How to Deal With Unfaithful Employees the Godly Way

How do you deal with unruly employees? (Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash)

On Blue Bloods, the popular CBS series about law enforcement in New York City, a co-worker tells Erin Reagan, assistant DA, "You're not really the boss until you fire someone."

So, she did.

The show didn't say whether she enhanced her position with the team by that act. It's only a one-hour program and they have multiple storylines.

I've wondered about that ever since, whether it's true that one is not really the boss until someone is canned.

I think the idea is something like this: The new boss notices an employee who is shirking his/her duties. The other employees watch to see how the boss deals with it. If the boss lets it ride and does nothing, the message goes forth that quality work does not matter, that you can get by with less than your best. But, if the boss deals promptly with the unfaithful employee, co-workers see that he expects excellence and will deal with ineptitude. And that's a good message to convey.

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Over six pastorates and one five-year stint in denominational work, I've hired a lot of people. And fired several. But firing them did not make me the boss. I was already that.

I terminated three secretaries and two staff ministers and encouraged another few to find other places of service. It was no fun, but for various reasons it had to be done.

Firing them made me unhappy. I felt like a meanie. And in one church, it gave me the reputation of a tyrant.

What does make a person the boss in actuality? Is it necessary to fire someone to make the point?

A few thoughts on that subject ...

  1. Sometimes firing an incompetent is the only way to go. As the new pastor in one church, I fired two secretaries in a row. Both times it was for incompetence. The second time was easy because as a new hire she was on probation the first 3 months. Her predecessor, however, had served the last two pastors.

Apparently, she had decided not to work with me. She continually did not do what I asked her to do, including such simple tasks as closing the door between our offices. So, I dealt with it. When she said, "Do you want me to leave?" I said, "Yes, I think so."

She cried and said she needed the job. I said, "You should have thought of that before you decided you were going to resist everything I asked you to do." Since she belonged to another church, there were no repercussions from the firing.

After I terminated her short-lived replacement, the staff and much of the church decided I must be an ogre to work for. Instead of enhancing my position with the team, it became more difficult. Eventually, with the support of the children's director, we moved the receptionist into the pastor's secretary's office where she remained for over 20 years. (When a trouble-maker hung around the office looking for clues to my poor management skills, she told him, "You may leave now. Dr. McKeever is a wonderful man to work for." He never showed up again.)

  1. One becomes the boss not by merit of the name plate on the door or the say-so of the personnel committee. You become the boss by taking the reins and bringing everyone together and exerting leadership.

That is to say, it's not necessary to fire an incompetent to get the attention and respect of the rest of the staff. Just dealing with it is enough in most cases.

In one church, when I decided that the part-time student minister was killing the program and needed to go, the school principal gave me some great advice. "Rather than terminate him outright, ask him how he assesses his own ministry. He may end up firing himself." That's exactly what happened, and it felt like a win-win for us all.

  1. As with leadership throughout the church itself, one earns the right to lead. And that is a matter of servanthood, if Jesus can be believed—and I think He can.

We don't mind following someone who is committed to our best interests.

  1. On the other hand, as an employee, I should not expect the new boss to earn my support. This is a sure way to be out of a job. An employee should always be giving his/her best work. In fact, Christian employees should devote themselves to serving the boss and the company just as they would the Lord Jesus Christ.

Three scriptures speak to this:

"Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:17).

"And whatever you do, do it heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. For you serve the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:23-24).

"Therefore, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).

Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

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