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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  • So True! My Pastor (who was our Children’s Pastor for 10 years) and I have weathered the transition of revitalize for the last 13 years. We are a new Church today and doing really, really well. He and I have watched as 8 staff have come and gone due to the pressure of the revitalization process. It has been hard and at times can dishearten. I can say that these ring true as we do exit interviews with staff. It can be so tough. Your resources have strengthened us and reminded us that loving people is not easy but the results can be miraculous. Love, Grace and Mercy are powerful weapons when coupled with a called out group of people willing to wield them. To those who are on the threshold of revitalization…it is worth the journey. This Sunday night we have our celebration service…we will baptize 9 and celebrate 28 others that have joined in the last quarter! God is good…all the time!

  • I think what you’ve written tells one side of the story very well. As a fourth generation preacher on my mom’s side and second generation on my dad’s, I’m very pro preacher. However, I want to mention sometimes the fault lies with us, the pastors/preachers, not always or exclusively with the members.

    Therefore, let me share my list with you:

    1. Sometimes the pastor has not made allies out of future enemies. That is, some future enemies would not become so if they were made a part of the process, especially if they are influencers. ( People tend to be down on what they ain’t up on. )

    2. Sometimes the pastor introduces too many changes concurrently. People can recoil at any change, but they tend to rebel when there are too many changes at once and not enough time in between changes to find one’s footing and catch one’s breath (the younger me).

    3. Sometimes the pastor demonizes and criticizes (openly) antagonists without remembering two things: 1) We ought to practice Matthew 18:15-20; and 2) Antagonists have family and friends who may embrace the change, but who are put in awkward position when a pastor goes after a vocal critic.

    4. Sometimes the pastor drives the congregation too far and too fast because the pastor has yet to corral successfully her/his feelings of insecurity and inferiority. Therefore, the pastor has something to prove to her/himself, to those in her/his family of origin, and/or to colleagues who may be perceived as pace-setters (the younger me).

    5. Sometimes the pastor has achieved great programmatic, numerical, and financial growth. Yet, such results have come at the high price of relationships. In short, we need to look at not simply what we envision doing, but also the possible negative impacts on relationships (the younger me).

    6. Sometimes the pastor has ignored the sage advice of gatekeepers and influencers who share that there’s a better way (other than the pastor’s) to build out and build up the church, which does not pit veteran and new members against each other.

    7. Sometimes the pastor has made church growth a matter of subtraction rather than addition—i.e., he/she removes elements of church life which feed the veterans who may be of an older generation, have been the backbone of the church, and deserve to be ministered to with familiar worship formats, styles, and music which yet speak to them. Such a move is done to make way for growth. This, however, does not mean that a pastor should not drive growth, but rather he/she should discern how to make changes which draw in and disciple new people, while still ministering to the veterans, who might be excited about and proud of the growth if it does not come completely at their expense.

  • Committees feel threatened when necessary changes begin in revitalization. Solution: “Thou shalt not committee!”

  • Robert Myers says on

    Reaching the community and growth in numbers makes a pastor vulnerable to firing.
    I would not have guessed this, as I would have thought measurable success would make the pastor hard to be removed without the pastor being guilty of some scandalous sin. The larger the church, the larger a target its pastors become. And as the church grows, people seem to tolerate gossip more readily. Subtle undermining innuendo, theological accusations that are baseless can make otherwise supportive people second guess every sermon.
    Elders and lay shepherds have to be on the front line to protect the pastor from unfounded accusations. If they elders are not doing this work, the accusations will grow. If the elders are the ones spreading these accusations, the pastor will likely be destroyed in terms of effective ministry in that congregation.

  • Pastors seeking to turn around stagnant or declining churches should be warned – you will probably not be “needed” beyond year 5. And everything becomes a battle by year 7 or 8… The leaders will want to go “in a different direction” – and too many times, the same people who drove the church into the ditch before you came want to re-assert their control and upon your departure (forced or suggested), proceed to drive it right back into the ditch again. But those pastors who love the church just keep on trying – there is too much at stake!

  • Saw this happen. Minister is retiring. Serves on search committee, pushed for this candidate. He came, many baptisms, young married class of about 30, but new man was fired within about two years. Congregation that was 500 some years ago is not just over 250. Oh, yes, the retired minister was on the elder board.. Jealousy of the new man? I hired you, I can fire you. (The new man wore cowboy boots – he was short- and wore a toupe -for obvious reasons) I saw what I believe was jealousy from a ‘Christian former minister.. Thanks Thom for your work!

  • Maria López Parra says on

    You have described every trouble we had one year and a half in our church, and the pastor was fired, we have not pastor for the moment. After months praying, the question is what can we do now to revitalize the church again?

  • Hopefully this is not too off topic. I was fired earlier this month. Not in a growing church, but by a yoked parish that didn’t want to follow the Bible.

    This is a suggestion for another reason that a pastor can be fired- the church does not want to follow clear teachings from Scripture.

    When they do this, we know that it is ultimately God and His Word that they are rejecting.

  • WOW!! I thought I was the only one who experienced this. Our church grew fast when I came as pastor and I thought pastors of growing churches had it made. Boy, was I wrong! I’ve experienced (and continue to deal with) every one of these on the list. Makes me excited about heaven!

  • Walt Cooper says on

    We were forced out of the first church we served as pastor when the church grew 30% in the first 8 months. This threatened the controlling family. Thirty years later the family still controls the church and many pastors have been sent packing. This is sad.

    Many thanks to you for bringing these aspects of church life to light (ie. bullies, controlling families, etc. ). They have been there for years but now many church members are made aware of these through blogs and podcasts. This helps us as pastors because we are not “lonely self-serving voices” crying out against these problems in church life. Younger families and new families see these problems of assimilation all the time. That’s why they leave.

  • It’s easy to see, too, why many men (pastors) walk away and become seminary professors, evangelists, or DOMs. Lot more security there. I know God doesn’t call men to become preachers to be secure and comfortable in this life. Sometimes, a man’s life is turned upside down when a church fires him. It’s painful and hard. As I said, many leave ministry and say, “No more.” Others transition into something different in which they know they likely will not be let go over nothing.

  • Thom, we are in the middle of a revitalization and I can tell you this is 100% accurate. Ours was a church merger. The plant church I was the pastor at merged with a struggling traditional church. The power brokers and bullies have come out of the woodwork. Change and growth sound great, until it is implemented and starts to happen. The only reason I have survived is because I literally brought a church body with me. I can now see very clearly why other pastors have failed at this church previously, they never had a chance! The power group is small in numbers, which makes them twice as vicious, because they know they’re “power” is waning. The overwhelming majority, (including the members of the traditional church we merged with) are on board and are having a fantastic time worshiping and helping fulfill the vision of the church. Please continue to write these articles that both warn and encourage us that are on the battlefield. God bless you for what you do.