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New Foundation Ministers to Ministers Facing Anguish of Involuntary Separation

by Charles H. Chandler, Richmond, VA

It was to have been a prayer service and routine business meeting at the church in North Carolina where John (not his real name) served as pastor. But no sooner had the business meeting been called to order than a member of the congregation asked the pastor and his wife to leave the sanctuary while a sensitive matter was discussed.

Two hours later, John was informed that his tenure as pastor had been terminated, effective immediately, No charges had been brought against John's character or doctrine, but he was not to go on the church property unless accompanied by one of the trustees. He would be given one month's salary. The action by which John was terminated ignored the church's constitution and bylaws.

Mark (Not his real name) endured the trauma of a volatile quarterly business meeting which focused on his effectiveness as pastor of the Virginia church he had served for five years. He and his wife were asked to leave the meeting and they waited in his study for two hours without an opportunity to respond to any statements made against his ministry.

Although he was not fired that night. Mark was told to look for another position immediately. The opposition, though a minority, let him know they would not give him long. The future of his ministry was thrust into uncertainty.

A Growing Trend
What happened to John and Mark is part of a growing trend. A recent interdenominational study by Leadership magazine (Winter 1996) found that 22.8 percent of responding readers have been forced out of their church ministry positions at least once during their careers.

In 65 percent of these cases, the previous pastor had been forced out by the same congregation. These churches are termed 'repeat offenders." Of those who said the church had pushed out their predecessors, 41 percent indicated the church had done it more than twice.

The conclusion drawn by David Goetz, the author, was, "churches which force out their pastors will likely do it again," 43 percent of forced-out pastors said a 'faction' pushed them out; 71 percent of those indicated the 'faction' forcing them out numbered 10 people or less. Another alarming fact was the secrecy of the terminations. Only 20 percent of the forced-out pastors said the real reason for their leaving was made known to the entire congregation.

The Southern Baptist Convention reported in 1989 that in one 18-month period, 2,100 ministers were terminated by their churches. That translates into 116 involuntary separations per month within one denomination, or approximately one every six hours. These figures represent a 31 percent increase over the preceding five years.

In November of 1993, the federal government mandated state employment commissions to provide higher levels of services to displaced workers whose profiles indicated they needed additional assistance in their transition to new employment. However, for one population of people, the most basic network has been eliminated through loss of employment. They are the pastors or ministers who have been forced out of their ministry positions by their congregations.

Fewer services are available to terminated ministers than to laypersons in similar situations. A member of a congregation still has a pastor and church family to support them through loss of employment,a but a minister does not. They often suffer alone and in silence.

Time and again during my 35 years of pastoral ministry in Kentucky, Illinois and Virginia, I have witnessed the pain experienced by fellow pastors and their families. And I have seen the toll such crises takes on churches. As tensions increase, ministers experience increasing isolation from church members, denominational officials and often even from their colleagues in ministry. Churches are internally damaged by mistrust, membership loss and continuing animosity.

Ministers and their families commonly endure great disruption and distress and often find it difficult to be called to new positions, usually being perceived as "failures" or in some way "compromised" by the experience. Both churches and ministers are damaged and the joy of the gospel is dampened.

Most denominations do little to help their wounded ministers. Ministers who have sought mediation through denominational channels or consultants are often disillusioned because denominational officials and consultants apparently fear to risk the loss of financial support from the churches.

Founded by Ministers
In 1994 a group of ministers who had experienced forced termination - and some interested laypersons - founded Ministering to Ministers Foundation, Inc., a non-profit, tax-exempt organization which I serve as executive director. The mission of Ministering to Ministers is "to seek to be advocates for clergy and their families in all faith groups who are experiencing personal or professional crisis due to deteriorating employment or congregational-clergy relationships."

The Minister to Ministers Foundation has a goal of providing CARE to caregivers: Communicating, Advocating, Reclaiming, Equipping. This is done through four divisions: education and communications, dispute resolution, personal wellness and assurance.

Education and Communication
This division serves survivors in three ways:
1. A quarterly newsletter [changed to annually] will be produced, beginning in late spring, for ministers, churches and denominational leaders.
2. Education will be provided through national periodicals. This is important in affecting long-term change in the environment responsible for forced terminations.
3. In the short time Ministering to Ministers has been operating (one year), the need for more information has been astounding. To meet this need, the executive director and many trustees are available to speak to groups upon request.

Dispute Resolution
The dispute resolution division seeks to offer a model covenant to be adopted by ministers and congregations as tenure begins which will:
1. Clarify responsibilities;
2. Set expectations;
3. Define procedures for clergy evaluations;
4. Delineate procedures for times of conflict;
5. Define settlement procedures if conflicts cannot be resolved.

A model agreement is available for churches which have not adopted covenants. Dispute resolution teams - composed of ministers, counselors and attorneys - are available to assist with mediation and/or negotiation.

Personal Wellness
Ministering to Ministers has developed nationwide lists of certified counselors and attorneys for use by ministers in crisis. Most importantly, there is now a network of "Survivors/Sponsors" throughout the United States. These are ministers who have been through involuntary separation from their churches and are willing to befriend and mentor those now facing a similar crisis. This is the first line of defense in ministering to hurting ministers.

During 1996 a total of four wellness retreats, each lasting five days, are scheduled. Each retreat will serve 12-20 persons. Participants are facing a financial crisis as well as career problems and emotional distress. Therefore, it is the policy of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation to provide retreats at no cost to participants.

Assistance Division
The assistance division does not seek to duplicate services of other agencies. Instead it will provide referrals to those seeking renewal from burnout or trauma and referrals for career assessments. In more severe situations, the division will assist in locating services when survivors do not have adequate resources to meet basic needs as a result of forced termination.

Additionally, the assistance division works in partnership with the organization, Friends of New Churches, Inc. This provides an avenue for terminated pastors who seek to plant new churches.

Trustees of Ministering to Ministers Foundation are composed of up to 10 clergy-spouses with at least one-half having experienced involuntary separation; up to 10 attorneys and counselors with at least four of each; up to 10 business persons/financial advisors/fundraisers, and up to three "at large" members. They come from 10 states plus the District of Columbia.

Now back to John and Mark. Although relationships had deteriorated beyond redemption for John to continue as pastor of his church, Ministering to Ministers provided valuable healing ministry to John and the deacon chair. John also was invited to a personal wellness retreat.

Mark is still serving as pastor of his church. He credits the personal wellness retreat and the work of Ministering to Ministers Foundations with giving him strength and wisdom with giving him strength and wisdom to face issues constructively. Although it is too early to know if Mark has a long-term future at his present church, healing is taking place.

Both John and Mark had someone to walk with them through pain and disillusionment. Romans 10:15 states: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news." They may have beautiful feet, but many of them have deep wounds and scarred minds and spirits. Some are seeing their families disintegrate. The price of ministry has often been great.

Ministering to Ministers Foundation is investing in the lives and ministries of some of God's choice messengers. Join us in praying for healing and, as Paul says in I Corinthians 12, "a more excellent way."

For more data on Ministering to Ministers Foundation, contact Charles H. Chandler, Trinity Baptist Church, 2641 Cromwell Road, Richmond, VA 23235; phone 804-320-6463. FAX 804-320-9178.

This article was published May 23, 1996 in the Baptists Today. Dr. Charles H. Chandler is the Executive Director of Ministering to Ministers Foundation, Inc. Permission was granted by Baptists Today for reproduction of this article on the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, Inc. web site.