The Rash Of Church Firings

Published 2:00 pm Saturday, February 10, 2024

By Michael J. Brooks

It was a surprise to me when I was researching another issue. I remembered a pastor, at least his name since we’ve not met, who was at a leading church in another state. But the news story about the matter at hand located him elsewhere. Out of curiosity I did a bit of Internet work and read about his welcome to the church he’d been in the last time I knew of him. A church official praised their choice, calling him “the total package” who brings “energy and vision” to our congregation.

But a year later the congregation announced his leaving, quickly discounting any immorality, but rather differences in “leadership philosophy.”

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Church firings are often called “involuntary terminations.” Some ministers are asked to quietly resign under threat of termination, and these situations are hard to quantify. Thus, according to Barna Research, somewhere between 23 and 41 percent of pastors have encountered involuntary termination.

Baptist Press quoted Dr. Hershael York, preaching professor at Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, who said almost all terminations have to do with leadership. Though sometimes firings are due to immorality, “the main cause is almost always personality conflict [with members who] buy on emotion and justify with facts,” York said.

“If a pastor does something that emotionally ticks someone off, what they’ll often do is start looking for a justification of why they don’t like that guy. It may be something fairly trivial… and so they can’t say the trivial thing that upsets them. Then they’ll look for the thing they can use.”

I contend that most church fights aren’t over theology, but probably 90% have to do with relationships. This is why pastors must work hard at people skills. Theology is necessary, to be sure, but pastors are most often the vehicles God uses to communicate his word. People must hear us before they hear the truth of scripture.

All pastors have what the Johari Window calls “blind” panes; that is, areas of vulnerability we may not see. Accordingly, the biblical prescription is that we help one another.

I taught a book in mid-week study a few years ago. The author suggested sometimes believers had to “wound” one another. I expressed dissatisfaction with his term since it sounded to me like a deliberate and merciless attack. An attendee reminded us the biblical term is “admonish.” 

We admonish someone with love when we follow the principles Paul outlined in Galatians 6. We restore offenders gently, he counseled, knowing that we, too, are subject to error.

I believe most every church staff difficulty is salvageable when God’s people are filled with God’s grace, when we offer to others what God has offered to us.

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.