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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  • This is truly sad, regardless of the reasons. 99.9% of the pastors I have worked with over the years are the most sincere, hardworking people I know. They love God and usually the people and want to lead that particular church.
    Not minimizing any pain involved I do suggest that pastors should ask a million questions before accepting a position. The first being about the power structure. Not officially structure but who really calls the shots? What is my authority as pastor here? Then if you are comfortable with the powers that be, stay very close to them or that person with regular coffee and contact. This is a must until the influence moves to your chair. This in itself could prevent a lot of surprises. I’ve only been fired from a church once and I learned quickly.

  • Michael Richardson says on

    Sadly, there are also too many pastors who need to be fired and aren’t. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “That hundreds have missed their way, and stumbled against a pulpit is sorrowfully evident from the fruitless ministries and decaying churches which surround us.” I think that is even more relevant today.

    Yes, fired people will complain. I have been fired from both pastoral ministry and secular jobs. I think I can provide a different perspective. Some of these responses can reflect the deficiency of the pastor, and not necessarily any defect in the ministry that fired them. I have no doubt fired pastors say these things. I don’t think they may always reflect reality.

    “I didn’t see it coming.” This response could be the result that the pastor is not in tune with the members of the congregation or leaders in the church. I t-boned a driver who made an unprotected left turn at a light. She “didn’t see it coming” but had she been aware of her surroundings, she would have.

    “The severance was small.” Most secular employers offer none. Furthermore, churches who fire there pastors are possibly doing so because the church is dying. They may not be able to do more. I know a Headmaster of a failed Christian school who left the church offended that he didn’t get a hefty severance after leading the school from 400 to 180 students. He should have been fired 5 years before and this story would have been different.

    “I can never return to pastoral ministry.” No fired lawyer would say “I can’t practice law anymore!” This seems like sulking in self-pity. In my opinion, any pastor who truly thinks this probably shouldn’t (see the Spurgeon quote again).

    “Secular employers are kinder and show more grace.” I think this view comes from pastors who haven’t been fired from secular work. I had a sales supervisor lie and falsify write-ups to get me fired. I had a deacon lie and get me fired. I know they are hurting, but this is probably unfair in many cases. Furthermore, Christian business people should be gracious. So, maybe they are just living their faith.

    • Your compassion is an inspiration to us all (sarcasm intended).

      • Michael Richardson says on

        I realize my post is cynical. I have known too many pastors who do nothing but preach. No visitation to members. No outreach. No counseling. No participation of any type outside the pulpit act like the church. They are shocked when people don’t come and members are disenfranchised.

        My default opinion (until recently) has been to defer to the pastor for leadership. Pastors and deacons who lie, deceive and act unscrupulously have left me a little jaded.

        Many who read this article will assume the pastor is right and the church was wrong. I wanted to point out that this might not be the case.

        I was fired from my church 5 weeks ago, so I still feel the sting keenly. Regarding the family being devastated, I can empathize. My son (age 7) asked every Sunday and Wednesday if we could go back to our prior church. Through my continued spiritual leadership in the home, he and my wife have both realized that while this prior church harmed us, we could worship elsewhere. Many of these responses come from spiritual immaturity or general naiveté.

      • If you were fired from your church, then it seems to me you should show a little more sympathy to those who have been through the same thing.

  • NEIL MACQUEEN says on

    The point about having a hard time attending church hit home.

    After leaving a bad church position on my own terms, I was wary about getting involved in any other church. I would attend but keep my distance. I think it’s a little like PTSD — the sites and sounds and attitudes in “the next church” constantly reminding you of the past. You can forgive, but it’s impossible to forget.

  • This blog post has dredged up some very difficult memories of when I was a young minister with just about ten years under my belt. Because my wife had an affair and asked for a divorce, I was basically written off and forgotten about. Like so many others, I was left abandoned by the side of the road to fend for myself.

    That experience taught me something that I’ve never forgotten, which is that while a man or even a denomination may decide one is not “good enough”, there is a good God that still welcomes us with open arms.

    My heart breaks for those in ministry who have been cast aside, and I’ve heard from many of them. So much needless hurt and abuse has been forced upon them all in order to do what? Keep those out that no longer “make the grade”? What about pouring in the oil and wine to bind the wounds of the broken?

    I love Christ’s church today more than I ever have, yet for the life of me I cannot fathom the manner in which we subject one another to such hurt. As someone said previously, ‘we bite and devour our own’… are we not still carnal?

    I would encourage every pastor who has ever been shamefully treated then terminated to know that there is life beyond this hurt. There is purpose and a plan for your ministry to flourish, but it has to be His way. Sometimes, addition can only come via subtraction, so I would encourage you to remember that “it ain’t over until God says it’s over”!

  • Joseph says on

    Thom, I experienced a firing a couple of years ago. Through that time, I believe the Lord has allowed me to be an encouragement to many who have experienced the same thing. As well, I have wrote out alot of thoughts and put fingers to keyboard to make it concise and clear. Would you be up for reading through it? I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  • We have worked for two pastors that treated our families horribly.

    One pastor and his wife would call at 10 or 11pm at night and chew us out over petty things. Including the all-time ridiculous, “why didn’t you smile at me when you saw me in the hallway at church?”

    The other pastor would compliment us in public and belittle us in private. After 6 years, we struggled to function in an environment where the entire staff was afraid of this man.

    I remain concerned that someone in a pastoral leadership position is not held accountable because we are to “touch not God’s anointed” – which is completely taken out of scriptural context.

    There are no doubt thousands upon thousands of hurting ex-pastors walking around, unable to put themselves and their families back into a place that they might be hurt again, and thus unable to serve in ministry to their full capacity..

    I am so grateful that our family’s story is one of healing and restoration. God sent amazing people into our lives that walked us from brokeness into a place of wholeness. Our kids suffered emotionally and spiritually, but God is faithful and everyone is good.

  • Derick Pindroh says on

    I just left my position as a Worship Pastor at a church where 2 families controlled everything. They combined forces about a year ago in an concerted effort to pit the staff against each other. Unfortunately – they were successful to an extent – and once there were the slightest cracks — they began to chip away at all three of us. In the last month, there were private meetings; meetings after the deacons’ meeting – where it was a staff-bashing session for 90 minutes; SS lunch meetings where the staff was invited – and then it was an all out bashing of us for another 30 minutes. The Youth Pastor resigned 3 weeks ago to take another position … I resigned 2 weeks ago, and after 28 years, will probably never serve in a brick & mortar church again … and the Pastor is set to resign in the next 2 weeks. THEY won … and we are all bruised, battered, worn and defeated.

  • Once again – Thank you Dr. Rainer for your blog.

    I have seen a lot over the years, dealt with a lot. I have seen friends forced to resign, one that included #s 2, 3, 6 and 7.
    His family was devastated and that is putting it mildly.
    He has since signed on with a church that I thank God for, they are good and kind to him and his family. The very healing time they needed. I thank God for that.

    If your current situation of mistreatment or unfair/ungodly behavior from a small group, might I suggest that you read a book called “The Devil in Pew Number 7” by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo…
    It put so much in perspective. It will read like an unbelievable novel – but it is actually a VERY true story. In my current church I actually have a member who lived in the town where this happens and she confirmed it (not that I didn’t believe the author).
    I have never been treated like the pastor in the book, nor has my family (spoiler alert – no one has ever shot at me).
    So it helped me look at my own situation and realize that I didn’t have it so bad.

  • As a 60 year old preacher’s kid, who has stayed in the church his whole life, I have been there, seen that, and seen and experienced much more.
    I never felt called to ministry, but have served in the church my whole adult life. As a young man I was pushed by people (not my parents) to enter the ministry, but just never felt the calling so I never did.
    My sibling has left the church because of how our father was treated by a church, or maybe I should say “churches”.
    I have been in the corporate world my whole life and would dare to say that if churches were held to the same legal standards as corporate America, 99% of them would be in trouble.
    Many of them hide behind the veil of saying “it’s God’s work”, when in reality they are just community social clubs.

    America has cut “churches” a lot of slack. I’m not so sure that is for the good because there are so many bad churches out there.
    God’s church always seems to thrive when it is persecuted, and we have never really been persecuted since 1776.

    Jesus teaches us “broad is the way, but narrow is the gate” and I truly beleive that that applies to churches as well as individuals.

    I have moved around the country some, and always the hardest thing about moving is finding a good Godly church that teaches true Christian doctrine and honestly tries to operate in a Biblical manner.
    I never join a church until I have been to several “business meetings” or get to know the underbelly of the church.

    Unfortunately God didn’t give us detailed instructions on how a church should operate, He only provided us with His standards and principles, and rare is the church that studies His Word and honestly tries to implement His standards as a model.

    I am a Southern Baptist, by choice. A Christian first, and a Southern Baptist secondly, and sadly, as large as the SBC is, it does not do a good job of teaching and preparing churches to operate properly.

    Because we are not a true denomination, but a collection of “like minded churches”, that are not managed, the SBC has largely failed in helping it’s churches understand how to operate according to Godly principles and how to Implement Godly standards in it’s polity.

    I understand “church”. I have served on Pastor search committees.
    I have been the chairmen of the Deacon’s and broke the strangle hold that they had on the church, and the church better understood how church polity should work after that.

    I know a pastor who had to fire a brother, his sibling, because the sibling was just plain lazy.

    I had a pastor friend who was enticed into an affair and it broke up his family and his ministry. Fortunately he had correctly changed that churches culture, and polity for the better. After this happened the church never missed a beat after he resigned. He left on his own volition before this came to light.

    I have a pastor friend whose teenage son committed suicide after his father was wrongfully forced out of a church.
    I dare say that I have seen just about everything that you can see.

    I also know a pastor of a very large church who treats his staff and other pastors like dirt. He pays decently, but the employment culture is cruel, to say the least. If he even gets a whiff of a scent that someone is even looking at serving in another church, or taking another job, they are fired on the spot, and asked to clean out their desks, that very day. No explaining, no nothing. He is going to have to answer to God for his mean spirited ways and I would say Ungodly way of treating people. I find that attitude or principle no where in the Bible that I read.

    There are always two sides to each story, but unfortunately I would dare say that the majority of Pastoral firings are the fault of the church, either because of ignorance or because of a controlling Power Group.

    Many pastors are not a good fit for the church they serve in.
    Most people don’t understand the difference between a Pastor and a Preacher. My personal opinion is that rare is the man that is good at both. Most are stronger in one area than the other and marginally acceptable in the other.
    One thing I have never understood is why most are Introverts, but that’s a topic for another day. That comes from an extrovert.

    God will hold us all accountable for our own actions, or lack of action-ie., laziness, no work ethic, etc.
    There are going to be many, on both sides of the fence, who when they get to the day of recogning are going to say, “but Lord we served you” and Jesus will say “Away from me, I never knew you.”
    How sad.
    My heart goes out to Men of God and their familes who have truly been wronged by the churches that they were honestly trying to serve faithfully.

    • KD –

      These comments are powerful. Thank you for taking the time to share them with us.

      • Thom,
        They come from the heart, and yes a heart that has been broken by a church, but I grew to understand that we serve God and not man. Man is sinfully flawed and all we can do is pray for them and love them as much as we can.
        We just have to remember, we are called to serve Him and the lost and hurting, not some board.

        We just have to keep this thought in our mind, God’s work will not be detoured, eventhough often we think it can be.
        He promises us that The gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, period. And that is a promise that we can take to the bank!

    • KD, what a perspective. What a great post! So much wisdom, knowledge, and truth in it! You speak it straight, exactly how it is and you have compassion for pastors and their families. I commend you, sir. Continue to speak out even if people oppose you and they don’t want to hear it or criticize you. Speak it.

  • John W Carlton says on

    In my first church I was a young kid didn’t know what I was doing. I was trying to do two jobs and they forgot that I had a family. For over a year I did not have a single night at home with my family oh, and I was a young married man with a wife and a child. The comment that I heard over and over and over again was they say that fill in the blank. I don’t know who they was but they said. Thank God I was able to find another place to go before I was fired praying for those who are in the situation of being forced out of their place of service God will deal with these people I guarantee.

    • When someone plays the “they are saying” game, the first question I ask is, “Who?” If the person can answer me, then it might need some attention. If the person just hems and haws, then he / she is probably bluffing.

  • Never got to being fired but resigned and 7-8 of these are my story.

  • I was forced out of a church early on in my ministry and have since been blessed to reenter the pastorate with good Godly churches. I have also committed myself to helping those who have experienced the same whether it was of their own doing or not. It has been a wonderful fulfilling ministry for me.

    One thing I would like to add related to a previous comment about clergy closing ranks, is that the closing of ranks among pastors is simply not true in my experience and in the experiences of the any I have assisted through these times. I found that you soon were ignored, forgotten, and even treated as though there was something wrong with you. I have found this to be the experience of the pastors to whom I have come to their aid in similar situations.

    Whatever the circumstances involved in these situations love needs to abound, pastors need to be loved, prayed and cared for, and the church and its people need to be love, prayed and care for. They are still people, people for whom Christ died. This approached has helped heal my relationship with the particular church, its people, and allowed me to serve a church nearby with nothing but positive words about me from the church. It has also helped me to assist in the healing of those who have experienced the same.

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