Posts Tagged ‘forced exit of pastors’

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 jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

We have to put a stop to this epidemic before Satan ruins more pastors, believers, and churches.












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The most-read article on this blog is called “If You Must Terminate a Pastor.”  It’s been viewed 3 times more than any other article, indicating that many church leaders seek help with this problem.

Right now, I’m working on an e-book targeted for church decision makers – especially church boards – that are thinking about removing their pastor from office.  Tentatively, the first chapter is about why pastors are special … a consideration most decision makers block from their minds when they want to remove their shepherd.  Here is an excerpt from that initial chapter in draft form.  Feel free to comment.  


I know a lot about pastors, far more than I know about people in any other profession.  My grandfather was a pastor.  My dad was a pastor.  My father-in-law and step-father were pastors.  (They were both missionaries, too.)  In seminary, I got to know professors who had dedicated their lives to training pastors, as well as fellow students who sensed God’s call to ministry.  In my own life, I’ve held eight church positions over thirty-six years, and today I work with pastors from various denominations in a non-profit ministry.  I like pastors.

But as a church decision maker, it’s possible that your experience with pastors has been limited.  Maybe the only pastors you’ve known are the ones that have served your present church.  Or maybe this is your first assignment as a church decision maker and you’ve been a bit surprised by what really goes on behind-the-scenes.

Let me share with you several truths about pastors that you need to keep on your frontal lobes as you consider removing your pastor from office:

First, your pastor has been called by God to ministry. 

Through a convergence of events that He orchestrated, God selected your pastor – out of thousands of individuals – to serve Him in church ministry.  The call may have come all at once like a bolt of lightning, or it may have come upon your pastor gradually over time.  But your pastor did not call himself to ministry – God called him.

My Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Charles Feinberg, used to tell prospective pastors, “If you can do anything other than being a pastor, do it.”   Why did he say that?   Because the best pastors are the ones who know that God has called them and don’t quit when things get rough.  Many seminary students have no idea what it’s like to be a pastor, and if they really knew what it takes, the majority would probably drop out.  The hours are long.  The pay isn’t great.  The emergencies never stop – and neither does the criticism.  Especially the criticism.

Many years ago, a man who was a bit odd asked if we could meet for lunch.  He didn’t come to church very often.  He wasn’t a member.   To my knowledge, he had never volunteered for any ministry.   He didn’t have any friends at church.  But during our lunch together, he tried to tell me how to preach.   I had a style that I had developed over more than thirty years, and this occasional attendee was going to tell me how to teach God’s Word?  He could barely put two sentences together.

Not every person who claims that God has called him or her to ministry has really been called.  The call must be confirmed through a process called ordination, which is done by a candidate’s local church.  Although there is no one way to become ordained, the process usually involves the candidate writing out his conversion experience and call to ministry, along with a summary of his biblical beliefs. Then the ordination council – usually composed of pastors from other churches as well as laymen from the candidate’s congregation – examines the candidate, posing questions designed to test his knowledge of Scripture and theology.

When the time of examination is concluded, the candidate is dismissed, and members of the council deliberate as to whether or not the candidate should be ordained.  If the council recommends ordination, the ordination ceremony takes place a few days later – usually in front of the entire congregation – where the pastor takes ordination vows and his call to ministry is officially recognized by those who know him best.

How much do you know about your pastor’s call to ministry?  Do you know when and where he was ordained?  Do you know the name of the church that ordained him?

My friend Charles Wickman, who was a pastor for many years, was fond of saying that a church should celebrate their pastor’s call to ministry on an annual basis as a way of saying, “Our pastor is God’s man for this church.”   When was the last time your church celebrated your pastor’s call to ministry?

This does not mean that you can never remove your pastor from office.  But it does mean that you need to tread lightly if you seek to remove him.   God had His hand on your pastor at one time.   Could that still be the case?

Second, your pastor was assigned by God to your particular church.

While God calls individuals to church ministry in general – which is recognized through ordination – He calls specific pastors to specific churches … recognized through an investigative process often known as candidating.

When a search team from your church initially contacted your pastor, many people were obviously impressed by him.  The search team and pastor probably traded emails, phone calls, and written documents, maybe leading to an interview via Skype.  Then the pastor was invited to visit your campus and meet members of the search team, and if they were sufficiently pleased, your pastor later preached before the congregation and did a question-and-answer session before the entire congregation, the church board, and other relevant groups.

If the search team and governing board received positive feedback about the candidate, then your congregation probably took a vote and invited the candidate to become your pastor.   After such a lengthy investigative process, many people in your church undoubtedly concluded that God had called your pastor to your church.

There’s also a sense in which your church hired your pastor, and any employee who is hired can also be fired.  But when pastors talk about leaving their home and moving their family to serve a new congregation, they invariably tell people that God called them to that church.  I’ve observed that whenever a pastor initially comes to a church, many people refer to the pastor’s call, but if the pastor later finds himself in hot water with church leaders, the language changes. People start dropping the term “call” and start saying that the pastor was “hired” instead.  When leaders stop referring to the pastor’s call, they imply that God wasn’t involved in bringing your pastor to your church and that your leaders were the real reason he came.  But this doesn’t change the fact that at one time, the leaders and congregation of your church believed that your current pastor was God’s man for your people.

Ask yourself: if God clearly wanted him to come here, what evidence do we have now that God wants him to leave?  Regardless of how you currently feel about your pastor, please do not factor God out of your discussions and deliberations.  Just as church leaders sought God’s will when your pastor first came, so too church leaders need to seek God’s will if your pastor’s time at your church is drawing to a close.


If you were a church decision maker, and you were contemplating forcing your pastor to resign, how much weight would the above arguments have on you?  Let me know.

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