When Should a Church Fire a Pastor?

“Termination is the death stroke, the ultimate statement that ‘this person’s ministry in this church is beyond repair.'”

This is the most painful subject I ever deal with (and I write about plenty of them).

The very nature of church conflict demands that the pastor be found in the midst of the firestorm. Sometimes, he is an innocent bystander, sometimes she inherited the problem, sometimes he is the problem and at all times he or she tries to be a healer.

In every case, the pastor gets bloodied in the fray.

The church consultant we brought in to help us deal with a 30-year split in the congregation did his interviews, took his polls and then announced, “McKeever is not this church’s problem. But he has become the focus of it in the minds of many. So, I’m going to recommend that he leave and the church start afresh with someone new.”

Sheesh. Thanks a lot, friend.

But, that’s how it happens sometimes. A pastor was trying to help the church and was downed by friendly fire, as we call it.

At other times, the pastor is neither a healer nor an innocent bystander. Sometimes, he or she is the problem and the congregation decides to take action.

The only question is, “What action?”

The most severe action a church can take is to terminate the minister. Fire him. Oust her. Send him packing. Vote her out. Force him from the pulpit.

Call it whatever you want.

Termination is the death stroke, the ultimate statement that “this man’s or woman’s ministry in this church is beyond repair.”

But consider what it says when a minister is voted out.

Terminating the preacher is an announcement to the world that this preacher is a failure and we do not recommend him to any church anywhere.

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The typical church, however, would balk at that and insist, “No, we don’t want him out of the ministry. We just want him out of our church.”

No matter, friend. This is the result of your action.

Do not miss that.

By firing the minister, you are guaranteeing he or she will be out of the Lord’s work for some time, years in all likelihood, and in many cases, permanently.

I recently posted a simple paragraph on Facebook stating, “If you are going to fire a preacher, you’d better have good reason, friend. Because you will face a holy God and account for your behavior.”

Within hours, the number of “likes” reached the hundreds. Two days later, it was past a thousand. Furthermore, the “shares” are out of sight. Clearly, this post struck a nerve.

And something else happened.

A number of ministers have left comments saying they were terminated by a church several years ago and have not been able to get another pastoral position since. “Search committees are suspicious,” they say. “If this guy is so good, how come he’s unemployed?” One said, “It’s as though there’s a black mark by my name.”

One brother called to ask if I would be a reference for his application to a fast-food restaurant.

The quickest way to put a minister out of the ministry permanently is to fire him or her from a church. Because that’s often the result.

For that reason …

The only time to vote to fire a minister is when you want to put him or her out of the ministry altogether.

Now, there are times when that should be done.

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There are men and women in the ministry who should be out of work, and the sooner the better.

A Baptist pastor I knew frequented casinos to gamble and would order alcoholic drinks in restaurants, making no secret of either. He needed to be canned, and he was.

A Baptist pastor I know of (but never met) was a practicing homosexual who made overtures toward the young men in the congregation. He was quickly terminated and sent on his way, as he should have been.

So, what is a church to do if the congregation wants to get rid of a preacher but not disable his or her ministry for the future?

Here are seven thoughts on that.

1. Make sure it’s “the whole congregation” and not just a few powerful individuals.

In most cases, when someone (or a committee) tells the preacher, “A lot of people are unhappy with you,” or, “You no longer have the support of the congregation,” they are dead wrong. In most cases—I have no stats to back this up, it’s my strong conviction—a few people have decided the preacher has lost his effectiveness and needs to go. But they are often wrong.

2. What you should never, ever do is offer the pastor a severance package if he or she will go quietly.

That smacks of manipulation of the worst sort.

3. Another form of pressure is to tell the pastor, “If the church votes to fire you, you get no severance.”

My response is, “Oh? Who said so? You? And who are you to be making that decision for, the congregation?”