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.
- Biblical stewardship demands that those who are paid by the church give the church the ministry for which they are paid.
- It is not fair to other workers in the church who must pick up the slack for the lazy staff member.
- It is not fair to the employee himself to allow him to remain in a non-productive position. The church has become his enabler.
- 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?
- Fire with Christlike compassion. Though the person may deserve his dismissal, his life and family will be disrupted greatly. The pain is very real.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?