The Sun News

Warner Robins ministry trying to bring 'exited pastors' back into fold

WARNER ROBINS -- It happens.

Mike Parker said it happens more than some think.

A pastor, a music minister or some ordained church staff must leave their position. Sometimes fault lies primarily with the person; other times with the church.

Either way, Parker said it has potential for a deep range of problems in the life and family of what he calls “exited pastors.”

“I’m part of a national ministry called Pastor-in-Residence that comes alongside exited pastors and their families to encourage restoration and, hopefully, re-entry back into ministry. Even if it’s with a slightly different job title.”

Parker said statistics vary, but indications are 1,200 to 1,500 pastors or staff exit their role each month. He said PIR lists 20 major reasons and among them are moral failures, ethical failures (including mishandling finances), burnout, compassion fatigue, health issues and even simple immaturity.

Personal conflicts and power struggles can also lead to a pastor’s exit, as can a change in attendance because of shifting demographics. Even natural disasters can be blamed, as when Katrina destroyed churches and congregants move elsewhere.

“There are a variety of reasons, but the common factor is a minister and his family are left without a job, often without a home and certainly without the support system they need,” Parker said. “Too often, it’s a really hurtful situation. At the very least, it brings the stress on a family that comes from that kind of disruption. Plus, I’m afraid sometimes we’re guilty of shooting our wounded rather than healing them.”

Parker said he learned of PIR during his 11-year tenure as senior pastor at Unity Baptist Church in Bonaire. He’s furthered involvement in recent years while a traveling evangelist-speaker and part-time associate pastor at Westside Baptist Church.

“I hadn’t heard of PIR, but we had a sign out front at Unity saying ‘Restoration Station,’’’ he said. “Someone in a situation like this came in because of the sign and told me about PIR. ... At Unity our heart was to help heal life’s hurts and bring restoration to people, so why wouldn’t we want to do the same for pastors? It was a natural fit.”

Parker said the person came to Unity, and Unity successfully took him through the PIR process. Parker said issues that brought about the exit were dealt with, healing came and so did restoration between the person and his former church. He’s now back in ministry elsewhere.

Parker saw the routine repeated at Unity, has seen it at Westside and at what are called PIR Refuge Churches across the Southeast.

“It takes a grace-oriented, non-judgmental church to be a Refuge Church,” he said. “But that shouldn’t be hard because we’ve all sinned and experienced God’s grace. Some churches are eager to reach out to exited pastors in this way, but some aren’t.”

Parker said PIR is not denominationally based but is evangelical and has adopted the National Association of Evangelical’s statement of faith. He said the concept was originated in Virginia by Charles Wickman.

Parker said a PIR-trained group of lay ministers in a church meets with an exited pastor and his family to pray and go through the PIR program. There’s oversight from the church’s pastor but not necessarily a direct ministry time commitment to add to his own load.

“Even though we have a path toward restoration we’ve seen work, it’s really based on building relationships and letting Jesus do the work,” Parker said.

He said there are no financial requirements or liabilities on the Refuge Church, though at times some might choose to provide a measure of financial help. He said sometimes funds are available for the exited pastor from family and friends. Sometimes they’re not needed at all. Whatever the situation, PIR tries to facilitate training and an appropriate situation for the exited minister to get help in a caring congregation.

Though he’s never been in an exit situation, Parker said his heart breaks for those who find themselves there.

“It’s really heartwarming to see God work,” Parker said. “Of course it can also be heartbreaking to see the problems and the hurt. I’m always happy to get details to pastors who might be interested in their church being a Refuge Church. I’m also glad to talk to anyone who finds themselves in a tough spot.”

Parker said PIR has developed ministries, materials and strategies to help pastors and churches be proactive and more preventive in potential exit situations.

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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