaders from a position of authority. Because they’re multiple in number, they’re also able to outweigh and overturn a charismatic leader’s actions through their collective strength. So, it’s imperative that churches adopt the biblical model of plural leadership (see chapter 7), learn to support each man’s ministry and authority during times of peace, and welcome their oversight in times of scandal and distress. Trusting a leadership team of multiple elders sharing authority can mean the difference between stunned silence and confusion or following the voice of the Chief Shepherd during a trying period of clergy failure.

Third, church leaders and congregations should resist the temptation to have accused or convicted pastors speak publicly to the congregation. Scandalized pastors often appear before their congregations shedding tears, vowing to fight the “slanderous charges” being brought against them, or pleading for forgiveness for their transgressions. Who can forget the weeping Jim Bakkers and Jimmy Swaggarts crooning out confessions to television cameras and large audiences? In the same way, Eddie Long stood before the members of New Birth vowing to fight the “slander” of his accusers and in the process waged a public campaign to sway the church’s opinion and support. Because of the pastor’s ability to manipulate and the congregation’s vulnerability to division, public statements before or during an investigation are highly inappropriate. Some will feel such a measure is unfair to the pastor charged. But, in fact, victims are most often the persons who experience unfairness, stigma, and retaliation while misbehaving leaders receive lenient responses. Keep in mind that the fallen pastor has already proven himself to be morally disqualified; congregations cannot expect him to suddenly behave uprightly during the height of his scandal. Keeping the pastor from the microphone protects victims, congregations, and pastors from inflammatory and misleading public comments.

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SOURCE: The Front Porch

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