How To Fire A Friend, Part 1: Subtracting For Growth


As a church or organization grows, it’s possible that it can outgrow the capacity of some faithful people who were there from the beginning.  Growth can expose underperforming people, even if those people love the Lord and have a heart for the ministry.

There’s a book that every pastor and leader should keep on his or her desk. It’s called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.

You may eventually have to cross this bridge in your church or organization, and it’s best to prepare now for how to handle this with grace.

Firing someone is always difficult, but it’s especially complicated if that person is a close friend or family member, which is often the case in ministry. Check out our related insight, Thoughts on Firing People in Ministry.

In many cases, your lives are intertwined, and a decision to let someone go has numerous implications. Your kids are friends, your spouses are close, and you may have even officiated their wedding as their pastor. Although you should certainly consider these factors in the decision to release someone, the principles for firing someone with integrity and grace are the same whether or not you are best friends. 

As we talk about “letting people go,” it’s important to solidify what we should be evaluating in employee performance. This is a 3-fold evaluation called the CAP check:

Character – Evaluate the integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, and faithfulness displayed in all areas of their life. Are they living in a way that reflects Christ and His teachings? Do they honor the values of your church?  Are they faithful to their spouse? Can they be trusted? If the answer to any of these is no, there’s really no reason to move to the next two. 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 have a pretty comprehensive list of qualifications that should be expected of any church staff member.

Attitude – Attitude is contagious, whether good or bad. A good definition of attitude is a person’s emotional impact on an organization. When attitude is poor, it’s like a divisive sickness that erodes the morale, momentum, and ultimately the impact of your church. Think of it this way: good attitude should be celebrated, bad attitude eliminated.

Performance – This one is simple. How are they doing the job you are paying them to do? Of course you should look inward first. Assuming you’ve given them a clear and agreed upon job description, are they able to do the job? If not, I can assure you that your top performers are noticing. They are doing something else as well – watching you to see what you will do.

Before moving forward there are a few ground rules that are effective in letting someone go with truth and grace:

1. Leave out the surprise.

Letting someone go should never be a shock. It’s your job to clearly communicate expectations as well as dissatisfaction along with a plan for training. More on this in How to Fire a Friend, Part 2.

2. Don't shy away from the truth.

Are you overusing at-will employment? Many lawyers and human resource directors are in favor of at-will employment because it protects the organization. However, in ministry we are dealing with Kingdom Economics – relationships and real people – and we need to be good stewards of the relationships and people entrusted to us. When facing being fired, most people want to know where they went wrong and how to improve. Before you use the at-will employment reasoning in the termination conversation, ponder if you’re using it as a copout instead of leading the person to understand the performance issues bringing you to your decision.

3. It's okay to be blunt. 

Long hellos and short goodbyes are a good thing. The general rule here is to hire slowly and carefully (think about including a 90 day probationary review when hiring) and fire fast and as painlessly as possible.  The more care you take in hiring, the less firing you’ll have to do. The longer you wait to fire someone who really isn’t a good fit for your team, the more you are hurting your organization from finding the right person for the role, and the more you are hurting the person. Everyone wants to be a part of a team where they are celebrated, not just tolerated.

4. Keep it out of the family. 

Try to avoid hiring family or close friends. It’s wise to avoid potentially sticky situations and only hire people you are willing to fire. Have doubts on this one? Consider how you’ll spend Thanksgiving if you have to fire your mom! Check out our similar post: How to Fire Your Best Friend.

5. Self-evaluate.

Many issues stem from the leadership and vision. Own your responsibility if an employee is under-performing or not living out the organization’s values before pointing the finger at the employee. How could you have given that employee a better chance of success? Were you available to them as a leader? Did they clearly understand the vision and your expectations for their role? For more tips, read our insight on 5 Truths Effective Bosses Believe.

Firing anyone is never easy. Pray through your decision, seek wise counsel, and use these steps to help guide you to fire with truth and grace.

Are you currently struggling with the thought of firing a friend?

Read How to Fire a Friend, Part 2 for more on how to subtract for growth.