By David A. Myers
What happens in/to the church that force terminates a minister? A growing interest in dynamics of ministerial termination is reflected through increased articles and attention given to this matter in recent years. This is an encouraging sign that our church families are becoming aware of the devastation, disillusionment and disappointment brought about when a minister is forced terminated by direct vote of the congregation or by direct pressure from a church power group.
Let’s look at the other side. I want to examine the effect of forced termination on a church. Every situation is different. No one church may experience all of these things; however, churches do not go through this experience unscathed. Following proper procedures outlined by the church’s constitution or by laws produces less negative results. Failing to follow adopted procedures results in greater repercussions.
When a few power members take it upon themselves to force a minister to resign, other church members are often angry because they were not consulted or allowed to participate. They often feel they were unwittingly involved in actions they may not have agreed in essence or in procedure. The perpetrators are often forced to spin a story to exonerate themselves, often leaving out facts or presenting them vaguely to the congregation. Thereafter, the leaders; actions and words may be viewed with suspicion. Can they be trusted? Will they tell us the whole truth? Will they include us in future decision making that impacts the whole congregation? What are they hiding?
The membership’s normal grief process of loss and the normal caring tendencies toward those who are hurting are short-circuited or squelched. Leaders urge the congregation to “put this behind us and move on.” Emotions and feelings resulting from difficult, significant, painful experiences in the life of the fellowship may be submerged for a while, but these emotions will appear in future events in the church. A suspicious attitude may become characteristic of the congregation. Percentages are high that having once terminated a minister, the congregation will repeat unhealthy methods of dealing with conflict or disagreement.
What forced termination does to the soul of the congregation is significant in and of itself, but the practical, logistical impact is also significant. The church may lose members who are unhappy with what has occurred or how it was done. The loss of financial support may result from membership decline or withholding money. The name and reputation of the church is marred in the community and beyond. Hesitant, reserved or negative recommendations of the church are given to prospective new ministers for that church. Many ministers are reluctant to consider relocation to a church that terminated its previous minister(s).
Prevention is the best action. Churches need to learn healthy ways of dealing with conflict and disagreements. Such matters as a job description and covenant agreement should be agreed upon during the call process. Other preventative steps need to be taken. The cost is high to churches who force terminate their ministers.
David A. Myers retired as Director of Missions for the Hamilton County Baptist Association, Chattanooga, Tennessee. A graduate of Mississippi College, Clinton, Mississippi and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Dr. Myers has served as a member of the MTM Board of Trustees, assists with the Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreats for Ministers and Spouses and serves as a Friend for the Journey.