Say it anyway you want, termination is always difficult, no matter which side of the desk you are on. When it comes to the termination of a minister, the ramifications are legion for him, his family, the leadership and the church. In recent weeks I have listened to the gut wrenching stories of three ministers who have been terminated. Termination occurs many times without warning, or any direct, significant conversation about their ministry. It’s the infamous, “We’re going a different direction” line.
One minister was told— “the elders fully support you.” Six weeks later he was “let go.” Translation? An influential minority got their way. It’s the ungodly, “I’ll quit giving” or “We’re going to leave if something doesn’t change” threat. Sadly, firing the minister rather than taking a stand and risking loss of members and money is preferred. Another minister was terminated and told that his severance was contingent upon telling people that it was a mutual agreement with the elders. Really? This is a grievous lack of leadership—the courage to face a decision head on.
Granted, there are reasons why termination is unavoidable. Ministers are culpable and must take responsibility for their own issues, weaknesses, sins, and attitudes in a spirit of humility and growth. Pride and arrogance are poisons in the blood stream of ministry. Termination can result from moral failure, marriage dynamics, inter-personal incompetence, lack of emotional maturity and/or self-awareness. Seldom, if ever, however, is doctrinal error the culprit.
It’s not that termination is the issue, rather what happened long before the termination. Too often I hear common refrains from ministers upon being fired—
“I wasn’t given a reason except, “We’re going a different direction.”
“I thought things were going well.”
“We had our differences, but this is a total surprise.”
“This is the first time I heard there was a problem.”
“Not one person came to me about . . .”
“This is about one or two elders who control everything.”
And the list goes on.
Ministers: When It Occurs…
- Don’t spew from your hurt, particularly your anger.When it comes to the termination of a minister, the ramifications are legion for him, his family, the leadership and the church.
- Point people who are hurt in the church back to the elders.
- Don’t make a big decision on a bad day about your future in ministry.
- Find a professional counselor or resource for you and your family.
- Avoid texting and email in processing the details of your termination.
- Get some immediate distance from the congregation for your own sanity.
Elders: Long Before…
- Provide a realistic job description and minimal annual growth review with input from the minister about growth improvement, goals, and helpful support.
- Have a clear employment agreement including salary, raises, vacation, sabbath, benefits, termination and severance.
- Talk to, not about the minister before things escalate with you and/or members. Be honest and give them time to make adjustments.
- Point critics to the minister in the spirit of Matthew 18.15 and Ephesians 4.15.
- Take a stand for what is godly and healthy, not manipulative and threatening.
- When terminating a minister—
- Take responsibility for your decision with the church.
- Be honest and compassionate, always protecting their dignity.
- Know that there are always things that cannot be shared with everyone.
- Provide an opportunity to listen and learn without defensiveness or avoidance.
- Consider the timing of the announcement (avoid Holidays, special times, etc.)
- Stay calm and endure.
How a minister leaves a church matters—for him, the church and the next minister. Ironically, when a minister arrives in a church, we are convinced they are the right one—called by God. Yet, when terminated, they become merely an “employee of the company” that needed to go.
This should not be so. We can do better.