When to fire a pastor

This is the most painful subject I ever deal with (and I write about plenty of them).

The very nature of church conflict demands that the pastor be found in the midst of the firestorm.  Sometimes, he is an innocent bystander, sometimes he inherited the problem, sometimes he is the problem and at all times he tries to be a healer.

In every case, he gets bloodied in the fray.

The church consultant we brought in to help us deal with a 30 year split in the congregation did his interviews, took his polls, and then announced, “McKeever is not this church’s problem.  But he has become the focus of it in the minds of many. So, I’m going to recommend that he leave and the church start afresh with someone new.”

Sheesh. Thanks a lot, friend.

But, that’s how it happens sometimes. You were trying to help the church and were downed by friendly fire, as we call it.

At other times, the pastor is neither a healer nor an innocent bystander. Sometimes, he is the problem and the congregation decides to take action.

The only question is “what action”?

The most severe action a church can take is to terminate the minister.  Fire him.  Oust him.  Send him packing. Vote him out.  Force him from the pulpit.

Call it whatever you want.

Termination is the death stroke, the ultimate statement that “this man’s ministry in this church is beyond repair.”

But consider what it says when a minister is voted out.

Terminating the preacher is an announcement to the world that this preacher is a failure and we do not recommend him to any church anywhere.

The typical church however, would balk at that and insist, “No, we don’t want him out of the ministry.  We just want him out of our church.”

No matter, friend.  This is the result of your action.

Do not miss that.

By firing the minister, you are guaranteeing he will be out of the Lord’s work for some time, years in all likelihood, and in many cases, permanently.

This week, I posted a simple paragraph on Facebook stating “If you are going to fire a preacher, you’d better have good reason, friend.  Because you will face a holy God and account for your behavior.”  Within hours, the number of “likes” reached the hundreds.  Two days later, it’s past a thousand. Furthermore, the “shares” are out of sight.  (A “share” means another FB friend has reposted that paragraph on his/her page.) Clearly, this struck a nerve.

And something else happened.

A number of ministers have left comments saying they were terminated by a church several years ago and have not been able to get another church since.  “Search committees are suspicious,” they say. “If this guy is so good, how come he’s unemployed?”  One said, “It’s as though there’s a black mark by my name.”

One brother called to ask if I would be a reference for his application to a fast-food restaurant.

The quickest way to put a minister out of the ministry permanently is to fire him from a church.  Because that’s often the result.

For that reason…

The only time to vote to fire a minister is when you want to put him out of the ministry altogether.

Now, there are times when that should be done.

There are men in the ministry who should be out of work, and the sooner the better.

A Baptist pastor I knew frequented casinos to gamble and would order alcoholic drinks in restaurants, making no secret of either.  He needed to be canned, and he was.

A Baptist pastor I know of (but never met) was a practicing homosexual who made overtures toward the young men in the congregation.  He was quickly terminated and sent on his way, as he should have been.

So, what is a church to do if the congregation wants to get rid of a preacher but not disable his ministry for the future?

Here are my thoughts on that.

One.  Make sure it’s “the whole congregation,” friend, and not just a few powerful individuals.

In most cases, when someone (or a committee) tells the preacher, “A lot of people are unhappy with you” or “You no longer have the support of the congregation,” they are dead wrong.  In most cases–I have no stats to back this up; it’s my strong conviction–a few people have decided the preacher has lost his effectiveness and needs to go.  But they are often wrong.

Two.  What you should never ever do is offer the pastor a severance package if he will go quietly.

That smacks of manipulation of the worst sort.

Three.  Another form of pressure is to tell the pastor, “If the church votes to fire you, you get no severance.”

My response is, “Oh? Who said so?  You? And who are you to be making that decision for the congregation?”

A church can do whatever it chooses to do.  It does not have to be cold-hearted or cruel.

Four. Churches considering firing their ministers should think about a dozen aspects, including whether the Lord will be pleased with this, the reputation of the church within the denomination, the effect on the future ministry of this preacher, whether other churches will be willing to consider him, the effect of this on the pastor’s family, how many people within the church will be irreparably hurt by this termination, and such.

Five: It’s possible to take a vote on a pastor–one which he might lose–and it not be the death sentence for his ministry.

A church could actually vote: “We think Pastor Tom’s ministry here is finished as of today, but we love him and affirm him. And we will continue to provide his income until another church calls him as pastor.” 

Or, it could vote: “We thank God for Pastor Eddie and pray for him. We believe his ministry here is nearing an end, however.  We hereby request the administrative committee (or whoever) to work with Pastor Eddie and his family to provide a smooth transition and suitable support for them as long as is necessary.  The committee will report back to the church regularly.”

Or something similar.

The point being it’s not necessary to cold-heartedly fire the minister and cast him into outer darkness.  It is possible to be redemptive in letting a minister go.

However–do not miss this–in most cases, the congregation will not vote to terminate.   Pastors tend to have much more support within the church than a few people may think.

Six. One of the worst scenarios is this little manipulative ploy which some cruel leaders attempt.  They tell the pastor, “If you force this to a vote of the congregation, you will be responsible for the church split.”

That’s almost humorous, it’s so blatantly false.  It’s also dishonorable to God and unworthy of any self-respecting Christian.

My story: I was given a one-year leave of absence from my church.  This lasted from August to August, 1989-1990.  A few months prior to my leaving, I dealt with a church’s search committee that was twice our size, running around 2,000 in attendance.  However, I ended it by informing them that the Lord was not going to let me run from our problems, that I had to see this thing through.  Then, after I was unemployed, churches running a hundred in attendance were skeptical of me.  It was as though I were a leper. 

The only way the church in metro New Orleans (FBC Kenner) would consider me is that they were recovering from an internal explosion 18 months earlier, leaving them with half the congregation and all the debt (several million).  The salary they offered was slightly over one-half of what I had been receiving in the previous church. 

My situation is unusual only in the 12-month package the church gave me.  It is typical, however, in the difficulty in finding a new place to serve.

Only if that preacher’s ministry should come to an end–and only if you are willing to stand before the Lord and take account for your actions, which you and I will–should you vote to terminate his pastorate.

Otherwise, find some other way.

In all things, act like Jesus.

Better to put up with a lazy preacher or an ineffective one than to soil the name of your church and hurt a lot of people.  As Paul said to the Corinthians, “Why not rather be wronged?” (I Corinthians 6:7)

Better to move your membership than to tear up a good church just because you don’t care for the present minister.

Seven.  Ask a friend to tell you if you are acting unkindly, vindictively, harshly, or unreasonably.  If you are, then apologize to everyone you know and make a pledge to sit down and be quiet.  Once you “get in the flesh,” you are no longer qualified to deal with this matter because the devil is in the driver’s seat.

“Dear Lord, save your church, please.”







16 thoughts on “When to fire a pastor

  1. It’s Sad That Ministers Are Subject To The “Deacons From Hell”.
    Church Politics Often Negates Church Effectiveness.
    I’m Blessed To Have Planted Every Church That I’ve Served.
    That Way I Can Install Godly People In Church Positions Rather
    Than People From A “Click”. It Seems Like Most People Forget That

  2. Wow!!! This is exactly what happened to me as I served a church. This church manipulated the situation and hurt me and my family. We have not stepped back into ministry since that has happened as a result of the church that fired me. Its so sad that churches do this. Bold points One, Two and Three were exactly what was done to me and the church when they asked me and my wife to leave. I am know I am not the only one it has happened to. As I tell people, there are things about ministry I miss so dearly. I am still praying that God would not forget me and allow me to serve His church again. Romans 11:29. Thank you for writing this and I hope many church leaders see this post

  3. Brother Joe,
    Always a tough subject but, as usual, you came through this in great form! There are many times a church will vote a Pastor out in anger and declare that the Pastor will never Pastor another church. They work hard to keep that promise as Pastors seek to lead again. It is not only the Pastor they hurt, it is the entire family and mostly the Kingdom of God. God help us to love our Pastors that you have called and sent!

  4. Too many times I witnessed this happen in churches. What a shame it left on the churches this happened. It hurt the pastor and his family, but it hurt the congregation as well. Churches considering this type action should consider the harm it does to the churches reputation. Ask the question, what will the community we serve see in us. This is truly not a reflection of our savior.

  5. My husband experienced a termination about 6 years ago, after serving a church for 10 years. A small group of people didn’t like what he was doing (or perceived as not doing), and decided to start keeping “track” of attendance numbers, times of coming and going, and other things of that nature. Then they decided to ask for a vote of confidence in a business meeting without our knowledge (though we suspected something was up). It got ugly after that, and with good leadership on the state level, a “deal” was finally worked out. The group who wanted my husband out held what I called an “inquisition” and had a sign-up sheet for members to lodge complaints against him…they even asked former members to come, but that was shut down by the state associational leader. This was after my husband had a 70/30 vote of confidence to stay. They still didn’t want him. So the state leader negotiated for my husband and he got his two weeks of vacation and then his full salary every week until he found a church or until the end of the year, which ever came first. The end of the year came first, and if we had not inherited money from my husband’s father, we would have been without a home. It took 14 months to find another church, but we were fortunate to find a good one who loves us and takes care of us. Thank you for your insight and good ideas!

  6. You are right on and what you have written should be read at the beginning of the business meeting that has been called for the purpose of firing the pastor.

    Another thing the church needs to consider is their own reputation in the community and for future candidates who are wary of churches that go through pastors every few years. I heard one pastor call churches like that, “deacon possessed”.

  7. Our Pastor had a reputation with the ladies, broken many young hearts, but we all turned a blind eye because we didn’t want to soil the reputation of the church. He just recently promised to marry a young lady, talked her into bed with him and then told her he changed his mind. This young woman considered suicide. We counselled and talked her out of it. However, he is still pursuing her. How do we go about removing this immoral man who refuses to step down.

    • You are not soiling the reputation of your church by ousting this man. He’s the one ruining it; you’re trying to save it! So, get some people together and find out what the constitution and bylaws say about how to fire the man. He needs to be out of the ministry. Period.

  8. I was put out of the Lord house this past Wednesday night. Claim i cause division in the church and supposely lied on the preacher. That. Preacher decided that night he was God and wants to blackball me from all Churches.

  9. Yep. A tough subject. I struggle with it.

    I attend a church wherein the young pastor has terminated a minimum of three staff members, and alienated a number of members to the point where they have migrated to other churches. In a church of 250 to 300 members — many of whom are members only in a marginal sense — about two dozen people and their children have left us. In this current COVID epidemic, he holds Zoom sermons, but if there’s anything else going on, I don’t detect it. We expected him to jump into the trenches and do actual assistance work, but it hasn’t happened and obviously isn’t going to happen. He should have access to old church directories, and could make phone calls to members, but doesn’t do so, to determine if members are sick or well, alive or dead in this pandemic. It has been ten months, and he doesn’t reach out to the membership. He pushes lots of social justice activist causes, organizes marches, creates matching funds for causes, etc., but for the rank and file members in the church, there’s squat. I now regard him with some hostility. How should I regard him?

    The rest of us are busy herding children or working or surviving in the mess that America has become. If he is our shepherd, why do some of us feel abandoned? How legitimate are these resentments I’ve articulated? What should I do about them?

    • If your church does not have a team of lay leaders–an administrative committee, deacons, or something–who meets with the pastor and deals with problems, then the church is asking for trouble. This pastor desperately needs four or five of the strongest, godliest, sweetest men and women in the membership to go see him and have a sit-down talk. Now.

  10. Some members have written letters about this pastor, letters of complaint. The letters have been quietly ignored. In the face of that, what is our best recourse — one that will do a minimum of damage to the congregation and the pastor himself?

  11. We recently terminated our pastor by congregational vote. He was approached with grievances and heresay which he refused to address and angrily castigated others for. Refused to explain his actions, neglected his duties, approved salaries for staff who wanted a sabbatical, while he himself was on a year long sabbatical! Were we wrong?

      • I agree we need to think about how we treat pastors, and have concern for their welfare even after termination. There will always be hurt feelings. We need to pray fervently for our congregations, and ALL pastors.

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