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Another View: ‘Aunt Ida’ is very perceptive

By Charles Chandler, Executive Director
Ministering to Ministers Foundation

Published March 8, 2007 in the Religious Herald

The excellent editorial in the Jan. 24 issue of the Religious Herald, entitled “Aunt Ida preaches to preachers,” highlighted the profile of most forced terminations. The epidemic is much wider spread than most realize. And the effects are deeper and leave more scars than most Christians can envision, both to the minister and his or her family as well as to the congregation and individual church families. The Christian witness is hurt and conflicted churches produce fewer ministers to lead our churches in the future.

According to the Abilene Reporter-News (Dec. 14, 2000), over 1,600 Protestant ministers in the United States are forced out of their church ministry positions each month. That’s over 19,000 per year. To put it in a more comprehendible picture, it is 369 per week, 53 per day, or one every 25 minutes around the clock every day of the year. The report also points out that for ministers there are no federal or state assistance or unemployment benefits. Ministers’ feelings of anger, frustration and helplessness at being pushed out are compounded by feelings of guilt and betrayal, and serious concern for how to provide adequately for their families’ needs; these feelings are often debilitating. Only 54 percent of ministers forced out go back into a full-time church ministry position. Thus, some of the very best pastors are lost from the Lord’s service.

Not only are the ministers affected, but their families suffer as well:

• 75 percent of pastoral families had to move to a new residence.

• 66 percent reported that their children had to change schools.

• 64 percent of pastors’ spouses had to change jobs.

• 60 percent of ministers say their family’s ability to trust church leadership was undermined.

• 70 percent of the pastors surveyed said they didn’t have a single close friend they could talk with about their problems.

Kevin Leicht, professor of sociology at the University of Iowa and author of Professional Work, says that clergy terminations are very high when compared with the national labor force, where only 1.2 percent of all employees are involuntarily terminated. He goes on to say that the rate of forced termination of clergy is even higher than coaches in the National Football League, which is a notoriously unstable profession.

A study by Leadership magazine (Winter, 1996) found that 22.8 percent of the responding readers have been forced out of their church ministry positions at least once during their careers. In 62 percent of these cases, the same congregation had forced the previous minister out. Of those who said the church had pushed out their predecessors, 41 percent indicated that the church had done it more than twice. Of those ministers forced out, 43 percent said a “faction” in the church pushed them out. The faction often numbered 10 people or less. Eighty percent of forced-out ministers said the reason for their leaving was never made known to the congregation.

In a study of the causes of forced termination in various denominations, Allen Klass, president of Mission Growth Ministries in St. Louis, Mo., reported that in only 7 percent of the cases was the cause of the ouster due to the minister’s misconduct.

Forced termination has a high cost for both the congregation and the minister. There are emotional wounds to the congregation that result in the loss of parishioners, loss of revenue, broken fellowship and worst of all for the life of the church, the gospel message is dampened.

Kirt Hadaway, in a recently released report entitled “FACTs on Growth,” by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, states that one factor that spells doom for church attendance is major conflicts. He states that if a church is engaged in major conflict, it will suck the life out of the church and its leaders.

The Ministering To Ministers Foundation (MTM) is a non-profit organization and was founded in 1994 by a group of ministers who had experienced forced termination and by some interested lay people. Through contacts by telephone, email, in person and MTM’s quarterly newsletter, The Servant, MTM seeks to “Communicate, Advocate, Reclaim, and Equip (C.A.R.E.)” for minister/spouses as well as denominational leaders and congregational lay leaders, so that all may grow as they encounter the tremendous pressures from within churches and from cultural trends. American churches are facing a crisis in the availability of healthy, long-term leaders because of the impact of forced terminations on ministers and their families. It is MTM’s conviction that healthy ministers help produce healthy churches, healthy churches help produce healthy communities, and healthy communities help produce healthy societies.

The centerpiece of the MTM ministry is the Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreat for ministers and spouses. The intense five-day retreat combines three ingredients: small group dynamics, information sessions led by experts in various fields and group therapy led by a psychiatrist or psychologist. Since May 1995, MTM has held 68 wellness retreats with 657 participants. They have come from 31 states plus the Bahamas and represent 32 denominational affiliations—179 of these were Virginia Baptist ministers and spouses. Yet for every person who participates in a wellness retreat, nine others will benefit from some other aspect of the MTM ministry.

Some typical responses from wellness retreat participants are:

• “Thanks for providing a soft place to land after our world was turned upside down.”

• “If it has not been for the wellness retreat that my wife and I attended, I would not be in ministry today.”

• “I felt so alone and MTM provided me a safe place to examine my calling and my commitment to ministry. I think I can face the future again in a healthier way. I have learned to trust again.”

• “Thanks for being there for me.”

In addition to the wellness retreats, MTM seeks to provide Christian fellowship to ministers and their families during crises and the healing process that follows through the “Friends for the Journey” Network which was launched in 2004. The “Friends” are drawn from wellness retreat alumni who have healed from their forced termination experience, along with other ministers and lay people who have worked with ministers during their conflict and forced termination experience. The fact that the “Friend” has walked through a similar valley—or has walked with others who have had a similar pilgrimage—and has emerged reasonably healthy emotionally and spiritually, is within itself a comfort. It proves there’s life after forced termination.

Starting in 2003, MTM has also been developing a network of prayer partners who are committed to pray for those who participate in and lead the Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreats. There are now over 200 of these prayer partners.

The MTM trustees join me in expressing appreciation to Virginia Baptists for their partnership in reaching out to wounded servants that they might grow through their adversity. I’m convinced that God can take all of our experiences when given to him and redeem them in ways that enable us to grow strong at the broken places.

Thanks to the Religious Herald for helping inform Virginia Baptists of the epidemic that is eroding the effectiveness of our churches and critically wounding our ministers and their families. There is indeed a more excellent way (1 Corinthians 13).

This article appeared in the Religious Herald on March 8, 2007. Permission was granted by the Religious Herald for reproduction of this article on Ministering to Ministers Web Site.