Last night, about 25 folks from Coast Hills Church met with three members of the board of elders at a private home in Laguna Niguel. They were there to justify their decision to fire pastor Ken Baugh. Ironically, they ended up releasing information regarding their own bylaw violations along with positive information that reinforced the case that they unjustly dismissed Baugh.
The elders at the meeting included Greg Holmes, Bill Nixon and Rhoads Martin. One of those questions brought up the issue of term limits for elder board members. At Coast Hills Church, elders are limited to two (2) three (3) year terms. The elders indicated that they have not been following these common sense rules. The Coast Hills Church website, by the way, indicates that Gary Luke, a roofing contractor, has served as the Chairman of the Elder Board for at least 12 consecutive years.
The good news for Baugh is that the elders saw absolutely nothing wrong with his service morally, ethically, or spiritually. In fact, they liked him so much that they even considered giving him a lower paying "teaching only" job. This is quite interesting since the Bible tells us that teaching is the primary skill required of church leaders. See, 1 Timothy 5:17 English Standard Version (ESV) which states:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
Another bit of good news for Baugh is he had surprised them with his performance in the job of senior pastor. Initially, the elders had only expected him to last two years on the job. This was due to the challenge of taking over church leadership from the charismatic Denny Bellisi. Apparently, Baugh's level of success as both a manager and teacher impressed them. They kept Baugh on for almost a decade.
In general, the feedback I have received from those who attended this meeting is that they were still disappointed by the elder board's decision. For example, I received the following note from one of the attendees:
We are still stunned by the abrupt announcement and loss of an excellent pastor/teacher. Even after a meeting with three of the elders last night at our D-Group, (we) are not convinced of any solid basis for this decision. Trusting that God has better plans for Ken, and that we can continue to learn from his deep knowledge of the Word. In the meantime, I'm on Yelp looking for a new church that has similar substance to continue to inspire our Christian walk.
At the meeting, the grief over the loss of Baugh was painfully apparent. A number of people were openly crying. One lady expressed sorrow about Ken Baugh's absence, and said she only wished that she could have had a chance to say goodbye to him before he left. Among those who found solace in this gathering, I can report that they are grateful these three elder board members seemed to be open to new ideas and improved communications.
For now, however, it is plain to me that the elder board does not understand that they made a devastating mistake.
As a former business school professor, it strikes me that they are relying on magical thinking to distract themselves from the painful reality that they did immense damage by abruptly and recklessly dismissing Baugh. Through this decision, they humiliated a beloved pastor and permanently scarred his national reputation. They also gravely harmed Coast Hills Church as an institution. They sent an unfortunate message that they apparently have as little respect for their pastors as they do for their bylaws.
John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.