The term “Forced Termination” has its own obvious definition, to have your employment come to an abrupt end without it being a personal choice. As it applies to a pastor who has served in a local church for a number of years it is overwhelming as it touches so many aspects of their life (see “What a Pastor Loses in Forced Termination).
While it is hard for many to believe that such happenings take place, they frequently do. According to a survey done by John LaRue Jr. for Christianity Online, about one in every three churches has forced its previous pastor to leave. Many churches even have a track record of being serial clergy killers. As you can imagine these are not very friendly environments to ministers. Some candidates are made aware of the church’s history before they arrive, but most are not informed. The desire to be in the ministry may cause potential pastors to overlook obvious problems and accept a position without giving due diligence. Still others are warmly welcomed into a fine church and over time the relationship sours.
While there are several approaches to a church’s corporate structure, in practice most established churches retain the power to hire and fire their pastor. Generally, “forced terminations” are caused by fewer than ten individuals that rarely use the organization’s guidelines or accepted procedures to enforce their own will. These people believe themselves above scrutiny or discipline, having a place of honor or authority in the congregation. As is often the case, a differing viewpoint or struggle for power ignite the conflict over a relatively small issue. The offended party gathers their friends around them and begins a campaign to point out the flaws of the minister. Later the conflict intensifies and goes public with rumors and slanderous accusations. The unceasing harassment tarnishes the pastor’s character and undermines his ability to lead the congregation.
The wounded shepherd either resigns or the small influential group takes action to have them removed causing a devastating division in the church. Many forced terminations are hidden in the sudden and unexplained resignations of ministers.