Another pastor was terminated this week.

(I hope you will read all the way through to the comments at the end, and a couple of add-on notes we felt were necessary to add.–Joe)

The preacher friend sent me a note to say that the virus had spread to his church too.  He’ll soon be moving back to his home state and trying to start over.

I asked for a favor. “Sometimes when you feel up to it, write me about what happened to you. What did the committee say, what were their reasons?  What did you do and what do you wish you had done?”

I  hate this.

It’s like divorce.  Nothing about it is good. Sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils and you do it for your own survival but it’s still awful.

But a divorce is a defeat.  A divorce sends a message to the world, the kind of message we don’t want to be sending.

When churches elect to terminate a pastor forcibly, they’d better have some good reasons, is all I can say.

From all I know of Scripture, the Lord does not take kindly to those who mess with His messengers and those who tamper with the unity of His body. Both issues are on the table when a church decides to oust a pastor.

Technically, I suppose, my friend was not fired. But the little group of members brought considerable pressure for him to resign. “If we take it to the church and the congregation terminates you, there won’t be any severance.”

How they knew what the congregation would do is beyond me. In my experience, those little groups often receive a stern comeuppance when the matter is aired before the whole church.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that was what they wanted to avoid, having to go public with their bullying tactics.

And so this terrible plague continues.

I post something like this on my website and my mailbox is soon filled with pastors saying, “I’ve been through that. God bless that pastor. God help His church.”

Question: Are there good reasons to fire a pastor abruptly on the spot?

Short answer: Sure, for proven immorality, documented illegality, flagrant indecency, and outright heresy.

Those, may I say, are rarely the reasons churches get rid of preachers.

Well then, what are the reasons for not firing a preacher abruptly and forcibly?  All the other conditions.

You do not fire a preacher because you don’t like him, the congregation thinks he is a poor fit for them, you find his sermons boring, or his leadership is lacking something.

When the leadership comes to the  conclusion that the pastor is personally obnoxious or mismatched for their church or that his sermons are lousy or his leadership non-existent, there are ways to deal with him. And that way is not for a little group of self-appointed leaders to sneak around on the  prowl and threaten the preacher with a scandalous firing unless he  goes quietly.

This is the way of cowards, not the faithful men and women of God.

I’ll give you my assessment on the number one reason churches terminate pastors and send them packing for reasons other than those listed above (immorality, illegality, indecency, and heresy).  The lay leadership of the church has failed to stand up to a pastor who has been negligent in some areas. Instead, they have put it off onto others, postponed it, shied away from it, stalled, worried about it, gossiped about it, watched the church suffer as a result of the preacher’s  misdoings and their inaction, and now that conditions have reached critical mass, they say “it’s gone too far now,” and they pink-slip him.

They fire the preacher for their own failures.

This is the coward’s way out.  The way of unbelief. An abrupt firing will do great damage to the minister and his family, limit his ability to get another church, and bring “this” church into disrepute for having treated a minister in such a manner.

Sorry if that sounds  harsh.

What is the healthy approach to this matter?

Every church should have in place a small team of key lay leaders who visit the preacher occasionally, if for no other reason than to remind him they’re there and in place.

I will say again: the preacher needs to know they’re there.  He needs to know that if he is negligent or worse, they will be all over him like sunshine on a cornfield.

When things are going well, let them visit him and brag on him. At those times, make the meetings brief–five minutes in the pastor’s office will do–and end with a couple of people praying for him.

When things are going badly, but the preacher is working hard to get the church healthy and matters back on track, the group will visit him and love on him and pray for him.  They will encourage him.

A pastor needs to know he has not been abandoned to stop this train wreck alone, and that all the responsibility is all on him.

You will be blessing him and honoring Christ by the leadership dropping in for a few minutes to encourage him and then pray for him.

And when things are going badly in the church?

When and if the time ever comes that matters have come to a head and you need to talk straight to him, then you have the people in place and a precedent started. You have credibility with him. He knows you love him and you care for what he’s trying to do.

He will listen to you.

When that happens…

1). Do nothing without sound counsel from denominational advisors and two or three veteran pastors who can be trusted.

2) Do nothing without a great deal of prayer and even fasting.  This is scary territory and you want to tread softly.

3) Do nothing with less than full agreement among the church leadership.

4) So treat this pastor that he will forever bless your church, and when the news gets out–as it will–other churches will be inspired by yours and other pastors would not mind having their names submitted to your next search committee.

God bless and lead you, my friends, to honor your pastor, strengthen your church, and to leave your community with a great respect for the congregation that meets at your address.

ADDENDA–

One of my pastor friends pointed out (wisely, I think) that the “little group” which visits the pastor occasionally “just to let him know they are there” should rotate its membership lest they too become impressed by their power and start calling the shots. He added that no one in the group should be opposed to the preacher. If that is the case, they should automatically recuse themselves from serving.

It’s amazing we have to state such a thing, isn’t it? But he’s right. So, let me make a couple of points….

1) This “little group” has no power.  It cannot tell the preacher what to do or what he should have done. They are not “the pastor’s advisory group.”  (I shudder!)

2) They are a prayer-support team for him.  They are his encouragers. (What should they be called? My answer: Don’t call them anything. They are not one more layer of church bureaucracy. They are a few leaders who love the Lord, love each other, and believe in the office of pastor. They are people of courage.)

3) And if he gets in trouble, these people can be his rescuers.  If someone is attacking him unfairly, they can stand up and defend him.  If the entire congregation is out of line in their demands on the pastor, this “little group” can go before them and call them back to reality. (Anyone ever seen such a thing? It has to be rare. Many a church could have been rescued before it self-destructed had a few leaders banded together and spoken truth to them, in love and with firmness.)

 

 

31 thoughts on “Another pastor was terminated this week.

  1. Several good points. In Baptist life, we don’t usually involve denominational leadership, there is probably already too much of that. Most denominational leaders have far too much integrity to entertain a group of members without the Pastor’s knowledge.

    Would add that before dismissal, a plan of action needs be adopted to rebuild the working relationship. If the Pastor is unwilling to attempt to rebuild said relationship, then further action might be warranted.

    • Hi Mike,
      I had exactly this situation in a Baptist Church in Durban South Africa where the leadership called a meeting with denominational leaders without my knowledge. I discovered this by accident and attended the meeting. It was embarrassing for the church leadership and denominational leaders.
      My transgression was to preach a series of sermons on the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit from a non-cessationist POV. I was labelled a heretic.
      Eventually this situation degenerated into a full blown church conflict and split.
      The church leaders (deacons) saw themselves of the guardians of truth and treated me as if I had leprosy.
      Deeply painful situation for me and my family. I am not currently in ministry which is the most painful outcome of all.
      Regards

  2. I’m in general agreement with this blog. But your assessment of the number one reason, not sure I agree. I think a tie for #1 would be the pastor wants to move the church forward, under God’s leadership, but the members are unwilling to the point of being rebellious. How about a blog or a one minute Bible study on Hebrews 13:17 (unless you’ve done one and I missed it)?

    • Brother Dan, Hebrews 13:17 is a biggie with me, and I have written about it. I tend to be cautious about overly emphasizing that lest it appear I have an agenda of my own (like, being anti-deacon or something, which I am not). Thank you.

  3. Obviously I have never been a pastor but I was “fired” as a Youth Minister. Several years ago I had been at a church for 5 years. I had been on paid staff 4 of those years. You know how you just “have that feeling” people are talking about you behind your back? I met weekly with the pastor, turned in a detailed time sheet and saw kids growing spiritually and numerically. I was at a leaders conference at Shocco Springs actually sitting in a lounging area when the pastor informed me that “they have decided you are no longer needed.” “We” are asking for you resignation.” Not one time in one single weekly meeting did that pastor ever voice any concern over my performance. When I asked who “they” are he wouldn’t tell me. When I asked what I had done to bring “them” to this conclusion he said, “they don’t know what a youth minister does”. To this day I have not been told what I did. I told him that I didn’t want to repeat the mistakes in another church but he never told me. 4 crucial things I see wrong with this picture: 1. Who are “they”? 2. Why didn’t the pastor tell me if I was doing something that “they” didn’t approve o?. 3. Why did the pastor not have my back? 4. Why pick a leaders conference 130 miles away from my home to drop that little bomb on me?

  4. I was fired from a church last year. The deacons met while my family was on vacation (the first vacation we could afford in 14 years) and decided they did not like the manner in which the church was growing. Of course they didn’t call it that. You cannot stand up and say you don’t like growth; you have to make up something else. And of course, these were the typical deacons who do absolutely nothing of eternal value to contribute to church growth and health. And they pulled the “tell the truth about this and there will be no severance” plan, knowing we had no where to go and no way to live. And so we resigned, left, and let the truth come out on its own, as it always does. We moved across the state and in cramped quarters with family. As the truth came out they began to tell lies to demean my character. But of course the damage is done. When a pastor is “asked to leave” friends fade into the woodwork, churches he has helped in the past ignore him, and all of a sudden, he is alone. No one calls, emails, texts, or otherwise checks on him. And so, a year later, we are losing everything, not able to get a decent job (no one will hire a 44 year old former minister), and barely able to feed ourselves. I haven’t been asked to even fill the pulpit for anyone in a year. Like I said, I am forgotten. My family and I attend church (NOT a church in our former denomination) and try to heal, but the damage remains. Every day we cannot meet our expenses, or even buy food, and lose something else is a reminder of how “God’s people” rewarded us for giving sacrificially of ourselves and reaching people.

  5. As I read the responses, many past experiences and memories flood my mind and the pain that some of these experiences caused my family. As a Human Resources Professional that works with churches and staff on employee issues I would remind churches to be very careful in the ‘firing’/termination of staff. While there are certain exceptions for ordained ministers, churches still can not violate current employment law. If you feel you are unfairly dismissed I would recommend you consult an attorney who is up to date with church employment laws and policies. I am not advocating suing the church, but making sure you are taken care of if and when you are in this situation. Churches need to have an updated Employee handbook and policy manual.

    • Consult the employee handbook. This is what is wrong in the church. It has become a business and not about God’s business. But man’s. God told his disciples when they went into a town and were not well received to leave and shake the very dust off when the go. When a congregation wants a pastor to go, why cause division and chaos. Just go! The Lord will provide for the pastor and his family. It may mean some difficult times but prayer still works and God has promised to never leave nor forsake us. Man never makes such a statement and if he does lookout I have been lied to at least twice. Probably more but I fell for the lie twice I do know. I have been under pastors who did not have a servants heart and did not care about their flock and it was painful to be there and feel no love. I have sat and listened to ministers gossip about their congregation and when I said how can you say those things about your members I was made to feel like I was ignorant and unlearned and should not be talking to the pastor in “that way”. If a man of God does not have the children of God in his heart and really care about the flock, then he should move on or be asked to resign. Believe me I know when there is love. When the love is agape. It can’t be fake and for a few families in the congregation it has to be for all. And ministers who gossip and allow gossip to taint the church should go. Because either he will be part of the problem or the solution. But when he gossips with members in his congregation about other he needs to leave. Consult God’s handbook: The Bible!!

  6. Never have I read a more profound article than this one. As a pastor, I have walked this journey and am floored by your insight and wisdom. It is as though you wrote this as you glimpsed my own wounded heart. Thank you. Just thank you.

  7. Our church recently split. It was a power struggle between the elders and the preacher. The pastor was asked to resign but he left and took a lot of the congregation with him
    We don’t believe in following a preacher and we don’t want to find another church. We are not sure which way to go or who to believe. Got any suggestions?

    • Pray then pray some more for divine guidance. And don’t get weary in well doing. God will provide. Take some time away. It is so important to go on vacation or a spiritual retreat if just for a few days. To breathe different air. Go worship with another congregation where you just taste and see that the Lord is good. God is awesome, humans are flawed. Burnout inevitable, if we don’t take time away!!! Peace and blessing

  8. I am an ordained staff member and have been in music ministry since 1980. I am now in my 8th church and doing well. My last church however asked for my resignation after 8.5 years. I had not fallen morally, preached or believed anything unscriptural or stolen from the church.

    My pastor and personnel committee called me in, said that I not done some things like they wanted, made some minor mistakes and I was not working out to their specifications. They then asked me to clean out my office and to turn in my keys. In 33 years of ministry, I had never been fired from a church.

    I would give more information about my termination, where, etc…however I am concerned that my former church will get wind of this post . The last thing I need on my resume is a church and pastor that will NOT give me a good reference.
    Every other church and pastor I have worked with will give me a great one.

    I pray every day that the Lord gives me the strength and power to forgive and not be hateful about this situation. I was not even given the chance to say goodbye to people I had loved and worked with for so long. This is what hurts so bad.

    If the rest of the church had known how I was terminated, they would have stood up for me however, the committee was able to sweep it under the rug and not give the congregation any reason for my termination. A few families left because they could not get any information about what happened.

    Thank you for reading my story.
    God now has me in an AWESOME place to serve!!!
    TO GOD BE THE GLORY.

    PS. Our pastor resigned (not forced) to take a DOM position after 13 years here. We gave him a wonderful, loving send off and will pray for him in his new ministry. We have just elected a search committee. You may send resume’s to my email address if interested 🙂

  9. then there is being terminated for the reason, “it’s a business decision.” Lord, I still pray for that church 14 years later and what I know of them today due to the loved ones we still have relationship with, they still haven’t learned! They change youth ministers every two years.

  10. Brother Joe, if possible, please remove my post. I realized that airing this will not do anyone any good, least of all me. Although truthful, I typed with growing anger and diminishing grace. I want to grow from this and forgive them.

  11. 12 years ago I was let go from my associate pastor position at a church in New England. The reasons were ambiguous but we were determined to find God’s will and direction. That didn’t alleviate the pain for my wife and children, who weren’t fired…but who, because of my employment at the church, were asked to leave their church family. I don’t think churches realize that a pastor and his family are part of the family of God as much as any other member, and treasure their relationships within that local church. When an employment is severed, it often comes with severing long and sacrificially built relationships. As Joe put it so well, it is a “divorce.”

  12. Absolutely great article. I pray our denominational (state, association, & SBC) leadership will be more willing to support what is right in dealing with issues involving pastors instead of what kind be done to protect the organization.

    I believe the solution to this is to have an ethics committee in each of these entities that is willing to weigh what is right in God’s eyes verses doing what is wrong in an organization. In this time of tight money we are loosing our relationship between leaders and pastors.

    If the pastor is supporting everything of the entity then leadership will do all they can to support him, but if he makes any waves forget help.

    I praise God for the election of Ronnie Floyd and some of the leadership we have, including Tom Elliff and Kevin Ezell but more needs to be done synchronizing the relationships based on the Bible and Southern Baptist Doctrine.

    As we see the stories here, I Have 32 pastors in my prayer ministry that have been force terminated in the last 2 years. Some horrible stories.

    Thanks again, Dr. McKeever, for being the “FOUNTAIN OF WISDOM” so needed to day. Pastor Al

    • I am not a pastor. However, I think that some of you all need to band together and “unionize” if you will permit me to use a broad definition of the term. Everyone check your contracts or calls for what happens in case of termination and if you can appeal against the decision. You don’t want to wind up without any health insurance one day with no notice.

  13. It seems like a preacher is an “at-will employee” that could be terminated for any reason, at any time. If the church leadership largely feels like the preacher is no longer effective or has become stale and boring, why shouldn’t they terminate him/her? Just because a preacher has not committed “proven immorality, documented illegality, flagrant indecency, and outright heresy” does not mean he/she is entitled to unending employment. Demographics change. Goals change. You may not be the person with the skills to take the congregation into the envisioned future. I think preachers need to get thicker skin and frankly, they need to move. Just like change in leadership is healthy, change in the pulpit is healthy too. We don’t need the same voice speaking for 30 years somewhere. Sorry, I know that feels like rejection, but we need to hear fresh voices in churches. Sometimes I think the Episcopalians have a better grasp of this by moving their reverends to places that need their gifts. It’s not always a move they want to make, but it’s healthy for everyone.

    • LOL! While this may sometimes be the case, the episcopal system is also subject to wickedness on the part of the people in positions of power (in this case, bishops and presbyters, rather than congregational lay leaders). I know, personally, whereof I speak. Wicked people show up in every church governmental system.

      The only response is to trust the Lord, and not envy those who do wrong and seem to have power. The gallows were meant for Mordecai, but Haman was the one who hung. God will take care of his own.

  14. Check your contract or call as to severance pay, etc. Also, ministers can cross over to other denominations in some cases. This is not prohibited except in some.

  15. I one time sent word to a minster to find a new place to preach. I was powerless so don’t think I ran the fellow off. Though the minster had been there for years and did a good job, I saw the rulers of the church showing a lot of interest in a relative of theirs who was about to be returning state side. I knew what (who) was likely coming, and I did not want the minister fired.

  16. I resigned my pulpit in order to protect my wife and children. In a nutshell my family was expected to be perfect so people would be attracted to the church. I knew if I continued in this unsafe environment my children would develop emotional problems. The elders even accused my wife of faking her illness. That was a year and half ago. Now I hear the church is falling apart. Big surprise.

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