Here's a summary of my thinking about pastors-in-transition, written mainly from an Australian (Victorian) perspective. It's too long and yet too brief, and off the top of my head. There are many other angles on all this.
# A Baptist ex-pastor in another state thought his credentials were current, and happened to come across a Baptist Union Yearbook - to discover his name was not there! No contact from anyone, no phone call, no pastoral care...
# An Australian Pentecostal pastor's ministry was terminated by a church meeting and a phone call on Sunday, and on Monday an elder called to his home to arrange for him to hand over the manse keys. No farewell, no thanks, no holiday pay, nothing.
# Reverend Joe served two rural churches, but both pastorates ended badly. He asked to be put on the Baptist Union's 'list' for another pastorate. The meetings of the Union's 'settlement committee' came and went and Joe's name would come up each time. But there wasn't a 'suitable' church. (One of the members of that committee said to me, 'We have to be efficient, because there's always a lot of business each month. But these names... they're people! This is their vocation, their job, we're talking about. We don't pray for them except generally when we 'bless the meeting' in a pious way, or even meet some of them. They're mostly just names. I feel very uneasy about the whole process.'). I'd met Joe when I preached at the Baptist church he attended. We made a time to talk - at the local McDonald's. He got there early and was waiting for me, with a cup of coffee. (I learned later he found a used styrofoam cup, and asked for a 'refill', as he couldn't admit to me that he was penniless). His wife was supporting them both with some 'agency nursing', but her health was not good, and she could only do about two shifts a week. After mortgage payments, and other bills, they had about $50 a week for food. He couldn't find a job - and his old trade wasn't a possibility any more. (More of this story - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2039.htm )
In some of our older church buildings there's an honour roll dedicated to the memory of those who've fallen in battle. But if you're wounded in the pastorate, you're often left to die, sometimes all alone. Occasionally not even your comrades-in-ministry will call you. (About half of all Baptist ex-pastors tell me they had no significant contact from their peers when they left pastoral ministry...). The majority of those who are no longer in parish/pastoral ministry, whether by choice, or because their ministry was prematurely terminated, walk a lonely road...
Pastoral ministry, commenced with high ideals and expectations, had become a source of stress, had caused a lowering of self-confidence, and a sense of powerlessness for over half of the 243 ex-parish pastors who responded to our John Mark Ministries questionnaire. And yet many would identify with the person who said, 'but my "sense of call" remained; [I] felt guilty that I could not fulfil my calling.'
About 20% of ex-pastors in parish settlements left to move into another career (either within their denomination, a para-church organisation or a secular position). One-quarter of these have done so without hurt, conflict, loss of health, or plain boredom, being their underlying motivation. The few can say, 'I had enjoyed a total of 15 years of parish ministry and I felt ready for a new challenge in ministry', or saw the move into another vocation as the natural next step because of the gifts and the expertise that they possessed. Many more would say something like, 'I was "burnt-out". God gave me a way out - I was tired of fighting unproductive battles...'
PASTORS AND CONFLICT
The most significant reason for leaving (for about half of the sample) is conflict. This conflict may be with local lay leaders, colleagues in the parish, members of the congregation, or denominational leaders. Conflict with local church leaders (lay and other pastors) is mentioned as one of the most significant factors in the actual decision to leave by one quarter of all respondents, and difficult relationships with denominational leaders by approx. 20%. When this is combined with the fact that half of the ex-pastors surveyed have felt a lack of support/encouragement in the pastorate, this raises serious questions about the quality of community in many of our churches. The ex-pastor is often left with intense feelings of failure, anger, a sense of betrayal (not only by others, but also by God), resentment, guilt and shame. These can take many years for the pastor, the pastor's spouse and teenage or adult children to work through to a point of healing - if it ever happens.
Spouse/family issues are often significant in the decision to leave the pastorate. Problems in the marriage relationship are mentioned specifically by 13.5% of respondents, 10% of spouses have had problems accepting the lifestyle, and 16% mention family problems. Factor analysis of the various factors operating when pastors leave parish ministry has shown a definite clustering around the questions relating to spouse, family, housing, finance and mobility. When these factors are considered together, the significance of the pastor's personal relationships would appear to be important for about a third of those who decide to leave the pastorate. A regular response in the questonnaires is the felt need 'to spend more time with my wife and family'. Adultery on the part of the pastor is the sole reason for leaving for some of our respondents. Sadly, this often occurs when the pastoral ministry has been progressing effectively. One perceptive ex-pastor for whom adultery and the subsequent break-down of his marriage had been the key issue said: 'The inability of the church to deal with my situation, the closing off from expression/acknowledgement of issues relating to sexuality and lack of opportunity for support/examination or reflection to help me was significant.'
'SELF' AND HEALTH
Only 4% of the respondents returned to the pastorate.
These two issues recur as very significant reasons in the decision to leave the parish. 'Self', including a loss of self-confidence, inability to continue to cope, and awareness of weaknesses, is the most often given reason for leaving. Health factors (often associated with stress/burnout) is the third reason given (after self and conflict with local church leaders). It would be very wrong to assume that the third of pastors who acknowledge self as a factor in their decision were unsuited to the pastoral ministry. (There are a few for whom this is so.) Many ex-pastors (about 40%) have good self-knowledge, and have learnt through their experience. One ex-pastor said: 'Some of my inter-personal skills needed attention', and many have sought counseling help to look at themselves.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
In an ideal world, the 'marriage' of church and pastor ought to be 'for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer'. But we do not live in an ideal world. Sometimes divorce is the only option when this important relationship breaks down. Today, it's both easier and harder to be a pastor - and indeed any sort of church leader. It is easier for pastors because there are so many resources available to help him/her do a professional job. (See for example, 'The Professional Pastor' in Paul Beasley-Murray's A Call to Excellence, Hodder & Stoughton, 1995). But it's harder for both pastors and church leaders primarily because churches are becoming more specific in their performance-expectations of their pastor, and more likely to initiate a termination if the pastor doesn't meet those expectations. In a world of 'performance standards' or even 'downsizing', executives these days are disposable.
No one wins when a church feels forced to terminate the services of a pastoral leader. In many (most?) instances, not all church members favor the action or the process and tempers flare and often times a church split results. If forced terminations become the "norm" for a church, there is negative witness in the community, and sometimes that church gets a 'name' for crucifying its pastors.
My counseling of 'pastors in transition' has led me to believe that a major component of their conflict has to do with unresolved childhood issues. Some bristle at this suggestion, but I can only report what I have learned from the stories of hundreds of these people. When the media asks 'Why are there so many ex-pastors?', I now respond: 'There are 41 discrete answers they give to the question "Why did you leave?" A list of those responses can be found at http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2001.htm . Second, the _occasion_ of leaving was often conflict of some kind - usually with powerful people in the local church. But I think we then have to ask: "What causes those conflicts?" And the broad answer to that question might suggest reasons associated with a mismatch of expectations and reality, but beneath all that is the inability to get along with others because of unfinished business in various people's lives - the pastors' and/or the leaders'...
A significant number of ex-pastors don't 'attend church' for short or long periods - or ever. And many who do attend as 'laypeople' do so for the sake of their children. And they generally can't express their hurt and anger: anger is a most misunderstood emotion, and poorly handled in the vast majority of Christian contexts... (more on that below).
Many cannot easily find another vocation: the one they left to enter pastoral ministry might not exist any more.
There are financial problems - particularly if they do not own their own home. The families suffer from geographical dislocation. The spouses and children often become angry with the church - and this causes issues of loss-of-faith for many.
So what can be done? First, let's note the biblical precedent of Barnabas relating to Saul of Tarsus and to John Mark - two 'outsiders' who had very different reactions to their life-situations. Can you hear good Christian folks saying to Barnabas: 'Saul? Don't touch him. He's trouble!' 'John Mark? He's a loser: the mission is more important than one individual...'
The Barnabas option is time-consuming, and emotionally demanding. So the church-as-institution often follows the easy road. When ex-pastors say to me 'The denominational leaders didn't help, I was viewed as a capital-p Problem', my response is sometimes: 'And didn't you have to deal with problem people in your pastorates, and what was your strategy with these?'. This situation is complicated by role-conflicts: the denominational leaders are by default both counsellors-of-pastors and gatekeepers to other possible appointments. So they wisely refer pastors-in-transition to outside counsellors. But then there's the inevitable response: 'They had no time for me; I was shoved off to someone else to get sorted out; and I've not heard from my denomination's leaders again.'
How are pastors-in-transition helped? Depends on their personality, pastoral experiences, unfinished family-of-origin business and a host of other variables.
In all cases there's a need for confidential, caring, listening by a trusted 'other'.
Here we have to note two pastoral dynamics (there are others):
1. Intimacy. Gordon Macdonald writes: 'A preponderant percentage of those of us drawn to pastoral leadership have a higher-than-normal urge to engage with other people. We love to get below the surface of people's exterior lives: to understand their dreams and their burdens, to urge them on to higher possibilities, to sympathize with their feelings and fears, to show them grace and mercy when they fail' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17246.htm ).
And so we might have a higher-than-average expectation others will do that for us if/when we fail.
2. Power. Most ex-pastors, if they're honest, say they miss preaching more than anything else. The pulpit is about the last place in our society where someone can speak to a crowd without being interrupted - or often even questioned, at least directly. We humans love our little occasions of power, and when deprived of them don't know sometimes how to handle the concomitant powerlessness.
Should some of them, in their pain, 'act out' their rage? In my view, and in a minority of cases, and in a safe and appropriate context, yes. There's the role-play model, where they 'let fly' at an imaginary person sitting in a chair. Occasionally I've taken people driving along a freeway at night to shout/scream/swear (the only context I know in the city/ suburbs where they can safely do that without someone calling the police!).
Some people have been taught that they shouldn't externalize their strong emotions. I'm wary of that advice, but, yes, I know that 'self-control' is a 'Fruit of the Spirit'! (I was talking to someone recently who said 'I'm from a Greek family. And we say what we think, and we're often "in your face" with each other. Then we get over it. But I'm married to an English spouse, who doesn't understand the Greek way of solving conflicts!')
I reckon also we have to be frank about the strengths and weaknesses of institutions. Walter Wink is helpful here. Where two or three join together to do something there's institutional power at work. When someone inhibits the process of 'getting the institutional thing done' they're usually ostracized. 'Good guys' conform to the institution's aims and norms of behavior. Troublemakers are 'bad guys' and are excluded from the institution's benefits. Some 'troublemakers' then rage at the institution, occasionally sabotaging any good/reform which might result, and suffer the consequences. (Today's news: Melbourne Storm fined $15,000 by the NRL for claiming they are victims of a conspiracy by the northern states to destabilise their club). Biting the hand that feeds you is not generally a constructive strategy!
Oh, that'll do... there's much much more, but some might like to respond to some of this... Like asking:
1. How do we as pastors encourage discipline and maturity in these matters while acknowledging genuine pain and rage in someone?
2. How can we exercise constructive loyalty to our group/denomination without suffering from 'institutional preciousness'?
3. How is someone (like most ex-pastors I talk to every week) encouraged to 'own their own stuff' while debriefing on conflictual situations?
4. Where does the (enlightened) notion of 'restorative justice' fit into all this?
5. How can 'outsiders' become 'insiders' without compromising their convictions or becoming less 'prophetic'?
6. An issue of the GRID leadership letter - 'Do Yourself a Favour: Encourage your Pastor' provoked a record 600 responses to World Vision (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2019.htm). Why?
7. We pastors are supposed to go after lost sheep, but are not good at helping 'lost shepherds'. True? Why?
'How many ex-pastors in Australia? Somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000' (More -http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/16971.htm )
'Moral failure: Let's require that every man and woman in Christian leadership belong to a peer-oriented group that creates covenants of behavior such as no casual dining with a member of the opposite sex, no travel of any kind with a colleagues of the opposite sex, no team relationships unless three or more people are involved' (More - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17246.htm )
'Churchie behaviour: to be accepted on a Sunday you have to behave a certain way. I am simply not that person that I am supposed to pretend I am whilst in church' (More -http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17126.htm )
Motivation? 'I used to pray for everyone individually, phone them up to ask how they were, show an interest in their kids and budgie and labrador... but what was my motive? To be nice and win 'em for my flock. Why don't I do that now that I'm not in a pastorate?' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/16899.htm )
'I found that I was sick of running a small business. More and more of my time seemed to involve administration. I have been involved in such diverse admin duties as: developing an environmental impact study for a new development, creating a registered training authority, running a community development and training programme, developing a men's refuge from the ground up. All quite worthwhile but miles from where I was trained and from my real interests and love. And the number of meetings really began to take their toll.' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/15764.htm )
'In 2002, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America found that its clergy were far more likely than non-clergy to suffer from clinical depression and financial difficulties. They also experienced higher levels of work-related stress and had an increased likelihood of substance abuse and obesity' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14446.htm )
'Despite what some people say, quitting is not just for losers. It can be the best thing you'll ever do.' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14291.htm )
'People love labels and pat explanations so they won't have to think too hard. But if you have just walked away from bible religion, you are rediscovering the joy of thinking freely.' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14236.htm )
'What are some of the core reasons a pastor doesn't get a call? (much of this material is taken form a previous Baptist Union of Victoria paper "When the call to leadership is not confirmed") 1. The pastor may not have the gifts appropriate to the needs of a given church. This is more so today than ever when there are so many different kinds of churches with different styles and approaches to ministry'. (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14003.htm )
'I think my greatest pain though was the fact that, when I shared the problem with my minister friends, they started keeping their distance. None of them had any sympathy. It's like they couldn't believe that such a bizarre thing could happen, so they just shake their heads and say, "Ummm..." ' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/12013.htm )
'In one recent year 72,000 pastors/clergy were fired across America. For reasons that were partially their fault, for reasons that were not their fault, some for reasons no one knows but God Himself. Nevertheless, they and their families were fired, force terminated, pushed out into the streets' (http://www.thecents.org/ )
And many more stories/ideas like these - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/catalog/section/xp1.htm
Footnote: This writer has experienced both highs and lows in pastoral ministry. For a story of my 'lowest low' see a recently-posted article on 'The Vancouver "Adventure"' on our website (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17347.htm )
Shalom! Rowland Croucher