How to Fire a Friend: Subtracting for Growth

mgkilbride Ministering to the Minister

William Vanderbloemen
(From Brian Dodd on Leadership)
Used by Permission

July 2015

firedAs 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 under-performing 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 Timothy 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.

    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 cop-out 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. For more, watch our VLog on How to Effectively Introduce Church Staff Reviews.

    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!

    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?

    Now we’re going to focus on how you deal specifically with situations where performance and attitude are an issue.

    In any situation when you’re faced with evaluating employee performance and potentially firing someone, always remember that it’s His Church and you are stewarding it.

    Being a leader is difficult, and you are sometimes required to make difficult decisions for the health of the church and for effective and fruitful ministry. Always act with the highest degree of grace and integrity, striving to be a good steward of the employees and relationships entrusted to you.

    Don’t put off dealing with an employee who is under-performing or displaying a poor attitude or character issue. When you delay dealing with staff members who are failing the CAP Check, you are allowing them to destroy morale and eventually lower the excellence and moral compass of the entire church or organization. Deal with issues mercifully but swiftly.

    It’s helpful to use gardening as an analogy when thinking about firing. In horticulture, pruning is necessary to remove the resource drainers in order to redirect energy and resources to the fruit-bearing branches. It’s the same in a church or organization. Keep in mind that the fruit-bearing capacity of your team directly correlates to your CAP Check as a leader.

    Here are three areas to consider when subtracting for growth:

  1. pruningOrganizational Pruning – Is your church doing too much to be effective? Perhaps your employees are having performance or attitude issues because the church is doing too much and there is too much on their plate. Consider narrowing your efforts to what’s most important and focusing on what you do really well. For more on getting the most out of your team, read this insight.
  2. Responsibility Pruning – Have you set your staff members up for success or failure? Are you really measuring what they are doing? Are they doing too much? Most leaders underestimate how much time assigned tasks take. Ensure that your expectations are reasonable and communicated clearly. Ask for feedback if you sense your church staff members feel overwhelmed. Perhaps their poor performance correlates with having too much on their plate.
  3. Function Pruning – If the church isn’t doing too much, and the employee isn’t doing too much but truly underperforming, this is the stage where the employee is removed from their current position. As we’ve stressed, this should be handled with extreme care.Once you’ve done the pruning that needs to happen, and it’s still apparent someone needs to be let go, here are the steps to go about it wisely:Step 1: Training
    First and foremost, set clear expectations with the employee who is underperforming. Meet with them; go over their job description (if there was one) and the original expectations for the role. If there isn’t a job description, write one. Make every attempt to get the employee the training or clarity they need to be successful. This may include books, conferences, training recommendations, and/or reduced or changed responsibilities. It may also include you taking the time to re-write job descriptions and even look at your overall organizational chart. You may find that realistic expectations and the communication of those were not as clear as you think. If this is the problem, check out these 3 No-Nonsense Tips For Communicating With Clarity. Set and communicate achievable goals that are agreed upon with dates and follow-up. If it becomes clear that they cannot perform or will not adjust their attitude, move to the next step.

    At this point in the process, the topic of firing shouldn’t be included in the discussion.

    Step 2: Transfer
    Sometimes an employee that is failing the CAP Check is just waiting to be rescued. It’s possible that they are committed and faithful yet are in over their head. Sometimes their sense of responsibility gets in the way of asking for help. For others, a change of scenery, a leader with a different style, or a job description that better fits their passions and skills may set them up for long-term success. Before terminating an employee, try to move them to a different area. Check out our post on how to Develop & Implement Change On Your Church Staff. This is not possible in all situations, especially if the issue is one of character or there are no other openings on your staff. If this is the case, it’s time to move to the next step.

    Step 3: Terminate
    This is not the fun part, but when done with dignity, respect, and mercy, terminating someone can actually be a catalyst of positive change in both the employee and the church. It is a morale-killer to tolerate an employee who is consistently under-performing, has a negative attitude, or who has a breach of character. It’s the leaders’ responsibility to position the organization for growth and pruning is a difficult but essential part of that process.

[Dale Flynn and his wife, Liz, are Word of Life Local Church Ministries missionaries in Eastern MD. Dale is a Local Church Ministries curriculum editor and is the editor of this Ministering to the Minister E-Transfer national electronic Pastor’s newsletter. The Flynns make their home in Elkton, MD. Questions or comments about this article may be addressed to Dale at: ]