It’s amazing who you might know!
The idea of “six degrees of separation” – where everyone is approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world – has entered the mainstream of our culture. In the last 10 years, there have been studies conducted to try to validate the concept, with some generally positive conclusions. Certainly, the internet and the rise of social media have narrowed any gap that might have existed.
In the case of exited or terminated pastors, the degrees of separation seem to be much less than six. Everyone knows one! Nearly every conversation I have had regarding my work with exited pastors eventually arrives at the place where someone will say to me, “My former pastor is one!” or “I know of a couple of people who used to be in the ministry,” or “My best friend is a former pastor!” Inevitably, there are even those who say, “I am one!”
Who are these exited pastors, the lost shepherds? They are all around us. They are the pastors and church leaders who:
- are exited because success benchmarks have not been met (“fire the coach” syndrome)
- are forced out due to conflict or unfulfilled expectations in role
- have left because their churches have diminished or dissolved
- are, quite simply, burned out
- are recovering from a personal moral or ethical failure
- have left due to other issues – health, family needs, etc.
- are returning from service in other cultures, or with military or para-church ministries, and find it hard to re-engage
- are associate or assistant pastors who have been asked to resign, either because of a change in senior leadership, or because they have come in conflict with the senior pastor or other staff
And the list goes on…
Chuck Wickman, founder of PIR Ministries, has rightly said, “A pastor is a terrible thing to waste!” And yet statistics show that 40% of those who are exited NEVER return to the ministry. Some believe that once you have been exited, you are damaged goods and therefore have lost the right to work in ministry. Does that make you sad?
Those who have been exited from ministry are all around us. Are they being left on their own to grieve? Where can they go if they want to deal with the hurt and shame, the anger, and the disappointment of being asked to leave a church? Who will help them figure out what went wrong? How can they safely reexamine their call and find a path to restoration?