Who takes care of ministers?
Well, no one, really. In the Free Church, whose genius is its congregational autonomy, the minister is defended, supported and beloved, until he/she is not. Then the minister is reviled, condemned, cast forth into outer darkness. He/she has little hope of professional redemption.
More to the point, who helps the minister get the 10,000 hours he/she needs to be competent in what he/she does? Who points to the reading, study, prayer, fellowship and work habits he/she needs to be competent at his/her craft?
Well, no one. Free Church ministers go largely unevaluated, alone, unprotected. The Free Church minister lives the life of the soccer goalie: quiet and settled while the ball is in the other end, followed by moments of sheer terror when the ball approaches his goal. He can never win. He can only hope to not lose, though he knows, for certain, he is not perfect and the ball will finally settle in the goal behind him.
The ball will find the net more often the longer he stays in the game.
"I worry about you pastors," one of my basketball referee friends told me. He is a good church member.
"Let's say you stay somewhere twenty years, as we all say we want you to do," he continued. "Let's say each of those twenty years you make one enemy. In twenty years that is twenty enemies, plus all the other people they can influence."
"That is a lot of enemies," my deacon-referee friend finished. "I cannot imagine getting up in front of a group of people three times a week, knowing there were more than twenty people in the crowd who disapproved of you. I think it would be very tough."
Who helps the minister? The state conventions can barely provide for their own survival. They are no help, none at all. The association cannot help, for they cannot be seen as being pro-minister. The ministers will change often but the church remains and it is the church that gives money to the association, not the minister. The association is no help at all to the minister.
Does the congregation help? Well, no. Too many of the members are related to the unhappy persons, or do business with them or have known them for years. As congregations have grown more corporate in nature the minister is increasingly on his own.
I spent some time recently with a minister who was under pressure to leave his church. His crime? He had discovered illegal practices on the part of his treasurer. Church funds were not available for ministries because they were simply not available for anything. The church treasurer, however, had been treasurer for some years. The minister was going to lose this one. He was going to be turned out of his pastorate with no place to go.
This is death for a Free Church minister. It is tough to go somewhere from somewhere. It is almost impossible to go somewhere from nowhere.
Who rescues the rescuer? well, no one.
Who protects the churches from the pedophiles, the predators, the liars, the church killers, the lazy? Who does the spiritual work, the psychological evaluations, the background checks?
Let me ask this more pointed question. If pastorates are lasting less than three years, if ministers are being forced out in disgrace in record numbers, just where does God fit in this thing? Let us, finally, own our shame and strive for decency. Perhaps men/women no longer wish to do local church ministry because they have seen the job and find nothing much in it that is Christ-like.
It is time for a change. The power is too much in the hands of persons who have proven clearly the inability of the system to do the job, to care for the ministers, who would then care for the churches.
This the plan. We care for the ministers. The ministers care for the churches. It is organic, not corporate. Everyone benefits and no one bleeds the system dry for their own support.