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Terminations of pastors, staff leveling off, survey results show

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Forced terminations among Southern Baptist pastors and other full-time church staff appear to have leveled off, annual surveys of state Baptist conventions indicate.

The survey, coordinated by the LeaderCare ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, shows the total number of forced terminations reported by 22 state convention church-minister relations directors dipped to 987 in 2000. The 1999 total, which also reported on full-time pastors, bivocational pastors and full-time staff, was 1,077 in 26 state conventions.

In 2000, the number of pastors forcibly terminated was 750, with 482 of those fully funded pastors and 268 bivocational pastors. The total of other fully funded staff terminated was 237.

“About five years ago we saw a very significant decrease in the number of forced terminations in our convention,” said Neil Knierim, manager of LifeWay’s LeaderCare section. “We have been able to maintain this significant reduction, and while we have not seen a significant decrease in the last couple of years, we have not experienced a return to the higher numbers of the past.”

A 1984 study on forced terminations in the SBC indicated 1,056 pastors were terminated annually. Among causes cited in that study were lack of unity and the presence of factions in the church, conflict over leadership styles, relational incompetence and tenure. Terminations of other church staff persons were not counted in the early surveys.

Four years later, the survey was repeated, and forced termination totals had increased to 1,392 pastors annually. Primary reasons included lack of communication, problems related to immorality and unethical conduct, performance dissatisfaction, authoritarian leadership style, power struggles and personality conflicts.

While the numbers of pastors terminated have declined since the 1984 survey, the causes have remained essentially unchanged. The 1999 survey found once again the most common causes for firings cited by directors of missions in reports to state convention church-minister relations directors were:

— control issues regarding who will run the church.

— poor people skills of the pastor.

— pastoral leadership style perceived as too strong.

— the church’s resistance to change.

— the church was already conflicted when the pastor arrived.

For the 2000 survey, rather than devote resources to affirming the same causes for termination reported in previous years, different data was gathered related to fully funded pastors. The average severance compensation was 2.55 months, while the average period of time the pastor was without employment was 2.92 months. On average, terminated pastors were allowed eight weeks to stay in a church-owned home after being forced from their positions.

While 35.2 percent of pastors forced to leave their pulpits received financial assistance and 41 percent received professional counseling, approximately 55 percent of those who were terminated returned to church-related vocations during the reporting period, Jan.1, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2000.

“There are several interesting implications in this report,” Knierim observed. “The average length of time without a pastorate for these men who were terminated was surprisingly brief at approximately three months. Our assumption would have been that the time between pastorates would be longer.

“However, the most shocking statistic from this study is that only 55 percent of pastors who experienced forced termination returned to church-related vocations while 45 percent did not. We would like to know why so many did not return to ministry and what percentage of those who received professional counseling did return.”

LeaderCare, begun in 1996 as a ministry to ministers, minister’s wives and their families, provides personal development resources as well as crisis prevention, intervention and restoration resources.

The toll-free help line (1-888-789-1911), a 24-hour-a-day service for ministers and their families, receives approximately 2,000 calls annually. LeaderCare also includes Wounded Ministers, a ministry to depressed and hurting ministers; career assessments, provided in individual and group sessions; personal and professional growth seminars; minister/spouse marriage enrichment events; Strength Under Stress seminars for ministers who need encouragement and support; and church conflict mediation events.

A quarterly magazine, The Minister’s Family, is published to encourage, inspire, inform and enrich the lives of ministers and their families.

Persons interested in resources for conflict resolution or forced termination may contact the church-minister relations director of their state Baptist convention, LeaderCare at LifeWay Christian Resources, 127 Ninth Ave., N., Nashville, TN 37234-0166 or by e-mail at [email protected].

    About the Author

  • Charles Willis