When does responsibility for your pastor begin and when does it end? At the Pastoral Advocacy Network, we advocate (act as advocates) for pastoral issues and needs. In this regard, we found that often this question has not been adequately addressed. The burden of it is left to a few church leaders to determine each time a pastor leaves. Without guidelines or much time to arrive at a comprehensive answer, the decision may be woefully incomplete. It would benefit both the minister and the church leadership to carefully determine their scriptural response to this issue in advance.
Most churches provide emotional, financial, and spiritual assistance as soon as a candidate is accepted by the hiring committee or other selection body. Their support often starts before the pastor arrives.
When it comes to the issue of responsibility of a congregation to their exiting minister, things become rather confusing. Pastors leave for many reasons. The stated causes for departure span a spectrum too numerous to list in detail (i.e. new calling, personal need or crisis, forced termination or sin). In most cases churches have a farewell event, a love offering and termination of all responsibility for the exiting pastor. Others provide some severance pay. And still others do more. In the case of a minister moving on to a new assignment or calling the responsibility of the church is finished. But in cases where pastors sin, health or emotional problems cause resignation or when a pastor is forced out by attack from within the congregation, the response and the responsibility of the church needs further consideration.
Is it the church’s obligation to care for its departing minister and if so, to what extent?
If the mission of the church is to reach out to those who are lost, hurting or dying , then the answer is clearly yes. If, in the beginning, the church accepted the spiritual, emotional and financial responsibility for the pastor and his family, and that pastor is now lacking in those areas in his time of transition, then the answer is yes. The church must be more than a corporation which hands out termination notices with severance packages to its dismissed employees. It is to be a reflection of the heart of God to His people and an example of love to the world around it.
Accepting responsibility for a pastor and his family is a solemn vow before God with many ramifications. To bear that responsibility to its fullest extent may be a bigger challenge than initially considered, but there is great reward for going the second mile and finishing well with messengers of God (I Timothy 5:17-18).
Expelling those ministers who have sinned may not be the best answer. We all may need to rethink the application of grace, but at the very least we need to still consider them our neighbors. Churches that terminate and abruptly send unaided ministers out of their congregation disregard their responsibilities. When an internal struggle arises and forces a pastor to resign, the church itself may even be the cause for creating a battered, wounded and sometimes homeless family. In a survey done by John LaRue Jr. for Christianity Online, a third of all churches forced its previous pastor to resign and a tenth of all churches are repeat offenders. When this happens, the church most assuredly remains responsible for its departing shepherd.
The lessons of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: 28-35 should be revisited and applied to outgoing pastors. The Priest and the Levite closed their eyes to an obvious need and went on about their business. The Good Samaritan realized that a human being in need is his most pressing business. As his neighbor he had compassion on the injured person and went to help him immediately. He arranged the best means of transportation to the finest place that could assist him to recover from his painful experience. As long as he was near, he dedicated himself to the man’s well being. Then when it was time for him to leave he gave money – as much as necessary – to see to it that this hurting stranger be taken care of until he was totally mended – until he was back on his feet again. Jesus defined this man as a neighbor. How much more should an exiting pastor be considered?
The responsibility of a church for an exiting minister ends when that minister is back on his/her feet again – having healed from any wounds, transported to his/her next destination in life, and given food and shelter along the way. A church is responsible to the outgoing shepherd until these items are taken care of appropriately. Accepting the responsibility of a new pastor should only be considered when the transitional needs of the departing minister are fully met in a manner that would be pleasing and honorable to the Lord.