Six Common Patterns In Toxic Churches That Fire Pastors

The title of this article might engender some visceral reactions. I get it. It is not a pleasant subject. For church members who have observed it taking place, it is a painful situation. For those pastors who have been fired, it is traumatic. It is traumatic for the pastor’s family as well.

Please read the title carefully. It is about toxic churches that fire pastors. Not all churches are toxic. There are occasions when the dismissal is warranted. This article is about dysfunctional churches firing pastors. 

I was prompted to write this article on such a sensitive subject after seeing an increase in the number of these dismissals. I wanted church members to understand what is taking place. And I am praying that some church members will speak up when these injustices take place. 

For certain, not all dismissals are alike. But when the toxic church dismisses a pastor, it is common for these six patterns to emerge.

1. There is a power and control issue behind the dismissal. Typically, the pastor has not bowed to the demands and preferences of a power group in the church. That power group is often serving on the specific boards or committees that can initiate a firing. At the very least, they have profound influences on those boards and committees.

2. Reasons for the firing are often not given to the congregation. While it might not be appropriate to give the details of the reasons behind the firing, there is rarely an occasion where silence is acceptable. For example, if the pastor has an affair with a church member, it is not always best to provide the sordid details since family members, including children, are innocent victims. But if the pastor had a moral failure, the church at least needs to know that general rationale for the dismissal.

3. The pastor is given a severance package in return for his silence. Don’t judge a pastor too harshly for this decision. It is not just about the money. Often, pastors don’t want their families exposed to a church fight that will not likely change the results. That issue leads to the next point.

4. The pastor’s family is at least implicitly threatened if the pastor does not leave quietly. In several situations of which I have personal awareness, representatives of the power group let the pastor know that they “know things” about the pastor’s family, things that will be exposed if the pastor does not walk away quietly. Most pastors know that the “things” are lies, but they do not want to put their families through the false accusations.

5. The power group demands that the pastor exit quickly. Many of the pastors do not get to say goodbye to the congregation. Those that do have that opportunity are warned sternly to say nothing negative. On some occasions, the pastors are escorted to their offices to get their belongings and leave. The emotional and psychological consequences on the pastors of such unjust actions can be massive.

6. Most church members will not question or get involved in this injustice. They don’t want to rock the boat. They fear the power group. Their disposition is one of fear or avoidance. Often, the fired pastor is hurt more by the silence of the majority rather than the evil of the power group. But it is a sin to be silent when God has called us to speak.

I pray that these travesties will diminish, but I see no sign that these injustices are declining. Pray for your pastor. Encourage your pastor. 

And have the courage to speak when injustices take place.