Does Ministry bring misery?






                        by Kenneth Bagnell


   Years ago, when I was barely in my teens, I told an elderly man related to me that I was thinking of becoming a minister. He smiled, shook his head and said “well at least it’s a soft job.” Many people think that way – after all a minister just reads a book or two, visits now and then, and speaks once on Sunday.  Confucius saw that when he said, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I’m sorry but it’s not true, not at all. There’s now a lot of evidence that the ministry is a difficult vocation for one reason: you’re expected to please everyone— yes everyone.

       I’m drawn back to the memory of what the elderly man I mentioned said: that the ministry was, in part, a sinecure. What raised the issue recently is an American book called Pastor Abusers, published not long ago. It’s all about the huge number of ministers who quit and never return, simply because they can’t fulfill the vision of an elderly retired politician, who when asked the formula for success said: “I don’t know the formula for success, but I know the formula for failure, try to please everybody.” In fact, the book, Pastor Abusers, has a great many accompanying books on the subject. A quick review reveals the following, an almost endless trail of books by minsters who were, as the summary reports, bruised or broken on the clergy anvil: “Congregations in Conflict;” “Evangelical vs Liberal;” “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times”; “Redeeming Church Conflicts”; “Peace Making Pastor; A Guide to Resolving Conflict.” “Antagonists in the Church. “Why Pastors Quit.” It goes on, much in wounded resentment, but most, I infer, in sad admittance as to why the author left the ministry and, in almost all instances, permanently. The book I now have before me, “Pastoral Abusers; When sheep attack their shepherd,” by Kent Crockett — a former minister — is not exactly bitter but chilly and helpful by being constructive for discouraged clergy. Yes, I did speak to a few Canadian ministers and descendants wondering if all this is probably only an American issue. Their opinions were understanding but moderate, maybe muted.

   As for the book Pastor Abusers, it has virtually countless references to such instances, one going back three centuries, to early America’s historic preacher, Jonathan Edwards, the man who came to be considered as the country’s leading preacher and theological scholar. “Unbelievably,” writes Kent Crockett, “someone in his congregation spearheaded the termination of a man of God, reviving an entire nation.” Crockett claims shocking current numbers: “Over 19,000 pastors get out of the ministry every year….” This seemed, at first, to be gross excess but through this book, Crockett seems calm and credible.

    Almost every possible reason is, at least by Crockett, drawn upon for endless compliant and contrivance to rid the place of the minister. Space allows but two or three instances. (A) “In his book Musical Pulpits, Rodney Crowell, surveyed 386 Protestant pastors who have been forced out of their churches. Typically the ministers were male, and held a Master’s degree…. (B)  “In so many cases, it’s not the pastors with the dictatorial spirit but the pastor abusers, they are obsessed with being recognized and their entire self-esteem is derived from their status in the church.” (C) One man, a United Methodist pastor, wrote a full page of his abuse, from which here is a brief paragraph: “Our staff Parish Relations Chair accused me of stealing a church credit card and running up a $10,000 debt on it This was an outrageous lie because the church didn’t even have a credit card. Over the two years as pastor I found my confidence and ministry turned upside down by a handful of hateful individuals that had no desire for real church to happen…” (All these men and thousands of others leave the ministry according to the author.)

      Author Crockett, who records the ugly customs with an even hand, also asks how the “pastor abusers” get elevated to positions of such influence? He deals with this at moderate pace toward the final pages. Among his convictions: “An elder or anyone in church leadership is to be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable and hospitable. He/she should be chosen on how well the merits of the family are…. the pastor should be the head elder, a first among equals, working in conjunction with the other leaders. If any leaders gets out of line, the brethren will hold that one person accountable. In this way, the leaders are monitored by trusted mature believers, and not by manipulative rebellious people following their own agenda.  This seals off the loophole that pastor abusers use to attack the shepherd…”

          All this is not to say that the ministers who go through this painful experience, have no other person to turn to. Near the conclusion of the book, the author, a minister who felt forced out, was told this by his wife: “I can’t take any more of this. We can find another church to attend, but please don’t even consider being a pastor.” As for himself he says this:” I had been a man of integrity, worked hard to fulfill my responsibilities, and the church was growing. However, the small group of mean-spirited controllers made it impossible for me to keep ministering in that church. After I resigned, the abusers hired another pastor, and it wasn’t long before they started unleashing hatred on him as well, trying to force him out…..”

    I’m as sorry as you are that this situation exists in the United States. To their benefit and credit, ministers who leave in deep discouragement have a constructive organization to help them. It’s called American churches appear to have an excess of unengaged ministers who now must look for support, often in unemployment. I’m told yet another book deals with that. It’s called Why Pastors Quit. I’ve read enough of such discouragement but I’m at least able to say there’s an organization to which they can turn: I hope no one needs it, but it’s there and ready to help.




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1 Comment

  1. Rev. Dr. Eric Bacon
    May 19, 2017

    Hello Ken: Thanks for adding me to your Blog distribution. I appreciate your take on Clergy abuse. My only disagreement being that I believe such abuse is alive and well in Canada. You may recall that a few years ago there was a move on the part of some UCC clergy to form a union. As one member of clergy who has had this experience I attended a get- together of other UCC clergy who had had similar histories. Some of the stories were horrendous and in some cases there was little or no support from the higher courts of the church. I can assure you that the move towards unionization had little to do with terms of employment and benefits but rather the prevalence of the abuse against the clergy. The operative question for a church board or indeed an abusive member of a congregation is “Would you in your own employment relationship accept this kind of treatment?”

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