How to Fire People in Your Ministry (and Do It Well)

"Pray about the matter diligently. Get wise advice from others before you make the decision. But when the answer is clear about what you need to do, do it."

This is a difficult post. About a difficult issue. One we don’t necessarily like to talk about. But sometimes we must.

I came out of a business background, so some things that are done in ministry are different for me. And, frankly, many should be. Ministry isn’t business … it’s ministry. At the same time, we should never use “ministry” as an excuse to waste Kingdom dollars. We need good practices of financial accountability. Just as the business world has to have them in place simply to stay in business, we need them in ministry so that we stay in ministry. What we do is too important not to consider every dollar.

And also, frankly speaking, that hasn’t always been my experience in ministry.

One prime example is in the area of staffing—people who are paid by the church. I’ve seen and encountered numerous occasions where staff people were allowed to continue drawing salaries from a church when their effectiveness was in serious question. Everyone knows something needs to be done, but no one is willing to make the hard decision.

One of the hardest decisions any leader ever makes is to release someone from their employment. It should never be taken lightly. It always hurts. It is never easy. It wasn’t in business, and it isn’t in ministry. But sometimes it’s the right thing to do. And it seems in ministry, we are often much slower—if ever—to get there.

I was talking with a pastor recently who knows he needs to make a hard decision regarding a member of his staff, but he simply hasn’t been able to garner the support or gumption to do it. This person isn’t productive (and isn’t trying to be), has a damaging personality on the team and continues to work against the pastor’s leadership.

The pastor has counseled with the person, has agreement from elders that something needs to be done, but no one has been willing to make the hard decision. And this has been the case for years—not months, years. In the meantime, Kingdom dollars are admittedly being wasted. (I have had that same conversation numerous times with other pastors.)

Many times, in my experience, churches haven’t made the decision because of fear, and they use ministry simply as an excuse. After having this discussion countless times with church leaders, I felt the need to address it. (Please know, I’m talking strictly about poor performance, not about those who lose their jobs because of tightening budgets. That’s a growing issue, but not one I’m addressing here.)

Here are some of the objections I’ve encountered:

1. We love the person. Of course. We love everyone. It’s what we are called to do. Is that a good reason to empower bad behavior or to waste Kingdom dollars?

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Ron Edmondson
Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping church grow vocationally for over 10 years.