Ministry expands its outreach to terminated pastors
By Lori Arnold

After 35 years in the ministry, John Schmidt knows exactly what it’s like to be a shepherd stripped of his rod and flock. He’s not alone.

Church experts estimate that about 1,400 pastors leave the ministry each month, many of them through termination or retreat-for-self-preservation.

“They lose everything, not just their jobs and homes,” said Schmidt, who wears empathy from living it. “They lose their church. In many instances they lose their friendships, often times their dignity.

“It’s usually caused by a very few families. They rise up and strike up against them and the pastor gets chewed up. They have no place to go for ministry. No one calls because they are not sure it’s appropriate.”

For some, the experience is nothing more inconvenient than another entry on the resume, but for the majority of clergy it is devastating.

“Nine out of 10 times they just go into a dark hole and try to recover on their own,” he said.

After fighting his own way back to lead a home church ministry of 40 people, Schmidt formed the Pastoral Advocacy Network, which offers counseling, assistance and personal training for individual and career choices for pastors in transition.

The network’s mission, its leader said, is to “help injured, hurting ministers who have been rejected from the ministry or have chosen to leave for self-preservation reasons to rediscover the joy of their salvation, to renew their individual value, and to focus on God’s intent for their lives.”

Since its launch seven years ago, the network has assisted more than 300 pastors. One survey, Schmidt said, showed that one third of all pastors are in congregations where the previous pastor was terminated or forced out.

“It’s a repeating thing and it’s getting worse,” he said. “Our cause is to minister to pastors who are lost.”

Mentor teams
With the service demands increasing, Schmidt is hoping to expand the ministry’s sphere of influence by forming and training NetMenders’ networks, which will be teams of 10 to 15 people who can commit to ministering to a displaced or struggling pastor for at least three months, providing some financial assistance, if possible. Schmidt calls it “transitional mentoring.”

The transition can be demoralizing.

Despite years of post-graduate training, pastors are frequently overlooked in secular jobs, with employers often naïve or dismissive about the real-world skills and training of the clergy.

“We let them know they are not alone, not forgotten and let’s take this one step at a time,” the network founder said.

“It’s like getting kicked in the stomach or hit in the head. For some it’s just a scratch on the heart, for others it’s a soul crucifixion and it may take years to recover from.”

Schmidt likened the after-effects to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which can immobilize a person and hamper the healing process.

“We are really in a spiritual warfare for the soul of our churches,” he said, adding that we are in danger of losing the voice of the shepherd by minimizing its value.

The issue is really a microcosm of the American culture, which some studies suggest, has between 80 percent and 90 percent of its citizens raised in a dysfunctional home.

“Those same people go into the church,” he said.

Respect wanes
Fueling the trend, according to Schmidt, is our hesitancy to yield to authority.

“That’s a problem in America and the church reflects that,” he said.

“When we said as a society that God is not the final authority, then all his messengers are no longer authorities.”

Instead of following the leadership of the pastor and considering his anointed words from the pulpit, church members, he said, frequently spend their post-service time critiquing the worship set and discussing which songs they sang. The sermon, he said, has become more of an afterthought, something that takes away from the entertainment value of the entire package.

“We set our churches up to be a stage play,” he said. “We call them leaders, but other places, they call them stars.”

Compounding the loss of authority, Schmidt said, is the actual structure or organization of churches, which he believes diminishes the spiritual leadership of the pastor. Most churches, he said, are modeled after corporations, with the pastor acting as merely a figurehead or chief executive tasked to implement the wishes of the board.

“We don’t value the calling of God upon an individual’s life,” he said. “We value a corporate-trained individual who can run the machine.”

Abandonment can also come from the hands of the congregation’s denominational office, which, when pitted between a pastor and church, will often side with the people out of fear of litigation, Schmidt said.

Regardless of the means or motive, the results can blindside pastors and ransack their walk with the Lord.

“They love the Lord and expect He will protect them,” he said.

That’s why Schmidt has created an online safe haven where pastors can process their anger, grief and hurts in an anonymous forum.

“You can say anything here and it will not get back to your denomination or your church,” he said.

For more information on the ministry or the NetMender program, send an e-mail to or visit

Published, July 2005

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