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

  • Not enough has been said about those of us in associations or denominations that have the district minister actually help the power group pressure the pastor to resign “for the good of the church.” In their view, pastors come and go – and churches stay. So to keep their relationship with the church (and the money coming), they try to convince the pastor that it is in “everyone’s best interest” for the pastor to leave. Oh, and don’t believe the promises that are made by the district personnel – you will be forgotten and will not be recommended to any open church in their district. Thankfully, they don’t control other districts… So many can write a book about being fired, forced or pressured out. Thanks Thom for the post – God opened a door up for us three months after being forced out (so there is hope!) But you carry the scars… and while you forgive, it hurts. Even six years later…

    • Thank you, Rod. Just prayed for you.

      • Local Leader says on

        I would like to hear more comments, esp. from Thom Rainer on Rod’s opinion regarding “controlling and power” group aligned with denominational district in term of continual influx of “benevolent.”

        The “controlling and power” group even worked its way into the pastor-wife’s head (with threats to cut off “paychecks” and eventually “ousting”), and successfully had the pastor-wife sided with them (“them” means the mother-church’s “power” group and the daughter’s church predecessor’s extended family members and relatives) to manipulate the incoming pastor. The context was hidden under the official description as “replanting the daughter congregation” but it was for the purpose of “delaying 2-3 years of timing” until the predecessor’s son-in-law graduated from a non-denominational seminary and completed a denominational certification while giving time for a “replant.” The subtext here is opposing to any changes: the obstructionists decried every attempt of cultural and structural changes made to be more aligned with the surrounding communities and with the denomination’s theology (for over 15 years the predecessor had abused the denominational grants and the facility to hand over the work to his son-in-law when he’d move into his retirement). By the time the incoming pastor arrived, the daughter congregation’s membership spiraled down to a dozen members (only two 80 year old ladies and the rest were the predecessor’s immediate family members). Harassment and mobbing from the mother-congregation’s pastor and “controlling and power” group and from the daughter-congregation’s predecessor family members were carried until the incoming pastor was gone.

        We would like to learn from this bad experience for the future mission. How will we anticipate and prevent this from happening again? How will we dismantle or weaken the “controlling and power” group? How will we uncover any hidden agenda when we try to spring off a mission without looking like “micro-management” to a missionary pastor? From a bigger picture, how would we “take out” a mission-do-nothing pastor of our (mother-)congregation, or at least disconnect the district “power and authority” supplier from a mission-do-nothing pastor, who has been installed for over a decade and has been protected by his inner circle? We hate to cut off our tithes and leave the congregation (60 average gray-hair attendants living off $200,000+ saving) because it is going to be a lose-lose situation. Much thanks!

  • Pastor says on

    Thom, press on. Thank you for your fine work. Don’t give it up anytime soon. The churches and pastors need you to do what you do. You speak honestly.

  • There are a lot of sad stories in the comments and I am praying for all of you. I am a leader at a church and have now hired three spiritual leaders and two administrators following the resignation of our long term leader and later our administrator. My co-leader and I guided the process and the rest of the volunteers. Both of us have some secular experience in Human Resources. We would have been overwhelmed and could have stumbled badly if we had not. I wondered what other volunteer boards do if they don’t have any depth in human resources (form the posts I can see there are some disasters).

    On many occasions I have had discussions with our community about bullying and harassment, discrimination, human rights and the fact that our leader is also our employee with the rights and expectations of other employees. I would easily accept a community member moving on if they could not moderate their behaviour. And in fact have said as much if they threatened to leave.

    In defense of the community, some spiritual leaders have acted as though their word was final and been dismissive of the needs of the community. We act on that too.

  • Pastor says on

    I’ve been let go twice now. At one church, I served for a decent period of time. The last year I was there, 4 ppl (2 men and 2 women) had 3 secret meetings with me, which lasted 2-3 hours each. These were bash fests, in which I was incessantly hammered. While pastor, I preached the Word, visited the families and widows in their homes, was there for ppl in hospitals. We had a little growth during my time. But a little power group (comprised of 3 families who gave most of the money) came against me. My preaching was hitting them too hard and they couldn’t take it. Well guess what?! The Bible is supposed to convict you of sin and if a man preaches it like he should, this is exactly what it should do. There’s a reason in 2019 that Joel Osteen has a huge church. The man never preaches about sin; it’s always about your “best life.” It’s not Bible preaching; it “motivational speaking.” In this church that had the secret meetings with me, probably 60-70% supported me, but I had had enough. Didn’t bring it to a vote. The last year there, these families pressured me much and when I resigned in 2016, it felt a huge burden had been lifted off of my shoulders. I love pastoring (preaching, visiting, and doing outreach to see souls saved), but this little group (of mostly older couples in their 60s and 70s) decided to try to make my life miserable and they did their best. Through the prayers of many, I was able to hold on for 1 more year, even through the secret meetings and I resigned with 4 months of severance. I’ve been through this now again: not as hard as the first church. But still painful. A group came against me recently. A few families. Most of the church (again probably 60-70%) supported me continuing to be the pastor, but I did not bring it to a vote. I agreed to resign, meeting with a few of the men a few months ago. The attitude that really irritated me was: This little group, who came against me, wanted me to leave about a month and a half after expressing their discontent openly. Very unethical, dishonorable, and just flat out wrong. But it’s in their little bylaws. I, while not perfect, preached Bible sermons, visited, treated everyone respectfully. But to no avail. They wanted me gone. I resigned. Looking now at secular employment. I might preach, doing pulpit supply in the future (maybe), but I may never pastor another church. Most small churches are inexcusably terribly unhealthy. They operate dysfunctionally. And they dispose of pastors for little to no reason. “The church isn’t growing.” “We need to go in another direction.” “We need to make a change.” You’re perceived as their hireling. They’re not going to come alongside you and do ministry, trying to grow the Kingdom in the local community. They want someone to tell what to do and someone who will preach “feel good sermons.” Woe unto you if you really preach the Word as it says! They’ll force you out. We’re living in an era in which most so-called churches are terribly unhealthy. DOMs can’t do anything. They have a safe job. There’s a reason they got out of the pastorate and I don’t mean it negatively. Job security. State officials, the same: job security. They’re good men generally, but the bad churches don’t listen to them one bit. I don’t have a call now, but I encourage pastors, out there, to press on. And to those who are wounded: I’m sorry. There are many of us, walking around with scars to show. Some ministers have never been through a forced resignation. You’re fortunate. Count your blessings. The Word still needs to be preached: every week. And people still need to be ministered to, despite the snakes and wolves that inhabit our churches (That’s what they are: snakes and wolves. You don’t wanna be called this? Don’t act like it then!). Men (pastors), press on! Preach! Minister! Witness! Teach people to love Jesus!

  • Are we not going to talk about the elephant in the room here? Unregenerate people posing as Christians get together once a week and scheme against each other. How did our churches get into this mess????? The fact that secular offices treat you better than the church has become a widely-known cliche. Whether you’re a pastor, a lay leader, or a peon in the pew, the church will treat you worse than your job. This is a fact. Sunday church attendance has become a chore for almost everyone. Fired pastors who are reading this and expressing their frustration, pause for a moment and let it sink in that lay people in your congregation feel the exact same way, and that’s why they’re bailing on the church.

    If you, as a fired pastor, are feeling resentful toward unregenerate backstabbers running a church, then how can you say members are “consumerist” when they quit for the exact same reason? Either these churches are run by vicious backstabbers, or they aren’t. Word is out that they ARE. And members are quitting. And I’m sorry to say, pepping up the music won’t fix the problem.

    We, as Christians, should be firm enough to buckle down and do what the Bible says. Unrepentant, unregenerate people should be treated as the publicans they are. Prideful, conniving men should be disqualified from leadership as the New Testament urges. Fractious men should be rejected after a second or third warning. These verses are not in the Bible as a joke.

    Churches made the choice many years ago that money and attendance were more important that Biblical standards. And now here we are. Lay leaders are chosen for their tithing record and business smarts moreso than whether or not they have a loving household. It shows. It’s obvious. And people are leaving.

    How can we fix this if we’re not willing to do what the Bible says???

    • AMEN! And those “leaders” (clergy and lay) have no problem running off lay people who “don’t fit the bill”. I was the host for a small group, the leader announced that the group was “being reconstituted” for a younger age range and I was “free to find another group elsewhere”. I also served in a ministry and was asked to “train my replacement” because “it was rumored I was planning to leave the church” (and my name tag “mysteriously disappeared”). Finally got around to terminating my membership there, I’ll visit churches from time to time but Hebrews 10:25 doesn’t require me to become a formal member and “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.

  • Bob Myers says on

    Wow! The number of comments is not surprising. I guess I’ll add mine and keep it short. I wasn’t fired, but the situation became so toxic I had to leave. I followed a 52-year tenure of the previous pastor. He and his family remained at the church and were instrumental in pushing me out. It is now three years since then and I have experienced a good deal of healing but I know there is still some distance to go. God has placed me in a much better situation now and I am very grateful.

    Pastors who have served with integrity and are still forced out have joined the “fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.” That’s good company and good comfort – at least it was for me. I leave those who have suffered in such a way with this good word of hope:

    “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
    I Peter 5:10

    God be with you, dear brothers and sisters!

  • Christoph says on

    I I was “asked to resign.” That church had a history of short term pastorates. I served there for 4+ years. Right now for the last 15 years I serve for a Global Mission agency. Sometime Pastors stay too long. I do know a church where I was an Associate. The lead Pastor stayed too long. Some key leaders left for other churches. Eventually the Pastor left. Perhaps another topic here is about Youth Pastor who stay for a very short time. My church just asked the Youth Pastor to resign. Sometime in the interview and hiring stage key issues get ignored.

  • Leah Bryant says on

    I am the wife of a minister. Almost two years ago, my husband was asked to resign from his position “for the good of the church” . He was told he preached the Word and they found no fault with his preaching. They also told him that he was to stand before the congregation and announce he was resigning of his own free will “for the good of the church”. My husband had one too many times stepped on the toes of family “ownership” of the church. He could not make any changes because that would mean the release of the family hold. Therefore, any issues, which could have been talked about and worked out, were dealt with through firing. While no man is without mistakes, the way the smaller, non-denominational church can ruin lives is a sin. We have moved away, have visited a few churches here and there, but honestly, reading at home, taking communion at home and sharing with each other, family and friends is all we can handle. I can’t even imagine getting involved in the church again, let alone my husband preaching again (which he misses to the point of being in pain). He is at the age where the larger churches consider him retirement age. The smaller church – well they are usually owned by a family or a group of people. No thank you. A healthy church – rare! And, what a surprise, almost two years later nothing at that church has changed: the numbers are a bit less, give or take, and they still do what they’ve done for many years, with the same people doing the same thing. No growth, no life. – “Broken and Hurt”

  • Yes, there are many of us walking wounded. After several unhealthy churches, but then two churches that were so toxic, I would describe them as “The Empire Strikes Back” The second one did me and my family in. Our boys have not been back to church. My wife and I find it difficult to attend worship. I’ve read comments by some former pastors that while they have PTSD from being in a war, their PTSD from being unhealthy churches is worse. I have a name for this Post Pastoral Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

  • After almost 11 years as pastor at a county seat town church, I was told to go or face a vote that “you might lose.”

    I am sure I could have overcome the vote, but we chose not to fight. My family could not go through all that.

    I was given 0 severance. We lived in a parsonage and was told to be out in two weeks.

    When I contacted the state office and asked for help, the executive director said, “I heard you got 1 year of severance pay.” I do not know where he heard that.

    The church had $150,000 in savings and $30,000 in their checking account when I left. We really needed the money they could have easily given us.

    In the near 11 I served there, we had over 600 additions.
    We bought surrounding property, established a TV ministry, and renovated the education space.

    But, I got no help from the association or state office. I was told by the executive director to “get a job at a service station.” After having served on several committees, chairing two, and being on the executive board on a state level, that was the thanks I got.

    We did nothing worthy of dismissal. When I was approached about it, I was told there were no “charges,” that a different group wanted to be in charge of the church.

    Just one more than half the deacons supported the dismissal. We just didn’t have the heart to fight it.

    Some of the deacons later admitted I was the hardest working pastor they could remember. But, they would not “fight” the power group.

    The “control or destroy” mentality that seems to be prevalent by power groups in churches today is straight from Hell. It was Satan’s ploy from the beginning (Isa. 14: 13-14).

    I can understand why young pastors want to own their own homes and be bi-vo.

    The “latter days” has produced antichrists in our churches, power-hungry maniacs who will stop at nothing to be in control.

    • That’s a tough one. I was bullied as a kid, so when someone tries to bully me now, I have an almost-irresistible urge to call his / her bluff (that’s a confession, not a boast). For those reasons, I probably would not have resigned. At the same time, a wise pastor should consider the effect the struggle would have on his family.

      In other words, there are any easy solutions to these situations, so you really do have to consider them from all angles. It sounds like you did that, and I respect your decision. I’m sorry your family had to go through all that.

  • Heartbroken says on

    Honestly, my emotions are all over the place reading these comments. I’m a pastor’s wife whose husband was forced to resign due to a chronic health condition out of his control. He was still preaching, pastoring and loving on people but the “powers that be” decided the church would be better off without us. The rejection and cold hearted dismisal is still a raw and open wound. Where are the mediators? Where is the communication? Why is the army turning on its own when the enemy is out THERE?!? People make assumptions and gossip sessions turn into unfair expectations or misunderstandings! Does anyone dare ask the Pastor how he is doing? How his family is doing without the fear that being real will cost him his job? A calling is more than a job. My husband (who was too “sick” to pastor) is now working 2 jobs to try to make ends meet. Anxiety, depression, even suicidal temptation have crossed some minds in our family. Some in our family are in counseling even now. Please…if you are considering terminating a Pastor’s call to your church, I would advise you be open to godly council, deep prayer, and the desire to make it work! It is worse than a divorce on steroids!! Love God. Love each other! Be kind. Gentle. Long suffering. Patient. Etc.

  • Pastor says on

    I was talking with a state official 1-2 months ago. He said, “Many are terminated one time. Some are let go twice. And even a few have been forced out three or more times.” I have been through it now two times. #4, on the list above by Thom, has been the case both times for me. Seriously considering leaving ministry and never pastoring a church again. There are just too many bad, carnal, unregenerate churches with wolves and snakes in leadership roles. The good churches are few and far between. 2 Tim. 4:3. We are either moving towards the Last Days or in them. The cuts and wounds inflicted on many men of God are often deep, but one day, these snakes will answer for their actions. To God Almighty.

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