Lead Pastor-Staff Conflict

Sometimes a crisis in a church is catalyzed by conflict between the lead pastor and the staff.

And sometimes that conflict is due to the lead pastor “going sideways”- engaging in some kind of questionable or even clearly wrong conduct.

This can put staff in a difficult situation.

By the time a transitional pastor arrives, this conflict/crisis has often surfaced and is part of the reason for the season of transition.

So while it may be too late for a transitional pastor to divert the current crisis, steps can be taken during transition to equip the staff and the board to avoid a similar fate in the future.

I recently emailed several older, wiser ministry vets with the following query:

What is a staff pastor is supposed to do when the Lead Pastor goes sideways in some way?

For example:

  • Mistreating the staff
  • Dealing deceptively with the elders
  • Questionable ethical and financial practices
  • That sort of thing…

Here are some principles gleaned from their replies:

  • The principles of Matthew 18 apply, and ideally the staff member should first take their concern to the lead pastor
  • The staff member should strive to minimize the circle of involvement,
  • Avoid destabilizing the church unnecessarily,
  • Recognize that the District has access to trained experts in conflict.
  • A good whistle-blower policy and other HR policies can provide clear advance guidance
  • The principles of Matthew 18 apply, and ideally the staff member should first take their concern to the lead pastor

With respect to developing such policies

  • They should allow and invite open and honest conversation
  • Establish a healthy process for staff members to express their concerns should conflict arise with another staff member or the lead pastor
  • Establish a healthy process for the lead pastor to express their concerns should conflict arise with the board
  • Seek to resolve any conflict at the minor/moderate stage
  • Seek district leadership assistance sooner rather than later in the conflict process
    Ensure that the conflict process/policy is in agreement with the Manual of the C&MA in Canada and your church bylaws

I have told staff that if they have an issue with me, they are welcome to speak with me directly, but if that is too awkward or daunting due to the specific circumstances, they are welcome to speak with any TWO elders, together, and work with them in moving forward and challenging me.

While this may be fine for a short term transtional season, equipping the board, staff and future lead pastor through the development of policies and a staff manual is a strategic step that can be taken during transition.

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