I am sitting in a seminar for pastors who are considering interim pastoral ministry. Most of us are seasoned veterans, yet it was humbling to hear a few of them share the pain of what they have endured because they were forced to leave their churches.
I am well aware that many pastors have caused pain to the churches they have served because of immorality, financial indiscretions, and other disqualifying sins. However, there are a lot of pastors (like my friends in this seminar) who have been forced out of their churches because they had incurred the wrath of a few powerful board members or influential people in the congregation. These are guys who are in their 50’s who who have lots of experience but do not have many senior pastor opportunities open to them anymore, so they are considering interim pastoral ministry (at which, I am sure, they will excel as wounded healers).
In our seminar we learned that 33% of U.S. churches have had a pastor leave due to a forced exit; 62% of ousted pastors were serving a church that had forced one or more pastors to leave in the past; 10% of churches have forced three or more pastors to leave. What is truly amazing is that the driving cause behind a pastor’s forced exit most often comes from just 3-4% of the congregation, which in the majority of U.S. churches (with congregations of little more than 100) translates to three or four people.
I have been blessed with three churches over my forty years of ministry who have sincerely loved me and my family, but I am learning that this is not every pastor’s experience. The stunning facts are that 80% of pastors say that church ministry has negatively affected their family, 70% of pastors say that they do not have a close friend, 60% admit to being in some sort of crisis, 57% say they would leave the vocational ministry if they could find something else, and 50% are struggling in their relationship with God. There is something desperately wrong when statistics reveal that 400-500 pastors leave the ministry each week and that only one out of ten who begin actually finish their calling in the pastorate.
I realize that as an interim, I will be called to some toxic churches and will hear lots of stories and complaints about the pastor that just left, perhaps under painful circumstances. I will need to help a church grieve and rebuild, but my heart will always go out to the wounded shepherd whose pulpit and office I will fill for a time.
Who will pastor the pastor? Me…that is what I want to do. I also see the need of enabling churches to create a gospel-centered culture of love and candor that will not allow for the “functional anonymity of the pulpit” (Paul Tripp), but will draw the pastor into the very system of care that he is providing for others.
If you know any pastors beaten up by the ministry or if you are one, here are some resources that may be of help:
http://www.pastorsintransition.net (Pastors in Transition provides comprehensive help to hurting pastors and their families who are transitioning out of a vocational ministry position, voluntarily or involuntarily).
http://www.pinmin.org (Pinnacle Ministries is both a pastoral care and church health ministry. They have a retreat site north of Milwaukee called Shalom House for pastors and their wives to go for rest, relaxation, and restoration, http://www.the shalom house.org).
http://www.interimpastors.com (Interim Pastor Ministries for those experienced pastors looking for an intentional interim position and for churches who have had a pastor depart and need help in transition and preparing a new pastor to come).