Home » Help & Hope » Understanding Pastoral Termination Part 3: Identifying the Reasons for Pastoral Termination

Understanding Pastoral Termination Part 3: Identifying the Reasons for Pastoral Termination

Jul 1, 2024 | Help & Hope

The following article is the third in the five-part series “Understanding Pastoral Termination.” If you missed the first two articles, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Identifying the Reasons for Pastoral Termination

If you read the previous article on The Process that leads to pastoral termination, you may wonder what would cause church leaders to initiate The Process against their pastor.

Researchers have identified several reasons for pastoral termination including leadership style, power struggles, church politics, and church conflict. Just about any grievance a disgruntled individual has against the pastor will fall into one of these categories.

The Process begins “when personal relationships between certain members of the church and the minister go awry” (Tanner). When this happens, The Process goes into full swing and the pastor (and oftentimes the pastor’s spouse) will be subjected to a variety of abuse at the hands of those orchestrating The Process.

One pastor’s story illustrates The Process well. With his permission, I want to share part of his story with you. For the sake of confidentiality, I’ll call him Pastor Jack.

His parishioners called him Pastor Jack or Dr. Jack. Even though they were on a first name basis, they always addressed him with love and respect.

Unbeknownst to Pastor Jack, a staff member became upset with him. Rather than going directly to Pastor Jack to discuss the issue, the staff member began holding secret meetings with fellow staff members and influential church leaders. The group began plotting what can only be described as a coup.

Weeks after the secret meetings began, Pastor Jack attended an out-of-town denominational conference. One evening, he received an email from someone involved in The Process. The bottom line: they wanted Pastor Jack gone.

There was no due process. Minds were made up.

Pastor Jack immediately left the conference and returned home. When he arrived at the church, he went to each individual staff member’s office with the hope of discovering what was wrong and working toward a solution. But instead of a solution, the psychological and emotional abuse began. As Pastor Jack entered each office, he was met with the same response: eerie silence as each staff member sat tight lipped, refusing to say a single word.

The psychological and emotional abuse continued when Pastor Jack was called into an official meeting. There the staff members and elders referred to him as Dr. Smith. Never in all his years at the church had Pastor Jack been called Dr. Smith, only Dr. Jack or Pastor Jack. As the staff made their accusations, it became obvious they had been coached. One by one, they laid out their charges. And one by one, they used identical words and phrases. Clearly, the staff had rehearsed their lines.

The emotional abuse continued when denominational leaders refused to return Pastor Jack’s phone calls and emails. It was later learned that those who carried out The Process had rewritten Pastor Jack’s narrative, not only for church members but for denominational leaders as well. Not one person ever asked for his side of the story.

Pastor Jack’s reputation had been destroyed.

If The Process that leads to pastoral termination sounds too horrible to be true, I assure you that it is true. At Pastors’ Hope Network, we hear our clients’ stories of trauma and we see their ongoing pain. It’s a pain that has long-term effects on pastors, their spouses, and their children.

In Part 4, we’ll look at some of the effects of pastoral termination. Until then, please consider supporting the work of Pastors’ Hope Network. Simply click on the Donate button at the top of the page. It’s fast, easy, and secure.


Tanner, Marcus. “Learning from Clergy Who Have Been Forcibly Terminated.” Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion, 2016.

NOTE: The question we ask our clients at Pastors’ Hope Network is not “How did this happen?” but rather “How can we help?” We exist to pick up the wounded, get them stabilized, and put them on the road to healing. We invite you to join us in our mission.