Should Pastors Switch Churches? image

Should Pastors Switch Churches?

Sometimes the best questions are the ones we never ask. In my church tradition, for example, the question of whether a pastor can (in principle) move from one church to another is never raised: the answer is assumed to be yes, so the decision needs to be made on the basis of desire, geography, need, consultation, spiritual discernment, or whatever. So it's interesting to discover that the early church councils, including the two most significant ones (Nicea and Chalcedon), issued canons on exactly that question, and concluded that the answer was no. Presbyters (elders) shouldn't move from city to city, unless forced out by persecution, and bishops (overseers) shouldn't poach them. Here's what they said:

Nicea, 15: “On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon, must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. And if any one, after this decree of the holy and great Synod, shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to the Church for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter.”

Nicea, 16: “Neither presbyters, nor deacons, nor any others enrolled among the clergy, who, not having the fear of God before their eyes, nor regarding the ecclesiastical Canon, shall recklessly remove from their own church, ought by any means to be received by another church; but every constraint should be applied to restore them to their own parishes; and, if they will not go, they must be excommunicated. And if anyone shall dare surreptitiously to carry off and in his own Church ordain a man belonging to another, without the consent of his own proper bishop, from whom although he was enrolled in the clergy list he has seceded, let the ordination be void.”

Chalcedon, 5: “Concerning bishops or clergymen who go about from city to city, it is decreed that the canons enacted by the Holy Fathers shall still retain their force.”

Chalcedon, 20: “It shall not be lawful, as we have already decreed, for clergymen officiating in one church to be appointed to the church of another city, but they shall cleave to that in which they were first thought worthy to minister; those, however, being excepted, who have been driven by necessity from their own country, and have therefore removed to another church. And if, after this decree, any bishop shall receive a clergyman belonging to another bishop, it is decreed that both the received and the receiver shall be excommunicated until such time as the clergyman who has removed shall have returned to his own church.”

Looking at those instructions, issued by councils that the entire Christian church has always accepted, and bearing in mind that the people who wrote them were the ones who were, at the same time, hammering out Trinitarian orthodoxy and the hypostatic union, I feel a bit nervous about some of our current practices. (The most uncomfortable example is that of the gifted leader who is encouraged to move to a bigger or more “strategic” city, rather than persevering in the church that trained and ordained them - often in a manner that makes church leadership look little more than a corporate ladder.) Any thoughts?

← Prev article
Next article →