Late Pastor's Widow Arrested During Service

Written by Founder Raul Rivera on Aug 10, 2017 in Church Management

Earlier this year, the late Bishop Benjamin Gibert of Detroit World Outreach (DWO) unexpectedly passed away due to a heart attack. Unfortunately, there has been little time to mourn his passing due to an ongoing feud between the board of elders of DWO and the late bishop’s widow, Dr. Charisse Gibert.

The feud between the two parties involves who should succeed the bishop.

The board of elders say that Bishop Ben made it very clear that Dr. Charisse was not the assistant pastor, and he did not want his wife to succeed him as leader of the church. The board of elders claim that these instructions came from the late bishop after several complaints from church members were made about Dr. Charisse.

The feud between the board of elders and the late bishop’s widow escalated on a Sunday in April when Dr. Charisse was arrested and escorted from the church building in handcuffs during the middle of the 8 a.m. worship service.

In late June, The Detroit News* reported that a circuit judge in Michigan refused to make a decision in the dispute between the board of elders and Dr. Charisse. 

Judge Annette Berry stated, “The question of who should perform as a pastor is an ecclesiastical question, which the court is not authorized to decide.”

So, the feud continues, but not without consequences.

What happens when succession language is unclear in your bylaws?

It is unfortunate when a dispute like this arises within a church. It affects not only those directly involved in the dispute but also those indirectly involved. 

Since the passing of Bishop Ben, DWO has experienced a sharp decline in attendance, and with a sharp decline in attendance comes a sharp decline in tithes and offerings. As a result, DWO can no longer afford all of its expenses. May we all pray for God to bring restoration to this church. 

While there is more to each side of this story, my purpose in sharing this with you is not to make light of the situation with DWO. 

Rather, my purpose in sharing this story with you, as a pastor, is so that your spouse and your church do not experience a similar situation should anything unexpectedly happen to you. It is not only important for you to have strategies in place to protect you today, but also in the future.

Strengthen Your Bylaws Today!

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Many founding pastors assume that their church board would honor any verbal desires they have expressed regarding who is to succeed them upon their passing. Yet, all too often, that is not the case. 

I have said this before, and I will say it again. Just because your board loves you today does not mean that they will love you tomorrow.

How to address succession for your church

When considering how to address succession for your church, there are generally two questions to ask yourself:

  1. What do your bylaws say about succession?
  2. What do your bylaws say about removing the senior pastor?

I cannot stress enough the necessity of forming strong bylaws that deal with each of these topics. 

We will take a closer look at them next. 

1. Succession

As the lead pastor of a church, regardless of the size, you should consider the fact that succession can happen at any time. 

We often hear the phrase that the vice president of the United States is only one heartbeat away from the presidency. The same goes for the pastorate of your church. 

As a matter of faithful stewardship, part of your job as pastor is to make sure that if you pass on, the church will be in the hands of the right person. 

When I think of good successions, I think of Moses and Joshua, David and Solomon, and Billy Graham and Franklin Graham to name a few. While this list can be very long, on the flip side, a longer list can be compiled of bad successions. 

So then, how can you ensure that a positive and effective succession takes place at your church? 

The wording in your bylaws needs to make sure that the person you choose to succeed you will stand the storms of challenge.

Below are three necessities that will safeguard the process.

  1. Establish a process that allows the board to choose a successor only if the successor you select does not want to accept the position.
  2. Do not name your successor in the bylaws.
  3. The language in your bylaws must allow the successor to automatically step into his/her role without the need for a vote of the board. This is achieved by stating that the person serving in a particular position on the board (such as executive vice president) is the one who succeeds. For example, when I pastored, I wanted my wife to succeed me. My bylaws said that if the president passes away unexpectedly, then the executive vice president would succeed the president. My wife was the executive vice president.

2. Removal of the pastor

After looking at the affairs of thousands of churches and holding hundreds of conversations with pastors and board members, a consistent thread runs through the relationship that pastors have with their boards concerning disagreements. 

Rarely are decisions made with clarity and civility. 

I have met many founding pastors that have been removed by their board, and in all cases, the stories behind their removals are confusing, convoluted, and downright messy. 

To avoid such circumstances, your bylaws should have an article called the accountability board. This is a protective strategy for pastors that we discuss at all of our conferences

This is a special board that serves two purposes:

  1. To provide aid, comfort, and accountability to the pastor; and 
  2. To serve as a judiciary board that decides whether the pastor will remain in office or be removed.

Let me explain.

  • The accountability board is an outside board. It does not have any authority in the church nor the right to meet on its own. It can meet if called to do so by the board and can only decide on matters concerning the pastor. 
  • It can convene only if it has been unanimously asked to do so by the church's board of directors. The board must make the request in writing and list its complaint against the pastor. 
  • The accountability board cannot have any members that are related to the pastor. 
  • The members of this board should be made up of individuals that are not members of the church or members of the board of directors. It is usually best if the members of this board are leaders of other ministries. 
  • The members of this board are nominated by the pastor and then confirmed by the board of directors. This means that the senior pastor or president shall carefully select the members. These ought to be people that he/she trusts and that love him/her enough to tell the truth. 
  • To properly implement the accountability board, the senior pastor or president needs to select three individuals and ask them to serve. If they accept, they fill out a special form and sign it to indicate that they wish to serve on this special board. The board of directors then votes to confirm the nominations.

Do your bylaws need clarity?

The circumstances that DWO recently experienced can be detrimental to any church. As their brothers and sisters in Christ, we should all hold them in our prayers and ask God to see them through this trying time.

My prayer for you is that your church would not have to navigate through a similar situation. I also pray that you would heed the advice presented in this article and ensure that your bylaws are clear and straightforward on the matter of succession.

If you know that your bylaws need to be revised, then I invite you to give us a call at 877-494-4655 or simply click on the link below to find out how you can strengthen and give clarity to your bylaws. 

Strengthen Your Bylaws Today!

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Wayne County Circuit Court, 17-004663-CA, Judge Annette Berry

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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