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The Inside Scoop on Painful Staff Departures

Staff Departures

“It just seems like we’re going different directions, and I think it’s time for you to move on.” Without a doubt, those are the hardest words I’ve ever spoken to a friend that worked for me.

I was a young pastor in a relatively small church located in a very big city. I’d let folks go before in my many years of managing people in business, but terminating a staff pastor and friend was completely new for me.

I hurt. He hurt. The church hurt. Handing someone his or her pink slip ranks right up there with a colonoscopy in my book.

Even when you know it’s right.

Even when it’s best for the church.

Even when you’ve done everything you could to avoid it.

It’s never fun to part ways with someone you’ve been with in the trenches of ministry. What complicates matters even more is the fact that we are Christians, and it seems inconsistent with our Christian values to fire someone.

Where’s the grace? Where’s the love? What about longsuffering? All good questions. But sometimes the kindest act of love and grace is to face reality and do the right thing even when it’s hard.

I certainly don’t want to be known as an expert in church terminations, but I have learned a few things:

1. When someone is fired (or asked to resign), it’s never easy for anyone, including the senior pastor.

If you’re watching and wondering from the congregation about what’s going on, please know that it’s one of the hardest things a leader or board ever has to do. Even if the employee agrees that it’s best for all concerned, it still stings.

It hurts because of the relational bonds that have been formed. It stings because there’s always a sense of failure involved on both sides. “What did I do wrong?” “What could we have done better?” “Where did things go sideways?” It’s painful because you know that this act often sends everyone involved into a tailspin wondering, “What are we going to do now?”

In all my years as a pastor, I’ve never seen a truly amicable divorce. I’ve also never seen an amicable termination. If you hurt as a congregate, please know that we hurt too.

2. Whether they quit or get fired, you won’t and can’t know everything.

Human nature demands to know. We want answers and insist on an explanation for what’s happened, especially if we’re ticked. We tend to think we have a right to get all our questions answered. The truth is, we don’t.

Sometimes there are legal issues and an employer is restricted in what they can disclose.

Sometimes, to honor someone’s years of service, intentional decisions are made regarding what will and will not be revealed about a former employee to the public. It’s not that we’re trying to keep secrets. We’re just attempting to do the God-honoring thing and take the high road.

Sometimes, frankly, the leadership is trying to protect the sheep. What you demand to know may only cause more harm than good.

May I humbly suggest that you learn to trust the leadership? Perhaps they see the bigger picture. Maybe they know something you don’t know and shouldn’t know.

3. Most churches and church leaders are trying really hard to practice what they preach!

• Turn the other cheek
• Don’t take your brother to court
• Don’t speak evil of anyone
• Bless those who curse you
• Love one another

I can assure you, more often than not, an employee was probably given the opportunity for retraining or repositioning long before they were retired. I have never immediately removed someone from a position unless there was a serious moral, character, or financial failure. Believe it or not, grace is the default for most in church leadership.

4. Sometimes a staff change is necessary because people change, needs change, and ministries and churches change.

The church leadership has many critical responsibilities but none greater than managing well the resources of God’s kingdom. Most understand the need for shrewd resource management in the business world. Productivity and the bottom line drive a lot of business decisions.

Though the church is not a “for profit” entity, the church still must steward human and financial resources with wisdom. If someone is failing (for whatever reason) to fulfill his or her God-given and church-mandated responsibilities with diligence and faithfulness, it’s a waste of God’s resources. To keep them around just because we like them or don’t want to rock the boat is unwise and dishonoring to God and to the people who have given their financial support to the church.

Furthermore, character, competency, and chemistry do matter. When one or more of these things are off, everyone is negatively affected.

5. Every leader is far from perfect and is leading staff that are far from perfect too.

Of course, mistakes are made. Without a doubt, personalities clash. At best, we are stumbling along life’s journey trying to do our best, but stumbling nonetheless.

I don’t like using our humanness as an excuse for failure, but I figured out a long time ago that we humans do fail.

Sometimes people fail to listen and learn.

Sometimes people fail to be hard-working and true to their commitments.

Sometimes people fail to put the needs of others before their own and to squash their selfish pride.

And unfortunately, sometimes their failures profoundly impact their lives. I wish this wasn’t true, but it is.

So what should we do?

We practice forgiveness. We grow in grace. We love no matter what. And yet, we make the difficult decisions that are best for all because “sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one”.

By the way, here’s the last thing I want to leave you with: Often there is no inside scoop! Life just happens; things change, and it’s okay. Press on and stay the course knowing that nothing is forever, not my job or yours.

By: Kurt Bubna

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