What happens to church property when most of its members depart, leaving only an unpopular pastor and a few of his close friends and family to determine its use? Unfortunately, in all too many cases, the congregation essentially shuts down as an active ministry, converts the property to cash, and then pays the remaining funds to (or for the benefit of) the pastor. Frequently the money is paid out as salary for doing very little since the congregation is now defunct. Even worse, in some situations we have seen, the pastor seems to deliberately drive the bulk of the congregation away so that he can sell the property for his own personal benefit without having to account for the money.
We are even aware of an example where a single minister became pastor of three separate congregations and drove the members of all three away leaving him with the property. While this situation would normally not occur in denominations with relatively strong connections because the denomination would step in, it is all too common among independent congregations and in denominations with much looser structures.
Whether the pastor is truly a wolf in shepherd’s clothing, intentionally driving most of his congregation away so that he can profit personally from the sale of the property, or simply a poor pastor, the result is the same: the destruction of a congregation, the sale of church property often for secular use, and the waste of assets which should be used to build the Kingdom.
What can Christian lay people do to avoid this kind of situation in their own congregations? First, build strong, independent lay leadership for the congregation and resist attempts by the pastor to “pack” the board with his own supporters. This will ensure that there is a strong independent board to check the pastor, offer guidance if he seems to be taking a wrong path, and if necessary, initiate the pastor’s removal.
The second way congregations can help prevent this kind of situation is to exercise great care in selecting a pastor. This should include a careful check of his background and prior employment. Frequently these wolves in shepherd’s clothing move from church to church, repeating the process multiple times. A call committee should be very reluctant to hire a candidate who has left his prior church worse off than when he arrived. It would be wise to talk to some people who left the candidate’s prior church to find out why they left.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Whitman H. Brisky