Posted on November 26th, 2012
Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd presents itself as a “how-to” book for clergy facing challenges from difficult members or factions within their congregations. Author Kent Crockett conducted extensive interviews with pastors and families who were mistreated—and often fired or driven to resign—by usually a small group of power-brokers in the congregation.
Pastor Abusers contains many heart-breaking accounts of lies, slander, manipulation, and controlling behavior that every pastor has faced, even if it hasn’t driven him to quit. Crockett cites quite a few statistics that relate to his topic, e.g., 1,600 pastors leave the ministry each month; 25% of current pastors have been fired before; 33% of churches fired their last pastor or forced him to resign; 80% of pastors say the ministry has had a negative impact on their children; etc.
On the high rate of attrition among clergy, Crockett has surveyed many recent publications; here is a passage from a Focus on the Family article entitled “Why Are So Many Pastors Leaving the Ministry?”
As I reflect on 35 years of ministry, I realize that many of my former colleagues are no longer pastors. Somewhere along the line, they left their “calling” and undertook a different path for their lives. Reflecting on my friends who used to be pastors, I realize that they are now a majority. Those, like me, who have stayed in ministry are actually the minority. The attrition rate has been high and the cost to souls is astronomical.
The majority of my acquaintances encountered such turmoil and situational conflict (from church members) that they felt they could not continue to pastor. Congregations overwhelmed my pastor friends with unrealistic expectations, negative criticism, and misplaced anger. Some congregations even assumed the perfect pastor was “out there,” so their fallible pastor was terminated.
Where there is a denominational support structure, the officials almost always side with the congregation against the pastor. One pastor confronted the denominational authority who had come to address the conflict:
“Just a week ago you told our church council that what they were doing to me was evil. Then tonight as that group got up and told lies about me, you never said a word. I had to defend myself alone. You never even tried to help me.”
His response was, “I have to rescue the church, not you.”
(In my own experience, I have heard quite a few similar second-hand accounts. My theory is that generally denominations side with congregations, not clergy, because the funds come from congregations. However, I should add that a then-district president, upon receiving correspondence concerning me filled with slander, responded with Scriptural admonition to follow the words of Jesus. I will always be grateful for that pastoral response.)
Crockett’s book is good for the naïve pastor or seminarian who mistakenly assumes all people in his congregation are of good will. He recounts episodes of assault on the pastor, physical intimidation, death threats, and anonymous correspondence. Frequently the ousted pastor’s enemies were those who had befriended him from the start. When they could not control him through flattery or financial influence, they sought to drive him out, and the pattern continued with the next pastor.
A former editor of Leadership Journal observed,
Churches simply don’t know how to love pastors. They really don’t trust them to make long-term decisions for the betterment of the church. They want leaders, but as soon as they get them, they have a compulsion to bring them down.
A growing church is ironically often the worst thing for a pastor. Long-time members fear losing control of “their” church and so halt the growth by unfriendly behavior to new or prospective members, or force the pastor out to “get their church back.”
Unfortunately, Crockett hasn’t really covered any new ground here. And some of his assessment of the problem is suspect. Crockett cites approvingly the notion that pastors have “visions” for their church from God, and those who oppose these “visions” are pastor abusers.
Pastor Abusers is long on identifying problem people in the congregation but short on real solutions. There are chapters on preparing for confrontation with the abusers, and consolidating your support in the congregation (from the often “silent majority” that simply don’t want to get involved). And there is a view of church discipline that is doesn’t fit at all with the Lutheran view. As I understand it, a major purpose of discipline is for the benefit of the one disciplined, in an attempt to get him to realize the gravity of his sin. Crockett sees discipline only as protecting the church from wolves.
Which leads me to the major problem I have with Pastor Abusers. There is very little hope. A book I read some years ago, Never Call Them Jerks (Arthur Paul Boers) has—as is evident from the title—a different approach to problem people in the congregation. Crockett’s aim seems to be helping the beleaguered pastor survive the onslaught from his abusers, or transition to a new career. The last chapter is entitled “Life after Leaving: What Do I Do Now?” Doubtless helpful for the pastor forced out, but depressing for the pastor who still hopes to make a go of it!
(The idea of a career transition is particularly frightening for many pastors. After a graduate degree with highly specialized training, the longer one stays in the ministry the more difficult walking away becomes. Theology, ancient languages, and life managing a parish aren’t very marketable skills. This explains the pastors we’ve all met who are like other bureaucratic drones: clocking their time until retirement. Why don’t they quit, since they’re miserable? They have nowhere else to go.)
I can’t recommend Pastor Abusers – there are no real solutions here, only fear, despair, and resentment.
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)