When can a pastor leave a church Biblically?

Discussion in 'Church Office' started by Brian Withnell, Dec 22, 2009.

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  1. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    One of the things I think about is that we speak of a call to ministry (being a pastor, elder, deacon, etc.) as being a call. We also speak of a calling to a particular work ... and here I'm thinking of calling to a particular church. This is usually more of an issue for pastors, but even for deacons and elders it should apply.:2cents:

    The view of being an officer within a church or accepting a call to a particular church would seem to imply that it is God that calls, and that only God can then move the person to another church (even as we take church membership vows seriously, should we not take seriously the vows of a pastor when being installed?) To my thought, a pastor ought not leave a church, as long as he is able, until that church which he has pastored is under the care of another pastor at least his equal. If he leaves them without a pastor, or a lesser pastor, is he truly setting an example such as Christ has set? The OPC installation vows for a pastor include:
    When do the duties of a shepherd include leaving the flock without a shepherd? If the congregation breaks its vows (no longer supports the pastor) then the pastor I feel is justified ... the vows are already broken. But for a pastor to choose to leave? We don't accept any gnostic mysticism in terms of what we believe for anything else, why would we accept it in terms of "God's call" to another church, when doing so would violate the vows he has taken to his present church? If a wife tells a pastor that she "knows" God is calling her to leave her husband and go to another man, we would certainly call that sin. Why do we accept this in pastoral relationships?
  2. Marrow Man

    Marrow Man Drunk with Powder

    Perhaps the procedure is different in the OPC, but in the ARP (and I'm pretty sure we are not alone in this respect) a congregation cannot form a search committee for a new pastor until the pastoral relationship with the previous pastor has been severed. Thus, there cannot be someone else in place to "take over" when he leaves. Besides, it is not the pastor's decision to bring in a new man; it is the congregation who calls a man, pending the approval of the presbytery.

    That is another factor to consider as well. More is involved in Presbyterianism than the pastor simply resigning and going to another church. The congregation has to meet and agree to release the minister from his call. If there are problems, the presbytery can become involved.
  3. Rogerant

    Rogerant Puritan Board Freshman

    I was thinking the same thing today Brian. Here we have members rebuking a member for asking about seeking out a church that is more faithful to the Word. But in the same day we have a pastor severing ties with his flock to join another group. Why is it appropriate to call a pastor who is currently serving a flock? When it came to a marriage between a husband and wife, the man who would lure the wife away could be sued for "alienation of affection". By what grounds can a church call a pastor away from a flock? What are the Biblical precedents for this? And what grounds does the pastor have to leave? We could say the same thing about a church member if another church invites him to attend their service. And if there is conflict between the pastor and the elders, shouldn't we expect reconciliation? How are we to expect husbands to reconcile with their wives when the pastor can't reconcile with his flock? This just seems wacky.
  4. rbcbob

    rbcbob Puritan Board Graduate

    In the mid-eighteenth century Baptist pastor Benjamin Beddome refused an attractive call to another church appealing to the writings of John Owen who said that “such removals only are lawful, which are with the free consent of the churches concerned, and with the advice of other churches or their elders with whom they walk in communion”.

    Beddome said “if the prospect of greater usefulness is in itself a sufficient plea for the removal which you press, then it would be impossible for churches of a lower rank ever to be secure of the continuance of their pastors”

    Sadly, too many congregations learn of "God's will" to sever their pastor from them after the "new deal" is done.
  5. Reformed Rush

    Reformed Rush Puritan Board Freshman

    I don't know the answers to this scenario, but it happened to us.

    One of our Pastors received a call from a large church, which he accepted, only to break the news to our small flock after the fact.

    It was as shocking as learning of "marital" desertion or even an actual death.

    God was good, and eventually provided our little group with another, wonderful and Godly Pastor, but we as a congregation went through a very rough time, meanwhile.

    I understand the views that Pastors can and perhaps should be in position to entertain calls from sister churches, but the decision to accept another call should be made an open matter of prayer amongst the Pastor and his present church body, so that if the call is accepted as being God's will, all members of the church can appreciate God's providence in the matter.
  6. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    I believe it is possible to have two pastors at a church at the same time ... I know of some churches that do. Yes, most of what you say is true for the OPC ... and yet I think it less than honorable for a pastor to leave a congregation "in the lurch" so to speak. Even if the congregation and presbytery consent to the breaking of the relationship in order to release the pastor to another work, there ought to be some means of securing a pastor for the church being left.

    I've seen this as a joyful thing, with a pastor moving into a smaller church that is struggling in order to build it up, with the sending church providing some support for the pastor. Though this was in the old RPCES ... and the pastor had two associate pastors of equal ability to shepherd the flock when he left ... it certainly was approved.

    I thought of the rational there much better than a pastor that leaves a small church for a larger church with a better benefits package. I have to wonder if that is a pastor chasing after money, rather than having a pastor's heart and wanting to serve God's people. Being presbyterian by conviction it does have some advantage ... if God is closing down a church by his sovereign ordination of what comes to pass, the remnants of the congregation can be cared for and membership moved to the next closest church, or they can be dismissed to a church of fraternal relationship with the denomination.

    Please note ... I hold all members of a church to essentially the same standard. If you join a church, and it is Biblical, confessional, and not leaving the member (it is possible for a church to leave its members, rather than the members leave the church) then a person should remain in fellowship with that church and honor their vows.
  7. JonathanHunt

    JonathanHunt Puritan Board Senior

    In all of these circumstances (and yes, I look slightly concernedly on churches ((esp larger ones)) pulling men from smaller causes when they have a need) it is the CALL that is so vital. We cannot say unless we are in the shoes of the person concerned - indeed unless whether we ARE the person concerned, what the LORD has been doing in their life and how He is leading them.

    In general, I believe that the whole idea of calling pastors already engaged in ministry in other places would become a moot point if churches committed themselves more to the nuture and training of young men in their midst.

    I know a church here in the UK that had a pastor for 40 plus years, and the next minister was one of his deacons - a young man with not the same preaching ability or knowledge (obviously) as his venerable predecessor. But the people called him, and love him. He loves them, and knows them well. Sadly, this rarely happens.
  8. Marrow Man

    Marrow Man Drunk with Powder

    Certainly a church can call a senior pastor and an associate. But the call to the associate is just that -- he is not the senior pastor, nor are his duties typically the same as the senior pastor. And his calling is not typically so that the reigns can be handed to him when the senior pastor moves on (though that sometimes happens, of course). Also, if a congregation can actually afford two pastors, that would seem to go beyond at least one of the scenarios you described. A small church would not be able to afford two pastors so that one could "take over."

    I understand what you (et al) are saying, and you have a very valid point. It is difficult to envision a perfect scenario where a pastor leaves and another steps in to watch the flock. In Presbyterianism, the pastor's hands are tied, and that's not always a bad thing. If it became a system of pastors hand-picking their successors, that could develop into an hierarchical system and violate the practice of congregations calling pastors. But I will admit that a pastor simply picking up and leaving because a more attractive offer can be problematic.

    What's the solution? A pastor is a pastor for life to that congregation? That's not always health, and that doesn't necessarily solve the problem either. He would have to retire, and you still have the same problem (i.e., the congregation cannot begin a search until the pastoral relationship with the congregation is severed). Perhaps there could be something better in place in terms of interims/supply ministers.

    When I left my first church (after receiving a call to begin a church plant), I agonized over the decision. In the end, I had to trust that God would raise up someone to lead them in my absence. The church gave me a "going away party" (not sure how to read that :D ) with a fellowship meal on the last Lord's Day I was there. It was a "surprise," and while they were doing preparations, someone drove up to the church asking if they had a pastor and if they were looking for someone. It turns out he was a PCA pastor currently without a call. He was able to step in the Sunday after I left (as a supply minister), and remained with them 2+ years after I left.

    There is another side of this equation as well (though not necessarily in Presbyterianism). I remember listening to a lecture by Derick Thomas on John Owen and his struggles on settling on church gov't. As a illustration, Thomas mentioned a problem with congregational forms of church gov't: a minster friend of his in Wales went on vacation (2 or 3 weeks), and when he returned, he and his family were told to pack their bags and move out of the manse. It seems there had been a congregational meeting that took place while he was gone, and they voted to remove him. Just like that. All systems can be abused, it seems.
  9. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Senior

    A pastor is married to his wife, not the congregation. Any expectations akin to marital commitment are wrong in my opinion. Often a move is far better for the family (relatives nearby, schooling, location) and God in His mercy is taking care of the wife and kids. A good pastor will make his family his first priority.
  10. Scottish Lass

    Scottish Lass Puritan Board Doctor

    You referenced membership vows, but at least in the ARP, a minister is a member of his presbytery, not the local congregation.
  11. Marrow Man

    Marrow Man Drunk with Powder

    I believe he is talking about the installation vows of the minister, dearest.
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