The effects of a pastoral forced termination on a congregation
The silent epidemic of clergy forced terminations seems to continue. According to a 2008 study by the Ministering to Ministers Foundation,
- Nearly a fourth, 22.8% of pastors have either been terminated or forced to resign.
- Nearly two-thirds, 62%, of the forced-out pastors said the church that dumped them had also forced out other pastors – and 41% said the church had done it more than twice.
- Nearly half, 43%, of the forced-out pastors said a ‘faction’ in the church forced them to leave, and 71 % of those indicated that the ‘faction’ numbered 10 or fewer congregates
- Only 20% of the forced-out pastors said the real reason for their leaving was made known to the congregation.
We can, to some extent, understand the effects of the trauma of a forced termination on a pastor and her or his family. But we often neglect to appreciate the impact it has on a congregation. David A. Myers offers a list of the effects of a pastoral forced termination on a congregation:
- Some members may feel betrayed by a minister leaving without reasonable closure and some will never be close to a minister again.
- Some become angry with the small group who led the firing, resentful that
the entire church was not involved in such an important matter.
- Some become angry over the terms of a severance package. Those who supported the pastor want more; those opposed want less. This anger shows up in reduced giving by one side or the other.
- Over time, some who participated in the forced resignation may begin to feel guilty over the way it took place. Guilt festers until it shows up in other improper conduct in the church.
- Once a forced termination occurs, it becomes easier to do it again.
- Churches become marked as “tough” churches, and prospective ministers might shy away from considering service.
- Unresolved issues remain and power struggles are not dealt with. These issues show up later in other discussions and decisions.
- Supporters of the pastor and those seeking dismissal become pitted against one another, setting the church on a course of failure. Even if the whole church was in agreement, there are issues of grief, guilt, and anger to deal with. (1)
The Center for Lifelong Learning offers the Healthy Transitions Retreat for Ministers and Spouses for clergy who have experienced a forced termination. The cost is $100 per individual and $150 per couple. This experience offers a relaxed atmosphere and confidential setting for healing and encouragement to ministers and their families who have experienced termination, or for those in conflicts possibly leading to termination. Through the competent leadership of the retreat team, the journey toward wholeness and health may be pursued through counsel, helpful information, experiential sharing, and rest, which speak to the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of the participants.
(1) David A. Myers, “Forced Terminations Affect Churches Too!” The Servant 7 (January 2006).