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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  • SD Curtis says on

    #1 Would assume a disconnect between the pastor and his congregation. I have never been fired from any position but if I were about to be fired, I would know early on since I have established relationships with leadership and check on them regularly.

    Those who have hinted on the “power” structure removing them from service. I would highly recommend that you are out doing the work of an evangelist. If you are and winning people to Christ then you have to evaluate whether the environment is conducive for growth of the new converts. If it is not then you have two choices (perhaps three) and that is A) start working to change current church culture or B) leave.

    I know some might come up with the idea that leaving is a coward move on the part of the pastor but it may be due to serious consideration that the work to change culture will take years if not decades and few people have the patience or the capacity to endure this. Let face it, some churches need to die and the sooner the better for the cause of Christ and His reputation.

    Finally, I would encourage potential ministers who are checking the job listings to be realistic about the requirements put forth by churches. For example many of those churches will list 20 or more tasks that the pastor must engage in and then list the pay as something like $20,000/year. If those tasks add up to be 50 hours of ministry for 20k then the church’s expectations need to be dealt with up front. Don’t take the job thinking something will change on the back end because that change maybe your firing and the next sucker stepping up to the plate. Bonus: Seeing these types of requirements for such low compensation should be a red flag that the people there are the godliest.

  • Thanks for this post. Unfortunately I have walked through this situation due to reaching too many people, baptizing too many and embracing new people more than celebrating our “founders”. After 6 years of serving there the church doubled and we baptized hundreds of people but the original power group decided they were not happy with the focus on reaching people for Christ and the impact it had on the church.

    It was incredibly painful for my family but God has been faithful and both my kids still love Jesus and don’t hate the church as an institution. They understand that the decision of a few men does not represent the entire church of Jesus Christ. This is a simple version of what we learned through a season that was horrible, gut-wrenching and faith-shaking but God has been faithful through all our emotions and pain.

    The scripture God gave me as I walked through this season was 1 Timothy 6:11-12 “But as for you, O man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith.”

    Seeking godly counsel and good friends speaking into our lives helped us weather the tragedy and chaos, but it was dark and difficult to say the least.

  • Thank you, Thom!

    These are the reasons, and more, that we hear everyday as we try to walk with pastors and their families who have experienced a unexpected and often unwarranted forced termination. We have been at the business of offering hope and a process of that can help a pastor chart a course into ministry again for over 20 years. The cost to the work of the kingdom that all your stories represent is also a travesty.

    We are trying to change the narrative and reputation of the Church – one pastoral family at a time. To any and all of you who have commented – and those who have not – we would be honored to have the opportunity to walk with you on a path of renewal and restoration.

  • Darrell says on

    Been there, experienced that! It is probably the most painful thing I and my family have gone through. Yes, you want to leave ministry after such an experience. But, if God called you, He will lift you up and get you through and use you again for His glory! Don’t give up! God has better days ahead for you and His love for you has not changed. Don’t let it make you bitter and fruitless. In His love, Darrell

  • Deanna Bartlett says on

    I was a pastors kid and now a pastors wife. It’s all I know. My father and my husband are men of integrity and meekness. I have experienced many different types of hurts which still affect our family to this day, But! I wouldn’t change what God has allowed me to learn of Him through all of it. He has been faithful in His promise to teach us as we draw close to Him. I pray for these families and ask for God to pour out His mercy and grace!!! Thank you for your ministry.

  • Thom,
    I never forget the loving words of an adult PK sharing her thoughts on her dad’s forced termination.: “I wish churches understood that it’s easier to move your letter than it is to move a pastor’s couch!”
    Sums up the truth quickly.

  • #9, and in addition, we were told that I would be groomed as the successor. Nevertheless, God is good..

  • Eddie Hall says on

    I am a layman but have been on two search committees. I resigned as the chairman of the second search committee before a decision was made and I left that church. When I left I did what Dr John McArthur says to do. I left quietly and didn’t stir up the church. I sympathize with pastors and what they go through. I wouldn’t treat my worst enemy the way some pastors are treated.

  • I keep thinking that at least a small part of this issue is that we have lost the distinction between “calling” pastors and church staff versus “hiring” pastors and church staff. If churches have merely hired someone to do a job, I think it’s easier to cut them loose when they don’t like how they are doing their job or the desired results are not immediate. It seems like opportunities for growth, improvement, coaching, reconciliation, prayerful guidance, etc., when it comes to church staff, are becoming fewer and farther between.

  • This is a heart-breaking post. I am saddened for vocational ministers who have gone through forced termination, and for churches who have gone through the process as well. In my experience (I am a full-time vocational Pastor) I have seen this happen too many times. By God’s grace, it has never happened to me, but I have been in churches in which staff members were “let go.” Honestly, I have seen equal parts where the termination was warranted, and plenty of times it was not. My humble opinion is that the fault, in large part, lies with the flawed system of hiring, and a flawed system of daily ministry operation. First, a pastor’s ministry can be off track from the beginning because the members of the search committee did not accurately represent a cross section of the congregation. Search committees are often made up of progressive, growth minded folks (the kind who would volunteer to serve on such a committee). While they communicate their own hearts for growth and ministry to the candidate, they do not fully represent what that Pastor will deal with in the congregation as a whole. The new pastor begins acting on what he heard in the interviews and finds a far different response congregation wide.
    Secondly, we as pastor’s far too often operate in a vacuum with far too little communication with other staff, lay leaders, and members of the congregation. There is a great need for systemic, frequent communication, such as staff meetings, accountability meetings with leadership, regular evaluations, and discussions with sample groups within the congregation. With more effective communication all around, it will become less likely one would “not see it coming.”
    Open eyes and awareness coming into a new ministry, along with more effective communication during the ministry may not entirely stem the tide of terminations, but I believe it would help a lot. Blessings to all!

  • Samuel T. Lyon says on

    Sadly the same can happen to staff members at the hands of a lead/senior pastor. No warning, no chance to for a council or board to hear both sides. Just whoosh, little severance, and gone.

    I even was told not to say anything to anybody. Many friends and even family members still don’t know what happened.

    Family devastated and wife nearly wanting to nothing to do with church. It happens. Believe me.

  • Echo the “Wow”. Having previously resigned after exposing the underlying sin and deceit in the leadership, I just received word that a good friend had been “forced to resign”. I’ve been reading the responses to the blog and it’s clear that there are many sides to every story and only God sees the whole picture. In my case, I came to realize some of my mis-steps and mistakes. In the case of my friend, he is becoming aware of some bad choices early in his ministry at his church. Most consistent seems to be “I never saw it coming” – whether we did or not. I am most deeply troubled by the response of our brother, Jason. While I never questioned my call, I did question my denominational affiliation.
    I questioned the spiritual condition of the leadership.
    We’ve lost our daughter, who was in high school, to the church (for sure) and to God (still praying for our prodigal.) My friend is fearing the same for his teen-aged daughter.
    I’m guessing the intent of the blog was to present information, but thank you, DrR, for opening the door for our expression. God can heal us if we will allow Him.

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