December 29 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

    Some pastors of Greater Gaston Baptist Association are requesting a special called meeting of the association to clarify circumstances around the sudden resignation in October of Larry McElreath, director of missions for 16 years.

    “We want the associational leadership to understand there has been an error made and to make sure going into the future this doesn’t set a precedent for how we do things,” said Greg Neely, pastor of Chestnut Ridge Baptist Church in King’s Mountain.

    No one is trying to get McElreath’s job back, Neely said, but “it is cowardice to give a man a good review, then turn around and fire him.”

    McElreath, who received a positive evaluation of his work less than three months earlier, was asked to resign by members of the executive team, led by association moderator Wayne Key, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Cherryville. Key said in a December 16 telephone interview that McElreath had been advised over the past five years to seek other employment.

    McElreath said that other than a single pastor or two making such a suggestion, he was never officially encouraged to leave.

    The request for his resignation from North Carolina Baptists’ second largest association — with 144 churches and growing — came as a complete surprise to McElreath, a former evangelism staffer with the Baptist State Convention, former missionary with the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) and former director of missions in Sandy Creek Baptist Association.

    McElreath said the officers asked him to resign after a two-hour session in which he was not present, that he thought was just a budget review. They asked him to submit his resignation at the annual associational meeting, but forbade him to stay after he spoke.

    He made a statement at the annual meeting that fell short of actually resigning, then left as some bewildered messengers followed him out the door.

    A host of procedural shortcomings has been named in the request asking for a special called meeting. Association bylaws indicate that employment status of the director of missions can only be determined by messengers of the association, and not by the executive board or any sub-committee of the board.

    “The bylaws state very clearly you can’t fire the missionary, period. The body voted him in and the body would have to vote him out,” said Joe Drum, pastor of New Faith Baptist Church in Alexis, and a petition signer.

    “The thing that bothers me more than anything — and we’re not trying to cause problems — but our bylaws have been violated, big time. If you let this go by what’s saying that down the line they couldn’t do it again?”  

    Resignation clouds issue
    McElreath eventually resigned in the face of pressure to resign with a severance or to be terminated at the end of the month. McElreath admits a return to his role as DOM in the association is unlikely, but he is concerned that unanswered questions surrounding his departure have sullied his reputation.

    Key said he is confident proper procedures were followed. The executive team denied an initial request for a special called meeting, and Key doesn’t see how such a meeting would help.

    Petitioning pastors are resorting to a statute in state law governing non-profits, which declares that an organization must hold a called meeting within 30 days after receiving such a request from at least 10 percent of voting members. That would mean a petition signed by about 130 persons for the Greater Gaston Association and in mid-December representatives of almost 40 churches already had signed such a petition. 

    Key, whose church is the largest financial supporter of the association, said, “We feel we’ve done it decently and in order and what God would have us to do.”

    “We asked for Larry to resign,” Key said. “We did not fire him. I cannot tell you these reasons; they are confidential.”

    Key said the executive team provided McElreath a letter of reference and that he “has done nothing immoral or illegal.”

    Key, who said he did not know about the petition until a reporter informed him, said, “I sure hope this is not going to happen. It would be detrimental to our association.”

    While traditionally recordings and minutes of any associational meeting have been available, Key has denied such requests because “some people want to nitpick some things. We did do things according to Robert’s Rules of Order. It would not be wise of us to let those copies go out.”

    Neely said if Robert’s Rules had been followed, the meeting itself would have been declared out of order.  

    Office disarray
    After the meeting McElreath found his office in disarray and some items missing.

    When he told Key he needed to report a burglary Key said there was no break in.

    “No one broke into his office,” Key said. “By law we have the right to go in there and look at anything we want.”

    Key said whoever was in the office representing the association removed items out of concern that McElreath “would not leave anything we might need.”

    “The only things we removed were things we needed to keep,” Key said.

    Because he is association moderator, Key has become interim executive director of the association. He is chairing a search committee that includes Tom Kinman, pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Gastonia; Chester Waters, pastor of Ridge Baptist Church in Gastonia; Mike Staton, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Cherryville; and Brian Detrick, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Gastonia.

    Key said he stands by the actions of the executive team, saying, “I believe we did the right thing.”
    12/29/2010 5:40:00 PM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments




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