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Study: Top Reasons for Staff Dismissal in Southern Baptist Churches

An annual study found the same top five reasons why staff members in Southern Baptist churches are terminated from their positions with relational issues topping the list.
( [email protected] ) Oct 10, 2006 06:42 PM EDT

An annual study found the same top five reasons why staff members in Southern Baptist churches are terminated from their positions with relational issues topping the list.

LifeWay Christian Resources' department of pastoral ministries conducted its 10th consecutive study among Southern Baptist conventions. The top five reasons why Southern Baptist members were dismissed were (in order) because of control issues, poor people skills, church's resistance to change, pastor's leadership style (too strong), and church was already conflicted when the pastor arrived.

"The interesting thing since we began doing this study in 1996 is that the top five have been the top five every year," said Bob Sheffield, pastoral ministries specialist, according to LifeWay. "The only difference is in their order from year to year. We consistently see the inability to develop and maintain healthy relationships within the church as the reason for dismissals."

In 2005, staff members who were terminated totaled 1,302 – 655 of whom were full-time pastors and 333 of whom were full-time staff. The report indicated that the full-time pastor and staff layoffs represent the highest totals in the past decade.

"The other thing to consider is that this just represents the best data we can gather on forced terminations," he added. "It doesn't include those who were pressured out."

Other reasons rounding out the top ten were a decline in attendance and/or conditions, pastor's leadership style being took weak, administrative incompetence on the part of the pastor, sexual misconduct and conflict with other staff, respectively.

A pastor's administrative incompetence and sexual misconduct were named in the top 10 for the first time, said Sheffield.

"Most people would probably think that ethical issues or sexual misconduct would have been one of the leading reasons for dismissals," said Sheffield. "Although I am glad they are not, I am disappointed to see sexual misconduct creeping higher on the list, and ethical issues making the top 20. Let’s face it, this is not an uplifting list to begin with, but I’d love to see those numbers decline."

Ethical misconduct made it to No. 11 this year.

Offering ways to curb the number of dismissals, Sheffield encouraged more interaction between pastors and pulpit committees.

"[Pastors] should ask to see the minutes from the last several business meetings. They ought to check the [church’s] constitution and bylaws and the annual reports to the association and state. They should talk to area pastors about the perception of the church. They should ask if there have been previous terminations, the tenure of the previous three or four pastors and why they left."

But pulpit committees do not always represent the full church, noted Sheffield.

"They often represent the more progressive segment of the church and what it wants to see happen, and not necessarily what the whole church wants to see happen," he said. "Some people will say a pastor’s search committee was dishonest. That is sometimes the case, but I believe more often the people on the committee are communicating what they’d like to see happen and not necessarily what is happening in a church."

This year's study had the highest total of participants with 29 conventions. The study is compiled in cooperation with Baptist state convention church ministry relations teams and directors of missions.

The study follows LifeWay's new research ministry which in September released the results of the first of four projects scheduled for this year. The first project measured Southern Baptists and five-point Calvinism and saw that most do not embrace the Calvinist theology.