6 Critical Steps in the Difficult Decision to Move a Staff Member

It’s one of the toughest parts of church leadership. You feel like a staff member is not a good fit. Or the elders or personnel committee feel the same about the pastor. You are confronted with the reality that you might need to ask that person to step down.

What’s next? Many churches, unfortunately, believe you should never ask a person to leave unless it’s a moral failure. “It’s just not the Christian thing to do,” they might say. But good stewardship requires leaders to ask what is best for the entire church. In reality, such a move is often best for the person affected.

I have seen these situations handled poorly. One pastor let a staff member go after telling the staff member that he, the pastor, and his wife had prayed about the decision. Really? The pastor’s wife was a part of the decision? In another church the personnel committee let a pastor go without any due process. The first time they let him know there was a serious issue was the night they fired him.

But other church leaders have handled these situations with wisdom, grace, and compassion. I have learned much from these leaders. Here are six critical steps they taught me.

  1. They prayed about it fervently. They did not act impulsively. They sought God and His wisdom.
  2. They made certain the “bad fit” was real. Sometimes the issues are not what they appear to be on the surface. There may be some other person or persons who are the real problems.
  3. They sought input from others. They really listened to wise counsel. They sought others who would really be objective.
  4. They went through due process. Such processes are not identical from context to context. But the person who is being moved from his or her position should not be surprised. There should have been discussions and opportunities for improvement.
  5. They showed compassion. In some cases they gave them time to find another position. In other cases they found a better fit at their present church. They did everything they could to help the person rather than hurt them.
  6. They tried to anticipate unintended consequences. What if the person has not found a position after the time you have given him or her? What if they fight your decision? What if a large number in the congregation vocally oppose the decision? Anticipating these and other possibilities is a part of the process of dealing with this difficult decision.

I know many of you readers have been on both sides of these situations. Let me hear from you. We really do need to learn from you.

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Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Recent Comments
I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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