on getting fired

no, i haven’t been fired from ys (yet).

but i mentioned in my birthday post, yesterday, that i did get fired from a church once (and was asked to resign from another). and brian asked me to tell the story — so here it is. i used to think this experience was, at least, nominally unique. but since coming to ys and hearing youth workers stories every day, i’ve found this kind of story is hideously common (including stories way-worse than mine).

so.

i got hired at a church in omaha, nebraska, as their first-ever junior high pastor. and it was my first full-time junior high pastor. and (surprise), it went fantastic. in many ways, as i look over my decade and a half of “professional” ministry to young teens, i often think of these three years as my glory days. i had larger ministries elsewhere. i certainly had bigger budgets and more support and more paid staff elsewhere. but this was the only time i was ONLY a junior high pastor. in subsequent churches, i was always “junior high +” (student minstries, or family ministries, or whatever). the ministry grew in every way — we developed a passionate and equipped volunteer team, a multi-level missions trip program (yes, for young teens), amazing connections with local public schools, and other great things.

but a parallel thread was developing…

three “power elders” were quietly building a case against me. this wasn’t a formal process for them — it was taking place in their minds. two of them really ran the church, and had done so for decades. they even had a by-law that stated that an elder could be elected for two terms (3 years each, or something like that), then had to take some time off before being eligible for re-election; unless that elder was part of the exec team (or whatever it was called — chair, vice-chair, recording secretary, treasurer) — those roles never had to take a year off: “to provide continuity”. all this meant that these guys had been in the roles of board chair, treasurer and secretary or vice-chair, for decades, literally. does anyone know how to spell dysfunctional? (sidebar: these same guys, the year after i got booted, convinced the rest of the board to pass a motion that all elders and pastors had to submit their completed tax return to the treasurer, so he could verify that they were giving 10% to the church; anyone not giving 10%, or not willing to submit their tax returns, was not considered fit for the role).

it all started to spiral downhill the day i bought a jeep.

when they hired me, they expressed that they really didn’t want my wife to work. (ok, i’m embarrassed by this next part now) we didn’t have a problem with that, conceptually; but we couldn’t afford it on what they were offering, as we had a good bit of college debt. they “approved” jeannie working based on her income going to pay off our debt. most of it did — but we never understood this to be an “every penny after taxes” kind of thing. they did. after the jeep purchase (which they also considered a highly irresponsible vehicle for a youth pastor), i got called into a meeting. they accused me of violating our agreement. i was baffled. once we got our two perspectives cleared up, they demanded i provide an accounting of all my income and how i was spending it (a personal budget is what they actually said), as well as a plan for when the college debt would be paid off (so jeannie could stop working).

this is where i blew it. i was too young and naive to realize that i either needed to walk, or get political. instead, i did nothing. i thought their request was absurd, and pretended (to myself) that it would go away.

9 mos later i got called into an emergency meeting, and told to bring my personal budget. i quickly pulled one together that showed the basics of what they were asking for. it wasn’t enough, and it was way too late. suddenly, the problem was much bigger than the budget thing. they now had a list of character accusations about me, including: you are a liar, a manipulator, deceitful (and a bunch of other things).

two weeks of scrambling on both sides ensued. i sat in the senior pastor’s home and cried like a baby (heaving, can’t speak — you know the kind), begging for him to intervene. he never said he refused to do so, but in essence that’s what he did. at the end of those two weeks, they told me to clear out my office that night, not to show up at any junior high group functions (i was allowed to write a statement, which they read to the students and volunteers). and they said they would generously give me two weeks severance pay. geez. it was a good thing my wife was working, or we would have been jacked!

i asked a handful of older guys i trusted (actually, other elders at the church) to meet with me and pry into the character stuff. i wanted to know if there was any truth to the accusations. and i wanted someone else to tell me if i was still ok for ministry or not. their eventual stamp-of-approval was the green-light that began a tiny bit of restoring my soul and calling.

i’ve had a reasonably easy life. so this was one of the two most difficult things i’ve ever gone through (the second being yaconelli’s death 18 months ago). it left me extremely wounded for years (none of these people, including the senior pastor, ever followed up with me after the day i was let go).

i don’t share this now to ask for sympathy — this is really old stuff, and now seems very clearly a place god has taken evil and used it for good in my life. i wouldn’t trade that experience for anything — it is part of who i am today, and essential. i share this story for those of you in tough church situations. yours might be very different. but you’re not alone. there are those of us out here (many, many more than me!) who know. we understand.

35 thoughts on “on getting fired”

  1. knowing that others have been there make it a little easier to understand and live with. I am 2 years on…and it is guys like you being honest that help me persevere. Thank you for sharing!

  2. This is a very good story and glad to read it. But that is not why I write.

    Had a conversation today with Ginny Olson, YM Prof at North Park today and we both had good words to say about you, your ministry, and your blog site (which was my part of the conversation). Didn’t have your e-mail so wrote on this. Sorry to clog this blog with personal stuff.

  3. You wrote: “Does anyone know how to spell dysfunctional?”

    Actually, I would say @#$%ed up. Thanks for sharing your gift. And to any out there who may be going through a similar situation, I absolve you in absentia (through all my priestly authority) from all sins associated with decking the Senior Pastor, and/or the board chair.

  4. Mark, thnaks for the story, I went through a similar situation in my first post (in jolly old UK) youth ministry growing and great boss VERY insecure and staff meetings consisted of him telling us how rubbish we were. Moved on 13 years down the road I now have an area remit on advising churches and youth ministries, its great how God can bring redemption through these things. Blessings from UK

  5. Thanks for sharing that. I am amazed at the downright meanness Christian people are capable of.

    On a lighter note, you wrote “Does anyone know how to spell dysfuntional, which is actually a misspelling of the word “dysfunctional.” I couldn’t figure out if you were being ironic on purpose, but either way it’s kind of funny, don’t you think?

  6. Marko-
    Thanks for sharing this story, I’m encouraged. I was in a really dysfunctional church that I resigned from. About 10 months ago I thought I was done with the church ministry, but God has proved to me that healthy churches exist. We found one just across town that my wife and I are now serving in. I used to think that healthy meant an absence of conflict meshed with a utopia type experience where we all drink Starbucks, share our deep insights, and rock out to the latest worship music. However, I have learned that healthy leaders deal with conflict in a much different way and that God has a divine use of pain in our lives. Only in our pain do we stare down our souls and see what God is made of. May we all understand God’s divine use of pain in our journey and may I have the balls to always say that. peace…

  7. I know several people facing this bizarre issue of church members considering church employees as somehow subhuman and not worthy ofbeing treated as they would expect to be treated.

    However I rejoice in the incredible loving fellowship and support of the majority of Christians.

    The tricky thing is how to respond in the face of this kind of treatment. I would usually advocate humility and honesty rather than confrontation (not that you did give in to confrontation – well done!) but I don’t think this would have worked in your case. Ultimately we have to LOVE the people who treat usbadly. It is the only response. It sometimes works. It always makes the one loving feel less bad about the whole situation.

    We all know that Anger leads to the Dark Side!

  8. Thanks MarkO! I’ve been there, as well. But…the light of the truth, no matter what darkness may be imposed, can shine again. And thanks for ALL you’ve done for the emerging conversation…Nashville was splendid.

  9. I echo the thanks – for being an example of hope for the many who have been or are being wounded right now…and for those who no doubt will be in the future.

  10. Thanks, it happens far too often. It’s encouraging to see how those of you in YS positions have gone through the same junk as many other YM families and risen above the garbage to allow yourselves to be used again.

  11. Thanks, Mark. It was almost 3 years ago I went through a similar thing (ironically, near Omaha, and I know all too well the church you’re talking about – must have been in the air or something). I was asked to resign, and we’ve moved far away. I’m content and thankful for the job God has provided, but I wonder what He will do in the next chapter. I hope something, but doubt is still strong. I was not fortunate enough to have a group of guys I could get insight from (and still don’t, really), so I still sting from it at times. How did you keep your passion? I don’t know whether to just sit tight and wait on Him, or get back on the horse and ride. Not even sure if I want to ride again, you know? If anyone has insight, resources, etc., to this, I’d love to hear it.

    Thanks for sharing. Blessings to you as you continue to serve Him.

  12. Been there too. near Birmingham, AL. A small clique and a new pastor who thought he was smarter than he really is gave me the choice of walk or fight. I wanted to fight like Rocky, but the Lord said GO. So, I left. I’m still scarred, but it has been a huge blessing. I don’t know if I’ll ever be full-time in youth ministry again, but I am thankful to be bi-vocational in a great church I would have missed out on if I had fought and ugly battle.

    This happens all too often, and friends, those who are cruel to God’s men and women will pay. Vengeance is the Lord’s.
    Blessings,

  13. Mark
    Been there…done that. At a church in Houston, TX with an elder that may have ben related to one of your old ones! I just keep reminding myself that most churches wouldn’t hire Moses (anger problems and not a good speaker), or David (adulterer and murderer), or a host of other Christian leaders from the Bible either…which means I’m not only in good company, but probably right where God needs me.
    in His grip
    chris

  14. I was forced to resign 4 years ago and am finally healing. My spirit/soul still hurts and I question everything now. It is more interesting to me that I meet so many youth pastors who struggle with ministry and church. Many are considering escaping church for the health and well-being of their own spiritual lives. Personally, thanks YS for the convention experiences because there were 2 years when it was the only place I felt comfortable worshipping.

  15. Man… History repeats itself! I’m five years into ministry at my church and I’m living a similar struggle right now. Thanks for the encouragement that whatever way this thing works out – “GOD’s Got My back”

  16. Thanks Marko. God so reminds us that our lives are stories that are to be told to others, not only to encourage but to remind one another of God’s continued grace and love, in the midst of all that happens in our lives. After 13 years on staff as a YP, I was asked to step down. Things were said that were untrue. Painful, yes. But I am reminded that no matter how painful, God has my life in the palm of his righteous right hand, and will continue to use me for His glory. Keep encouraged and stay faithful to His Word. (1 Peter 2:18-20)

  17. Thanks for sharing. Maybe this sort of thing is more common than I thought. I was asked to resign about a year ago. Too make a long story short, it’s the pastor’s wife and her best friend that are really in control. Add to that the pastor’s unruly & immature kids are in the youth group and well, you get the picture. The worst part is, the Lord has told us to stay. I feel like I am dying inside because I can’t get ministering to these students out of my blood. It’s like a fire burning. Students still hang around me a lot, but it’s not the same. How long o Lord? will I ever be restored?

  18. I read your story and tried to relate it to my congregation, where an intern youth pastor is getting beat up right now. It doesn’t have the same depth of dysfunction in leadership or structure that you shared and hasn’t lead to a firing or resignation; however, it helped me question my role as a lay person in “pastoral care” for the troubled intern. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Wow, thanks for sharing that. Unfortunately power issues seem to crop up a fair amount in places like churches where you wouldn’t necessarily expect them. Some people have a twisted view of what God is calling them to in the church. Thank God for His mercy and restoration to those of us who have been rejected by men but approved by Him.

  20. Funny how church can sometimes seem more like hell, isn’t it? I have had my hellish nightmare of an experience as well. There’s a book by Gene Edwards called “Equisite Agony” (the original title was “Crucified By Christians” that, although I didn’t completely agree with it, was very helpful in beginning the healing process for me.

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  22. ahh, yes…manipulative boards…and new sr. “pastor”‘s…gotta love ’em. lotsa lies and deceit. so much for being the “church”.
    no contact from anyone at the church (note small “c”)
    im just getting my head above water after being “asked” (yeah, right) to leave after a 20 year volunteer stint.

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  25. Mark- I just did a google search “pastors who have been fired”. I am going through this right now and just needed to see if there way anyone out there who could relate. Thankyou for sharing. You story is very close to mine and it gives me hope that this will pass.

  26. marko,

    I never heard any of this stuff. Interesting, to say the least.

    FYI, my understanding is that CCC is extremely healthy right now. The new lead pastor…Mark Ashton from Willow (i think he’s actually younger than us)…seems to be leading very, very well. Additionally, I know that there has been significant changes in how the board operates. Some of these changes took place while I was there, but most since I left (led by a number of awesome pastors like joe, phil, and a guy name wendal).

    anyway, thanks for sharing your story. again, even though I was there almost 8 years, I never heard this. And what crazy rules…pretty wierd. I never had to give my tax statements to prove 10%. That’s nuts!

    Kent

  27. I am reading this 10 years after you posted it. Thank you for sharing. Although my story is much less traumatic than yours I am still feeling betrayed by church. I was let go from my church job because of some unwise financial decisions made by the church. Unfortunately, that was 3 months after my husband had been laid off. That was over a year ago, and I am still job hunting. Fortunately, my husband did find a job. But I am struggling with trying to follow the call I feel from God.
    I only hope I can come through this with the grace you have shown.

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