Mike Miller's heart message to churches springs from what he feels is a "dirty little secret" shared by many congregations today: a lack of harmony between the pastor and the church, ranging in intensity from nagging frustration to outright hostility.
Miller, director of the church leadership group at LifeWay Christian Resources, writes in a LifeWay Press volume, Honoring the Ministry, of the biblical principles of honor in an effort to encourage appropriate honor for all the ministers and leaders God has given churches.
To avoid the awkwardness a minister may naturally feel in discussing the topic in his church, Miller has addressed his message to deacons, whom he believes to be the most influential lay leaders in churches.
As a minister, Miller said he has become increasingly alarmed about the relationships among pastors, church staff, lay leaders, and church members.
Today, he said twenty-three ministers and their families are affected by forced terminations each week within the Southern Baptist Convention.
"It isn't right," Miller lamented. "How do we get to this problem? When the leadership and the church are not together, everything goes into the ditch."
Miller said he went to the Bible for answers and concluded, "What must be restored in every church are the principles of biblical honor – honoring God, one another, and the focal point of double-honor to the minister."
The two-year study, he said, "had a personal, spiritual affect on my life. The urgency came back to me about the issue of forced terminations."
While the most recent figures from LifeWay's LeaderCare ministry indicated instances of forced termination have declined, Miller declared, "We have a commitment at LifeWay to see forced terminations reduced to zero."
Miller believes deacons can do more to impact the stability of a church than any other group. One area in which he wants to see deacons assume leadership is that of annual service anniversary recognition.
LifeWay research indicates that among 1,400 ministers, fewer than 20 percent receive any kind of annual recognition.
"This can't be right," Miller said. "How can God honor a church if it doesn't have a proper relationship with the pastor?"
Miller wants deacons and other lay leaders to take a look at the relational love and respect in the church.
"We don't say 'thank you' to people. We don't recognize people," he said. "If church people don't honor one another and their ministers, they are not honoring God.
"Most churches have more policies for weddings, flowers, and custodial needs than they do for dealing with conflict between the minister and the church," he continued. "Failure to talk about this issue has made it worse."
"Pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated group in America," says Southern California psychologist Richard Blackmon, quoted in a Los Angeles Times story on the demands upon today's spiritual leaders.
Roughly 30 to 40 percent of religious leaders eventually drop out of the ministry, according to Blackmon. About 75 percent go through a period of stress so great that they consider quitting. The incidents of mental breakdown are so high that insurance companies charge about 4 percent extra to cover church staff members when compared to employees in other businesses.
Pastor John Huffman of Ventura Calif., said he could empathize with Ron Dybvig, a 55-year-old pastor who ran away from his congregation and spent three nights wandering the snow-covered mountains in San Diego County. When found, Dybvig told authorities he was overwhelmed by life and just needed to get away.
The demand to be on-call for a congregation twenty-four hours a day – as personal confidant, marriage counselor, crisis interventionist – puts church leaders in a constant whirlwind of stressful events, says the article. And when the phone rings, a pastor is expected to answer the call no matter how tired or strained he may feel.
The profession is often characterized as more stress-ridden than a doctor dealing with a terminal illness, since the doctor can walk away from the situation when he leaves the room. The pastor, however, unlike other professionals, normally has emotional links and personal ties to those being helped and suffers with them.
The Pastor's Weekly Briefing, February 12, 1999