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The relationship between a pastor and a Free Methodist local church is intricate.  The local church exists within two worlds; the world of our denomination and the world defined by the “law of the land.”

¶374.1     Church Polity Impact

One of our pastors has written, “Methodists are connectional.  They do not believe that any one local church has the range of gifts and training to establish doctrine, ordination standards, and other constitutional matters.  Instead Methodists do these things collectively, freeing local churches for the work of ministry.  Pastors are accountable to their conference for character and conduct and work side-by-side with local church leaders. Independent churches and pastors are not truly Methodist.”

In our denominational world, the relationship between the local church and pastor is governed by the polity of The Free Methodist Church as outlined in this Manual.   The pastor is appointed to a local church by the bishop, with the approval and guidance of the MEGaP committee.  They are given responsibility for both the spiritual and temporal leadership of the local church.   In those matters that are denominational in scope, including doctrine, standards of personal conduct, and areas of denominational policy, the pastor is guided by our denominational constitution, The Manual, the policies defined by the general conference and board of administration and the guidance and direction of the bishop and national leadership team.

Although a senior pastor is employed by the local church, the conference endorses and credentials the pastor, and all ministerial appointments are made through the bishop. Consequently, if there are to be any local church initiated pastoral changes, the local church may not “fire” a pastor but must request that the bishop or director of personnel assist with the pastoral change to ensure that proper personnel procedures are followed.  Similarly, appointed pastors do not resign from the local church, but must make requests of the bishop to be released from their appointments. (The related procedures are outlined in ¶340.)

Within the local church, the pastor provides both spiritual and temporal leadership.  In their role as spiritual leaders they are responsible for the preaching and teaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, pastoral care, and the providing of guidance and direction in the evangelistic outreach ministries of the church.  As temporal leaders, pastors serve as the primary administrator of the local church.  In both these roles the pastor serves side-by-side with his/her local church leadership.  Pastors provide leadership to their official boards, but are also accountable to them and subject to their policy direction.

¶374.2     Impacts of the Law

In addition to being governed by denominational polity, local churches are also governed by the laws of the country, and of the province in which they are located.   Most local Free Methodist churches in Canada are unincorporated associations. They are subjected to many of the laws that apply to corporations, as well as the laws that are applicable to all charitable organizations. Under the law, pastors are considered to be employees of the local church.   Local churches are therefore responsible for ensuring that all of the requirements of labour and human rights laws applicable to employer/employee relationships are followed.

¶374.3     Official Board Chair

 Under civil law, employees of an organization may not serve as members of its board of directors. This is considered to be a conflict of interest.  For example, Ontario case law has confirmed that pastors should not serve as voting members, nor as the chair of church boards.  In addition, a pastor who serves as a member or chair of the board is also exposed to the same legal liabilities shared by all board members.  In light of these considerations, The Manual requires that a layperson be elected to chair the board.  (See ¶325.2.1.)

A number of considerations regarding the role of a lay chair are outlined in earlier parts of this chapter.  It is important that the senior pastor, as the leader and chief administrator of the local church, be invited to and have a voice in all board and committee meetings. Having a layperson chair the board may give pastors more freedom to participate and express their views as nonvoting leaders in board meetings.