Bad things happen when a church terminates a minister

I should state up front that not everyone calling himself/herself a minister of the gospel is telling the truth.  Charlatans and hypocrites can be found in every field of endeavor, including the ministry.  Those who go from church to church preaching corrupted gospels, bullying the congregation in the name of Jesus, tearing up fellowships and ruining lives–such people need to be put out of business.

Once pastors and denominational leaders see the destructive pattern in a minister’s history, they should quit passing his name along to other churches.  And someone should speak the truth to him and say why.  Then “unfriend” the guy.

But unless a church has good cause, it should never fire a minister.  If there are reasons for dismissing the minister and vacating the pulpit, faithful and mature leaders can find ways to make it happen without ruining that person’s future opportunities for service.  But outright firing a minister forever brands him and may ruin his ministry prospects.

I hear this all the time.  “He’s outlived his usefulness here.”  “We need new leadership.”  “He’s not a good match for our church.”  “He’s offended the key leaders and no one trusts him anymore.”

Okay, fine.  If the consensus is fairly unanimous that the pastor needs to leave–and in most cases I mean the minister agrees also!–then you can find ways to make it happen honorably.  After all, in addition to handling the ministry with care, leadership must think of their church’s reputation also.

I cannot tell you the number of churches that have ruined their reputations by the crude way they ushered a pastor from their church.

I regret to say that I know much of this first hand. As our Lord said to Nicodemus, “We speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen” (John 3:11).

When a church fires a pastor and sends him packing, many things happen.  Almost none of them is positive or good.

One. Several things happen to the minister….

–His family is hurt.

–His children are body-slammed.  They were the innocent victims in this drama–attending their choirs and mission groups and sports teams.  Suddenly, their parents announce that “Daddy is no longer the pastor and we cannot go back to that church.”  In any other line of work, when Daddy loses his job, the family still has its church.  And after all, the fellowship of the church has eased many a hurtful transition for everyone else in the congregation.  But it will not be doing so for the pastor’s family.

–His reputation is shot.  When one friend was trying to get back in the pastorate after a year’s layoff, the search committee liked his preaching and were impressed by the interviews.  But they simply could not get past the fact that his previous church had abruptly dismissed him.  “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” they said.  To date, several years later, he is still out of the pulpit and doing another kind of ministry altogether.

–His faith is tested as it has never been before.  How will he support his family when no church invites him to do what he is trained to do?  How is he to respond when he finds out the former church is blackballing him and poisoning the waters so that no church wants to give him a chance?  Where are his friends?

If you know of a pastor (or minister of any variety) who is undergoing such treatment, stop and send up a prayer for him.

Two. Several things happen to the church leadership…

–They suddenly find out what the ousted pastor has been responsible for, smaller details which had eluded them.  Who will visit the hospitals, the nursing homes, the shutins?  Who will plan various programs?  Who will give leadership to the staff?

–Filling the pulpit in the interim, the leadership thought, will be easy.  There are always preachers available.  But the reality soon sets in.  Not all guest preachers are created equally.  When the congregation begins to complain about the interim pastor, what are we to do?  Who bears the responsibility here?

–And the big one.  And the reason which prompted this article in the first place…

Once church leadership gets a taste of running a preacher off, some of the more carnal will decide they like the power that gives them.  A new reality sets in.  It’s like blood in the water to the sharks.  Thereafter, no pastor is safe from them.

They will look around at the remaining church staff and ask what this person does, what is he/she being paid, and why are we keeping them on?  Soon, staff members start falling.

Pity the next pastor.  No sooner does he arrive than some of these bloody-eyed leaders begin looking askance in his direction.  “Does he know,” they wonder, “that we can send him packing just as we did his predecessor?”  “Does the new guy know he has to deal with us now?  That we are not going to stand for someone who will not do what we want?”

Just so easily do churches begin their downward spiral.  They fire a pastor, decide that wasn’t so bad (and God didn’t strike them dead!), and soon run another one off.  And the one after that.

I moderated a church business meeting in which the congregation voted to fire the pastor.  As I exited the building that night, a senior lady said to me sadly, “Oh, Brother Joe.  This is the fourth pastor in a row we have done this to!”  Their church was then running one-fifth of its attendance from former years.

It can be a sickness, something in the internal organs of a church.  “Let’s fire the preacher and get one we like.”

God in Heaven has written in the names of such leaders on His appointment schedule.  They will stand before Him and give account of their ungodly, carnal behavior.  They will account for the damage they have done to the Lord’s churches.

Three.  One big thing happens to the membership.

They leave.

They leave the church. Some go home and never return to any church. Some move to other churches.  Most go to a strong stable congregation where the pastor is respected and the membership is settled, where no one is harassing the pastor.

One wonders if the leadership ever looks at the empty pews and dwindling resources and blames themselves.  Do they take ownership for their sins?

This week a friend in another state told me of her church.  A few years ago, when they ran off the pastor, that church was running 1200 in attendance.  These days, after ups and downs of one type or the other, they’re running one third of that.

God, help your church, please.



18 thoughts on “Bad things happen when a church terminates a minister

  1. Brother Joe,

    I was having this very conversation yesterday with a pastor and his wife.
    I pray God uses this article to make churches, Christian organizations and people deal with some issues of sin and stop allowing the devil to use them.

    Sadly, i know of several pastors who were fulfilling God’s call on and in their life, winning the lost and making disciples, who were asked to resign because the Church was growing. One of my professors in Bible college and seminary, Dr
    Don Aderhold shared many stories of churches running pastors off becuase the church was growing and the power players in the church were losing control. My thoughts were and are there is sin in the church.

    As for black balling a former minster or staff, man, that has to be the devil and his minions at work. Especially if the person was doing God’s work, soul winning and preaching and making disciples.

    If the person committed a serious crime then the church should report infraction to the proper authorities. But, to slander someone who was serving the Lord Jesus, out of hatred and a evil heart, well that is doing the devil’s handy work.

    I pray God’s Spirit “convicts of sin, righteousness and the coming judgement” and people repent and churches get right with the Lord.

  2. Speaking from experience it’s the most painful thing I’ve ever been through. I’ll admit I wasn’t the perfect pastor. There are things I would do differently if I had to do them over.
    The way it hurt my family was just devastating. Like you said I not only lost my job but my wife and children lost their friends. We started attending another local church and were received and welcomed with open arms and ministered to us in such a great way. They still do. We love serving and worshiping there.
    God was and still is faithful. We shouldn’t be, but sometimes are amazed at how he has taken care of us. That has been the silver lining of this whole awful ordeal. The goodness of God cannot be understated.
    Even though the bride can be a little mean sometimes never let that taint your vision of her. The groom loves her and I do to.

  3. In the United Methodist church we don’t vote to fire. However, if your Bishop “has it in” for your church and moves the pastor, it is terrible. And then said Bishop sends the worst person in the Conference to fill the pulpit. Members leave by the droves. We have been through that at least 2 times and our membership has plummeted.

  4. I went to a church once that had “force terminated” the previous four pastors. Their attendance had declined from over 1,000 to under 200. I was actually warned against going there, but I did anyway (and they didn’t fire me!). One day, I was talking to some of the leaders who were lamenting their decline and blaming the previous pastors. I said, “I really don’t know the answer to this, but is it possible that in at least some way the church shares some of the blame?” “No. Absolutely not!” came the quick reply from several of them. They were completely oblivious to their complicity (which I learned was abundant), and they were even unwilling to consider the possibility that the pastors were not 100% to blame.

  5. JH – Thank you for this article. My husband (and I) went through this several years ago. I liken the devastation to his heart to that of being “divorced”. We both lost our means of income (I also worked for the church) and we lost our home. When we took the position, we felt that God brought us there for the rest of our lives. After years of healing, God has placed us with a small group of people who love us like family. God is good, even though sometimes the path is difficult.

  6. All sadly, abundantly true. Seen it, experienced it, still living with the ripples. Seven years later our now 20-year-old son still wants nothing to do with God or the church because of how we were treated. The anger and resentment as taken many harmful forms. Many times close, I never did find another pastorate – often hearing the “smoke” concern despite strong commendations otherwise. God has been faithful and we continue to minister in significant other ways.

    On another note, I have noticed a strong trend. Some of these habitual churches do find a kind of stability in which they do finally settle on a pastor/staff for an extended time. However, it is a mutual “stability” in all facets. When this happens it is because all influential parties reach a place of “comfort” and have implicit agreements to keep it that way. There is no growth, no significant impact in the community. and little creativity, change or challenge. Everything is safe and comfortable. They worship not a God of transformation and gradient glorification, but one of comfort, stability, and no-drama. The gospel – in word, presentation, form, or action – is never offensive and never creates any waves. Very different from the church of the New Testament. More and more the pastors who experience long tenures are ones who willingly accept (if not embrace) this formula and culture. And the American Church continues to decline in size and influence even as it greater seeks to position itself as one of comfort, contentment, and tolerance.

  7. Having grown up as a pastor’s daughter, church members are some of the most cruel people on earth. I saw my daddy bend over backwards to “fix” what one was unhappy about or go the extra mile 500 times to have certain ones constantly ridicule and say and do horrible things. Wake up people. A pastor and his family are human, just like you. The only difference is that these men and women followed the call to follow Jesus and spread the good news to all non-believers. A pastor isn’t called to your church to make YOU happy. My dad was the Godliest man I have ever known. Through all of his sickness and decline of his health after pastoring for over 50 yrs, he never uttered one ungodly word. NEVER. Can you say that! If not, maybe you owe your pastor your support AND a huge apology! Just do it.

  8. I was a member of a Southern Baptist Church that called a preacher who was caring, brilliant, far-sighted, creative, excellent in the pulpit and caring when his “boots were on the ground.” We were beyond fortunate to call him “ours” and he lived up to every promise, going “extra miles” in every possible way. He was dismissed by an exceedingly small group of the controlling ‘hierarchy,’ painful to his fine family and to my church. Left everyone with deep scars.

    This same church had another ministerial staff member whose prior and ongoing profligate behavior was known about, tolerated, and allowed to continue without consequence for years. Left many families — and the church itself with deep scars.

    Same church. Different men. Different eras. Different value systems neither of which make any sense to me to this day. Mystifying by any measure. Have any of you encountered such poles-apart mindsets?

  9. Thank you for this article. We are currently going through this horrible experience. My husband was given one hour to “resign” ten days before Christmas. We moved away from our home and family earlier this year to accept this position. Now, with no warning, we have abruptly been let go because of an influential person. The utter devestation to my kids who suddenly lost their best friends breaks my heart. The feeling of aloneness and hurt is almost unbearable. We have no family nearby, no church family, no friends because we have not been here but a few months. I am trusting that God will work all this for good. But man, it hurts so bad right now.

  10. My observation shows that the people and leaders do not communicate
    Everyone is not Giovanna opportunity to participate
    The articles of faith surrounding the operation of the church’s own manual
    Today’s church is flying by seat of pants – do not want to include everyone
    Kinda clannish – truth is not of importance- Power trips by some – The originali
    Commission is not beating hiighways bad by ways for lost souls♥️

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  12. I am experiencing, as one member calls it, “page 1 in the playbook of ‘How We Get Rid Of The Pastor’.” My pay was cut, as well as, our music minister, without any prior consultation, bathed in statements of income and attendance issues beyond control. Then in the business meeting, the first challenge to the cut from a member and it becomes a “performance issue.” My wife and young music minister are devastated. I have lost any trust I had with our church. We are in counseling and praying diligently for God to heal this “cancer”, remove it, or remove us. It has been a blessing in one manner, at least now we are working on some areas in our lives so we become better people, not bitter ones. Praying for all who have and are experiencing this. My heart breaks for God’s church.

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  14. Once down this road, it is easier to take the easy way out, next time. When it involves power groups, they ONLY see “their people” in the church pews. They don’t see the “others,” so they don’t see or care about dwindling numbers. They are happy to get the number to “us & ours.”

  15. Yes many of these are so true. It happens to those who serve as staff too. A pastor will dismiss their staff the same way. It’s gotta stop!! I now lead a ministry to serve those who’ve been wounded or have burned out. offers confidential care and support on a mostly donation basis. Some services have a fee. We also work with churches to help them release leaders in a healthy way.

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