Why Did You Fire the Preacher? To Tell or Not to Tell—That is the Question

Several months ago, I received a call from an elder.

“Some of our members are telling the elders we should tell them why we fired our preacher? What do you think?”

A preacher isn’t meeting the expectations of the elders. They decide to terminate him.

Most preachers have a few friends. His friends ask him why he was fired. He replies, “The elders didn’t tell me.”

His friends ask the elders. They reply, “That’s confidential information. We will not share that.” Now you have the ingredients of a church fuss.

Is that the best for the preacher, his family, the congregation, and the community?

Some Observations

  1. How does the Golden Rule apply? If an elder were released from his job, would he want to know why? If it were for incompetence, could that be helpful to do better on the next job? If it were for a wrong fit, would knowing how you didn’t fit give room for growth and wisdom for considering your next position? If your preacher was also an elder and you met without him, decided to “change directions,” and looked for someone else, would you be wondering now if the other elders are having meetings without you? Is talking about someone instead of talking to someone effective communication or gossip? How do you want to be treated? See more on Meetings Before Meetings and Newton’s Third Law .
  2. If an individual or group isn’t told the true story, they’ll be inclined to make up their own story. If he’s ineffective, tell him how he could improve. If he isn’t submissive to your leadership, tell him and give him time to adjust his attitude. If he is immoral, tell him your concern in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself (Galatians 6:1). See #1: treat him as you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Terminating someone is a major operation. If you don’t give the diagnosis for the removal, people will be inclined to make up their diagnosis: “Which and how many women in the church or community was he seeing?” “How much money did he steal?”

Why Wouldn’t Elders Tell Why They Released the Preacher?

  1. Fear that telling may hurt the preacher, his family, the church, and the elders.
  2. They have put up with their displeasure, discussed it, been frustrated, and are tired of the present situation until they finally say, “Let’s do it and get it over with.” I’ve experienced this as a supervisor. A friend and counselor told me, over and over again for six months, I’d have to release a person who was not reliable. The delay hurt the person and interrupted many nights of sleep for me. Observation—often, this move comes soon after the appointment of new elders. On one occasion, the older elders asked a new elder to read the letter they’d all signed because “You read better than we do.” During my time with that church, the reading elder told me his story many times with tears, “Jerrie, I thought everyone would know we all agreed with the decision and signed the letter. But they didn’t think of that. They remembered who read the letter.”
  3. Sometimes (often), elders haven’t followed Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17. If they told the church why they released their preacher, they’d have to face the fact they’d given him no warning and no chance to improve or correct what they didn’t like. It’d be embarrassing to acknowledge they devised a better plan than Jesus.

A Good Way to Deal with Displeasure

  1. If someone misses your expectations, talk to him privately. (Matthew 18:15). Someone objects, “This wasn’t a sin, he was just lazy.” Laziness is a sin: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, ESV). The word, ἁμαρτάνω, in Matthew 18:15, means, “To sin, to miss a mark on the way, not to hit the mark” (Strong’s Greek, #264, Copyright 2014 Faithlife/Logos Bible Software.).
  2. If that doesn’t bring desired results, involve one or two more in the discussion” (Matthew 18:16). Different people have different perspectives. Maybe this will bring resolution.
  3. If correction and agreement don’t come, tell the group (church) (Matthew 18:16). Not keep it quiet, but tell everybody what happened and why.

Jerrie, what is your answer to the original question?

Generally, although painful, it’s better to follow Jesus’ instructions for dealing with people missing the mark. Matthew 18:15-17

  1. Spend some time with the Golden Rule before announcing or not announcing a termination. Is this the way you want to be treated?
  2. Do you know of a better plan than what Jesus taught?

One of the most interesting questions I’ve been asked about this topic is: “How do you fire a preacher without surprising him?”.

Here’s my answer: How Do You Fire Someone Without Surprising Him?

What are your suggestions for handling this situation?

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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

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