The Wittenberg Trail

I am a member of a LCMS congregation where the senior pastor resigned under pressure and threat of removal. The congregation leadership is preparing a series of town-hall meeting to discuss the role of the pastor. I am looking for information and reference documents on these topics. Some of the specific items that will come up in the discussion include:

1. The differences between associate pastors and assistant pastors, especially who they directly report to.

2. What Office of Public Ministry functions may be delegated by a pastor to the Board of Elders and what functions must be performed by the pastor himself.

3. What functions may be assigend to a Board of Directors and what fuctions may be assigned to a pastor with respect to the day-to-day operations of the congregation and the corporate functions of the congregation.

4. Specifics on removal of a pastor for "inability or unwillingness to perform the duites of a pastor."

Thnaks for all your help.

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Blessings in Christ!

I served as First Vice President of the Nebraska District for the past 6 years and I wintessed several occasions where the "pastor resigned under pressure or threat of removal." Your questions are good ones, but they can be answered on a number of different levels. I will try my best and would be happy to discuss this situation with you privately if you would like.

The levels I refer to are pretty simple. The fist level is what does Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions say about a specific issue. The next level is what does the constitution and bylaws of congregation and synodical handbook say. The next level is what does the law of the land say.

Most congregations have something in their bylaws that states the biblical reasons for removing a pastor. Remember, God is the one who places a pastor in a congregation, through means, and He is the One who removes a pastor. This happens when a pastor clearly demonstrates, according to God's Word, that he is no longer in the Office of the Holy Ministry. Again, God uses means to do this, usually the congregation or DP. There are generally 3 biblical reasons for removing a pastor: persistant adhearance to false doctrine; scandalous lifestyle; inability or unwillingness to perform the duties of the office. The first two are pretty clear cut. The third should be too, but this is the area where people tend to go when there is little or no evidence to remove a pastor but many still want him gone. This is where Satan is having a firld day in the LCMS.

To remove a pastor in this third category is very difficult and time consuming; I have seen it done only once here in Nebraska. It took over two years of gathering information and evidence, holding meetings for people to testify, and then finally the congregation presenting the findings to the entire congregation for a vote. Because this is very time consuming and painful, most DPs discourage the congregations from going this route "to spare each other the pain."

Here is where what I call the new synergisism comes into play. The business practices of the world are mixed with God's Word: if the pastor was really a CEO we would just buy out his contract, so let's ask him to resign in exchange for a generous severance package. This is clearly, to me, a violation of Scripture. However the Council of Presidents has a playbook for this type of activity. "The Divine Deposal/Dismissal of Ministers of the Word and Sacraments" has been around in various forms for over 20 years. It is authored by Rev. Will Sohns and was updated in 2005. My experience has been that this is the playbook for removing a pastor. I was told that it was "an internal COP document" by one District President and that is was "certainly in the public domain" by another DP. You would do well to get a copy of this 46 page document and see for yourself if it is a good thing or not.

What I have witnessed goes something like this... a number of people become upset with the pastor and want him to move on. He has not violated the "big three" reasons, but they still want a new pastor (the reasons vary and are really irrelevant to the whole process). Someone conatcts the DP and voices their displeasure. Then, either personally or at a congregational meeting, the DP or his representative explains that you can't remove a pastor except for the "big three" and it doesen't appear that this is the case, but... if you really want to... for the sake of peace... you can ask him to resign. He doesn't have to accept your generous offer, but you can make it none the less. When things get to this point it is only a matter of time. Sharks can taste the blood in the water. The pressure that is brought to bare is enormous. If the pastor has a family they are overwhelemed. I have seen pastors become so depressed over this process that they can't get out of bed in the morning... which only adds to the reasons "why he ought best resign." No charges are everl leveled, but the "threat" of charges is always present. The pastor has no chance to face his accusors, nad never knows if the threats are real or fake.

Generally, the pastor is beaten down to the point where he feels the only option is to quit. Sometimes he gets a generous severance package (12 months is the most I have seen) but sometimes he quits and doesn't ask for anything, trusting that the congregation that has forced him to resign will do the Christian thing and care for him and his family. In these cases I have seen zero severance package and most recently the congregation generously offered five WEEKS of severance pay... Lord Have Mercy!

Jonathan, I have answered question number 4 to the best of my ability. Your pastor needs to contact the Augustana Ministerium and a good labor lawyer. The other questions are mostly in the realm of congregational bylawsa and job descriptions.

You are in my prayers during this difficult time; Psalm 55:22

In Christ,

Rev. Clint K. Poppe
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Lincoln, Nebraska

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