Every year thousands of clergy are moved, removed, or otherwise asked to retire from the pulpit. Aside from big splashy issues like running off with the choir director, making off with the money, or not showing up for worship, there are a few key reasons clergy are kicked out. According to denominational resources, these reasons are surprisingly consistent across Protestant denominations—from United Methodist to Southern Baptist.
You might think that rapidly growing acceptance of gay marriage coupled with denominational tensions about the rights and roles of GLBT people would make doctrinal differences a primary reason clergy are shown the door. But it’s not.
Nor is it outspokenness on other hot topics such as racism, excessive police violence, poverty, immigration, or climate change.
So why do clergy get kicked out? For the surprising results, and what they might mean for you, read on.
Southern Baptists, who have been tracking this for over 15 years, show that 4 of the 5 top reasons clergy are let go is related to the leadership style of the pastor. Too strong a style is cited twice as often as too weak a style. But one thing that is consistent no matter the style is poor people skills.
An inability to get along with others is not limited to Southern Baptist pastors. In a broader study, Christianity Today has found that personality conflicts account for one third of all clergy dismissals.
On the flip side, a recent study conducted by United Methodist Bishop Grant Hagiya explores the top qualities that highly effective clergy share. The number one quality they exhibit is high Emotional Intelligence. EI is the ability to accurately know and manage oneself in a variety of social settings, as well as how to work well with others.
Similarly, another denominational study on clergy effectiveness indicates that strong people skills is central to the work of clergy, whether rallying people to enact a vision or helping them do good in their communities.
If everything comes with a fight, or resistance, this may mean that you and others have a hard time establishing a mutually agreeable framework for making decisions. Or that you disagree on the fundamental vision that underlies your ministry. Even worse, it may indicate there is no vision at all except to survive.
If excessive conflict is the symptom, immerse yourself in prayer. One of my favorite prayers is what I call the prayer of alignment: “God please prepare my heart and mind for them, and their hearts and minds for me.” This is a good starting point for seeking a new alignment whether the issue is timelines for decision-making or the need for a growth-oriented unifying vision.
Too Little Conflict
While too much conflict is a warning sign, so is too little conflict. On the one hand it may mean your style is authoritarian and you do not encourage any debate or disagreement. On the other hand, it may mean your style is so laid back that no new ideas or ministries are being proposed. Neither is helpful.
Develop your internal capacity for healthy debate, and begin to encourage the give and take of ideas. Ask for input from your allies and enemies. Pray for the courage of Christ to share your vision of how the Kingdom of God is at hand in your setting.
In some churches, people skills are overly prized. These clergy pay so much attention to maintaining harmonious relationships that results suffer. Very little tangible work actually gets done. No new ministries, no new outreach, no new worship experiences. Perhaps committees do not meet and paperwork is left undone.
Re-read the Gospel according to Mark. Notice how much Jesus actually did in a few short chapters. Much as he loved people, he didn’t stay put and just cater to one population. He was on the move; he got stuff done. He preached, prayed, taught, healed. If tasks take a back seat to people, check to see if your church suffers from either people pleasing or analysis paralysis. Pray the Spirit emboldens your spirit and quickens your pace. Increasing the sense of urgency is key to accomplishing results that truly serves people without being a people pleaser.
Still need more insight? If you are having trouble with people skills, check out the Platinum Rule for Thriving Congregations. You’ll increase your ability to bring out the best in the people who frustrate you the most. At the same time, you’ll learn how to grow in self-awareness and self-management encourage others to do the same.