Seven Reasons Pastors Get Fired When a Church Is Growing

October 24, 2018

The note to me was neither cynical nor critical. The pastor had a powerful point to make.

“Thom,” he said, “as you provide leadership toward church revitalization, please communicate one thing very clearly to pastors in these churches. Sometimes a pastor gets fired because the church does grow and is revitalized. I know. I just got fired.”

I could sense the pain in the pastor’s words. And he is right. Even in “successful” revitalizations, it does not always turn out well for the pastor. Why is that? My list is not exhaustive, but here are seven common reasons:

  1. Members who can’t deal with significant change. Most of them are okay with gradual decline because it can be imperceptible day by day. But revitalization can bring major change, at least in the eyes of some church members. They would rather see the church slowly die than suddenly become healthy.
  2. Threats to power brokers and power groups. Growth brings new members. New members dilute the base of the power brokers. Most power brokers don’t like that, so they create lies and innuendos to force out the pastor.
  3. Relational disruption. One of my most memorable, and saddest, moments as a pastor took place when a woman told me God had told her I should be fired as pastor. I naturally asked her why. She responded that it was hard for her to get to know all the new people joining the church, and they were changing relationships in the church. She further said all the new Christians did not understand how we did church. Translation: she wanted her holy huddle and no more.
  4. Idolatry of the past. Many church members will say they really want revitalization, but their real desire is to move the church to 1988. When growth moves the church to the future, however, it’s time to get the pastor out.
  5. Empowered bullies. Church bullies take every opportunity to encourage complaining church members to vent and complain more. Those negative people become additions to the bully’s power base to force out a pastor who is leading change and growth.
  6. Staff who feel threatened. A pastor who leads a church to revitalization and growth can threaten a staff member who feels pulled out of his or her comfort zone. I know of an executive pastor who worked with a personnel committee and a church bully behind the scenes to force out a pastor who was leading the church to growth. Such acts of cowardice are too common in too many churches.
  7. Innuendo, gossip, and lies. The first six scenarios are often exacerbated by innuendo, gossip, and lies. The personnel committee noted above accepted the rumors and gossip conveyed by the executive pastor without ever asking the pastor his side of the story. Truth was just too inconvenient.

Sadly, pastors can get fired when they lead their churches to growth and revitalization. In my post next Monday, I will share some ways other pastors have addressed these dangers successfully in their churches.

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97 Comments

  • Thank you for sharing your wisdom, and all seven points are sadly true. But what advice to you give to the family that has literally just experienced this? No church home, and in our case literally lost our home as it was church provided…..children uprooted from school, husband returning to secular work for income…?

    • I am so sorry, JB. I hurt for you. I pray for you.

    • Hey JB, I have been where you are and God can and will pour out his love on you. As you heal, live out the words of Psalm 40! they are true…God can take your calling and rebuild it. There is a beautiful story about a potter who is making a vase and in the middle of turning it he, or life, or sometimes a congregation, crumples it. The potter takes away the portions that are damaged and begins again with the amount that is left. The potter turns a coffee cup out of the remnants… take heart JB… a coffee cup is used much more than a vase. It is okay to be a coffee cup, if the potter wills! Much love to you and your family…reach out to us often. I look forward to hearing how God remakes you and your family, be blessed.

  • As a pastor, I think we should also admit that there could potentially be at least one reason that is the fault of the pastor and not the congregation. I have seen neglect of the longer term members and a focus only on new people in church revitalization. The long term members do not feel he is pastoring them at all, just preaching to them on why they need to change. Telling someone they have been doing things wrong (even if it is correct) and then neglecting them for the new members can leave a portion of the congregation feeling a lot more like Leah than Rachel. I dont believe this happens as much as many of the reasons listed, but I have seen it and heard it.

    In Christ,

    Dustin

    • Dustin –

      Thom has addressed the issue with pastors on previous occasions. This article is about the members.

      • Actually, this article title and its introduction simply discuss reasons pastors get fired when churches are growing. His list did only include reasons about the congregation and the staff. But the title and introduction did not indicate those were the only reasons pastors get fired. The story I know of specifically that I was referencing would have ended with the pastor writing a not that sounded a lot like the note Thom quotes. I agree that most of the time, this scenario is not the case when compared to these seven as a whole. But I would say that if each of the seven reasons is taken individually, the scenario I presented is not significantly less common than most of the seven. And, as Brother Anthony shares below, there are other self inflicted reasons as well.

    • Lillian Carpenter says on

      I’m replying to you because I don’t understand why someone found it necessary to basically criticize you for your post. I see what you are saying. Besides when you are talking about the members of a church you are talking about everyone in the church body which includes pastors, staff, etc. You were simply pointing out an important point that you have noticed. While issues for pastors may have previously been discussed you may not have seen it or perhaps someone reading this post didn’t see it. Seems to me that reinforcement of something that may have been said previously is completely harmless and even helpful.

  • Mark Smith says on

    One thing just occurred to me. What if a lot of the contention you listed is rooted in people not knowing how to relate with others. That many people at church are introverts. If you have a smaller church, many of the people might be introvert and not who society calls the “cool people.” These people likely like things quiet. They like hymns and simple songs.

    When you open the doors and start calling the lost in, you might catch some of who society calls the “cool people.” They want the current music. They want bands for worship. They have no idea how things are “supposed to be.”

    These new people don’t know how to interact with the original crowd, and vice versa. Maybe pastors need to take care to interact and hear the concerns of both groups, and not just be focused on the new. Also, work to create dialogue between the two groups.

    • Good points, Mark.

      • Kathy Thompson says on

        Wait. A commenter named Becca Boerger said bascially the same thing, and she was shut down by several commenters. Is it because she is a she? Just wondering.

    • Excellent thoughts. We must never neglect those who made it possible to have a sure base to build a church. Often they become the forgotten while the focus is on the movers and shakers. Introverts are as needed as extroverts for a sound ministry regardless of the numbers Sunday mornings.

    • Mark, your comment is so insightful.

  • Rev Larry Hurley says on

    Having had the experience of being ‘fired’ I learned years later the church broke many state laws in doing so and I should have gone to the labour board and have them fulfill the state’s laws. The even broke church laws. I WAS too timid or naive to do so, Consequently I ended up with no place to live, a broken marriage and a church that went through a few more pastors who were fired or got told by God to leave

    The church I attend, also had an associate pastor who had an adulterous relationship and was dismissed by the church board. however, by government law, the minister had to be paid for almost a year and could not be replaced until that was finished. The church had to wait until the government laws were fulfilled before hiring a new associate minister.

  • Great work, Dr. Rainer! I love your posts. You provide such valuable information.

  • Kevin Dalton says on

    The gathering of people you mentioned in these 7 reasons are actually not being the church to begin with. Just gathering together on a specific day in a specific building does not the church make. You’re correct about groups and/or individuals via for power positions but again is growth actually taking place or is it just geography.

  • Ron Schermerhorn says on

    I’m in a church that is experiencing growth in the year and a half that I have been here. What you have commented on is 100% true. It is very interesting to see that some folks would choose slow decline and death over revitalization. There really have been just small changes that have been made, and new members getting involved. This article is right on. Great job.

  • John W. Mason says on

    I have another aspect for your consideration: This was said to me at a church I served that had turned around and after 3 years with new people coming in not transfers of letters or church hoppers, salvations, baptisms (about twice a month) and people getting involved, so here’s what what stated; “Pastor, we have enough new people and so you need to dial back on encouraging new people to come in, we have enough now.” Broke my heart as it was more than one that asked to talk with me.

    • Ouch. It hurts just to hear it.

      • Becca Boerger says on

        It hurts to hear it – and I can feel empathy for the longtime members who feel that they can’t tolerate any more change. They’re telling us something about the stress on the system. We need to make sure we are addressing their needs, as well as those of newer folks.

      • Becca, while it could be that some of the complaints are about the stress on the church’s functional systems, generally it’s more about the complainer having their eyes fixed on themselves and their own personal preferences rather than on Jesus, where they should be.

      • Larry McCallister says on

        There’s the problem. The Church doesn’t exist to meet your needs.

      • I disagree, Rebecca.

        Look at John 6. Jesus laid out unambiguously what it means to be the Church, and the crowds abandoned him. Rather than chasing them off, he challenged the disciples and said, “Will you abandon me too?”.

        Jesus is willing to risk not only discomfort, but the abandonment of those who aren’t willing to move in the direction of the Kingdom movement.

        Our task is to decide whether we’re willing to move or not.

    • Bro. Craig says on

      Some do not get the mission of the church. Some see it as a club of which to be a part.

  • It’s scary how accurate this article is. I know, it just happened to me. And numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 7 described it perfectly. Thank you Dr. Rainer for sharing. I can definitely find comfort in this.

  • 1-5, 7 and the conspiring with a former pastor have all been our story.

    • Yes. I have sadly heard the former pastor story a number of times.

      • Dr. Howard Huddle says on

        I do not contact any former church members from previous churches. If they call me or I see them in a public venue, I never talk about their Pastor or ask what he is or isn’t doing. If they want to talk about the positives that are happening, fine, but not fine if they are talking down their current Pastor.

  • Looking forward to hearing your tips next Monday!

  • Another thought-provoking post for which I am grateful. We are seeking to tackle the ‘Convictions, Challenges & Coaching’ required for Church Revitalization here in Canada. One of our key instructors tackles the theme of ‘Navigating Change – Redeeming Conflict.’
    Conflict cannot be avoided but it is not always managed well. I wonder if we have minimized the conflict in the early church and idealized the apostolic leaders.

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