Home » Help & Hope » Understanding Pastoral Termination Part 4: The Long-Term Effects of Forced Termination

Understanding Pastoral Termination Part 4: The Long-Term Effects of Forced Termination

Jul 8, 2024 | Help & Hope

The following is the fourth of five articles in the series “Understanding Pastoral Termination.” You can read the first three articles here: Part 1Part 2Part 3.


The Long-Term Effects of Forced Termination

Forced termination—the process of removing pastors from their ministry positions that involves emotional, spiritual, social, and psychological abuse—impacts pastors and their families for many years following the event (Tanner, “Clergy Who Experience Trauma”) . The experience is far more than losing a job. It’s not something they just “get over.” Pastors lose their faith community, social community, and work community, as do their spouse and children.

The extensive research of Marcus Tanner, PhD, reveals that “Forced termination is extremely detrimental to the overall well-being of clergy” (Tanner, “Forced Termination of American Clergy”).

Consider these effects of forced termination (Tanner, “Clergy Who Experience Trauma”):

  • Psychological distress
  • Depression
  • Stress (more than usual)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-confidence
  • Physical health problems
  • Inability to trust people, especially church people
  • Long-term financial instability
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Other effects of forced termination include isolation, loneliness, relocation, and grief. At Pastors’ Hope Network, we hear the stories and witness the devastating impact of forced termination on the entire family. Pastors’ kids find themselves moving to new schools, leaving their old friends behind, and struggling to adapt to new activities, peer groups, and extra-curricular teams. One pastor’s son had to move in the middle of his senior year in high school. Another pastor and his wife made the difficult decision to leave their high school senior behind with friends so that she could finish the year with her graduating class.

We also hear the stories of trauma that lead to PTSD. Pastors’ spouses talk about being unable to enter a church building. Others have difficulty trusting people, even 15 or 20 years after the termination event. Understandable, considering The Process they endured that led to termination.

A common response I hear when I share about forced termination is not “How can we help these pastors heal and get back into ministry?” but rather “We need to work on prevention.” The implication, at least by some, is that “These pastors are already broken. Let’s focus on the well-being of pastors who have not been terminated.”

Yes! We should emphasize pastoral well-being. But we must also care for pastors who have been wounded by forced termination. While medical researchers work on preventing cancer, there are also oncologists who care for patients who already have cancer. In the same way, we need to promote the well-being of active pastors AND care for pastors who have experienced forced termination. We must have both. Otherwise, any discussion on pastor well-being is incomplete.

Whether a pastor is fired, forced to resign, or is terminated, the pain of the experience can be minimized if a biblically-based process is in place and is carried out properly. In the fifth and final article in this series, we’ll look at seven strategies that can guide churches to treat their pastors with the dignity and respect they deserve, especially in difficult situations.

Until then, please contact me at [email protected] if you would like to visit more about pastoral termination.


Tanner, Marcus. “Clergy Who Experience Trauma as a Result of Forced Termination.” Journal of Religion and Health, published online 2012.

Tanner, Marcus. “Forced Termination of American Clergy: Its Effects and Connection to Negative Well-Being.” Review of Religious Research, published online 2011.