In July of 2007 I was fired from a church. This “reflections” series of posts deals with some of my core lessons from ministry over the past 20 years (last time I talked about Matt Baker). It’s the sort of thing that I hope my kids, or anyone I mentor, will learn from my mistakes instead of repeating my mistakes.

being fired from a church

My Story of Being Fired from a Church

2007 started out kind of rough for me. That year I applied to Ph.D. programs, and tried to find my “grown up” direction in life. I was turning 27 that year and knew that ministry was where God called me, but I wasn’t sure what type of ministry exactly. I had been a Youth Minister for about 7 years, loved it, but was fairly sure that wasn’t my lifelong calling. So I started looking at academics. By about Easter I knew that I was going to leave the church I worked at, Friendship Baptist Church in Weatherford TX. However, when I talked it over with my Pastor (Toby Easley – great guy!) he talked me into waiting until after youth camp to leave since I didn’t really have a definite plan anyway.

Fast forward to youth camp in July of 2007. It’s Wednesday night in worship and my phone starts blowing up. So as soon as we walk out of worship I call my pastor back and find out that during that evenings business meeting the church tried to fire everyone. I remember him saying that he dismissed the meeting but that some folks had stayed inside to try and continue on down the path of firing the entire staff. As it turned out – they took control of the bank accounts and had the locks changed so no one cared whether they followed parliamentary rules. They had the church bank account, and the keys to the building. So when I brought the youth back, the teenagers couldn’t go inside and use the restroom – my keys didn’t work. I didn’t know that would be the one thing that sticks out from my being fired from a church.

A church split followed, and other messy things that I regret. But those aren’t the things I want to recall here. I’m interested in the fact that I was one of the leaders at a growing church (numerically, physically in terms of buildings and property, and I thought spiritually), yet the people fired me. I now believe that the whole thing hinged on leadership. I’m not accusing Toby of being a bad leader or bad pastor. I really like Toby and still think highly of him to this day. But I do think that we (Toby and I and the other staff) made some mistakes along the way.

I think we pushed too hard and moved too fast. How do I know that? Because of the results. The people rebelled against leadership, so it stands to reason that we moved too fast. I can rationalize it all day long, but we had changed the worship style, and doubled the size of the building (and at least doubled attendance). We were transitioning from being a church of 1 full-time, 1 part-time minister, plus a secretary that was primarily led by volunteers into a church that had several full-time staff members and was mostly reliant upon staff leadership.

To this day, I think we made the right moves, and I think Toby made some great calls. I remember one time him telling me he “just knew” we would raise $100k in one fundraising event. I scoffed, but we did. The guy knew what he was doing. I just think we moved too fast. Everything we did worked. But, we neglected to get buy-in at each step along the way.

What Did I Learn by Being Fired from a Church?

I learned that it’s better to go slowly and bring most of the people along with you than to move quickly and blow things up. Next, I found out about the difference between being right and having the right timing. I now realize that church conflicts like that should really be avoided whenever necessary because it can really wreck the spiritual life of the adults (and especially kids) in the congregation. I live in the same area to this day and run into some of those folks at Walmart, and I go to church with some (at the church where I now work). Nobody on either side of that conflict liked how it ended up. Many of the teenagers from that youth ministry don’t want anything to do with church because of their experience in that situation. We (the leaders) were right in the way that we were reaching people. Yet, we were still wrong because it cost the kingdom. I don’t blame any one person in particular, many of us (including me) made mistakes that I hope never happen again.

I’ve also learned there is forgiveness. I’m confident that God has forgiven me of my part and will/has forgiven others. I know that God called me to ministry and church work. The church is still the way God works in the world. Nobody in a church is perfect, except the One we worship. And that’s really why we’re there. I didn’t learn these lessons the next year, or even five years. But after 13 ish years, I’ve learned many lessons.

Conclusion

If you think your church is in danger of splitting, please get help from someone. Thom Rainer has some great resources. Other Pastors will also.

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