Healthfully Modifying Minister/Ministry Relationships

Published on: April 29, 2015

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Our Code of Ethics: Section IV: D. 1. States: “I will modify my relations with members of a congregation which I have previously served in order to support the highest interest of the current Unity minister/spiritual leader and the ministry.”

This code calls us, as ministers and spiritual leaders, to think consciously about how our behavior might impact members of a ministry we have previously served, and to act intentionally to support the interests of that ministry as they go forward. The question is, what does “modifying my relations” look like? This can be, and has been interpreted in different ways. Some might believe that we need to make it more concrete; to state specifically what is allowed and not allowed.

I would say that relationships in ministry are complex, and that not all circumstances require the same answer. I also believe that we as ministers and spiritual leaders need to consider carefully our actions, and be willing to make our needs and desires subservient to the greater good.

Some questions to consider in this process might include:

  • What caused my departure?
  • What boundaries do I need to establish to ensure for the highest and best for myself and the ministry?
  • What expectations and agreements were made prior to my departure?
  • How can I ensure that my personal relationships do not interfere with the forward movement of the ministry?
  • As a former leader in the ministry, with ideas about what the ministry should do/be, how do I intentionally and mindfully trust their process going forward, doing everything possible not to interfere with this process?
  • When someone contacts me and begins to discuss affairs/politics of the ministry, how can I set a clear boundary particularly with friends in the congregation—even if it sounds like they are on the wrong track?
  • Where do I find my own support for grieving and letting go?

Be Self-Aware

Although we are moving away from the minister-centric model of ministry and the notion that ministers are a parent figure, the metaphor of divorced parents is helpful in this context. Unskilled and insecure parents often put their children in the middle of a battle between themselves and their former spouse. They triangulate, use the children to spy on the other parent, and manipulate to get the children to take their side. By contrast, more skillful and self-aware parents work to support their children in maintaining healthy, loving and meaningful relationships with both themselves and their former spouse.

Suppose after leaving a ministry, you receive a call from a friend in the former ministry complaining that the new minister had changed the order of service. From an unskillful perspective, you might agree with your friend that the new order of service doesn’t work, or you might just be quiet, allowing your friend to believe you agree with him. Or you might say: “I am no longer the minister of this congregation, and am unwilling to discuss decisions being made in the ministry with you. I do want to maintain our friendship, and am happy to engage with you socially. But I really encourage you to make an appointment with the new minister, get to know her, and share your concerns with her.”

Cynthia Vermillion-Foster

Rev Cynthia is UWM Member Services Director. She oversees ministry employment; new/alternative ministries; ministry skills consulting/trainings; youth and family ministry; transitional ministry; support regarding bylaws, policies, procedures, ministry development; conflict transformation and ethics.

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