The following story is typical of every innocent pastor who has ever experienced the pain of forced termination:
You were spiritually lost.
But by God’s grace, you came to know Jesus … as a child, teenager, or adult.
You read your Bible … attended church … and grew in your faith.
Then one day, you sensed that God was calling you to pastoral ministry.
You sought counsel … told your loved ones … and consulted with your pastor.
You knew that by going into Christian ministry, you weren’t going to make a lot of money … but that was okay, because God would take care of you.
You applied for and entered a Bible college or Christian university.
You worked hard and graduated several years later.
Then you applied for and entered seminary.
You graduated with a Master’s degree … often a Master of Divinity … which took years to complete … and consumed most of your time.
During seminary, you worked hard to earn money and teach Scripture anywhere you could.
But after graduation, you only wanted to do one thing: preach God’s Word.
You wanted your call to ministry recognized, so you pursued ordination.
Your pastor and church board voted to ordain you. Your pastor put you in touch with your district minister, who explained the process to you.
You worked hard at creating a statement of faith … anticipating questions … and preparing your answers.
You met with an ordination council, which grilled you pretty good … then recommended you for ordination.
You kneeled before God and your church family as pastoral colleagues laid their hands on you and prayed.
And you vowed before God that you would follow the Lord and preach the whole counsel of God.
Along the way, you got married and started a family. They would go wherever you went.
You sent resumes to open churches, and finally, one showed an interest in you.
You flew there … met with the search team … preached several times … answered questions … and went home exhausted but hopeful.
You received a call several days later to return as a candidate.
You preached again … negotiated a salary package … and received a call to be that church’s next pastor.
You made plans to move to that community … hopefully for the rest of your life.
You said goodbye to family and friends … packed up your belongings … and put your life in the hands of people who claimed to love Jesus like you did.
You put your books in your new church office … met the staff and the board … and threw yourself into the work.
You rented an apartment until you could buy your first house … which you finally did.
You spent hours on your messages … met with all the church leaders … visited the sick … counseled the wounded … and worked inhumane hours.
You gave everything you had for God’s people.
You assumed things were going well. The church was growing … giving was increasing … God’s spirit was moving … and you felt joyful.
You said to yourself, “God has me doing what I was born to do.”
And then one day, it all changed.
You received a phone call from a church friend who told you that a group of members had been meeting in secret.
They had a long list of complaints against you … complaints you knew nothing about.
You felt devastated … betrayed … and scared.
Suddenly, that group was all you could think about. You wondered:
Who is in that group?
Why are they upset with me?
What are they going to do to me … and to this church?
The knowledge that people were out to get you negatively impacted you and your ministry.
You suddenly became paranoid … not knowing who wanted to harm you.
You became guarded … not wanting to give the faction any more ammunition.
You sank into depression … couldn’t focus on studying for sermons … and began to experience the symptoms of panic.
You attended the next board meeting, and quickly discovered that three board members were among the complainers.
They accused you of petty matters that happened months before … matters you couldn’t even recall.
They said that many others in the church agreed with their complaints.
And they gave you a choice: you could either resign or be fired … and they wanted you to decide right then and there.
If you resigned, they would give you two month’s severance pay. If you didn’t, you’d receive nothing.
You were stunned … wounded … and paralyzed with fear.
You couldn’t think straight. You felt like throwing up.
You wanted to vanish.
You had been rejected … forsaken … and tossed aside … but you had no idea why.
They wanted you to resign, and so you did.
You went home and told your wife, who cried all night long.
You called family members, who could not believe what happened.
You returned to your office at church the next day … packed up your books and belongings … and carted them home.
You turned in your keys and said goodbye to the staff.
You contacted a realtor and put your home on the market.
You perused the want ads to find a job … anything you could do to support your family.
But all you wanted to do was preach the Word of God.
You sent out resumes to scores of churches, but received few replies.
You made it to the first round with two churches, but they both went in other directions.
Then one day, you discovered what the problem was. Several people from your previous church were saying things about you that weren’t true.
They accused you of being a dictator … not cooperating with the church board … and insinuated that you had mental problems.
You were shocked beyond belief. None of it was true … and nobody at the church had ever spoken with you about any of those issues.
But somehow, those charges were circulating around, and you had no forum in which to rebut them.
You felt marked … tainted … stained … and scarred.
You obeyed God’s call to ministry … went to college and seminary … became ordained … sacrificed in so many ways … gave everything you had to God’s people … and got kicked in the teeth for it.
Should you keep trying to find a church to pastor?
Should you settle for a staff position?
Should you start a church instead?
Should you borrow money, go back to school, and start over in some other field?
Or should you accept the fact that your career is now over?
This story is replicated every month among hundreds of pastors. I’ve heard from many of them.
And most of all, they want to know what they did wrong … but they never get the real story … and it haunts them day and night.
In her book Crying on Sunday, Elaine Onley writes about her own husband’s forced termination. She quotes a denominational executive who told her: “Not a week goes by that this does not happen to some pastor. I mean to a good pastor – not novices, not those of wrong-doing. It happens to men who are good, kind, faithful men of God. It breaks my heart.”
I’m doing what I can to make a difference.
I have a doctoral degree with a focus on church conflict. I’ve written a book … Church Coup … about my own experience. I write a blog twice a week, usually on church conflict or forced termination.
I’m writing an e-book designed to help church decision makers think through the process of terminating their pastor … participating in a study on forced termination … attending a three-day conflict training course later this month … providing counsel for those who go through this horrendous experience … and praying that God will stop the epidemic of forced terminations in this country.
If I can help you in any way, please comment on this blog or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
We have to put a stop to this epidemic before Satan ruins more pastors, believers, and churches.