10 REASONS PREACHERS GET FIRED

Preachers and ministers in the churches of Christ have always been movers. I read once that church of Christ ministers move on average about once every 3 years. Personally, I’m glad I’ve hung around in my ministries longer than average.

The worst part of ministers moving is when they have to move because they’ve been asked to leave or got fired. Growing up, I don’t remember a lot of preachers getting fired. Nor do I remember any ugly splits or church fights when the preacher left. As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen more of the bad side of preachers moving. I’ve seen ministers quit due to their frustrations with their current job, and I’ve seen preachers fired for numerous reasons, and yes, sadly there have been some ugly splits and fights.

The part that makes me sad is that these days I see many good preacher/church relationships end due to nothing more than church politics over little things that don’t really matter. When you combine the church politics with some ugly old pride, look out, because those two things combined make for some horrible church explosions.

Thankfully, to this point I’ve never been fired. I have left churches for new challenges and new ministries, but thankfully the leaving has always been on “good terms.” I’m proud of that fact. The few times that I’ve moved, I’ve never burned bridges or left the church with a bad taste in their mouth. But speaking honestly, I do feel that if I’m in ministry long enough (20 years to this point), there’s a good chance that there will come a day when I screw up royally, leave a church under bad circumstances or quit due to frustrations. While I pray that never happens, I do know that it can.

In a recent Lifeway magazine study, they came up with the top ten reasons preachers/pastors get fired. I noticed right off that the one reason that gets all the attention (sexual misconduct) is thankfully way down the list. Here’s the list…

  • 1. Control Issues (who should run the church)
  • 2. Poor people skills
  • 3. Church’s resistance to change
  • 4. Minister’s leadership style (too strong or too weak)
  • 5. Decline in attendance and/or conditions
  • 6. Conflict with other staff
  • 7. Disagreement over doctrine
  • 8. Ethical misconduct
  • 9. Sexual misconduct
  • 10. Poor work ethic (lazy)

QUESTIONS:

  • In your lifetime, why have you seen ministers/preachers leave?
  • Does anything about this list surprise you or not surprise you?
  • I’d be curious to know from others in ministry, how important is it to you when looking for a church to work with, to find one that has a history of keeping ministers for a long time?

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Article by Trey Morgan

I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast. Read 1182 articles by
26 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Timbra says:

    oh, i’m writing this day down in my journal (if i had one) because I’m the first to comment. I can’t go into answering these questions without being very specific about someone we had really bad feelings towards, because mike was the “other staff” at that point, but i HATE that #5 made the list because it’s ridiculous that preachers take the fall when so many factors cause “decline in attendance.” . . . . for instance the shephards make a decision and the preacher goes along with conveying that and attendance declines and HE takes the fall. . .not those who were leading the congregation in that fashion. . . NICE! thankfully we’ve never burned bridges either, we’ve moved on to “more challenging” ministries, etc. anyway. . . there’s my 2 cents!

  2. steve v. says:

    Trey,
    We walk the razors edge here I feel. I’ve seen the control issue do a lot of damage, yet can see where it comes from. Elders and preachers have such a weighty responsibility that it can take a toll. Instead of being a noble ambition it becomes a keep pandora’s box closed mission. In my experience, we have such a great desire to be what we were meant to be in the sight of God, but then we begin to listen to the advisary and believe his lies about us not being good enough, so we grab on tight to the here and now instead of living, ministering and shepherding for the eternal.

    Also I’ve seen alot of petty little things that just want to make you scream and say enough I’m done. I was trying out for a preaching position in a small town once. I had only been to the church once before and that was to drive by to make sure I could find it. The next morning my family and I showed up and parked in a business owned parking lot across from the church. I didn’t see any paking stripes so I just pulled in paralle to the curb in a good shaded spot. I preached the morning and afternoon service, we had dinner on the grounds, and stayed and visited a while. Everyone seemed very friendly but there was a feeling in the air. We left just a little indifferent about the situation but open to the oppertunity. As we were driving out of town I looked down and saw something under my windshield wiper. It was a note written on a peice of kleenex box someone had torn off. It said they didn’t like the way I parked taking up two spots – but with a little more agression in the writing. My first thought was I hoped their kleenex spill all over their floor boards. But now I turned it into a drive and gaol, even a mission to help the body turn lose of the here and now and live by faith for glorious forever more.

    Sometimes our parking spots need to be taken from us.

    Yours is a rare story I feel. I’ve only known one other preacher that has stayed in one spot for so long (27 years for the same congregation). Hopefully one day I will be able to say that. (At least I’ve never been fired though)

    Blessings!

  3. TREY MORGAN says:

    Timbra – I thought number 5 was pretty lame too. I’m not sure, but I’d guess all the leadership and the congregation should be held responsible. Mainly the leadership, you know the old saying, “As goes the leaders, so goes the congregation.” If all the leaders are evangelistic, so should the congregation be.

    Steve – Good thoughts. I think there are lots of “preaching try out” horror stories out there. I know once I was asked what translation of the bible I’d be using, because it had to be KJV only. It was at that point I decided it would be best to try out somewhere else. Thanks for the feedback.

  4. steve v. says:

    Trey,
    Sorry, going back and reading everything over again, I feel most of my comment was just a rant. Looking back, I was looking for a great spot in the shade to plant my car and myself.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Preston Belt, Beautiful Downtown Lockney, Texas says:

    Trey,

    I have only been around one “firing” or asked to leave situation. The reason for what i could see was that “he” preached more on church doctrine, the old don’t do’s of the Church. Kinda like the KJV thing you mentioned. We were losing member that could not stand up under the doctrine he was preaching. A real split in the congregation that we are still, almost 25 years later, struggling with. But we are making great strides and progress there. Getting the message of the Gospel out! Stopping this crazy Church doctrine stuff!

    Thanks for the thoughts today!

  6. larry says:

    Number 7-disagreement over doctrine-has perhaps caused as many preacher firings as all the others combined; usually happens when the preacher disrupts traditional beliefs. Then number 3 kicks in-church’s resistance to change-and the preacher is on the way out…

    Couple extra issues that might be added to the list:

    11. Don’t like the preachers wife.

    12. Jealousy (preacher getting too much attention.

  7. Preston Belt, Beautiful Downtown Lockney, Texas says:

    Just had to add to Larry’s comment there. The disagreement is in the “church doctrine”. Who set this church doctrine and how did we, as a church, get set on the things we’re set on? Why do we sing a song, prayer, 2 more songs, take communion, another song or 2, the message, invitation song, then dismissal. In my mind that’s not church doctine, that’s church habit. You start trying to change some of that habit, that enrages my granddad and then here we go. We have to be very careful about how we change church habits. Getting back to just plain ole preaching what the Gospel says. Nothing else. John W. Smith said it best when he said that we have gotten lazy as a church in “investigating” the scripture when changing up services.

    Preston

  8. Kyle Parker says:

    Its hard for me to write about this without bringing up bitter memories. My dad was an elder at a large church for many years. When I told him in high school I wanted to be a minister, he tried to talk me out of it. Its not that he didn’t think it was an important job, he just didn’t like the way many churches treat ministers. He even told me “the day you’re hired is just one day closer to the day that you leave.” I don’t understand why churches treat their ministers the way they do, but its nothing new. the prophets were the same.

    As someone who has been asked to leave a church, its not a lot of fun. I was told “you don’t fit in here”. I was ANGRY at first, but looking back on it 6 years later, they were right. I just wish it would have been handled better. My only suggestion to people looking for a job is make sure your ideals, beliefs, dreams and goals mesh with the church you plan on working with. Ask real questions and give honest answers.

    Thankfully, I now work for a great and supportive church family. Don’t people understand that the better you treat your ministers, the more motivated they will be to help people out? I know my church family loves me by the way they treat me. In return, I would do any and everything for them. I love our church family!

  9. TREY MORGAN says:

    Larry… I think I understand what you’re getting at… “disrupting traditional beliefs” usually are traditional beliefs and not doctrinal things in the first place. As for preacher’s wives… touchy subject. I know the church is hiring the preacher, but yes, the wife comes along too. I’ve heard of it happening.

    Preston … First, I’m so glad you have a blog now. Makes my day. Second, the John W Smith quote was excellent.

    Kyle – Not an easy thing to share. I can understand how your dad feels. I do see a change today in the way preachers are being treated. I find more and more churches that are seeing the preacher/congregation relationship, much like the husband/wife relationship, instead of like a hired hand. They meet one another’s needs and put one another’s needs above their own. I’m glad to hear the church where you are treats you well. It’s a blessing to be in a church that loves and appreciates what you do.

  10. Jeff Foster says:

    I’ve lived up to the national average. My stays at churches have included 6 years, 4 years, 3 years, 1 1/2 years, and 3 years, and a few summer internships. I have never been fired, but I did leave a couple of congregations that I regretted leaving. I’m the type that always looks forward to the next challenge without giving due consideration to the place I am presently.

    Personality conflicts between ministers and elders (or with other “power players” in the congregation) is a major reason for preacher-church splits. I’ve witnessed the conflict (personally and from afar) many times.

    I know the value of long term ministry. My grandfather, George Saunders, served the same congregation for over 30 years. His devotion to that small church (and their devotion to him) has taught me a lot. I just wish I had a measure of his patience and contentment!

    But, I also know that sometimes short time ministry is good for the health of a congregation. For instance, sometimes a preacher coming into a congregation immediately following the departure of a preacher who had been there for many years can offer a change of pace and stir up (um, wake up!) the congregation, but in reality he is setting the plate for the one that will follow himself. Or, sometimes a short term preacher (or youth minister) can excel at cleaning up a situation that will in time be better served by another with different talents for building something anew after the clean up.

    I think it is noteworthy that the Apsotle Paul never spet more than 3 years in a place.

  11. Jeanne M. says:

    I personally know two preachers who were asked to leave “just because the elders felt they needed a change.” The elders at neither church had any scriptural differences, and when the “firing” was announced, at each congregation more than half the group were unhappy about the decision. But each preacher told the congregation where they had been – one for five years, the other for seven – that the elders were in charge of the church, and any discussions about the decision had to be made with them, not the preacher. Each preacher left hopefully with a good relationship, and today, each still can say they were glad they had been there. And one has gone back for meetings and reunions when the opportunity arose. One went on to serve 10 years in one congregation, and 12 years in the last one before retiring. The other is in a good work and he and his family have settled into the fellowship and community.

    It is never easy to be “fired,” especially when never fired in the secular world, but christians are not perfect, and personnel skills are not always the best. God still will get the glory if the preacher and his family allow that to occur.

  12. preacherman says:

    Trey,
    The first job I had right out of college was a youth ministry job. I got a call from the elders that they had fired their preacher and still wanted me to come and work for them. The elders assured me that the congration had no problems. When I got to Kansas I found out the congregation had split and had 3 splits in 5 years. I did ministry reconciliation, preaching and youth ministry my first job out of college. On top of that a mother of one of the teen in the youth group had mental problems, got fixated on us and started stalking us because she didn’t like it that I told her daughter she couldn’t wear shorts to a youth rally. The mom would drive down our street, call and hang up. Look in our windows. The elders did nothing about it. No support what so ever. I sent out 160 resumes in a month. I took the first job offered in California. The church was progressive. In california there really is no middle of the road church. It is either liberal or conservative. It is either one or the other. They had fired their youth minister for sexual misconduct but didn’t tell the parents or his wife because she was preg. Instead of building relationships with the teens the elders wanted me to raise money for the youth group so I sold pumpkins for about 2 months. 2 of the elders had been divorced and remarried. After only 5 months they told me buy. After that job I took a job in tx as a youth minister. 5 years into the job the parents didn’t want to do anything any more and one of teens committed suicide. He was an elders grandson. I did counseling for the school, and youth group. Not one of the elders called to see how the teens were doing or how I was doing.
    I got burned out and quit without even having a job. I was sick of church and Christianity. I had seen how mean “Christians” or the “Church” can be. Persecutioon shouldn’t come from the church but it does. I had it that in alot of churches money talks. The squeeky wheels get the grease. Do congregations really invest in their preachers? Do elders understand that we are part of the body as well?
    After a year or so of rebellion. I came back to the ministry. I found out like job you can’t run from God when you have a calling. During that time off though I went to church and worshipped as an “outsider”, “visitor” to see what churches were preaching, teaching and how they were evangelizing.
    I am blessed to be at the church I am with now. It is a wonderful congregtion that has stood by me and taken care of me and my family even through the sickness that I have had in my life. God has showed me that Christians can love, and grow in the knowledge and grace of God. I pray God will bless me with many more years of ministry and service.
    Trey I am sorry this was so long but felt compelled to share it.

  13. willow says:

    i really appreciate what preacherman had to say… there really are alot of “Christians ” in the world that are like that and the real shame of it is, that they are blessed with children that are being raised to be just like they are.

    i’ve seen 2 preachers asked to leave church, i cried both times.

  14. paul says:

    The elders called me in on Saturday morning and asked me to resign. They made me sign a non-competition agreement to not plant another church for two years. They got up and told the church the next morning that I had resigned. I guess, technically, I wasn’t fire but it sure felt like it.

    I am not sure where divorce comes in there. I guess that is under #2 Poor People Skills.

    I had one of the elders come and apologize to me a couple of weeks ago. He admitted they were wrong and he should have stood up to the others but the damage is done.

    Maybe I should have left on my own. I would never have believed that it would have gone down that way. But, then again, there are a lot of things about life that I don’t understand.

  15. Lightening says:

    The biggest reason I’ve seen (and experienced as a PK) has been not enough $$. Not that they don’t pay the minister enough but that the church can’t sustain a full-time minister. They go without one for a time and save up enough for 3 years. Eventually the money doesn’t keep up. Pretty sad really. My mum worked out one time that if every member of that church simply put aside an extra $3 a week, they could afford to keep a full-time minister. Didn’t happen. :( Incredibly sad.

  16. TREY MORGAN says:

    Preacherman – Sounds like there have been some tough time in your ministry, I’m sorry about that. The main thing I’m glad about is that you didn’t quit.

    Paul – Thanks for sharing all that with us. I know it’s not easy. There will always be things we don’t understand, hopefully we just need to remember that we work for God and he’s the one we need to impress. Blessings my brother.

  17. Stoogelover says:

    Wow! I’m really late in the day responding to this one and haven’t had the time to read all the previous comments, but you sure brought out some emotions! I preached 30 years in 3 churches. The first I left a part time ministry to go into full time work (2-1/2 years into my doctoral work which I let go and never regretted). That full time work turned out to be an 8-year disaster so I left because of a huge control issue with the “retired” preacher who never quite retired. My last 15 years were with a wonderful church in Long Beach. We worked through some major issues: women’s role / women deacons / the use of a praise team / the use of a praise band on Sunday nights … some of the things that get most preachers fired. I could have stayed there the rest of my life but I left to work with my son. My dad, too, tried to discourage me from full time ministry … he’d been a deacon when he had to vote against keeping the preacher who happened to be his best friend in life. I think most preachers leave because they have a conflict they simply cannot manage. I’ve never been in a situation where a preacher is fired, just when preachers left for one reason or another. Nothing on the list surprises me, but I think churches can and often do treat preachers like bastard children.

  18. Matthew says:

    We all need to be aware of these factors. It is really important to match properly. But I think the first one, control issues is the root of most problems, control over doctrine, control over position or direction. Everyone is fighting for control, I think Jesus would have had another solution, fight over service.

  19. James says:

    I too had my dad try to talk me out of full time ministry, for the same reason. Ministry can be great or it can be heart-ache. The fired thing depends alot on the circle you are in. The labels of conservative, progressive and liberal are too broad but clearly communicate certain things. Those churches who are real conservative tend to be the ones who fire the preacher most in my experience. The last time I heard of a church< in the circles I run in, fiirng the minsiter it was not really related to the minisers at all. It was the church splitting(they had already done it within the church for years). The staff were just a casualty in the war. The issues you brought up are the source of most conflicts whether the minister is fired is just incidental. We need to be focused on the healing of rifts and the future imho.

  20. Brie says:

    The list is good. I think most of this would resolve itself if we would all just do that whole “treat people like you want to be treated” thing. I include myself in the list of people that should do that. I can’t go into the times that I have seen mean, awful, hurtful, hateful things said. A wise person I know once said that we do an awfully good job of doing the devil’s work for him when we rip ourselves apart with this stuff. But I digress.

    On the money thing for a moment…

    My Pappy is a preacher, and has been for over 55 years now. The first church that he was at (that I know about) he loved. My Granny loved it. MOST of the people at the church loved them. However, there were some in leadership who thought that you should “keep the preacher poor” so that you could control him better. He lived in the parsonage, they scaled his pay accordingly (I don’t think it was quite produce and chickens, but you get the idea), and they literally starved out of that job. Since then, he has been at two churches. Both have “preacher houses” and he has refused to live in both of them because of that experience. He’s spent all of these years as a farmer in addition to being a preacher to take care of his family. It’s getting hard to do that, with him in his 70’s.

    It’s hard to not sound selfish when you ask for money from a church. It’s hard (okay, really pretty much impossible) to not get upset about the fact that I had to go back to work five weeks after my son was born because the wonderful church (I love this place. I’ve been there for a long, long time and hope to be there for a long time more) my husband serves at can’t afford to supply insurance or do much of a raise. We don’t want ministry to people that need it to suffer, but at the same time, I don’t think that people understand the sacrifices that ministers and their families have to make sometimes to stay in. The mammas that are out there especially I think will understand this. My Pappy has raised cattle, goats, pigs, wheat, pecans, and walnuts to make ends meet. I handed my son over to someone else (luckily mostly family) to raise, and he’s been a blessing to them, but it sure has been hard on mama.

    Ugh. That sounded whiny. ::cough:: Be nice to the people who take care of you, preachers, youth ministers, elders, and deacons. They deserve it.

  21. Steve V. says:

    Trey,
    I’ve been reading a lot of John Eldridge’s work lately (Wild at Heart, Waking the Dead, Journey of Desire). Check them out.

    Like I said before and Matthew above has it right; control is the big thing I’ve seen. I just finished up Journey of Desire and it made me look at the fall just a little different. When the serpent lied to Eve he said you will be like God. Eve did not know jealousy or pride at that time, those things did not enter here mind. She and Adam had the greatest relationship with God any human (sans Christ in body form) has ever had – it was perfect and sin free. So she saw a way to improve upon that great relationship – for isn’t that the greatest desire of most women(and even men). She desired after God and if eating the fruit would make her more like God then the relationship would be better – right? So she grabbed onto the there and then taking matters into her own hands.

    We have been created with that same desire – to have a perfect relationship with God. Only now the flesh is even weaker and we tend even more to chase after the things we think will make us more like God. Thinking that if we run a church perfectly, or get the pattern perfect, or the appearence right then that will make every thing better. (Sound doctrine, correct worship and holy living are very important, please don’t think I’m trying to through them to the wind here)

    Before the fall Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. They knew him so well that they could identitify his sounds before they could even see him. Then they were able to see what was right in front of them (their present nakedness) and they did what they could to take control of the matter. We see the things wrong in the Church today and fight over what we perceive will make it right. God is still asking the same question – where are you? It’s in our worship in truth and spirit that we come out of our hiding, not in our taking control of the situation.

    Question what part of idolizing or pedestal-izing of the preacher do you think plays into relationship destruction between preachers, elders, and members?

    Grace and peace!

  22. TREY MORGAN says:

    Excellent thoughts on this subject. Personally I think the best thing that can happen is church and ministers see each other as co-workers, who are striving to accomplish the same work. Too many churches have seen ministers as hired hands and not co-workers.

    Steve V – I like Eldridge. And thankfully I haven’t see where there’s idolizing or pedestal-izing of staff. I do think pride plays a big part in all of this.

  23. roadtripray says:

    Hi Trey,

    I’m late posting on this, but as a United Methodist, we do things a little bit different. United Methodist pastors are appointed by the bishop, and when we enter into the covenant we vow to go and serve at the convenience of the bishop. This has good and bad points, but on balance I like it. The congregation cannot fire a pastor, although they evaluate the pastor annually and give their assessment of how the pastor’s gifts and graces match the needs of the congregation. The good part about that is that it isn’t taken quite so personally, since it’s a given that each year you are subject to being moved. Although the average tenure is around 5 or 6 years, some pastors don’t make it a year, and others stay in one appointment for over a decade.

    Peace,
    Ray

  24. David Kirk says:

    We were firsthand observers of how a congregation can split over the firing of a minister. Our minister was fired one day, and the next evening there was a congregational meeting to discuss the reasons for his dismissal. The meeting turned into an ugly, name-calling session, with one elder accusing the supporters of this minister of worshipping him and not God. A number of those present asked for a straight answer as to why the minister was asked to leave. After 2 1/2 hours it became apparent that they really did not have an answer, or they felt that they did not have to give us one.
    As a result, about half of the congregation began attending a small congregation in a neighboring town. As of date, none of the members from our previous congregation have made effort to contact us. We have attended several gospel meetings, showers, etc. at our former church, and we have been treated civilly (but with an undercurrent of wariness, suspicion, resentment, etc.).
    The interesting thing now is that the congregation we belong to has questioned why we left the first congregation, and has made it clear that we should reconcile with our brothers and sisters in the other church. We have done so as much as it can be done by us; the rest we are leaving to God.
    Your list of reasons for dismissing ministers is excellent; I personally feel that selfish people with their own personal agendas can exert considerable influence in dismissing a minister. For that, they will have to answer to a higher authority than me.

  25. Trent Tanaro says:

    Great Post Trey!

    My wife and I have been blessed with some good ministry experiences. The only negative we have is a church where I was the youth minister. They wouldn’t let me do my job, the parents and deacons “over” me?! wanted to do my job. So we moved on to serve elsewhere.
    The church here has a good “preacher history”. They had one here for 14 yrs and then one who left after 5 yrs due to family problems. That was a big factor as we looked at the church here.
    We love it and look forward to growing with them in the years to come. We have been here just a year and 3 months.

    Trent

  26. Anonymous says:

    Trey please don't leave the church you are the best preacher that I've ever had and I've had about 5 including you;you left all the others behind, way behind and if you are wondering who this is it's LYDIA HOWARD I've been reading your blog lately and you've got a lot of good stuff on here well bye and GOD BLESS YOU!
    <3 Ya

About Me

Trey Morgan Here are my thoughts about marriage, family, raising children, humor, faith and the life God intended for us all. I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast.

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