The Report


A Transition to Hope Journey Group Theme Conference

Sponsored by and presented at Western Theological Seminary

Oct. 22-23, 2007


Consultant and author Peter Steinke: Our culture’s systematic failings become our church’s systematic failings.  The leaders in our churches are as relationally dysfunctional as leaders in secular society.  A better understanding of emotional systems (individuals) and sociological systems (groups) can lead to healthier relationships.  At an individual level our emotional systems are based on reactivity and defensiveness.  Through our capacity for self-preservation we attend to fear without engaging reason.  Mr. Steinke delivered an excellent oral overview of his book, “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What”.  Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2006.

There are 19,000 forced terminations of pastoral staff per year (1583 / month) in America right now.  It is a secret crisis that is both a symptom of relational dysfunction and an accelerate to relational dysfunction.  Pastors are leaving churches at a faster rate than they are joining them.

7%   are the result of immoral choices.
93% are the result of relational conflicts.
70% of congregations never know why their pastors left.
54% do not return to clergy positions.

There is a “secretive” process and pattern to many forced terminations.  It is a form of passive aggressive behavior.  It is a reflection of the dysfunctional way our society handles conflict.  The pace at which this passive aggressive behavior is increasing, is increasing.  It is an unconscious brain process moving in the opposite direction of productive conflict resolution, for the purpose of rebellion against an authority figure, the Pastor.

The frequently repeated and highly predictable pattern of forced termination:

3 or 4 board members request a secret meeting with the Pastor at a lightly travelled restaurant in a nearby town right after he (or she) has returned from a vacation.

“We appreciate all you’ve done, but it’s time to move in a different direction.”

“Here’s your severance package, but it’s contingent upon you staying silent and departing immediately.”

“We’ll explain it to the congregation for you.  You can spare them the pain by signing these documents that we’ve prepared for you right now.”

“If you tell anyone or fight this in any way you’ll lose, and you’ll lose this severance package as well.  Go quietly and it will be best for you, for your family and for our congregation.”

This well thought out strategic approach is hideously effective for a forced departure and deeply corruptive to the pastor, his/her family, and the church body.  The congregation DOESN’T heal properly; it remains scarred.  The process repeats in 3-6 year cycles.  The church becomes a “clergy killer”.

Lay-leadership theory that supports and drives the consistent pattern of forced Pastoral terminations. 

75% of the general population rejects authority, seeks individual recognition and glory at the expense of others, steadily engages in conflict, and fights to win. 

25% of the general population is pro-authority and will avoid conflict whenever possible, even as it is being clearly recognized. They run, hide and/or ignore situations with conflict.

However, church population demographics are flip-flopped.  75% of those regularly attending church are the authority recognizers/conflict avoiders, while 25% of church attendees are the authority rejecters/individual recognition seekers/conflict embracers.  This theory extrapolates to identify which group most church lay-leaders rise up from.  The recognition seekers and authority challengers rise to leadership positions in our churches, often times regardless of their character or Godliness, but instead as a direct result of their status in society, leadership resume and charisma. 

(All portions of this page were taken directly from the original report.  The only additional emphasis added is the red color.)



  1. I had a youth pastor in high school and I believe this happened to him. He was just suddenly asked to step down and he did. He handled the situation with the utmost maturity, and didn’t involve us in the political part of it.
    It was really hard for me because that youth group was one of the few places I felt like I belonged which was largely because of him.
    I think it’s terrible that church elders are allowed to behave this way and I wish people could see the harm those making the decisions are making.

  2. Yes, our youth pastor was told he was too old, and so many kids had a relationship with him. But he was told he was a failure. The church wanted numbers, numbers numbers, but gave him few resources. The youth committee were all the pastors friends and so they could report to the pastor all the time who also beat him up.

    It was horrible. It makes me want to be an agnostic!

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