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FIRST-PERSON: The case for dismissing a congregation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It has been my privilege to pastor vibrant, lively churches for 25 years. I currently pastor a very loving and active church. Overall, my pastoral experience has been exciting and positive.

But this is not the case for some pastors. Statistics tell us that an alarming number of ministers are “released” every year for a variety of reasons, some legitimate, some not so legitimate. It is time we rethink this process.

In general, ministers are dismissed for a multitude of reasons. The main reason for dismissal (except for moral or theological reasons) is that the area of ministry for which the minister is responsible is perceived to be inactive and ineffective.

Leadership style and unmet expectations are to blame, or so it’s said. This perception is believed by a few of the powerbrokers, propagated among a majority of uninformed church members and then actualized in the release of the minister.

While it may be true that some ministers are not competent ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and need to be released from their duties (2 Corinthians 3:4-6), could it be that some churches are not competent Christian communities? In other words, what would happen if we fired and/or dismissed churches because of their lack of integrity, commitment and/or involvement?

What’s the point? The point is this: Churches so easily blame their own apathy and indifference on a minister who did not cause the apathy and indifference.

Churches don’t get the way they are overnight and they are not reformed and/or revived overnight. The difficulty is that many of these incompetent churches view the minister as a quick-fix answer for problems that have long persisted. No minister can single handedly erase years of sinful sloth and indifference.

Is firing a congregation biblical? Yes. In Revelation 2:1-7 Jesus speaks to the church at Ephesus through the inspired pen of John. He describes this church as having lost its first love. He calls them to remember their first love, to repent of sin and to return to first things.

Then, in Revelation 2:5 the Lord says the most astonishing thing: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” What does this mean? Most scholars agree that the lampstands represented the church from which the light of Jesus Christ could shine. In other words, the light of Christ never goes out, but the lampstand sometimes is removed.

Could this be why every year thousands of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention do not baptize a single person? Could it be that while God’s Gospel always works even in the most difficult settings, the churches in those settings have lost their spiritual influence and power? Further, could it be that God has removed their place as a vibrant influence in a particular community? Maybe God fired the church.

What’s the answer? Again, while there are valid reasons to dismiss incompetent ministers, maybe ministers should quit beating up on churches; conversely, maybe churches should stop beating up ministers. Maybe it’s time for both ministers and churches to become competent, committed and passionate conduits through which God can work.

Acts 2:43 gives us another clue. Here the text notes this truth about the early church: “Everyone was filled with awe [fear]….” That is, people both within and without the church developed a phobia about the church. This was a fear not produced by inner church turmoil; rather, it was a healthy fear based upon God’s mighty power being made known in the body of Christ.

Is anybody afraid of or in awe of the church these days? Or, are we too busy with our petty little ecclesiastical wars that while we’re beating up the minister and the minister is beating up the church the world is going to hell without Christ?

Some ministers may need to go. Maybe more churches need to be dismissed. But what would happen if we remembered our first love; what would happen if we repented of those dual sins of pride and forgetfulness; and, what would happen if we returned to the first things that glorify the Lord? The church would have to fire a lot less ministers and God would have to fire a lot less churches.
Kevin Shrum is pastor of Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn.