As an Associate Pastor, what do you do when the Senior Pastor is preaching things that are blatantly opposed to the theological tradition to which you belong? Particularly when this preaching is exclusionary AND is causing uproar and conflict in the congregation?
~pastor not sure of the proper channel~
Our matriarchs were all quite sympathetic to your plight. Both “Wise Layperson” and “Sally Deo Gloria” expressed some hope that you might be able to have a constructive conversation with your colleague laying out the concerns his preaching is raising…with the following caveats:
From Wise Layperson:
1) If the Senior Pastor has hiring/firing authority you could be putting your job at risk in doing this-- only you can decide if you can take that risk.
2) I firmly believe in talking directly to someone about a problem rather than talking to everyone else around you about the other person. However, that does not rule out having your own support network (though it would be good if your support network were from outside the particular church). Spend some time figuring out what you would say to this person given the chance. Talk to trusted sounding boards and get the venting out of your system before approaching the person.
Then set up an appointment to speak to the person directly and make certain that enough time is set aside to actually discuss the issues. Use "I statements" when explaining your concern. Lay it all out there and see what the response is. (WL followed this protocol when a priest preached an offensive sermon regarding HIV-AIDS, and reports that he appeared to listen, and that she never heard him preach a sermon like that again.)
3) Review the legal structure of your denomination-- they all have different by-laws and reporting requirements. There may be rules in place that you are expected to follow in such situations.
4) Document what is going on around you-- start keeping some sort of record that will help you explain the situation to other people.
5) Find out who should be talking to whom. If congregants come to you with concerns/ complaints then it behooves you to know who they should be talking to in order for their concerns to be heard. I am assuming that you have no authority over the senior pastor-- so don't let yourself become a mouthpiece. Raise your concerns as directly as possible and encourage your congregants to do the same.
You have the choice of speaking to either the lay leaders (elders? congregation president? wardens?) in your congregation or else someone in the local judicatory. That could depend on the relationships you have. If you trust the lay leaders and if they trust you, that's probably a better step, because it will shore up support within the congregation. If you have good relationships with someone in your conference/synod/diocese/ presbytery, then maybe you start there.
Of course, "blatantly opposed to the theological tradition" of one's denomination can be in the ears of the hearer. Perhaps the wise thing is to polish off one's resume and find a more hospitable place to serve, especially if the lay leaders in the congregation are not stepping up to take action.
It has probably already been reported to the head of your denomination by some parishioner. If it is a serious breach of your tradition and not just part of differences within your tradition - go to your denominational supervisor and ask what you should do…If you feel it is really worth confronting - follow your conscience. You have to live with yourself forever.
What advice would you readers offer our “pastor not sure”? Use the comment function to share your experience and wisdom.