When uttered on a pseudo-reality show by a billionaire, “You’re fired” produces smirks and brisk discussions about which celebrity should have been dismissed. However, when addressed to a minister (or anyone else, for that matter), these two words evoke raw emotions. As do most people, a preacher who loses his job immediately enters the first stage of grief — shock and disbelief. Questions flood his mind: “Why?” “What did I do?” “What now?” “Can I find another church?” “How will I provide for my family?” “What will people think?” “How do I tell my family?”
Part of the uniqueness of termination for preachers involves our identity. As is true for many other people, we tend to meld who we are with what we do. Stripped of the pulpit, we can find many vocational means for earning a living, but heralds of God immediately feel lessened when denied the opportunity to preach.
Also, our self-image involves speaking for the Most High. Ministers believe they are bringing a word from God to their congregations. Termination makes them think either the church leaders are desperately wicked and have made their decisions outside of God’s will, or the preachers themselves have been judged by God and found wanting.
None of these drastic evaluations needs be true, although in some cases both are accurate. When confronted with the forced separation from a ministry one loves, a preacher can take several steps to avoid personal despair and professional disaster.
Take a deep breath. Few good decisions are made by people whose emotions drive their decisions. Anger is a natural part of grief; but in the heat of the moment, rash statements and unconsidered actions can make a bad situation worse. Instead of responding immediately, take time to think through the situation.
Remind yourself that God still loves you. You haven’t been kicked out of the divine family. Not only is your salvation secure, but your heavenly Father cares deeply about you and your earthly family.
Rest a bit. Emotional stress begets physical weariness, and tired people have difficulty thinking clearly about next steps. Someone once said that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap! Without giving in to depression and the escape of sleep, you need physical, emotional, mental and spiritual respite.
You and your family need encouragement. How you respond to the situation will influence your family’s reaction. Many ministers’ wives and children become bitter toward churches in general and church people in particular because of the pain experienced during forced termination. Their lives suddenly have been turned upside down. You face the loss of a home (especially if you live in a church-owned parsonage). Your spouse may worry about facing friends and relatives with the undeserved, but genuinely felt, shame of one’s spouse being fired.
Children, especially teenagers, may resist going back to school because they fear what other kids might say to them. Because their peers belong to families in the church, young people’s emotions and relationships can be especially traumatized.