When uttered on a pseudo-reality show by a billionaire, “You’re fired” produces smirks and brisk discussions about which celebrity should have been dismissed. However, when addressed to a minister (or anyone else, for that matter), these two words evoke raw emotions. As do most people, a preacher who loses his job immediately enters the first stage of grief—shock and disbelief. Questions flood his mind: “Why?” “What did I do?” “What now?” “Can I find another church?” “How will I provide for my family?” “What will people think?” “How do I tell my family?”
Part of the uniqueness of termination for preachers involves our identity. As is true for many other people, we tend to meld who we are with what we do. Stripped of the pulpit, we can find many vocational means for earning a living, but heralds of God immediately feel lessened when denied the opportunity to preach.
Also, our self-image involves speaking for the Most High. Ministers believe they are bringing a word from God to their congregations. Termination makes them think either the church leaders are desperately wicked and have made their decisions outside of God’s will, or the preachers themselves have been judged by God and found wanting.
None of these drastic evaluations needs be true, although in some cases both are accurate. When confronted with the forced separation from a ministry one loves, a preacher can take several steps to avoid personal despair and professional disaster.
Take a deep breath. Few good decisions are made by people whose emotions drive their decisions. Anger is a natural part of grief; but in the heat of the moment, rash statements and unconsidered actions can make a bad situation worse. Instead of responding immediately, take time to think through the situation.
Remind yourself that God still loves you. You haven’t been kicked out of the divine family. Not only is your salvation secure, but your heavenly Father cares deeply about you and your earthly family.
Rest a bit. Emotional stress begets physical weariness, and tired people have difficulty thinking clearly about next steps. Someone once said that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap! Without giving in to depression and the escape of sleep, you need physical, emotional, mental and spiritual respite.
You and your family need encouragement. How you respond to the situation will influence your family’s reaction. Many ministers’ wives and children become bitter toward churches in general and church people in particular because of the pain experienced during forced termination. Their lives suddenly have been turned upside down. You face the loss of a home (especially if you live in a church-owned parsonage). Your spouse may worry about facing friends and relatives with the undeserved, but genuinely felt, shame of one’s spouse being fired.
Children, especially teenagers, may resist going back to school because they fear what other kids might say to them. Because their peers belong to families in the church, young people’s emotions and relationships can be especially traumatized.
The preacher cannot simply offer a stiff-upper lip. Your pain is real. To be authentic, you need to share your family’s ache accompanied by the spiritual reinforcement of knowing God has not abandoned you. Reinforce your faith, and set the example for your family. Pray together. Honestly express yourself to the Father while affirming your trust in His love and care. Allow your family to pray, “casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you” (
Understanding why the termination occurred is vital to recovery and to making good decisions about the future. Perhaps conflict has been occurring for months. Why has it culminated now? What was the precipitating factor? Before casting blame on the church, its leaders or others, a healthy approach involves considering the beam in our own eyes. Have we done something wrong? What should we have done differently?
Self-reflection does not mean termination is the minister’s fault. However, before we can fairly evaluate others’ roles in the problem, we must begin in our own hearts and histories. If needed, now is a good time ask forgiveness, admit a shortcoming or address a skill deficiency.
On the other hand, self-reflection can re-affirm God’s calling. Trace His handiwork through your ministry, see the good things that have happened, as well as the difficult. Remember people whose lives God has allowed you to touch in many positive ways. People have been led to Christ. Marriages have been made and saved. The bereaved have been comforted. Lives have been transformed.
Good things have happened. Allow yourself the blessing of seeing how God has worked through your ministry. Remember, too, that He is not finished with you yet. “He who began a good work in you will perform it unto the day of Christ Jesus” (
A wise preacher will make an appointment with one or two individuals to help him re-examine why the leaders believed termination was necessary. All of us have blind spots. If we authentically seek help opening the window of self-awareness, even our enemies may be willing to work with us. In some occasions, antagonists can be won over if approached with a sincere desire to understand their points of view.
If you discover flaws in character or competency on your part, take appropriate steps to make amends. If others are at fault, forgive as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you (
In either case, renew your ministry of reconciliation so that as much as lies within you, you can live at peace with all parties (
Once you make it past the immediate shock and anger of the termination, you may be tempted to enter another common stage of grief—bargaining. You might try bargaining with God or attempt engagement with the church to save your job. God does not want our bargains; He simply desires our trust. As for the church, sometimes one may well be able to talk calmly through the issues and negotiate a peace treaty with the powers that be. Indeed, some pastors can work through situations that could have ended their ministries and have come out better with stronger positions on the other side.
A terminated minister’s life has been thrown into chaos. Without deliberate action, he and his family can be swept away by the perfect storm of emotional, financial and vocational forces. Work with your wife and children to restructure your life. Immediate concerns, once you’ve addressed the emotional wounds, include financial security and, if living in a church-owned house, providing a home for your family.
Unless the separation from the church has been very acrimonious, most terminated ministers can negotiate some level of compensation, including some transition occupancy of the parsonage. Most reasonable congregations will offer a minister from one to three months of support.
One key need involves continuation of health insurance. Federal health insurance rules may or may not apply to this church. Still, your health insurance company likely offers some type of portability. An early call to your provider may save you difficulties down the road.
Re-structuring your budget will help you gain some level of control over your financial stability. If your family has significant debt, you may benefit from consultations with a financial or credit counselor. Many creditors will work with you to adjust interest rates or make other concessions provided the debtor responds responsibly.
Beyond financial issues, work to restructure your lifestyle. Your life has been built around a work schedule determined by office hours, hospital visitation, committee meetings, sermon preparation and other demands. Suddenly, your time is your own. Too many terminated ministers fall into a depressive state with little motivation to seek a new place of service or to handle his family’s needs. Develop self-motivated discipline. Set a work schedule that will help you take those proactive steps necessary to secure your family and seek God’s direction for the future. Get up in the morning, bathe, dress for work and begin your transition.
Make time with God a priority in your schedule. Your greatest need is intimacy with the Lord. His Spirit will comfort and guide you. His love will embrace and heal you. His power will refresh you and give you the ability to rise to the challenge.
Spend time in Bible study and prayer. You will find God speaking through your devotional reading. Pour out your heart to the Lord. Allow yourself to commune with your Lord. You may find God opening passages of Scripture with new light.
Keep developing sermons. You may not have a regular place to preach, but be ready “in season and out.” You will maintain your homiletical skills and at the same time be prepared for opportunities to preach as a supply speaker or interim pastor. By having sermons at the ready, you won’t be scrambling for a message when the next church contacts you.
Terminated ministers may feel uncomfortable re-engaging in ministry settings such as returning to the local pastors’ conference meetings. However, your peers understand your situation better than anyone else. They can encourage you and possibly help with referrals to churches needing a supply preacher or permanent pastor. Networking with denominational leaders, seminary contacts and others opens possibilities and provides important reinforcement personally, as well as professionally.
Re-engage in service. You do not have to be paid to have a ministry. Opportunities abound for the preacher who has a servant’s heart. Hospital chaplains may welcome a volunteer assistant. Nursing homes invite ministers to provide a Sunday or mid-week service. Fire stations need people who are willing to lead Bible studies or worship on Sundays.
Join a church. You need a place to worship, a pastor to minister to you and your family and a church family to care for you. You also would benefit by investing your time and skills in a congregation. Find God’s will for the kind of place you need right now. It may be a larger church where your children and teenagers can find friends and activities that minister to their need for belonging. It may be a smaller church that needs your skills as a volunteer teacher. In either case, spend some time with the pastor to ensure you and he understand your new role and needs.
In His timing, God likely will call you to a new place of ministry. You may be hesitant at first to re-enter a vocation associated with difficulties and dislocation. However, if God guides you to a church, prayerfully trust His leadership. Your Lord wants what is best for you and for His church. Don’t allow the pain of the past to prevent your welcoming God’s plan for your future.
As you restart your ministry, consider what you learned through this process. Applying the education you received from the school of hard knocks can help you avoid repeating former errors. You have a lifetime of positive ministry experiences to help you do a great job in a new position. Draw on both sets of skills to begin afresh.
Proceed with the confidence that God loves you and your family. Move forward into a bright new day of ministry. Preach the Word! Fulfill your ministry!