Whether you have been blindsided by a leadership decision or experienced a slow “death spiral” in a ministry role, the spiritual and emotional toll of a forced exit is great. Trauma is not too drastic of a word to use to describe what ministers and their families encounter when they are fired, forced to resign or find themselves at the mercy of a leadership coup.
By definition, trauma is a deeply distressing experience or event that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. It is often accompanied by a constant reliving of the event, anger, anxiety, loss of self-esteem and fatigue. These are the very symptoms we observe when we sit down to talk with those who have been exited.
- Trust is deeply wounded – “Why would people do this?” “Where was God?”
- Doubt colors the sense of calling, giftedness and worth. Pastors begin to see themselves as "damaged goods."
- Anger and fear begin to dominate relationships; and show up in unexpected ways.
And the ministers spouse and children? Many consider walking back through the doors of a church unthinkable.
In many ways, a forced exit from a ministry role may not seem much different from any other job loss. But the differences are real and can be dramatic. There is a deep spiritual and emotional connection that exists between ministers and their calling. There is also a deep connection that can, and should, grow between ministers and the fellowship of people they serve. This is, perhaps, one of the most significant differences. When a minister is forced out of their role it goes beyond merely losing a job. The typical support relationships that would help someone through any job transition are suddenly and traumatically ended for ministers and their families. Where can ministry leaders go and who can they talk with to process the loss and grief when an exit occurs?
It is vital that we acknowledge the reality of spiritual and emotional trauma in cases of forced ministry exit. Otherwise, we can be tempted to minimize or even deny the long-term effects this kind of experience creates. In the introduction to her book Moving On - Surviving the Grief of Forced Termination, Deanna Harrison recounts her own experience with this kind of trauma.
"For reasons beyond our comprehension, our 30+ years of pastoral ministry came to an abrupt halt. I was still married to the same godly man of integrity but he was no longer a pastor. I was no longer a pastor’s wife. Within days of learning anything was wrong, it was all over. We had been terminated. Our lives shattered as we plunged into a grief so deep I wondered if we would survive."
For the ministry family, a particularly traumatic exit can create an emotional and spiritual "toxicity" that is carried into the next role if left unattended. Churches begin to see themselves as "employers,” making arm’s length business decisions without understanding how such exits not only change the life of a ministry family, but also the very fabric of the church culture. Every time a minister or ministry leader leaves or is let go, there is a measure of grief and loss for all involved. Forced exits come packed with a level of trauma that can feel like a tsunami.
Studies have shown that most ministers who experience a forced exit take a minimum of 18 months to return to an active role - and 40% never return. In every case, the first step in healing hearts wounded by an exit is accepting the reality of the spiritual and emotional trauma. The next step is to connect with those who have the tools and processes to help ministry families navigate through the dark waters after an exit. These people and ministries exist, and are equipped to offer hope when all seems lost.
If you, or someone you know, is in the midst of a season of grief following a forced termination, it is important to take these two steps as soon as possible. The trauma is real. But so is Hope. You can begin by contacting us at email@example.com.
Roy A. Yanke- Executive Director, PIR Ministries
God’s servants need hope! Roy’s personal experience has shaped him in unique ways to come alongside the many ministers and their families who are “exited,” have fallen or are just plain burned out in ministry. He pastored for 17 years in an evangelical denomination. As a result of a major “crash and burn”, Roy experienced both the discipline and the grace of God through years of slow but steady growth, restoration and renewed hope. Prior to joining PIR Ministries in 2012, Roy spent 16 years in industry, focusing on management and quality systems.
Roy served as a Regional Director for PIR Ministries from 2012 to 2016; and was appointed the Executive Director of PIR Ministries in 2016.
Roy and his wife, Deb, have been married for 42 years. Roy is an ordained ruling elder and regular teacher at Grace Chapel EPC in Michigan. He is a graduate of William Tyndale College.