In 2002, while serving in my first full-time church ministry job as a youth pastor, I attended the National Youth Workers Convention. During the convention, I attended a seminar called Getting Fired for the Glory of God by Mike Yaconelli, one of my spiritual and ministry heroes. It would be one of the more transformative ministry learning moments in my life.
When I was looking for my notes from that seminar in preparation for this blog (and yes, I still have them 21 years later), I came across a video I had saved of a message Mike gave at the National Youth Workers Convention the next year. It would be the last time I would hear him speak as he would die in a car accident later that year. I took time that I did not have and sat and watched it. It was a reflection on what really matters in ministry, which in many ways was the real point of the previous year’s seminar, Getting Fired for the Glory of God. When Mike passed, they took a collection of his works and created a short book in memory of him. The title was Getting Fired for the Glory of God.
More than 25% of pastors have been fired or run out of a church at least once.
Some research puts that number as high as 41%. It certainly is not decreasing. I speak with pastors and church staff at least once a month who are fired, forced to resign, or run out of a church.
I have experienced firing/being forced out more than once in my career. Not one of those terminations came as a result of ethical violations or even performance issues. Certainly, some involved in those situations would argue that it was deserved, others would argue the opposite. Thankfully, I have far more ministry jobs (as well as other jobs) that I left by my own choice rather than the choice of others. Regardless, each of them were deeply painful for me as well as for others. I even have the special distinction of being fired by a church that I did not even work at! I had an office at a church and after the lead pastor was terminated, I was told to move out of the office due to maintaining a relationship with the terminated pastor. I certainly do not recommend termination, nor would I say it is never warranted, but often, pastors are terminated or run out of a church for some of the worst of reasons. More often than not, these situations are handled poorly by many involved leading to a lot of mistreatment, pain, and grief for pastors.
In the seminar years ago, Mike had seven suggestions to try and see how long you could keep your job. Being young and perhaps a bit arrogant, I took him literally and had no trouble making it happen in no time. Looking back at this list 21 years later, I am reminded of how much of a prophet Mike was. While I would never suggest any pastor try to get intentionally fired, I would strongly recommend taking a serious look at his list.
Seven Suggestions for Getting Fired for the Glory of God
#1-Keep Jesus #1. Make your relationship with Jesus the first priority and expect the same of all staff.
#2-Be still. Require as a part of your job description paid time alone with God.
#3-Ignore corporate values. Refuse to accept corporate values for evaluation your worth (size, productivity, efficiency, speed, technology, busyness, measuring, balance, power, success etc).
#4-Think Small. Keep your ministry small and manageable. Work hard to focus on a few instead of many.
#5-Be real. Tell the truth. Share doubters, struggles, hurts and failures. Create an atmosphere of reality.
#6-Put your family first. Don’t let workaholics intimidate you into being a workaholic too.
#7-Seek Kingdom values (time, awareness, audacity, risk, intimacy with God, humility, grace).
Twenty-one years later this list is as relevant as ever. We have work to do in our church cultures. We have work to do in our pastors and ministry staff. We have work to do in our hearts and lives.
Twenty-one years later and I still have work to do. I grieve the ways I have failed to do these things, the right things at different points in my career. Even though I celebrate my growth in these things over the years, I lament the work that still needs to be done.
I grieve for unhealthy churches. I grieve for unhealthy pastors and church staff. I grieve that our churches are being shaped more by culture, more by corporations, factories, and consumerism than they are the Gospel of Jesus.
Friends, we have work to do. I miss Mike Yaconelli dearly, but I give thanks for his prophetic voice in my life.
To learn more about church or leader health or to support a pastor, contact us.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries