I wrote this series of articles in March 2014, 20 years after being fired from my first ministry. I’ve occasionally made updates to the articles, but the content has remained mostly unchanged.
Twenty years ago this month, I was fired from my first full-time ministry.
Technically that may not be true. If I remember right, it was a Monday night when there came a knock at my door, and all four elders were standing there waiting to come in. We sat in my kitchen (their kitchen, I guess), and they let me know their terms. They gave me two choices:
- I could resign, and I would receive the two weeks’ vacation pay I had coming to me, plus two weeks’ severance.
- I could refuse to resign, and they would fire me, and I would get nothing.
Now, at 26 years old, with a wife and a kid and barely making a living wage, when someone throws you out of your home (their home, I guess) and offers you a free month’s pay while you relocate your family and find a job that will pay enough for rent, you take that offer. At least I did.
Really, they had me over a barrel.
I had taken on the ministry a little less than five years earlier. It was a small church in a small town with very few prospects. The congregation was close-knit, with several ties linking families to families. I went in right out of college, wide-eyed and ready to start preaching.
I had heard stories of ministers getting fired. Most of those stories involved gross negligence, financial shadiness, or moral failure. I had none of those.
I can’t say I was completely sidelined, though. Trouble had started a couple of years into the ministry with what I would call some “personality conflicts.” There were some people I simply didn’t mesh well with. Twenty years later, I know the wisdom of mending bridges and addressing conflict head-on. It was far too easy in those days to put my head down and pray it would all go away. Can’t we all just get along?
Of course, it would have helped if these issues of personality conflict had been brought to me rather than whispered in other circles. The leadership wasn’t capable of addressing issues head-on either.
From Conflict to Criticism
Personality conflict gave birth to criticism. There came a point when nothing was ever good enough. One constant complaint was the lack of calling (visiting people in their homes). I never did enough of that. In all honesty, I never did enough of that. I still don’t. It’s a constant struggle for me.
Still, when the die has been cast that you are lazy and not doing your job, no amount of doing your job (especially in people’s homes, out of sight of your critics) will convince anyone otherwise.
As an example, I remember there was this sweet little old saint who everyone loved in the church. They knew she prayed for them, and they thought the world of her. By the time I came along, she was mostly a shut-in and not able to make it to church. Still, I visited as often as possible, and others did too.
Then things got worse, and she had to go to a nursing home. Her family was able to get her into one of the best in the area. Unfortunately, it was 35 miles away, and no one would go to visit her.
Several times I pleaded with the members to take a drive up and visit. I told them how lonely she was and how much she missed them. I asked the leadership to make trips. Everyone was too busy. So, twice a week, I would drive up to visit, hold her hand, and pray with her. 70 miles round-trip. Oh, and they had never heard of paying anyone mileage before.
I have to correct myself. ONE member went to visit this old saint…one of the other old saints, who probably belonged in a nursing home herself.
We’ve Got a Problem
I remember clearly the day I came home from visiting this lady. No sooner had I walked into the house than there was a knock at my door (their door, I guess). It was one of the elders. “Bret, we’ve got a problem,” he started. “There are people calling for you to be fired because you’re not doing your job. Specifically, you’re not calling.”
The irony was not lost on me.
So that was twenty years ago. It was a dark time, but there would be darker times. Thankfully there would also be better times. Writing about it now, with twenty years of perspective, is much more positive than if I had done so when it was fresh.
I mean, it’s twenty years later; I’m a different person. They’re probably a different church. Well, if you discount the fact that they’ve fired several other ministers in the past two decades.
This seems like a negative way to kick off a blog that is supposed to be about encouraging those in the ministry. I promise you, I will do my best to make it positive. We all learn, and grow and overcome so much–at least, we should. I want my experience to help you through whatever your dark days bring.