Firing a Pastor for Cause… How to Handle a Messy Exit


“You’re Fired.” We hear those words in connection with business firings all the time, but what about the church? This is a sensitive and often crude process that is not done often. Most of the time we allow someone to “resign” and move on quietly, but unfortunately, even pastors are human and they do make mistakes. Sometimes big mistakes. When those big mistakes come, swift action is necessary by the church, and that can result in having to say, “You’re fired.”

Let’s first say that having to fire a pastor for cause is an extreme measure to be used only when major issues of integrity, sin, or disloyalty occur. These are not small events. I do not believe in termination for small repetitive infractions unless the person knows of the offense, has had time to cure the offense, and willfully refuses to. That being said, there are some events that are so knowingly inappropriate for the pastor to have done, that one single violation of this nature can and should lead to immediate termination.

What are some of these offenses?

  1. Acts in violation of a pastor’s moral character or authority (sexual issues, addiction, or abuse)
  2. Issues that have intentionally harmed the church or its members (stealing or other physical acts)
  3. Biblical failings, such as an announced statement against the faith.

When one of these listed offenses or something similar happens, it comes as a shock. The pastors and church leadership must meet regarding the church’s next steps. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Swift action is needed. The church and its leadership should take action immediately if one of these serious violations occurs.
  2. Review any employment documents. Determine if your church has a pastors’ contract, or anything in your constitution or by-laws that prohibits, or requires any particular process for, termination.
  3. Limit those who have contact with the pastor once the information is known, and do not let them continue to minister to the church, as this can open up liability to the church for knowingly allowing this pastor to continue on with their duties.
  4. Inform the church quickly without revealing details. Making a statement that communicates types of acts done without giving specifics is generally the way to go. Vague is ok here; limit the number of those who have full details.
  5. Encourage prayer throughout the process, not only with the now terminated pastor, but also with the church. Healing has to happen, and prayer is a great way to start.
  6. Consider some type of severance package. This may not be necessary, and may seem wrong under many circumstances, but as a church we are to show grace and forgiveness, so in some situations, it would be appropriate to give them 30 or 60 days severance.
  7. Establish a follow-up team. Huge change has now happened for this pastor who was fired. They may not have a clear path to other employment and may not be employable for some time or ever again as a pastor. They need friends to walk this path with them, so consider having a group of one to three people minister to this pastor after their termination for an appropriate period of time (three to nine months in most cases).

Losing a pastor, whether it is your senior pastor or another staff pastor, is a huge blow to church morale and enthusiasm, so handling a situation like this with grace and forgiveness is only the first step to healing. Planning for this event will always help the process, but it will still not be easy. Keep in mind that the process will never go quite as planned.

For help guiding your church though firing of a pastor, click here for my free crisis response series. It will walk you though these difficult steps and give you some valuable strategies for communicating with your church.


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