The sheep judge the shepherd…sometimes men need to be defrocked.

December 27th, 2011 Post by

A few weeks back I posted an article on congregations forcing good pastors out.  It may be a good idea to reread that one first before reading this one.  You can find it here.  As a result of that article I was asked to write this.

The task of removing a pastor is a solemn task which should be given the same care and concern as extending a call to a man to be the pastor (if not more since what a congregation does to a man will likely take away his livelihood too).

Most congregational constitutions list three or four reasons for removing a pastor.  They are:

1.  Persistent adherence to false doctrine

2.  Unholy life

3/4.  Unwillingness to do the tasks of the office OR Inability to do the tasks of the office

From Scripture:  Some passages from the Pastoral Epistles (each corresponding to above)

1. 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 6, 16; 1 Timothy 6:2-6, 20-21; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:14-15; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; Titus 2:1, 7-8; Titus 1:9-16

2.  1 Timothy 1:18-20; 1 Timothy 3:1-13 ; 1 Timothy 4:7, 12; 1 Timothy 5:1, 22; 1 Timothy 6:2-12; 2 Timothy 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:14-17, 22-26; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 1:5-16; Titus 2:7-8

3/4.  1 Timothy 4:13-14; Titus 2:15;    also it shows that both #1 and #2 really fit in with #3/4 (#1 is unwillingness to teach sound doctrine; #2 is unwillingness to be self-controlled, above reproach)

What is amazing in a read through of the pastoral epistles is how #1 (sound teaching) and #2 (sound living) are intertwined (doctrine and practice).

What does this look like in a congregational setting?  How does a congregation know if a man is violating his Divine Call and needs to be removed?  The situations that come up vary greatly and so no “hard and fast rule” can be had on the topic, however:

If a man refuses to hear the admonition of Scripture on a certain teaching, then he should be removed.  This means that repeated efforts have been made to convince him of the truth (Boards of Elders and Circuit Visitors [Counselors] can help with this).  An example today would be a pastor who advocates open communion – he is holding to false teaching as to the Lord’s Supper.  If he persists in this teaching, then he should be removed.

If a man has so disgraced the office with his lifestyle that the Gospel suffers, then he should be removed.  This is a really hard one to determine what is “public disgrace”.  Certainly in the Scriptures we can find that temptations to riches cause troubles like this, but also the passions of the flesh.  How about anger and general temperament issues?  Certainly a pastor who is known in the congregation as a mean person (contentious, angered) discredits his own message.  How can he take care of souls?   St. Paul makes it very clear that a leading man of God should not conduct himself in such ways.  In that case it may be that something could be salvaged if a man would repent of his general behavior.  These are hard issues that involve care for both congregation and pastor involved.

If a man will not do the tasks given to him, he should be removed.  The difficulty in this is the reasons why he is unable or unwilling to do them.  Is he suffering from depression?  Are there other matters that are taking up his time?  A congregation may choose to suffer with their pastor in these cases too, helping and encouraging him to seek help and improve.

Nothing of the requirements to remove a pastor have to do with whether or not he “fits”.  If that is the issue, then work through it as a pastor and congregation.  It would be beneficial to both to do such things as many great things can come out of the mutual struggle.

What if the pastor is “killing the church” by his preaching and teaching (which is silly since only false teaching kills) or the way he conducts his ministry (this is a little more tricky since it could involve a man who is not being patient or gentle but contentious)?  This is difficult because there are many reasons a church may be shrinking:  Demographics is a key one nowadays.  Frankly put, in the past generations we did not encourage larger families nor support them (and then we didn’t worry too much about keeping them in our churches, so long as they went to a church).  Another reason for a shrink may be offense to the Gospel – face it, Jesus was very good at drawing crowds, but after He preached and taught many fled from Him.  Perhaps the previous pastor set up the shrink through lack of teaching or appropriate care for souls.  Another reason could be the congregation itself.  Perhaps it is simply God at work removing the “passing rain shower” of the Gospel from the place.  A good examination should be had of why the congregation is shrinking before that charge is thrown on the reputation of the pastor.  As I have just stated there are usually many reasons for a decline in membership and it usually involves more than just one.


The decision to remove a pastor is no easy task.  It is never to be viewed as a “firing”, but instead is an action of God through the congregation.   I sometimes wonder if it should not require a unanimous vote (or at least agreement to make the vote unanimous) because that is what we expect for a call to be extended.  I suppose that would never be enacted (in the same way that excommunications hardly ever happen).




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  1. January 3rd, 2012 at 23:25 | #1

    @Matthew Mills #94
    You are right, that lay ministry is the worst, and SMP is better than that – but neither are really ideal for either the man who is to serve nor the people who are to be served. I also do not like the new category of “pastor” that SMP created. An ordained man is an ordained man, regardless of his education level.

    I believe the Wyoming district dealt with Lay Ministry in recent decades by simply ordaining them and not allowing more “lay ministers”.

  2. Rev. McCall
    January 4th, 2012 at 10:26 | #2

    @91 David Hartung. If I recall correctly there was an article on here recently that talked specifically about SMP. Again, if I remember correctly it cited statistics on the SMP program and the vast majority of SMP program pastors (around 80% or 90%), by the seminary and synods own count, fit the description of the SMP I described (large mega-churches self training as opposed to sending men to seminary). So my knowing one SMP like that is indeed not an end all be all, but the statistics don’t lie. Again, no one, yourself included, has really yet said what great benefit this program brings to the table for anyone involved. So whether the SMP guy is a nice guy or a flat out heretic, it doesn’t matter. We are doing a disservice to all involved by creating a sub-standard educational program for pastors to fill an imaginary shortage of pastors in our synod.

  3. Matthew Mills
    January 4th, 2012 at 11:36 | #3

    @Pastor Joshua Scheer #101
    Wyoming did it right Pastor.

  4. January 4th, 2012 at 12:56 | #4

    @Matthew Mills #103
    It usually does. Glad to be in it.

  5. Wondering
    January 4th, 2012 at 18:36 | #5

    Thanks for the fantastic article! I have to say, there are many LCMS churches where the pastor consistently falsely teaches his congregation through the use of non-Lutheran music (especially of the popular praise variety) and materials for sermons and Bible studies. I’m baffled that this is the biggest reason to dismiss a pastor–not upholding to the teaching of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. Yet the congregations accept this and District/Synod allows this with no warnings or discipline. I spoke with my friend who is Mormon and she told me that there are really no variances from one Mormon service to another. I don’t know why it’s alright for Lutheran pastors to preach and conduct services as Baptists without any consequences. I’m very confused by this. Can anyone help me out here? (I know that sometimes a pastor can unknowingly error in his message or the music that is chosen).

  6. January 4th, 2012 at 19:01 | #6

    # 105: “I know that sometimes a pastor can unknowingly error in his message or the music that is chosen”

    Just to be clear, no pastor is defrocked for this and no one here is proposing such. It is not honest error we’re talking about, but willful and persistent false teaching from LCMS pastors that is tolerated by the same folks who get on their sanctimonious high horse about a pastor lacking of winsomeness or having a moment of weakness.

    I join “Wondering” in asking, can anyone explain this? Cowardice? Pietism?

  7. Tysen B. in Minnesota
    January 5th, 2012 at 12:58 | #7

    Posts #7, #8, and #11 bring up a topic worth discussing at length, in my opinion.

    Without hijacking this thread…may I request a good healthy discussion be had about getting rid of the “Commissioned Minister of Religion” label and replacing it with something more faithful to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. For the record, I am a “Commissioned Minister of Religion” in the LCMS. I serve as a youth director at a church in Minnesota.

    I realize that removing this title would mean a big loss of tax deduction benefits but the title is deceiving. I am not a minister (read: pastor). I am a parish assistant that works with youth and young adults.

    I just wanted to interject this thought. Please return to the discussion on the just removal of unfaithful pastors.

  8. Wondering
    January 5th, 2012 at 13:44 | #8

    @Johannes #25

    @Rev. McCall #26
    We are currently having SERIOUS issues with our pastor (spent years of working with him with no avail and there are scriptural reasons for removal as indicated in this article). A letter was sent signed by every officer in our church to our DP. We heard NOTHING back from the DP in four weeks. One 90 year old lady ended up calling the District office. They told her they couldn’t call us unless someone from our church actually called into them. So our President called. District (in the form of a woman assistant to the president) said they couldn’t help us as our pastor was not from an approved list of candidates so we are on our own. They also asked in that phone call why we hadn’t paid our tithe to the synod. We have never seen nor heard from our circuit counselor or district. We are a small conservative church who has renounced the Ablaze campaign and they have no interest in us.

  9. Matthew Mills
    January 5th, 2012 at 13:57 | #9

    @Wondering #108
    If they are theological, what are the “serious issues”

  10. Wondering
    January 6th, 2012 at 18:51 | #10

    @Matthew Mills #109 I don’t want to get into any specifics, but it would be the following as mentioned in the article:
    “2. Unholy life
    3/4. Unwillingness to do the tasks of the office OR Inability to do the tasks of the office

  11. Matthew Mills
    January 6th, 2012 at 19:09 | #11

    @Wondering #110
    That’s why I stipulated “If they are theological” (I don’t want any non-theological specifics.)

    That being said, I have seen numerous theologically sound pastors hounded for “lazyness,” “poor communication skills,” or “high-handedness” by people who’s real issue was the pastor’s theology.

    Although I have seen a lot of theologically heterodox pastors, like a few folks above, I have never seen a pastor defrocked for anything remotely theological. Has anyone else?

  12. Rev. McCall
    January 6th, 2012 at 19:10 | #12

    @ Wondering #108
    My prayers are with you with such a difficult situation. My congregation too struggles with our District at times because we also rejected Ablaze and many other movements that have been suggested and practiced in our area. Not knowing any specifics, I would encourage you to look at what your church constitution and bylaws state. Our constitution at my church specifically states that if the elders and the church have taken all steps possible (including notifying district and synod) and the pastor STILL does not repent and/or amend his ways the congregation, by a 2/3 majority vote can remove him from office. That’s a serious step and I pray you are not at that point yet. Again, I would encourage you to continue to talk with your pastor and voice your concerns and also read the constitution of your church to see what, if any measures there are that you as a congregation can further take if necessary. God’s Blessings.
    Rev. McCall

  13. January 7th, 2012 at 07:14 | #13

    #111: “I have never seen a pastor defrocked for anything remotely theological. Has anyone else?”

    Never: # 70: “When was the last time you ever heard of a pastor held accountable for persistent false teaching? (I mean by his ecclesiastical supervisor, not Herman Otten.)”

    There’s no doubt in my mind that this “perfect” (shameful) track record is the cause of the lack of unity in the LCMS today. Do you really think it is “loving” to leave the flock at the mercy of the wolves?

    But wait! There’s more… Not only is false teaching tolerated, but the teaching of pure doctrine is punished. (See the testimony above about what happens to those who don’t kowtow to their district’s fondness for gimmicks.)

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