One of the most unpleasant tasks of a leader is deciding whether to fire an employee. This process is doubly grueling in a church context, where grace, community, and redemption are core values, and firing someone feels less like a business decision, and more like an excommunication. While there’s no way to make this process easy, there are some questions leaders can ask themselves as they wade through the murky waters of these moments.
If the employee resigned, would you be disappointed or relieved?
Your answer to this isn’t the all-encompassing decider of what you should do, but it is a helpful guide in considering just why you want to fire them in the first place. Do you like this person and see potential, but don’t know how to get them there? Are they an emotional energy drain that makes every day more difficult? Would them quitting tomorrow feel like an unexpected burden or a blessing?
Have you made their job description clear?
Things are never as clear to your staff as they are to you. You’re the one who lies awake at night thinking of solutions to your church’s struggles. You’re the one pouring blood, sweat, and tears into your church’s vision and strategy. You care at a level no one else will. It’s not a fun aspect of leadership - in fact, this can feel very isolating! - but it’s true. Because of this, it’s vital to ask whether the staff member you’re considering terminating has crystal clear clarity about their job description. Do they have a physical, written list of job expectations they can refer to? Would both you and the employee give the same answer to “what are the three most important duties of this position?” You might assume this person knows what you want, that you’ve made it obvious, but oftentimes what’s clear to a leader isn’t clear to an employee. So have you done everything you can to create that clarity?
Have you had an honest conversation with them about their performance?
If you’ve made their job description clear, have you also had an honest talk with them about their performance? Do you have 6-month performance reviews? Have you, or this employee’s supervisor, explained to them that they are underperforming in their job duties? If you walked into this person’s office tomorrow and fired them would it be the natural culmination of a series of conversations or an out-of-the-blue shock? Both from a legal and spiritual standpoint, it’s vital to create a documented process that allows this person a chance to change, and you a record of the way they were terminated.
Have you sought outside advice?
If you have a healthy relationship with your elder board, have you explained the situation to them and sought their advice? Do you have a trusted pastor friend outside the church you can talk with? If your spouse is a good, impartial source of wisdom, have you included them in the conversation?
Oftentimes conflict with an employee leans into our blind spots as leaders: our impatience, indecision, unapproachability, conflict-avoidance, or a million other things could be shading the situation, and we don’t see it. Asking the advice of an impartial, wise mentor or friend is always a good idea.
Is there anything you’re afraid of?
Do you have an impulse to keep this staff person because of the conflict their firing would cause? Do you fear damage to the reputation of your church? Are you worried you’re making the wrong decision, and people will think less of you? Are you afraid of having an honest conversation with this person? Is firing them a simpler route than the painful process of telling them your frustration face to face?
There’s nothing shameful about feeling afraid or uncertain. Your job is to navigate uncertainty and guide your church in the direction you hope and pray God is leading, but that’s never easy and nearly always scary. But sometimes our fears are warning signs that unexamined parts of our soul are working against us. So before you make the decision to terminate someone’s employment, bring your fears to God and wrestle them to the ground. Ask for peace in your decision-making process. And then make the best decision you can, trusting that even if you make a mistake, God is big enough to bring good from it.
If you decide firing is the best option, read "6 Things That Must Be Clear When Firing A Staff Member" to ensure you are prepared for this process.
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