Posted: 10/7/16 at 3:40pm.
When Dr. Charles Chandler experienced involuntary termination at his church in Virginia he wrestled with the fact he was 58 years old and “less marketable” as a prospect for another pulpit. He found few resources to help him deal with these issues and began to dream of an organization that would benefit ministers in crisis. He created the Ministering to Ministers Foundation in 1994, and the organization has sponsored some 132 Wellness Retreats throughout the nation for ministers in pain, helping 1,287 men and women discover new hope.
“It’s been gratifying to see ministers reenter their world with greater wisdom and new-found commitment to serve other people who hurt,” he said.
Now Chandler is set to retire and pass the baton to another executive.
Current board chair Jim Johnson of Richmond has agreed to serve as interim executive-director beginning Jan. 1. He said he had big shoes to fill.
“No one has attempted to do more for the disenfranchised pastor than Charles Chandler,” Johnson said. “This effort on behalf of clergy has excelled because of his kindness, wisdom, counsel and deep personal sacrifice. To be sure, there is none like him!”
Chandler said a number of things have changed in his 22 years at the helm of MTM.
“Early on I’d search for pastors who needed help and phone them with invitations to our retreats,” he said. “Now, the Internet has revolutionized this process and we also get many referrals from others who’ve benefited from this ministry. And we’ve developed a team of professionals who assist us. It’s so different from the early days when it was basically me and [the late Chattanooga psychiatrist Dr.] Ross Campbell.”
But the basic format of the five-day Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreat for Ministers and Spouses has remained the same, with some minor changes, Chandler explained. The core group is limited to 12-15 participants who share their crisis stories and engage in intensive individual and group therapy led by a psychiatrist, psychologist or certified therapist. Participants also hear from numerous experts including an attorney, a job counselor, a physical fitness instructor and spiritual leaders.
For every participant attending a wellness retreat, at least nine others will experience some other aspect of the MTM ministry, according to Chandler, such as what he calls “the ministry of presence” that occurs when ministers seek counsel by telephone. MTM also offers one-day workshops, awareness presentations and has trained some 40 “Friends for the Journey” to partner with ministers in their struggles.
Chandler said the two most oft-cited reasons for pastor-church conflict have been a constant for many years: control issues and people skills. And he believes in many ways these issues are more pronounced today than ever before.
“We find a corporate-mentality in many churches,” he said. “The pastor is expected to function like a CEO. He or she runs the organizational machinery and grows the organization. If either doesn’t materialize, the pastor can be expendable. But most pastors aren’t trained to be CEOs and they find themselves very frustrated.
“If a pastor provides leadership, he or she is a change agent and change brings conflict. But there’s conflict also if the pastor doesn’t provide leadership. I’ve always believed the pastor is to cast a vision, but must ask the people to help shape and carry out the vision.”
Chandler noted that sometimes the terminated minister is victimized by forces outside their control, but at other times ministers make bad choices leading to crisis. He often tells retreat participants, “Don’t waste your pain. Grow from it. Wounded ministers can have a new dimension of ministry since we grow in wisdom through all the experiences of life.”
Chandler said MTM’s surveys find that about two-thirds of retreat participants go back into full-time vocational ministry. Others don’t return to full-time ministry but to non-ministry vocation where many have opportunity to do part-time ministry. Chandler himself is in the latter group having served as bi-vocational pastor during his tenure at MTM.
Chandler grew up in a pastor’s home in Alabama and Georgia. He graduated from Jacksonville High School, Jacksonville, Ala., Samford University, Birmingham, Ala. and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. He served churches in Kentucky, Illinois and Virginia and was elected to two terms as president of the Illinois Baptist State Association. He has contributed more than 200 articles to denominational publications.
Chandler and his wife, Betty, are parents of four children grandparents of six and great-grandparents of three.
Chandler says he wants to remain active and supportive in the organization he founded.
The MTM board of directors will honor Chandler at a dinner on Nov. 3 at the Willow Oaks Country Club in Richmond.
More information about the work of MTM may be found at mtmfoundation.org.