Can Missionaries Fire People?

Can Christians fire people? Can pastors fire people? Can churches fire people? What about missionaries? Can they fire people? I’m sure this question has been asked before, but it is worth asking again because my guess is that there are some individuals or teams out there who might be wrestling with this right now. So, can missionaries fire people?

Before we get into that exactly, here are some questions you might want to consider first:

What type of ministry are you doing? Are you serving in a local church, business, educational or humanitarian work, medical care, orphan care, translation, or something else? Are you putting someone’s life at risk by allowing this person to continue in their position at a hospital? Are you jeopardizing the livelihoods of others whose income might depend on this business? Are you jeopardizing the safety, security, or well-being of children in your care?

Is their behavior a result of personal decisions that this individual has made (sin) or poor management on my part to create an environment for them to succeed in? Meaning, how much am I to blame as a leader/manager for this person’s behavior? Did I fail to make the expectations clear? Did I fail to explain the task clearly? Did I fail to communicate the importance/urgency of this task? Did I assign a person to this task who never even had a chance of being able to complete it in the first place? Is this person a good fit for the job? As organizations grow and shift and transform, so do positions, and sometimes through all of that people end up in jobs that perhaps are not a best fit for their skills. What can be done then?

Have adequate warnings been given? People make mistakes. We are all human beings, sinners desperately in need of God’s grace. Have you given this person a chance to correct their mistakes? Are they adequately aware of what they’ve done and how they can prevent it in the future?

Is the firing of this person for your personal comfort or for the good of the ministry? This one is hard to reflect on, but it is necessary to help us identify our motives before letting someone go. Is the issue that you have with the person just that you don’t like them personally, or is it that they are doing something wrong or being defiant? What seems like defiance and rudeness is sometimes just another way of doing things, and discerning this takes some time and self-awareness and also understanding of the culture in which you are serving.

What do your fellow team members think? While many missionaries may work alone and have the decision to hire/fire solely in their hands, many of us work on teams, and that makes this decision even more complicated. What do your fellow mission partners think about this situation? How does that influence your decision? Do you trust/value their opinions in this regard? Which one of you ultimately has the final say in this decision?

What are the local laws regarding firing of employees? This one can take a lot of time to investigate and figure out, especially if those laws are confusing to read, difficult to access, in a different language, not well documented, randomly enforced, etc. If your host country is anything like ours, the government officials are always looking for any reason to fine or tax us heavily or even kick us out, so be very careful that whatever action you take is in line with local laws.

Can you still continue ministering to this person after they are let go? Missionaries may be reluctant to let go of staff because they fear that letting go of their staff member means that their relationship will end and therefore that opportunities to witness to them are over. They feel they are betraying themselves and their calling if they do this. But firing does not necessarily mean you have to end that relationship. There are many ways to continue to invest in that relationship by visiting them, calling them, inviting them over for dinner, inviting them to church, etc.

What are the consequences of keeping this person? What could be the result if you keep this person? What effect might it have on you, your team, your community? On the workplace environment? How are their actions affecting the overall morale of the organization and the other employees themselves? If other employees perceive that there are no consequences for certain behaviors, how will that affect their motivation to uphold the standards set for the group?

What are the consequences of firing this person? What could be the result for your ministry? What will it mean for your team if you need to quickly add or shift responsibilities around? What could be the result for your community? For their family? The answer to this question does not necessarily have to have any bearing on whether an employee needs to be fired or not, but it may have bearing on HOW an employee is fired. How many people are depending on this person for a salary? What will happen to them (most likely innocent bystanders) if this person is let go? Is there any way you can lessen the blow? Allow the family time or flexibility to figure out other solutions for providing for themselves? Switch the person to another position?

Are they representing your organization and ministering to others? Some ministries expect the people that they hire or work with to be to be their teammates as ministers of the gospel (i.e. professing Christians who intentionally work to shine the light of Christ in their day-to-day jobs as teachers, carpenters, nurses, evangelists, etc.).  On the other hand, other ministries are hiring people that they know are not Christians so that they have a chance to minister to them through their jobs. If they were hired to be ministers of the gospel in their jobs, are they intentionally striving to represent Christ in those areas?

What does the Bible say? Well, the Bible does not address this issue directly, so rather than take a couple verses out of context, let’s try to look at it from a wider view. The Bible talks about mercy and grace; the Bible also talks about obedience and standards. The Bible talks about forgiveness; the Bible also talks about consequences and discipline. There are verses that might seem to support the idea of firing and verses that might seem to reject it. So, what now?

At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Can you fire people? I would say that yes, as a missionary, you can fire someone. Should you fire this particular person that you are thinking of at this specific time? That, I do not know.

There is no easy answer as each situation, each ministry, and each person is unique. PRAY. Ask God for wisdom and discernment and clarity. Ask that He would remove any personal bias or sin that may be lingering in your heart as you reflect on this. Ask that He would guide you with your words and actions and grant you the patience and grace that you need in those difficult conversations where you might need to let someone go. Ask that He would give you His heart in ALL situations, even and especially in something like this.

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Anna Glenn

Anna Glenn served as an agricultural missionary with her husband in Liberia, West Africa from 2016-2022. She now works back in her home state of Maryland doing agriculture education and youth development while staying involved with local and international missions. Her writing now focuses on her experiences integrating back into the American culture, reflections on her time in missions, and advocacy for better missionary care and support.

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