In an era of forced terminations, ministers, their families and their churches often want to know what led to the abrupt ending of an apparently promising “marriage” between clergy and church.
Guy Greenfield’s latest book helps us understand what happened, why and what to do next. In The Wounded Minister, Greenfield, a pastoral counselor and former pastor and seminary professor, says a major cause of forced termination is the work of pathological antagonists in the church.
These are “evil, mean-spirited people” who “inflict disastrous wounds on unsuspecting ministers in the name of religion and ‘for God.'” Greenfield writes out of his own experience as a wounded minister, sharing his story and the stories of other wounded ministers.
Part 1, “The Reality of Abuse,” describes pathological antagonists as people who “intentionally target ministers for termination.” This section also describes the strategy by which these clergy killers succeed in accomplishing their objective, noting that passive lay leaders and a church’s polity are major contributors in the attack.
Part 1 concludes with two chapters on the “collateral damage” experienced by the wounded minister’s family and his church from these attacks. Included are stories of wounded ministers whose families and ministry careers were destroyed because of the work of antagonists. Collateral damage also includes damage to the minister’s health, peace of mind, faith, retirement and idealism.
But church members are not the only people who can be antagonistic: Pastors can also be antagonistic to staff ministers. In Part 2, “Pathological Ministers,” Greenfield presents a number of stories from staff ministers or their spouses that chronicle how senior pastors can also be pathological antagonists. Greenfield found that almost 50 percent of the stories he received while researching the book were stories of staff ministers who were abused by their own pastor.
Part 3, “Recovery and Healing,” the final section of the book, offers words of hope and encouragement, as well as suggestions for recovery and healing. Greenfield advocates establishing a minister’s advisory council and gives guidelines for its implementation.
He also encourages wounded ministers to deal with the anger they experienced as a result of the abuse, urging them to seek professional counseling and to become involved in a ministers’ support group. He further encourages wounded ministers to practice the art of forgiving their abusers, even if the abusers don’t respond.
Greenfield would have done well to have addressed the antagonistic staff minister. I think of a pastor friend who was forced out of his church several years ago by an associate pastor who “angled” for my friend’s position as pastor. The staff minister’s efforts came to naught, as the church refused to “endorse” him to succeed the pastor he had forced out. He himself was forced to look for another place of ministry. The church lost a number of members and has never recovered.
This resource should be welcomed by wounded ministers and their families, as well as by churches, all of whom wonder what to do now. It also can serve as a good text in pastoral ministry classes at the college and seminary level.
Kirby L. Clark is assistant professor of religion at Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky.