Three Reasons You Cannot Fire Church Members

Seth Godin follows up the Sprint-fires-their-customers thing today.  Here’s a quote:

“Before you start firing customers, you better be committed to satisfying the rest of your customers.”

Seems that about half of Sprint’s customers don’t like them either.  Maybe Sprint will fire them, too. 

Which brings me to my Three Reasons You Cannot Fire Church Members —

1.  You didn’t “hire” them.  They didn’t join the pastor, they joined the church.  I have only one church experience of expelling a member and this involved a mentally-disturbed individual who was beyond our ability to help.  Even though I was only an associate pastor, and the expulsion was done for safety and security (legal) reasons, it still bothered me.

2.  God may be trying to teach you something.  Don’t you hate it when that happens?  Read the Psalms of David-on-the-run if you don’t think opposition will bring you closer to God.

3.  They’re related to somebody else in your church.  Makes it awkward, doesn’t it?  So, getting rid of them will not solve the long-term problem. 

A pastor was telling me about the troubles at his former church years ago.  “When it was all over,” he said, “only one family left the church — mine!”  Something to think about.

7 thoughts on “Three Reasons You Cannot Fire Church Members”

  1. Number three is especially relevant in small churches. In the small church I attend now half the members belong to two different families, and those two families have kept the church running through some very hard times over the past five to six years.

    I’ve come to learn from two different small church experiences that sometimes your most stubborn people are also the people who have been the most faithful and did everything they could to keep the church doors open during tough times. As a pastor, you have to get them out of survival mode and into the mindset that now that things are stable, we need to look at how we can grow the church and build the Kingdom of God in our community.

  2. Shawna, I’ve been here 3 years and I’m still discovering who’s related to whom. And, your comments about what to do after survival mode are on target. Often a crisis holds people together, but different energy and focus is needed to move beyond crisis to ministry. Good comments from you, as always! — Chuck

  3. I don’t get your reasoning for number 3 at all. I can understand the politics of it as a person who has ministered at small churches for 14 years, but I don’t get it.

    I was at one small, rural church that refused to let a lesbian couple attend worship (not be members or leaders, but merely to attend). One deacon in particular was very vocal in his prejudice towards these ladies and was very uncharitable to them. Ironically, he was having a more-or-less-known-but-winked-at-inappropriate-relationship with another woman in the church (but hey, in his mind, at least he wasn’t a homosexual). Nobody said anything to him about his sin because he was well-connected in the church (including me, to my shame).

    I stood up to the deacons insisting that these ladies had every right to attend church there, especially when this particular deacon began bullying the lesbian couple, but ended up losing my position because of “Reason number 3”; he was related to a LOT of people in the church.

    By your reasoning I should have aked the women to leave the church and gone along with him simply because of the politics of a small church: I would still be there if I had compromised my Christian beliefs to cater to this well-connected church family member.

    I agree, it’s very dangerous for your job to stand up to a person who is related to a lot of people in the church, but do you really see Paul, John the Baptist, or Jesus overlooking a sinful, divisive person just because they were well-connected in a church? I would see them knock the dust off their feet before they would do that.

    If fact, Peter did follow rule 3, going along with the Judaizers even though he knew they were wrong, just because of who they were. Paul rebuked him for that.

    It’s funny, as the guru of reinventing the small church, you should realize that many churches REMAIN small and ineffective because they are held hostage by one ruling family. Granted, standing up to them when they are wrong can cost you your job or divide the congregation, but is it really a healthy church if it’s run more by a mob family than a true leader?

    By your definition, the man who was sleeping with his mother in law in Corinth would not be asked to repent or “be turned over to the devil” if he were related to enough people in the church.

    And before Shawna reads my mind again, I am NOT saying that someone should be expelled for some petty reason (see previous post and her comment ascribing such things to me).

  4. Three reasons you SHOULD fire some church members:

    1. Unrepentant sin, like Paul commanded the church in Corinth to do with the man who was sleeping with his step-mother (I think I said mother in law in another comment, sorry for the mix up).

    2. A divisive person, like Titus commands in Titus 3:10. This would not be the simple complainer who doesn’t like the way the chicken was fried or the person who doesn’t like the color of the carpet, but the person who is truly trying to divide the church body.

    3. A false teacher. Most of the NT epistles speak against false teachers and our diligence in standing up to them, esp. the letters of John. Again, this wouldn’t be over a light thing like the Rapture or gifts of the Spirit (unless rule number 2 applies), but for those who are trying to lead people away from the essentials (I’ll let you determine what those are, but the greatest would be the teaching that Jesus is Lord, see 1 John).

  5. Sorry to have so many comments, but I just thought of one more thing.

    You mention in Reason 1 that “they didn’t join the pastor, they joined the church.”

    That terminology and some free-trade Sumatran coffee, taken black, got me thinking. You mention the word “pastor” which means “shepherd” and it illustrates a great point. As the pastor, the congregation is not YOURS. You are a shepherd of a flock owned by a great master: the congregation is the flock which is owned by God, your job is to shepherd it. Thus, as you say, you shouldn’t think that you can just kick out a sheep that is not going your way, since you don’t own the sheep or the flock.

    However, Jesus made it very clear that a good shepherd will make sure that the flock is taken care of, even to the point of losing his life. Of course, he was talking about himself, but I think it applies to the pastor of a church too. We should be willing to stand up to wolves in the flock, because we are entrusted to the Master’s flock, just like we try to keep the flock well-fed and watered and away from poisonous weeds (false teachings) and the like.

    Removing a wolf in sheep’s clothing might be the most effective way to care for a flock. Not a bleating or hurt lamb, mind you, but a real wolf, and before you run out that wolf, you better be close enough to it to make sure that it’s really a wolf and not really a sheep. But if you tug on that wool and it comes off to reveal a wolf, you better be ready to expel it!

    Sorry to be back so soon, but thought that was a good analogy, feel free to use it.

  6. #3 was supposed to be humorous, but it is true in a lot of small churches. Thanks for your comments, and yes, I do realize that there are problem people in churches, and that they do need to be dealt with. These two posts were supposed to be a rather light-hearted, if not altogether shallow, look at the Sprint thing, which I couldn’t help but see thru the small church lens. Now, I need some coffee! 🙂

  7. Try Sumatran, it’s high test and will really get your typing fingers going. 😎

    I didn’t realize you were being humorous, but seriously, too many of us small church ministers really do subscribe to rule number 3… it helps us keep the congregation intact and the paychecks coming, but sadly it’s the reason that many small churches remain small. Do I hear an amen… can I get a witness? (from the back, Amen). Thank you.

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