It Only Takes a Few of Them
The forced termination of clergy remains one of the most difficult, and often tragic, issues for congregations.
It can take a congregation years to recover from the forced termination of a pastor—and so, also, for the pastor.
A single episode can become a nodal event that shapes a congregation’s culture for years.
A series of them can put a congregation on the downslide toward dysfunction or extinction.
When a congregation gets a reputation for “eating up clergy” they’ll tend to have difficulty attracting mature pastoral leaders, the very kind who can get them back on the road toward health and relevance.
Here’s the little secret about forced terminations in the congregational setting we often fail to appreciate: it only takes a few members to tip a crisis toward the forced termination of the pastor.
According to a survey, in the majority of cases (60%) of the driving force behind a pastoral exit is a small faction who are willful and persistent.
According to the survey, the vast majority forced out by a faction were forced out by small factions of 10 or less. Although the size of the churches were almost equally divided between those less than and those more than 100 attendees, most of the forced out pastors were driven out by a fraction of the regular worshippers.(1)
How do a small few get to determine the outcome for the majority?
It is not uncommon to hear congregational members express surprise and ignorance about a crisis between the pastor and this small group after the fact.
“Why did the pastor leave?” “I was not aware there was a problem.” “I thought things were going just fine.”
Here are some thoughts on the issue:
- Too many pastors hunker down in isolation when under attack and therefore fail to tap into the resources of the healthier and less reactive members
- Too many pastors fail to take on the issue early and up front, hoping that it will just go away
- Often the faction (as small as ten people) rally around one energized and reactive member who becomes the leader around which reactivity gathers
- Often the presenting issues and the reasons given for the discontent with the pastor has little to do with the pastor
- Pastors and church leaders often fail to appreciate the level of reactivity within the faction, and, the level of tenacity and willfulness they can muster
- Too many church leaders fail by having an “unreasonable faith in reasonableness” when dealing with reactive factions
- Too many pastors, especially young and inexperienced clergy, will take the crisis personally, believing that it is about their character, calling, or competence, when in fact, it is rarely about them aside from the fact that they just happen to be the leader
- Clergy and congregations who value peace at any price will never be able to provide the corrective necessary to deal with factions
- Dealing with these factions will be a test of courage for pastors and congregational leaders called to deal with the crisis.
The Center for Lifelong Learning offers the Transition Into Wellness Retreat for ministers and their spouses who have experienced a forced termination, or who are experiencing a church crisis that may lead to a forced termination.
The cost is $100 per person, or $150 for clergy and spouse.
For more information about this experience, and for registration information, visit here.
(1) S. Barfoot, B, Winston, and C. Wickman,“Forced Pastoral Exits: An Exploratory Study,” Regent University’s School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship Working Paper (2004): 5.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.