I recently spoke to someone who told me a very sad story about how their church had to let a pastor go.
The church was experiencing some financial challenges that resulted in a decision to reduce expenses by terminating a pastor.
My acquaintance shared with me that the pastor was notified of his termination by the staff accountant but had no conversations with the senior pastor (his boss).
To make matters worse, the senior pastor and his wife left town for a three-month sabbatical leaving the terminated pastor and congregation with many unanswered questions.
I have no doubt that the subsequent events may or may not have transpired as my friend described. However, the fact of the matter is that the “public” perception of the situation was not a good one.
The story was sad to me because there are some things that could have been done differently that would have benefited the terminated pastor and the church he was leaving.
7 Things to Consider When Letting a Pastor Go
1. Decision-Making Process
The decision to terminate any employee is never an easy one, and deciding to let a pastor go is one that can be extremely difficult to make.
One of the most significant expenses for any organization is salary expense, so deciding to let an employee go to save money is an understandable budget decision.
However, all other cost-cutting measures should be exhausted before making the decision to let an employee go.
2. Covering Job Responsibilities
Complex terminations very often leave job responsibilities unaccounted for, resulting in employees, or even volunteers, scrambling to cover the bases.
Spend time with the departing employee to learn which job tasks need to be assigned and who may have the interest and skill set to succeed.
Ask the employee to share internal policies and procedures that may benefit the next person.
These conversations can be done as part of an exit interview process.
3. Do Unto Others
Terminating an employee is a very difficult thing to do. And people who have never terminated an employee may make the common mistake of avoiding the difficult conversation.
Most people don’t like conflict and a conversation about a termination requires sensitivity and thoughtfulness.
Consider the way you would like to be treated and try to create a process that eases the difficult conversation.
Ask the question, “If this were me, who would I want to share the news with me?” and “What information would be important for me to hear?”
Try to put yourself in their position and you will find compassion to help ease a very difficult conversation.
4. Severance Package
Church employees don’t typically qualify for unemployment insurance claims making it very difficult for departing employees as they make a job transition.
If possible, put together a severance package to at least buy some time for the employee while they begin the job search process.
A good rule of thumb is allowing for a week’s pay for every year of service.
Depending on the age and tenure of the employee, an outplacement service may be in order to help the employee prepare for a new job.
Outplacement companies can coach a job candidate on interviewing skills and help with resume writing and professional networking.
This benefit can be expensive, but the investment in the employee, and the employee’s family, may be well worth the expense.
5. Job Search Leads
If the employee provided value to your church, offer assistance by using all available resources and contacts to get the word out to assist this person in finding a job.
For instance, contact other church leaders in your professional circle and inquire if there are positions available.
Any help you can provide could help expedite the job-hunting process.
6. Communication Plan
It is critical to have a well-thought-out plan for communicating with the church, volunteers, and other employees.
This plan will add to or subtract from the credibility of the organization.
These groups of people will find out anyway, and a good plan will help to manage what is communicated while controlling the rumor mill.
The secret is to answer any questions before they are asked by thinking through who, what, when, and how.
For example, members may want to know why the decision had to be made, when the employee’s last day of work is, who will be taking on their job responsibilities, how the employee was provided for as they made the transition, and if they will continue to worship with church members.
There are times when a termination is the result of issues of a confidential nature.
In this type of incident, it is important to protect the departing employee and their family by committing to confidentiality and not disclosing the reason for the departure.
This can be challenging because people will come right out and ask. Take the time to create an elevator speech response so that you know what to say when approached.
It is never easy to terminate an employee.
Church employees are special people because they operate out of a calling to help a church fulfill its mission. We care for employees by providing a healthy work environment and fair compensation.
The last thing any church leader wants to do is terminate another employee. However, there are times when it is a necessary part of managing a church.
Making the decision to terminate a church employee is never easy, but with a bit of thought and planning, the process can assist the employee and demonstrate the organization’s compassion and care.
Who, more than the church should operate in this manner?
If you are a SCM member, you can access an exit interview form here. If you are not a member, you can explore our growing library of forms, documents, and job descriptions here.