On two consecutive days this week I learned of the termination of church staff members. These were in unrelated situations having in common only that a church staff member went to church on Sunday and Monday with a job and left without one. The firings were unexpected, sudden, and final. Such things always trouble me and since I knew both individuals, I was saddened by the situations.
Most of us can be forgiven if we entered the Christian ministry with a view of the road ahead that was excessively idealistic and that lacked a sufficient measure of sober realism. Serving Southern Baptist churches is a hard road where there will likely be lower pay, higher expectations, and less security than may other occupations and employers.
LifeWay has done a good bit of research on the subject and there is an abundance of material available the most salient of which is a 2014 series on how to avoid the top five reasons for pastoral terminations. You can start at the first one and follow links to the other four. The articles are based on a 2006 survey and the five reasons are:
- The church was already in conflict.
- The pastor’s leadership style was too strong.
- The pastor has poor people skills.
- The church is resistant to change.
- Control issues: who runs the church?
While I wouldn’t argue against these, LifeWay has data while I have anecdotes, it looks to me like these are framed so as to be in the pastor’s favor, ‘Yeah, I got fired but it was mostly the church’s fault.’ The reasons may be less profound. The poor work habits, the lack of ministerial proficiencies, and the low level of social skills of some ministers astonishes me.
The old list of pastor pitfalls, I’ve heard it preached and spoken since my own ordination decades ago, includes just three areas from which failure comes: women, money, and laziness. If the pastor wants to insulate himself against failure then he should avoid any problems with women, should not steal or be less than completely circumspect in regard to his own and the church’s finances, and he should plan to work hard and fulfill his responsibilities.
I admit to a change in my view of forced terminations over these years. Early on, I’d view churches as being too hard on pastors. I would hear DOMs speak of a termination as the pastor’s fault and such would make me angry. Now, regrettably, I view many pastors as not doing the things necessary to fufill their job tasks. No need to spiritualize it farther than that in most cases.
The two cases mentioned above, apparently, show the two sides. In one case the pastor was incapable or unwilling to do what was expected of him. In the other, the pastor did a creditable job, was diligent about the work, had adequate skills, but the church wasn’t satisfied.
It’s a tough road for SBC clergy who plan to serve churches. Some days, it makes me long for the hierarchical Methodist system.
Regardless, being terminated is a traumatic event. My prayers for the both of them.