The Two Most Common Firing Situations (And How To Handle Them)
By: Maggie Richter February 22, 2018
Firing a staff member is tough. Firing a ministry staff member is even tougher. Maybe you’ve walked this person through varying stages of life, or raised him or her up to be a leader in the church from an early age. Regardless of the history, one of the hardest things a church leader will have to do is fire a staff member, especially when it’s out of the blue.
Don’t let the difficulty of the decision prevent you from doing what is right for your church. Below are two of the most common circumstances that church leaders find themselves in when firing a staff member, and the best practices for handling each.
Situation 1: The underperforming veteran staff member
Maybe your leadership team has recently discovered some areas of ministry with stagnating or non-existent growth. This could be for various reasons, but it is often the case that one person is causing that stagnation and generally underperforming in his or her work. This person may have served on staff for a long time and seen the church through countless mountains and valleys. However, this is not cause for keeping him or her on staff if it’s at the church’s expense. This is the tough call that church leaders often need to face during seasons of growth.
Because this person has served such a long time, there might still be old, outdated systems in practice that are halting the long-term development of the ministry. Of course, it’s wise to consider changing these systems before replacing a staff member, but it’s possible (and common) that the two are connected.
If, after evaluating the situation, you find it’s still necessary to let this person go, remember to do so with grace. Schedule a meeting with this person and a third-party “witness” to facilitate the conversation and combat any potential discomfort. Be as direct as possible in the meeting by communicating clearly and concisely.
Being as honest, direct, and fair as possible is key to navigating the conversation when firing a staff member.
In addition to the initial meeting, schedule a time to meet with this person’s team members to discuss what’s happening and the ministry’s next steps. It is also important to be honest with your congregation about the situation, remaining gracious and transparent throughout the process.
Situation 2: The loyal staff member without a spot on the bus
Sometimes a staff member can be perfectly capable at his or her previous role, but is unable to fit onto a new team structure, due to skill set or church budget. This is arguably the hardest fire to make, because the staff member has done nothing to deserve termination, it’s simply a result of insufficient room.
This situation can look a few different ways. Since the staff member has proven him or herself to be reliable and effective to your ministry, shifting the position from full-time to part-time is a considerable option. However, it’s important in this scenario to be sure that you and the staff member are in complete agreement of the new terms. Failure to communicate can result in tension or awkwardness among the church staff once the person has been shifted to part-time work.
If there is no full or part-time position to offer to the staff member, a full termination is necessary and should be addressed as soon as possible. Belaboring the conversation or “waiting for the right time” will only draw out an uncomfortable situation. Especially in the case of an effective staff member, clarity and transparency alone will bring you to a peaceful resolution between the two parties.
So how do you handle severance?
Severance pay will differ based on the church’s budget and the amount of time served by the staff member. Of course, severance pay shouldn’t bankrupt the church, but there is a high risk involved with under-paying a former staff member and facing a toxic departure. Saving money in this area will likely cost your church in other ways.
In addition to severance, it is highly important to create a separation agreement between the church and the former staff member so that there is no miscommunication of terms. A separation agreement clearly defines how both parties should behave and meters out the severance pay package, rather than giving it all at once. This agreement hedges against the unfortunate reality that some departures can end badly, and ensures protection for your church considering these risks.
There is no pleasant way to approach the termination of a church staff member. However, church leaders can take this insight to minimize harm for everyone. Above all else, pray deeply over your decision and trust the direction God is calling your church to move in. Have faith that He will not lead you astray, or leave you alone to handle this situation on your own.
What have you learned about firing as a church leader?