Avoiding Forced Termination
 
In the past two years, 175 pastors and staff have been forced from their places of service in South Carolina Baptist Convention churches. Many more left under pressure or went unreported. The growing problem of mismanaged conflict in the church has become an epidemic. According to the 2007 Forced Termination Report of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, the top five reasons these ministers were forced to leave are: 1. Control issues-who is in charge; 2.The church’s resistance to change; 3. Poor people skills on the part of the pastor; 4. Pastor’s leadership style-too strong, and 5. (tie) Decline in attendance and sexual misconduct. There are several things to consider when such a parting of ways seems inevitable in the church.

First, there must be a realization on the part of the leadership of the church that a minister is sharing his life with the church. Though he must be regarded as an employee due to labor laws and IRS reporting, most ministers do not consider themselves as working for a church. They are called of God to do the work of ministry in and through a local church body. When a minister is forced to resign, he cannot collect unemployment, or any of the benefits that go along the normal course of secular termination. Second, if the church provides housing for the minister, he often must vacate the housing. On many occasions ministers have been cast out on the street and become homeless when this occurs. Third, while this is a devastating experience for the minister, it is even worse for his family. In many cases, spouses and children carry life-long emotional and spiritual scars as a result of going through a forced termination. The congregation he and his family have trusted and cared for have, in many cases, tossed them out. Sometimes this happens for very minor reasons.

When we work with churches who have decided that such a termination is the only course of action, we do our best to recommend that the church be as gracious as possible with their minister. We recommend that the church extend a severance package, (which should include full salary and benefits except substantiated business mileage), of at least 6 months. By the time a minister gets the proper counseling for himself and his family, begins to deal with the grief of the loss of his ministry, and starts the process of getting his resume in order, three months have quickly passed. The remaining three months are provided to help the minister gain a good footing so that he can find a place of service. These things take a lot of time. While the world turns at a break-neck pace, the church culture remains very slow in the decision making process. It takes most churches six months to get started in the process of selecting and calling a new minister.

Here are some suggestions to help avoid a forced termination:

1. Communicate with the pastor earlier in the dissatisfied situation. Write down and discuss the concerns, address a timeline when these might be resolved and who could help the pastor resolve the issues.

2. Consider your church Bylaws and Policies and Procedures with regard to church personnel that instruct a consistent process for handling church concerns and disputes. Use the documents to prescribe the best biblical values and integrity to come to a resolution.

3. Consider having a mediator (a neutral, outside resource) help the church representatives discuss the issues/concerns in an environment that allows proper time and energy to get to the root of the concerns.

4. Avoid any confrontations or over emotional discussions on the floor of a regular or special called church business conference. This is usually not the place nor is there the time allotted to fully satisfy personnel issues. Mediation can help avoid the emotions of such a business session.

5. Be aware of the church’s witness to the community over decisions to dismiss personnel. News travels fast. The church’s reputation is put on the line in the eyes of non-believers and prospects as well as members of other denominations. If there is a reoccurrence of dismissal, a church will often be identified as a “troubled” church.

6. Consider having a standing Personnel Committee. Avoid the trap of the Deacon Body serving as this committee. A Personnel Committee has an administrative assignment and should enlist persons with the Spiritual Gift of administration, and have a passion and expertise for church personnel issues. The Deacons’ role should be to bring any personnel concerns to the Personnel Committee who in turn should follow written procedures to resolve any concerns or activate a process of resolution or dismissal that is fair and applicable to the situation.

With a growing number of churches finding themselves in a poorly managed conflict situation, it would be to the advantage of church leaders to be aware of the growing need for constant prayer in this area. Pray that a spirit of cooperation and peace would invade your heart and the heart of the congregation.

Resources are available through your local association or by calling the South Carolina Baptist Convention at 800-723-7242.

Monty Hale, Director
Association and Pastoral Ministries Office

Robert Grant, Director
Church Administration Office

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