So you’ve been “given the opportunity to resign”, “released”, “let go”, “been given three months to find somewhere knew”, “fired.” Call it what you want it adds up to about the same thing - pain, anger, confusion, suspicion.
Sometimes we bring it on ourselves but most often when preachers are fired it is not because of a sin in his life but over some other issue, i.e. Power play by a fragment of the congregation, he made the wrong person angry, he burnt out because of overtaxing himself emotionally, he was used up because he carried too many burdens and heartbreaks of others or put on him by mean people, etc.
Can we say a few things to you as fellows minister? This is not the end...you will live to touch lives again.
10 important thoughts for you...
1. Don’t lie or be a part of a lie: If they fire you don’t say you decided to leave. If they give you the option to resign - take it. In the long run you will be glad you did. If someone comes to you and asks (and they will) you will be tempted to tell everything you know. Sometimes the best answer is to just say: “I think it’d be best for you to ask the elders about it.”
2. Avoid bitterness at all costs (Ephesians 4:31): Bitterness takes root (Hebrews 12:15) and looks especially bad on those who are to bring the tidings of the Good News. It can creep in so easily (Ephesians 4:27). Some of your friends will feed it. Pray hard about this. Talk to God about your emotions that you are struggling with. And if you need to, give me a call.
3. Don’t let your good be spoken evil of (Romans 14:16): In your frustration or anger measure your words carefully. It would be so easy to say something that would give you the upper hand, make you look like the one “in the right”, get in another jab. But if you are not careful any good you have done will be undone. Leave in a way that 10-20 years from now when they are planning a homecoming they will invite you back. Leave in a such a way that they will regret what they did to a person who is so Christlike (1 Peter 4:13). And even if they don’t - God will know how you behaved.
4. You’ve been wronged - but don’t let it defeat you. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). If you don’t watch it you can sink into depression, become despondent or even lazy. Do not be overcome by this. The scorched earth policy is a military strategy which involves destroying any resource that is valuable to the enemy while retreating from an area. When a preacher leaves a congregation for any reason other than his unforced resignation, he is tempted to practice the scorched earth policy. He might want to preach vindictive sermons that undermine the credibility of the eldership. He might want to rally his most supportive members and pit them against any members who might think that his leaving is justified, either through face-to-face conversations or social media . He might want to deflect the attention away from himself and put it on any deficiency in the congregation—as if to say, “Well, you think I’m not that good, but look at that over there. Why don’t you do something about that!” All of these are the actions of a spiritually immature person. Spitefulness, vindictiveness, and bitterness are not fruits of the Spirit. The scorched earth policy is not a biblical process for leaving a congregation. Even as a military strategy, it was banned in the 1977 Geneva Conventions. You are not the first person this has happened to and ministry is not the only field this happens in.
5. Everything will look like an issue: Be careful in looking for justice or justification that you don’t make something an issue that is not or that you don’t accuse the church of being full of false teaching or false brethren to make yourself look better. You’ll be tempted but that tempting is not from God so don’t go there.
6. When this happens everyone I talk to wants to know why this happened: They may give you a reason when you are “released” - it may or may not be the real reason. You may ask why and they may be give an answer. It may or may not be the real answer. The real reason may have nothing to do with you. The real reason may be ungodly. The real reason may be that your preaching or your presence ruffled the wrong feathers. And you may not want to know the real reason.
7. Family: This may be the hardest thing. Take care of your family. First of all protect them. Unless it does involve them assure them that this is not the result of anything they have done. You might be amazed at the things children can concoct in their minds that may produce huge guilt. If it does involve them - DON’T tell them! Don’t say things that will plant that root of bitterness in them. Once when we moved my wife explained it to our kids this way: “Your dad’s been traded...” That made sense to them.
8. Get busy: If they gave your three months don’t wait two to get serious about looking. Look as if this is the last paycheck you’ll get. Use every resource at your disposal.
9. Learn: This is HUGE! What can you learn from this experience? Not in a bitter way bit in a personal growth way. You probably don’t want to hear this right now but you may need to: If you were fired, there was probably something in the leaders’ reasoning that is true about your work. Maybe you DO need to use a better preaching style. Maybe you DO need to minister better. Maybe your family DOES need to do some things better in the church. Obviously, you do not think that any of those issues are so bad that you need to be fired, but there is probably a grain of truth somewhere in there. After all, I John 1 tells us that if we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves. God may be using this to prepare you for something bigger for His Cause, but if you don’t learn anything from the experience you may not be equipped for what is next.
10. Just be careful. A good friend said it this way: “Don’t allow a short term emotion to affect a long term decision.”
I’m sure many of you will have comments on this. Please know we are not wanting to hurt but to help. We ask that you keep that same attitude in your comments. Thanks to my dear friend James Hayes for help with this post.