Fired From Church: My story of surviving the trauma.
Updated: a day ago
I will never forget the call. I was at my desk at work. I knew my husband Jason was having a meeting with his boss that morning. I looked at the clock. It was only 9:30 am. I was surprised to see him calling so quickly. “I have been relieved of my position as the Campus Pastor.” The feeling that washed over me was shock, pain, and fear all at once. “Why? I don’t understand. Why?” I think I asked “why” about a dozen times that day and in the days to follow. We didn’t know it then, but not only did that day change our lives in a practical way, but it also changed our hearts and view of how we do ministry.
The days that followed are a blur — painful and confusing blur. That first night, Jason and I didn’t sleep a wink. I kept telling him that I needed to understand what happened. Jason repeated over and over that we can’t make sense of something that doesn’t make sense. It sounds funny, but it is true. So many thoughts went through my head over the next few months. Ministry was my passion and dream. Was it all over? Did someone take it away from me? I didn’t think I would ever be able to “get over this” and move on to another ministry position. I felt like my whole life had changed. What was my identity now? What was it to begin with? I was about to learn that from my most painful hurt, came my greatest ministry.
Forced Termination and the lies I believed:
When I was growing up I knew I wanted to be a missionary one day. I didn’t want to be a doctor or teacher, or even get married and be a mom. As a little girl, maybe 10 years old, I watched the Corrie Ten Boom movie called The Hiding Place. I remember feeling so moved that when the movie was over I said to my mom “I am going to be a missionary.” At that point, I knew leading an ordinary life was not an option for me. I was going to make a difference.
A few years after watching The Hiding Place, I was roller-skating on a porch off the back of our house. It was an outdoor room with no heat, but as kids, we found that the floor was nice and smooth and good for roller skating in circles. I was by myself, and I started singing songs that I knew from the Christian school we attended. It was while I was roller skating and singing that for the first time in my life, I felt the presence of God. I was 12, and I started weeping as I continued to skate in circles. I realize now I was worshipping, praying, and crying to God. I was speaking with God, and I felt His presence in a way that changed my life. I told Him I would do anything for Him. That I loved Him. And I felt His love for me. I knew he was calling me to something. I knew I would live my life in service to Him, in whatever way He led.
Eventually, I went from wanting to be a missionary to wanting to work in ministry here in the USA. Knowing God touched my life at such a young age made me think I was different from my peers. I was sensitive to God. I pursued Him. I didn’t want to get involved in the things other kids were getting involved in. I went to a small Christian school up to 8th grade. This was my first view of the church world and I didn’t fit in. I always felt that my family was the “Black Sheep” of the Christian school. Mainly because we didn’t go to church. My parents left our church after it went through a difficult time. They needed people to come alongside them. Instead, we felt like outcasts. I have vivid memories of that time. Girls telling me they weren’t allowed to hang out with me because we didn’t go to church.
At 13, I attended a birthday party for my friend Jenny. At the end of the night, Jenny and I went to our moms and asked if I could sleep over. Her mom said no. As I was leaving I heard Jenny ask her mom if a different girl could sleep over. The two moms talked to their daughters. I saw them look over at me and my mom. They proceeded to whisper and then very loudly say goodbye and put on a show that they were leaving. Jenny’s mom did agree to a sleepover, just not with me. I sat in my van and turned to my mom and sobbed. At 13, I felt the first sting of rejection, and it was the same feeling I had all through my time at that Christian school. That sting of rejection was a lie. It was a lie I believed then and which I battled for most of my life. Even among my Christian peers, I didn‘t fit in.
Do you ever look back and see a theme that seems to run through your life? I understood the rejection theme very early on, but it took me a while to see it for the lie that it was. However, when I saw it, it was a relief. It was still hard. It still hurt. But I could say, “oh, hello rejection, it is you again. I know what you are trying to do to me but I am going to fight you this time.” Sometimes the rejection I felt was self-imposed. Because I believed this lie for so many years, I saw it even when it wasn’t there. I would let my experiences confirm this lie that I believed.
How do we expose a lie? With Truth. Why then do we let the lies have a field day with our hearts and minds? When we feel rejected, we need to fight it by remembering that we are called, chosen, and set apart. We need to speak scripture over ourselves and over our circumstances. When you do that enough the lies we hear become a whisper. Before you know it you don’t even hear them. Oftentimes I would sink into a depression. Instead of speaking and exposing truth, I found it easier to believe the lie.
When my sister, who worked in full-time ministry, left her church because she could not “get along” with a Pastor, I felt that lie over my family like I was back in seventh grade at Christian school. When her best friend and the person who undercut her at this church was elevated after my sister left, I felt that “black sheep” stigma all over again. A little over a year later, my sister was there to cry with me as I walked through my church hurt.
What I didn’t realize was that there is an epidemic in our churches that we don’t talk about. It is called Forced Termination. I learned about this from first-hand experience. I think there are a few reasons we don’t talk about it.
We don’t talk about it because of the stigma around pastors and ministry leaders being fired. Was there a moral failure? What did they do wrong? To be honest, I was embarrassed that my husband was let go. I didn’t think anyone would see the truth. Thankfully, my amazing husband never once felt embarrassed. He never hid in shame. He held his head high and knew that he did nothing wrong.
Another reason for not talking about forced termination is because of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA). If you want to get a severance you need to sign this paper that says you won’t talk about anything. So we move on, in silent grief, not realizing that there is a whole world of people who have walked our walk. The betrayal is a swift cut but the healing takes a long time. There are people that I have spoken to that are in deep grief. Some take time off from ministry and don’t know if they can ever return. Some never step foot back in a church again. I heard stories of pastors not only signing an NDA but also signing a non-compete in order to get severance. To continue working in their field and in their calling, they need to relocate their family. The effect that forced termination has on the entire family is devastating.
So how do we get healing? How do we thrive in ministry after this? The truth is I don’t think there is an exact answer to that. But I know that the answer has to start with the truth.
My husband and I were so intent on leaving well after his forced termination, that we just didn’t talk about it. We didn’t know who was safe and what we could say. The silence was crippling. The support is almost non-existing. In ministry, you are expected to have loyalty, not gossip, and let God fight your battles. And those are important things. We saw God fight for us. We were determined to not gossip. And loyalty in the right place is a great thing. But forced termination needs to be discussed. People need to have support through it. It is time to tell my story.
I want to speak the truth in the most loving, kind, and sincere way I can. I have tip-toed around this topic and telling my story because I don’t want people to think I am stirring anything up. I have held my tongue because I don’t want to talk out of bitterness. I have kept quiet so I won’t ruffle feathers. But now I see the most important thing is to tell our story and let God use it as He will. There are so many people out there that need to know they are not alone. Shame makes you hide. Truth is the antidote for shame.
Fight the lies by speaking against them with the truth.
Lie: I am rejected.
Truth: I am chosen. John 15:16
Lie: I am not good enough.
Truth: I am God’s masterpiece. Ephesians 2:9
Lie: Someone took away my calling.
Truth: No one can change God’s plans. Isaiah 14:27
Lie: I will never be set free.
Truth: Christ has set us free. Galatians 5:1
Lie: We went through this because we are not called to ministry.
Truth: He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace. 2 Timothy 1:10
Stay tuned for more of our story.
If you have been through forced termination from a church or ministry please email me. I would love to hear your story.