In the spring of 2008 I was brought into the principal’s office. I had been teaching at a Christian school for two years, where I had started working after I graduated from seminary. The first 18 months had gone really well and I truly enjoyed what I was doing. I had seen kids come to Christ, enjoyed teaching the students, loved coaching the basketball team, and was privileged to serve as a board member. At home, my wife and I had just welcomed our second child into the home we bought in 2006. However, the last six months had been pretty difficult and in the morning of a spring day I was asked to resign. We all know what that means - I was being fired.
It is hard now to recapture exactly what happened. I write with eight years of perspective. The day will forever be ingrained in my mind. Getting called in. Sitting with friends who were letting me go. Telling my wife I was being fired from my first vocational ministry job. I had heard that only 1 in 5 people that graduated from seminary were in vocational ministry after five years. Would I be a casualty? Would people think less of me and wonder whether I was competent or qualified to serve in a role I had been trained to do? Most of what I say below would apply to all types of firing, but I am speaking specifically about being fired from a vocational ministry position for reasons other than significant moral failure or cut backs - I’m talking about the hard and unclear cases.
The allegations, whatever they are, are probably not 100% false
The last six months of my job were difficult. I needed to wade through all that was being said about me and learn. Even if 99% of it was false, some of it was probably true and even if it was minor I needed to mature. Do some pastors get sifted by their people even though they are 100% in the right? Yes, but it is rare. I have sat with many people who have been let go from ministry positions, and as they have told me their stories I have usually been able to see why the whole thing went south, even if they can not see it yet. It took me some time, but I Iearned quite a bit about leadership, personal interaction, clarity in speaking, keeping better attention to details, and much more.
Submit to Authority
Almost everyone is under the authority of someone else. It is easy to submit when you agree with the decisions being made, but the true test of submission is whether you can submit to decisions you do not agree with. I am not talking about submitting to immoral decisions. Over the course of a job we are bound to disagree with someone making decisions in leadership. I am sure I could have reasoned that what was happening was unjust. Maybe I could have reasoned they were my enemies and prayed the imprecatory Psalms over them. Maybe I could count it as persecution. Maybe I could have planted seeds of discord in the staff, parents, and students and try a divide and conquer strategy.
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Does Romans 13:1 only apply to the government rulers? I don’t think so.
Let no bitter root grow
Being fired by a Christian brother or sister is a terrible experience. I was sitting in a room with four people who took little pleasure in letting me go. They knew what it meant for my young family. Some of them were and still are close friends. I had actually taught or coached three of the four’s children. We had a relationship. They were parents, spouses and friends. They had prayed for me and the person who made the decision thought he was making the best possible decision.
There were also the colleagues - those who liked me and were on “my side” and those that were not. Again - all believers for whom Christ had died. For me, Hebrews 12:14-15 came to mind: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Even for the people who treated me terribly, I was responsible before God to be at peace with others and not let bitterness grow.
Eight years later I can say that I have prayed with all four of the people that were in the room with me and keep in contact with two of them. As for the others who pushed for me to leave, I have prayed for reconciliation but life has taken us different places and I have no idea where they are. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt 5:9).
As a man and the only one who received income for work, this was especially important for my family. I needed to provide a safe and calm environment for my wife and kids. They needed me to not be angry, anxious, or full of contempt. They needed me to lead.
If it keeps happening, you really need some perspective from others your trust
I got some good advice from a wise man when this happened. He told me that if this only happened once it was not a big deal. If it happened again it was a cause for concern. If it happened 3-4 times it was a big red flag.
If you constantly find yourself being let go from ministry positions it is probably a sign that you need some perspective and feedback. It could be that you are not cut out or gifted for the type of jobs you are applying for. You may be taking jobs beyond your competency. You might need to learn to actually love people and not just on your own terms. It could be that you don’t know how to discern a situation that is a good fit for you. Whatever it is, find some friends and get some perspective.
The Lord will take care of you, even if it’s your own fault
I had an immediate problem in that I had no job in April of 2008, which was beyond the hiring cycle for most churches and schools. It’s difficult to not be anxious when you walk into your home you purchased right before the market crash, look into the eyes of your wife who had just had a baby and tell her you were fired. Would the Holy Spirit carry me through?
In June of that year, I pitched the idea of Training Leaders International to a pastor at the church I attended. In July, I began an interim pastorate that lasted two years. And though the Lord extracted quite a bit of flesh from me, TLI was launched and now serves pastors around the world.
The firing taught me a lot about myself, which the Lord used to shape me. The pastorate was one of the greatest blessings of my life. Now I am in a position where I have to ask people I love to resign. It is painful, and I remember what it was like to receive the news
The truth is, TLI would not exist if I had not been fired, nor would I have been ready to lead it. So Lord - thank you for firing me from a job I loved.
Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.