From The Servant, Volume 4, Issue 4, October 1999
MTM’s Assistance Prevents Pastor’s Forced Termination
Prevention is a word heard more and more in MTM circles these days. Retired pastor, James Wood, visited the September Trustee meeting and gave a first hand account of his experience while walking through a forced retirement effort with MTM’s help.
Pastor Wood and his wife, Ann, had been at Red Lane Baptist Church for about 10 years. According to all the “measurements” that churches use for indicators, the church was moving along at an acceptable level. He was dumbfounded when some of his deacons asked for a meeting with him and insisted upon his requesting an early retirement. “It was a done deal — all I’d have to do is read my letter of resignation and they would take care of everything so that I’d not be embarrassed in any way,” he said.
After that nightmare of a meeting, he was devastated and didn’t know what to do. He decided to call Dr. Charles Chandler, the MTM Executive Director. He was immediately invited to attend the next Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreat scheduled to begin in a few days.
James and Ann attended the retreat. During that experience, they gained new insights and a rekindled determination not to take the easy way out. Feeling that his opposition was a very small but vocal minority, they decided to deal with it head on rather than sneak away.
Back home, Pastor Wood told the deacon group that had approached him, “No” to the resignation proposal. The deacons were insistent on bringing the issue before the church so the meeting date was set. In the meantime, the secret of the “real” reason for the meeting got out. The church’s women’s network responded by getting word out to everyone in the membership. When the motion was brought to a vote at the meeting, it lost by a strong majority.
After the first vote, one of the ladies made a motion, “that the subject of tenure for the pastor could never be considered by this church again as long as James Wood served as the pastor.” That vote carried by an even larger majority.
James and Ann Wood have given a new meaning to the word, “Prevention.” Thinking of what might have happened to a pastor concluding his ministry on a sour note is frightening. So is the thought of a church being left without pastoral leadership at a critical point of its life with the disruption and splintering which would more than likely have occurred.
But — HERE’S WHAT DID HAPPEN!!
By affirming the pastor’s leadership role, the church began to move together rather than focusing its energy inward. It lost a few members but during the last three years, it has had more than 100 additions with more than half being by baptism. Many young families are visiting. Church worship attendance has doubled.
James Wood retired as pastor of the Red Lane Baptist Church on June 30, 1999. He served for 13 1/2 years and the church is very healthy after a history of 153 years. The congregation expressed its love to James and Ann through a celebration reception and showered them with gifts, including a love offering.
James expressed his appreciation to the MTM Trustees for the Wellness Retreat, the legal advice offered by MTM board member and attorney Arch Wallace and the encouragement received from the retreat participants and leaders. MTM receives many reports from those who thought they were doing the right thing by walking away from a confrontation, only to discover that doing so was disastrous for them and for the church.
MTM’s board member and Kentucky attorney Norvie Lay adds one final dimension of prevention that MTM highly recommends. He explains that much of the heartache experienced by ministers and congregations can be avoided by taking action at the front end of a relationship. “We don’t view ministry as a business, and, therefore, the idea of a written contract is often foreign to ministers. Churches still fall under the mandates of federal labor laws and a well written contract that outlines expectations as well as the procedures to be followed if the relationship needs to be terminated should be standard practice.” MTM does have a sample document for use in the front-end discussions (see http://mtmfoundation.wpengine.com/prevention/).