Observed Common elements of hard pastor-church separations
“Hard” or “conflicted” partings of ways between pastors and congregations have been statistically steeply on the rise. The number of Church Order Article 17 separations are one strong indicator of this trend. In the years between 2000 and 2009 here were 135 of them on the record. The decade before that registered about 40, and before that only 23 and the first decade where there is a significant number, 1970-79, there were 12. Between 2010 and December 2014 there were another 75, making it likely we will reach 150 in the current decade between 2010 and 2019. There are various reasons for this, some are covered in this article and comments on the CRC Network.
As a Specialized Transitional Minister (STM) I am often part of what you could think of as a cleanup and restoration crew. We often come in after there has been a “fire” of some sort. It is not all we do, we could be the equivalent of coaches, but we more often arrive on the scene when there is a pile of ashes after a “firing.” We do what we can to help with fire damage repair and restoration. I am playing with the word “fire” deliberately, not to call each situation the firing of a pastor, but because that analogy helps me think about solutions.
Decades ago, when house fires were on the increase, someone had the idea of creating a detector that looked for key indicators of fire being present, in order to raise an alarm when there was danger. I wonder if we can devise something similar for churches. So the question that’s smouldering (Yes that was on purpose) in the back of my mind is: Are there measurable pre-indicators of a potential “fire” in a congregation?
- What does the congregational equivalent of smoke look like?
- What is the congregational equivalent of increasing ‘heat’? and,
- What is the congregational equivalent of oxygen depletion or carbon monoxide buildup?
As I start this page, I’m going to begin with three arbitrary assignments to these detection categories. The intention is to think these through and see if they hold up or need to be adjusted. Eventually, I want to figure out if there are ways of sensing or measuring these three before a full fire breaks out. So here are my three definitions:
- “Smoke” is most seen in negative attitudes, in dissatisfied dispositions, in darkened facial expressions, it is sniffed in negative talk, and that talk is most acridly about their church and pastor.
- “Heat” is high anxiety, seen in reactionary responses, in escalating, inflammatory speech
- “Oxygen depletion” is spiritual starvation because toxic thoughts are displacing maturity and contaminating healthy breathing.
These are my starting equivalents, my hypothesis, if you will.
This page you are on, the way it looks now, will become a base page for my thoughts about this big and broad and complex subject. I will be adding links and maybe revising the page itself over time.
Sifting through the Ashes for the back-story
To start off thinking about this, it seems that writing about what us fire follow-up folks have found in the ashes will be beneficial. Sure, we are not trained causal investigators but we see, smell and hear things and can draw conclusions based on them. I will speak for myself, but if my fellow STM’s give me other feedback I can incorporate that into what I have.
Here is a list of what I have frequently found to be in the ashes. This list is gleaned not only from my STM work and personal experience but from extensive conversations about this with others. In fact those who know me know that it is hard to meet up with me and NOT talk about this subject in some way. Each bullet point is a link to a page that explains it more:
- – Expectations cross-wired: There are stories that indicate unstated expectations were unmet (hidden agenda)
- – Friction between combustibles: Not having the ability to have healthy, open conversation when expectations and actions don’t match up
- – Missed signals: poor social signal reading skills in pastors
- – hiring instead of calling
- – chaplains preferred over prophets
- – democracy and politics
- – derailing emotional dynamics are ignored
- – Passing on the ticking bomb or lit firecracker: Passing on of a ‘problem Pastor’ or problem congregation
- – tie-downs (spouse career, kids schooling, house purchase, fear of risking a new setting, etc)
- – blameshifting and scapegoating
- – power possession: not letting go of it and letting next gen learn to lead.