Six Considerations Before You Fire Your Pastor This Christmas

December 10, 2018

Am I the Grinch trying to steal Christmas?

No way. Bah. Humbug.

I simply want to uncover a dark reality of which many church members have little knowledge: many pastors are being fired this Christmas season.

I know. I see it every year. I deal with it every year.

To be clear, I cannot be certain pastor terminations accelerate at Christmas. Perhaps the numbers seem high since the timing is so insidious. Regardless, these considerations apply regardless of the time of year.

  1. Many pastor firings occur because one or a few malcontents are spreading rumors. Please check the sources of these rumors. Please ask people other than the malcontents and bullies.
  2. A number of pastor firings occur due to underhanded actions by other staff. I know of one situation where the executive pastor did not like the leadership of the pastor, so he worked in darkness with the personnel committee to get the pastor fired. The personnel committee never asked for the pastor’s side of the conflict.
  3. Many pastors are fired without any explanation. I am surprised how often this reality transpires. Typically, the personnel committee or similar group tells the pastors they will not get a severance if they challenge them or question them.
  4. Very few pastors get adequate severance when they are fired. It typically takes several months for a pastor to find a job. Severance often runs out before then.
  5. Your church is labeled as a “preacher-eating” church. Your church’s reputation and witness are hurt in the community. You will wonder why other pastors decline to interview for the open position. They know. They’ve heard what you did.
  6. If you had been willing to be patient and Christ-like, pastors would likely seek another job without your firing them. If you let pastors know their job is in jeopardy and give them six to nine months to find another position, many will do so. Pastors can always find another church much easier if they have a church. And the church avoids the pain, conflict, and dirtied reputation that comes with firing a pastor.

So why did I write this article in the midst of the Christmas season? The answer is simple. I am working with three pastors who have been terminated almost identically as the points I noted above. I don’t want to rain on your Christmas parade, but these three families are already hurting deeply. I wanted you to hear the other side of the story.

Let me hear from you.

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  • As an HR professional who served 20 plus years on Church staff and other ministries we are starting to see the courts take on pastoral firings because the church has violated their bylaws, constitutions and employee handbooks and policies. These are legal documents. If the church does not have a written personal policy handbook it needs to. Be hesitant going to a church without written expectations and role clarity and a written grievances policy based on Matthew 18.

    • Dana Brown says on

      I’ve witnessed 2 of my husband’s last 3 churches blatantly ignore contracts, constitutions, and bylaws. When I’ve considered legal action, I’ve been told it’s not worth the hassle. SMH.

  • Good article, but I am truly disgusted by some of the comments. “The pastor could solve this problem easily if he didn’t take a salary.” If I were a gambling man, I’d bet many of these same people expect the pastor to be at their beck and call when even a minor crisis occurs. I suspect many of them are also the first to complain if they don’t think their pastors have put enough time and effort into his sermons. You can’t have it both ways, folks.

  • Christopher says on

    One of the hardest things for a pastor is walking into a church with the knowledge that you can’t trust anybody there.

  • Dana Brown says on

    I am struggling with this and it happened to my husband a year ago. It’s extremely difficult for me to trust church people.

  • Having pretty much read all of these comments. If you are a pastor fired w/o cause and need to regroup… my home isn’t real big but our two daughters have their own families now so we have two bedrooms available; they may as well be used. I live in an old two story home, in a small town in Midwest USA.
    [email protected] < (Maybe I ought to check with my wife but it still seems the right thing to do 🙂 )

  • John W. Carlton says on

    In my 1st church I was serving as Music Minister/youth (and associate and Education). I was under the gun in my 2nd year mainly because I wouldn’t be a hired babysitter for the youth. Also there was a jealousy issue with the Sr. Pastor. I have seen this many times where the associate seems to have a following that the Sr. pastor doesn’t have. I have always been subject to the leadership of the Lord and the Sr. Pastor. One of the big things that would come up in talks with him and members of the Personnel committee was this: “They say that you’re not doing…” finish the sentence. Or “They may say you’re doing…” There are times when firing of a pastor or staff member is justified such as a moral lapse or embezzlement, but most of the time what I have seen is the power structure of the church leadership is being challenged and the ones in power don’t want to lose any of their influence.

    I weathered my storm and found another place of service. Those who are in this position right now I am praying for you.

    • Christopher says on

      I was fired as a youth pastor because the senior pastor was jealous. Then, as a senior pastor I was fired because I refused to support a youth pastor who lied, stole from the church, and was inappropriate, though he was married, with several girls in the youth group. But he brought in a crowd and that’s all that mattered.

      I will say however, if a youth pastor, or other staff, have a “following” it’s usually a sign that they are intentionally undermining the pastor.

  • One other thing I’ll say and this is hard. It’s just a reality. I am in a pastorate now. But truth is: When you’re pressured or fired (whatever you want to call it; it’s the same thing), churches turn you down far too often. You may have (while not perfect in your pastoral ministry) done absolutely nothing wrong, but they won’t touch you with a ten foot pole because you have the specter of a resignation on your pastor resume. Extraordinarily unfair. You may have been at a difficult place with unregenerate people in leadership positions who gave you a hard time. Didn’t respect the office of pastor. Treated you badly and poorly. Then you’re out on the street (without a church) and trying to find work. Many men can’t find it. Know nothing else. But with a resignation on their pastoral record or two or three resignations, they’re viewed very negatively. Forget the fact that they were at a bad or terrible place who had/has a history of mistreating ministers and the fact that they have a terrible reputation in the community. My heart goes out to men without a call, who preached the best they could and ministered, but were forced out unfairly and now won’t be considered by anybody. The church is in trouble in America. Too many carnal members who are self-centered, mean, rude, disrespectful, dishonorable. Straight shooter here.

    • Christopher says on

      Churches are always looking for the candidate who has been “successful” with “a record of growth.” Not only is this an unbiblical qualification, it gives no consideration to pastors who, through no fault of their own, have weathered storms and dealt with toxic churches and desperately want a church that will love them and their family.

  • colaborer in Christ says on

    What if you belong to a toxic church leadership who just fired their only Pastor, now scrambling who will become the interim, has very few options, sadly.
    Not to discredit their grounds but it’s the timing and process, among other things.
    The only things left in my heart right now that keeps me from leaving,is my consideration for others who are young in their faith but it’s just so hard to function around this church who seems to be more controlled by power group rather than the Holy Spirit. I still have hope that things can change if people will change. I keep going with the ministry that I’m currently doing fixing my eyes on God, just so hard and everyday is a painful battle.
    Kind of out of topic, I hope you didn’t mind.

    Thank you.

  • How common are the firing of Pastors? Do you have any statistics? It just really bothers me to hear that the church in America, which is 80 – 90% plateaued and declining, is firing pastors. I assume that firing a pastor is not inevitable, but what are we showing a lost world that is watching? I am sorry to type so much I am just troubled for these families who seem to be trying to follow the Lord in serving Him. I also wonder what we as the church can do different? Thanks for any help with the statistics on this.

    • Christopher says on

      It seems to me that it is most often small churches that regularly fire their pastors because they all seem to have control issues, especially those in small towns.

    • The problem of gathering statistics about firing is many churches would not say they fired their pastor. Many firings are more passive-aggressive, reducing pledge, lowering attendance, general discontent, etc.

      To Christopher – while more visible in smaller parishes and churches I bet there are plenty of pressured terminations and implied firings in larger churches too.

      • Les, you’re right. Some would say, to save face in their community, “We didn’t fire him.” But they pressured him out. This happened to me. God took care of my family and me the year after I was forced out. Providentially, I got employment five months after my resignation. But the pain was difficult the last year I was there and there were a few families in control who ran the show. But they always try to say, “We’re congregational in decisions” (which is absolute bull). When it comes to stats about firings, statistics are misleading. Many have been pressured out quietly and the commoners (regular people, not the high rollers) know about nothing about it. “Let’s do it in secret so we don’t look bad.”

  • I’m on the other end of things. I’m a senior pastor and I have an associate who most likely needs termination. While I’m currently seeking counsel, I refuse to process this now. I’ll wait till January.
    Even then, I’m praying fervently for God’s discernment. I do not have the authority to terminate an associate. According to our bylaws a pastor can only be terminated a congregational vote. That’s typical, I think, of a lot of Baptist polity. But such a vote would be typically very divisive. Much better, I think, to work with the person in question to find a positive pathway of separation. All too often, the church is full of division, bitterness, and resentment while God has called us to reconciliation and love.
    That doesn’t mean however, that there shouldn’t be a “necessary ending.” The current pathway is not good. My hope is to address the issue in a Christlike and godly manner, giving the person in question an opportunity to respond. I’ve documented my frustrations with the person’s performance so there won’t be any question as to why he is being asked to resign. My hope is to also provide some guidance for him moving forward along with an appropriate severance. I have no idea how he will respond. If the past is any indicator of what he will do, I have little hope that he will respond well.
    There is great personal risk in this for me. My leaders may balk at my initiative.
    That is the cost of leadership, I suppose. In some ways, it would be easier to just “let it be.” But that would be irresponsible. Lots of prayer, faith, love, and wisdom required.

  • Dr. Rainer,

    You mentioned 3 pastors, but please know that exact scenario happened to me at Christmas in 2014. Your considerations are spot-on.

    First, I was the victim of a “deeply entrenched cartel” who had been empowered in a church that had been in decline for some time. The “cartel” became threatened as they began to lose their identity in the now rejuvenated church.

    Second, a key assistant pastor who had been around for 14 years, became discontented with my leadership and he felt threatened because he was not walking in step with me. He held and attended private meetings at his home and with other key leaders until he had his quorum of board members to rid the church of me.

    The board asked me to leave without any explanation to the church. My sin — “a lack of sincerity about an apology” to the assistant pastor. They called me into a midnight meeting on a Sunday night where the board had been meeting with the assistant pastor. On the next day a letter was placed on my door asking me to resign. I did not. I was then placed on administrative leave and the church held public meetings where the church could ask questions and the board could answer. I was told that if i went toward the pulpit, i would be forcibly removed. I was not allowed to speak or to answer anyone during the ensuing church wide meetings.

    After 5 weeks of attending this circus, I finally resigned. My wife was currently enrolled in cancer recovery treatments, of which would keep her in town for 3-4 additional months for reconstructions. I was offered a 2 month severance if I would move 150 miles away. I was given 72 hours to sign the severance package. In the meanwhile, board members drove by my house to see if I was meeting with any church members. I rejected the severance out of principle. Unfortunately, many of my long time ministry “friends” pulled away from me, and I came to terms with the fact that Christ is All I need. Because of the way the church had handled the situation, a big cloud hung over my resume. Who wants a pastor who was “fired” by his last church!!

    It is now 4 years later and the winter of that season has passed, and we are now in a springtime of revival and refreshing from the Lord. As I reflect back on that period, that was the closest I have ever been to suffering the rejection and isolation that Christ suffered.

    My hope is that those pastors that you referenced above will dive deep into the all sustaining God during the next months and years of life. Their wives and kids need to know that dad is ok, because the kids are wondering if God is truly worthy. Their children are deciding whether or not they want to be a part of this group called the local church.

    I don’t know who will actually take time to read this entry, but maybe one of those 3 that you referenced will, and they will take hope that they are not alone, and that Christ is faithful.

    I am not going to sign my name because I am not trying to call out the church, and I want no harm to come upon that ministry. Gen. 50:20 ” … (they) meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

    Today, I am no spiritual hero, just a testament that I can hear of that ministry today and genuinely pray for God’s richest blessings to be on them — and this is only due to the grace of God.

  • It seems that firing at Christmas would be extra tough on the minister. Most ministers invest so much time and emotion on the season with the extra worship services, parties, and the celebrations, even in healthy churches, that the first weeks of the new year are a time of recovery. The celebration of Christmas with family only compounds the stress. Christmas is far from a season of rest and vacation for a minister. Ministers are extremely vulnerable. The emotions of being fired/terminated at Christmas creates a double whammy. Churches need to be aware of the extra stress that firing can add. I understand that some terminations are more of a personal vendetta than a spiritual action. How can churches be made aware of the permanent damage that firing at Christmas can cause to the minister and the churches?

    Being ready to seek a new church in a few weeks or months is not a healthy or realistic proposal. The minister is just trying to get their personal spiritual house in order. Seeking a new position immediately is not a wise move. To address this six months should be the minimum severance, not the maximum.