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Has your church / place of worship ever had to fire a pastor?


Liz CA
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It happened at our church. It was the worship pastor. As can be expected, there are people agreeing and disagreeing with the decision the board made.

 

How has this been handled in your church? Did the someone announce it once, several times? Was the reason explicitly mentioned or was it just presented as a fact without explanation? Was it made to sound like the person is just moving on by his / her own choice?

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One church we attended had a youth pastor "resign"..........aka, you resign or we will fire you.  Then a few years later they had to repeat the process with another youth pastor.  I actually agreed with both decisions and think they should have been made much earlier.

 

If there was abuse/inappropriate behavior then I think that they maybe should write a letter to the members to detail what was going on.  Sadly, I have seen too many Christian organizations sweep things under the rug and never bring this to light and later even more people became victims.  Same with gross misconduct that affects others---embezzlement, etc.  If it was just that they weren't doing their job well, etc. it might be different.

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One church we attended had a youth pastor "resign"..........aka, you resign or we will fire you.  Then a few years later they had to repeat the process with another youth pastor.  I actually agreed with both decisions and think they should have been made much earlier.

 

If there was abuse/inappropriate behavior then I think that they maybe should write a letter to the members to detail what was going on.  Sadly, I have seen too many Christian organizations sweep things under the rug and never bring this to light and later even more people became victims.  Same with gross misconduct that affects others---embezzlement, etc.  If it was just that they weren't doing their job well, etc. it might be different.

 

Here is the disagreement among several members: This person was relieved of his duties because he violated a specific clause in his employment contract. Church leaders did not reveal what that was. IMHO, I don't need to know all the details but many think it should be more transparent. If it was something "repulsive" I would rather that his family does not have to live in this relatively small town knowing that a lot of people know what their father did.

But it could also be something more benign even though dh pointed out it would be unlikely there was a clause in his contract for something "benign." I also think it hints that there was a problem before; he was hired in the hopes that he had dealt with it but it reared its ugly head again.

 

I feel I should trust the board to make those decisions because this is why there is a board. Many disagree and feel it should be shared among the congregation, and then what? Take a vote? Just trying to mull this over in my little head.

 

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If there was abuse/inappropriate behavior then I think that they maybe should write a letter to the members to detail what was going on.  Sadly, I have seen too many Christian organizations sweep things under the rug and never bring this to light and later even more people became victims.  Same with gross misconduct that affects others---embezzlement, etc.  If it was just that they weren't doing their job well, etc. it might be different.

 

the hard part of that is unless it is brought to trial and the person is found guilty in court, it can technically be considered hearsay or even libel and it opens the church up to a defamation lawsuit.

 

recently there was a woman who was found guilty of embezzling lots of money for a period of years.  well, the previous place fired her, but because she never faced charges - all they could *legally* say when called for a reference was "we would not hire her".  people were asking the first company why they didn't tell anyone she was an embezzler.

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No, but a missionary family was brought back from the field on issues of immorality on both the husband and wife. They were counseled, but long dramatic story short, they were a train wreck and ended up divorcing. It was a pretty hideous situation. It was sort of like watching the Titanic hit the iceberg, back up and ram it again, back up and ram it again. 

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A number of years ago there was a person who had a significant responisbility for a ministry that had to be taken from that position.  It was not something that would really be considered the person's fault, i was more of a mental health issue I suspect, and I think the church tried to handle it discretely but the person escalated the issue and it became rather more public than would have been ideal.

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A married pastor had an affair with a staff person.  As it came to light, enough people found out through gossip (they were caught together), so they were both offered a chance to resign.  The announcement of his departure did outline the offence for the pastor, but not the woman (even though everyone already knew). Her position was temporarily filled by an intern and then the job was posted. The waited a while to post and hire for his position to allow some time for healing and for people to accept the change. It really wasn't hashed out after the announcement  because it was a clear cut issue.  

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It happened at our church. It was the worship pastor. As can be expected, there are people agreeing and disagreeing with the decision the board made.

 

How has this been handled in your church? Did the someone announce it once, several times? Was the reason explicitly mentioned or was it just presented as a fact without explanation? Was it made to sound like the person is just moving on by his / her own choice?

 

It was a resignation, but strongly recommended by the board. It was a terrible fit. His wife was unhappy and he broke a few counseling rules, and was just a young firecracker. He did not do anything criminal (I think they'd have reported it) but he did things like counsel women without a woman present, etc.

 

I hated his sermons. He was so full of it. All fire and brimstone but never worked a real day's labor in his life. All his adventure stories were about skiing and golf. This, to a congregation entirely composed of working class people. And then he yelled at us fire and brimstone. Blech.

 

ETA: His wife was not unhappy, as far as I know, with the marriage. She had not initially felt the call to move to our community and was unhappy there. She was from a very different lifestyle. We all liked her and the kids and he wasn't a bad person. She felt stifled and probably was. She had nobody to confide in. I heard from a little bird that this was brought up--they were disappointed in his failure to listen to his wife's heart in these matters. This was a Baptist church, extremely socially conservative, doctrinally conservative. Though they are unlikely to read this, I felt bad re-reading it and seeing how it looked.

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But it could also be something more benign even though dh pointed out it would be unlikely there was a clause in his contract for something "benign." I also think it hints that there was a problem before; he was hired in the hopes that he had dealt with it but it reared its ugly head again.

 

 

 

Having read a number of employment contracts, I can assure you that there quite possibly was a violation of something benign.  Employment contracts tend to be tedious, boring affairs.  This phrasing actually make me think it IS something benign.  For example, the employment contract could prohibit him from taking paid side gigs or from being a guest minister at another church's event.  It also could prohibit him from going on an interview with another church without advising the elders or head pastor or whomever.  Maybe he performed a wedding ceremony offsite for a couple who were gay or had been divorced or hadn't gone through premarital counseling required by your church.  Maybe he used a church mailing list for political purposes or accepted a gift from a church vendor over the church's limit on such things.  Of course he could have bedded his boss's wife or driven a church van naked, but there are any number of benign actions that get people fired.  I wouldn't necessarily expect an employment contract to include only issues that had been a problem before; an organization's employment contracts are generally pretty standard from one employee to another.

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Here is the disagreement among several members: This person was relieved of his duties because he violated a specific clause in his employment contract. Church leaders did not reveal what that was. IMHO, I don't need to know all the details but many think it should be more transparent. If it was something "repulsive" I would rather that his family does not have to live in this relatively small town knowing that a lot of people know what their father did.

But it could also be something more benign even though dh pointed out it would be unlikely there was a clause in his contract for something "benign." I also think it hints that there was a problem before; he was hired in the hopes that he had dealt with it but it reared its ugly head again.

 

I feel I should trust the board to make those decisions because this is why there is a board. Many disagree and feel it should be shared among the congregation, and then what? Take a vote? Just trying to mull this over in my little head.

 

IMO, a good middle ground for a church to walk would be not to announce all the details to the general congregation but to answer questions from concerned church members who asked for a private meeting with other pastoral staff.

 

Yes, I've been a member of a church in which the head pastor (and founder of the church) was asked to step down.  He had been unfaithful to his wife and they were living apart.  All but one of the other pastors threatened to quit if he did not step down so it forced his hand.  Dh and I set up a meeting and asked the associate pastors questions, which were answered honestly, as far as I could tell.  We appreciated that it allowed us to stay with the church.

 

A youth pastor at the same church was fired for having a young adult dress up in a scary costume and film his interaction with an older church member when he caught her alone in the church at night.  She developed PTSD, and the church paid for counseling.  Sigh and huge eye roll at the sheer stupidity of this.  The reason was not announced from the pulpit, but we knew people in leadership who told us what happened.

 

Three other pastors (not head pastors) were let go under odd circumstances during our fifteen years at that church.  One went through a divorce, one was forced out because he discovered the pastor cheating and wanted to just quietly leave, and one had an odd situation involving the police which had a lot of mystery surrounding it.  We aren't there anymore, BTW.  Too much drama.  In all three situations, the reasons were not announced from the pulpit, but we were close enough to leadership that we knew many details.  I needed brain bleach by the end of the whole experience and longed for my days as a "back row Baptist".

 

If I have questions, I think I have the right to have them answered.  If my questions are not answered to my satisfaction, then I may need to reconsider whether or not that is the church for me.  That sounds really snooty, and I am not generally an entitled sort of person, but I believe that some degree of transparency is necessary and good and appropriate.  I don't have time for game playing and sweeping things under the rug.  If I care enough to ask, I want an answer.

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Having read a number of employment contracts, I can assure you that there quite possibly was a violation of something benign.  Employment contracts tend to be tedious, boring affairs.  This phrasing actually make me think it IS something benign.  For example, the employment contract could prohibit him from taking paid side gigs or from being a guest minister at another church's event.  It also could prohibit him from going on an interview with another church without advising the elders or head pastor or whomever.  Maybe he performed a wedding ceremony offsite for a couple who were gay or had been divorced or hadn't gone through premarital counseling required by your church.  Maybe he used a church mailing list for political purposes or accepted a gift from a church vendor over the church's limit on such things.  Of course he could have bedded his boss's wife or driven a church van naked, but there are any number of benign actions that get people fired.  I wouldn't necessarily expect an employment contract to include only issues that had been a problem before; an organization's employment contracts are generally pretty standard from one employee to another.

Public displays of alcohol consumption can be one of those clauses...whether that means one glass of wine or a three day binge is only known to the leadership.

 

We've been in leadership when ministers left or were asked to leave. Leadership must take the high road and keep their lips zipped for the most part.

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I have both in my childhood and adulthood churches.  In general, in cases of sexual misconduct of a head pastor, the reasons were public and known.  

We had one head pastor leave a few years ago - it was an interesting mix of resigning and being asked to resign - there were a lot of issues that came to a head and the pastor was given the option of fairly strict mentoring and accountability (it was pretty complicated, but nothing immoral).  The person chose to resign, but then after doing it decided to be upset about it and say they were forced out (which they weren't, but sort of were, but really weren't) and this is a small town, so it was messy.  All in all it seems to have worked out okay, although one kid did attend at our church for much of whatever was happening during the fall out, they are not in the congregation any more (they go elsewhere).    

 

As to how it was handled: there was a series of all church meetings to discuss issues, denominational mediator was brought in, there were reconciliation speeches given a year or so later (by the pastor and certain church representatives at the church).  I found it interesting that it was important for the mediator that all discussion of the issues or facts put forth about the issues were not to be done in writing, but only in person.  The leaving pastor was at the first meeting when leaving after announcing it - the first discussion.  And then there later for the reconciliation speech.  I found the meetings interesting in that they functioned to make sure that everyone felt heard - not everyone got all the answers they wanted, but people were given many opportunities to talk about their questions and to try to understand one another and share issues.    

 

It all gets so hard because people have such intense feelings about their pastors and about their church.  I think sometimes people think things are their business that really aren't.  And I think people forget that churches are businesses and they need to function in a professional manner when dealing with staffing losses.  I know that there were a lot of people who had a hard time feeling like things were open and honest enough when really, it would have been slander and over sharing to make the true issues and their depth known.

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The few instances I know of are small churches (so no 'boards') & I wasnt a member. All baptist. Mostly over what I consider petty things-not visiting the sick enough, supposedly stealing sermons from the Internet, & I don't know what else. All was talked about in the open. Church voted on whether he should stay or go.

 

Some may not consider those petty things but I can overlook a lot.

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This happened at a church that we had only recently started attending. The pastor was caught having an affair. As soon as it was discovered, the elders met and then asked him to resign. He did, immediately. As in, it was discovered during the week and he was gone before Sunday the same week. Interestingly, he was caught after the affair had ended. The elders were the ones to make all of the decisions about it. I thought they handled things very, very well. They told people what was going on, but kept details under wraps. (Who the woman was, etc.)They did not cancel his health insurance immediately because his wife had a surgery already scheduled. I thought that was very gracious. His kids were adults and they still attend the church. He and his wife are still together. It really threw the church into a tailspin for quite awhile.

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We were at a church where the pastor resigned. Everyone knew *something* was up when he suddenly went on leave--sabbatical, the elders said. Now this was a church that had only been established a couple years so we were all confused by the term sabbatical being used here. Turns out there was an affair and things got really really ugly, with the woman trying to play the victim and get everyone on her side. Ick. Eventually the pastor came back to apologize for his behavior but many felt his apology was insincere and lost faith in his ability to lead. He chose to resign. An interim pastor was brought in and the congregation was combined with another a couple towns over. (The other church had a pastor and building but lacked membership; ours had members but no pastor and no building.) We'd left by then** but I think the combined church soon dissolved.

 

**For some time before this we already felt this church wasn't the right one for us and were getting ready to leave. Dh wanted to talk to the pastor before we left but could never get an appointment. We didn't know why at first; the elders didn't want to say too much. They thought to deal with it quietly by relieving the pastor of his duties and having him and his wife go through counseling. But eventually things got out. The woman mentioned above sought to let everyone know "what really happened." That's when everything came to a head and dh and I felt like the timing wasn't right for us to just leave.  We decided to wait until the issue was resolved.

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Google Forced Exit Ministry.

 

 

Sometimes there is good reason for a minister to leave.  The fact that he was asked to resign, and that the reason is not clear screams "Forced Exit" to me.

 

 

Sometimes the reason for the resignation is because of a power trip by someone else. If that is the case, the church will chew up and spit out pastor after pastor until the culprit is brought under some sort of accountability.  (That might be one person.  It might be 10 people.  It's likely 3-5 people who are following one strong personality.)

 

 

You won't know what you are dealing with if you never know the reason for leaving.  

 

 

Asking a minister to resign is sometimes a manipulative way to keep the minister quiet to things going on in the church...and I think some digging should be done.  jme.

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The few instances I know of are small churches (so no 'boards') & I wasnt a member. All baptist. Mostly over what I consider petty things-not visiting the sick enough, supposedly stealing sermons from the Internet, & I don't know what else. All was talked about in the open. Church voted on whether he should stay or go.

 

Some may not consider those petty things but I can overlook a lot.

Stealing sermons from the Internet would not even make my misdemeanor list after the things I've seen!
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Not a pastor, but one of the ministry leaders at our former church was fired because he was having an affair. The change in leadership was announced briefly during a service because the pastor wanted to address it head on. The pastor made it very clear he didn't want people gossiping about the situation, and he expected the congregation to offer support to the man's wife, who was still a ministry leader. (The couple was not present that day by choice, but the pastor had met with them previously and told them what would be said to the congregation.) It was uncomfortable, but I was impressed by the pastor's forthrightness and effort to make the situation as as drama-free as possible.

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It's been years and we left that parish for other reasons.  The music director was caught with the youth pastor/director.  I guess the affair had been going on for a while.  But they were caught together.  Snd they were both married to other people.  I don't remember details, but I was not one of those "in the know" people there and the fact that I know means they made at least that much public.  It was obvious because the head pastor was on sabbatical and suddenly he returned and the other two were just as suddenly gone.

 

 

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I don't currently attend a church, but I did attend a church where they fired the minister around disagreements around money. It was a small church where she was the only minister and then the interim minister talked about it constantly for the next couple of years, and as much as I loved the religious education program, it made attending church services feel like attending a business meeting and I stopped going.

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I belonged to a church where we SHOULD have fired the minister, because he was flirting with a 19yo home schooled girl and when her parents caught him and made sure he wasn't around her anymore he told lies about them. It turned out he had a long time problem with this sort of thing but it kept getting swept under the rug but the denomination. I would never go to another church in that denomination again because I can still hear all the people making excuses for him and saying how everyone who wanted him gone was unforgiving. He hadn't really apologized for anything, he was mostly sorry he was caught. 

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What is the point of announcing why they were fired? That seems gossipy.

 

First, if the person has been engaging in inappropriate behavior, often others will make statements to the police and then hopefully get the help they need to recover. Second, it decreases the likelihood that the same person would be able to get a job where they can continue to engage in the behavior. Third, it gives families and opportunity to remove their children from an at risk situation should they be friends with the offender outside of the ministry. Fourth, it helps the church move forward when they know why a much loved, respected pastor is suddenly not there - people are less likely to resent those who had to make the decision and are more likely to accept the new minister when he comes on board. Fifth, it cuts down on gossip - left to their own imaginations, people come up with some wild things that can cause additional damage to the dismissed pastor's reputation as well as the church. 

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We did, but the minister did nothing inappropriate etc. He was just a bad fit. To be honest, I am not sure that having an affair with a member would be grounds for firing if both parties were fully consenting adults,

 

In our church we 'call' a minister, IOW, members vote. Our larger governing body says that a 90% yes vote is considered optimal, below that they leave it up to the individual church and the minister. This minister only got about 85% yes, but accepted the call anyway. He later admitted himself he should not have done taken the job.

 

There was a lot of discussion among the membership that you could totally miss if you weren't a super active member. We had a brand new baby and it all went over our heads, lol. All of a sudden a large number of the membership broke off to make their own fellowship.  Then a vote was called by the membership about continuing his contract. The process for doing this is in our bylaws. I was going to vote to keep him, because I liked the guy.  But then a letter went out from the staff of the church, some who had been there for over 20 years, saying in a very polite manner 'us or him, take your pick' and it came out that he was very difficult and divisive. They didn't get into specifics but that spoke volumes to me because I knew they would never, ever do that if it were not very important. And those people had given more to the church over decades than this one guy had done in a year, kwim?

 

Instead of making us vote, he quit at the last moment.  But, I will say that the membership never quite recovered. There were lots of people who never came back. The whole thing was ugly and personal and blech.

 

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A past church fired a worship leader for accessing pornography at church. It was never announced why he left. I only knew about it because his son was in our youth group, so the YP gave us a brief explanation (ie: "He was fired due to accessing pornography. He has gone to a pornography addiction facility in __________.") He did not tell us to be gossiping, but to give us a heads up in case the student had issue he wanted to work through. 

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Not the church I am in now, but my childhood church.  Pastor with a lovely wife and 5 awesome kids was suspected of being a child sexual predator by church elders, so he had to go.  He was later arrested and convicted of abusing young boys.  Fast-forward 40ish years....pastor long ago left the ministry, divorced his wife, and was living with a partner.  When he died not long ago, his partner had the gall to tell a newspaper that his children cut off contact with him because he was gay.  Um, no, not because he was gay; because he was a child sexual predator. 

 

It was too bad on so many levels.  But he really revitalized the youth of the church during his short tenure there; in retrospect because he was cultivating those kids.  To think myself or my siblings could have been one of his victims had a few church elders not had a good idea of what he was.  This was in the 70s and child protection laws were not what they are now.  A few elders knew what he was up to but had no evidence to turn him in and get him convicted.  So they cut a deal with him:  You leave the church and leave the ministry and don't take a job working with children, or we go to the authorities with suspicions and info we have.  So he left the ministry and never took a job with kids.  But he got entangled with young boys anyway, despite that.  Anyway, no one knew about the real reason he left for many years; his leaving was presented as a resignation of his choice.

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This was exactly the problem that presented itself in my church so long ago.  Not enough evidence to even charge the pastor, let alone convict him.  So the elders of the church did what they could to get him out and protect other kids.

the hard part of that is unless it is brought to trial and the person is found guilty in court, it can technically be considered hearsay or even libel and it opens the church up to a defamation lawsuit.

 

recently there was a woman who was found guilty of embezzling lots of money for a period of years.  well, the previous place fired her, but because she never faced charges - all they could *legally* say when called for a reference was "we would not hire her".  people were asking the first company why they didn't tell anyone she was an embezzler.

 

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Really?!?!?  :confused1:

 

Ok, I looked it up and it is in the code of conduct that they will not engage in a sexual relationship with anyone with whom they have a ministerial relationship. But an affair with someone outside of the church is ok I guess, lol. But I'm not sure how we would know

 

I never even saw our last minister's partner at the church or even knew her name. I would have no idea if they split or whatever.

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Ok, I looked it up and it is in the code of conduct that they will not engage in a sexual relationship with anyone with whom they have a ministerial relationship. But an affair with someone outside of the church is ok I guess, lol. But I'm not sure how we would know

 

 

I don't know that our church has a formal code of conduct, but I am sure that any unrepentant sexual relationship outside of legal marriage would be grounds for discipline for any member, and almost surely grounds for dismissal of a pastor. 

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I don't know that our church has a formal code of conduct, but I am sure that any unrepentant sexual relationship outside of legal marriage would be grounds for discipline for any member, and almost surely grounds for dismissal of a pastor. 

 

My church....not so much concerned with the legal marriage, or looking to monitor consenting relationships between adults. And we certainly don't discipline members.  I mean, what can you actually do to someone? Tell them to go home in a very firm tone of voice?  Not exactly a big deal, lol.

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My church....not so much concerned with the legal marriage, or looking to monitor consenting relationships between adults. And we certainly don't discipline members.  I mean, what can you actually do to someone? Tell them to go home in a very firm tone of voice?  Not exactly a big deal, lol.

 

By "discipline" I mean the process as outlined in Matthew 18:15-18. When done in a loving manner, with the goal of restoration of the sinning member, it is a beautiful picture of love within the body. This site does a great job of explaining it as we've seen it done in a couple of churches we've attended:

 

http://www.gty.org/resources/distinctives/DD02/church-discipline

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Not saying anything is likely to lead to all kinds of speculation, in my experience.

But, doesn't announcing that Rev. Smith has been caught with a married woman also cause all kinds of speculation?

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Not saying anything is likely to lead to all kinds of speculation, in my experience.

Well, in that case there is lots of room for 'church discipline' I suppose. I think that at my church, there would probably be an announcement that the pastor will be leaving and we are sad to see him go. True, but not the whole truth. The whole truth is not the entire congregation's business. Speculators will speculate either way. I don't think that airing private sin is justified by the desire to prevent speculation. He can publically confess if he feels called, but that is his job.

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Fifth, it cuts down on gossip - left to their own imaginations, people come up with some wild things that can cause additional damage to the dismissed pastor's reputation as well as the church. 

 

I think this is a good point I had not considered before. Speculations abound and most people's imagination runs toward se#ual misconduct even though - so far - nobody knows the reason except board members and the lead pastor and they are not talking about it anymore.

My dh knew him fairly well since they were on the worship team together. Dh has texted him to let him know people still care about him but he has not replied and now, weeks later we don't expect him to either.

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But, doesn't announcing that Rev. Smith has been caught with a married woman also cause all kinds of speculation?

 

It's been my experience that when leadership discloses a prudent amount of information, and reminds the body of the goal of the discipline -- always repentance and restoration -- people respond well. 

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