Congregants at Calvary Chapel Melbourne in Florida are upset and asking questions after elders at the multi-campus megachurch announced that Mark Balmer, their founder and senior pastor for some three decades, would no longer be leading the church. Several church members expressed the belief that they were certain Balmer would have preferred to “stand in the pulpit until his last breath.”
“Ecclesiastes tells us, ‘There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.’ Although we are sure Pastor Mark would want to stand in the pulpit until his last breath, the elders with support of senior leadership, believe it is time for Pastor Mark to pass the baton,” the elders said in a statement published on Facebook last Sunday. The same statement was delivered by the elders during a service a day earlier where Balmer, 77, was noticeably absent.
“We have been in discussion with Pastor Mark for the past two years, and although this decision was not easy to make, we believe it is the right time. Per this announcement, Pastor Mark will no longer be serving as senior pastor and head elder, however, he will retain the title of founding pastor/pastor emeritus,” the elders added in the statement.
The elders said the decision to retire Balmer was not inspired by any “moral failure or any financial impropriety.” They further noted that they encouraged Balmer “to enjoy a long-deserved sabbatical after which we are in prayer with him as to the best utilization of his gifts to further serve our fellowship and the Body of Christ.”
A woman who said she attended the second service at Calvary Chapel Melbourne with her husband noted in a response on Facebook that she was disappointed by the way Balmer’s retirement was handled.
“What I witnessed on Sunday was at best very disappointing. I was continuously praying for the Holy Spirit to help me process the information shared by the elders. The information provided was nothing short of a well-written, sugar-coated series of words which said nothing and meant nothing. No reason whatsoever was provided and we were simply asked to go along with it because the elders had prayed about it for two years,” she wrote.
She further expressed doubt that the elders were "unanimous" in their decision to transition the pastor.
Another commenter said when she first heard the statement from the elders on Saturday, she congratulated Balmer on social media. But after reading the published statement on Sunday, she had a change of heart.
“How disrespectful to make an announcement of such weight without Pastor Mark being present. That's not Pastor Mark's way of taking a break ... At this point, I am in wait-and-see what Pastor Mark has to say. I believe he will speak openly to us when he has gathered his emotions and spent more time with God for guidance. Until then, many prayers for Pastor Mark and Lynda,” she wrote.
Other church members also expressed their disappointment with Balmer’s abrupt retirement. One raised concerns that the move by the elders had divided the congregation.
“I’m sad to say Pastor Mark Balmer has been forced out at Calvary Chapel of Melbourne," the member wrote on Facebook, adding that the situation is "disappointing" and "beyond sad."
In their statement Sunday, the elders said Balmer started Calvary Chapel Melbourne nearly 30 years ago while serving as an elder at Calvary Chapel Merritt Island and full-time director of pharmacy at Wuesthoff Hospital.
He eventually retired from his secular job to devote himself to the church. Under his leadership, it grew to become the largest multisite church in Brevard County.
A report in Florida Today said prior to the pandemic, the church and its campuses in West Melbourne, Sebastian and Viera attracted at least 10,000 people to weekly services.
Bill Beck, the church administrator for Calvary Chapel Melbourne, told the publication that even though Balmer’s retirement had been under discussion for years and a transition plan had been created, he declined to discuss it as time went on.
“It became increasingly obvious that he didn’t want to talk about it," Beck said. "The elders wanted to have that conversation. The elders came to the unanimous decision that he needed to step down. There’s just no good way to do it. We love Pastor Mark, we honor him. But it is the elders’ job to hold church leadership accountable and to do what's best for the church.”