With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Following are six readers’ comments.
- Separation does result in experiencing the stages of grief. … [and] after 1.5 years of fairly smooth interim ministry, the congregation has moved forward in a peaceful and great transition. I announced my retirement publicly one year beforehand (and privately to congregational leaders two years beforehand).
- When I [was] ready to retire from the ministry, I informed the church council about a year ahead of time. We discussed the whole matter with the board of elders at successive meetings. … We reviewed the major areas of the public ministry regarding worship, education, evangelism, fellowship and service over the past five years, as to what seemed to work well and what didn’t.
Every communication concerning this topic in which pastors shared their experiences echoed common themes: planning needs to be mutual and coordinated and it needs to involve an open exchange of views throughout the process between the pastor, often the pastor’s spouse, and the congregational leadership.
Everyone also mentioned that there was a specific group in the congregation that was given the responsibility for planning. This mutual and intentional process seemed to be key. And this process was begun early, rather than later. On the other hand (from a layperson first and then from a pastor who followed a man who “destroyed” a church):
- Congregational leaders called our current pastor even before [the former pastor] began his retirement. Now [years] later, our congregation is in significant turmoil. It is due, in my opinion, to the fact that the congregation did not have nor take time to resolve some of the issues mentioned in your column. We are, in fact, suffering from unresolved grief.
- The congregation is still reeling with anger. … It is my opinion that each calling church needs to go through a “self evaluation” (as is the custom) to determine the best God-pleasing way to proceed. I believe, unfortunately, that in many cases the members are so far into the emotional forest that they cannot see the obvious trees that need to be addressed. … The self-evaluation … must include all aspects of the spiritual, practical and emotional realities of each unique church.
A generally accepted principle both of walking through transitions and dealing with conflict and its aftereffects is to give the process time. Rushing through often accomplishes very little, and sometimes brings the opposite of its intended effect.
But here is a different perspective on forced transitions that another reader offered:
- I just wonder why we never deal with the issue of the pastor who is driven from his parish. The congregations almost always move smoothly on to the next pastor, who may or may not be the next victim. But what of the pastor who frequently finds himself CRM until the Synod disposes of him from the roster? Is it not time to address that issue … and stop pretending that somehow things just work out or that it is always the pastor who is at fault?
Let’s begin to deal with it now. As Lloyd Rediger points out in his two books, Clergy Killers and Toxic Congregations, there can be both clergy whose personality style is essentially autocratic and dismissive of building authentic mutual relationships, and congregations whose basic pattern is to be dissatisfied with and bring down its leadership. Clergy who are involved with toxic organizations do need help to heal after they leave them, and that healing needs to be deeply spiritual.
And indeed, it is our responsibility as members of the body of Christ to help attend to that healing. Those clergy whose style is divisive and “lording it over” also need spiritual healing, but of a very different kind.
- Why is it that our church body addresses congregational issues when pastors leave … and not for called … workers — teachers, directors of Christian education, etc.?
Good point. All the implications of the last three articles should be considered as relevant to issues concerning all of our workers.
The Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is the director of the M.Div. and Alternate Route programs leading to the ordained ministry at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Posted Aug. 29, 2011