Dealing with Forced Termination

Dealing with Forced Termination

“Here’s Your Envelope”

Recently, a Pastor was called up to the front of the church the week before Christmas Day. It had been a difficult four years in the church, and while there was no promise of any raise, at least he knew he would get a Christmas Bonus. The deacons made that clear when he first started. 

As he walked to the front, he felt a little bit of appreciation for the hard work he had done over the past year, and was grateful to receive anything extra the church could give for his family. After receiving an envelope as a Christmas Bonus, the church dismissed and he went home with his family.

“How much did they give you?” His wife asked once they got home.

As the pastor opened up the envelope, he stood there, frozen. It was an empty envelope. Thinking maybe there had been a mistake, he called the church treasurer. “Hey _____, I just got home and we opened up the envelope I was given as a Christmas bonus and…” 

“Pastor,” she replied, “I was just doing what I was told to do.” Click

With thoughts racing, he began calling some of his deacons. Time and time again, he was met with the same response. The deacons couldn’t meet until the first of the year. They kept pushing him off. Knowing that something was very off, Pastor decided to reach out to his Associational Director of Missions and schedule a meeting with all of the deacons.

At the beginning of the year, he met with the deacons with his DOM present. They began telling the pastor a list of grievances they had collected over his tenure. It was a list of petty complaints and differences. It was just what the pastor feared: the empty envelope was a ruse to see if he would leave. As a result of the mediation that took place, some deacons decided to leave, and others stayed. But the pastor had to deal with this ugly reality:

The church had tried to forcefully terminate him.

Been there?

In Ep. 174 of the podcast, we were reminded that ministry is not for the faint of heart. We have all heard the horror stories, and perhaps you may have experienced forced termination yourself. Sometimes it happens with secret meetings, met after church hours in a Sunday School classroom. Forced termination can come from a small group of people who have had it out for the pastor as soon as he arrived. We’ve heard it with a letter on the office desk, changing the locks on the doors, or a knock on the door in the middle of the night by a church member. Some may have heard the words, “We had a vote of no confidence…”

I recently was working with a church Revitalization project. When I visited a Wednesday night service, I noticed the pastor’s wife crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she pulled out an anonymous letter she had received in the mailbox. It was from a former member that had left during the current pastor’s tenure. The letter read, “For the sake of this church and God, please take you and your family and leave our church.”

People can sometimes be cruel and hurtful.

A study recently conducted that of all pastors, 23-41% will experience a forced termination once in their career.  Four out of 10 pastors will be forced out of their church either by firing or by some sort of pressure that leads to their departure.

Effects on the Church

If you’ve ever been fired from a church, no matter the circumstance, it is deeply painful. We tend to find identity in our vocation, and when being “let go” we start to feel like there is something wrong with us. It is no surprise that many pastors either walk away from the ministry or at least take a leave of absence from the ministry itself after a situation like this. 

But there are many effects of forced termination on a church as well. David Myers, a retired Director of Missions from Chattanooga, wrote in an article:

What forced termination does to the soul of the congregation is significant in and of itself, but the practical, logistical impact is also significant. The church may lose members who are unhappy with what has occurred or how it was done. The loss of financial support may result from membership decline or withholding money. The name and reputation of the church is marred in the community and beyond. Hesitant, reserved or negative recommendations of the church are given to prospective new ministers for that church. Many ministers are reluctant to consider relocation to a church that terminated its previous minister.

Evidence in Declining Churches?

Since this website deals mainly with Church Replants and Revitalizations, we need to address a specific angle of forced termination. What does it mean if the church you are working with has a history of firing pastors?

It may not be written in the business meeting minutes, but you can often find out by asking several long-tenured members of the church what happened to pastors in the past. There is something wrong with a church that historically has found ways to “let go” of their pastors. For example, many churches have used the word “incompetence” as reason to fire a pastor. But when “incompetence” is defined by decisions a pastor has made that some disagree with, that is not incompetence. When infrastructure and preference take priority over the leadership of your pastor, these are dangerous signs of a declining, unhealthy church. 

A church like this has some foundational issues. They are rejecting the biblical teaching of obedience to spiritual authority. When a Pastor has violated any code of conduct, shown evidence of sinful patterns, or put the people of God at risk of danger from false teaching or lack of care, these are real issues that should be addressed under the right structure. A church should be able to rely on their constitution and bylaws to go through the right process, and address any significant issues in the church.

And there are ways that we can prevent this from happening. It’s important that a pastor has a leadership team or a board to filter significant decisions through. But this comes with the understanding that a pastor must lead the way that God is calling him to lead, as long as it lines up with biblical teaching.

What can we do to help a church change their ways of the past?

  1. Go back and address the wrongs of past leaders against them and their families. There is nothing more scarring to a pastor and his family. This pain for the former pastor’s families should be addressed in the church and dealt with in a graceful way. 
  2. Remove those who have instigated or been involved with unfounded and unreasonable terminations from leadership positions within the church. Or at least have a hard conversation with them. If a church has some bullies, or a few who like to stir up the pot and be involved in “behind-the-scenes” campaigns, you cannot allow them to persist in places of leadership. 
  3. Address informal campaigns to force a pastor out through biblically based, by-law supported church discipline. Church discipline is one of the most neglected practices in the church today. But you would think that a church practice that is distinctly and specifically biblical would be practiced to pursue church health. Every healthy document of church constitution and bylaws should have a member conduct clause and a church discipline clause. 
  4. Make careful note of the redemptive actions taken above (repentance, reconciliation, peacemaking, and church discipline), and commit as a church to not let this happen in the future. 

If you’ve been a pastor who has been hurt by forceful termination, we know how painful this is. For encouragement and help, check out this article. And this helpful article from the Pastor’s Hope Network. For encouragement, help, and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team here at the Replant Bootcamp. 

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