CAUSES OF PASTORS LEAVING MINISTRY -So what causes a pastor to leave the vocation, which was entered a few years earlier with enthusiasm in response to the call of God? The most significant reason is conflict. This conflict may be with ·local lay leaders and other pastors and difficult relationships with denominational leaders

Churches are merging with other churches in the same denomination to survive. Is this the future of the main line traditional church in America? The main line church reflect what is going on in the greater society, with the browning of America comes conflict over territory and ideologies. This is a report on how one church faced the challenges of transitional leadership. America is facing similar problems in the 21st century as we enter into the presidential election. There is the cry of the angry white man, now finding himself on the back burner and fighting to regain or hold on to his place of entitlement. There is transition taking place in America and in the world. The 400 year rein of Europe is coming to an end, and many people who enjoyed the position of majority, are now finding themselves in the unwated position of being a minority, and it is happening in our churches.

This is a case study of a Transitional Church.

Bergenfield is a small community in Bergen County As of the census of 2000; there are 26,247 people, 8,981 households, and 6,753 families residing in the borough. The racial make up of the borough was 16,509 whites, 1,811 African Americans, 63 Native Americans, 5, 357 Asians and 1,696 others. The median income for a family is $71,187. The number of violent crimes reported by the FBI in 2003 was 26. The number of homicides was 0. The schools receive a high rating, with 98% of the students graduating and going on to college. It is listed as one of the best towns in America in which to live.

 

There are many churches in Bergenfield. Each of the major denomination has at least one church in the community. There is one United Methodist Church in the community. Good Shepherd United Methodist Church is located on NewBridge Road in Bergenfield. I joined the Good Shepherd Church in 1980, when I moved to Bergenfield. I noticed, that I was the only person of color in a congregation that was predominately German. People tried to be nice, and I became a youth leader and a Sunday School Teacher. I became familiar with the community and the church. I understood its conservative background. I was the token person of color on the block, and in the church.

The church had a Nursery School, which was very popular with the community. My grandchildren attended the nursery school over the years. The Nursery School was very popular in the community. The Nursery school represented the population in the community, more than the church did. The grandchildren of the former members, who still lived in the community, attended the school.

One of the problems, which I was later to learn, was that the church wanted to have more control over the school. Some members of the church wanted to make the school a religious school, and change its curriculum. The school was very successful, and contributed significantly to the budget of the church. The school tended to focus on the early childhood development of the child and the educational, social and cognitive skills. During the period of time that I was on the church records as a member, the church changed pastors about every two to three years. This covered a period of about twenty-five years. The church had one female pastor, and one Indian pastor.

Eight years ago, a young minister from the Caribbean was assigned to the church. He was very soft spoken, and low keyed. He had no programs, and no ideas for change. His services were, not particularly interesting, but there no visible church objections. The white congregation was contented to follow his leadership, as long as he did not upset the status quo. The leadership style of the pastor was “go along to get along.” The pastor understood that the church was not a “program church,” and as such he did not make any changes. He was also very young. This was his second assignment in the New Jersey conference, and he was selected for this appointment because, as he said, “they thought I would fit in.” A Black American would not have been selected, but this pastor was from the Caribbean, therefore, he did not present any social threat to the established order. The church could seat about three hundred. There were about seventy-five to hundred members in regular attendance. The church had a full choir, composed of members who, although they liked to sing, had little or no musical talents. There were frequent changes in the choir directors. The choir director matched the musical skills of the choir members. I remember some years ago hearing the pastor say that the church was full of “John Birch”[1] members. He apologized to me at one time, because he said he knew that the sermons and the music did not have any feeling. I was not concerned about it. I was aware of the community, in which I lived. I attended the church for two reasons, first, it was the only Methodist church in the community, and second, it was located one block from where I lived. I could walk to church. My regular church attendance was in New York City, at the Riverside Interdenominational Church. I was able to satisfy my spiritual needs through my attendance at that church.

About three years ago, some changes began to take place in the community and the church. Bergenfield, has a large and growing Filipino population. The population was large enough to elect one of its groups as mayor of the small town. This political move attracted more members of the group to the town. Bergenfield has the largest Filipino population in Bergen County. The Filipino population has a large Methodist population in their home country. They were naturally attracted to the Good Shepherd Church. This was the beginning of change and conflict .The members of the Good Shepherd Church were aging, as is the community. Many of the younger families have moved further north and purchased larger homes. They left their parents and grandparents in the church. As a senior citizen population, they were not interested in programs or social actions. Their mission activities included supporting some far away mission in countries they would never see, and they knew no member of the country would come over here into their community. These Missions were usually located in some Third World country. There were the Methodist Women, who met once a month in one of the members home. They were not active, and it was run like a social club. The Methodist Women’s group did not accept any new members, and since they controlled all activities of the women and programs in the church, there were no programs .The new families started to come to the church. The families were young, and they had school age children. The children attended the local schools, and were doing well in the community. They were excited about attending the new church. They were interested and needed youth programs and activities. The church was lucky that one of the individuals, who had been a Methodist minister in the their country. He brought over his congregation, and they became involved in the spiritual community of the church. At the same time this was happening, there was also an increase in the Caribbean population. A few Africans recently arrived from the continent of Africa, also came to the church. The minister, who had up until this time been low keyed, began to become excited about the possibility of having a program type ministry. There were children, there were young families, and there were immigrants who needed services. These were exciting times for this young minister. The old conservative members of the church began to become uneasy. They found it difficult to accept the new spirituality of the younger members. The new members requested a “Praise and Worship,” section to be included in the church service. They wanted their children to be able to play their musical instruments during the service. Some of the children had learned a very spiritual dance, which could be performed during the regular service. The Methodist church had approved all of the forms of worship, which the new members were interested in including. The Methodist church also provided additional books containing the praise and worship songs to be included in the service. This would suggests, that what the new members were requesting would not have been a problem in the Methodist denomination. What appeared to be of concern to the old members was the fact that there was a cultural difference, and these were different Methodist.

The church had long given up serving meals after church, but the new members enjoyed bring food to share after service. It was a warm and friendly atmosphere. The new members brought their families with them into church, and the entire family stayed during the entire service. There were strollers and toddlers all over the church, there was the sense that the presence of God was in the church, and could be witnessed by the excitement of little children coming to Christ. Outside on the grass, before church, children could be seen playing, dressed in their Sunday best, and waiting for service to start. The energy was everywhere, and the spirit was high. I started to look forwards to coming to church each Sunday, this was, for the first time in my twenty-five years in the community, a house of God. The church was slowly coming alive, and changing.

The church was growing. It was however, not the kind of growth that the old European members wanted. A very interesting set of events began to happen. The older members began to leave the church, and began to hold meetings outside of the church. As the older members began to leave the church, they also left the positions, which they held in the church. The new members were appointed and elected to fill the vacancies. There was one position, which was not vacated. This was the powerful position of Lay Leader.

The lay leader, operated on the directives of the European members who were now meeting in homes. He would block any programs suggested by the pastor and new members of the church. In the Methodist Church, it is necessary for the pastor to have the support and cooperation of the lay leader. The Lay Leader in this church, did not like the pastor, and they were always at odds. The other position, which was vacant, was the chairmanship of the Parish, Pastor, Relations Committee. This committee had the responsibility of overseeing the needs of the pastor and his family. Housing, salary, and the selection of the staff in the nursery school came under the responsibility of this committee. The committee had approved a reduction in the pastor’s salary, and no one had paid attention to the Parish housing. Someone had decided to punish the pastor. About this time, I became involved in problems, which I later learned, were over my head. I was a Divinity Student, who needed a place to do an internship. The church was one block away, and my name was already on the rolls as a member. When I approached, the pastor, it was as an old friend. I want him to supervise me in my internship. I was planning to register for 9 credits, so this would mean that I would be immersed into the church and its activities. This became the greatest

understatement of my year in the internship position. I would be sent to leadership

training workshops. I would attend meetings in the evening and early morning

before 5:am. I would help officiate at Sunday morning service, and attend Bible

study sessions. I would develop programs, which the ministered required.

I planned a Retreat for the church, a time for the members to plan for the focus and directions of the church. I developed a summer program, and a Family Ministry.

I could see that there were problems in the church; I was not able to identify the

source of the problem. I knew that the white population did not like the brown

population, but that this was not new. As long as the white population remained in

the majority, the problem was in the talking stage. What was happening was that

there was a shift in the power base. As the white population began to decline in

numbers, the Asian population came in with large numbers, and many spiritual gifts. There was a transitional shift-taking place, and this was difficult for the white members to accept.

The church found itself in a state of confusion. The Methodist Women did not want to let the new church- women join their organization. The new women, Filipino, decided to form their own women’s church organization. I was asked to be a member. There were problems because they did not know what to call themselves. The women had many gifts, which they were interested in sharing with the church. It appeared as if they were becoming very frustrated. The women decided to work with the youth of the church. A very exciting youth ministry developed. One of the women, an artist and a writer, developed children’s sermons through creative puppetry. It was called the Puppet Ministry. The children would learn about the scripture through presentations in the church twice a month during the regular Sunday service. The youth ministry also had programs to raise money for the church. There was Saturday morning dinners, and Friday socials. The young families were making a significant contribution to the church. With the increase of the new young families, the financial contributions to the church increased. The new members brought an excitement, fire and energy to the church. The decision was made to start an evening service on Sundays. The pastor gave permission for the service, and invited the Filipino minister to take charge of the

service. The Sunday evening service had more spiritual energy than the morning

service. The Praise and Worship part of the service was participated in by all of the members. More families came to the church, and more young people gave their life to Christ. The Word was being talked and lived out through these new families.

 

The new members understood that they were welcomed into the church by the pastor and his family. They were also aware that there were conflicts in the church, and to some degree, they felt that they were in some way, indirectly, involved in the conflicts. The pastor was interested in starting a program, which would address the concerns of new immigrants coming to this country. I was also interested in this program, and he asked me to see what I could do to develop such a program. I worked well with the new members, and I consented to include this project in my long list of other programs, which I was developing for the church.

The pastor asked me to plan a retreat for the church, and it was decided, by the

pastor, that the retreat would be an excellent time to discuss the implementations of the several programs he had requested. The pastor also asked me if I would consent to serve as the Chairman of the Parish, Pastor Relationship Committee. I told him that I would not like the position. I declined several times. He came to my house and said that he needed me on the committee. I reluctantly accepted to hold the position as acting chairman for a short period of time until the next election. I did discuss the situation with my professor, Dr. David; he also suggested that it would not be a good idea to take the position. Three more visits from the pastor, resulted in my decision to help him. I was not in the position to understand everything, which was about to happen. I later learned that the pastor had placed me in a position, which he believed would help him in a battle, which was coming up. As acting chairman of the committee, I saw documents that suggested that I was in a situation way over my head. I was not prepared for the level of conflict that occurred in the church. I am thankful for my courses with Dr. David, this kept me spiritually grounded, and I tried to focus on the theological reasons for my involvement. I kept hearing Dr. David saying “a church is a hospital for sinners.” I repeated this saying several times to the pastor. I also asked the pastor, “How do you handle all of these sick people?” I remember attending a meeting where the level of hostility was very high. I even heard language, which should have been used in the street, used in the church. I had attended a conflict training workshop, and the presenter suggested that I take a candle into the meeting and light it, and say, as long as the Spirit of God is in this

meeting, the candle will stay light. If the level of conflict were too much, we would blow out the candle, and meet another time. There was so much conflict in one of the meetings that I did not have a chance to even take the candle out of my bag. I was beginning to feel that I did not like this “church stuff.”

The European members of the church were still in charge, and they were not going to let any programs or activities, or discussions take place until the issues, which they were concerned with were resolved. It was apparent that they did not like the pastor, and they did not like the direction in which the church was going. I completed my divinity internship, and I was very happy to return to my Church in New York City. I returned to the Riverside Church, and sat back and quietly

enjoyed the service. Every time someone would approach me with the suggestion of working on some project, or joining some committee, I would prayerfully declined. I did not want church work to cause me to lose my religion. I must admit, my experience at the Good Shepherd Church has caused me to rethink the idea of becoming the pastor of a church. I will continue to work on the university level, and prepare to become of professor of religious studies. I remember sharing my experience with one of the senior pastors at the seminary. He suggested that I advise the pastor to concentrate on his visitation, rather than have all of these meetings with these conflict committees. I suggested that there were many members in nursing homes that were former members, and they would appreciate a visit. The conflict in the church continued to increase due to the fact that the individual, who proved to be emotionally disturbed, had written several letters to the presiding Bishop. The Bishop did not provide the support the pastor needed, and in an effort to calm down the almost violent and threatening environment in the church, the pastor made the decision to take a leave of absence from the church on advice of the Bishop. An interim pastor was sent to the church to help calm down intense feelings. Most of the Asian members left. The District sent on an interim minister to try to pull the church together. I am not quite sure what happened, but it was very traumatic for me. This was my introduction into what were some of the problems of church leadership. I became aware that the pastor was using my position in the community to help him through these difficult times. I was interested in completing my divinity

requirements. I understood that it would be necessary to work intimately with a Church and its pastor in order to learn the day-to-day operations of the church.

I would have loved to have gone along with the pastor on visitations to nursing

homes and hospitals. I would have loved to see how he handled relational problems in the church. I would have benefited from some of his grief ministry. I found myself in a position of confident and support service. I think the church experienced problems because it had too much time on its hands, and as Dr. David suggested in his ecumenical class, a church, which does not have a moral mission strong enough to move people beyond themselves, cannot consider itself effective. If the church had focused itself and it’s energies on helping others, or working for children, then it would not have time for conflicts.

John Mark Ministries. Articles may be reproduced in any medium, without applying for permission (provided they are unedited, and retain the original author/copyright information

 

[1] John Birch was an ultra conservative Right Wing organization, known for its racist stands and Religious Right conservatism. They decided what would and would not go on in the church.

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