Ten Common Responses from Fired Pastors

June 5, 2019

In over 30 years of vocational ministry, I have had conversations with hundreds of fired pastors. I have listened to them. I have prayed with them. On occasion, I have wept with them.

While every situation has its unique elements, I see many commonalities in pastoral terminations. Without getting into the specifics of the dismissal and the reasons these pastors were fired, look at these common responses we hear from them. Indeed, these comments and patterns are sadly predictable.

  1. “I didn’t see it coming.” Not only do many of the pastors comment they received no reviews or anything in writing, many of them tell us they never heard any hint their job was in jeopardy.
  2. “No one gave me a reason for my firing.” Though this comment may seem unfathomable, it is commonly true. Pastors are often dismissed without any reasons. They are then told not to say a word if they want a severance.
  3. “No one asked for my perspective.” Countless personnel committees and similar groups fire someone because of comments they hear from others. They have no desire to hear the other side of the story.
  4. “A power group pushed me out.” This reason often explains the third response. The perspective of the power group or the bully is the only one they hear.
  5. “A staff member (or members) pushed me out.” In one case, the executive pastor was actually on the personnel committee and conspired to force the pastor out. Of course, the personnel committee did not hear the other side of the story, or they would have likely fired the executive pastor.
  6. “My family is devastated.” Many spouses and children are scarred for life from these experiences. And many never return to church.
  7. “The severance was small.” Unfortunately, these types of churches are not typically known for their grace or generosity.
  8. “I can never return to pastoral ministry.” Some pastors do change their minds years later and return. Many never do. Many will not return because their families are unable to move back into the fish bowl.
  9. “I should have never followed a long-term pastor.” The unfortunate label of “unintentional interim” falls on a number of pastors who follow a long-term pastor. The successor just can’t measure up.
  10. “Secular employers are kinder and show more grace.” In too many cases, this reality is sadly true.

I recently spoke with a pastor who said six of these comments within ten minutes of our conversation. Pastoral termination is far too common today. Pastoral termination without cause, explanation, and grace is simply not acceptable and not the path Christ would have us walk.

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150 Comments

  • Matt Coiner says on

    I was at this point last year. I’d served a church that attacked my family and me for three years straight. We outlasted those who attacked us, but I lost all heart. We left and went to another church that treated us well, but I was so hurt that I felt like I was failing and couldn’t continue.

    We left and, in my heart, I said I’s never be a pastor again. A year later, I entered a chaplaincy training program. For the last year, I’ve faced my failings, learned how to deal healthily with my emotions, and learned valuable skills for self care, pastoral care, and learned how to celebrate successes. Now, I’ve joined a church as a family life pastor.

    There is life on the other side of dying in ministry. I have a deep passion for injured pastors and it is my hope to start or take part in a ministry that will help others come to the same place of healing that I’ve experienced.

    I’m praying for all of you who have been hurt.

  • Richard says on

    I do not have all the answers on this.
    I have experienced it. (#’s 1-6 are me!)
    It can be devastating and the temptation to respond with inappropriate behavior and defensiveness is great. Do not!
    Press on in your calling. Relocate. Start over. It will be challenging, humbling, and rewarding. Do not leave your first love or calling.
    God is faithful.
    My story is one of God’s faithfulness, His abundant blessing, and allowing me an even greater ministry after our tragedy. I praise Him.

  • Two comments:
    1. In regards to the “I didn’t see it coming” comment, pastors and/or church staff also need to be listening to the Holy Spirit. I found that after I was let go from a church, on retrospection, God had been trying to move me to a healthier situation which would have required me to quit–a risk as a young newlywed I was unwilling to take.

    2. Churches also have to be better with how they handle terminations. I was told at first that I wasn’t bringing in enough youth (I was Director of Children, Youth and Families). When I showed them the attendance records compared to my predecessor, the reason for my termination changed to “budget cuts.” The process lasted approximately six months, one of which were after they told me I was being let go. While I’m in a healthier church now, and ordained in a fantastic denomination, my husband and I still bear the scars of the poor dismissal process of this church. Had the church been upfront with me about the budget cuts, gave me a severance package and cut me, it would have been a lot less painful for all involved, including the youth and congregation members with which I worked.

  • I am convinced of the need of awareness of the invisible emotional system that every group possesses. All of these checkpoints indicate a chronic anxiety in the family systems of either the church family or family of origins in individuals and power groups. While the awareness of systems is not a cure it can help ministry leaders work on self-differentiation and see some of the negative relational stances emerging.

    I feel for every ministry leader that goes through these tough journeys.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I do as well, Jim.

    • Jim,
      That is wise commentary. I recognized this problem at a previous ministry, though other staff members either didn’t believe me or was in denial. I find it to be hard to quantify, I guess I simply sense it intuitively and sort of call it my “gut feeling” because I don’t know what else to call it. I have been wrong, but thankfully all I did was sort of prepare myself for trouble that never materialized. Other times, my “gut” was right on the money. Perhaps that was the Holy Spirit leading me not my gut.
      DK

  • I have learned over the years that the church eats it own. I have never experienced that in the secular marketplace as an executive for 20 plus years. I just watched our senior pastor fire a long term staff member because the staff member dared to speak truth about the Pastor’s sacred cows. I love the Lord and His church, but the move to Laodicea is everywhere. I sat in a meeting this week and heard “we need to cater to the Laodiceans so we can minister to them.” Let’s be honest, it’s “butts in seats” and “service the debt,” true ministry comes last. In these last days, the abuse of staff and the illegal, yes let’s call it what it is, termination of staff will be more normative. God is still in control, but eyes wide open. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing out there. Unfortunately, we are one court case/news story away from the Lord’s church being demeaned again. We are all sinners saved by grace. Some are cooperating with justification, others, not so much. You will note I am using a pseudonym, yep, we have the problem too.

  • Viking 48 says on

    Here’s another example of getting “Released from my responsibilities”…I got too old (60). The XP confirmed that I was doing a great job but the executive staff wanted to bring about a younger “look” to remain attractive to the millennials. It seems as I was no longer relevant even though my primary responsibility was ministering to the Senior’s in the church.

    Additionally, they “released me” during our Christmas vacation.

    • So sorry, my friend.

      • Prentiss Yeates says on

        I simply hope we can remember to pray for the broken pastors and their families and if you are presently ministering to a church, I pray that wisdom and discernment prevails and the laity supports your efforts in Christ. These are indeed the last days , 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

  • Roberto Silvado says on

    Yes, they are true.
    No they are not!
    Many pastors do not see it coming because they live as if they were in “Disney World”not in real life. Did not read the signs and messages sent for months or years.
    Many pastors “spiritualise” their pastoral position and assume that the only possibility of living is if they “decide to leave”.
    Many pastors act as if we live in a world were our actions and decisions do not generate consequences, good and bad.

  • Wow. My unfortunate story checks nearly all of these boxes. I felt worthless after it happened and considered giving up ministry. However, I quickly realized that what I was called to do. So, by the grace of God, I am pastoring again at a great church with wonderful loving people. I did not see it coming, a small power group did it, the senior outgoing long term pastor was spineless as a result of the power group reeking havoc on his ministry and life, my family is still reeling from the trauma a year later, and one not here is that although they hired me because of my experience as a church revitalizer, that was the main reason they made me quit; they did not like any of the proposed changes I suggested as a result of my research of the area and the church. Funny now that one of the changes was to change their very hard to pronounce name to which was one of the main gripes they had about me, they have now changed it to what I suggested.

  • There is nothing you can do with your life that is both more trivial and causes more spiritual and emotional damage to yourself and others than be in leadership in an evangelical church. I only wished I had learned this before wasting 22 years of my life on it.

    • I am so sorry, Jason.

    • Pastor says on

      I’m sorry for your hurt and pain. Churches (many of them) routinely hurt pastors, are run by carnal and unregenerate people, and pastors and their families are the casualties. Some pastors serve good churches; others serve difficult, bad ones. Pastors say, “All of us have been in tough spots.” And maybe so. But yeah, situations. Many churches are terribly unhealthy and are nothing more than social, country clubs. Again, I’m sorry about your cuts and wounds, Jason.

      • Jason,
        I won’t pretend that I know what you went through. I did go through one ministry that drove me into depression for the first and only time in my life. I will share what my senior pastor at the time said to me, “You moved the ball down the field farther than you know, but you simply cannot see it.” That was his way of saying my ministry was not trivial and that I had accomplished much. I hope he was right. And I suspect that the King of Kings will say the same thing to you some day.
        Your Brother in Christ,
        Dan

  • Barbara says on

    On the other hand, our experience was a pastor who plagiarized, was talked to repeatedly, and split the congregation with foolish and inappropriate behavior. I’m sure he would give you six or seven of these reasons because he would never listen to anyone. Two sides to every situation!!

    • Barbara –

      I did not say otherwise. There are certainly exceptions. I was hoping we would focus on Christ-like ministry to these pastors rather than beating them up again verbally.

      • Judith Gotwald says on

        I’m not sure this writer meant to beat up verbally but to get at the reality in a short way that there ARE two sides in every “divorce.”. Not saying otherwise contributes to the perception these things truly happen with no cause. There is always a cause! The cause is always tragic, frequently complicated and hard to determine without knowing all the players and all the circumstances. It may simply be that while there was no specific problem, there was also no progress. The identified power group may be the group that is responsible for ensuring progress.

        While clergy tend to close ranks and support one another, laity have little voice. And since there are many viewpoints among the laity, even those listening aren’t likely to get the full story. A lot goes unsaid in church life—because of Christian empathy for more than just the pastor and the tendency to try to keep the peace until small problems become dangerous. Regardless, the congregation is suddenly in a vulnerable position with those in denominational power ready to find fault—having thoroughly heard the pastor’s side. They are indelibly labeled troublemakers who just didn’t care about the pastor. Word may then spread to other pastors that this is a church to avoid! Prayers are needed all around!

      • Judith –

        When I write a blog post, it is on a short and focused topic. I made it clear in the post I would not get into all the issues, including counterpoints. I do write about the other perspectives in separate posts, particularly those dealing with toxic church leaders.

      • Rachelle Seymour says on

        Judith –

        I see your comments from time to time on Thom’s blog. I am sure I have not seen all of them, but you do seem to have an issue with pastors. I am a layperson who sees Thom’s blog as helpful and a source of much-needed encouragement for pastors. This comment of yours is just not reality: “While clergy tend to close ranks and support one another, laity have little voice.” It seems to reflect an anti-pastor bias, something I see consistently in your comments.

      • There may be legitimate reasons to dismiss a pastor, but he should always be told the reason, and he should always be allowed to tell his side of things. To do otherwise is dirty pool.

      • Pastor says on

        J. Gotwald, some churches simply don’t deserve a pastor and are run by bad, unregenerate ppl. Spare us all the comments about laity and the congregation. A lot of churches “chew up and spit out” pastors so you need to chew on that a while. Men and their families’ lives get turned upside down.

        Now men who disrespect the congregation, steal money, cheat on their wives . . . Yeah, they need to go. But too many churches, in this day and age, get rid of their pastors over absolutely nothing. They put forth the dumb statement, “We’re not making any progress,” but they don’t want any progress. They don’t want new members. It’s all about keeping their little power because in real society or at their workplace, they have no power at all. They get told what to do.

        But in a church, they got power and these are often not spiritual people in any sense.

      • Billy Reinhardt says on

        Yep!

      • As my father in law would say, the unsaved are telling the saved what to do…again. He told me he resigned from being an elder at his church since most of the elders were not saved.

      • Jack Schmitt says on

        Judith –

        Laity have little voice??? Within most any church, they have way more of a voice then a senior pastor or staff members have. And they can often get away with speaking and acting in clearly unChristlike ways, with no consequences, whatsoever. Senior pastors and staff members can’t usually get away with that (And shouldn’t). And the support they get from fellow pastors does them little good, as far as keeping their job, when they are under attack from within their own congregation.

    • Pastor Bob says on

      Wrong context for working out issues with dysfunctional pastors. Plus, two exclamation points a bit much; could be interpreted as lingering hostility.

    • Dustin says on

      Barbara,

      I think you failed to read the entire post. Here is the final sentence:

      “Pastoral termination WITHOUT CAUSE, EXPLANATION, AND GRACE is simply not acceptable and not the path Christ would have us walk.” (Emphasis mine)

      He was not speaking to those with cause and explanation, of which you claim you did. He was not referring to rightfully terminated pastors, rather wrongfully terminated pastors.

      Read the whole article before going on the attack, which as stated by Pastor Bob, your response was written as an attack

      • Leon Davis says on

        Teaching the Church is vital. Teach what? Your answer will determine if you are the Church. The road is narrow and Jesus is the gate.

        Teach the world to observe all things He commanded, and make disciples, Jesus said.

        What gets us in trouble, said a much loved, American Deserter, wise old trouble maker Mark Twain… It’s what
        we know for sure, that just ain’t so.

    • Christopher says on

      Hmm…. “foolish and inappropriate behavior” is a very subjective standard. To your point, I would like to hear the pastor’s side of it.

  • Keith Ramage says on

    Sadly, I have experienced most of these. By the grace of God, my family is still “in the fight” with me and still loves the church and ministry. My wife is still my help-mate and still serves in ministry. God has shown great grace and mercy to us! Hang in there brothers! God is still in control. Use this as an opportunity to grow in humility and total dependence upon the Lord.

    • Keith,
      I am with you. I went through a forced resignation 8 years ago. I still love that church. I wouldn’t take another church in the same area because too many said they would go with me. It took three years to get another church 200 miles away, but God continued to bless us. We have now been here almost five years and we love and are loved by this church. I am 67 years old and desire to serve here for several years. Churches can be difficult but I am so grateful that God called me into this ministry.

  • D. Davis says on

    This last Sunday was my last Sunday at the church. I was pressured by the power group to leave because, I believe, I focused on reaching the community rather than holding their hands. Inside nothing immoral not unbiblical. Been there 6 years and 8 months but only got 3 months severance. This church has been locked into the same pattern for years. No pastor in recent times has been able to stay beyond 7 years.

    • D. Davis says on

      Should say I did, not inside. My phone…

    • My prayers for you, my friend. I hurt for you and your family.

    • I’m so sorry. Praying for you and your family.

    • Pastor Tim says on

      I feal you brother I was told at a privious church “you need to stop evangelizing because it is changeing our culture” I was not forced out but chose to leave because it was clear that it had become a countery club and God had not been there for years!

    • Michael says on

      My prayers are with you. I’m so sorry.

    • Our family experiences exactly the same in December. A power group attacked my husband and the whole church council. 3 mo./6 mo insurance as severance. Didn’t care that 40 people were so disgusted at their actions that they left & some may never return to any church. A denominational church at that provided no support at circuit or district levels.

    • M. D. Dizon says on

      Be strong big brother @ D. Davis, it’s not the end of your day working in the Lord’s vineyard. I can relate your story and indeed it’s painful. However, God has a purpose why He allowed it to happen. God is not far from you. If you stand right with God there’s nothing to worry. God has greater work for you to do in the outside. A lot of lost souls in the field and what you did is you only follow what God wants you to do. It is God’s heartbeat to win back the lost souls to Him.
      My big brother, keep moving and hold on to your calling. Your calling is not limited to the four corners of the building. God is not bound inside the building.
      Proverbs 11:30 says The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and HE THAT WINNETH SOULS IS WISE.
      God has another plan for you.
      Be strong, be happy don’t give up!
      If you feel you want to have a connection in the overseas, kindly email to [email protected]

      I Corinthians 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. KJV

    • Thanks for the great life related pastor posts from you. I was 20 years the Senior pastor at this church. The Lord blessed the church numerically and with an accredited Bible College all during my tenure at that church. It was a thriving and influential church in our country. Yet a power group did its damage. I was forced to resign and I really thought your post was all about what happened to me and my wife. Now three years after the bombshell, the damage is still raw in many peoples lives and in my familys life. People are still leaving the church due to what happened and the coverup explainations that were give. No reason for dismmissal, but my characted was under question. Never were the days so dark, the pain so deep, the heart so torn, and yet never has the Lord been so close, the comfort so real and his provision so amazing. But the hurt still remains. thank you for your encouragement.

    • praying for you. My dad just got fired last month, he was there for 5 years. It so confusing how something God designed to be a safe place for Christians to come and worship God can be so corrupt and flawed. Prayers for you and your family.
      Stay strong.

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