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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  • I would like to offer what I hope would be viewed as a different perspective. For the readers, it is important to note, I am an ordained minister, who has never served as a Sr. Pastor. I have served as “part time” Minister of Education. Prior to that as a Christian Radio Station representative for seven years. Prior to that, as an Engineering Manager for a large corporation. Still I would not call my perspective unique, simply shaped by an adult working life in both secular and full time Christian service. Not all but much of what has been written in this post is about the symptoms of sinful approaches to relationships between Pastors, Staff People, and Congregations and those who are decision makers in our Church leadership. Many Churches have leaders that seek the Lord’s direction especially when it comes to making changes in the Pastoral Staff. Sadly, we have some who make such decisions without listening to the Holy Spirit. The reasons why are known only to them. The results, call them symptoms, are painful and have been expressed in the earlier comments.

    Allow me to suggest a way to reduce such occasions. It is in communication of what the business world calls the terms and conditions which are put in writing at the very beginning of the service of anyone being hired by the Church. The most difficult part of communication early on is the discussion about expectations between the hiring person[s] and the person being hired. Many of the problems, even with power brokers, are the differences between the expectations of both parties. Even Pastoral autonomy has limits in the Church of today. The differences early on make a huge difference when neither party will truthfully discuss the problems when they come up. The contract defining expectations simply helps everyone to remember and stay on track. To get such a contract requires a willingness to have truthful discussions at the very beginning. Even though no issue like this one has a simple answer, still I would submit the initial contract result is very helpful as a base for any future power struggle that may take place. Even in ministry, people are still frail and subject to flawed decisions.

  • D avi d Tro ub lefi eld, DM in says on

    I like the response of Dan Sutherland when he served as senior pastor of Flamingo Road Church years ago. When talk of his dismissal for no good reason began among some deacons, Dan says in one of their meetings he promised to take every member of the congregation who would go with him and then start a new church right across the street–one that would do what Flamingo Road’s leaders appeared to resist doing. Some actual follow-through will have to happen before this kind of thing stops–so, do it.

    Otherwise, my sudden departure from a Baptist church’s staff also was unjustly engineered by a senior pastor who had confessed privately to staff having no vision for the future or growth of the congregation during the previous year. My fellow associate pastors stood up for me afterward, and a few members of the congregation inquired directly about what had happened; the majority, though, seemed not to care. Welcome to some of the challenges of vocational Christian ministry in the twenty-first century. I no longer serve on a church’s staff.

  • We are a church under 70 congregants. In 2014, the church fired the pastor who served for 11 months on the ground that they “heard” about the pastor often quarrelling with his wife and assumed that the couple might divorced. He was let go without explanation nor hearing his side. The couple were still together till now.

  • Mark Armstrong says on

    I was severed from my last church with a month’s notice and no severance pay. My denomination had no regard for the personal and financial implications. Even worse, my termination was a result of church bullying and the bullies got their way. Thom, please tell your three pastors (as I’m sure you have) that while the pain never really goes away, God uses the experience to equip you for other ministries. I’ve learnt there is light at the end of the tunnel. God is faithful. I’m now doing a church revitalisation and much better equipped in light of previous experiences and hurt.

  • Alex Clayton says on

    What is amazing is when you are called to a church it is “an answered prayer”; however, when you are let go it is a bad fit.

  • And don’t forget the pastors’ children and spouses who live sometimes the rest of their lives with the wounds caused by the hurtful practices of these churches.

  • So very true. I’ve seen this done to good people, and sadly it’s happened to me as an expendable worship pastor. Sadly, it is too easy to kick pastors to the curb and explain it all away.

  • I was a member of a church last fall where our pastor “retired” rather than be fired. In defense of the personnel committee, they had been working with him and the whole staff for months. To many, families of the staff included, it looked like this was a sudden ousting, when in reality expectations and goals had been laid out for months. The reason for the Christmas timing was that a budget had to be approved. It had been postponed from the October meeting as deadlines were not met by the staff for vision & mission statements & goals. Maybe the church should change its fiscal year to NOT coincide with the calendar year to avoid this.

  • Pastor Mickey says on

    Having read the article and all the comments one thing that stands out and bothers me is that the pastoral positions are referred to as a “job” and not a calling. If the Lord has not called one into the ministry then you need to seek something else. At the age of 35 (with 2 children) I left a 6 figure income “job” to enter the ministry after struggling with the call for over a year. The Lord also spoke to my wife about it after a season of prayer on her part.

    I am now, at the age of 69, serving my 6th congregation for the past 3 1/2 years and look forward to serving until the Lord leads differently. It is a small, rural church, but the most loving, and united church I have been in (including my home church who “fired the pastor” that lead my wife and myself to the Lord). If there is a power structure it has not reared it’s head and I do not believe there is. I know, unusual for a small rural church.

    I was told to leave my first church in Sept.(years ago) mostly because of #1. Rumors that were not true. It was being said I would bring in the “wrong” people. Actually found out that one of my deacons was a member of the KKK!

    The late Billy Graham once told me (in 1991) that fully 50% of church members are not born again. I have seen that. So if they are not born again they are not Christian. That is problem #1. Problem #2 is, in my belief, that most of true born again believers are not what you would call true disciples. I am not saying they are not saved but if you study what a true disciple is you will understand what I mean. As pastors (and all believers) we are called to make disciples (Matthew 28:19, 20).

    We have all kinds of discipleship training programs out there but that’s just what they are, a program. (I served as Discipleship Training Director for a large association for several years). Making a disciple is a process, not a program. I would encourage all pastors (especially new) to consider “G3Disciple – The Imperative Life of a Christ Follower. I have just taken the chair of my deacons through this process and he said it has made a big difference in his life as a believer and this has been witnessed by man in the congregation (he is 65 and has been a part of this church all his life.)

    I truly believe if the congregations were made up of “true disciple” we would have less problems and more impact on our communities.

  • I was forced out because of #2, with #4 mixed in. Specifically, the (new) head pastor manipulated the elders and lied to the congregation (and to me). I was given a pithy severance and the elders told the congregation that I resigned. It took 15 months to find another position at a church. None of them seem to acknowledge or care about the hardship it forced on my family.

    In the long run, we are at a much healthier church and are now thriving. We never lost sight of my call to ministry, and God never lost sight of us.

  • I’ve read this post and find that there are several here that no nothing about the pastorate or God’s call to a pastor. And I see people still laying blame at pastor’s feet when most of the time it’s an ungodly church behind the firing. This is one of those times where I wish that reincarnation was true and these kinds of people were called in their next life to be a pastor. Then there would be less unqualified and ignorant things said by people who have no earthly idea what they are talking about. The pastorate is not a curse, but a lot of ignorant things are said about the pastorate from people who are clueless.
    I’ve noticed through the years that people who are not called to be pastors and have never trained for the ministry, know how to preach better than you, can make decisions better than you, and can do everything else better than you, but won’t lift a finger to do anything to serve Jesus.
    My heart goes out to these men of God who have been tossed aside from the church that they were trying to serve and help.

  • My wife and I were both on staff at a good sized church. One Wednesday evening after service the pastor sent me a message that he wanted to meet with both of us the next morning.

    When we arrived he was there with a board member waiting for us. He proceeded to tell us that the church was moving forward with plans and they didn’t include us. He was allowing us to submit a letter of resignation but it was non optional. No warning and no other explanation.

    He also told us we were not to discuss the reason for our leaving with anyone else.

    Needless to say we were shocked and surprised and hurt. He told the church the next Sunday that we had decided to resign. When people asked us where we were going we said we didn’t know, because it was true. They asked why we were resigning and we didn’t have an answer. They grew suspicious.

    The Sunday after we left, the pastor decided to share with the congregation that he had in fact asked us to resign. Unfortunately he didn’t choose to tell the truth about that until after we had left.

    Looking back it was the right decision and we have seen God’s hand through every step. But very painful for our family and others close to us.

    God had a plan even though we couldn’t see it. We learned many incredible lessons through that time – especially how NOT to handle many things.