By Charles H. Chandler
Gerald L. Zelizer, writing in the February 21 issue of USA TODAY, suggests that church leaders should skillfully exclude from leadership roles that laity whom author G. Lloyd Rediger calls “clergy killers.” Though he acknowledges that their complaints should be heard, they should not be allowed to bully the silent majority of parishioners. Zelizer, rabbi of Neve Shalom, a conservative congregation serving the Metuchen-Edison, NJ area, is a member of the board of contributors for USA TODAY.
Zelizer reports that the Barna Research Group, which does marketing studies of American culture and the Christian faith, has found that during the past twenty years the tenure of the average minister has declined from seven to five years. Barna warns that this trend may be shortchanging both pastors and the congregations they serve by prematurely forcing them out of their position. Barna’s research was conducted between July 2000 and June 2001 and was based upon a survey of 1,865 senior pastors of Protestant churches nationwide.
Though I have not been able to document it, I keep hearing “1,600 forced terminations per month among protestant ministers.” That’s a lot of uprooting and it causes the congregation to miss the most productive period of a pastor’s tenure, which Barns says is from ten to fourteen years.
Churches are deeply wounded when they push God’s servant out. Some congregational members drop out of the church. Newer Christians are disillusioned. Children are scarred. Excitement about the good news of the Gospel is dampened. Congregations are polarized. The system becomes sick.
Those most deeply hurt and scarred are the ministers and their families. Not only does the minister lose his/her job, they also lose their support group. The minister’s family typically does not have a pastor and church to under-gird them in prayer and to walk with them through the storm and pain of forced termination. The roots of pastor-parishioner relationships are planted one at a time and grow deeper with shared time and experience. Forced termination seems to dictate that these relationship roots are “yanked up” all at once. Zelizer also reports some of Alan Klaas’ findings resulting from Growth Ministries, placed most of the blame on congregations. Some of his findings include:
- In 67% of the cases, the congregation had been in conflict with the previous pastor.
- In 45% of the cases, a minority faction was successful in manipulating a supportive majority to push the pastor out.
- Only 7% of the time was the cause the personal conduct of the minister.
- In 62% of the cases, regional officials of the various denominations who could have helped mediate will kept away until it was too late to solve the dispute.
Zelizer interviewed me while writing the article and quoted me in the first paragraph, as well as highlighting MTM. Within a couple of days following the article’s publication, I had received over sixty emails in addition to an abundance of phone calls even though the article did not list the MTM number or email address. The contacts suggest that the epidemic of church conflict and forced terminations continue.
Zelizer’s article was very revealing. It is sad when you consider the average minister never reaches the most productive years in the pastorate – years 10-14. Zelizer states, “Resolving clergy harms religion.” Both minister and church are shortchanged.
Another observation Zelizer made was equally revealing and disturbing. He stated that unless the cycle is broken, “the most compliment clergy will free the calling, mediocrity will fill the void, church members will erode, and America’s faith will diminish.”
Our goal at MTM is to help ministers and churches have a better and healthier relationship. We want to be contributors to the positive forces that will enable ministers and churches to grown together rather than divorce. The message of Christ is too important to allow conflict and termination of ministers to thwart its impact.
Charles H. Chandler founded Ministering to Ministers Foundation in 1994 after experiencing a forced termination. He spent the next 23 years caring for ministers in all faith groups who also experienced conflict and/or forced termination. We owe a debt a gratitude for Charles’ devotion to ministers and their spouses.