How Do You Fire Someone Without Surprising Him?

The most painful day in my fifty-eight years of ministry was December 19, 1976. (See:  The Best Day to Fire Your Preacher) The pain continued during the winter of 1976-1977 and lingered for months and some for years afterward. It was embarrassing. When I tried to relocate, some elders/search committees wouldn’t talk with me after they heard my reason for inquiring about their opening. One elder reprimanded me during an interview for being fired.

I’ve received many requests from elders for advice on how to release a preacher. I commend them for wanting to do a difficult task in the best way. I’ve given them a fired preacher’s perspective. When you’re planning a major operation with little operating experience, it’s good to get a second opinion.

2 Suggestions


Start with the Golden Rule:

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).

I’ve talked with many elders. No one told me, “Jerrie, I’ve worked at my job 10, 20, or 30 years. What I would enjoy or think would be the most desirable process is for my supervisor to walk into my office, workspace and tell me yesterday was my last day to work for the company with no previous coaching, reprimands, or expressions of disappointment — just say, ‘We’ve decided to go in different direction.’ ”


To correct things you don’t like, do as well as or better than common practice in the overall workplace.

Here’s my copy of a section of an employee handbook I received recently:

Employee discipline will follow a series of progressive steps. The purpose of progressive discipline is to correct, not punish. Progressive discipline must be fair, consistent and timely.
Coaching is a part of every supervisor’s job. Supervisors become coaches when they use feedback on an ongoing basis to reinforce positive behavior or to counsel employees to correct actions that are not in compliance with Anybusiness goals and policies. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to lead their programs and supervise workers in each of those programs. Employees will be taught the mission, values and goals of Anybusiness. Employees have the responsibility to learn and understand their roles and obligations. It is Anybusiness’s responsibility to be specific, direct, honest and timely with each employee.
When counseled by a supervisor, it will be done in private. The problem/concern will be stated specifically and clearly. Employees will be given the opportunity to explain their viewpoint. A mutual decision will be discussed and agreed upon and a follow-up meeting will be scheduled to make sure everyone is still in agreement. All meetings will be documented.
The process of progressive discipline is not intended as a punishment for an employee, but to assist the employee to overcome performance problems and satisfy job expectations. Progressive discipline is most successful when it assists an individual to become an effectively performing member of Anybusiness. Failing that, progressive discipline enables the organization to fairly, and with substantial documentation, terminate employees who are ineffective and unwilling to improve.
Progressive discipline is a general outline of steps that might routinely be followed in disciplinary actions. It neither halts the omission of any steps detailed nor does it supersede processing directly from cause to discharge.
Step 1:  A supervisor’s first tool to affect change in an employee’s performance (behavior) is training, coaching, demonstrating.
Step 2:  If training fails to improve an employee’s performance, the following actions will be implemented:
a.  Reprimand
1.  Verbal (which is a written warning.) This method will clearly detail the problem and outline the actions/behaviors that need to be changed. The verbal warning will be placed in the official Anybusiness personnel record with only the signature of the supervisor.
2.  Written (verbal and written) – This method will be used after the verbal warning, but the performance/behaviors have not been corrected. Written warnings will require employee and supervisor signatures. The original will be placed in the official Anybusiness personnel record.
3.  Probation/Improvement Plan – This method will be used to correct substandard performance that does not improve as a result of reprimands. The probation period may last from thirty to sixty days and failure to respond to instructional guidance during this period could lead to termination.
4.  Suspension – Employees may be placed on suspension without pay as a disciplinary step. This method will be used after verbal, written and probation has occurred. Suspension could be as long as seven days.

5.  Termination – This method will be used after an employee has failed to change performance/behaviors to meet Anybusiness standards and after the use of other disciplinary actions. There may be some acts that will dictate immediate termination.

Following this process would be difficult, embarrassing, scary, aggravating, and tiresome. But it would also demonstrate love…peace, looooooongsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and years later — joy, that you did everything you could to treat the departing person and yourselves right.

The released person and his friends couldn’t say, “It was a surprise. I never saw it coming.”

To do major surgery without anesthesia is painful and can leave a trauma that’s difficult to treat. If in doubt, pause and call for support from God and others.

With love being a sign of a disciple of Jesus and kindness being a slice of the fruit of the Spirit, we cannot be less gentle with each other than the world around us.

What suggestions do you have of how to release a person without surprising and treating the person with dignity and respect?


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

6 Responses to “How Do You Fire Someone Without Surprising Him?

  • Jerry Stumpf
    5 years ago

    I was let go in a strange way to me. The elders said , “We are not going to renew your contract.” When I inquired why I was being fired, they said, “We aren’t firing you, just not renewing your contract.”
    Perhaps it is different to them, but I personally took it as being fired.

    • Jerry,

      I think it would feel about the same.

      • richard root
        5 years ago

        We had just appointed new Elders. I preached Sunday morning. My parents were visiting and in the crowd. An elder got up after my sermon and said they were letting me go. I found out later, that the new elder also wanted to be the preacher. I was there for 12 years and did not receive a raise during that time and now it is hurting me family. God is good all the time.

        • What an embarrassing, disappointing experience. I am amazed at the thoughtlessness of some people. The Golden Rule would improve many interactions.

          May God continue to bless you and your family

    • Bill Ward
      5 years ago

      I was called into a meeting one Sunday night and told I was being fired. When I asked why I was told it was due to my health. I had had back surgery six months before but only took one or two Sundays off. We had gained eight new members in that time frame in a congregation of 50. It took me completely by surprise.