Creative Leadership

When You Need to Fire Employees

Ever struggled with firing someone? I was teaching media professionals in Santiago, Chile a few years ago, and found this post I had written shortly after the visit.  One morning before class, I was reading in the last section of Acts 15 and the beginning of the next chapter from the New Testament. It was about a division that arose over a potential partner in ministry:

“Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”

It’s interesting that Paul and Barnabas were a team up to that point, but for their next journey, Barnabas wanted to include someone named John (called Mark). But Paul knew that John had left them once before – in other words, (and for whatever reason), he just couldn’t cut it at the level they were working.

I’m sure Barnabas wanted to be sensitive an give him more chances. He probably said something like “But he has a good heart, he loves God, and should go with us.” But Paul absolutely stood his ground – not willing to take someone who had quit on them or not produced in the past. So they decided to go two different ways. Paul chose Silas – someone with a proven past – and Barnabas took John called Mark with him.

Then I did a search, and discovered that that’s the last time you hear anything at all about Barnabas and his work with John (called Mark.) It may have been successful, but considering how much the Bible had mentioned him earlier, if it was successful, I tend to think it would have been recorded in some way. On the other hand, Paul went on to another 12 chapters of journeys, exploits, and success for the Kingdom of God, and yet the trip Barnabas and John called Mark took is never mentioned again.

That’s when I was struck by the gravity of hiring employees, shaping the members of our team, and building departments in the hope of becoming more effective. In the book “Good to Great – Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins, he uses the analogy of a school bus. He believes the key to a successful organization is:

1) Getting the right people on the bus
2) Getting them in the right seats
3) And getting the wrong people off the bus

Chances are, what you’re doing in hiring, firing, and developing the team around you is probably more critical and important than even you might realize. I don’t know your particular situation, but as leadership expert John Maxwell would put it, developing the leaders around you is the most important aspect of your job.

My point? In the Christian community, we all tend to be excessively compassionate when it comes to firing people, and as a result, our churches, ministries, and religious media organizations are filled with people who are unqualified, unenthusiastic, and costing us money, time, and momentum. If you encounter an employee who is detrimental to achieving your vision – for whatever reason – by all means help him or her, but first – get them “off the bus” so they stop becoming an obstacle to the forward movement of the organization.

Believe me – all the other employees know that person is a problem, and it’s most likely causing great anxiety and resentment. So by all means, get them help if they want it, but first, get them off the team and replace them with someone who values your vision, and is committed to seeing that vision accomplished.

I’d like to hear from anyone who’s experienced anxiety over firing anyone, but who discovered that once it was done, it was the right thing for the organization…


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  1. Phil,

    Having done some firing in the ministry as well as having been fired, your point is well taken as to the need to clean house once in a while. Being fired hurts but it is often good for the person, as it may have been for the Mark of Acts if he was the same Mark of 2 Tim 4:11. As for me, my firing turned out for good. Sometimes, if receptive to and led by the H.S., quiting can be an easier and less painful alternative.


  2. The general point is on target, but the example does not necessarily fit the bill. In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul instructs the reader to bring Mark to Rome, because he is useful to him in his ministry. If this is the same Mark, then we see evidence that Paul did not write off his usefulness in the big picture. Sometimes, a person needs to be relieved because they are going in a different direction, but a redemptive view would suggest that the division between Paul and Barnabas actually created more missionary outreach and God used this disagreement for good. 

  3. Hey Phil, Great post. This is one of my pet gripes about ministries. A staff member usually has to murder someone to warrant dismissal. Most ministry payrolls are bloated with ineffective, over-promoted, under-skilled people who have “great hearts.”

    In 20 years, I have only seen one ministry that was in the other ditch. They tended to bring people on, burn them out and toss them aside without much thought. But that species of organization is rare in the extreme.

    One more thing…I’ve always contended that when, out of compassion, a ministry keeps someone employed who is ineffective, it does a grave disservice to both the organization AND the individual. It hamstrings the ministry’s effectiveness but also keeps that individual from seeking and finding God’s highest and best place of service. Ministries need to get better at “tough love.”

  4. I agree, If Mark was useless, why did Paul asked to bring him? As you mention in another post, is not just firing the guy, but helping him find what can do right.

  5. Remember Mother Superior “firing” Maria in The Sound of Music? That’s how to do it! Something about finding the will of God and doing it… What a concept! Then, Maria sang about confidence and courage as she faced her new job, which as it turned out to be, the right job.

  6. Did you notice though that later on Paul asks for Mark to come to him to help him in his ministry? II Tim 4;11 The ministry of Barnabas “son of Encouragement” Acts 4:36,37 was to believe in people when others didn’t. He had this ministry in Paul’s life Acts 9:26,27. He again believed in Mark and he again became a worthy team member and wrote the gospel that bears his name. Barnabas believed in and encouraged two men at vulnerable times in ther lives who would later author over a third of the New Testament. Having just been ‘fired’ by a Paul for being too Barnabas-like it’s interesting to see what you see in Acts15. I would guess you have a Paul temperament but somewhere back in your life there is a Barnabas or two who believed in you when others didn’t. How many ministries exist today because two leaders clashed over values? The glorious thing is that God used the conflict to double the missionary enterprise and I believe they later reconciled (again see II Tim4:11) It is very painful to be ‘let off the bus’ but I believe in future reconciliation and in greater expansion of the kingdom. God knows what He’s about.

  7. Phil,

    What a great post!  The break up of Paul and Barnabas was HUGE in the early church.  Paul often comes across as very callous in this situation, but as you point out he made the right decision.  Paul understood that his message needed a 100% reliable team to be able to deliver it to the fledging churches he and Barnabas had planted.

    I really like the conclusions you draw from this…

    “That’s when I was struck by the gravity of hiring employees, shaping the members of our team, and building departments in the hope of becoming more effective.”

    Spot on!  I was about to write a similar post on my blog, but after reading this I decided to send my readers here instead. 


  8. Phil – As a life coach I work with people who have been on the wrong bus or needed to change seats. It takes loving intentional action but the results are well worth it!



  9. Dear Phil,

    I completely agree with the point you are making.

    However, it should be noted that Barnabus was indeed very successful. There may not be much scripture to record it, but every word in the Bible is God breathed and he chose what to put in and leave out. Thus we should not see Paul’s epistles as a sign that his life was more or less successful that someone else’s. That is not the point of Scripture. It is there for us to learn from and to hear God speaking.

    Barnabus did not leave behind epistles, no, his epistle was John Mark himself, as evidenced by the apparent faith Paul eventually developed in him (2Ti 4:11) later on in life. He is a perfect example of a young man who had grown up through a mixture mercy (from Barnabus) and truth (from Paul).

    I think there are other more objective ways to make the same point, like using Pro 22:10 (AMP) “Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out; yes, strife and abuse will cease.” and Pro 10:26 (AMP) “Lazy people are a pain to their employer. They are like smoke in the eyes or vinegar that sets the teeth on edge.”

    Your point is valid, no matter which of Paul or Barnabus was correct in their judgement of how to proceed over John Mark.

    God bless,

    Dave Reinecke

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