When-Christians-Fire-Christians

I feel like I’m walking on metaphorical eggshells with this blogpost. My challenge is that I am asked about this issue almost as much as any other. The question typically comes from a pastor or other church leader, but it could come from a leader of another Christian organization. Should we as Christians fire other Christians who work in our organization?

The Common Scenarios

A fairly common scenario is a pastor or key lay leader who believes that someone on the church staff is no longer contributing adequately. That person may be a family member, a good friend, or the child of a significant financial giver in the church. Sometimes that person has not upgraded his or her skills over the years, and he or she is coasting in the current position. Often church leaders will move that person to another job of minimal requirements and low expectations. But the church continues to pay the salary and benefits.

Sometimes we leaders hire someone that we like personally, such as a good friend. A good maxim for any hiring is: Don’t ever hire someone you won’t be willing to fire. While there is nothing inherently wrong with hiring a friend, you both need to have full awareness that the friendship is at risk if friends have a boss-subordinate relationship. I was able to recall over 30 instances of friends hiring friends. It did not turn out well two out of three times.

Should Christians Fire Christians?

Let’s return to the basic thesis of Christians firing Christians. A recent situation comes to mind, and it’s common in a number of churches. A church staff member was no longer doing his job well. He was putting in a 25-hour workweek and, for all practical purposes, coasting in his job. The pastor had spoken with him on a number of occasions and, to the best of my understanding, had done so in a Christlike and compassionate way.

The staff member, however, has developed relationships in the church with many church members. They don’t see his lousy work ethic; all they know is that they like the guy. The pastor knows that firing this staff member will likely lead to significant conflict in the church. The staff member knows it as well.

The pastor asked me if it is ever right for a Christian to fire a Christian. I gave him four reasons why it would indeed be the right thing to do.

  1. Biblical stewardship demands that those who are paid by the church give the church the ministry for which they are paid.
  2. It is not fair to other workers in the church who must pick up the slack for the lazy staff member.
  3. It is not fair to the employee himself to allow him to remain in a non-productive position. The church has become his enabler.
  4. The church as a whole is bigger than any one person. The good of many is best served by the discipline of one.

How Does a Christian Fire a Christian?

So if it is indeed right for a Christian to fire a Christian, how should it then be done? May I suggest four principles?

  1. Fire with Christlike compassion. Though the person may deserve his dismissal, his life and family will be disrupted greatly. The pain is very real.
  2. Fire with Christlike generosity. Provide as much financial bridging as the church can afford. Don’t simply follow the rules of the secular world. This difficult situation is between two or more followers of Christ.
  3. Fire with Christlike clarity. Let the staff member know clearly why his performance is not acceptable. Give sufficient warning. But when the firing takes place, be clear why the action is being taken. This is not a time to mince words. Clarity, no matter how painful, will help the person in the future.
  4. Fire with Christlike communication. Ask the terminated employee how he would like the dismissal communicated to the congregation. If possible, honor his requests.

Firing someone is one of the most difficult tasks of a leader. It is especially a challenge in a Christian organization. But sometimes it is the right and courageous thing to do. Sometimes the greater danger is doing nothing.

What do you think about firings in a church or other Christian organization? What has been your experience in this difficult area?

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Comments

  1. says

    This is one of those issues that translates well from the business world. Having been a senior executive for both private and publicly traded companies, I can assure you that all sound secular business procedures and decisions to terminate employment were stolen from the Bible.

    Dr. Thom is correct; a Christlike approach in compassion, generosity, clarity and communication are the only things that will cause God to smile as you end a working relationship, yet remain brothers in Christ. Do this well and the person is likely to thank you as they go out the door. I have seen this many times.

    The greater issue, in my opinion, is what happens before the termination of the professional relationship and the steps that lead to this decision. The termination of employment is almost always due to a failure of leadership. That’s a fairly bold statement, but hear me out.

    Whether the failure was due to inadequate pre-employment screening, training, setting expectations, following up, coaching and encouragement or in providing the tools and time needed to get the job done, we almost always end up looking to leadership for clues to the reason for failure.

    Of course we find people who misrepresent themselves, their abilities or work ethic. But, have you personally done everything you can possibly do to ensure the success of the person you are dealing with? Have they been promoted beyond their abilities? If yes, are you able to return them to a position where they can shine rather than shove them out the door?

    I’ll stop there for fear of hijacking the Blog.

    -In His Grip

    • Thom Rainer says

      Jonathon –

      Thank you so much. One thing I’ve noticed about your comments on my different posts is that you always contribute positively. You never hijack the post; you enhance it.

      • says

        Dr. Thom,

        Thank you for the kind comments. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute. My attitude is to make a stand FOR something in a world that offers so much to stand against. Be encouraged, as I am encouraged by your Blog.

        • Melody says

          Would that include providing continuing education for those that have let their skills fall behind technology?

          • says

            Melody,

            If I understand your question correctly, it relates to providing ongoing support and training of an existing employee.

            While I do not know the specifics surrounding your query, my heart says yes, absolutely. The Kingdom business is entirely a people business. We should continually build each other up in love. If this means providing training for the ever moving technology target, then so be it.

            Technology, systems, procedures and expectations change all the time. Is it not reasonable to provide ongoing training, support and encouragement for those in our charge? The path we are called to walk should not be littered with the bodies of the people we walk with or lead, especially if we possess those things they need to succeed.

            As a leader of people, I don’t want to be watching my game reels with Jesus one day and have to explain why I failed to provide someone what they needed to perform their job with excellence. And then explain to my King why, when they failed, I showed them the door.

            Leading and following are shared responsibilities. Leaders are responsible for selecting qualified candidates and then providing the things people need to do a good job. Likewise, those who follow have a responsibility to bring a strong work ethic and their God given talents to bear, while seeking for themselves those things they need to perform well.

            I know that’s more than you asked for, but I just had to get that out ;-)

    • kevin says

      I agree completely with your assessment of accountability and work ethic. I was terminated December 23, 2007 after never even being reprimanded before in my life. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy! it devastated my family and ruined my reputation and our credit! I was let go because a new pastor came in and was told by a couple of influential people that a couple of the staff had to go and he did it! grace must win in these situations because the church suffered greatly as did my family. if given the option i would have left on my own accord after a talk with the pastor and i could have kept my dignity at least! God has healed wounds but the scars are still there!

  2. says

    A believer should work to honor the Lord in such a way that their value to the organization/company is beyond question and then even the thought of firing would never come into question.

  3. Bob S. says

    An added factor could be the need for a vote by a board or the congregation, making this more challenging.

  4. Allen Calkins says

    One of the reason firing at church is so hard is because we fail to do performance appraisals and evaluations along the way. Because we do not give people the feedback they need to know how they are doing, they think they are dong OK and feel blindsided when we are already at the ‘fed up and ready to let them go’ stage. Many people need help to see into their blind areas and discover what skills need to be enhanced. Those unwilling to improve will often ‘self-fire’ by leaving for a less demanding position if they do not want to work at improvement.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Allen –

      Excellent point. If the firing is due to performance issues, it should come as no surprise to the employee. There should be previous reviews and warnings to explain the action taken.

  5. Don McCutcheon says

    Doc,
    A good and needed word for those in Christian leadership/supervision and Christians in secular supervisory roles. So often Christians, churches and Christian mission organizations attempt to model secular entities at their lowest levels when it comes to termination, rather than seeking a more Christian approach. Both the four reasons you offered the pastor and the four principles for termination should be memorized by those who are in supervision and leadership. In addition, wise leaders should heed your observation on the challenge in hiring friends. I have done so with no regrets, but I also have seen many situations that did not end so positively. Thanks for walking on eggshells!
    Blessings.

  6. Bert Ross says

    Tom, I appreciate your wisdom and thoughts with a very sensitive issue. As a Human Resource professional I have talked with many church leaders concerning the same issue. Several thoughts, make sure you document in writing the issues, do you have written personal polices, job description and regular written performance reviews. make sure you do not violate EEOC and DOL rules and lyour individual state laws. Make sure you have a personal committee to advise the church leadership. Personal issues should never be discussed in public church business meetings.

  7. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    How long should you give a person to get their performance to where it ought to be? Three months? Six? A year? For me, knowing WHEN to fire is by far the most difficult part if this.

    As always, thanks for the post.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Tom –

      In these situations, you have to take them case by case. In most situations, one year would be the maximum length, assuming you are giving sufficient documented warnings. The key is to monitor their progress. If the persons shows no effort after six months of warnings, you may need to move that quickly.

  8. says

    I agree with the point that stewardship likely requires us to terminate unfaithful staff. As someone who fired more than a couple of people in the business world, I know that this was necessary for the smooth operation of the business.

    However, I do want to ask a question that runs counter to how I feel. Jesus didn’t fire Judas and we know he wasn’t faithful in spirit or the handling of the purse. Does this provide a model for us when running an organization? Regarding the church ministry, are we bound to follow the specifications for ministry in the New Testament not only in hiring staff but firing staff? (Similar to how only the NT specifications that allow divorce should bind our behavior regarding divorce?)

      • Melody says

        A thought more than an answer: Jesus had a mission to fulfill and Judas fit the need for the position he filled even though Judas did not know in what way.
        When Paul had a mission to fulfill he was unwilling to include Mark when he had proven unreliable before. Mark had to regain the trust of Paul in his faithfulness to the mission before Paul would include him. God used the situation to His glory.

        • Ken Jerome says

          Sharon has a great point. This happens in the real world of the church. We need more on “pastoral authority”. This is one subject where we need more impute.

  9. says

    So much wisdom! Thank you for this. As the director of women’s ministries at a large church I often had a related problem–how to dismiss(?) volunteers who were no longer serving the ministry well. Would love to see a blog post on that topic!

  10. says

    Great post Thom! The flip side of the question posed in your post is: What do you do when you are fired from a church? How do you weather it? Churches, in some cases, don’t fire people for all the “right” reasons. It could be political. There could be a vocal parent that tithes a bunch that just didn’t like the activities provided for their kid that summer. There could be a theological disagreement among staff. What if a new pastor comes in and wants to clean shop and bring in a hand picked team? What if the person fired challenged the system in a prophetic way and they got cut because others were uncomfortable? I’ve experienced one of these scenarios personally and have MANY friends who have as well. I would love to read an article with your ideas on how to deal with being fired. Blessings.

  11. Ken Jerome says

    Thank you for your wisdom – this is always a difficult task. Everyone on staff has what I call a Posey, or a following, how do you deal with that group?
    The other question asked was about firing volunteers. Sometimes this is necessary. I hope you deal with that sometime soon.

  12. John W. Carlton says

    In my first position as a young man of 24, as Minister of Music/Youth, I had no training in youth work. My OJT was to have activities 7 nights a week. This wasn’t good for my young family and me. In addition to this, no training or input was given from the congregation–only ciriticism. It was a hard 2 years. My pastor called me in one morning and told me that I needed to find a place to go because it was not working out. Looking back on this, I learned more in these 2 years than I could have ever learned anywhere else.

    When given the word that I needed to find another place of service I prayed for an opening. Through my contacts that I had made, I was able to find another place of service and complete my undergrad studies. Later on I went bivocational, and in my secular job I was placed in a supervisory posiition. On 2 occasions I had to terminate people who were professing christians. It was not an easy thing to do, but necessary.

    Observations from my experience: 1. When a person is hired to fill a position, make sure that adequate training is available. 2. Communicate specifically what is expected and how the job is to be done. 3. Have accountability with not only the person doing the job, but also the supervisor (Pastor) and committee overseeing the person.

  13. Sharon Neff says

    Thank you for your wisdom. I just wish other people would put it into practice. My husband was pastor of a church that hired a subversive staff member. As we discovered later, the committee should have gone farther into his background when they were checking references, etc. He undercut my husband and built a following among a group of church members. My husband tried to deal with the problem himself and talked to the staff person privately for about 18 months and then went to the personnel committee because only they had the authority to fire someone. While my husband was being ethical and discreet about this, the other person was building up even more support. After extensive meetings, the committee decided that even though there seemed to be a problem, they would not fire him because he had not done anything illegal or immoral. At this point, even after doing everything the way it should have been done, my husband felt like he could no longer effectively minister in this situation and he resigned. The sad thing is that in the aftermath, many good people did not want to get involved in a conflict and would not stand up for what was right even though they would tell us they knew this was not right. So a very vocal minority took over. We learned many lessons, one being to see how much authority the pastor has to let go of staff members before accepting the call to a church.
    Sorry for the length, but an example of the wrong way for these situations to turn out.

  14. Caleb says

    “The church as a whole is bigger than any one person.” That’s a red flag that calls into question the very spirit of this article, which seems to me, is of the world having crept into your Church and not the other way around. Hope you are approving critical comments as well. Thx.

  15. Bryan J. says

    As you ponder the difference between firing paid and unpaid help, may I say that I don’t believe in such a difference? I believe that every person do anything in a church requires three things: 1 – clearly defined job descriptions and expectations. 2 – The means to accomplish the task (authority, resources, money, training, etc.) and 3 – Accountability (regular feedback based on expectations). These three should apply to everyone from the Senior Pastor to the flower lady!

    One of the traps of ministry is to treat those who are serving without pay (called volunteers in the secular world, I prefer servants for the church.) like they are doing you a favor. No, they are fulfilling God’s call for every Christian to be a minister. Of course we should honor and thank them, just like we honor and thank paid employee’s. But there IS a different standard for serving in the church than serving in the Red Cross.
    I am in a very new ministry and just starting to implement these idea’s. In my first 90 day evaluation (held at my request), the Council only had one problem with my work up to that point, and upon reflection (using some of the idea’s I had been teaching them) decided that the fault was theirs, and that there was an easy fix, and they fixed it!

  16. Mark Russell says

    Very helpful article. Clear, simple, to the point and in my humble opinion quite accurate.

  17. Karen Stuber says

    I have been trying to figure out how to handle a situation at our local church, but would prefer to send you an e-mail message privately. Would it be possible to send a private e-mail?

  18. Erica says

    This happened recently at our church. After months of turmoil caused by the worship leader of all people, and many meeting with him, warning him to stop the gossip and backstabbing, we as the deacon body elected to remove his employment. It wasn’t an easy thing to do because we knew many in the church were unaware of his attitude and his attempts to persuade the pastor to do things that were not in the best interest of the church, however this man was tearing the church apart piece by piece.

    I don’t know that we will ever be fully aware of his motives, but you have to protect the greater good and not allow one person to bring a dark cloud over an entire congregation. It has become increasingly obvious that this man’s loyalty did not belong to the church, but to his own self.

  19. Bill says

    Thom – Enjoyed the blog and agree with what you shared in the article. I am a business owner of a for-profit corporation. Over the years we have had to “counsel out’ poor performing employees (who everyone liked as a person). I have found that mature Christians are less likely to be in denial regarding their performance (mature is not about age — this is about the individuals walk with Christ). Acceptance did not make the “counseling out’ process any easier for us; however, all of them have found new careers where they are blossoming. Furthermore, we have stayed in contact with the former employees (many are thankful for us pointing them in the right direction).

    On the other hand, we have had poor performing Christian employees who did not seem to be as far in their walk with the Lord. The performance review and “counseling out” process was wrought with denial and helping them find a new job became contentious.

    It seems the biggest challenge for a Christian employer is balancing direct feedback and the “counseling out” such that we do not break someone’s spirit. I was wondering if you had any suggested Bible readings that we can turn to as we provide the difficult messages?

    Thank You!

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