Monday Morning Insights

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    Should a church give a reason when firing the pastor?

    Should a church give a reason when firing the pastor?

    Here is an interesting story.  A Wichita area pastor was fired last week from a fairly large (800 or so) church.  That's not the news.  The story here is that the church is not saying why.  In fact, they're not giving any reason at all.

    The local newspaper has picked up the story, and the church isn't commenting.

    The church, according to the newspaper report, really isn't telling the congregation much of anything either.

    Pastor Bryson Butts (unfortunate name) helped found GracePoint Church eight years ago.

    The news was delivered by Pastor Butts (sorry again... but that's a really unfortunate last name) on his Facebook page:

    "Last night, the GracePoint board voted 4-0 to sever my relationship as lead pastor."

    The word from the church:  "We view this as an internal matter, and we are busy making sure our congregation is understanding what's going on."

    No word on if the church is being more candid internally.

    I think the statement made publicly to the newspaper was unfortunate, for three reasons:

    1.  It looks like they're hiding something.  Whenever someone doesn't tell you the reason for something, it's because they don't want to.  They're protecting themselves or someone.  That doesn't look good when you're a church.  Better to say something generic like "we needed a different kind of leader to move us forward" or "we wish Pastor Bryson the best".

    2.  It seems impersonal and cold.  The pastor is never mentioned in the statement.

    3.  It isolates the church from the community.  Whenever you say that something is an 'internal matter', it means that everyone else is on the outside.  That's not the normal way a church wants to or should be seen in the community.

    Nor should the announcement have been made by the pastor on his Facebook page.  That's a horrible way to announce a staff person leaving.

    Perhaps I am being too hard here.  I don't know the situation...but I think it could have been handled much better.  

    It's been my observation in working at three different churches on staff, and working with literally hundreds of churches in the area of staffing and leadership, that most local churches are not prepared for a personnel situation of this type.

    Pre-planning is absolutely necessary.

    And don't 'pull the trigger' before you have a plan:

    1.  Why are we firing?  What is the private/public reason that we are giving?

    2.  How will this be communicated to the church?

    3.  How will the be communicated to the media?

    4.  How will we respond to the criticism we know we'll get for making this decision?

    5.  Who will say what?  and when? and how?

    Firings and terminations are never easy... especially when it's the senior leader.  But they sometimes need to happen.  Just make sure when they do, that you have a plan.

    UPDATE:  It appears further reasons have been given to the church family via email.  Perhaps they didn't anticipate the Facebook announcement before the official word got out.  Good lesson learned.  The newspaper article with the statement sure didn't help the standing in the community though.

    Todd

    Your thoughts?  Have you been fired?  Was it done well?  Have you had to fire a church staff person?  Did you have a plan?  Did it go well, or was it ugly?

     

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    Comments

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    1. Peter Hamm on Fri, January 07, 2011

      If they are protecting the fired pastor for some reason, then I have no problem with how they are doing this. I think it’s okay that they don’t want to talk about all the details right now. I can imagine a lot of scenarios that would make this okay.

    2. Leonard on Fri, January 07, 2011

      Sometimes were just as dumb as a bag of rocks in these matters.  No offense to rocks.

    3. Chad on Fri, January 07, 2011

      Great article….could have used this last year!!

    4. Ted Carnahan on Fri, January 07, 2011

      This sort of thing just amplifies “secret meeting syndrome” and the rumor mill.  Better to address the reasons in a straightforward, responsible, public way.  It’s not necessary or prudent to air all the dirty laundry, but to make no comment at all just isolates and creates suspicion, particularly in a polity where the entire congregation is not involved in the decision to dismiss a pastor.

    5. Michael Buckingham on Fri, January 07, 2011

      What I find interesting is the vote.

      4-0? Awfully small board.

    6. CS on Fri, January 07, 2011

      Ted: 

      “Itís not necessary or prudent to air all the dirty laundry, but to make no comment at all just isolates and creates suspicion, particularly in a polity where the entire congregation is not involved in the decision to dismiss a pastor. “

      Unless it’s a case of church discipline, in which case it should be brought before the church in a public manner.  But that seldom happens anymore.


      CS

    7. Brent on Fri, January 07, 2011

      I number of us reading this article have been on the receiving end of this sort of situation, and I think the vast majority would agree that churches are simply terrible at handling personnel issues.

    8. Mark Bordeaux on Fri, January 07, 2011

      It is truly heartbreaking when the local family of God has to sever their relationship with anyone; member, staff, or pastor. Even when it is justified it hurts. Even with our best efforts to be true to Scripture (uphold standards and show grace) rarely could we not do something better. But there is something biblical about sharing as much as necessary, but no more than necessary with our church family and the world.

      After one such incident in which our deacons agreed it was necessary to let a staff member go I had the privilege of sharing the story with Henry Blackaby. I told him how we didn’t share the reason why we fired a staff member in order to be gracious and not hurt him more than necessary.

      He quickly and kindly reminded me that 1 Timothy 5:19-20 teaches, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”

      Blackaby added that we were doing the church a disservice by not following the Scripture. Keys here are the number of witnesses and in the case of persistent sin.

      Every sordid detail need not be shared for we do discipline for the purpose of restoration, but some information must be revealed.

      My prayer is that God would have mercy on this dear church and their former pastor so that they may heal and grow for His glory.

    9. Rich Kirkpatrick on Fri, January 07, 2011

      Yep. Terrible. I have been on both sides of the table, too.

      Should a pastor’s personnel file be public? I mean, it seams that we should follow the same or better ethics of a business—not slandering or damaging a reputation because its abusive and illegal.

      What happens is that most churches simply need to “plan” and when they pull the trigger should have already consulted an HR firm to be sure they are above board.

      Besides that, losing a job at a church often means losing a church family—so PLEASE be gracious and think of the spouse and kids. And, religious workers do not get unemployment or disability so part of the “terrible” part is doing LESS than business standard instead of more with severance.

    10. Pastor Ian on Fri, January 07, 2011

      Wow. I cannot imagine being fired and not given a reason. Did the man have a written job description? Was he meeting those expectations? There has to be a reason, even if it’s we just don’t like the guy or we don’t like the way he preaches or whatever. If there is no reason given, then why fire him?

    11. Roger Green on Fri, January 07, 2011

      I’m sure there were some confidentiality issues, that the board had vis a vis the pastor. Tricky topic.

    12. Glen on Fri, January 07, 2011

      I think I remember reading something in the bible about…what was it now…oh ya, truth. Be truthful.
      Another reference in the bible has a similar theme to this…what was it now…oh ya, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” Eph 5:11-13

    13. Kevin Mullins on Fri, January 07, 2011

      Facebook “status” messages are the way communicate what’s going on personally…so no problem with the Pastor sharing that way.

      Although normally opposed to the rampant secrecy that dominates many churches, when it comes to a firing in what I’m assuming is a 501-c3 non-profit, I have no problem with the reason being kept “internal.”. Based on the by-laws the membership also may or may not be in a need to know category.

      The assumption would be that this firing was not because Pastor Butts preached to long to often or because he did not institute a successful small group strategy.  More than likely the reason was of a nature that the board felt necessitated keeping it quiet.  They are either protecting him/themselves or both.

    14. Kevin Mullins on Fri, January 07, 2011

      Glen:  keeping something quiet does not equal darkness or untruthful.  Truth does not equal telling everything you know all the time.  If this were the case pastors/counselors and the people who share with them would be in real trouble.

    15. Jan on Fri, January 07, 2011

      I agree that most churches have no idea how to handle issues of this nature.

      When there is a secret it’s usually not healthy in my opinion.

      And having been in ministry now for 30 years, I’ve seen smany deacons and elders who did not want to do the right thing and/or did not communicate with the congregation well, so many times.  And it ALWAYS harms the church.

      The latest one:
      A friend in ministry who is a senior pastor was let go by a church that brought him and his family across the country to serve there.  So, they moved everything, bought and sold a house, etc.  And now, 6 months later he was let go by the elders who told him that his sermons “aren’t funny enough.” 
      The reason they wanted him?  The last guy’s sermons were “too fluffy”.

      He didn’t fight it and is just moving on.  The elders told the church that he resigned of his own accord because he just couldn’t get acclimated to the area.

      This unfortunately happens a lot.

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