Elders Meeting: Notes
This is from my pen-to-notebook outline of the presentation given by the elders on the evening of Tuesday, August 1.
I will do my absolute best to refrain from commentary or characterization. I only mean to provide a basic transcription of the facts/items/chronology stated to those in attendance. I will save my personal thoughts and reflections for a later post.
Caveats, clarifications, and apologies:
One of my terrible writerly habits is to be excessively quote-happy. I use quotation marks way too often for emphasis. I will try not to do that, so that quotation marks in these notes will only denote actual statements made by the elders. The rest is, I hope, not my representation of what was stated, but a neutral paraphrase of what was stated. Those who attended can be helpful in pointing out where I go awry.
Also, occasionally I may employ a parenthetical question mark (?). I do this only to denote my own uncertainty mainly about the spelling of people's names, or the accuracy of names or dates. I don't think I will have to use it for factual claims.
It is long, so hold on strong. Okey dokey, Smokey, here we go:
Beginning of an 18 month process culminating in the dismissal of the Fosters.
Jan 2005 - Dr. Foster (hereon Foster) called meeting with Randy Holland to say he was going to a church in Austin, but decided "at the last minute" not to go.
Randy Holland was glad he wasn't leaving, as were the other elders.
Feb -- called meeting with Randy (Thompson? Holland?) and Lionel Cartright.
The days of the Crazy Campaign:
Very poor communication from the Fosters.
Critical moment given the budget crisis that began with the Campaign.
No communication from Fosters, especially Paula, affected the budget crisis because leadership in those emergencies was absent.
When people request meetings with Foster, his first response is always "why?"
When Foster requests meetings with elders, their first response, "When?"
In a meeting between Fosters and Randy Holland, Foster called former student minister Jason Pettus a profane name. Paula said Pettus wanted Foster's job.
That meeting abt. elder concern with Fosters' daugher Lindsay being hired as high school minister without any consultation. Holland emphasized he has nothing against Lindsay and had discussed hiring her for other jobs before. But the elders all agreed the hire was not just problematic because of no consultation but because they did not believe she was fit for the job.
In this meeting, Paula abruptly said, "I quit."
Dr. Foster said, "It's time. It's been like this for 16 years."
Paula said, "No, it's been 32."
Dr. Foster stormed out of the meeting and left.
Paula said, "I'll never set foot on that campus again."
Holland expresses shock at the level of reaction. It seemed completely unequal to the content and presentation of the concern he was presenting.
Follow-up meeting at Randy Holland's home:
Dr. Foster berated executive pastor Randy Thompson. Told Thompson he was "worthless," "unuseable," and "unfit for any job."
The tirade was no volatile, Randy Holland asked his wife and daughter, who were home at the time, to leave.
Foster exited (to take a phone call?).
Randy Thompson in tears. Explains to Holland that he had just learned that he was losing his hearing and the doctors didn't know why. Also that his wife Cathy's cancer levels had recently gone up.
Holland asked if Foster knew about that. Thompson said Foster did.
In that meeting Foster confirmed having quit BCC in the earlier meeting.
Later, Foster called Holland to say he thought the meeting went well. That really sounded bizarre to Holland.
Aug 2005 -- Dr. Foster hires David Fleming as a personal consultant.
Later he instructs Randy Thompson to alter contract so that the agreement for Fleming to consult with Foster and pursue other vocational options is between Fleming and BCC itself.
Foster stated that one reason for Fleming's hire, as a crisis manager/staff liaison/consultant, was to help Foster figure out why he had anger problems.
The elders were initially thrilled, and were thankful Foster appeared to acknowledge a problem and seek to address it.
Fleming informed Randy Holland that the Fosters were 95% ready to leave the church, but he urged the Fosters to take a break (a Sabbatical). To get out of the rotation of the demanding BCC responsibilities.
Foster said he'd return to the church only if Fleming could be the negotiator. The elders, who wanted Foster to remain at the church, agreed. Holland said this was "the nuclear option," because with all that was going on, they wanted Foster to stay.
In the follow up process, the elders continued to express love and support of Foster. The Fosters took it well. Dr. Foster said it was a turning point.
The elders felt great for the first time in a long time.
Fleming became the lead man for staff. A liaison. Elders were impressed with his abilities.
During the Fosters' sabbatical, Foster returned early and without notice and started conducting staff meetings. The staff was really confused by this move because they believed the decision for his return was not going to be made until the end of the sabbatical.
Fleming says "It's not working." Says Foster is not returning his emails.
Executive staff members hold individual, private meetings with the elders and say that due to Foster's abuse, they could not stay at the church.
Randy Thompson relates that the reason he subsequently asked that folks respect his privacy during his wife's cancer treatments is because during the very first cancer surgery, Dr. Foster sat with him in the waiting room and chewed him out.
During this time there are questions about a secret expense account between Foster and independent accountant Kim Beck(?). (Kim Beck is not being accused or suspected of any improprieties.) A forensic accountant is now going through these documents and it might be Friday before any findings can be shared.
Through all of this, elders still wanted to keep Foster at the church. Knowing he lacked self control, had problems with wrath, was absent as a team leader, and was apparently unrepentant about all of it, they still wanted to make things work.
They thought maybe Foster's biggest problem was that he acted many times like there wasn't a problem.
Foster said he moved church governance from congregational to elder-led because he thought it was more biblical. He reminded the elders often in meetings that the church was not a democracy.
Elders said they wanted to transition to a shared leadership structure, so that "one man cannot kill the church." The emphasis was not to demote Foster but to promote available leadership for staff who did not have it.
It would not have occurred to them to suggest this transition if they didn't believe there was an imminent risk of the Fosters quitting.
The elders presented a plan to Foster that might entail him either embracing the collaborative vision or to exit honorably.
Richard McKinney met with Foster to present the offer.
Foster said, "I'm in."
His only concern was the flexibility of the speaking schedule.
Foster confirmed his acceptance of the new direction, saying, "I'm way in."
The elders believed they had again successfully retained Foster's leadership, which was their goal.
Fall of 2005, this plan was presented to the church at weekend services.
The elders began a minister search for new lead pastor.
Foster begins saying Dave Fleming is "the enemy."
Fleming says Foster is uncooperative in collaborative settings. He won't return emails.
At this time the staff and ministerial team are hurting and wanting to know the elders are working on the problem.
The move of Foster's office, which Holland admits may have been a mistake to be carried out so abruptly, was done in part to demonstrate to the staff that the new model was indeed in effect. It was also done so that a prospective lead pastor would not be scared off by the former lead pastor still in the primary office.
The difference in office size is about one square foot.
Holland emphasized that at this point Foster's feelings were not as crucial to them as that of the rest of the staff.
Fleming went to express support to Foster.
Foster said, "Don't tell me you're for me. You're the problem."
From then Foster's behavior was erratic at staff meetings. He either overtook the meeting entirely or withdrew and maintained silence.
Holland approached Foster for a meeting during which to discuss Foster's acceptance of the new model. Holland said they did not want mere compliance, but hoped Foster would embrace and invest in the collaboration.
Foster said he'd come to the meeting only if John Danewood (sp?) would attend. Danewood was not available, so Foster wouldn't meet.
Foster finally says he'll meet if he can bring his advisors.
This is the first Holland has heard of advisors. He thought the elder board was Foster's advisors.
At this meeting, Foster doesn't speak, just his advisors. Two men: Bill Dunlop(?), and Craig Barber.
The advisors are the first to present a separation strategy.
The alternative was Foster's reinstatement as lead pastor.
One of the advisors says this is probably just a quibble over "a title," and that they are both probably wanting the same things.
This gives the elders a glimmer of hope.
End of March 2006 --
Foster says, "I can't do this thing [the new model]. It's not in my DNA not to be in charge."
The elders say, "Will you try?"
Foster says, "Yes."
"If it doesn't work, will you separate honorably?"
A plan was presented to Foster that would make him head of the teaching team, provided he continued to work on his self control issues and provided David Fleming agreed Foster was being cooperative in the restoration process.
Foster agreed to these terms.
At this point in the presentation, in a tangent, the elders confirm that Bill West is not in line for the lead pastor position. They know he is not gifted in speaking in a comparable way to Foster. He will not be the voice of BCC.
Due to busy-ness and cross communication, Dave Fleming does not know about the new agreement between the elders and Foster. In a conference call with Foster and others he suggests vision casting for a year. Foster says, "No, I only have to get through the current message series and then I get the reigns of the teaching team."
Fleming is confused.
Without the terms of the agreement being met, and with no notice at all to the teaching team, Foster reinstates himself independently as the head of the teaching team.
The first thing he did was send an email to the elders telling them that Fleming does not believe Jesus is the only way of salvation.
Fleming confirms with the elders that that is an accurate summary of his theology.
The elders are in a pinch because Fleming is scheduled to teach that weekend. Foster has told them this news at the very last minute. The elders are unable to meet before the weekend because most of them are out of town.
Fleming tells them that Foster knew about this errant belief at least for months.
The elders ask Foster why he waited so long to tell them.
Fleming is immediately let go of teaching responsbilities by the elders, the Monday after that weekend actually. In addition, he is let go from his other church responsibilites (administrative duties) also, but it took 6 weeks to transition him out of the staff liaision position.
Randy Holland insists this was as quickly as they could do it.
June 1 --
both parties agree a separation strategy is in order
July 5 -- the elders draft a letter (not a legal document) outlining their concerns and requirements for Foster's continued leadership, pending separation.
Foster says, "To 4000 people I am the senior pastor no matter what you say. If you want a confrontation, I'll you give a confrontation. I will give you terminatinon, but not resignation."
In a follow up meeting, Craig Barber arrives and gives the elders a pre-fabricated press release highlighting the anticipated leaving of the Fosters and a brand new separation agreement.
One of the statements includes the declaration, "Paula and I believe our time at BCC is done . . ."
July 11 --
The separation contract presented by the Fosters included these details:
Foster would not make any disparaging remarks about BCC or the elders
There was a non-compete clause that said Foster would not minister in a church within 12 months within a 12-mile radius of BCC.
The elders should not be able to talk about the details of the separation.
That is Foster's suggested contract.
The elders respond with caveats:
They change the press release attendance figures to be more accurate
They reduce the severance package because the speaking duties have been reduced
They leave in the no-compete clause.
July 20 --
Barber responds and says the contract was too broad. He argued with the attendance number change.
The elders ask, "Is the agreement rejected?"
The elders ask Barber, "Are you David's proxy or his advisor?"
Barber: "I am an advisor."
The statement is rejected.
Last Wednesday --
Mike Hueneke(?) meets with Foster and offers him two options. Resignation or termination. The severance package is the same.
Foster chose termination.
He was given notice that in 24 hours he'd receive the letter via courier.
Subsequently, the elders receive email threats from Craig Barber, saying their "personal net worth" is in danger.
Larry Hall resigns from the elder board, not because he disagrees with the elders decision, but to protect his family from financial and personal liability. He has interacted with Barber before and takes these threats seriously. Hall says that although he knows he's done nothing wrong, just defending himself in court would bankrupt him. He felt he couldn't risk that, but he emphasized his solidarity with the elder board.
Former elders were also present.
All of the current elders, all of the former elders still attending the church, and the entire church staff is in support of the decision.
The elders took some questions.
A few made closing statements.
The elders remained behind to answer questions personally and in private.