Posts Tagged ‘healing after a pastoral termination’

When a pastor is forced to leave a church unjustly, how does he heal?

This is a question that I’m asked a lot … and one I wonder about myself.

Let me handle this in a question and answer format:

How do pastors feel after they’re forced to leave a church?

Abandoned.  Betrayed.  Crushed.  Devastated.  Exiled.  Forsaken.  Grief-stricken.  Hated.  Isolated.  Judged.  Kicked.  Lanced.

I’ll let you fill in the words beginning with M-Z.

Most pastors give everything they have when they serve a church, and when they’re dismissed … or forced to resign … the pain is indescribable.

It feels like your grandparents, parents, siblings, and children have all made a pact that they never want to see you again.

And in the process, you stop trusting people … and that’s understandable.  It takes time to rebuild that trust.

What kind of losses does a terminated pastor experience?

The pastor loses his job … his income … and maybe his home … which will harm his credit rating.

He loses his significance … his self-esteem and confidence … most of his church friends … and possibly his career.

And what hurts most of all is that some “Christians” are determined to ruin the pastor’s reputation through exaggeration and misinterpretation … and the pastor doesn’t know who these people are or what they’re saying.

But when he starts making contacts in the Christian community, he discovers that some Christian leaders have already heard one version of why the pastor left … the wrong version.

Six months after I’d left my previous church, I visited a denominational executive … from another denomination … and he already knew about my departure.

The Christian world is all too small.

How long does it take a pastor to heal?

It takes one to three years, depending upon several factors:

*How much abuse did the pastor receive before he finally left?

*How concerted was the effort to destroy his reputation after he left?

*How much of a severance package was the pastor given?

*How do the pastor and his family handle criticism?  (Can the pastor’s family hold him up, or does he need to hold them up?)

*What kind of a support system does the pastor have?

*What hope does the pastor have of future employment?

Why do pastors hibernate for a while after termination?

They can’t stop thinking about what happened to them.

They can’t believe the people who betrayed them.

They can’t fathom why they weren’t treated in a biblical manner.

They can’t understand how Christians could abuse and forsake their pastor.

After pastors initially experience termination, their thoughts … words … and expressions become toxic.

The pastor figures, “I’m such a wreck that nobody wants to be around me.”

Some people attempt to listen to and love the pastor, but when their efforts aren’t successful, they distance themselves from the pastor.

And the pastor feels rejected all over again.

Why don’t pastors heal more quickly?

Because the grief process works slowly.

This past weekend at Saddleback Church, Pastor Rick Warren gave a message called “How God Blesses Broken Hearts” from Matthew 5:4.  His message greatly ministered to me.  Here’s the link:


Pastor Rick says:

“Never minimize other’s pain.”

“Never rush people.  Pain and grief takes time.  I can’t tell you what’s the appropriate time to grieve for anything in your life.”

He said that since the suicide of his son Matthew over a year ago, he has cried every single day.

I believe that churchgoers want … and even need … their pastors to be superhuman.  When they discover that their pastor is as frail as they are in the face of loss, they feel let down … and often abandon the pastor altogether.

When I went through this experience 4 1/2 years ago, I believe that I lost friends because I didn’t become “the old Jim” fast enough.  It was painful for friends to see me in pain … but I’ve never been able to fake how I feel.

But I am eternally grateful to those few people who chose to be present … listened to my pain … and loved me anyway.

Those people will always be my real friends.

What steps can a pastor take to accelerate healing?

The following steps all have one thing in common: a pastor must humble himself before God and receive help from others … especially in the body of Christ.

Step 1: Get a physical examination.

See your doctor immediately.  Tell him what happened to you.  Anti-depressants can be a godsend.

Step 2: Contact a Christian counselor.

Only 20% of forced-out pastors seek counseling after they’ve been terminated.

Why only 20%?

Maybe the pastor doesn’t know the right counselor … but it only takes a few phone calls to find someone.

Maybe the pastor is afraid the counselor will blame him for his dismissal … but that’s highly unlikely.

Maybe the pastor is afraid of the cost … but how much is healing your soul worth?  (And most counselors will give a discount to a terminated pastor.)

After I left my last church, I saw two counselors … both women … and they were terrific.  They understood my situation because both women had been in ministry.  They provided valuable insights into congregational life and made positive suggestions for healing.

It’s the right move.

Step 3: Attend church when you feel like it.

Why not every weekend?

Because attending worship can be an incredibly painful experience for a pastor who has undergone termination.

I still have a hard time singing praise and worship songs 53 months later … and I don’t know what to do about it.

And when I listen to preaching, I need to hear someone who acknowledges and understands pain … which is why I’ve been listening to Rick Warren recently.

It’s why I sat under the teaching ministry of Don Wilson in Phoenix for 18 months.

And it’s why it’s difficult to find a church home near the community where I live.

Step 4: Spend lots of time in the Psalms and in 2 Corinthians.

David and the other psalmists openly express their feelings to God in unedited form.  I keep coming back to the Psalms constantly.

And when Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he was defending his ministry to the church in Corinth, where he was being hypercriticized in an attempt to discredit him as an apostle.

Read these books in different versions.  I love reading them in The Message.

Find a good devotional book that deals with suffering in a realistic way as well.  I recommend Beside Still Waters by Charles Spurgeon.

Step 5: If you’re a pastor, commit your future to God.

He knows you.  He loves you.  He cares about you.

Others may have abandoned and forsaken you.  He never will.

Tell the Lord you’ll do anything He wants and you’ll go anywhere He sends.

Then follow the Spirit’s promptings.

The Spirit led me to a church in New Hampshire … for only three months … but it was just what my wife and I needed at the time.

Can God use a terminated pastor again?

The Lord used Peter in an even greater way after he denied Christ three times.

Paul was chased all over the ancient world but planted churches and wrote half the New Testament.

And Jesus was terminated on the cross … but He had a powerful post-resurrection ministry.

Yes, God can use terminated pastors again … and in an even greater way than before.

I believe the “stain” that a pastor receives after being unjustly terminated is the same stain that Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the other apostles received.

If only church search teams and denominational executives believed this.

What are your thoughts about how terminated pastors can heal?










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