Taken By Surprise, A Common Story
Jack Sanders was a dedicated senior pastor of a congregation in a major denomination.
He worked hard for his faith and the churches to which he had been called as pastor.
He and his wife, Melissa, were called into the ministry while in college and never doubted their calling.
But now they are bewildered.
Jack and Melissa had wonderful, productive ministries at several churches before being called to St. Luke’s Church in a large city.
The representatives of St. Luke’s told Jack that they wanted strong leadership and that they wanted their church to grow.
Jack and Melissa prayed about this new opportunity and finally decided to leave their comfortable position and move to another city in order to help St. Luke’s to prosper.
Almost immediately, St. Luke’s began to receive new members.
Young families were drawn to Jack and Melissa’s personal, loving care.
The church was vibrant with new life.
The renewal was exciting.
The summer following their second year at St. Luke’s, Jack and Melissa took their three children on a much-needed vacation.
All seemed to be going so well and the family truly enjoyed themselves.
The day after the family’s return, Jack received a phone call from George, the chair of the church’s board.
George told Jack that he was required to attend a meeting that night at the church.
This surprised Jack.
He could think of no reason for such a surprise meeting but told George that he would be there.
When Jack entered the room that night, he was instinctively filled with dread and fear.
George had a grim look on his face.
Also in the room were two other men – church members – whom Jack recognized as George’s close friends.
George began the meeting by praising Jack.
He stated, “Jack, you have done a great job here at St. Luke’s and we appreciate that.
But we are speaking for the entire congregation and believe that it’s time for you to move on to another church.
We believe that your time here is done.”
Jack was stunned.
He could not believe what he was hearing.
But no matter what he said or what questions he asked, the three men grimly told him he had to resign.
George continued, “We know that you do not want to hurt the church.
You don’t want to have it on your record or your conscience that you hurt St. Luke’s or that you might even cause a split in the church.
So, we must keep this meeting in confidence.
No one must know about this.
I know that after all the hard work you have done at Saint Luke’s, you don’t want to hurt it.
Therefore, if you will sign the resignation letter that we have prepared and leave quietly, we will give you a three month severance.
But if you fight us on this or talk to anyone about it, we will terminate you and you will get nothing.”
Does this story shock you?
But this and similar episodes are happening all across our nation every day.
Over 1,700 protestant/evangelical clergy are forced to leave their ministry position each month.
That’s over 20,000 per year.
The above story is a composite of many stories that we have witnessed with similar dynamics.
It’s a sudden bombshell, gang of three, a trusted friend leading a betrayal, commending your work and then asking for your resignation.
It is an unauthorized attack, a claim of speaking for the entire congregation, the offer of a pittance of severance, a threat of the removal of the severance offer if the minister refuses to comply with their demands, and the insistence of a gag order.
It is a bully – or mob – at work.
If you have experienced a forced termination from a church ministry position, you will be able to identify with some of the feelings that accompany the above actions.
If you have not, you probably have observed other ministers and ministry colleagues who were the target of similar actions and sensed the painful journey they faced.
We comprehend the depth of feelings of loss that accompany the disruption to a sense of God’s call on the wounded minister’s life – and that of his or her family.
Ministering to Ministers, at the Center for Lifelong Learning offers support and resources to ministers who have experienced a forced termination or experiencing conflict that may lead to one:
- The Wounded Ministers Retreat for clergy and spouses
- Paid sessions with a trained therapist
- A consultation with an attorney to review severance and employment issues
- A conversation Friend for the Journey partner
- Leadership development workshops.
If you need our services or know of a ministry colleague who does, please contact us.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia 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.
His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administrators, Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).