I’ll never forget the phone call informing me the church had overwhelmingly voted for me to become their pastor. I was excited, and church members were too. The future seemed bright.
Three years later, I received another unforgettable call: a number of families within the church were demanding my removal. They were done with me, and I was out of the pastorate.
While there certainly are biblical and justifiable reasons for removing a pastor, what happens to those who are forced out or feel they have no choice but to step down? How should he think? What should he do?
If this is you, here are five lessons I learned from being fired for what I see as wrong reasons.
1. Realize you’re not alone.
The days immediately after termination or resignation are lonely. You’ll experience feelings of failure, regret, and uncertainty. Your pride is shattered, and so are “your” plans for life and ministry. In these darkest of days, pause and find comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
The evil one will lead you to think your situation is unique. Don’t believe it. You’re not an anomaly. Your story is personal, which is why your pain is so great, but it’s not unique. You are now among numerous pastors throughout history who’ve experienced the same pain and uncertainty.
2. Give yourself time to grieve and heal.
You have experienced a trauma to your soul and are more wounded than you realize. While you may immediately feel relief, acknowledge you’ve lost more than a job; you’ve lost the local church the Lord entrusted to your care. Regardless of fault, this realization is painful. The body has been severed, and the wound won’t quickly heal.
As much as you may be tempted otherwise, resist the urge to dive back into a new pastorate immediately. An immediate return to ministry is the equivalent of treating a severed limb with a band-aid and isn’t fair to you, your family, or a future church.
As much as you may be tempted otherwise, resist the urge to dive back into a new pastorate immediately.
Set aside your pride and seek a living outside pastoral ministry—at least for a season. Better to decline a preaching opportunity and forego an interview process than to expose your wounds for all to see. Rather, allow yourself and your family time and space to heal without the demands of tending to a congregation’s needs.
3. Join a church; don’t start one.
You may be tempted, even encouraged, to view this situation as an opportunity to start a church.
There are any number of reasons why not, but you’re not ready, and the people encouraging you to start one aren’t ready either. Hurt people breed more hurt, even with the best of intentions. Instead, take this time to search out, plant yourself in, and join a healthy church. They do exist. If this requires you to relocate to find a healthy body of believers, do it.
You may be tempted to view this situation as an opportunity to start a church. Don’t.
Nothing is more essential to your healing process. You and your family need time to experience the love, support, and encouragement of a healthy congregation.
As difficult as it may be, view this time as a gift. Active participation in a local congregation will soothe your wounded soul, help you to identify and overcome bitterness, and equip you to help navigate the trauma you’ve just endured. The small group you’re reluctant to attend may be God’s way of providing the love and support your family needs to take the next step forward. Allowing a church to nurse you back to health will only strengthen your ability to minister in the future.
4. Wait on the Lord.
Waiting is difficult, but it has purpose. There’s a reason April showers precede May flowers. The flowers need the rain to bring forth their growth and spectacular color. Waiting is one of the tools God uses to prepare and refine his people.
In this season, understand the Lord is providing you with the opportunity to see and experience ministry from a different perspective.
You may discover the burning desire you once possessed for pastoral ministry no longer exists. If so, that’s ok. The Lord is showing you there’s life and purpose outside pastoral ministry. On the other hand, you may find the waiting actually increases your love for pastoral ministry and the local church.
Regardless of what the Lord reveals, patiently wait as he works to heal your broken and bitter heart. Wait as he helps you learn from your loudest critics. Wait as your heart is prepared for what comes next.
5. Rest in the promises of God.
I don’t know why this happened to you, but I do know it has purpose. The Lord promises all things work together for the good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Yes, you may have more questions than answers at the moment, but remember that the “all things” God promises includes your present circumstance. God hasn’t forgotten you; he’s for you. And if God is for you, who can be against you (Rom. 8:31)? What a powerful reminder that the Lord isn’t done with you yet.
Even if you’ve been wrongly fired, God is with you. This wasn’t an accident, and he is at work in you in more ways than you may ever know. Lean hard on him.