Ten Common Responses from Fired Pastors

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.

Posted on June 5, 2019

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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  • Bennett Smith says on

    I relate to 9 of the 10 or some variation of them but very close. To be clear I had personal unresolved issues and blind spots that I was able to deal with as a result of the ugly conflict. At the end of the day the church I served for over 20 years is on its way to its best days with a very good Pastor leading that charge. Our marriage of 29 years failed during the conflict and she passed away less than a year later. My four grown children are not doing well spiritually. I can’t blame that on church completely. We carried a lot of family dysfunction into our marriage at 20 at 21 years of age. I knew her 3 weeks before I proposed.. We were not healthy people but I was convinced that God had saved me from a drug overdose for a purpose and she believed that. Our children had all loved the church prior to the conflict. I don’t think they would blame the church either. They are more angry/sad that they lost the life they had loved and mostly blame me for that. . I LOVE the Local Church maybe more than I ever have so no regrets there. Everyone involved was given the opportunity to learn and grow and the outcomes will be based on our individual responses to our failings on all sides. God always wins because Love never fails. It’s been 6 years. I started a new career at 54 years old with IKEA. I’ve spoken 3 times just in this past year at church’s I’m close to and shared my story. Not really sure what’s next for me other than loving and providing for my wife and 4 step children. Personally I have never felt more fulfilled and healthy. I attribute that to the lessons I’ve learned from failure and through adversity. I’m very optimistic about the future of the local church regardless of all the problems I see. I think more is being done today (like this post) to encourage better, stronger and more authentic/caring Leadership in local churches. It’s a winnable spiritual war. We’re on the right team. I remember the first time I heard Bill Hybels say many years ago: “The Local Church is the hope of the World WHEN it’s working right and in order to work right it must be Well Led and Well Fed”. I still wholeheartedly believe that. Thanks Dr. Rainer for this post. It’s spot on.

  • Thom, I am new to your site (about 1 week) and have enjoyed the poignancy and succinctness of your comments. In regards to 10 Common Reasons my experience in leadership (40 years in both corporate and church world) has taught me a few things, often the hard way, about transitions: 1) save some catalytic and catastrophic singular event no transition/termination should ever take the person being released by surprise – a series of intentional and very specific conversations/warnings should have taken place over a period of time. 2) The decision to transition a staff member should not be made in isolation – depending on system of church governance and by-laws – the elders, deacons, or personnel committee, etc should be included in the decision-making as opposed to informed after the fact. 3) Once the decision to terminate is made it should be implemented immediately and communicated to the church as quickly and effectively as possible; there is no need to share the details publicly. 4) The church and its leadership are required by scripture (1 Timothy 4, Philippians 3, etc) to be an example to others, this extends to and includes being an example to the staff member being released. Last, in the past I have recommended 1 month’s salary and benefits for every year of service as severance, I would be interested in knowing, based on your experience and surveys of countless churches, what you and others believe a fair severance package should look like. Thanks again for your articles and for you time this morning.

  • Brian Brumley says on

    Here’s another: Theu said they couldn’t pay me anymore. Funny, but they found the money to pay another guy the following week. It was a financial miracle!

    • Mark Smith says on

      Brian, are you talking about the church you have recently pastored in New England, or one before? I used to be on Church Answers and remember you well. I am praying for your brother.


  • Severance? What is that?

    I was let go by the “POWER” structure. Once time they let me go and the next time they just cut my pay by 2/3 and eventually I had to resign.

    Going in, how do you know the “power” structure until you have moved your family and learn of it.

    I was not preaching, but I was not “uncalled.” I am now at a church where we are loved and I’ve been there for 15 years. In both of the previous “power” churches, there are families that are our dear friends after all these years.

    My children have gotten past the hurt but I know it is in the back of their minds.

  • Rev Larry says on

    ‘Years after being ‘fired’ (another term for ‘the Lord told us it’s time for you to leave.’ I found out that state, federal or in Canada provincial labour laws trump (excuse the term) church law or policy. I could have sued the church for wrongful dismal and demanded a substancial severance page. An acquaintance, although a fall down drunk alcoholic, was fired then went to court, sued the church and denomination and won and gave the money to charity.

    In another case the church ‘fired’ an associate minister for infidelity but had to pay the salary and could not fill the position for one year, leaving the church short-staffed.

    Denominations and independent churches better check the government laws and offer a severance package, making sure it is generous. I received nothing and went on welfare and had to find a place to live (they owned the parsonage). Bad experience all around. Fractured family, bankruptcy and more and effects remain.

  • Christopher says on

    I was pushed out by a dishonest and manipulative youth pastor. I did see it coming so I was able to negotiate a decent severance. The deacons, who run this particular church, knew how dishonest he was, they had plenty of evidence supplied by a dozen different people but they didn’t care. They viewed him as better for business because he had built up a large youth group. It turned out to be a bad miscalculation. The deacons didn’t realize that several parents, and even youth, were fed up with the youth pastor. All of his lies, and other inappropriate behavior, were starting to catch up to him. A month after I left, the youth group imploded and the youth pastor begged for a severance, which the church could not afford. Eventually someone agreed to pay a partial severance out of their own pocket. Now the church has no staff and attendance has been cut in half.

    I love teaching the Word but I’ll never be a pastor again. I’m convinced that the majority of churches in this country are run by unbelievers.

    • Philip G. Holmes says on

      Sadly, Christopher, you could be right about those “running” the church. The enemy blinds their eyes to their own deceptions and delusions. I have discovered many of the power players show little (or none) evidence of the fruit of the Spirit within their lives. Are they truly saved into the body of Christ? We can’t answer that, but the lack of fruit is an indicator. In spite of what the enemy accomplishes through church members, the Lord is still in charge of His church and certainly in charge of His pastors. We must stay under the authority of the Holy Spirit and not pursue actions contrary to His leading.

    • Chris, I’m starting to believe the same thing: about the majority of churches being run by unbelievers. I’m tired of it: after 2 bad churches.

      I’m not a perfect pastor, nor am I a perfect Christian. But these churches (if you want to call them this; “social club” might be a better characterization) are run by unspiritual, gossiping, cranky, difficult people who specialize in mistreating pastors.

      All these people who scoff at the mistreatment of pastors . . . Get a life! It happens. I’d like to see it happen to one of you and then see what your tune would be. Let’s let you lose your livelihood and be struggling to find employment and/or somewhere to live.

      I’m not at all saying pastors should have their position for life or a long time. But most churches today are run very poorly by people who are far from God. As has been said on here a lot the last day, you (as a man) get treated better often in the secular world than in the church. By secular bosses. We got it all backwards!

      Seriously considering never pastoring a church again. Might preach a little with doing pulpit supply. But many of these churches are “messed up places” with little love, Fruit of the Spirit, joy, and fellowship. They are just country clubs where miserable people gather to catch up on “what happened last week” and they see their buddies and gossip about how badly their pastor is doing, according to their little standards. That pastor? “Oh, he’s just our hireling. He does what we tell him and we can let him go at anytime.” He’s got kids and we might turn their lives upside down? “Who gives a rip???”

      I’m amazed at how sorry the state of the American church is. If you’re at a bad church, brother, don’t get too far down. There are plenty of those and it’s very common: difficult places. You, like myself, are among the many walking around with cuts and scars that will be there for life. If you’re at a good church who pays you well and loves on you and your family, you’re in the minority. Count your blessings and be grateful you’ve never gone through a forced resignation.

      I realize Jesus, Paul, and the OT prophets suffered, too: far more than we have. But it still doesn’t make it easy. The crown has to be in heaven. It surely is not here.

      • “All these people who scoff at the mistreatment of pastors . . . Get a life! It happens. I’d like to see it happen to one of you and then see what your tune would be. ”


      • Pastor,

        So, so, SOOOOO SORRY! But thank you for your transparency and honesty. Thank you for being open about your hurt! It is eerie how similar your wounds are to so many of us! I can only encourage you to take time to heal! One of the things that my experience has taught me is to be OPEN about my pain and my bad experiences; not whiney or vindictive, but OPEN. I am amazed at how one simple phrase has encouraged others to open up about their pain. Several months ago, during a casual conversation with a worker at our local Lowe’s, she mentioned that she and her husband HAD been in youth ministry. When I asked her why they left, she said that they had been forced to resign. Then she said, “It’s been 3 years and we are just now starting to visit local churches.” Then she looked at me and said, “Take your time. Heal! You’ll know when it’s right to re-engage.” Wow!

        So, yeah! To your point, what do you do when all of your undergraduate, graduate, and work experience have prepared you for the last place you want to be? Candidate at a new church? No way! I’m even triggered by parachurch vocational ministries! Where I am right now I have no desire even to preach! Will I ever preach or pastor again in the vocational sense? Probably not. But I’m not worried about it right now, and I encourage you not to let that burden you either. I’m even revisiting what I’ve been taught about ministerial calling. I mean, the bible does say, “If someone DESIRES the office of a bishop.” So, am I neglecting my calling if I no longer desire the office? Is it me, or is it wrong teaching about “the calling.” Food for thought.

        Another benefit of my past church experience is that it has opened me up to painful portions of Scripture that I used to gloss over or explain away. I was blown away by Jeremiah’s seeming schizophrenia in chapter 20: “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived (strong word: often used in the context of seducing a virgin!); you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.

        Was Jeremiah’s pain real? You bet! What about Elijah and Moses? You bet! And then the raw openness of many of the Psalms. Why do we only sing the positive, “happy” ones? 🙂 And, my goodness, even Jesus. How could God, the Son, say to God the Father: “My God, [where are you]! Why have you forsaken me.” Shouldn’t Jesus have known that God will NEVER leave or forsake us? So, yeah! We’re in good company. And, pastor, thanks for your transparency about how knowing Biblical truth and the examples of Paul, Peter, and Jesus does not lessen the pain. I’m right there with you!

        I am convinced that we have created a pseudo-spirituality in our “churches” that beats down the broken and discourages transparency about our questions, doubts, and pain. We’re afraid of being judged and rebuked if we say out loud what we are really feeling inside. Instead of weeping with those who weep and loving the wounded with no agendas, we quarantine them and send them off to the paid professionals (clergy) to be fixed. And this pseudo-spirituality effectively blows a chill wind on those outside the Church who are in most need of healing.

        I truly hope that my own brokenness at the hands of “the church” will teach me to empathize with the broken, to love them with no agendas, to see in them the Imago Dei, and to walk with them as fellow wounded back to the only One who can truly and completely heal!

        I think it’s time for all of us to revisit what it really means to grow in grace. If grace is something outside of ourselves that must totally be given to us by someone else, then growing in grace does not mean becoming more spiritual (i.e., faithfully doing devotions, attending church, and doing all the things that good Christians are supposed to do). Rather, it is a growth in honesty about how bad and how broken we really are and how MUCH we need Jesus!

  • Mike Normoyle says on

    I experienced termination after the new pastor came to the church I was serving in as assoc. pastor. I had just come back from vacation and was called into the pastor’s office. With the pastor was the chairman of the personal committee. No explanation or reason was given for my termination., Later I found out the chairman of the personal committee was surprised by my reaction. He was told I knew this was coming. I have to give credit to the chairman because he knew the committee was lied to. He was able to get me a six month severance. I was very angry at the pastor as well as God. I spent about 3years trying to find a job. In the area I lived most companies/businesses were not interested in a person who was a minister. A friend reached out to me and offered me opportunities to supply preach. At this point it was 3years since I was terminated. I found that my heart was still drawn to the church. God provided me an opportunity to serve him as a pastor in a rural area. The church was recovering from a painful split and were wanting someone who could love them, guide them and serve them and the community. They knew of my termination and I was able to share with them my fears of stepping back into the church as a pastor. The church and I fitted together nicely and as of May 26 2019 I resigned as their pastor after 20 years.
    Though the termination was devastating to my wife and I, spiritually, emotionally, financially (we had to file bankruptcy due to the reduced income) I had to face some ugly truths about myself. Even though no reason was given, the experience led me to repent of unhealthy practices in my life. I wound up being a better follower of Christ and I would also say a better pastor.

  • I think pastors need to be honest with their perspective church,if they bave no intentions on being a pastor,only an evangelist,and their spouse isnt called to the ministry,they shouldn’t expect to set the world on fire. Just being realistic.

  • Brian Brumley says on

    Here’s another: “We can’t pay you anymore.” Funny…..they found the money to pay another guy the next week. Must have been a financial miracle or something like that.

  • I have stated six of the ten. Semantically speaking, I was asked to resign due to the new Senior Pastor falsifying to the board of directors a version of an incident involving me.
    “Blindsided” was the term I used. The Senior Pastor and a board member delivered the news that I was to clear out my office.

    My family was indeed devastated. Many friends in ministry called immediately, which was bittersweet. I felt embarrassed, angry, confused, and yet grateful.

    I spoke with over 230yrs of lead pastoral experience throughout the following months. I was humble and transparent. They offered their advice, prayers, and love.

    Over a year and a half later, the pain still persists, yet I find myself in another roll in ministry at another local church. The calling outweighs the vocation.
    I am also working on a Masters degree in Leadership. There are many Pastors who lack training. They’re gifted to preach, yet fall short in their leadership skills.

    Hopefully, God will use me to bridge a gap.

  • Philip G. Holmes says on

    I experienced all but 5 and 9. It took years for my children to return to church, and sadly, 10 years have gone by and one of my adult children hasn’t returned to church at all. Can’t blame that solely on what happened in the church, but it certainly was a major contributor. I still love that church body, because she belongs to Jesus, but those who were responsible for our demise will be held accountable for the wreckage they caused. Since my dismissal, my successor finally had enough and resigned. The church attendance has dropped by 2/3’s and their reputation and influence in the community has diminished severely. Not what the Lord wants for His church. Will they ever wake up and humble themselves before the Lord for their sins?

  • I was vote in as pastor of a church for a year and left because of misunderstanding about what the bible said about gambling. Some of the members met in secret with the board to put me out, but God move on my wife and me to let them have what they want. Left without any pay or severance. We left with a good standing of the church and some of the members hate to see us go because of the ministry’s that we created that wasn’t there before.

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