A Dozen Rules for Firing a Minister, Part 3

fired1.jpgRule 10. Hire him a counselor if need be

Being fired is hard on a man and hard on a marriage. He’ll need someone to talk to, and counselors can keep secrets. Many insurance policies pay some or all the costs.

If he did something truly awful, such as sexual misconduct, he especially needs the counseling.

In some cases, you’ll be wise to get him job counseling from a pro. After all, you fired him. He may not be right for ministry or for that kind of ministry. He may need to hear it from someone outside the church.

If he’s leaving the ministry, he may have no idea what he’d be good at, having only done ministry his entire adult life.

Who knows? The job counselor may confirm your decision.

Rule 11. Continue the health insurance

For some reason, Congress exempted church health plans from the COBRA requirements to provide continuation coverage. Therefore, many insurers refuse to even let a church provide continuation coverage (Blue Cross of Alabama is like this).

Therefore, to keep the preacher insured under such a plan, he has to be kept on the payroll. But if he’s under severance, he is on the payroll. Consider treating it as a leave of absence, but be sure you’re complying with the insurance policy and local law. (Check with a lawyer.) If the minister or his family has a horrible health condition, you don’t want to risk voiding the coverage or defrauding the insurer.

If continuation coverage is not possible, most policies offer a conversion right to an individual policy, typically at high prices. Make sure the minister knows about this option and help.

If his wife works, he may be able to transfer to her policy without losing coverage for pre-existing conditions so long as there’s no gap of more than 63 days in his coverage. The same rule applies when he takes a new job.

Be sensitive to these things.

Rule 12. Work with the minister on how this is announced to the congregation

Communication of just the right sort is critical. You see, people fill gaps in their knowledge in the most pathological way possible! If you don’t give a reason for his resignation, they’ll assume he’s an adulterer. “Trust me” doesn’t work.

And this is critically important to the minister. Let him participate. The elders get the final word, but try to coordinate the statement (unless he needs to be run out of the ministry, of course).

Talk to the treasurer and payroll clerk. They’ll know about the severance. Make sure they know when it stops but don’t offer them any information not given to the entire church. Remind them that payroll information is confidential. If you don’t trust them to keep a secret, hire someone else.

Don’t lie to the church. People who’ve never held a management position sometimes think letting a man resign is deceitful. It’s not. He really did resign.

There’s a big difference between keeping a secret (which elders do all the time) and lying. Don’t slide over into a lie. When asked directly why the minister resigned, say, “For the reasons he stated in the announcement.” If pressed, refuse to discuss it further.

Trust me. One slip of the tongue, and your gaffe will be reported all over the congregation — even the denomination. It takes about 10 minutes.

In fact, the elders should all get in a room and talk about how they’ll address questions. Some may need to practice. Many elders are very tender hearted who will struggle to keep a secret.

The elders decide whether the minister may address the congregation afterwards. Often the minister wants to preach a farewell sermon or even make his own announcement of his resignation. This may well be fine — even excellent. Of course, if the minister is the sort to stir up trouble or create division, he shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

Don’t let him have the pulpit if you have any doubt about how he’ll conduct himself. There have been preachers who got up before the church and said things that completely destroyed any chance of ever doing church work again.

Rule 13. Some members have suspicious personalities. They’ll assume silence means the elders have done something they are ashamed of, especially if they adored the resigning minister. Talk about how to manage them.

The sad irony is that elders often catch criticism from people who love the resigning minister — because of their efforts to help the minister. His mistake is not disclosed publicly, his fans assume the elders have acted wickedly, and the elders are forced to tell how the minister cheated on his expense account or whatever.

Or, quite often, the minister really did resign of his own accord and yet the members assume he was forced out. They can’t imagine that their beloved ministers would leave them! They blame the elders.

If you are a friend a minister who has resigned, the best thing you can do is encourage him, help him find a job, and shut up. Don’t raise questions or you may force the elders to tell the whole thing to the church — hurting your friend! Or you may start rumors that a man who really just resigned was fired! Most of the time, protesting a resignation, speculating, and gossiping hurts the minister and his family far more than the elders.

There are even times when the elders have to — very early in the process — call in the friends and tell them exactly why the minister has resigned, in hopes that they’ll behave themselves. If you get such a call, consider what it says about you. Try to prove to the elders that they misjudged you and that you really can support the elders without having all the facts.

The elders should always talk to the minister about this. Tell him he’ll have defenders and encourage him to tell them to chill … or else the elders will truly have no choice but to tell the congregation everything, embarrassing the minister and his family and potentially keeping him from being re-employed.

Conclusion

It’s the Golden Rule. But it can be hard to apply in many cases. Worse yet, good elders are often criticized and judged when they do exactly the right thing. It’s part of the job description.

Gossip and distrust and speculation have ruined lots of churches, hurt lots of ministers and their families, and run lots of good men out the eldership.

If you’re not an elder, the kindest, best things you can do for them when these kinds of things are going on is —

* Don’t gossip or speculate

* Rebuke those who do

* Tell everyone who will listen that the members shouldn’t presume the worst but should trust their elders

* Tell the elders you respect their decisions and thank them for their service — especially during times of controversy

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
This entry was posted in Church Finances and Business, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to A Dozen Rules for Firing a Minister, Part 3

  1. mark says:

    "Don’t lie to the church. People who’ve never held a management position sometimes think letting a man resign is deceitful. It’s not. He really did resign."

    Certainly, if the announcement is "our minister has resigned because we asked him too," then this is true. But if people believe that it was the minister's idea, then they've been deceived by a half truth. It has nothing to do with management experience (I've fired two people in my life – that's all the 'management experience I want and I'm back to being technical by choice). But I see what you did there…

  2. Nick Gill says:

    Mark, the reasons why a man resigns are no one's business, unless he makes them so. No one is ENTITLED to know ANYTHING about it.

    If people choose to believe it is the minister's idea, that's their speculation and their choice.

    A half-truth is not a lie! Don't be silly. When something is visibly wrong with someone, are they lying if they don't sit down with everyone who inquires and tell them every single thing that is wrong?

    Elders tell half-truths all the time; otherwise they couldn't say anything meaningful whatsoever about their congregations.

  3. mark says:

    I realize that I typed that last comment as if I was on a forum where they all know me and know about my tongue and my cheek and hyperbole… :)

    So here's, my non-thyperbolic version.

    Churches and leaders are already mistrusted by many folks. I personally have known many of them, both good and not so good, and they usually have to earn my trust. My trust is actually pretty easy to gain – just deal honestly with me. But this mistrust of folks who perhaps *should* be among the most trustworthy in the world seems to me to be a warning of some sort.

  4. mark says:

    Nick: Nobody said anyone was entitled to anything, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to there. But if a minister is caught stealing from the church (say), and he and the elders agree to just tell the congregation he resigned “for personal reasons”, well, they’re deceiving everyone.

    If I buy a car that the salesman knows has a problem but doesn’t tell me, and I choose to believe there’s nothing wrong with it, I guess you’re right: that’s speculation on my part and my choice and caveat emptor. But used car salesmen and church leaders get their slimy reputations the old fashioned way: The Earn Them.

  5. teresa says:

    What reasons would edlers have for dismissing a youth minister when they have said it is no moral sin.What happened to bringing your brother before the church?Or is that only for the rest of the church?How many elders does it take to fire a minister?

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Teresa,

    Ministers are both members of the church and employees of the church. To receive pay, they have to perform up to a certain level. A minister may perform poorly despite hard work, a good heart, and committing no sin. And he'll be properly fired. Elders shouldn't use the Lord's money to pay for poor job performance.

    However, they must deal with the man being fired with compassion and love. The employment relationship doesn't change the elders' obligations to act like Christians.

Leave a Reply