How to Fire: Being Proactive, Not Reactive

Firing staff is not what you signed up for in ministry, nor is it something you study in seminary. Getting it “right” is rarely the case both in perception and reality. Have you ever been framed by some as the heartless tyrant? The fact is, at some point in time you’ll have to face the fact that there are people on your team that must go. At that point you can either shoot from the hip in a “ready, fire, aim” approach, or you can do it in a way that honors both God and people while preserving unity. Below are a few pointers to think about before you react and regret.

  • Determine your reasons: Do your homework. Pray and seek wisdom! This is more than a “gut thing.” Be sure you understand the facts of the matter and can defend your decision with honest clarity. Review the specific situations where the person veered off track. Is it a pattern where there are repeat “offenses” or is it a one-time case of poor judgment? Is it rooted in job performance or moral failing? Ideally, you or someone else will have documented the particulars of “the story.” Get the facts. If staff reviews are a part of your culture, use these notes as something concrete from which you base your conclusions. If not, then refer back to the position profile and job description as the plumb line for “performance.” If the firing is due to moral compromise…listen well before jumping to conclusions so that they feel “heard.”
  • Confirm your reasoning: Working in isolation can often leave us with a skewed perspective. By conferring with other trusted souls, we are able to separate the issues…including our own pride and possibly twisted perspective. Rely on a select, trusted few to confirm your decision to fire an individual…not just your spouse! Rely on Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s leading rather than an emotionally-driven response. And finally, take the time you need to make a wise decision rather than jumping to conclusions.
  • The big meeting: How you prepare for this meeting can determine the end result. Know the facts, know the law, know the plan and check your heart. Be specific in both the WHY and the HOW. Be clear and concise as to the reasons for the firing. Give the person a clear path to run on for a dignified exit. Determine timeline, communication strategy, and financial plan. Put these in writing. Lead them with love and grace, grounded in truth. How you deliver this news cannot be underestimated! You’re not just the boss…you’re the pastor. Finally, determine in advance if a third party should be present.
  • Make the decision “public”…or not!: To the degree that the person has served in a public ministry is it beneficial to make a public (congregational) announcement. If sin or moral failing is a factor in the release, it gets more complicated. Follow a scriptural course, but don’t over-spiritualize the facts and miss the opportunity to keep it real. Keep the news brief, concise and as general as possible (without sugar coating) if going public to avoid unnecessary drama. Spinning the facts to protect “the innocent” will easily backfire. Informing staff prior to the congregation under most circumstances is beneficial and usually the desire of the person being released. Depending on the circumstances, you may include the staff person in the staff announcement and give them their “moment” to say goodbye, confess their sin, or say nothing and be prayed for. This is a delicate situation sure to tap your discernment gift! Seek counsel from the wise along the way.
  • Follow up till it hurts!: Just as a parent needs to circle back with a child after discipline with love and affirmation, so is the case with staff that are fired. Even if they have proved to be the biggest “bonehead” in the history of your church, dig deep in your heart to find the love! Realize this is a defining moment in their spiritual course. If a formal restoration process is appropriate, lean in hard to the situation, building the right path to set them up for a redemptive end result. Then, circle back regularly with the person until the process is finished.

  By: Stan Endicott and Monty Kelso

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