The Number 1 Cause of Clergy-Congregation Conflict May Not be What You Think

The Number 1 Cause of Clergy-Congregation Conflict May Not be What You Think

When asked what the number one issue is that causes clergy-congregation conflict (often leading to a forced termination) one can guess several: money, theology, or leadership style for example. Those are good guesses, but they may not be the most common.


Despite rhetoric and confessed beliefs about Gospel mission and mandate, it remains true that congregations are a type of religious community. As such, they operate more like family or tribe despite also being a body organized around a mission. Simply put, congregations, as communities have a tendency to be bounded, focused inward, generative, and focused on self-preservation. None of those are “bad” in and of themselves, but their reality can hint at why it is so difficult for clergy to move a congregation toward an outward-looking, missional ministry orientation.


Former pastor Time Sledge wrote:

“Noting that Southern Baptist congregations were believed to have a forced termination rate three times higher than other denominations, the Houston Chronicle article indicated that “conflicting visions for the church” was the number one cause for forced terminations. Outreach versus taking care of the people already there, that is a very major conflict of vision for the church. A new pastor says here is a five-year vision plan for outreach, and people in the church say “vision-shmision, I don’t even feel my needs are being taken care of now.” [Tim Sledge, Goodbye Jesus: An Evangelical Preacher’s Journey Beyond Faith, p. 56.]


In my experience that is not a phenomenon unique to Southern Baptists. There is perhaps no bigger frustration, and heartache, I see among clergy than how difficult they find it to lead their congregations to be a realized Church as per God’s intent.


The Center for Lifelong Learning will offer its next Healthy Transition Wellness Retreat for clergy and spouses who have experienced forced termination in the fall. Click on the link for more information.

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 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).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.