Chapter XXIV
Dissolving Ministerial Relationships

1. When a minister desires leave to resign a ministerial charge in order to accept a call to similar service in another charge within the Church the provisions of Chapter XXII, Section 12, shall be observed.

Comment: Inasmuch as this chapter is about dissolving ministerial relationships in circumstances other than a minister receiving a new call to service in this church, it begins by pointing back to FG 22.12, which details what happens when a minister seeks to leave his present charge and accept a call from another charge to similar service in the church. That is a rather ordinary sort of thing, and it is assumed that many using the FG may come here for that sort of circumstance and thus need to be pointed back to the proper place addressing this. This chapter will address other sorts of circumstances, often rather challenging ones, in which a ministerial relationship is dissolved.

2. If any congregation desires to be relieved of its pastor it may, through a duly called meeting of the congregation, ask him to resign. If the pastor agrees to do so, the presbytery shall be requested to dissolve the pastoral relationship as of a mutually agreeable date. If the pastor is not willing to resign the congregation may petition the presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relationship and may send representatives to the meeting to support the request. The presbytery may grant the request, but only after giving the pastor opportunity to present his reasons for not concurring, or it may urge the congregation to reconsider its action.

Comment: This section describes the, frankly, difficult circumstance of a congregation desirous of being relieved of its pastor. This serious action may be taken only by a duly called meeting of the congregation. We should all recall that such a duly called meeting comes about either by the initiation of the session or by the initiation of at least a quarter of the congregation requesting that the session call such a meeting (see FG 16). The session is the entity that must call the meeting, and it must ordinarily do so if duly requested by the congregation. The session in the present case (a congregation seeking to be relieved of its pastor) does not have discretion to refuse to call a properly requested congregational meeting. The nature of Presbyterianism dictates this: it is a congregation that calls a pastor, and the session of a local church cannot keep the congregation from asking for a meeting to consider asking the pastor to resign. The congregation has a right to do this, and the session is thus, when duly requested (that is, a request that meets the requirements of this FG 16.1), bound to do so.

In general, a desire on the part of a congregation and/or session for any office-bearer (see also FG 26.4), including its pastor, to resign should allow, first of all, the officer in question, in this case the pastor, voluntarily to resign his charge. If he does not do that, say, upon sessional request or his own initiative, a congregational meeting may be held asking him to resign (such a vote requesting his resignation may, of course, fail, thus resolving the matter, at least for the time), and the pastor may then tender his resignation upon such a request. If he does offer his resignation, the matter goes to his presbytery as a request to dissolve the pastoral relationship at a date mutually agreeable (to the pastor and the congregation). It should be noted here that when a pastor is asked to resign by a majority of his congregation, he should ordinarily do so, unless some extraordinary reasons exist (he has been clearly unfairly maligned, misrepresented, etc.). This is because he no longer has the support that he did when called, and it is generally conceded that in such a case the man’s effective ministry in that congregation has come to an end.

If the man in question, on the other hand, refuses to resign the pastorate, even if he has what he deems legitimate reasons for so refusing, the congregation may (not must) nonetheless petition the presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relationship. The congregation has the right to, and should, as a matter of propriety, send representatives to the presbytery to argue its case for why the pastoral relationship should be dissolved, if that remains the congregation’s desire. The pastor in question may present his reasons for not concurring with the request of the congregation that such a relationship be dissolved. The presbytery may take one of two actions at this point: dissolve the pastoral relationship, thereby removing the pastor from such charge, even though contrary to the pastor’s will; or the presbytery may ask the congregation to reconsider its request that the pastoral relation be dissolved.

The FG at this point does not stipulate what happens if the congregation persists in wanting to dissolve the ministerial relationship. Presumably it would come back to the presbytery, with further reasons for wanting the pastoral relationship dissolved, which request the presbytery would presumably ultimately grant, since governors are never imposed in Presbyterianism without the consent of the governed. It is conceivable that if the congregation persisted in what the presbytery regarded as improper reasons for desiring dissolution (they have become his enemy because he told them the truth, as Paul noted), then the presbytery could bring an exhortation along such lines to the congregation. In reality, however, it is impractical for a presbytery to insist that a congregation retain a pastor that they have come to desire to leave.   

3. If a presbytery, or an agency of a presbytery or of the general assembly, decides to dissolve its relationship with a minister who is serving it under terms of a call it shall inform him of its decision and of the date on which the dissolution is to take place. It shall also provide adequate care of his needs to permit him to find another field of service.

If the body is an agency of a presbytery or of the general assembly, the agency shall at the same time notify the minister's presbytery of its decision.

a. If the minister agrees to leave his service with a body that is not a presbytery the body shall inform his presbytery of the dissolution.

b. If the minister does not agree to leave his service with the body he shall consult with it in person or by correspondence to clarify the reasons for the dissolution and to seek agreement.

If the body is a presbytery and the minister continues to withhold his agreement, the presbytery may nevertheless proceed to dissolve the relationship.

If the body is an agency of a presbytery or of the general assembly and the minister continues to withhold his agreement, he may request his presbytery to consult with the agency in the matter. If the presbytery agrees that the relationship should be dissolved it shall so inform the minister and the agency he serves and the dissolution shall be implemented as of the date originally set or, if that has become impractical, a later date established by the agency.

If the body is an agency of a presbytery and the presbytery does not agree with the dissolution the presbytery shall determine what redress is appropriate.

If the body is an agency of the general assembly and the presbytery does not agree with the dissolution it may, nevertheless, counsel the minister to accept the decision in the circumstances or it may overture the general assembly, seeking redress.

Continuation of the minister's financial support in such cases shall be determined by the body in the light of the existing circumstances.

If the matter is concluded by dissolution of the relationship the minister's presbytery shall be informed and the fact entered in its records.

Comment: This section addresses the circumstance in which an agency of a presbytery (say, its Home or Foreign Mission Committee) or of the general assembly (say, one of the program committees respecting its general secretary) wishes, for whatever reason(s), to dismiss or release someone in its employ. The agency desiring to dissolve the call with the minister in its service shall inform him of such a decision and of the date at which such dissolution shall occur. The agency shall provide adequate compensation during the time that he seeks to find another field of service, whether another call or some other field of service that may not involve a call, such as an appointment to teach in an institution outside the church. At the same time, the agency of the presbytery or general assembly shall notify the presbytery of the minister of its decision to dissolve the relationship.

If the minister agrees with the agency of the church seeking to dissolve his relationship with it, he shall inform the presbytery of his agreement and of the date of dissolution that he and the agency have agreed upon. If the minister does not agree with proposed dissolution, he may consult with the body proposing dissolution, either in person or in writing, seeking clarification for its reasons for dissolution, with a view to coming to some agreement. If the body contemplating dissolution is a presbytery, even if the minister continues to dissent from the proposed dissolution, the presbytery may nonetheless proceed to such dissolution. If the body proposing dissolution is the agency of a presbytery or the general assembly, and the minister continues to withhold agreement as to the dissolution, he may ask his presbytery to consult with the agency about the proposed dissolution.

If the presbytery agrees with the dissolution, it shall order it as the time previously set forth by the agency seeking such. If such has become impractical due to the passage of time, a later date for the dissolution shall be determined by the agency. If the presbytery does not agree with the dissolution proposed by the presbytery/general assembly agency, it shall determine the appropriate redress, namely, it may counsel the minister in question to accept the proposed dissolution nonetheless (though neither the minister nor presbytery consider it fitting), or, if it chooses otherwise, the presbytery may overture the general assembly, as part of its seeking redress of the differences/grievances. In such cases, the body seeking dissolution shall determine whether to continue financial support in the light of such circumstances. If, at the end of the day, the matter is concluded with the dissolution of the minister’s relationship with the body seeking it, the minister’s presbytery shall be informed of such, and the circumstances entered into the minutes of his presbytery. This all reflects, obviously, a difficult situation that the FG seeks to provide an orderly way of resolving.

4. If a minister desires permission to resign a charge in order to take up a different kind of labor he shall offer his resignation to the body he serves and shall seek its concurrence, and shall ask his presbytery to approve the contemplated labor. Presbytery shall require him to inform it of the kind of work he would perform, with a view to determining if the work is the work of the ministry and if it would be in accord with his ministerial vows.

If the presbytery approves his doing the contemplated work, and if the body that he serves has agreed to his resignation, he shall be free to leave at a mutually agreeable date, and the presbytery shall be informed. If the body that he serves does not agree to his resignation he may withdraw it or ask the presbytery, at a meeting to which the body may send representatives to plead its cause, to dissolve the relationship. The presbytery may ask him to reconsider his request, or deny it, or grant it.

Comment: This section describes the circumstance in which a minister desires to resign a charge (whether a pastoral or other sort of ministerial position) to take up “a different kind of labor.” The “different kind of labor” means that he is not accepting a call to service in a pastorate in or out of the OPC. He may be seeking to resign the pastorate to take up, e.g., teaching in the seminary, serving as a general secretary of a program committee, etc. He offers his resignation to the body he is serving (say, the local church of which he is pastor), seeking its concurrence with his stated desire to resign and seeking dissolution of the call from his presbytery. At the same time, he asks the presbytery to approve his contemplated labor (e.g., serving in an agency of the church). This means that the presbytery needs to be informed, and shall require the minister to inform it of his contemplated labor so that the presbytery can determine whether the work in view is that of the work of the ministry, the kind of work that would properly cohere with his ministerial vows.

If the presbytery approves his contemplated work, and if the body that he serves in his present call agrees to his stated desire to resign, he may leave at a date mutually agreeable with whatever body he currently serves. If the body he serves does not agree with his request to resign, he may withdraw the request and continue his current service. If he still wishes to resign and to pursue his other contemplated ministerial labor, he may proceed to press his case and to ask the presbytery to dissolve his current ministerial relationship, notwithstanding continuing opposition to such from the relevant calling body. If he wishes to do such, it must happen at a presbytery meeting at which the current calling body may send representatives to argue against dissolving the ministerial relationship. The presbytery, at such a meeting, may ask him to reconsider his request for dissolution of his present call, deny his request for such, or grant it. Of course, as has been noted herein previously, it is the case that, long term, a man cannot be held in a charge that he does not wish to serve in. It is parallel to what was noted earlier: a congregation cannot, long term, be asked to bear with a man that it no longer wishes to have in its service as pastor, and no minister can, long term, be required to remain in a charge that he desires to leave.

5. When a minister desires to resign a charge without other ministerial work in view the procedures of Section 4 shall be followed. If the presbytery grants the request it shall advise with him concerning his resuming ministerial labor, taking into consideration Chapter XXVI of this Form of Government.

Comment: This section describes a circumstance in which a minister in a charge (whether in a congregation or some agency of the church) desires to resign such charge without other ministerial work in view. Section 4, above, should be followed, and then the presbytery has a decision to make. It may be that the work that he proposed to do after resignation from his current charge was not viewed by the presbytery as the work of the ministry, though he argued that it was or should be. This is a challenging situation because a man might resign a charge and say that he wishes to continue to supply pulpits and carry on the work of the ministry in that way, though his income may now derive from things like construction work, selling cars, etc. It lies in the discretion of the presbytery as to whether there is sufficient ministry work contemplated for his future, always with an eye to the possibility that he should not remain in the ministry.

It may be the case that even the man in question does not propose to do the work of the ministry chiefly just now but wants to continue in the ministry long-term and look for another call in due time. Maybe he admits that what is in view is not ministry as far as that from which he derives his living. The presbytery, if it grants his request under such a circumstance (“you can continue in the ministry though your full-time occupation is no longer that which meets any proper description of gospel ministry”), should counsel with the minister about his future in ministry. In other words, the presbytery should inquire as to whether he seeks to resume what properly are regarded as ministerial labors. If he does not intend to do so, at least after some time (he may request “time off” before jumping right back into ministry after having just left a charge), the presbytery shall, in terms of FG 26, pursue with him the question of whether he should continue in ministry or demit the office of minister if his labors are no longer genuinely able to be construed as ministerial. There is discretion here, especially on the part of the presbytery.

Alan D. Strange is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as professor of church history and theological librarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana, and is associate pastor of New Covenant Community Church (OPC) in Joliet, Illinois. Ordained Servant Online, February 2022. A list of available installments in this series appears here.

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Ordained Servant: February 2022

Prayer in Ministry

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Digital Covers of Ordained Servant Online 2006–2021

The Priority of Prayer for the Pastor

The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 8, “Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions” (2001)

Theology is for Preaching: A Review Article

Reflections on Revelation in the Time of Covid, by Susan E. Erikson

Against Sin

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