iStock_000005803259XSmallOver the past year, I have had nearly a dozen friends who joined the honored list of those terminated by their church or ministry organization. These terminations were not the result of moral failure. These were all good, godly men and women. For some it was due to economics, but for most it was much more complicated. For all of them, the termination was devastating to them and their family, particularly in this economically difficult time. In church lingo, we say that men and women are “called” to a ministry; not hired. But when things go south, every one of them is fired. Like others terminated from the workforce, the “let go” lose more than just their income. They lose their church family, their colleagues, their self-esteem, their sense of worth, confidence, and sense of calling. For some, they lose their faith in the goodness of the church. In extreme cases, they lose their faith in God. They feel rejected, beat-up, and discouraged. It affects the spouse and their children, who bear the emotional scars for years. The loss of income can lead to the loss of their house, and financial ruin. For each of my friends, they felt called to that church or ministry and still believed that calling was on their life. They are now told they are unable to continue in that calling and they cry out, “Where is God in all of this?”

Staff members and their families are not the only ones affected. A termination has rippling effects though out that individual’s ministry and church. In many cases, the individual was terminated without any opportunity for closure with church friends and fellow staff members. These staff members were surprised when they received the news of the termination. Church members closest to the staff member are also shocked and grieve the loss. In one larger church, the dismissal was conducted by someone in Human Resources, rather than a pastoral staff member. In most cases, the churches behaved less “Christian” than secular businesses. A termination, particularly if it is wrongful, will impact the leadership of those who remain.

Because of the expense of hiring new personnel, secular businesses go to great lengths to find the best prospects, train them, and keep them. When employees do not work out in secular organizations, they have specific procedures for trying to rectify the problem, provide notice of what will occur if improvements are not observed; a process that is clearly articulated over a course of six months to a year. In other words, there should be no surprises.

Some individuals are asked to resign (rather than be fired) and they must sign non-disclosure statements or they will forfeit any severance. A stigma is attached to staff members who are terminated, making it longer for them to secure another ministry position in a church or ministry. That’s why I recommend that a staff member stay in a difficult situation until they are called to another church. Churches take months to “call” ministers. The autonomous nature of many evangelical churches makes it difficult to get a resume before a church and it is a laborious process. It is often not what you know, but who you know.

The purpose of the blog is not to question the decision by a pastor or personnel committee to terminate a church staff member. Sometimes a staff member is not a good fit, or they are not on the same page as to mission or strategy, or they are ineffective in their ministry. Paul and Barnabas parted ways at one point in their ministry. I understand that. My question is not about why, but how. An African proverb says, “It is not only what you do, but how you do it that matters.” I lament for my friends and their losses.

Should churches and non-profit organizations approach hiring and firing differently than secular businesses? How much severance is appropriate? What responsibility does the pastor and church have in shepherding those who are released from the flock? I’d love to hear your thoughts, stories, and faith journeys. Respond on this blog or email me at daryl.eldridge@rsconnect.org. Your name will not be shared with anyone.


One response to “Terminated

  1. What a powerful topic, with a myriad of potential responses. As someone who was terminated from a church, I feel the pain that ministers go through, the hurt to the families, and the hurt to the church.

    My first thought in response is to make sure that you go through the hiring process thoroughly. Make sure that there is a good fit, with all – the mission, vision, theology and methodology. This will take time to do this correctly. Both parties (church and candidate) need do research out what the church or candidate is all about. Talk with former churches, and former staff. You will be surprised what you will find out when one soes this. Afterward is always too late.

    If after the call has been issued, there must be time allowed for all parties to seek out a new staff member or a new position. This may require a severance package, but it needs to be one that will enable the terminated staff member the time necessary to find a new position. Church, you have budgeted this salary, do not hoard it. Arrive at a package that will provide time for healing. This is still a God called person, the church must provide for her own. I encourage you to think about what would be fair if this happened to yourdelf. It certainly would change the dynamic.

    As one who was formerly terminated, I also encourage the church to provide the christian counsel that would allow the staff person to heal and to grow through this ordeal.

    I emplore you, do this with fervent prayer. If you say that God called this person to your church, you better make sure that it is God’s will to allow them to leave. That’s an interesting point … if God calls them through the people of the church (vote), then it may need to be brought back to the people of the church as to why termination is in order. You and I both know the chaos and division that would happen in the congregation. So, keep the thought about God’s call to your church. Who was wrong? Was God wrong or was the church not listening to God? Either way, you cannot answer this appropriately.

    Use caution, seek God, and remember to meet the needs of the terminated staff.

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