Her husband oversaw the work of Baptist churches in our county, and their son was a church staff member in another state. She said to me one day, "When our son told us his intention to enter Christian ministry when he was in high school, we were thrilled! But today, if we had a child who told us this, we'd be concerned."
I'd met her son and I knew a bit about his story. After serving in a church for a time, he was fired and floundered for several months before finding refuge in another church in another denomination. His parents were broken-hearted as he struggled.
Unfortunately, this young man’s experience isn’t unique. Dr. Charles Chandler, founder of The Ministering to Ministers Foundation in Richmond, Va., wrote about the epidemic of terminations in American churches. He cited a Texas Tech and Virginia Tech Universities study that found, surprisingly, more than one in four ministers have been pushed out of their positions at least once. Among the terminated, about half reenter full-time ministry, while the others go into so-called "secular" vocation, perhaps doing bi-vocational ministry.
The two major reasons given for terminations are church leadership conflicts and declining memberships. In many cases, the minister is like the coach with a losing season who has lost support.
Someone noted churches may experience three phases of decline with their ministers:
- "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
- "By what authority are you doing these things?"
- "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
Terminated ministers may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other health problems. Additionally, since unemployment funds normally aren’t available for Christian ministry, ministers face severe financial stress. Some studies indicate it takes up to six months to find gainful employment.
Church members must carefully consider the covenant they've made with the pastor and other staff ministers and go the second mile to ensure it be a harmonious relationship.
Dr. Henlee Barnett shared this tongue-in-cheek list with us in seminary many years ago, but I still find it helpful. It's entitled, "How to get rid of your preacher."
1. Look the pastor straight in the eye while he’s preaching and say “Amen” once in a while. He’ll preach himself to death.
2. Pat him on the back and brag on is good points. He’ll probably work himself to death.
3. Pay him a living wage and he'll eat himself to death.
4. Rededicate your life to Christ and ask the preacher for some job to do. He’ll die of heart failure.
5. Get the church to unite in prayer for the preacher. He’ll soon become so effective that some larger church will take him off your hands.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.