Ministers from several states convened at Samford University in Birmingham on July 10–14 for the eighth consecutive Ministering to Ministers (MTM) wellness retreat sponsored by the Center for Congregational Resources (CCR). Each minister there had a crisis story to share.
Joe has served as music minister in a Southern Baptist church for 13 years. His church is facing financial challenges so church leaders have suggested he should relinquish his full-time job and serve the church part-time with no benefits. He has two teenagers at home.
Betty is an associate pastor in a Lutheran church. Her church has faced declining membership and resources. The pastor, who has been her mentor and encourager, summoned her to his office recently and suggested she should find another position.
Sally ministered alongside her husband in a church where she had the responsibility of supervising staff. The church board asked her to terminate an employee but refused to support her when an influential member blamed her alone for the decision. Sally decided to retire from ministry rather than face continued turmoil.
What happens to ministers when they leave their churches? Studies show it often takes six months or more to find a new ministry position, and ministers may be without income while conducting their job searches. Often terminated ministers are not at their best and don’t interview well. They are despondent, having lost their jobs plus their circles of Christian friends in their churches.
The MTM Foundation was founded by Alabama-native Charles Chandler in 1994 and has sponsored 134 wellness retreats throughout the nation to help ministers in crisis. Participants representing 40 denominations have come from 37 states, Canada and the Bahamas.
MTM also has developed a “friends for the journey” network of retreat alumni who offer to contact and encourage inquirers. Betty, who lives in the Northeast, contacted MTM for help in June. The organization asked a former retreat participant in Alabama to call, share his story and encourage her to attend the Samford retreat.
Chandler said ministers in crisis sometimes are victimized by forces outside their control but at other times ministers make bad choices leading to hurtful results. He frequently tells retreat participants, “Don’t waste your pain. Grow from it. Wounded ministers can have a new dimension of ministry since we can grow strong at the broken places.”
Licensed professional counselor Cynthia Barnes, of Richmond, Virginia, served as clinician at the recent Samford retreat. She is an Episcopalian who serves her denomination as a clergy coach and as a consultant in transition and crisis. She was assisted by Michael K. Wilson, CCR program director and a member of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church.
Barnes said she had several goals in mind for participants.
“I want(ed) participants to leave with a renewed sense of hope,” she said. “I want(ed) them to have new ideas in their bag of skills as well as clarity about what the next right thing may be.”
Barnes said involuntary terminations need not be the end of ministers’ careers.
“Ministers have transferrable skills they can use in other vocations,” she said. “But others go back into ministry with greater wisdom and abilities.”
Chandler retired from MTM in 2016 and passed the executive director reins to James B. Johnson II, of Richmond. Barnes has been working with Johnson to retool the varied activities in the retreats.
“We’re putting new emphasis on family systems and genograms,” Barnes said. “What we find is, if we understand our family backgrounds better, we understand ourselves better. And sometimes we find the same kinds of family systems in the churches.”
Barnes said the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality inventory will continue to be a tool she uses.
“We also have a new session on dealing with grief,” she said. “Grief affects so much of our lives and ministers under stress grieve when they lose friends or positions.”
Ministers are not alone in their grief, Barnes said.
“Spouses and children get caught in the crossfire,” she said. “They’re part of the church and they can lose the support of a congregation if their parent faces involuntary termination.”
One participant said his 19-year-old daughter was deeply hurt when he was fired.
“Dad, you’ve always told me this is the Body of Christ but I don’t see that anymore,” she said.
Barnes said another goal for the week is for participants to learn to forgive themselves and others.
“Out of our humanness, we hurt one another,” Barnes said. “Sometimes it’s well-intentioned but hurtful nonetheless.
We must learn to forgive and love one another as we serve Christ and His church.”
For more information about MTM, visit mtmfoundation.org or call 804-594-2556.
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