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

  • Dave Goupille says on

    Hi Thom,

    Facing some of this right now! We’ve been in the church where we are for 18 1/2 years now and some of this is becoming more clear to us as we move along. 1, 2, and 5 seems to be the issues. I was telling my wife the other day that the longer a pastor serves, and makes good decisions over the years, the more the flock trusts him to make good decisions. This becomes a threat to those who believe themselves to be the “power brokers.” I told her that I wished that somebody would write an article about this. And you did. Thank you for being a source of encouragement and making greater sense out of a sometimes baffling situation. We’re continuing on, looking to the Lord for His enabling grace.
    Dave

  • Baptized 56 people in two years.
    Saw membership rise by 153 people.
    Saw the church rise from 100+=400+ in two years.
    Then the board decided they could not handle the stress of the growth.
    Multiples of these examples began happening until I was asked to resign. Of course the church began to stall in growth.
    There’s always two sides to every story. But now we do not know what to do. How do you recover when you may have been dismissed from the church but don’t feel called to move to a new region of the country? It’s almost as if God is saying stay in the city….

  • Robert C. Peurifoy says on

    Yep, all of them. As a UMC Pastor had in my ministry only one year where attendance did not rise. That was the year I had 60 funerals, in addition to all the normal pastoral duties. Was never fired till last. But it was unusual in that I was in the midst of an emotional crisis (Read breakdown) from previous church. I was very sick. We worship a fantasy past which was never real.

  • I am not a pastor but have been active in my church for 13 years. We are starting to go through a period of change to grow and reach our city for Christ. One thing that seems to stand out in many of these comments is the statement that the pastor was responsible for bringing new people in to the church. The pastor’s responsibility is to lead and train members to reach their friends, neighbors and others with the gospel. helping the membership to understand and be involved in this process can change many of the problems stated. This is not to say these pastors did not do this but I did not sense this to be the case.

  • Paul Curry says on

    I am overwhelmed by the responses I am reading. It breaks my heart to hear all of these testimonies; and to think people wonder why so many preachers walk away from the ministry.
    I can relate to the problem as well. I had power group tried to control every aspect of my life and family’s life. They expected me to be at everyone’s beckoning call, but they didn’t have to do anything. They expected feel good messages and were stunned when I upheld the Baptist Faith and Message. I even had a deacon question why I believed so fervently in believer’s baptism. They shot down every little thing I did to bring revitalization and growth. Here’s the kicker folks: they got a them a” yes man” to be their new pastor and everything I tried to implement is now being done in the church. It is so hard not to grow bitter when a church runs you off and steals your ideas.
    Thankfully what is helping me today is the fact that I am blessed to be in a new setting where I am respected and able to turn the church into a “Scrappy church” . We are beginning to see some growth and so far the church is embracing the change and movement.

  • Dennnis Garlington says on

    Newton’s third law: When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.

    Personal change is not so different.

    • David Troublefield, DMin says on

      (Dissatisfaction x Vision of preferred future x Knowledge of first steps) > Resistance = Change

      If dissatisfaction, vision of preferred future, and/or knowledge of first steps is absent from the circumstances, then resistance cannot be overcome and a self-sustaining new condition (“change”) will not occur.

      Resistance is personal latency individually (for which each of us is hardwired) and status quo in a group setting; either always is present. It is true that culture eats strategy for breakfast–but equally true that status quo snacks on culture all day long.

      What to do about these organizational health issues? One or more people in a group must function as its formal/informal manager (primarily diagnosing conditions causing problems–and prognosing the end result if left unattended), leader (primarily prescribing therapies for the problem conditions diagnosed by management), and administrator (primarily treating problem conditions diagnosed by management with therapies prescribed by leadership) in such a way that resistance is overcome and health is restored. If no one functions as manager, leader, and/or administrator (each absolutely is essential), then organizational health will not be attained; usually, the administrator is absent (i.e., a huge-huge knowing-doing gap exists in the church, and out of it). So: (Management x Leadership x Administration) > Status Quo = Change. (Cf. David Gleicher, Arthur D. Little consulting firm 1960s)

      Not easy, but simple.

      Almost all of Thom’s blog postings deal with this–and almost all responses to those postings by folk like us also deal with this. When the change equation is put into practice regularly, though, Thom and bloggers primarily will have only good news to share 🙂 Chances are: each of us already has used the change equation several times today.

  • I would share this article but it’s too accurate and fresh in our church for social media. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 were peering through our front door. Thank you for reminding us that we aren’t alone. The enemy has common tactics.

  • Ron Whited says on

    Reading through these posts,some of which are very sad,reminds me why a thorough new members class is so critical. It also would be great if established members went through a modified version just so everyone is clear of expectations and on the same page.

  • 2&6 are interesting. I experienced those. My leadership hanged up to try and force me out, but in my denomination the pastor has a lot more power than the deacons or elders, so I fired the trouble makers and replaced them with more honorable people. The trouble these people caused will take a long time to get over, but we will get over it.

  • Thom,

    Always appreciate your thoughts and perspective on why churches do or don’t grow. As I read this list, and as I have seen them acted out firsthand, I am saddened that this is the Bride of Christ we are talking about here.

  • Cotton Mathis says on

    # 8 — a pastor or staff has a gay child, even when the child is grown and away from home.

    If you want to see church bullies come out in full force, just wait until a pastor or staff has a child who is gay and it “gets out.” This is gossip fodder like no other.

    The “holy and righteous” wolves in sheep’s clothing come out like hell’s devils on social media to kill and destroy. And the gossips say “somebody said”. . ..

    That will get a pastor or staff person fired quicker than almost anything.

  • Thanks for this article Thom. I led a church from 37 year decline to grow 70% in 5 years, a difficult but satisfying journey. Maybe another reason is that it becomes harder to access the pastor and direct care, as pastoral care teams and small groups instead fill this need.