By Joe McKeever, Author, Cartoonist in New Orleans
Nothing is more difficult, more unpleasant, and with a greater possibility for collateral damage than terminating a minister on the church staff.
Few churches get this right. Many end up doing far more damage to the kingdom of God than if they had left that staff member where he was and done nothing.
To be sure, there are occasions when terminating a minister on the spot with no advance notice is necessary.
If a staff member has been arrested and there is probable cause, is guilty of immorality, is teaching heresy and refuses to stop or is trying to get the pastor fired he or she should be terminated immediately.
However, even in those situations, you as a church leader have more people to think about than just that one person.
If he has a wife and children, you owe them the Christ-like care and continued ministry of the church until their lives straighten out.
If that minister has the trust and affection of church members, you owe them the assurance that this matter is being handled in a way they would approve of if they were doing it.
Under normal circumstances no minister should ever be terminated abruptly without attempts being made to correct whatever was wrong. He or she should never be surprised by the axe falling. They should have seen it coming long in advance and had the opportunity to be prepared.
Following are what I consider to be ironclad principles about this business of terminating ministers on your church staff.
1) The minister needs to know the truth.
I hear stories that go like this: “The chairman of the personnel committee called me in and said I should clean out my office because they had to let me go.”
The reasons are always something nebulous like: “The church is hurting financially and can no longer afford you, We made a mistake bringing you in because you are not a good fit for our church, or The leadership of the church has determined that we need to go in another direction.”
Tell him the truth. Those are not reasons for terminations. These could be the basis for shifting job responsibilities or even reducing salaries and benefits, but not for termination.
2) The pastor should handle this difficult assignment himself.
Do not shove it off onto the chairman of a committee. Either you are the leader of the church, pastor, or you’re not. If you’re not, please resign and find an honest way to make a living.
3) As previously stated, if the termination is not for illegal, immoral or unscriptural reasons, no firing should be done abruptly but only after every effort has been made to get the situation right.
4) Always keep uppermost in mind that you are dealing with the fine china of human lives.
These people are going to be affected by this turn of events for the rest of their lives. Get this right! May I go so far as to say, if you do not, if you get this wrong and hurt a lot of people (and you will if you drop the ball) and handicap this person’s future ministry, you will stand before the Lord and give account one day, and you will not enjoy the experience.
5) If you moved this family to your city, you owe them a great deal.
They came to your city because they trusted you. Sure, they trusted the Lord’s leadership, but they trusted you too, pastor (and other leaders). Now is the time to show them that you are trustworthy.
If the staff member must be terminated, then you must face the fact that a minister cannot simply go out and find a position with another church right away. The process could take many months. Furthermore, they will probably need to move, perhaps “back home,” where you found them.
If you are unwilling to take care of an adequate severance package, continuing health insurance for a suitable period, and moving expenses, then the solution is simple: Keep them on staff. Find ways to make this work.
6) The worst reason for terminating someone on the planet is “you are not a good match for our church.”
What does that even mean? I’ll tell you exactly what it means: Someone in authority around there does not like you. And that someone is calling the shots.
When a minister is found to be an awkward fit for the church that has employed him or her, you don’t just “up and send them back home.” You make it work.
There are people with relational skills, human resource training, and godly wisdom who may be brought in to advise in this situation.
7) Do nothing quickly, impulsively, or under pressure. Make sure you have made every effort to find a workable arrangement with the staff member. Stay on your knees in prayer. Fast for a time. Take this as seriously as you have ever taken anything. After all, it can happen to you, too, pastor.
Remember pastor and church leaders, when considering the termination of a staff member you are handling the precious and fine china of human lives. It is a serious matter. People are fragile, so please handle with prayer and handle with care.