Exhibit P. The Article 17, 5 Nov. 2015.

[Return to Table of Contents.]                                            [Exhibit Q.—>]

‘Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.’  –I Tim. 5:17-9

See also Appendix iv.

The Article 17a., and my dad’s rebuttal of it for presentation to the Classis (7 December 2015); excerpts shared at A.’s congregational meeting the following Tuesday, 10 November. I include the Article and the rebuttal together to save space, and to keep all the material together. The addendum at the close probably could be treated separately, but again, the material seems better grouped together.

FROM: Rev. S. T.

RE: Reply to Article 17a

Introduction

The attached is a reply to the “Request for Article 17a, Release of Pastor S. T. and A. Church.” which was approved by the A. Council on November 4, 2015, and given to me on November 5, 2015.

Before I ask you to read the document, a couple of preliminary comments are in order.

First, a rebuttal to the “Request for Article 17” has already been written by 42, a lifelong member of A. I received a copy of his rebuttal several days after he wrote it and submitted it to the Church Visitors, 21 and 22. Since my reply was written after 42’s rebuttal, there are issues in the “Request” that I did not respond to or clarify, because he already addressed them. The reader should understand that I share a number of the sentiments expressed by 42, even though they are not included in the attached reply.

Second, to the document itself: It is my considered opinion that the “Request for Article 17” was not written by the Council members of A. I have asked the Church Visitors for the name of the document’s author, and they have refused to tell me. I conclude, on the basis of good evidence, that one of the Church Visitors drafted the document. (The impropriety of such an act should be obvious.) This might explain why there are historical errors in the “Request,” as well as errors in the interpretation of past events.

Third, given the nature of the “Request” document, that it is considered a permanent record of the grounds for my dismissal, it was not my purpose to merely summarize flaws in the document or correct a few of the major errors. Rather, my intent was to do a thoroughgoing dissection of the “Request.” Thus, a document that was originally 858 words is now over 3300 words. Even at that, I didn’t deal with all of the problems in the document! Just most of them. While I appreciate the wisdom of Shakespeare, that brevity is the soul of wit, it seemed necessary to expose the many flaws in the “Request,” to remove all doubt that the document is quite defective.

Fourth, it is my hope that a true and accurate record of the facts concerning the recent past at A., as well as the reason for my dismissal, be set forth. May the attached reply be a servant of the truth.

Cordially

S. T.

Note– the following document includes the “Request for Article 17” and my reply; the “Request” material is in [yellow], Cailibri Font, the Reply is in [white], Times New Roman.

A. Church

Request for Article 17a, Release of Pastor ST and A

Moved, Supported, and Approved by Council at a special meeting held on

Wednesday, November 2, 2015.

Background and Process:

First, it should be noted that Pastor S works diligently on his sermons and is obviously scholarly in his Biblical work. Also, he has suffered much in his personal life and has done so with Godly faith and courage. Pastor T is certainly not accused of any moral failing. And so we can be thankful for him.

Along with that, is should be noted that A. is a good congregation. They have been faithful to Pastor T in his times of suffering and have been very supportive in his times of need. They have also been longsuffering in this extended time of stress. And so we can be thankful for the A.

However, this motion comes after at least five years of mounting tension and frustration, and after a time of significant membership losses from the active-core of the congregation. As this tension was growing, the Council invited 54 (2011 -12) to help the congregation as a consultant. When Pastor T’s illness struck, the Council “put a hold” on these discussions.

The above paragraph is simply inaccurate. Five years ago, in the year 2010, I was not aware of any tension in the congregation. Nor was the Council! There was no discernible “mounting tension” or growing “frustration” five years ago. Or four years ago. Or three years ago. There were some people– a few– who had issues with me. But the funny thing is, if you’ll pardon the expression, they never came to me with their issues! Furthermore, the Council did not invite 54. I did. And it was not because “tension was growing.” It was simply because I had chatted with 54, learned of his position in the denomination working with Home Missions, and thought our church might benefit from his coaching in terms of visioning and self-analysis.

Now for a summary statement on the above paragraph– it is significant because it introduces the motivation for terminating the pastor. Notice, the motion is set forth, finally, “after at least five years of mounting tension and frustration, and after a time of significant membership losses.” I realize that we’re not very deep into this “response,” but this is a significant overstatement. The phrase “blown out of proportion” comes to mind! But it sets the stage for a document which has as its purpose justifying the hasty termination of a minister of the word. “We had to do SOMETHING! RIGHT NOW! We’ve been putting up with this for five years.” Again, this simply isn’t true. I would invite you to talk to 43, 48, and 49, elders who were part of the Council back then. With regard to the significant membership losses, 42 has adroitly dealt with that in his rebuttal.

Then this past May, 2015, the Council hired 54 once again to assist the church in a congregation-wide series of meetings. For these, elder and Deacon teams visited the congregation members, and 54 met with these teams and compiled a summary-report for the Council and the Church. In these Elder/Deacon visits, the people of A. congregation registered a high degrees of frustration with the pastor and the report urged church visitors be called. (These were/are: Pastor 22 and Pastor 21.)

I will say more about 54’s involvement when I deal with the next paragraph, but it wasn’t the Council’s idea to enlist his services. I encouraged this in our February 3 Council meeting, because there was interest in doing a congregational survey, and it was my conviction that the survey should be done properly, with appropriate follow-up. The Council did not hire 54 “once again” to “assist the church in a congregation-wide series of meetings.” Rather, house visits were part of the process recommended by 54 in doing an evaluation of our church.

And once again, there is overstatement in the above description. In fact, the statement, “the people of A. congregation registered a high degrees {sic} of frustration with the Pastor” is misleading. The claim is simply too general, even global. A more accurate statement, obviously, would be “SOME people of A. congregation,” etc. I know from the description of two elders that roughly 2/3 of the people/families visited were basically satisfied, had no significant issues, or registered minor complaints, such as, irritation that one hymnal was used more than another! I received this feedback from these elders more than once. One of them observed that it was the third elder/deacon team which registered most of the discontent.

Also in this time, 54, along with N (from Denominational Pastor/ Church Dynamics) met with the Council and the Pastor. They both once again clearly noticed the widening divide between the Council and the Pastor. In the last three months, there has been a deep searching for resolution; there have been many meetings. Pastor 21 met privately with S. Pastors 21 and 22, together, met privately with Pastor S. Pastors 21 and 22 met repeatedly with the Council also, and then with the Eiders (with full deacon support). The Council has been diligent, humble, and abundantly hard-working.

One of the pleasures of reading this document is the kind of declaration made at the end of this paragraph! It almost makes me feel privileged to have been treated so shabbily. But not quite.

I begin with a minor point. The following claim, “In the last three months, there has been a deep searching for resolution,” is flawed on two counts. First, the Church Visitors met with the Council and me on September 15. I was fired on November 5. This is 51 days, barely over seven weeks! Second, I must take issue with the claim that “there has been a deep searching for resolution.” A “deep searching?” By what measure? How do you define “deep?”

These questions are relevant, because the Council, in concert with the Church Visitors, moved so hastily from our first meeting to my firing. I was involved in ONE meeting with the Council and Church Visitors, pertaining to the follow-up of 54’s report of September 3. Just one. That was the initial meeting of September 15, which took place AFTER the Church Visitors met with the Council without me (for nearly an hour) and then met with me in the parsonage (for 30 minutes). Our meeting together lasted all of 15 minutes (I kid you not!)!

The only other time we all met together was October 27, when I read my response to the Council’s recommendations. At that meeting, my involvement consisted of reading my response, then being excused from the Council room for 70 minutes while the Council deliberated, then being brought back in to be informed that I was suspended from pulpit duties for the next three Sundays.

The delegates may decide for themselves if it is fair to characterize meetings between the Church Visitors and Elders, and Church Visitors and Council, which excluded me, as “a deep searching for resolution”! I was shut out and not involved in any of the discussions!

Anyway, the first time 54 and N met with us was March 10, 2015. I simply must point out, I was not aware of ANY divide between the members of the Council and me. There was ONE member of the Council whose behavior toward me had changed in a span of 10 to 12 weeks prior to our meeting with 54 and N. His behavior in the Council room also changed after the first of the year. This elder grew more forceful in influencing the direction of the meetings (and church!), began to openly criticize me, and was noticeably irritable when I disagreed with him. Again, this was a change in the behavior of ONE member of the Council.

But that’s not the only inaccuracy in the above paragraph. The most problematic statement is this: They both once again clearly noticed the widening divide between the Council and the Pastor. I must say, this declaration is HIGHLY dubious! Did 54 say this? Is this a quote from N? You see, I was present at that meeting. There was a lot of discussion about our concerns, our past, our hopes and dreams as a church, our struggles being a little country church in 2015, and so forth. To assert that the tenor of the meeting was such that 54 and/or N would “once again” (once again? This was their FIRST MEETING WITH US!!!) clearly notice “the widening divide between the Council and the Pastor,” is, frankly, absurd. It simply was not that kind of meeting.

Finally, note once again the date of the meeting. As of March 10, the Council had only met twice since the new office bearers were installed. This means that HALF of the Council had only met twice before the meeting with 54 and N! Two of these men had not been on Council for 7 years or more. My point is this: The Council had not endured months and months of wrangling and disagreement and division (and all the rest of it) with me. There had only been two meetings! So much for the “widening divide.”

The Church Visitors, in this process, recommended that the Council create a set of clear expectations for Pastor T. The Church Visitors recommended to Pastor T that he weigh carefully, in his own heart and mind, is own vision for ministry in order to see if could agree with these expectations. The Council, with the support of Classis, also extended a generous offer to provide a brief, fully-paid sabbatical for counseling and healing. It was clear at the conclusion of that discussion that Pastor T was not at all of a mind to flow in accord with the Council’s expectations or of a mind to receive the sabbatical recommendation.

Hold on now. Regrettably, the above paragraph also requires clarification and correction. Mention is made above of a “process” which led to a “recommendation” by the Church Visitors that the Council “create a set of clear expectations” for the pastor. But where to start?

First, the previous paragraph hints at the “process,” specifically, “Pastors 21 and 22 met repeatedly with the Council.” Repeatedly? To the best of my recollection, the Church Visitors met with the Council on September 15, and again on September 29. It was at this September 29 meeting– which I was instructed by one elder to attend from 7 to 7:30, and then, upon my arrival, was told by another elder that I wasn’t supposed to be there, and asked to leave!– that ideas were floated which would later be termed, alternately, “instructions” or “expectations” or “recommendations,” depending on the conversation!

This was a flawed “process” in itself, because I was not allowed to participate in any discussion, nor did Rev. 21 and Rev. 22 discuss with me my perceptions of what was going on in the church. The evening of the 15th, when the Church Visitors met with me for approximately 30 minutes, we discussed my background, my life journey, my salvation experience, and who was prettier, Mary Ann or Ginger. We spent less than 5 minutes discussing my perception of what was happening in our church. It would appear that early on in the “process,” (to the extent that there was one) the Church Visitors determined that the way to ameliorate A.’s problems was to give me a set of “clear expectations.”

In any event, the “expectations” were cobbled together at a meeting which took place between 6 and 7 o’clock on October 6. They were hand-written in pencil and read to me in the Council meeting which took place immediately afterwards! The “expectations,” which were presented to me as “recommendations,” lacked specificity and clarity. The Council actually amended and reworded some of the recommendations as they read them. I wrote them down and used my handwritten version to write a response to the recommendations, which I presented to the Council three weeks later on October 27.

I am providing a copy of my response to these recommendations. The reader may decide for himself if the assertion made above, that “Pastor T was not at all of a mind to flow in accord with the Council’s expectations” is accurate.

The Council, at its meeting of 10/29/15, instructed Pastor T to not preach for the next three Sundays. Then the Council met again on 11/4/15 to initiate Article 17 proceedings.

While the above section is mostly accurate (the meeting actually took place on Tuesday, October 27), it does not provide enough detail to communicate how utterly baseless this suspension was. Simply put, there were no grounds for suspension, nor for banishing me and my daughter from worship services for three weeks. The stated reason was a “breakdown in communication,” hardly a legitimate ground for such a heavy handed penalty. But in point of fact, there was no “breakdown in communication.” I simply did not agree that a spiritual retreat was the need of the hour, nor did I agree that my daughter should be blackballed from a committee because someone had issues with me!

The Grounds for the Council’s decision for Article 17 are as follows:

1. The core workers and givers of the congregation feel “lorded over” by the

pastor.

Please see 42’s rebuttal on this, the first of the Grounds for Article 17.

2. The Council feels a lack of teamwork-respect from the pastor and detects from him an attitude of superiority. The pastor demonstrates either an inability or an unwillingness to listen, and then to interact as a full-faith partner in ministry. They feel there is no intent by the pastor to cooperate.

It is difficult to address the above without concrete examples. To simplify matters, let’s list the issues:

  1. 1. A lack of teamwork-respect: I’m not sure what “teamwork-respect” is. I have not run into this hyphenated term in my 55 years. So, let’s break it down.
  1. a. Lack of teamwork: I can’t imagine where this came from. I’ve always been a team player, wherever I’ve worked or served. Ask my former bosses, teachers, professors, and coaches.
  1. b. Lack of respect: That’s not true at all. I treat everyone on the Council with respect.
  1. 2. Attitude of superiority: Are there any instances or concrete examples we can point to? Since I seldom disagree or argue, and seldom deviate from the agenda in meetings, I have great difficulty understanding the basis of this perception.
  1. 3. Inability or unwillingness to listen: I am well able to listen, and am willing to listen. Just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean I don’t listen. I’m sure if someone made it a point to tell me that I missed something or hadn’t been listening, I would have “heard” it. Have members of the Council done that? On more than one occasion, I recall asking for clarification from a particular Council member; he responded with irritation and sarcastic comments.
  1. 4. (unwillingness) to interact as a full-faith partner in ministry: Who came up with this line? Do any of the delegates reading this “interact as full-faith partners in ministry?” What does that mean? Assuming that this phrase has objective meaning, I wonder how members of the Council “interact as full-faith partners in ministry” to a greater extent than I do.
  1. 5. They feel there is no intent by the pastor to cooperate. I’ve been serving this church for 8 years. I would like five examples which demonstrate “no intent to cooperate.”

3. In essence, the Pastor is in a different world from that of the congregation. His view of God, the message of God, and the people of God, and how he un-packs that view in preaching, pastoral care, and administration are leaving the core of the congregation spiritually depressed and frustrated. Attempts (some gently, others more direct) to peaceably negotiate, discuss, or alter this worldview over these recent years have been met with an external shield of resistance. The pastor, for his part, has sought solace and direction from sources outside A. church that have only reinforced his own spiritual worldview and led him to a more entrenched position.

Well. A different world from that of the congregation. Once again, the author of the document speaks for the whole congregation! I have already devoted a lot of time and space to this “Request for Article 17,” and I’m getting tired of correcting this document. I’m sure the Delegates and Synodical Deputies are tired of reading it! (Thank you for your patience.) So, I will soon end this.

42 has “unpacked” a great deal of what’s wrong with the annoying paragraph above in his rebuttal. That saved me a lot of time. I am puzzled by the reference to “an external shield of resistance” — was there something I was supposed to do to make someone happy that I didn’t do? Since I’m not “unconventional” and I’m not pushing the congregation in new directions, I’m not clear about how my worldview needs to be altered. Are the sermons too long? I don’t recall having “peaceable negotiations” or discussions which were intended to alter my worldview. I am really curious about the last sentence (The pastor, for his part, has sought solace and direction from sources outside A. church that have only reinforced his own spiritual worldview and led him to a more entrenched position.) Is this a criticism? Is there something wrong with my worldview? Isn’t it possible that the worldview of some in the congregation is flawed?

4. The Council unanimously believes that the A. Church cannot survive on its current course. A number of core people have left in frustration. The breakdown of ministry is severe, and the Council believes that more losses of core people are very likely to happen if the pastor stays. They are keenly aware that as they take this action, others from the church may leave, but the Council believes this is their only hope for the survival of the congregation.

I quite agree with the opening statement, “A. Church cannot survive on its current course.” These are difficult times for the church in general, and especially for smaller, rural churches. One familiar statistic is that every week in the United States, 50 churches close their doors.

That said, there are at least three issues at play in this final paragraph. In light of the times in which we live, and the difficult circumstances churches face, it is important that we do our homework and ascertain what measures should be taken to do a proper “course correction!” I expressed my view to the Council months ago (in March!) that a key initial task was “defining the problem(s).” That’s the first issue. We never prayerfully, thoughtfully did that.

The second issue is, determining how to solve the problem. Since I don’t believe that I’m the problem (not saying I can’t do better, be more, improve), in my judgment, getting rid of me won’t solve the problem!

Finally, had the Council thoroughly done its homework, in concert with outside consultants, and prayerfully concluded that a pastoral change were necessary, so be it. But the Council didn’t do that. As I noted above, it acted hastily. Which brings us to issue three: There are other ways to bring about a pastoral change besides brainstorming a few times with Church Visitors and abruptly firing the minister within a seven week period! I’m not sure alternatives were even considered.

Thus the Council, after much deliberation, and with firm conviction, unanimously requests the endorsement of Classis NM and its Synodical Deputies for this action.

At a Council meeting with Pastor T on Thursday, November 5, the Council approved a severance package for Pastor T (attached),

Also the Council approved a request for Classis funding to assist with the costs of

the severance.

Addendum to “Reply to Request for Article 17”

I am including this addendum to my reply to the Request for Article 17 because it is necessary to address some issues outside the direct context of the document.

To begin, I restate my purpose for exposing the many flaws in the “Request” document: That a true and accurate record of the facts concerning the recent past at A., as well as the reason for my dismissal, be set forth.

More than one person has asked me what my goal is in trying to set the record straight. It is not to “keep my job” or stay on at A.. The damage done by the actors in this destructive play have made continuing here a distasteful prospect. Short of a miraculous turnaround, I wouldn’t want to stay, even if the delegates voted to refuse the request for separation.

Of course, that’s an unlikely scenario, given the state of our culture and its unhealthy influence even on ecclesiastical proceedings in the church. {Divorce is just a fact of life, so get over it and move on. Don’t get all bogged down in scriptural principles such as fidelity, loyally, commitment, reconciliation, unity, love, and all that stuff. After all, it’s only God’s word! }

So, I don’t expect the delegates of Classis to refuse the request of A.’s Council to dismiss me. Rather, my hope is the delegates will either:

1. Recognize that the Request for Article 17 is inaccurate and recommend that it be rewritten. I cannot sign the document in its current form.

or

2. Find another way to release me from service at A. in order to move on and take another call.

Furthermore, I believe it is important to point out the deficiencies in the process I have just gone through. The delegates should be aware that forced terminations of clergy have been on the increase in recent years, and some have said that the problem of acrimonious separations between pastors and congregations is endemic.

Our own denomination has observed a marked increase in the number of “Article 17” requests over the past ten years. The [denominational magazine] even had an “article on the Article,” titled The Scarlet Number, which discussed problems with it.

{See here for the article.} [Author’s note: throughout, I have tried to avoid naming the denomination and its departments.  I do not see here how I can get around including what I consider a crucial piece of information: the testimony of the publication of the denomination itself on the damaging effects of the A-17. 28 April 2016.]

As it stands now, an Article 17 is a “black mark” on one’s career, and ought not to be employed except as a last resort. In my situation, there was no opportunity for redress, neither were any alternatives to this forced separation offered. This is interesting, in light of how the “Request” document characterizes the A. congregation, and the Council in particular: good, diligent, humble, abundantly hardworking, very supportive, longsuffering, cooperative, gentle and peaceable in negotiations. Frankly, in their recent dealings with me, some of these traits have been in short supply when it comes to certain members of the Council!

As 42 noted in his rebuttal, removing me from office will likely “collaterally impair, if not destroy” my career. More than one colleague has pointed out that I am all but “done” as a pastor in the denomination. In the short span of a few weeks, I have lost my job, my church, my house, and quite likely, my career. Not only that, there is the shame and stigma of being forced out as I have been.

At the age of 55, I am now faced with major life decisions. And yet, I am not alone. Thousands of pastors have gone through the same thing in recent years. And so I recommend that there be an investigation and appraisal of the events which led up to my dismissal. This would include the interactions and meetings of denominational representatives (such as 54 and the Church Visitors, Rev. 21 and Rev. 22) with members of the A. Council, as well as the input of these denominational representatives.

As I, along with others who are aware of this situation have observed, my hasty dismissal and the way I have been treated is an embarrassment to the Council of A. Church, Classis NM, and potentially the whole denomination.

Since this document is an addendum, it is not the place to enumerate and describe the ways in which I believe our particular situation was mishandled. I urge that the delegates pursue this matter further. The circumstances which surrounded my dismissal, the confusion and chaos throughout, and the procedures (or lack thereof!) and players which contributed to a situation spinning out of control bear further investigation.

I ask that this be done, not only for the sake of righting wrongs, but for the sake of other pastors who will surely face a similar fate, unless corrective action is taken.

With firm conviction,

ST

 

[Author’s note: it has recently come to my attention, via a still-attending member of A., that several area churches have used the A-17 over the past few years to get rid of pastors when they were tired of them, or not ‘getting along’.  The writer described it as ‘an easy way out’.  This is a misuse of this document; as my dad notes above, an A-17 is a black mark on a pastor’s record.  There is no justification for firing ministers of God’s Word when they have done nothing wrong.  They should not be treated as expendable.  People in that area, through using the A-17 as a scattergun when they get impatient, have demonstrated their contempt for God’s anointing and for His word.

As I’ve said elsewhere, the denomination must investigate these circumstances, and stop abuse of its pastors.  Firing a pastor because he’s been around awhile, or because people in the pews don’t like his style, is beyond excuse.  Dismissal from such a position should only be due to flagrant, proven sin on the part of the pastor.  For anything less than that is callous and irresponsible.

Besides, it should give one pause that stats show that a pastor only really begins to be effective in  a church after being there 7 years.  Could it be that Satan puts the pressure on those ministers and flocks, stirs things up, and works toward their exit from those churches when it’s about time for real spiritual growth?  If keeping a faithful preacher on after people start to get uncomfortable means some upheaval, the faithful in the congregation should say, ‘So be it.’  The [compulsory] moving on of the pastor, and the bringing in of someone fresh and new, to preserve the status quo, is just a means of papering over the mold.  It simply ensures that the kiln is never hot enough to purify the ore, and you never know who the dross is.  The truth is still there, under the surface, and the cycle of ‘We’re about to have a breakthrough, but wait, those people are upset, we need a new guy, we’re starting over’, just goes on interminably.  And let’s not forget that Spurgeon was at the MetTab for 30 years.  That’s a bit unusual, but there’s no time limit on the usefulness of someone’s ministry, except in the mind of God, 19 April 16]

<—Exhibit O.                                                                                Exhibit Q.—>

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13 thoughts on “Exhibit P. The Article 17, 5 Nov. 2015.

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