From an Associate Pastor and Spouse
I had served my church for thirty years. I had developed a deep, deep love for so many of the people in the congregation. The church had experienced great growth, and it was a joy to be a part of it. The area of ministry in which I served had experienced growth proportionate to the growth of the church at large. Our senior pastor retired and soon a new pastor came. I was very excited about the pastor chosen to lead us into the future. Four month later, I was involuntarily terminated. He and a few members wanted to take the church in a totally different direction. I was devastated!
Just a few days later Dr. Charles Chandler, who had been a seminary classmate, and who later served as pastor in the same city as I served directly out of seminary, called me. He invited my wife and I to a Wellness Retreat at a relatively nearby location. I could never tell you of all the benefits we gained through that retreat. Let me simply name some of them.
We had the benefit of understanding pastoral counseling. We had the opportunity to hear the stories of others who had recently experienced involuntary termination, and those were extremely touching. We all had different experiences, but there were multiple responses and reactions from each individual! All of us gained deep insights and better understanding of our own experience. We also found friends who were both understanding and sympathetic. We experienced a support system we never expected to have. We left this retreat with renewed hope, a clearer understanding of our termination and a greater peace than we had had prior to the retreat. God used this retreat in a powerful way to strengthen and renew our faith.
A Testimonial from a Pastor and Spouse
One summer day my brother and I decided to take a short cut to keep our feet from burning up on the hot asphalt of Topsail Island, NC. We got into the intercoastal waterway to use the outgoing tide to take us along our way much more quickly than if we had tried to walk along the road. We headed to meet friends who were fishing near island’s end.
As we realized we had missed our friends, it was too late to get ashore before entering where the water violently rushes over the sand bar at the inlet to the ocean. In trouble, we nearly panicked. Though strong swimmers are used to ocean currents, we met a force we had never encountered: the crossing of the bar as the tide goes out. We swam with all our might, but the tide rushed us out to sea twice as fast. I got close enough to touch bottom, but the current ripped the sand from under me. My brother and I clasped hands, struggled to shore, and fell exhausted on the sand. We vowed never again to get in such danger. In folk lore, the crossing of the bar symbolizes death for good reason.
Yet, I found myself in a similar predicament again; but this time I felt alone as pastor of a church with the “gang of three” doing all they could to sweep me out of the church. I felt the same panic and hopelessness from my Topsail Island experience. Then someone grabbed me by the hand and helped me to safety. The one who came alongside to help this time was Charles Chandler with an invitation to a Wellness Retreat provided by the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, MTM.
After our retreat, my wife and I were empowered to dive back into the church situation. The “gang of three” saw us revived, and realized they could not just sweep us out. We decided we did not want to continue as pastor there and also realized, from work at the retreat, that we needed a break to recover. With the help of MTM resources, a severance package was negotiated and we left the church on our terms. While working for a local corporation, I took more than two years off from full time ministry and was able to lose emotional baggage that could have hurt any possibility of future ministry. I am again the pastor of a congregation. I was able to take that step knowing the “gang of three” can not sweep me out over the bar because MTM is there to help even if no one else shows up.
My wife and I are so thankful for the ministry of MTM and the Wellness Retreats. Through the scholarships MTM provided us, all expenses were paid for the Wellness Retreat that my wife and I attended and it has been one of the best gifts we have ever received.
Testimonial by a Youth Pastor
“We have decided to move our ministry in another direction!” Words I thought I would never hear. After almost 20 years dedicated to student ministry I was sure my knowledge and experience had removed me far from the politics and threat of a forced termination. Yet, only weeks before Christmas I was left with many questions – questions that had been swirling in my head for many months. “Why had God allowed me to be in this difficult ministry location?” “Do I want to return to ministry or use this as an opportunity to change careers?” “Is my faith in God really strong enough to drive me to attend another church, or should I become another minister who walks away from faith and the church?” All of these were serious questions that deserved very serious contemplation.
Forced termination is a quiet and destructive disease in our churches today. Soon after my termination I attended a retreat for terminated ministers (mtmfoundation.org) and came face-to-face with a challenge that would put me back on the road to spiritual and ministerial health. The retreat leader challenged me with the thought, “A church can take away your job, but they can only take away your call if you let them!” Ah-Ha! All along I had confused my call with my ministry location. I had forgotten that God had called me to faith in Him. I was called to minister alongside Him wherever He might lead. But, hadn’t I been “called” to this church? Hadn’t the church voted to “call” me here? Yes, but my call as a leader is to serve God, my family and the church. Ultimately, following God and serving Him has little to do with a particular ministry location. It has a great deal more to do with my theology of call and my own security.
If you are in the midst of struggle in your current ministry I encourage you to consider a few things. Are you serving God first in a way that allows you to equally serve your family and the church with integrity? Could it be that a sense of “call” to your church might actually be standing in the way of your own health and faith? God calls us to serve HIM. Whatever situation you may be in today, choose to be a leader who seeks God’s call upon your life . . . not just a church!
Quotes from Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreat Participants
- “The MTM ministry has helped already and we hope to continue receiving and giving help through MTM.”
- “It was a very helpful week. Thank you for making possible this week of awareness and the start of the healing process.”
- “It was a great week because of our ministry to each other. Thank you all for your ministry to me through the power of God’s Spirit in you.”
- “I enjoyed the week that we shared together, the laughing, the crying, and the sharing of similar stories. You have been part of my healing process…. I hope that I can put to use the things that I have learned, to help me become a healthier minister and hopefully help the church become healthier as well.”
- “Were it not for MTM and the retreat I attended, I would not be in ministry today.”
- “Thanks for giving us a soft place to land during such a hard fall. It sure means so much to us as we talk about the retreat. We had such a peace every night as we slept.”
- A pastor writes, “I am still uncertain as to where God is leading me regarding work, but I am starting to trust God again.”
- One retreat participant described the experience of going through a forced termination as having similar impact on life and ministry as the hit-and-run accident when this minister was left for dead and spent the following three months in the hospital. This minister credits MTM with providing the healing for life and ministry after forced termination that the medical team provided after the accident.
- “Thanks for your help and care for us in our ‘bad time.’ ….I truly appreciate the insight and support received from MTM.”
- A young couple who attended a retreat writes, “It’s been 10 months since our forced termination. The fog is lifting. Thank God for perspective and healing.”
- “We will pray for the upcoming retreat. We are so grateful for the opportunity we had to participate in the Wellness Retreat over two years ago. We know the help it gave us in so many ways, and are grateful to have served where we are now for over two years. We have shared MTM with others in similar situations and took advantage of the ministry as we come in contact with people all the time who are having forced terminations. I feel I have a new ministry now – to share MTM with these folks.”
- “With heavy doses of wisdom, reality, help, and humor, MTM ministered healing to us when no healing could be found. The retreat was just what we needed to survive and thrive in the midst of our hurt and disappointment.”
- “Thanks for the prayers and fellowship we enjoyed. Here’s to better days for each of us, knowing we are remembered, prayed for, believed in, appreciated, and loved. May God bless your efforts to keep on shining, and letting His light shine through us!”
- “I thank God for allowing each one of you to come into my life. Each of you has contributed immeasurably to my life. Each of you has enriched my life, and I am a better person for having known you. I appreciate the contribution you have made and continue to make to my recovery.”
- “The retreat really helped me a lot, and I am seeking the direction the Lord would have me to go. I know that I have gifts and talents, and I know that God has called me into His service. You have all been a blessing to us and we could never thank you enough.”
The Future at Stake After Devastation, But Blessings Pour Forth…a Pastor’s and Son’s stories
A Minister’s Story
One of the devastating results of forced resignation is its effect upon the pastor’s family. The pastor endures the abuse, rejection and pain that such brings….the family watches the one they love go through such an ordeal…the future of all at stake. Family members will experience similar anger, fears, isolation and hurts and yet so often will lack the support and encouragement needed or directed toward them. Many lose confidence in the church and its mission and will choose not to be involved again. Many doubt God and His providence in all situations of ministry and life. The family sees the hurt and destruction the pastor endures and feels so helpless to do anything to help. Forced resignation brings great stress and turmoil to the entire family.
Betty and I are thankful our children were older when forced resignation happened to us. Anne Marie had just married and was off to Iowa for graduate school. David was away to college. They did not know or experience the everyday turmoil that was happening. They were very concerned about their parents. We were careful to be honest, answer any of their questions and to keep them informed as circumstances developed. Counseling was made available to them as desired.
MTM encourages spouses to be a part of the Wellness Retreats. Sessions dealing with family stress are very prominent. My wife was not able to attend a retreat (she had to work) but sensed the results of my participation in the retreat and relationship with Charles Chandler. MTM gave me a fresh perspective and a new hope to my devastating experience. It allowed me to deal with my hurt, embarrassment and anger and brought much needed emotional healing. MTM teaches there is life after forced termination and that our Divine calling cannot be taken. The family began to see this healing and hope in me and this became a source of healing to them. My family (immediate and extended) is the greatest human blessing that God has given. Looking back, I do not know how I could have endured without their love, support, encouragement and belief in me when it seemed all others doubted. They were there with me and for me. God has been so good and given me a new ministry in a church and an extended ministry to support and encourage other hurting pastors through MTM.
Betty was our chief financial support for several years. Her love for God and support of ministry through her husband has never wavered. Anne Marie serves the Lord through her church in many ways. David is involved with his church and in part because of my forced resignation, chose to become a lawyer. He now gives legal counsel and is on the Board of the Birmingham Chapter of MTM…. his serving pastors is one of the proudest joys of my life. God is blessing us with a new life and a new ministry. Thank you MTM and PRAISE YOU JESUS.
The Son’s Story
I was home from college after my sophomore year when my parents asked that my sister and I join them for a visit with some close family friends after church on a Sunday night. I had no idea what that visit would lead to. As we sat in the living room Dad announced that a small group within our church had made it their goal to see that he was forced to leave as pastor of our church. He did not know what was to transpire nor could he predict the ultimate outcome. Regardless, the close friends with whom we were visiting that evening and others in the church had personally pledged to cover my substantial educational expenses if necessary.
It is impossible to fully express the full extent of what I felt from that moment on through the next days, weeks, months or years. While I did not know, nor do I know to this day, the full extent of all developments that my parents endured, I knew some group was out to get my Dad and my defensive instincts as a recently retired college football player were starting to kick in.
The next few weeks were an emotional roller coaster. I was not sure who I could trust or listen to, and along the way I did some things that I regret. Ultimately, the summer culminated with my sister’s wedding and my Dad’s resignation from the pulpit the next day. It was quite a whirlwind.
While many years have passed since that time, I can say without a doubt that it helped shape who I am and have become. In the immediate time after that summer I struggled with personal issues. Furthermore, being so close to the inner workings of the church had a negative impact on my desire to go to church, and for an extended period my presence at any church was limited. Further, I am no longer Baptist, but have found a denomination with a greater sense of polity and structure, which for me I think is reassuring. Further, seeing the importance of advocacy, negotiation and strategic processes sparked in me an interest in the law, which has ultimately led to my current profession.
Having witnessed from a first hand perspective (my Dad is an alum) the positive impact that our wellness retreats can make is an incredible award for being part of such an organization. Now through MTM I can be an advocate for ministers and their families in times of need and I have done so on several occasions.