I know how you feel…part 2

by vernsanders on May 7, 2009

Yesterday I wrote about the “never on Sunday” rule. Today let’s look at a bigger canvas…

A while ago I gave a talk at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies. I asked the assembled faculty, students, and guests a rather forward question: “How many of you have been fired?”

About 20% of the several hundred in attendance raised their hand. There were audible gasps in the room.

“Wait…don’t put your hands down….How many of you who don’t have your hands up left a position because you knew if you didn’t you would be fired?”

It was a sad, yet stunning sight: fully 80% of the room had their hands in the air. And the murmuring was loud…

The next time you gather with a group of church musicians or worship leaders, think about this: three out of four have been and/or will be fired. Some will be or have been fired multiple times.

I know how you feel. I fit into both categories. After serving at a fairly large church for 16 years, during which program was built, attendance increased, comittment grew, and spiritual growth was palpable, I retired because if I hadn’t, I would have been fired. A number of years later, after serving at a fairly small church for over three years, and after having my contract extended for a year–due to my “outstanding leadership and contributions to the ministry of the congregation”–just weeks before, I was informed on a Tuesday that if my office was not empty by the following Friday at noon, everything in it would be destroyed.

That’s terrible, you say…

Actually, in retrospect (remember the “never on Sunday” rule? It can be extrapolated to other situations. As I wrote yesterday, Margaret Marcusson says in her book Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry that one of the key components of successful leadership is the ability to remain (relatively) calm and consistent in the face of unexpected circumstances) it was not terrible. It was God moving me on to better circumstances. Hard to see at the time, though…

The single common denominator in my two “leavings” was a change in senior pastors.

I’m just saying….

The single common denominator in my two “leavings process” is that I took the high road. In the second case it was much more difficult than the first, but because I had been down the road before, I knew that life would go on, and I would still be able to serve in some kind of ministry…I just didn’t know how or where.

The interesting thing is that in the second case, even though there was a whole bunch of scrambling on my part and on the part of my family, it turns out that I was not out of work a single day. Through the resources of my network, God led me to a place where everyone…including me…is much happier.


If you do attend that gathering of your ministry colleagues, and three or four are gathered, I encourage you to ask the general question: “Is anybody contemplating a move? Can I help in any way?” Your network may be God’s plan for another kingdom servant.

Or perhaps it might be you asking the other question: “I’m contemplating moving. Do any of you think you can help?” Trust me…somebody in your group knows how you feel. Let the body of Christ help you in your ministry.

Got a story? Please leave a comment.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Janice Timm May 7, 2009 at 11:43 pm

So much to say and not a clue how to say it! Thanks for this blog, Vern. It really helps me feel and stay connected to my ministry (having left for my sabbatical 4 months earlier that I had originally planned because I felt God tapping me on the shoulder and saying that it would be better for the Church if I just excused myself for awhile).

vernsanders May 9, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I know the feeling…I hope your time away is refreshing you, and that you come back “rarin’ to go”!

Jerry Fleming August 19, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Here’s another question. How many have told they should be fired by your pastor but it was not done? i went through that a few weeks ago. I must tell you that, since then, Sunday is not as wonderful to me. To know that the guy who is your “boss” and serves on the platform with you, wants you out. He probably will eventually get his way. The only reason it has not happened is that the “charges” against me are to minimal and petty. So, hopefully, in a few months I will be one of those “I left before I got fired” guys.
Thanks for the blog. We need to hear this and know how to react.

vernsanders August 19, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Thanks for the comment. I feel your pain. Churches, like other institutions, can seem heartless at times, and people, including pastors, sometimes don’t communicate very well. I’m sorry for your pain, but I’m sure there is something better waiting for you.



Bob Myers August 19, 2009 at 5:25 pm

I have been fortunate enough not to have been fired in my career. I give a lot of credit to my wife who can read the tea leaves a lot better than I can. Of course, your dismissal not only affects you, but your family as well – sometimes even more so. She’s been very discerning and helpful in letting me know when it was time to begin “the search.”

I left twice, knowing that I would have eventually been asked to leave and another time I left two years prior to the retirement of my senior pastor. In hindsight, it was very wise.

Transitions, however, become increasingly difficult once a minister passes the fifty-year mark in music/worship ministry. Also, it is difficult to land a good job if your current situation is on a decline. Most churches now want a video clip of current ministry. What to do when the talent pool has been drained? Preaching pastors have it a bit easier since he is only dependent on himself.

And I also agree with you that God is sovereign in all this. Even on the other side of the coin – when you apply and don’t get the job you thought you should -God is still in it.

This is where we live. I’ve often felt guilty about thinking about ministry in these terms. But the Church is still a group of imperfect humans. Human dynamics are in the toolbox that God uses to shape our lives. Imperfection? Yeah. Injustice? Yeah. But God is still in it. Hindsight has always revealed His providence in my life.

Thanks, Vern for bringing this up.
Bob Myers
Huntington, IN

vernsanders September 17, 2009 at 11:43 pm


Thanks for your post. I couldn’t agree more.


gordon nicely September 16, 2009 at 5:34 pm

I so remember my first church job only to see the church split three years later over an issue of control. I then left church ministry for three years then came back to a new position at a different church and moved uprooted my family, spent holidays alone only to have worked with the biggest liar I had ever met. I am amazed at the dishonesty and lack of integrity in church leadership.

It is terrible how these senior pastors treat staff. AND I am stunned at many of the almost 200k salaries they are paid. There is no due process in the church and of course I have been asked by many when does your unemployment stop? O PUH LEEZE, I just recently went thru bankruptcy because in the last 10 years I have been in three places and left because of nothing to do with me.

It is the worst business to be in, and yes it is business. They love you when you start, but when you leave you are stuck in someplace you never wanted to live away from your family and friends. They never offer to move you back and it is tough to find another place in the same city if not down right impossible.

I know of hardly anyone in full time ministry after 50 and MANY have died young, There is no fairness in churches and this should be addressed, but most senior pastors want to build kingdoms. On the other hand look at all the teaching pastors who have “resigned” from Willowcreek and the list of former employees is staggering,. By the way, NO I am not bitter and I love the phrases I have heard over and over again, God has a wonderful plan. Shoot me now.

Debbie Wolgemuth October 13, 2009 at 10:19 am

From working in ministry, I’ve learned several things:
1. You will be naive in your first ministry experience. You will expect to be treated better because you are working in a Christian environment where the Golden Rule should come into play, but don’t be surprised if you are not.
2. Churches get away with treating employees unfavorably because they know that many Christians will not sue their Christian employer.
3. If you are a woman, you will be treated more equitably working in a secular business than in the church environment.
4. Working at a church and knowing all the “behind the scenes” problems or hypocrisy of your fellow leaders, can affect your spirit in worship.
5. How can you get pass the negative experiences in church ministry? Know that the Lord will hold leaders to a higher accountability. Even though you may be mistreated and have little to no legal recourse, the leader’s wrong actions will be eventually judged by the Lord. I find comfort in that.

vernsanders October 13, 2009 at 5:25 pm


thanks for your comments…

It is always hard to know how to respond when you have been treated badly. I’ve done my share of ranting and raving, but as time went on, I figured out that the best approach (for me, at least) was to take the high road, be as gracious as possible to the people who knew nothing of the “behind the scenes” stuff, and as civil as possible to those who were machinating. While the temptation remains strong to lash out, I have personally found that not burning bridges through your own actions leaves many more options open in the long run…



Mark Cole November 5, 2009 at 6:28 am

I’ve been in full time worship ministry for over 30 years now and I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Thru-out this journey, God has been extremely faithful. If you keep your eyes on men… you will be disappointed… if you keep your eyes of God…’all things work together for good’. I’ve been amazed as God moved me to different scenarios and His wisdom in doing it..and I agree with Vern Sanders.. ‘take the high road’… it really shows that you trust God.

Deeann D. Mathews February 3, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Thank you for posting this … a friend of mine and fellow church musician just went through this, and it may all be coming down the pike at my church in the very near future. This is a stunning but compassionately written article about something that really hurts … thank you.

vernsanders February 3, 2011 at 11:18 pm


Thanks for the kind words. If you’ve read the comments, you know that it can be an ugly experience…and I know it is a cliche about “when a door closes, another one opens…” but in my case it has been true.
Prepare yourself, if you think it is on the horizon, and be proactive to search for other alternatives, because that is only prudent.
For me, though, while it has been painful in some form or other, leaving situations that were in the process of getting toxic, has brought me to a much better place, both in life, and in ministry.



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