5 tips for firing a staff member for the first time

By Josh King

By Josh King

In seminary, we as pastors are taught many things that are immensely helpful for the tasks of preaching, guiding and shepherding a congregation. One thing that is often missing is how to handle staff conflict and, when necessary, let a staff person go.

Terminating a staff member was really hard for me. I didn’t want to start something that might cause harm to our church church. I also struggled because hiring and firing in part was a reflection on my decision making and leadership.  Also, letting a staff member go creates a vacuum. You hire because you have a need for leadership, letting a staff person go recreates that need all over again.

Here are some things I learned the first time I had to let a staff person go: 

1. Write things down.

I now have a coaching session with every staff member every week. They each have an individual moleskin with their name on it. Every week, I take notes. The goal of the meeting is to help them stay focused, celebrate their wins and coach them toward success, but on occasion, I need to address concerns. I make a note of all of this. As you are firing a person, you might be accused of not communicating concerns or offering corrections. This practice of taking notes during your coaching sessions demonstrates how you have communicated. Formal reprimands and annual reviews help accomplish the same thing. 

2. Be gracious. 

Coaching, encouragement, resourcing and correction should all be part of an approach in dealing with staff—even challenging staff. The goal is to guide and direct and keep a staff member functioning well. In one season, we paid a professional thousands of dollars to come in and coach our entire team toward healthy work relationships. As a pastor, you have an obligation to care for everyone, even those who are hard to care for. You should practice grace always and don’t just shut down. The, “You’re fired” conversation should not be the first conversation you have about an issue, nor should it come as a surprise.

3. Don’t be afraid.

How many times has God told us this in scripture? The chaos of a termination gone bad can be scary. You may think the church could implode; you may lose your job; people might leave. But remember this, God is sovereign. The church might implode; you might lose your job, but don’t let the threat of what could happen stop you from leading courageously and rightly when a termination is necessary.

4. Don’t do this alone

Before getting to the place where a forced termination is the only option, get others involved. Not at the end, do it at the beginning when you realize there may be a problem. I one instance I brought our elders into a situation when I realized that couldn’t do anything else on my own. If you feel like you have no other option than to terminate a staff person, make that decision together, in plurality. While this might be difficult, it is wise and prudent and will ensure it’s a shared decision, even though difficult. I know that I can make the wrong decisions at times; that’s why I need other leaders who lead with me.

5. Do right, even if it is hard.

I can’t tell you how often I have heard pastors say, “Instead of doing XYZ, I felt God leading me to let it go, so I just resigned or backed off to keep the peace.” That is weak leadership and pastors must not be weak leaders. If you follow God, you will make some people mad. You will lose some members. To back away to keep peace is a fool’s way of claiming a pious position. There is no piety in not following God because you are afraid of what some people might say or do. 

I still some bear the scars and even some wounds from having to terminate a staff member. But I have learned and grown as has our church and we are a better church, operating by grace with a limp, than we were operating in our own strength.

Published October 5, 2017

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Josh King

Josh King is Lead Pastor at Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas. He also co-hosts the EST.church podcast. He and his wife are both graduates of Criswell College and have three young sons. Follow Josh at twitter.com/jowiki