I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest – I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” Psalm 55:7,8
Last week I wrote about the sad phenomenon of angry pastors leaving their churches abruptly in, “Our Pastor Just Went Away Mad.”
The post wasn’t about normal pastoral resignations, in which a pastor is convinced that it is time for him to move on and leaves with four weeks or more notice given to the congregation.
Even in situations which involve a frustrated or disappointed pastor moving on, when proper notice is given and the pastor’s complaints are kept confidential, these situations can be handled reasonably well by the typical church board.
But last week’s post was about sudden, angry departures: no notice is given, no real discussion is held between the pastor and church board, and in many cases, the pastor expresses his anger via a resignation letter which is sent to the entire congregation.
I mentioned that I did this myself once and this is not something I’m proud of. Our wonderful God oh-so-graciously corrected me, grew me up and restored me to pastoral ministry.
I think it could be helpful for us to give some thought to why these sudden resignations happen. Some possibilities follow. (Note: Most sudden resignations probably involve some combination of these factors.)
(1) The pastor feels that he cannot work within the parameters he has been given and his frustration has increased to the boiling point.
It’s easy for most of us to see that pastors laboring under such conditions should be protesting, bargaining, teaching their people, or simply going away – but in a gracious manner.
What most lay persons don’t understand is that some pastors are “schooled” and trained in systems in which complaining and negotiating in a healthy, assertive (not aggressive) way, are not options. In such tribes, frustration increases until the beleaguered parson heads for the exit.
(2) There is failure or sin in the pastor’s life which he does not want to deal with. Some departures involve a pastor quite literally running away from or with a secret. Fortunately, these situations are rare. Please don’t ever assume this is the case.
(3) The pastor is running away from conflict. This is what led to my sudden departure from a church at age thirty-three. To say that I was raised to avoid conflict would be an understatement. I was petrified by anger; including my own.
I wish that I could say that there are very few pastors who are as poor at handling conflicts as I was, but I’m afraid that’s not the case.
Every pastor needs a seminary course in conflict management and another one in emotional maturity because conflict is part and parcel of the job.
(4) A profound sense of rejection by the church.
I’m going to struggle with trying to explain this. Most people have no idea how hard pastors and their spouses work at loving and caring for their people. They give and serve, give and serve, give and serve, year in and year out. They serve like mothers and fathers, as the Apostle Paul described in I Thessalonians chapter two.
Some of the people whom they pour themselves into find fault with their ministries and walk away, including: people they’ve visited in hospitals; people they’ve gone on vacation with; people they’ve helped through their family crises; people they’ve served with in leadership roles.
In most cases church members changing churches don’t intend to hurt their pastors with their decisions. In many situations believers have no idea how personally their pastors are taking their departures. What seems like a change of “venue” for the church member feels like complete and total rejection to the pastor, especially if he is young and/or insecure.
In other cases, church members who are not changing churches reject their pastor’s leadership dramatically and publicly, as the young warrior David experienced when his formerly loyal followers started talking about stoning him to death (I Samuel 30).
These things are exceedingly painful. Returning to Paul’s illustration of pastoring as parenting, I would liken the anguish experienced by some pastors to the spiteful, hateful rejection of loving parents by their children. I’m not saying that it is that bad; I’m saying that it feels that bad.
(5) He does not feel that there is anyone to help with his overwhelming problems.
Some pastors are blessed with collegial leadership teams, coaches, mentors, friends or denominational leaders who can be counted on to help in times of trouble.
But others feel that they have no one at all to turn to. The only thing they can think of to do is to run away and find a better flock of sheep to shepherd.
(6) The pastor is physically or mentally ill. Pastors suffer many losses. Besides the losses that all of us face as human beings, pastors have the “church losses” described above, plus, the death of their dreams (not always, but sometimes), and the losses of their beloved church members, experienced vicariously by way of godly empathy.
The fact that they are pastors doesn’t shield them from the grief which is invariably associated with loss.
I’m no psychologist or psychiatrist but I’m pretty sure that there’s a fine line between grief and depression. Multiplied losses can, quite literally, make them sick. When pastors become significantly (clinically) depressed, their moods and ministries suffer greatly. As they are public people, their depression is as public as their joy.
Untreated pastoral depression is commonplace in occurrence and devastating in its consequences.
(7) One more thought: Some pastors are “comprehensively exhausted.” They are in need of serious sabbatical time, but for one reason or another are not getting it. They should tackle this situation assertively, but many do not. At some point, their weariness and sleeplessness affects their judgment.
Here’s the good news: Even when pastors make the mistake of leaving their positions suddenly and angrily, this doesn’t have to be the last word. God – in a multitude of brilliant, creative ways – restores His servants to vibrant lives and effective ministries.
Think of John Mark, who dropped out quickly and suddenly as a first century missionary (Acts 13:13; Acts 15:36-40) but was restored to a place of helpfulness to the Apostle Paul (II Timothy 4:11).
Pastor: Could you use some help in dealing with your own frustrations?
Church leader: Is your church in danger of experiencing a sudden pastoral resignation?