A Dozen Rules for Firing a Minister, Part 1

fired1.jpgI’m not sure when you’ll get to read this. You see, I can only discuss such a topic at a time when none of our ministers has recently resigned or is about to resign or is subject to the kind of criticism that might get him fired. No one would believe that I’m writing this in the abstract. That’s just not how people are. As I’ll explain.

This is targeted to elders. However, I know in some churches a minister might be fired by the senior minister, an executive minister, or a committee. The principles remain the same.

All these rules are outworkings of the Golden Rule. Just remember, “do unto others” applies to the minister, his family, your church, his next employer, and each of your fellow elders. That complicates things.

(For members of my congregation: yes, some of this is based on local experience. But, no, not all of it is. I represent dozens of churches of all denominations across the state of Alabama and even in some other states. Do not speculate. You violate the Golden Rule when you try to guess at what you don’t know about a brother in Christ.)

Rule 1. Never fire a minister

Well, not really. It’s okay to fire a minister, but you have to let him resign — unless he’s done something so bad that he should be out of the ministry for a long time. Because that’s what’ll happen if you fire him. He won’t be employable in the ministry.

Merely being angry is not good enough. If the preacher brings a guitar into the assembly without your permission, he may well deserve to be fired, but let him resign anyway. Firing is never, ever about vengeance.

Most ministers only have a degree in Bible or ministry, and they aren’t trained for anything else. Many have unpaid school debt. (Worse yet, people outside the Church likely wouldn’t understand why he got fired for bringing a guitar into the assembly, and so they’d assume that he really did something much worse.)

Ministers who get fired, even if they are allowed to resign, often struggle to find a job. I mean, if an accountant loses his job, there are likely scores of accountants in that town and maybe a job is turning over. But there may only be one or two Churches of Christ in town that would even consider this man, one of which is yours. And it’s not likely the other job is open.

He’s going to have to move, and it’s going to take months to find a new position. It’ll be hard and miserable at best. Don’t make is worse. Trust me, he’ll feel very punished no matter how kindly you handle it.

Rule 2. Never fire in haste

Occasionally some hotheaded elder just ups and fires minister on his own authority. Well, he has no such authority. Only the eldership may fire a minister. Pray. Do a proper investigation of the facts. Take enough time to be sure and to do it right.

Of course, if he’s alleged to have molested someone or otherwise to pose a threat to others, don’t leave him in a position where he can do more harm! He is not presumed innocent. This is not a criminal trial. This is a church, and a man accused of molesting children should be kept away from children. A man accused sexual harassment should be kept away from the accuser. (These kinds of cases require the services of an experienced labor attorney, even if you have to pay.)

Unanimity shouldn’t be required, but you really want to take the time to be unanimous if you can get there. If an elder has a conflict (it’s his son-in-law, for example), he should be excluded from all deliberations — and not allowed to lobby the elders on his son-in-law’s behalf. He has to sit on his hands. (It’s really hard.)

Rule 3. The preacher can be a good man, even a good minister, and still deserve to be fired

The naïve view is that men are only fired for doing bad things. Not so. Elders should terminate any minister who doesn’t perform up to the standards required to do the Lord’s work at that place — and do it well.

Sometimes, a congregation or youth ministry just outgrows the talents of the man who led the growth. It’s no sin. It’s really an admirable accomplishment when that happens. But if growth is plateaued because the minister can’t grow as fast as his ministry, he should be encouraged to search for a new job.

Or the minister might just be the wrong fit. You may have a great youth minister trying to be a preacher. In such a case, tell him the truth and urge him to find a more suitable position.

In such a case, there may be little urgency. It’s very fact dependent. However, it’s my experience that men who know they’re no longer wanted usually come to hate their job and their employer. It’s the sour grapes effect. And it gets worse the longer it takes him to find a new job.

If it takes more than a month or 6 weeks (tops!), ask him to resign and pay severance. Don’t make him work at a job where he knows he’s not wanted.

Rule 4. Don’t search for a replacement until the minister has resigned and his resignation has been announced

It’s a small denomination, and lots of us are bad to gossip (and, yes, it’s sin, but preachers are some of the worst when it comes to other preachers). If you call someone and ask him to interview or for a recommendation, you can just assume that it’ll get back to your church in about 10 minutes.

If you aren’t sure enough of the need to fire the man without the next man located, you aren’t sure enough to fire him.

(Around here, we call this the “Bobby Lowder Rule.” Auburn, Alabama, and Louisville fans will understand.)

Rule 5. It’s good to have a gap between the two ministers

In the case of a retirement, and even where the minister did something truly bad, there will be members — many members — who adored him. They’ll have to go through a period of “mourning” while they adjust to the idea of his being replaced or the fact that he did something so awful.

Don’t let the beloved retired preacher stay in the pulpit while the next guys try out. It’ll be a bad situation. Fill in the gap with members, visiting preachers, or even a professional fill in. There are retired ministers who will, for a modest cost, fill in while you search. (Just don’t hire a fill in so good he makes the new guy look bad!)

Rule 6. Carefully consider your timing

Be considerate by firing the minister at the right time, if you can. Sometimes, an eldership delays the decisions, out of a misguided compassion, putting an entirely unnecessary and unfair burden on the minister.

A minister with children in school is better fired at a time when he can move between school years or semesters. If his kids attend a private school, don’t delay until they’ve paid the next semester’s tuition.

And remember that it’s easiest to sell houses in the spring and early summer. Don’t wait until August or September when you knew you were going to fire him in May!

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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10 Responses to A Dozen Rules for Firing a Minister, Part 1

  1. Kent Gatewood says:

    If you fire someone, be aware a new church may start with a good number of your current members as its core. The Village/Quail Springs Church of Christ (Oklahoma) has done this twice and two new churches, North MacArthur and New Hope, are the result.

    I not sure why someone should resign instead of be fired? Does it let the person doing the firing feel less guilty? Be prepared to have a life long enemy.

    As for gossip, the accusation of gossiping is how leadership controls a congregation. Any non-official communication is gossip for leaders.

    How does a membership fire the elders?

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    Kent:

    I agree, there are a lot of elders that I would like to fire. Some I love dearly and are easy to follow others simply cause division and strife and discord by their demeanor. At one church recently an elder resigned only when the other elders had gotten so fed up with his wife and how she had made it so hard on the youth ministers that they have gone through four of them in 10 years. So we may also ask the question if an elders wife is really the problem how can we fire them without firing the elder who is actually a good guy? The truth is many churches are actually run by the elder’s wives because they are the main gossipers. It could be said that gossip is the sin of the southern churches.

  3. Nick Gill says:

    Kent,

    If an eldership is striving to be evangelistic, and their current minister does not share their vision, they should encourage that minister to resign. The eldership needs a minister who shares their vision, but firing someone is a permanent branding. Resignations occur all the time, for all sorts of reasons. Firings do not. It has nothing to do with assuaging any guilt-feelings. It has to do with ensuring that a good man who doesn't fit the current job can still find work in his field.

    Furthermore, if members who do not share the vision of the eldership leave with the departing minister, may God's blessing be upon them! The goal is not to have every Christian in the local community worshipping under the same roof! The goal is bringing the whole community under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

    Joe,
    If an eldership is so weak and ineffectual that they allow ANYONE to be such a disruption for TEN YEARS!!!! their problems run FAR DEEPER than one elders' wife. Who selected a man for eldership who was not able to "manage his household well?"

    Finally, the sheep need to grow some brains, too. The sheep are not required to follow shepherds that beat them. Real sheep won't do it; why should Christians?

  4. Adam G. says:

    Regarding # 1, I have to say that is very true. I resigned from full-time ministry three years ago, and have had a hard time since then. There's no other position for someone with a Bachelor of Ministry degree.

    As for # 4, when I resigned in NM, the day of our move no one came to help us move except on elder of the church, and he didn't really help. HE FOLLOWED ME AROUND AND ASKED WHERE HE MIGHT FIND A NEW MINISTER! He left after about an hour, promising to be back shortly, and came back only when most everything was on the truck. He explained that it took him longer to fax minister search info out to Bible colleges than he had expected.

    Sigh.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Kent asked,

    If you fire someone, be aware a new church may start with a good number of your current members as its core. The Village/Quail Springs Church of Christ (Oklahoma) has done this twice and two new churches, North MacArthur and New Hope, are the result.

    True, but if the elders are to be in authority, they have to have the practicable ability to fire the minister — otherwise, he's their boss.

    As a rule, it's a sin to split a church — including by starting a competing church and recruiting members away from another congregation. 1 Cor 3 is quite clear.

    There are times when the elders are so unspiritual or even immoral that people need to leave and sometimes they need to start another church — but I'm always deeply troubled when it's a minister who leads the exodus. He has a conflict of interest and is guilty of extreme disloyalty to his former employer. After all, he was very likely taking the old church's money while recruiting its members. In the eyes of the law, this is unethical — a breach of fiduciary duties — and I think the law is right, even when the old church leadership doesn't deserve his loyalty.

    In other words, if the members really need to leave for bona fide spiritual reasons, they shouldn't need the minister to tell them that. On the other hand, if he wants to quit and then start his own church — having done no solicitation before he leaves — I'd feel much better about it.

    I know this kind of thinking is foreign to most people, but it's how lawyers treat each other (at least, it's how they are supposed to). The law and the moral principle is that if a lawyer leaves my firm, he may not recruit others away while he's still on the payroll. You have to be loyal to the person you're taking money from. Once you leave, you can recruit.

    I'd think that preachers should be at least as ethical as lawyers are supposed to be (and generally are).

    I'm going to post something more on this, as it's a very important point that bears more thought.

    I'm not sure why someone should resign instead of be fired? Does it let the person doing the firing feel less guilty?

    As Nick said, it's not about guilt. It's about compassion for the minister.

    Be prepared to have a life long enemy.

    As a rule, when elderships terminate a minister with thoughtful compassion, the minister doesn't become a lifelong enemy. Obviously, it's about more than following these "rules." It's also about the kind of men the elders and minister are and what their relationship was before he was fired. But I've seen elders fire ministers and remain on good terms more than once. (But I doubt that any eldership pulls it off every time.)

    As for gossip, the accusation of gossiping is how leadership controls a congregation. Any non-official communication is gossip for leaders.

    I can speak from experience that in many congregations actual, honest-to-God gossip happens, happens often, and is very damaging to the minister and to the congregation. It's a sin for a good reason.

    How does a membership fire the elders?

    I don't know, but it's a good question. In my church, we ask new elders to sign a pledge to resign if the other elders ask him to. See this post: http://oneinjesus.info/2007/04/14/a-covenant-to-s
    Of course, that doesn't work if all the elders are lousy elders.

    Unfortunately, the scriptures give little guidance on the removal of elders. 1 Tim 5:19 says elders may be rebuked publicly on the testimony of two or three witnesses, but says nothing about removing them.

    Many churches have adopted a policy of asking for periodic re-affirmation of elders by the church. This helps, although it's not entirely sufficient, as an elder's faults may be concealed from the congregation but not the staff or other elders.

    I'm open to suggestions. It's something the Churches need to be talking about. (Maybe I'll post something.)

  6. Pingback: On Fired Ministers Starting Competing New Churches « One In Jesus.info

  7. Gary B says:

    Jay Said:
    "Unfortunately, the scriptures give little guidance on the removal of elders. 1 Tim 5:19 says elders may be rebuked publicly on the testimony of two or three witnesses, but says nothing about removing them."

    That could be because in the NT there was nothing to remove them from. If they were recognized as elders/shepherds/overseers/bishops/pastors in the NT it was because their lives exhibited the traits that we are to look for in a man when we're seeking spiritual leadership. When they're found, they are then publicly recognized as men possessing those traits and to whom we should look to for spiritual wisdom and guidance, etc. After a public rebuke as Timothy calls for, it's likely the rebuked elder will be less effective in his service to the saints and without repentance would be even less likely to be looked to for the kind of leadership he obviously does not possess so his own actions remove him from the role.

    But how do you remove him from being the person he is? Elder wasn't an office in the church to be removed from it was a recognition of the qualities of the person. I think our modern practice of the "eldership" and the business that's inherent in the running of the modern church with budgets and buildings and staff, etc. can only be guided by principles of the Spirit of Christ. Unfortunately many "elders" as men nominated, voted on and ordained by many churches have not the Spirit of Christ or are novices (even though they may have been baptized years ago) and therefore fall into the tempations of the flesh, including the lack of discipline in their own household. The fruit of the Spirit becomes secondary to good business practice or personal preference or preservation. Same goes for ministers in many cases.

    So how do churches "run" in modern times? The most effective and intelligent way would be like the business (said in a positive tone) they are and using the best models we know of for good management (stewardship) of whatever God gives us. We are to be wise yet innocent. But we don't use much wisdom when trying to operate the business of a church because we've mistakenly thought that elders should be in charge of everything. I think the church for centuries, yea millenia, has got this wrong, from the Roman Catholics right down to the modern Church of Christ or any other group that tries to make elders the bosses of the business instead of the spiritual guides for the flock.

    Boy, I may be in trouble for this. 🙂

  8. Jay Guin says:

    All,

    I'm working on a series on how to deal with lousy elders. I think it may have some real-world application. 😉 I just hope it's not needed at my church. 😯

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Gary B,

    You're in good company, as many of the 19th Century Restoration leaders held the same view.

    Trees don't grow tall in diseased soil. Spiritually dead congregations nominate spiritually dead men to be elders.

    Hence, part of the cure is in teaching — not on the qualifications of a elder so much as how to be spiritually alive. Until a church figures that out, it's all pointless anyway.

  10. Jeremy says:

    This is sad… This is a lot less like the Church found in scripture and a lot more like the customers and employees of a business. Why have we given up on God’s plan and practices and decide to adopt our own based on worldly ideas and principles that always fail? How does one fire a saint from the congregation? I guess the first rule should be to stop treating each other like brothers and sisters in Christ and stop with the idea that we serve one another, but instead, hire a “minister” to serve us, unto our expectations, and they can be a part of the assembly, as long as they “perform”?

    I’m curious to know what scriptures provide any authority for assemblies to hire, much less fire congregants…

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