Seven Reasons Pastors Get Fired When a Church Is Growing

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.

Posted on October 24, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Pastors are the casualties and the churches, who fire them over growth, continue to claim that they’re “doing the Lord’s work.” A pastor’s family life is disrupted, children are hurt. As PKs become adults, some of them grown cynical and negative about the church and never attend again. If they do, it might be a non-denominational church. This is the results of unregenerate ppl in leadership roles. What to do? Nothing pastors can do really. You go into a new church, hoping for a long tenure, but knowing your tenure could be short. Accept the fact that many churches can get rid of you over absolutely nothing or just a small group being unhappy with you and they have no real, biblical basis to change pastors. Just self-centered ppl with huge egos. The power groups. Some of the ppl in them.

    • Doug Turner says on

      The interim time can be used to root out some of those attitudes and people, unfortunately most churches stumble through that phase and end up letting history repeat itself.

  • Very, very sad. The church is supposed to fulfill the Great Commission. So that’s why we exist. When a pastor gets fired because the church is growing, this just shows the carnality and unregenerate nature of people in leadership positions who claim to be Christians. If you’re a member, no matter how much money you give or how long you’ve been there, the church is not yours. Nor is it the pastor’s. It’s Jesus’ church. A DOM told me one time, “Often when a church grows, the pastor pays the new members more attention. This makes the older members mad. They get restless and get rid of him.” A pastor needs to give all his people care and help. There are some places though, who call themselves churches, that are nothing more than country clubs. The leaders are not spiritual, don’t love Jesus, have no desire to reach out into the community, don’t respect the pastor, follow no leadership from him at all. The church is supposed to be an outward focused institution. Shame on those who are not, who try to play it, but don’t live it and do it.

    • What I saw was that the new people did not get any attention. The older people got it all. They got the senior minister in their Sunday school class, the pastoral care, the sermon the way they wanted, etc.

  • Some new people are generally acceptable so long as they pass all the tests but don’t upset the apple cart. It is when the leaders’ votes could be potentially be diluted and the unofficial power structure feels threatened that they start getting upset at the pastor for bringing in the new people. The actual number has been reported by Dr. Rainer and the late Jay Guin on their blogs but given a time period, some % of the membership will turn over just based on the actuarial tables. If the leaders never change, which is frequently the case in evangelical churches, there will be a larger % who has never had any input into the leadership. That also means that there are no new leaders who might stand up to the unofficial power structure. All of this is tragic but is the way things work in many congregations.

  • Your points are spot on! I was fired from a small to medium sized church that was in process of being revitalized. All numbers across the board almost doubled in 4 years time. In fact the last VBS held had an attendance of over 300 more than the average attendance in Sunday school. I am (and still am) wounded. My family is wounded. However, we have continued on in our ministry. Many government laws as well as church bi-laws were broken in my firing.

    The state convention was quick to rush in to minister to the church that did the firing but to this day never ministered to my family. I love our SBC convention but this is a broken piece that needs to be fixed.

    Thank you for your article. Again, it is right on the money.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you, W.

    • Bob Myers says on

      Ditto with you. That was three years ago and though I’ve mostly recovered, I still have a ways to go towards full recovery. Very tough. But I’ve also experienced God’s pruning in my life and a good deal of spiritual growth clearing out some garbage I’ve had in my own life. God seems to have a way even redeeming injustice in our lives.

  • Thom, I was overwhelmed by a sense of disappointment and heartache when I read your post this morning. It is so sad to read terms like power brokers, church bullies, innuendo, gossip and lies used in describing what takes place within the Body of Christ. I know that the church is full of sinners who have been redeemed by God’s grace (of which I, like Paul, am the chief), but why do we say that we believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God but then act like pagans in the way we treat each other and our pastors? No wonder lost people are so often disillusioned and turned off by the church. It is time that we as brothers and sisters in Christ in our local churches start living out John 13: 34,35 and John 14: 21.

  • Eddie Anderson says on

    I am not a pastor, but grew up as a PK and have been active in church all my life. I’m now 56 years old. While I would not argue with any of the comments or perspectives or the reality of any of the 7 points, I would like to offer a different and more positive perspective; one that I have experienced in my own life through a ministry that I led for several years. Sometimes being fired from a successful job had nothing to do with me or the people. It is simply God’s way of moving me to another place he needs me and He knows that I will not let go of my present position on my own. So, he uses these seemingly bad situations to get me where he needs me. In revitalization or any organization where major change takes place, it sometimes requires a special type of leadership. When the organization gets to a certain point, the leadership needs can change and often times, we as leaders cannot see that. We don’t want to admit that our leadership style or capability has reached its limits. Now this is not always the case, but as Larry Osborne says in Thriving in Babylon, “God is in control of who is in control” and he is not surprised by these things that happen to us. He has a plan and we should be encouraged by that.

  • This article hits it out of the park. 1-5, and 7 all happened to me in the last church I pastored. All the changes and growth was small, but growth was happening (both numerically and spiritually). It was so encouraging to me to see this happening. The newness energized all our new people and me. But the leaders (aka -the power brokers) were so terrified of the change and growth (even though they asked me to do all those things), that they did #7 to me and and family. Going so far as to say that I was physically and emotionally abusive to my wife. And that hurt the most. Thankfully, I resigned before they could fire me but that was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life and ministry. What helped me through the hurt of it all was actively remembering that I had been doing the Will of God, none of what was said against me was true, and that I knew I couldn’t get mad at them. They did not know what they were doing.

    I recently found out that they are experiencing the lowest attendance they’ve ever experienced, and still are without a pastor. My heart grieves for them, and I continue to pray that God’s Grace would envelope and fill them.

    This article, Thom, hit it right on the money. Thank you for sharing this! It helps us to know we aren’t alone or crazy.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you so much, Al.

    • Bob Myers says on

      Ditto with you. That was three years ago and though I’ve mostly recovered, I still have a ways to go towards full recovery. Very tough. But I’ve also experienced God’s pruning in my life and a good deal of spiritual growth clearing out some garbage I’ve had in my own life. God seems to have a way even redeeming injustice in our lives.

  • Jeff Chandler says on

    As a new, innocent (naive, shall we say?) pastor I was blindsided by #2 four years in when we were seeing significant growth and there was a move to vote me out. It didn’t work but we never recovered that momentum.

    Sadly, the church had been through this cyle before me and now twice more after me.

  • Bill Wright says on

    Spot on , Dr. Rainer!
    After 4 1/2 months at a church, I was told in a Deacon’s meeting these exact words “ Preacher, we know what you’re up to. You thing by bringing in all these new people you will soon have enough of them to outvote us!”
    Well…..that’s exactly what I had in mind.

  • Ed Charlton says on

    Pastored a suburban church in the 80s. Built new worship facility, revised governance, expanded staff. Doubled worship attendance in less than two years. Pushed out in the next year. Subsequent occurrence in the next church when we added contemporary served and grew.

    Went into church planting from there… ‘Nuff said

  • I grew up in a church where one pastor was forced to retire early and another pastor was asked to resign. Both were done behind the scenes. The church only heard the graceful resignation speeches by the outgoing pastors. It was devastating to the church.
    I have also served on staff at a church where a small group of the “power-brokers” told the pastor that he should resign before they bring it to a vote before the church. He called their bluff and told them that the issue should go before the church. I went through a similar situation years later as a pastor when a small group of “power-brokers” (same people in every church, just different names and faces) told me they would recommend my removal as pastor if I didn’t change some things back to what they were. In that case, I called their bluff too and asked for the issue to be taken to the church. In both cases, the “power-breakers” backed down and resigned their positions in another effort to hurt us.
    Bottom line, if the church-at-large votes to call a pastor, then the church-at-large should be allowed the vote to remove the pastor.
    There will be casualties either way. It’s a terrible and heartbreaking situation regardless of the outcome. No one really wins in these situations. But I would prefer the entire church be in the know and have a voice in this situation if that is how a church ordinarily governs itself.

  • David Kinnon says on

    I have come across 2,5 and 6. Pastors entering a transition to revitalisation, just like business executives leading a turnaround, ought to be aware that time in post may be short to medium term, rather than long term. It’s the way of life, sadly.