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Posts Tagged ‘how forced termination affects a pastor’s family’

One of the best-kept secrets in the Christian world involves the forced termination of pastors and staff members.  There are few books published on this topic (Why I Stayed by Gayle Haggard being an exception) because they don’t tend to sell and because the issue deals with the dark side of the church – not exactly great marketing material for the Christian faith.  Occasionally a story is published in a journal for pastors, but that’s about it.

Most pastors prefer to keep quiet about what happened to them because there is a stigma attached to pastors who are forced out of their positions, whether the pastor was guilty of sin or innocent of wrongdoing.  In addition, those who have experienced this particular malady find that few people really want to hear their story, which involves a lot of angst and anger.  Pastors need to tell their stories to heal, but often can’t afford to pay a counselor and usually have no idea where they can turn for assistance.  The truth is that almost nobody knows how much a forced-out pastor has to suffer except their spouses, ultra-loyal friends and family members, and a handful of counselors.  But since our best statistics indicate that at least 1,300 pastors are forced to leave their pastorates every month in this country, thousands of qualified and gifted pastors are suffering quietly but intensely all around us.

When I tried to do my own study on this issue many years ago, I was castigated by several denominational officials who believed I was trying to cause trouble.  But I just wanted to know if the denomination tracked the victims of forced termination (they didn’t) and if they had any ministry to help those who went through this awful experience (they don’t).  It always seemed ironic to me that while denominational leaders encourage pastors to take risks so their churches will grow numerically, if those risks don’t work out, and the pastor is forced to leave, those same denominational leaders end up distancing themselves from that pastor.

More than a year ago, I was given a choice at the church I had served as senior pastor for nine years.  I was told by key leaders that 95% of the church was behind my ministry and that only a small group stood against me but that it would take five years of fighting to deal with the determined opposition (which was assisted and validated by a party outside the church).  A pastoral colleague with a strong personality urged me to stay and fight, but the conflict had already taken its toll on my family, so I elected to walk away and keep the church as unified as possible.

When that happened, I didn’t know – and few Christians do – what such an experience does to a pastor.  Here’s a partial list:

*You feel like a pariah, not only in the body of Christ, but in the culture at large.

*You try visiting churches but find you can’t sing the praise songs because you wonder how good God really is.

*You realize that many of the people you once counted as friends in your former church have turned their backs on you.

*You discover that some of your best friends don’t want to be around you because they’re weary of hearing about the pain you’re experiencing.

*You find yourself becoming increasingly isolated from others because you don’t know where you fit anymore.

*You have no idea how to answer the question, “So what do you do for a living?”

*You find that you cannot function without anti-depressants.

*You no longer know who to trust among family, friends, and ministry colleagues because too many people have already flipped on you.

*You hear wild rumors about why you really resigned even though they’re patently untrue.

*You wish you could truly reconcile with those who hurt you but realize you will probably never see them again, so …

*You do your best to forgive them, but there are times when you can’t seem to let things go.

*You are forced to leave your community because you don’t want to run into those who have conspired to destroy your life and ministry.

*You cannot find another church ministry – even when you’re healed – because most search teams won’t consider a pastor who was forced to leave a church, regardless of the reasons.

*You cannot bear to attend Christmas Eve or Easter services at another church because those were your favorite services at which to preach – and you wonder if you’ll ever have that opportunity again.

*Your spiritual gifts are sitting on the shelf, atrophying day by day.

*You regretfully un-friend anyone from Facebook who is married to – or friends with – one of your antagonists.

*Your marriage becomes either stronger or strained, depending upon the care you gave it before termination.

*You feel like God is through with you … but you still have to earn a living.

*You discover that you are vastly unqualified for most secular jobs due to your pastoral training and experience.

*You find that you can’t share your faith because you aren’t very excited about it anymore.

*You praise God for anyone who sends you an email or a card because it means you haven’t been totally abandoned.

*You honestly wonder if God still loves you.

*You learn that those who conspired to push you out of the church are proud of what they did.

*You discover a vast underground network of other pastors who have been through the same experience – and that the template used to force them out is the same one used to force you out.

*You become aware that the people who tried to destroy you aren’t your real enemies but that they were simply instruments of the enemy of your soul.

*You aren’t suicidal, but like Elijah under the juniper tree, you wish God would just take you home.

*You left your community with your house underwater financially, and because you were forced to sell at a loss, your credit has been decimated.

*You find that if you’re going to survive financially, you have to start all over in a different profession – and that starting over is more difficult than you ever imagined.

There’s more I could list – a lot more – but you get the picture.

When the average person loses a job, they still retain their friends, their church home, their career, their house, and their reputation – at least initially.  But when you’re forced to leave a church as a pastor, you may very well lose everything I just mentioned overnight – and the accumulation of all those losses is absolutely overwhelming.

That’s why my wife and I are launching a new ministry called Restoring Kingdom Builders.  Even though I’ve researched this area of conflict for years – and did my doctoral work on it – I had to actually experience the pain firsthand to truly be qualified to help others.  Rather than becoming bitter about what happened to us, we hope to take what we’ve learned and use our experiences to prevent these situations from happening to others.

Now that you know a little more about the repercussions of forced termination on pastors, what can you do to help restore them and their families to ministry?  Let me know what you think.  Thanks!

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