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