Some time ago, I sat down with a preacher who had recently been fired by his congregation. Behind his smile, his face bore pain and his eyes sadness. Everything about his posture and body language, not to mention the emotion and frustration in his voice, was all too familiar to me. Like him, I’ve been fired by a church. Twice.
In the six years since my last termination, I’ve made it a point to contact and encourage a preacher when I heard of his dismissal. Elsewhere, I have written about why being fired as a minister is very different than another person being terminated from their job. It just is.
Here, I want to share with you the free advice I offer to every preacher. They’re not always ready to hear it, and I get that. But these were lessons I learned more the hard vs. easy way. I wish, in retrospect, that someone would have sat me down and impressed these lessons on me at my first termination. These are offered with humility, not dogmatism, in hopes that they encourage and comfort other ministers when they are fired.
- Your ministry is not over until the Lord says so.
I was 27 and had been fired twice in ministry in less than 21 months. I thought my time in ministry was over. No one would want to hire a twice-fired minister who wasn’t even 30. Add to that, my wife and I had built a house and lived in it for nine months, and my mortgage payment wouldn’t be paid with me taking an entry-level position somewhere. To say that I panicked is an understatement.
While I thought my ministry was over, the Lord had other plans. Just as my severance ran out, another church contacted me about their open pulpit position and invited me to try out for it. Three weeks later, I was employed.
As I reflect on the road I’ve traveled the last six years, I realize God has graciously provided. So if you are a terminated minister fretting that you’re now unemployable in church work, take a deep breath. God is in control of that, not you, nor your former elders. Greet the future with faith, not fear.
- You will never regret being extraordinarily gracious.
You want to lash out. Trust me; I’ve been there. I get it. There’s nothing more galling than knowing you could burn the house down around you and cause a lot of problems for the elders, only to find yourself unable because your conscience won’t allow it. You love the Lord’s church too much to cause trouble.
Leaving a church after being terminated will be among the most challenging things you will ever do. I preached my dad’s funeral at 19 and my son’s funeral at 30, and leaving a congregation with dignity after being fired is still on up there among the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.
You MIGHT one day regret keeping your mouth shut vs. speaking up about an injustice, etc. But you WILL regret causing division and strife with your wounded pride.
The fact remains that some churches stink at firing the preacher. They add insult to injury, kick you when you’re down, and pile on to your pain. I don’t understand churches that expect a fired preacher to continue preaching in the pulpit. But if you are told to do so as a condition of severance, etc., then do so graciously and eschew the opportunity to cause division.
You will NEVER regret being extraordinarily gracious.
- You made some mistakes, too. They aren’t perfect; neither are you.
This took me much longer to own than I would like to admit. Some ministers are fired for cause. Others are terminated because it just isn’t a good fit. But there are still others who are let go for no good reason. They are effective in the pulpit. They are tireless ministers. The congregation loves them. The church is growing spiritually and numerically. But because of a power struggle or minor disagreement, they are shown the door. It happens.
You won’t make the process any less painful if you focus on the faults and mistakes and sins of your former elders. The sooner you can admit that you were perhaps culpable to some degree in the breakup, the better. After some time has passed, but before you begin a new ministry, it would be helpful to pause and ask: What should I have done differently? If I could change one thing that I did, what would it be? Mature Christians use adversity as a teachable moment.
On both occasions of my termination from ministry, I am humiliated to say that I did not begin praying about the process until very late in my journey. That was a huge mistake.
A few weeks after my first termination, I was filled with a lot of bitterness. One of my mentors encouraged me to pray for my former elders actively and to do so my name. Pray that God would bless them richly, etc. He wanted me to realize that it is hard to stay bitter towards someone we pray for regularly. His advice was spot on. I wish I had followed that counsel more than I did.
Countless saints in both Testaments suffered periods of rejection, depression, and discouragement. But nary a one saw their circumstances improve until they prayed. And it’s possible that your circumstances will not improve because of your prayers. But your attitudewill improve, and that is of greater consequence. I’m old enough to appreciate the wisdom of the mantra, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond.” Just pray about things more often than you used to, and you’ll be OK.