One of the hardest decisions a church leader makes is to release someone from employment. I’ve only known a few very callous people who weren’t extremely burdened by having to fire someone. Making this kind of employment decision comes with the sobering reality that the decision will likely impact many other people.
An employee's actions may make the decision pretty clear, such as in cases of stealing, continually defying authority, and being blatantly lazy. The decision still isn't easy, and due process, fairness, and grace should still play a part, but it's often easier to clarify what needs to happen. Also, termination is not always the best decision in these cases. The offense is made clearer though.
It's even harder when releasing someone for less obvious offenses. In leadership, there are multiple situations where a hard decision needs to be made. A few examples I have personally experienced or walked through with other leaders are:
- An employee has lost all credibility with the team. This could be with peers, a team he or she leads, or with volunteers (this is especially true of volunteers). At this point, the energy trying to repair their relationships would be too overwhelming. Everyone else is wondering why you haven’t moved sooner to make a hard decision. Sometimes it’s best for everyone to simply start with a clean slate.
- An employee refuses to support the overall vision. Skills may be outstanding but attitude causes the employee to serve as more of a cancer to the team than an asset.
- An employee's heart has “left the building.” Being ready to move on to something else, the employee no longer gives their full heart to the job. And, everyone knows it. It could be bringing down the morale and work ethic of the rest of the team. It could just be that the best is not being achieved anymore. The best is never achieved without a heart for the work.
- An employee’s actions or reputation discredits everything the mission claims to be. Sometimes the integrity of the organization is at stake. Sadly, I’ve seen this with people who go through personal life changes, such as having an affair. They bring their drama to work. Everyone goes through bad seasons—whether self-produced or of no personal cause, and grace should be applied generously, but a healthy team can’t live in high periods of drama for long. Some people simply never recover, they continue making bad decisions, or their heart never returns to the job they were once doing. It may even be that they need a change forced upon them before they can recover.
If you're in these types of situations, it doesn’t necessarily mean you fire the employee, but that red flags are drawn. Bathe the situation in prayer, seek wise counsel, whether that’s in the church or outside the church. I almost always consult with a Christian attorney or employment expert. Ask a few confidential advisors, people you know are trustworthy and wiser than you in these situations. Never make these type of decisions alone. And sometimes, the problem could be your leadership and you need to be open to that.
Do you have a hard decision you need to make these days? It won’t be easy. It may even be a temporary setback in your leadership. But, your credibility and success as a leader may depend on the quality of decision you make. Making the right decision protects the church and the teams involved.
Ron Edmondson is a pastor and has more than 30 years of leadership experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and has been in full-time ministry for over a decade. This post is adapted from "When the Employee May Have to Go — The Hardest Decision a Leader Makes" and first appeared on Ron's blog, RonEdmondson.com. Used with permission.
For more information on this topic, read "Managing Underperforming Staff Members You've Inherited" and check out the downloadable resource Dismissing Employees and Volunteers.
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