How to be fired unjustly and come out a winner

Let’s say you are a minister on the staff of a medium-sized church.  You finished seminary and at the invitation of this church, you moved your young family here to this city and have gotten deeply involved in ministry.  You are in the process of buying a house.  Life is looking good.

Then one day, you are asked to attend a meeting with a few leaders of the church. The administrator is there, accompanied by the chairman of the personnel committee and the deacon chair.  Long story short, you learn you are being terminated. Let go. Superannuated. Fired. Getting the ax.  Pink-slipped.

They gave you reasons.  They said things like, “We love you. We appreciate your ministry.  You have a great spirit and we treasure your family.”  Then they added the “however.”  Things like: “Things are not working out, finances have been down lately, it’s not a good fit, you and the church.”  Or perhaps, “Some people are unhappy with the way you do things” or “Your manner is abrasive and you have rubbed some people the wrong way.”

You did not see this coming.

They gave you no warning.  You wonder why.

I’ll tell you why.  They are cowards, and would admit it in most cases.  “This is painful and I don’t like to make people unhappy.”  “I’m a peacemaker,” one said, “and have a hard time with conflict.”

So, they spring this on you.

You are informed that you will have a meeting with the pastor the next day, but don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s going to reverse this decision.  He is the one in back of it.  I guarantee you if he wanted you to remain on staff, you would still be there.  This was his call.

So, what are you to do?  That’s the reason for this little piece.  Here are our suggestions:

1) Hold your head up high.

2) Be prayerful, sweet-spirited, and humble.

3) Do not argue.  Nothing you say now in defense of the work you have done is going to change things. So accept it.  Thank the leaders for the privilege of serving the Lord’s church for the period of time you had.

4) Recognize that how you exit this church is going to affect a lot of people…

–Church members who love you need you to take this on the chin and not like a spoiled child.  If their leadership acted wrongly, they must deal with it and not you.  Encourage them to keep their eyes on Jesus and to love their church.  Let the Holy Spirit lead them if they need to address some issues with their leaders.  However, discourage them from trying to reverse this action regarding your employment. That is over now.

–Your family needs you to be strong and confident.  You are naturally concerned about providing for them in the future, but if necessary, you know you can flip burgers or unload trucks at Walmart until the Lord opens a door for your next ministry.

–The next church (its pastor and key leaders) will be looking to see how you handled this. If you bad-mouthed the preacher, even if he was evil incarnate, that reflects poorly on you and they will move on.  This is an ironclad rule, my friend.  Believe it.

5) Keep your eyes upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

Never forget that He was betrayed by His own apostle and then abandoned by most of them at Calvary.

I will promise you something.  When you are old and your ministry is drawing to a close, most of the deepest pains you have borne and the worst scars you carry will have been inflicted not by the enemy but by the Lord’s people.

That is the saddest thing I know, but it’s the truth.  So, don’t let trouble blindside you.  Expect this to happen.  Eyes on Jesus, friend!  He alone is your Lord, your Source, and your Resource!

6) Stay in the Word and on your knees.

If you do not, expect your carnal nature to rise up and take over and for anger to poison your system and contaminate all you touch.

As you search the Scriptures, ask the Lord to speak to you through them.  In your prayers, claim the fourfold command of Luke 6:27ff, and show your enemies (those who have mistreated you) love by doing good to them, blessing them, praying for them, and giving to them.  Ask the Lord to empower you to do these things and show you when and how.

7) Believe that God has better things in store for you down the road.  And that this is the method He has chosen to use to get you there.

Believe that these things have not happened without His knowledge, and that He will use them for His glory and your good.

The day will come–write this down and claim it as from the Lord, my friend–when you will give thanks for this termination.  Had it not occurred, you would not be where you will be at that point, enjoying the people God has put in your life and the ministry He has given you.

The problem for you now is getting through today.

8) Be sure to rally your network.

Let your pastor friends know, those favorite seminary professors, and classmates with whom you bonded in Christ.  Ask for their prayers and if the Lord so impresses them, to give your name to a church in need of a minister with your calling.  Send them your resume’.  (Be sure to work on your bio and get good advice to make it a positive thing.)

God bless you.  You can do this.  Head held high, now.  “Go in this thy strength” (Judges 6:14).  After all, the Lord says, “Have I not sent you?”

I would add, “And has He not told you the way would sometimes be hard, the side effects painful, and the people you were counting on undependable?”  You may want to read Matthew 10:16-42 again.  (And again and again.)

You can get through this, friend.

See you down the road!

20 thoughts on “How to be fired unjustly and come out a winner

  1. My wife and I have experienced almost exactly what you described in your article. This happened to us almost 3 years and four months ago. I have been working as a “temp” for over 2 1/2 years. I have been forced to withdraw money from my retirement during these years to help us keep up with our bills. We also are forced to live in the community where this happened. We could not afford to sell our house because of the economy. I have seen the Lord work in my life during these difficult years. We are ready for this part of the journey to end. I have been fortunate to have a wonderful Christian friend who shares with me once a week over the phone. We share what is happening in our lives and then pray for each other.

    • That is painful to read, Bruce, and yet God is giving you the victory. We’ll pray with you for this interlude in your life to end, and the next place of service to open. Thanks for the note.

    • Wow, Bruce, we went through almost the same exact scenario about the same time. We’re only now starting to get truly stabilized, though still have a big necessarily accrued debt to dig out. I am no longer in vocational ministry, but in different ways continue to minister arguably as much and effectively as before. I have also just this year transitioned to a new career as a High School teacher. The Lord IS good. In spite of all this, we are in a place in which we are all as happy and more stable than we have ever been as a family. Now, our church has just unfairly and prematurely fired the Youth Pastor after only 8 months and no reason aside from “not a fit” and “connection.” Joe has been a great resource for them, thank you!

  2. Goodday Joe
    Thank you for this article.
    Please pray for me. I have comitted my life to the service of the LORD.
    My ministry is Church Planting among poor and needy people.
    I have undergone many a trial and temptation.
    I thank GOD WHO has kept me from falling.
    I am not married and am trusting GOD for a life partner.
    Thank you very much.

  3. Hard to believe better days are coming when you’re in the pit of darkness. It’s difficult when your family is hurting. But you are right.

  4. Best thing I’ve read in a long time, Joe — very strong and encouraging advice in this article.

    As you may know, my wife was on staff for at least 7 years at a Christian high school that our (former) church housed. Purely by God’s timing, I was allowed into the meeting where a handful of the school’s board did and said cowardly and godless things to my wife (@ 2007) as they “non-renewed her contract” as a teacher there. After they had finished stating all the lame reasons behind their decision, I’m afraid I shocked them when I asked if I might interrupt – and for about 5 minutes (it felt like an hour), I let them have it with both barrels (Note: Joe, I’m now kind of like that character “Ouizah” as she describes herself in one scene in Steel Magnolias: “Well I’m glad to see you again too – but I’m not as sweet as I used to be…”) — I’m afraid that nieve, unconscious Southern Baptist boy you used to know is long gone (thank God, right?) — but I do think many times about how sad it would make my mother, to see me so changed… I was her “sweet boy”, you know…
    Back to my story: As you have already guessed, it changed nothing for me to tell those board members what they really were — and it got worse. Later, when they asked to “pray over her” at the end of the meeting, asking God to show her where she “could be used more effectively”, I nearly wanted to die as Tricia sat and sobbed her heart out , with their hands laid upon her — it took everything I had, not to remove their hands from her, and put them through the wall. I will never be able to forget it. Such an appalling scene does not fade easily.
    Although I have forgiven them from my heart (this is the truth – I really have, and am free of it now, although I am describing the event vividly from the indelible memory), I do not immediately trust people who say they are Christians, like I used to. I wait and find out – without ‘giving them the store’ right away — which used to make me feel very good about myself (I was so proud of my ‘openness’!), but it was not a true way to live, and to love others honestly.

    Sorry I went on so long here, but you really hit a nerve. It has taken Tricia years to heal from this event – please keep her close in your prayers, as you are in ours…
    Bill Brunson, Austin, TX

  5. God advice. I have been on the bad side of a termination 3 times. I have a lot I could say, but for this I want to say I am in a great church now as a student pastor. I am well respected by those who know me. One thing I like to see is the reactions of those who know my ministry now when I tell them I have been asked to leave a church. Many people believe that when an associate has left a church, they must have done something terrible. That is not always the case.
    One pastor I served with ,and who was hired after me, told me in a performance review that I had changed his mind about something. I asked what that was. He said that he had made it a point to never hire a person who had been asked to leave a church, but after working with me, I had changed his mind. He needed to find out from the person why they had been asked to leave the church.
    So thanks for the blog. It was good and good advice.Pastors reading this blog, pray about the candidates you are looking for, don’t just right off a person because someone had been asked to leave a church. You might miss who God wants at your chruch.

  6. Just read your article, Joe. It really helped me. I have been to some dark places, and it has been hard to stay out of them. I was having a really bad day, and I found your article and it cheered me up a lot.

    I identified with many of the emails-especially the one that Bill left about his wife. I went through a very similar scenario, but with friends involved. It affected almost every part of our lives-friends, church, kid’s school and my livelihood/avocation.



  7. Ok I’m going to turn this around on you……what if the minister bullied a church employee because she and her husband couldn’t provide the church with children, and then had her fired while he goes on vacation????? The employee was not allowed back in to get her own office supplies that she had brought from home and her and her husband were not welcome at church any more. Their marriage broke up and she’s left with no hope, no future, no nothing….yet the minister remained there for several years and the congregation went on their merry way with their happy little lives, while her life basically ended. Now I want you to explain how anyone could be smiling and upbeat after that.

    • Melissa, I went back and reread the article. We list 8 activities to do when this happens. And not a one of them is “keep smiling and stay upbeat after that.” Please look at it again. God bless you. It’s tough, I know. Eyes on the Lord, my friend. Give Him an opportunity to make something good from this.

  8. I believe I was unjustly fired from a volunteer job I had at a church a few months ago. What hurts really badly was that the pastor did not seem to have hope and didnt want to work with me on the problems he said I had. I thought that’s what pastors did. I feel I wasted so much time. What hurts the most was being cut off from knowing what further activities the church was planning. As a friend of mine had to send me an email telling him about a huge event that the pastor did not want me to know about. Almost reminds me of being a kid and being unable to play sports at recess cause I was a smaller and more timid kid that the other kids liked to pick on. Or like that weird character from the movie Office Space who was continually moved to a more seculeded spot in his work place. So I left the church, but I still feel anger and resentment.

  9. Thank you for these words. I was just fired yesterday from being the youth pastor at a small church in Dallas. For the whole summer there was only me and the administrative assistant who still worked there. So my job turned into doing all the responsibilities as the acting pastor, while a few interim preachers would come on Sunday. Since I was not the official pastor I was not part of the board meetings, leaving me to find out information sometimes after the congregation knew. I had to learn to do jobs at the last second and my youth group vanished one by one because of my exhaustive schedule. Whenever I did get a chance to sit down with my teens, somebody conveniently had something urgent I had to do that second. I worked behind the scenes, everything was done by my wife and I and we kept it pretty quiet. Whenever volunteers left the church, we took over those volunteers positions. Coffee bar, offering plates, sound and tech, maintenance, greeting, stage setup, and so much more every single Sunday. One day I’m told very last that a candidate was coming to Preach and the board already had it mind to hire him. Within two weeks he was hired. Two more weeks after that, and my wife and I still don’t all the tasks I listed plus many new ones, I was called into his office and he said he is not going to keep me. And that was that. Very disheartening when we put so much work into this church and had some amazing relationships. But that was his decision, and it was his from his first day. There was no changing it. Thankfully this was the most helpful article I’ve read. It is encouraging and helps me to keep looking forward.

    • Cody-I was let go about a month and a half ago from a church I’d been at for nearly 10 years. I felt like you and your wife: I did everything and was over or involved with most ministries within the church. We get a new pastor and within 5 months I’m asked to leave. It hurts a lot and I still have “streaks” of anger that rise up, but God has given me friends, counselors, mentors, books, sites like this, etc., to help me. Have you found a ministry position now 7 months after the incident?

      I’ve found many retreat centers that take in wounded/terminated/tired pastors/ministers, and many of these centers are free or very low cost. My wife and I are going to one soon. I want to recommend these places to you and any other minister that sees this post to go and try out these places and find some must-needed rest and sabbath.

      Here are the retreat centers at the bottom of this link’s site:

  10. I have been attending the same church for 18 years, since I was 17. When I got saved I felt the call to pastor. At 25 I became the church admin, and at 28 I became the worship pastor. I loved it, even the hard times. My pastor and I got along, he and his wife are some of my closest friends. Then they felt the call to leave our town. It was a blow but they hear from Jesus so I knew I just needed to trust God for whatever changes that meant for my future. I’ve worked at the church through 3 pastoral transitions and always found a way to work with the new guy. I knew my job might be on the line, or pastoring might be forfeited but I trusted God. When we hired the new pastor he made a lot of promises. He said he wouldn’t replace any staff for a year or more. It came as such a relief and I through myself into adopting their vision and making it mine. I loved their ideas, I defended them to longtime congregants that were stuck in their ways. I truly loved and supported them. Then about 3 months in he called me into a meeting. I was told his wife was taking over as worship pastor. It was a shock. It hurt my heart. It is my calling and so hard to give up. But I was trusting that they heard Jesus and began to make my peace with it. I asked for time off from the worship ministry to pray and allow God to heal the hurt. I said nothing to any church member. I had asked the pastor to announce it because in small churches people jump to conclusions and my desire was to protect them from the fallout. They refused. Within a week people were talking. They were asking if I was being fired as admin, was I losing my parsonage housing, was I coming back to church? All of these from people I never spoke to. People are curious and if you don’t fill in the blanks, their imaginations will. 9 days after our first meeting I was called into a meeting and told I was fired and evicted for slander. I asked what was said and who my accusers were and I was told it didn’t matter because his believed them. I was told that even if I hadn’t said anything, that my silence spoke volumes and led people to be disgruntled on my behalf. I was quiet because I was emotional and didn’t want people to take it wrong. I never thought it’d get me fired. That was 2 weeks ago. I’m left with no house, no job, no ministry, no church and no unemployment. I’m getting calls every day that I’m ignoring from congregants asking where I am. I don’t think it was fair. My firing letter was not kind in the least, but I love that church. I have no desire to say or do anything to cause waves. I know God works all things out, so even though I’m grieving and hurt, I’m expecting good things. But the hits keep coming. This pastor keeps saying things about me, he shorted my severance $400, and I’m just staying silent. This article was so helpful. I have very good godly ministry friends who are keeping my heart in check. I’m having to dig deeper with Jesus everyday. The only thing I have left, is who I am in Him and no one can ruin that. So I’m clinging tightly to it.

    • My friend, this one hurts as deeply as any note I’ve had in a while. You didn’t ask for advice–I admire so well the way you are handling this–so my word to you is to keep doing what you are doing. Hold your head up high and go find another job, doing anything–flipping burgers or anything to pay the rent. Keep your eyes on the Lord, trust Him, and in time He will work it out. You may be in HEaven before you see how He used this, but use it He will. Trust Him. I’m praying for you today.

  11. What if you were fired and given two options;
    1. Two weeks notice
    2. Stay till the end of the year (2 months)
    …but told to tell others with questions with “it’s a change of season”.
    That’s deception to the co gregarious-correct?

    How do I have a “clear concious” telling the people “a lie”?

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