Posts Tagged ‘pastoral termination and denominations’

When the pastor called me out of the blue, I knew I could help him … even though his church board had treated him horribly.

After years of faithful service in a church of 500 people, the board had fired their pastor … without warning … without reasons … and without any severance.

He was devastated.

I don’t know how he found me, but I was glad he did … and I’d like to think that he was relieved to find somebody who understood.

That’s been my ministry for the past eight years … helping pastors who have been attacked … or pastors who have been forced out … or board members who have asked for help dealing with their pastor … or churchgoers who have watched their pastor being treated unjustly.

If anybody wants my help in the future, I will be glad to counsel them in any way I can.

But this is the 600th article that I’ve written … most of them on pastoral termination … and I’m going to take a break from writing … maybe for a long time.


When I wrote my book Church Coup, I asked some Christian leaders to read it, and I received the most help from Dr. Charles Chandler, founder of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation.

Charles called me when I was climbing Bunker Hill in Boston, and I tried to absorb every correction he was telling me while my wife walked ahead.

One of the things he told me was, “Your book isn’t going to sell well.”  So right from the start, I knew that my book would have a limited audience.

It’s sold more than the average Christian book, for which I’m grateful, but I knew it would never be a best seller.  A Christian book agent told me that for the book to sell in any great quantities, I’d have to cut it to 150 pages … and I knew he’d edit the life out of it.  (It ended up being 291 pages of text plus footnotes.)

So I ignored his counsel and wrote the book I wanted to write, self-publishing it with Xulon in the spring of 2013.

I also purposely broke a few writing rules … according to Turabian … in the book.

And I edited the book myself, eventually finding only two errors … and one of them was a place that I didn’t mean to mention.

I submitted the proofs to Xulon in March 2013 and had no idea when the book would actually be published.

The following month, my wife and I were having lunch with our son Ryan and his wife and Ryan said, “Dad, your book has been published.  I saw it on Amazon.”  (Ryan now works for Amazon as a senior software analyst.)

I was thrilled!

It was also exciting to see my first review on Amazon, from Shelli Rehmert … a pastor’s wife in Kansas … who has become a wonderful online friend.

Every year, Xulon asks me if I want to keep the book on Amazon and elsewhere, and every year, I write them a small check to keep it published.  Although I have never made much money on the book … think $3 to $4 a copy … I’m pleased that I sell a few books every quarter … and that I once sold fourteen books over a three-month period in the UK!

But I’ve never liked the cover.


I started writing this blog eight years ago, and had no idea how it would be received.

My son Ryan advised me to write three times a week to start, and told me that my writing would most likely attract critics who would attack me unmercifully.

But I didn’t find that to be the case.  Thankfully, I’ve received well over 95% positive comments, so the few nasty ones haven’t bothered me very much.

It’s a niche blog … and a narrow niche at that.  Most Christians don’t care about the topic of pastoral termination unless it happens to their pastor or one they know and like … and even then, most churchgoers won’t do any research on the issue.

My book will gradually fade away, but many of my blogs will stay online for years.

For example, I once had 696 views of one article in one day.

While serving as an interim pastor in New Hampshire, I wrote a blog one morning called “Pastors Who Overfunction.”  The words came quickly … I barely edited it … and sent it into the ether to be published.

Before I knew it, someone put a link to the article on the Gospel Coalition website … the only time, to my knowledge, that has ever happened.

But that article hasn’t been viewed much since then.

I wrote one recently called, “My Pastor is a Dictator!”  Seems like that article receives views nearly every day now … but it didn’t do well when it was first published.

I’ve always believed that if I write something, and it meets a need, people will find it.


My blog “If You Must Terminate a Pastor” has been viewed more than 24,500 times.  I don’t know how many pastors or board members have accessed it, but I’d like to think that one article has stopped a lot of boards from harming their pastor, his family, and their church.

Just yesterday, there were 30 views on my article “Lying in the Church” and 24 views on the article “Why Give a Terminated Pastor a Severance Package?”

I’ve sensed that some people recommend an article to others, accounting for a more than average number of views in a day, and I’d like to think that some articles have been read by all the members of a church board before they’ve confronted their pastor about something.

In my last ministry, I wrote out my sermons word for word, and then published them on the church website.  One ex-pastor didn’t like what I said about him in a sermon and wrote me to set the record straight, which I did on the website.  (It was too late to correct my sermon since it had already been delivered.)

I learned two things from his email:

*First, when you quote from someone’s book, don’t leave the book in your garage and summarize it from memory.  Dig it out and know what it says for sure!

*Second, when you tell a story about a well-known Christian leader, more often than not, don’t use his name in your blog … or he, his wife, or someone he knows may challenge what you wrote … not because you said anything wrong, but so there isn’t anything negative about the person online.

That pastor had been forced to resign from his church because of adultery, and my guess is that he was trying to assess his reputation online.

So when I’ve told stories about most people, I’ve chosen not to name names.  If anyone wants to know who I’m talking about, and they write me, I’ll tell them … and provide any backup necessary … but I don’t want to hurt anyone needlessly.


However, one topic that I’ve tackled fearlessly on occasion is the pathetic assistance that denominations give their pastors when they’re under attack.

And the reason I’ve been bold enough to do this is that I don’t need or want any kind of assistance from any denomination anywhere.

I am not saying that denominations don’t do any good.  Of course they do!

But when it comes to helping pastors who are under attack … they’re usually useless.

Here’s how this plays out in real life:

Pastor Bob is called to a church of 100 people.  He wants the church to grow.

He attends some local and national denominational meetings, and several speakers talk about the importance of reaching people for Christ.  Bob is excited.

Then Bob attends a local event, and his district minister talks about the importance of local church evangelism and church planting.  Bob starts catching the vision!

He goes back to his church … draws up some growth plans … sells them to the church board … and begins implementing steps to reach their community for Christ!

Two years later, the church has grown to 150 … at which point some of the church pioneers begin to attack Pastor Bob personally.  They begin making ultimatums: either Bob leaves or they leave.

(When people are under stress, they think narrowly, and usually come up with only two options: fight or flight.  If I have just one piece of advice for church boards when they’re struggling with their pastor, it would be this: refrain from taking any action against your pastor until your board has taken the time to think broadly … creating many options for how to resolve the conflict … rather than narrowly … creating only two options: either he goes or we go.)

Bob assumes that his DM, who has painted himself as a “pastor to pastors,” will back him up for doing the very things the denomination has wanted him to do: reach people for Jesus.

What Bob doesn’t know is that the pioneers have already contacted his district minister to complain about him.

Devastated, Bob doesn’t know who to confide in … so he contacts his DM … who listens to everything Bob says … and then shares what Bob has said with the pioneers.

With the DM’s blessing, the pioneers push for Bob’s resignation.  When Bob contacts the DM for help, the DM tells him, “Bob, there are too many charges against you being made inside the congregation for you to stay.  I think you need to resign.”

So Bob quits.

His wife is forced to become the family breadwinner.  His kids don’t want to attend church ever again.  Bob plunges into depression, convinced his ministry career is over.  He can barely function for months.

Most of the people at his former church believe the false charges being made about Bob and drop all contact with him.  And the denomination provides zero assistance … except for recommending a veteran pastor to Bob’s former church … someone who has a safe personality but has never seen any growth in his previous three churches.

Welcome to Business as Usual in America’s Denominations … where mediocrity is rewarded and success is punished.

The stuff I saw going on behind the scenes in my former denomination was so sickening that I wanted nothing to do with them anymore.

And for pulling away, I was labeled a malcontent … a label I’ve proudly worn for years.

At least I still have my integrity.

Years ago, I severed all ties with my denomination: medical insurance … retirement … you name it.

I’m not very good at playing games, but I’m in good company.

Jesus wasn’t good at playing games, either.  (If Jesus pastored a church in 2018, do you think He’d join a denomination?)


For years, whenever a pastor in an evangelical church has been under attack, there’s a consensus among Christian leaders that the pastor should resign to keep the church united and to keep the peace.

Some pastors should resign … but many pastors shouldn’t.

Instead, they should fight back.

Let me share three examples:

First, I met a pastor a few years ago at the Christian Leadership Convention in Pasadena who told me his story.

As a young man, this pastor went to a church in New Hampshire, and he quickly found out that a certain influential woman ran the church … her way.

She had run out the previous few pastors, and she intended to run out the new one as well.

Only this young man was determined that she was going to leave, not him.

It was a battle, but the woman finally left the church … and the pastor enjoyed a prosperous ministry for the next 23 years!

Seminaries don’t tell pastors about people like that woman, and denominations act like they don’t exist.

Second, I attended a church in Arizona where the church’s senior pastor told me this story himself.

As the church was growing, four staff members decided to rebel against their pastor.  They not only didn’t want to work for him anymore … they wanted him to quit.

They began spreading rumors throughout the church … rumors designed to force him out.

The pastor didn’t wilt.  He didn’t resign.

Instead, he fought back.

He called a public meeting of the congregation … and when he did, three of the staffers instantly quit.

The pastor sat in a chair onstage for hours on a Sunday afternoon and answered every question anybody in the church had about the attacks.

And when he was done, he was the undisputed leader of the church … and the church grew to become one of America’s largest churches.

Would that have happened if the pastor had quit under fire?

Third, I spent a lot of time on the phone with a pastor from the East Coast.  He was being attacked by a faction inside the church that wanted him to quit.

It took some time, but the pastor stayed, and his opponents left.

He wrote me recently and is still doing well.  I encouraged him to write a book about his experiences.

When Jesus was attacked by the Jewish leaders, He always fought back.  He didn’t resign the first or the tenth time He was criticized.  Read John chapters 5-9 if you don’t believe me.

Yes, Jesus finally surrendered His life at the cross because it was “His time.”

But if we took all the disputes He had with the Jewish leaders out of the Gospels, they would at least be cut in half, wouldn’t they?

Somebody needs to write a book about how Jesus handled opposition … and He never quit just because people were against Him!


For the past eight years, my favorite thing to do has been to hear the stories of pastors who have gone through the heartache of a forced termination.

Dr. Archibald Hart loves to say that whenever he hears that someone is depressed, he gets excited because he knows he can help them!

Because of my unique background, training, experiences, and research, I feel the same way as Dr. Hart.

When I hear that someone has gone through a tough time at their church, my attitude is, “I’d love to hear your story because I know I can help you!”

Most of the time, I hear the stories on the phone.  I’ve had pastors call me, but I’ve also been contacted by their wives, their sons, and their daughters as well.

On occasion, I’ve met people in restaurants to hear their stories.  One time, a megachurch pastor and his wife drove from Arizona to spend four hours with me at a local Coco’s.  I know I helped him because his board bought more than twenty copies of my book!

If we haven’t yet connected, I’d love to hear your story, too.


But pastors aren’t very good about telling their stories.

Pastors tend to be private people when it comes to their own fears and insecurities.  Because a pastor will tell a story about himself in a sermon, many people assume that their pastor is a transparent and open person, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Pastors feel pressure from their congregations to be more spiritual than they really are … to act like better leaders than they know how to be … and to preach truths from Scripture that they haven’t really lived out.

In other words, pastors … like most people … are obsessed with their images.

And when a pastor is attacked and forced out of his position … he’s scared to death that his image as a spiritual person … a leader … and a preacher … has been ruined forever.

Based on my experience, I would venture a guess that about 90% of all pastors try hard to please their congregations … cooperate with their denominations … and get along with everybody in the Christian community.

If the average pastor attended a conference, and the keynote speaker didn’t believe in the Trinity, the average pastor would say, “I didn’t agree with him on everything, but he made a lot of good points.”

But I’m in the 10% that would say, “That guy’s a heretic!  If he’s wrong on the Trinity, how can he be right on anything else?  And who invited that guy, anyway?”

Somewhere along the line, a pastor has to make a decision.

Let me quote the apostle Paul in Galatians 1:10:

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I’m more comfortable being in the 10% group than the 90% group … but the price I pay is that I often don’t feel like I fit in the larger evangelical world.


A few years ago, I had lunch with a mentor, someone who knows practically everyone in the evangelical world.

I asked him, “Let’s say you know a church here in Southern California that is going through a severe conflict.  Who would you recommend to help them?”

I wanted him to give me the name of someone whom I could meet with and learn from.

Instead, he pointed his index finger at me and said, “You.”

God gave me the ability to do this ministry.  What I lack is the ability to do self-promotion.

I’m awful at it.

After a few months, I hope to compile some of my best blog articles, edit them, organize them in a logical way, and publish them in book form.

My prayer is that such a book could help a lot of pastors and church leaders who are in conflict with each other.

Maybe if I scrub it of any mention of denominations, it will sell a little better.


Why take a break from writing?

*I just turned 65, and I’m doing some self-assessment right now about my future.

*Besides working sixty plus hours every week, my wife wants to start taking college classes again, which means more of the load of our preschool will fall on me.

*After 600 articles, it feels like I have said about all I can say on the topic of pastoral termination.

*Part of me doesn’t want to focus on the hurts of the past anymore.  My own forced termination happened nine years ago this month.  I’d like to forget about it … at least for a while.

I will write again.  I love to write.  And if a large church conflict rears its ugly head … like the situation with Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Church this past year … I may share my thoughts again through this blog.

Until then …


This last space is reserved for my mother and stepfather.

As far as I know, only my mother and stepfather have read every article that I’ve written.

They may have missed a few, and that’s fine with me, but they’ve given me the impression that they’ve read them all.

My dear wife, who is 100% behind my writing, has read most of what I’ve written … even if I have to read an article to her!

I thank God for the support I’ve received from so many people, but especially my mother June, my stepfather Carlton, and my wife Kim.

And whether this is the first article of mine you’ve read, or you’ve read many others, thanks for reading!

You’ve helped me fulfill a life’s dream.








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I recently spoke with a retired pastor in his mid-eighties about his denominational ties.

This pastor told me that he’s very upset about the division inside his denomination over a particular social issue.  Pastors and churches have been pulling out of the denomination which grieves this pastor’s heart.

But he went on to tell me that with all its problems, he would never leave the denomination.

He was educated by their school … pastored several of their churches … has his medical insurance with them … and receives retirement checks from them.  He has also made many friends within the denomination over the years.

In other words, my friend has been loyal to his denomination, and they have been loyal to him in return.

Thirty-five years ago, when I pursued ordination with my home church, I expected that my relationship with that church’s denomination would go equally as well.  I would be loyal to them, and they would be loyal to me.

But it didn’t work out that way … and it rarely does for pastors who have experienced attacks that lead to forced termination.

I was in the same denomination for 31 years.

For the first 15 years, I did everything I was asked to do: attend district and national meetings … serve on district committees … befriend my pastoral colleagues … talk up district retreats and events inside my church … let their missionaries speak during worship services … and demonstrate loyalty to the denomination as a whole.

For my last 16 years, I did not attend meetings … serve on committees … or talk up retreats.  I did have some friendships with district pastors, and I let a few missionaries come and present their ministries, but that was it.

I found that district and denominational work was distracting and pulled me away from my true calling as a local church pastor.  When you’re in a smaller church setting, you have more time for district activities, but as your church grows, it becomes more difficult to justify taking time and energy away from your church.  (After all, who is paying you?)

So when I went through a horrendous conflict in my last ministry five-and-a-half years ago, I did not expect any assistance from our local district office.

But I talk all the time with pastors who express to me how hurt … and even outraged … they are that their district minister/superintendent did not provide support for them when they experienced personal attacks.

So let me share with you five realities that I’ve learned the hard way about denominations and pastor-church conflict:

First, denominations are more politically-oriented than they are spiritual.

When a rookie pastor finally learns this truth, it’s devastating.

One pastor told me that when he assumed his first pastorate, his district leader told him that if he ever needed any counsel or support, he would be there for him.

But when this pastor found himself under fire, and he did contact his district official, he had already sided with the pastor’s detractors inside the church.

That’s not spirituality in action.  That’s politics, pure and simple.

Let me share a sad but true story of denominational politics in action.

When I applied for ordination in my district almost four decades ago, I met with an ordination committee that provided counsel for my upcoming ordination council.  One of the three committee members was a prominent pastor in the denomination.

Soon after that committee meeting, that pastor was discovered to be guilty of sexual misconduct with someone other than his wife.

If that kind of wrongdoing had happened with almost any other pastor, he would have been placed under discipline for at least two years before being recommended for another church.

But this pastor was a well-known speaker and author … and was well-connected inside the denomination.

Know where he ended up?  I heard him preach one Sunday … as the senior pastor of the largest church in the entire denomination.

This pastor committed a major moral offense … and was promoted!

But he repeated his mistake in that megachurch … and after moving to district headquarters, repeated it still again.

Why was this pastor moved from place to place even though he obviously hadn’t changed?

As an influential leader later told me, it’s because the denomination was “a good old boy network” … and this pastor was a “good old boy.”

In other words, personalities and politics trumped principles.

I am not saying that people who work for denominations are unspiritual, but that the political aspect is more pronounced in denominational decision-making than most pastors could ever guess.

So when a pastor gets into trouble inside his own church, and his district minister doesn’t support him, that pastor may be expendable because he’s on the wrong side of denominational politics.

Second, pastoral participation in district activities is far more important than most pastors realize.

Many district ministers evaluate a pastor not on the basis of his walk with God … or his congregational leadership … or his church’s effectiveness … but on how often the pastor attends district functions, and how much money the pastor’s church contributes to the district.

For years, I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t true … but it is.

A pastor who went to the denominational college or seminary … and shows up to district functions … and whose church gives generously to district coffers … becomes “our kind of guy.”

And the pastor who didn’t attend denominational schools … or doesn’t attend district events … or whose church gives little to the district … is someone that the DM would like to see leave so he can be replaced by “our kind of guy.”

In other words, pastors who don’t show blind loyalty to the denomination will not be shown loyalty in return … no matter how badly they’ve been mistreated by their church.

However, I know of at least one exception to this principle.

Ten years ago, I had a conversation after class with a professor in my Doctor of Ministry program.  He is one of the most influential leaders in the Christian world.

We were both in the same denomination at the time, and I told him that I was feeling a bit guilty for not attending denominational meetings for years.

He asked me, “Why does it bother you?”  After I shared a response, he told me, “I’ve been to three meetings in 28 years.”

I never felt guilty about that issue again.

Third, denominational leaders have a history of playing it safe.

I served as the pastor of four churches over the course of 25 years.

When I didn’t take risks, those churches didn’t grow.  When I did take risks, they usually did grow … but conflict was the price that I paid.

Why?  Because change … even when it’s wildly successful … always makes somebody angry.

There is no meaningful growth in a church without change … which leads to conflict … and if a pastor is afraid of conflict, his church probably won’t grow.

But when a district is looking for a minister/superintendent, they don’t want someone whose past ministries have experienced conflict.  Conflict in past churches may be a precursor of conflict in many district churches in the future.

The district wants someone nice … organized … safe … and predictable instead.

I was in the same denominational district for 27 years.  During that time, there were four district ministers.

I don’t know how the first leader was chosen … but I know how the other three were selected: all were members of the district’s trustee board.

They were diplomatic … known quantities … and solid individuals … but they didn’t do or say anything that could remotely be considered risky.

So when a district minister hears about a pastor who has taken some risks … and angered some churchgoers in the process … he can’t relate to that pastor.  After all, he spent his entire ministry trying to placate people in various congregations.

So instead of understanding that pastor … and empathizing with him … and standing behind him … the district minister blames the pastor for the entire conflict.

In our district, the DM encouraged churches to grow … and growing churches were highlighted at district meetings.

But when some pastors took the necessary risks … and implemented change … their leadership was challenged, and conflict broke out in their church.

Those pastors rightly expected that their DM would stand behind them … especially since they were trying to obey Christ’s Great Commission and “make disciples of all the nations.”

But when pastors find themselves under fire in their churches … and later discover that their DM is standing against them as well … it’s enough to send a pastor into spiritual and emotional despair.

This leads us to the next reality:

Fourth, denominational leaders usually side with the pastor’s antagonists over against the pastor.

There is a growing body of literature today that blames most church conflicts on church boards and/or factions.  For example, Alan Klaas, who investigated why pastors are forced out of office in different denominations, concluded that in 45% of the cases, a minority faction pushed the pastor out, while only 7% of the time was the pastor’s misconduct the primary factor.

When I provide counsel to pastors about the attacks that they’re undergoing, I’m appalled by the tactics that church laymen use to force out their pastor.  You won’t find them anywhere in the New Testament … they lack love and grace … and if they’d use similar tactics in a secular company, they’d be sued in a heartbeat.

So how in the world can a district minister close his eyes to evil … ignore the demands of righteousness … and castigate the pastor for all the problems in a church?

In their book Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry, researchers Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger state that 42% of their respondents left church ministry because they didn’t feel they were supported by denominational officials when they needed help the most.

Most pastors don’t know this until they contact their district minister for help … and discover that their adversaries have already bent his ear.

And sadly, many DMs … like many Christians … believe the first person who tells them about a conflict.

When my conflict occurred, my district minister … who had been on the job barely a month … called me about the conflict because someone from the church had called him about it.  Fortunately, I hired a consultant who came to the church … interviewed staff … witnessed two destructive meetings … and collaborated with my DM to expose the plot against me.

If I hadn’t hired that consultant … who was well-respected in the larger Christian community … where would that DM have come down?

I don’t really know.  But I had a hard time trusting anyone in his position because of what had happened to me twenty years earlier.

Five years into my second pastorate, I was attacked by a seniors class.

My district minister then recommended that I resign.

Why?  Because I had committed some great sin?

No, because a guy named Bob and the seniors were upset with me … and they were very vocal … even though they were the only ones who were upset.

I knew what unilateral resignation meant: financial ruin (we had no savings and didn’t own a house) … the possible end of my pastoral career … an incredible strain on my wife to be the immediate family breadwinner … and being forced to move and live with family somewhere.

Fortunately, I waited three days before making my decision, and met with the church board first.  To a man, they all stood behind me and said, “If you resign, we’re all going to resign as well.”

I stayed … let Bob and the seniors leave … and began rebuilding the ministry … which improved greatly without Bob and his gang around.

But I will never forget that when I needed him the most, my district minister collapsed on me.

Thankfully, I have heard of a few district ministers who stand behind their pastors when they’re attacked, but my guess is that 90% of them stand with the pastor’s antagonists instead.

Why is this?

Because it’s easier to find another pastor than it is to plant and build another church … and if the DM stands with the pastor, he’s afraid of alienating the “winners” in the conflict … who might withhold their giving to the district, or pull their church out of the denomination altogether.

Finally, it’s usually counterproductive to trust a district leader with any confidential information.

When I became a pastor, I viewed my district minister as a “pastor to pastors” … and he encouraged that perspective.  But boy, did he dish out confidential information about other pastors … in some cases, bordering on slander.

Naively, I shared some real struggles with my next two district ministers … and in both cases, that information was later used against me.

Unless you have spoken to other pastors under fire … and know for certain that your district minister is someone you can trust … I wouldn’t tell him anything that could later be used against you.

It’s far better to speak to a Christian counselor … a friend who lives some distance away … or a former professor … than to trust most district officials … some of whom continually manipulate the district chessboard so they can get “their kind of guy” placed.


A longtime pastor friend worked for a denominational office for many years.  Nearly twenty years ago, he told me that the denomination was “a dying organization.”

I felt then … and I still feel today … that the success or failure of a denomination rests with how strongly district leaders support their pastors … not how strongly pastors support their district office.

I told a story in my book Church Coup about a pastor whose church grew from 80 to 370 in fifteen months, followed by the building of a new sanctuary which was quickly filled.  But as more people came, a group in the church began losing influence and wanted to snatch it back, launching a major conflict. The pastor tried to follow the advice of his DM and be redemptive, but the DM later demanded that the pastor resign, even though he had done nothing wrong.

This pastor later learned that he was the 28th innocent pastor within a twelve-month period to be forced to resign in that district.

Until the above scenario changes, I question how much time and energy a local church pastor should give his district and denomination.

I’m 100% behind advancing the worldwide kingdom of God … but skeptical about supporting a denomination that expects the loyalty of its pastors without giving back loyalty in return.

Sounds like a bad deal, doesn’t it?


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