Someone once asked me the difference between the ministry and a "regular job". Ha! I guess the fact that the question was worded like that tells us that there are differences. Obviously, the minsitry is often 24 hours a day on call, has irregular hours, has an unusual intimacy, and, rather than existing to make a profit, it exists to reach and heal the souls of men and women. Recently we have had so much transition around the church that we have experienced almost every kind of transition imaginable. When Pastors transition there are certain variables that are unique and often misunderstood.
When a pastor has a moral failure it is important to work for the redemption of the soul. While one can work for IBM and the morality of his behavior "on his own time" will not affect his job performance, it is not so in the ministry. A pastor is hired to be not only a teacher but and example of the christian life. When there is a moral failure, it shatters the trust level of individuals in the congregation. But that is largely because the pastor himself has fallen from grace. If the violation of God's morality is deep enough, termination is required. Fortunately, in our denomination, we have overseers who act on the ministers behalf to provide counsel, healing, and restoration at the proper time. When a minister submits to this restorative track for his life it is a sure sign of repentance and a clean break with his sin.
What is hard for people to grasp sometimes is that, for a number of reasons, a pastor cannot remain in the congregation he has ministered to while in rehabilitation. He needs to replant himself in another church body and submit himself to spiritual leadership because he has fractured the trust of those he worked with and he needs a fresh start. When the minister refuses to fully repent from his sin the bible has some strong direction for us. We are to (1) make sure that there is a legitimate sin involved - that it isn't just a rumor 1 Tim 5.19(2) refuse to have fellowship with any one who calls himself a brother but lives a sexually immoral lifestyle 1 Cor 5.11(3) we are to pray for the restoration of that person from afar(Gal 6.1)- knowing that it is impossible for our words to renew such a one to repentances (Heb 6.6). When any brother continues in sin and calls himself a brother we exclude him from fellowship so that the Lord's will may be worked out in his life. (1 Cor 5.1-5)That breaking process is not easy bu necessary.
Often, even when a minister steps down for other reasons it is awkward for them to remain in the fellowship where they have served. It can be awkward for both them and the person who steps in to take his place. How does one refer to a resigned pastor- do you use the title if they no longer fulfill the job? Is it a sign of disrespect to call him "Bob" when he used to be Pastor Jones? And what about those awkward questions that parishoners ask. ("What was the real reason...?) It is cumbersome to say the least. If there was a difference of opinions- and the subordinate pastor found it impossible to remain in the leadership position it should be assumed that there is no warrant for that person to stay under the authority of the local sr. pastor. But what about the times an associate pastor thinks he has heard from God and announces his resignation only to find out that the other congregation now has changed their minds? It can be humiliating.
Sometimes the public reason given by the associate pastor at his announcement of his resignation isn't the full reason. The Church would never knowingly deceive but some matters are personal. We like to know all the "dirty details" of the situation- but usually that doesn't promote a healthy spirit. Often a brother or sister resigns for reasons that they are not completely sure of. It has happened here that some who have been in sin didn't make disclosure to the local leadership. To say the least- none of this happens at IBM, or TARGET, or Walmart. There is no crossing of the lines between public and private like there is in the ministry. That is why transitions can be painful. But it is also why ministry pays eternal dividends and Target doesn't. There is a commitment on all parties to love and serve and share their lives. God moves in that place where there is that kind of unity. But when that relationship has to be separated - it is painful.
God jealously guards the body. The greatest sin would be that of causing division in the local body of believers. Probably more so, than any immorality. Jesus warned that it is better to have a millstone tied to your neck and be cast into the sea that to cause a young one to lose faith.(Mt 18) So too we must prioritize the health of little ones. Sometimes parents are guilty of venting their displeasure with a certain pastor or leader in front of their kids- this causes deep spiritual damage. Honesty and candor can be balanced by the need to know in the lives of young ones. Some people even foolishly think their children are emotionally ready to handle scandalous details- there is a whirlwind that will be reaped for tainting the souls of the young. Even some adults have difficulty handling the fact that men and women of God are, ultimately, men and women. Their failures- though devastating and disheartening- are to be expected at some level.(Luke 17.1ff)
In the Assemblies of God, it is the practice of all ministers to leave the congregation when they no longer serve there(the exception may be in retirement). Since transition is hard for church members (who have become very emotionally attached) it is freeing for the new ministers to have a clean slate with which to work. And since the AG pastor's credentials are given by the local district, they are the ones responsible for the restoration of the local pastors who need it. They also work to strengthen and re educate those so gifted.
All this is so that the health of the congregation can be maximized and that there is little or no spiritual hinderance as the result of a staff transition. As much as we hate to see transition- we must take God at his word and believe that he is guiding the steps of our churches, we must pray for leadership, we must trust that God is moving us forward and that (Rom 8:28-29) in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
God give you grace,