Forceful Termination of Pastors

Most recent stats by Barna Group have shown how pastoral burnout is a massive problem.

“Pastors have been frontline workers of a sort the last three years, and the toll of stress, isolation, resentment and division continues to impact pastors negatively,” Kinnaman said.

The percentage of pastors in full-time ministry with serious consideration of the “risk” of burnout (quitting/resignation) in the last year is devastating. These reasons can vary from feeling overwhelmed, under-appreciated, being in a toxic culture, or forcefully termination.

Working as a Biblical Counselor at Reigning Grace Counseling Center, I was shocked at how many pastors I have sought out after how pastors have been forcefully terminated. I would have never imagined or thought I would be in the role where I would begin to pastor pastors who sought counsel and direction.

In partnership, I recently had the privilege of speaking to the Executive Director and Founder of Pastor’s Hope Network, Deanna Harrison based in Colorado. She is the author of the book, “Moving On, Surviving the Grief of Forced Termination” which was written after 6 years of a painful exit from a church ministry, which was the birth of the organization.

It was fascinating and eye-opening for me to listen to and learned. Many pastors don’t feel like they have a “safe place” to speak about their struggles. Many pastors have not had an opportunity to rest and seek healing as the crisis did not allow them to grieve healthily. Many pastors are caught between the chasm of fear and confusion after a forceful resignation.

How do we help pastors who are forcefully terminated to find hope and healing? How can we get them to either side where they can feel finally “normal”? How do we not awkwardly give support without shaming the pastor and the family?

Here are a few thoughts I have on how we can best help pastors, the pastor’s wife, and their families through forceful termination from a church.


1. Nearly One out of Three Pastors are Forcefully Terminated. 

This was a shock to me. The number of ministers across denominational lines that either have or will experience forceful termination is 1/3.

As one of my fellow pastor friend shared recently, “According to recent studies… 4,000-5,000 pastors quit each year. They don’t quit because they have a lack of faith in God. They don’t quit because they don’t believe in the calling God has placed on their life. Most don’t even quit because of financial reasons. Pastors quit because they are overwhelmed”

I guess I shouldn’t be “surprised” as Scripture says, “common to man” (1 Cor 10:13).

Again and again, as I converse with maybe a banker, insurance salesman, schoolteacher, construction worker, or doctor says, “Yeah, I used to be a pastor in the past”

Because we live in a broken world, we have broken people. As a result, broken people are within the churches as well which can sometimes cause a great deal of damage.

What makes it even more painful for pastors is, these were families. This was not simply a “job” that you can switch gears with, “career change” like a mid-life crisis. The words that were spoken hurt, the anonymous letters pierce deeply, and the betrayal from the dearest of friends are pain unexplainable.

The experience of forced termination is best, but it is a “traumatic experience” The heartache that one puts the family through, the headache that forces pastors not to feel like getting out of bed, words are not sufficient to explain the painful experience.

The traumatic experience for the clergy and the clergy family is only the tip of the iceberg. Pastors are broken too and not invincible superman who is perfect. Being placed on a pedestal too, “perfection” carries a burden no one should ever carry, except for Jesus.

That path of “unrealistic accountability” is one lonely, dark, and scary world to live in, and that for many pastors feel “trapped” by not being able to lead effectively by feeling hand-cuffed before the flock.


2. The Shell Shock Effect of Confusion and Doubt. 

So many pastors deal with the confusion of identity and calling.

What happened in the midst of it all? What went wrong? Where was God amid my suffering and in His sovereignty?

The question often is, “I mean, whose fault, is it? Does it matter who is to be blamed?”

As a biblical counselor, I try not to get into the details of whom to be blamed, but there to listen and help the pastor and his family navigate through the confusion of feeling like being in the “twilight zone”

So often this is a “crisis” mode, and they are not able to get out for at least 6 months. I was recently speaking to another denominational leader who mentioned that it had been 6 years since leaving the church and still was struggling at times here and there.

One of the encouragements I give to pastors and their wives is as one has put it this way, NOT to make big decisions when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (HALT). So often, decisions made in those moments can be poor decision that leads to poor results.

Amid pain and grief, as often they sit across from me pouring out their heart and “bleeding” from within, my hope and prayer is to provide hope and the next steps for the family to move forward with God.


3. The Major Isolation and Separation from Ministry Colleague  

Repeatedly, as I have spoken to countless pastors, many of them said the hardest part was being ostracized from the community.

I mean, the pastor got fired so I’m sure it’s his fault yeah? Then there is the silent treatment from friends and colleagues in ministry.

That is the immediate thought from church family members. Even though there may not be a “moral failure” so often people will cherry-pick from the Bible or, “twist the Scripture” and mean it the way they want without the grace of love in the approach.

This makes it so difficult for the family. When I say the family, especially the children of the family.

I counsel minors (teenagers) who are just filled with the rage of anger not knowing why God will allow their mother and father to go through so much anguish.

I guess it makes sense when they say, “burn out” they meant, “hurt out” and don’t want to drag the family back into the awful experience they went through. The “hellish experience” of forceful termination.

The silent epidemic of forced termination with many lay pastors trained in vocational ministry to lose their church family loses their financial income and loses their spiritual fever by grief.


What can I Do to Help and Serve Pastors who are Hurting? 

That is an excellent question.

I would first say this; give them room for a season. They are bombarded with questions and thoughts that they are not certain what to do.

There is a financial aspect of forceful termination that makes it difficult. There are churches at times that wouldn’t give any severance package which makes the shift so difficult.

Listen and not judge or try to read through the “silver lining” of what took place. Pray for your pastor. Encourage your pastor. Why? For they are human just like you. They need you just as much as you need his pastoral shepherding.

For those pastors who have been forcefully terminated and bearing the grief of pain, I want you to know that this too shall come to pass. I know, it is easier said than done.

Also, it’s ok to grieve. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) is a comforting short passage of verse, isn’t it?

As the Old Testament puts it, “There is a time to weep” (Eccl 3:4). We don’t want to stay there for a prolonged time, but we don’t have to be like the world says, “Man up! Stop crying. Knock that pout, pout face off” and try to quickly move forward.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4). Grief won’t last forever. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps 30:5). Because His mercy is renewed each morning, the joy shall come. Why? Because He lives, you and I can face tomorrow.

Lean on the Lord. Trust Christ. Come to Him. Rest in Jesus.

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