RICHMOND, Va. (ABP)—Clergy wellness means different things at different stages of a ministry, and ministers who come to Ministering to Ministers Foundation are at a point of personal or professional crisis.
The Richmond, Va.,-based organization provides weeklong “wellness retreats” for ministers who either have been involuntarily terminated or whose ministry is on the brink due to conflict with their congregation.
Charles Chandler, who started the ministry after his own involuntary separation from a pastorate, said 978 individuals have gone through the retreats since Ministering to Ministers began in 1994.
For every minister that comes to a retreat, Chandler estimated, 10 others reach out to the ministry in some fashion, meaning he has worked with between 9,000 and 10,000 ministers in crisis.
Ministers are notorious for neglecting self-care, he said, and when conflict arises, it is the first thing to go.
“A trend I’m seeing at the retreats is when they get under attack, there is sort of a built-in concept somewhere that you deal with it by working harder,” Chandler said.
The most common charge against ministers under fire is they are “not effective,” so they respond by increasing their activity, he said. Studies show, however, that pastors who work more than 60 hours a week are less attentive than those who work fewer hours, setting up a vicious cycle.
“There’s a point of diminishing return,” he said.
Part of the retreat experience is reminding wounded ministers of the importance of self-care. That includes exercise, nutrition, work ethic and sense of humor. When someone loses the ability to laugh, Chandler said, it indicates a lost emotion that professionals consider a danger sign.
Chandler started Ministering to Ministers shortly after he was asked to leave a Baptist church where he had been pastor for five years. In the aftermath, he felt Baptists lacked adequate services to help him through the crisis, and he set out to do something about it.
Chandler gathered a group of fellow ministers who had experienced involuntary separation from their congregations, along with interested laity, to discuss the needs of ministers. That discussion led to formation of Ministering to Ministers.
While the organization offers a variety of services, the most visible is its wellness retreats—week-long events where ministers and their spouses going through a church-minister crisis begin the process of emotional and spiritual healing.
Retreats begin with couples telling the story of their crisis. During the week, they learn how to cope with anger, techniques in conflict resolution and ways to improve physical well-being. They also are encouraged to participate in an ongoing support group and receive practical tips in understanding and marketing their skills.
“You can’t really explain the retreats,” he said. “It’s synergy. The sum is greater than the parts.”
Chandler acknowledged not every ministerial firing is unmerited—bad matches do exist—but they should be handled in ways that cause minimum damage to both the minister and the church.
Any time a minister is involuntarily separated from his or her church, Chandler said, “both church and minister are damaged, and the joy of the gospel is dampened.”
He summarizes the foundation’s purpose by the acronym CARE:
• Communicating ways to improve church-ministers relations through building strong initial foundations, healthy dispute resolutions and mediation.
• Advocating for church-minister covenants that outline procedures in the event of separation. These covenants are adopted by ministers and churches as tenures begin.
• Reclaiming spiritual and emotional support for ministers and their spouses who experience involuntary separation.
• Equipping, by seeking to discover agencies and/or programs available to ministry recipients for career assessment and job placement possibilities, along with possible sources for emergency funds to assist those without adequate compensation during their crisis.
External factors like the economy add to already existing stresses between churches and ministers, Chandler added.
“There’s no question but that the volume of calls increased greatly with the meltdown of 2008,” he said. The same thing happened with another drop-down in the spring of 2010.
“I think that’s pretty well documented,” he said.