Mama Caro

Stephanie "Mama" Caro's humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. She is Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects and author of "Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches" and "99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker." Her next book, “Ten Solutions (to Ten Common Mistakes Small Churches Make)” comes out in 2015. Stephanie is a contributing author to several ministry resources in addition to her regular column “Smaller Church Youth Ministry” in Group Magazine. Stephanie and her husband, Steve, live in Houston, TX.

I don’t care what you call it: “Asked to resign,” “not renewing your contract,” “not invited back,” “you no longer fit our needs.” You can dress it up with ruffles and lipstick, but if its on a pig – its still a pig. Whatever the church or organization names it – it still FEELS like getting fired. It usually hurts, even to the point of being broken-hearted or devastated.

The heart investment isn’t like you were working for McDonald’s or Walmart (both fine jobs, btw). The level of “total heart, soul and joy” put into “would you like fries with that” probably isn’t the same as a youth pastor who gets blindsided with being “let go” from a church youth ministry where he felt love and accepted. Now what’s he supposed to do? Who does he turn to for support through this dark time? His church? Nope, now he doesn’t have one.

So Church Leaders, when you tell someone they’re no longer wanted as part of you organization, think about these things first and do your best to make it Christ-like:

1) Remember the heart is involved: People’s hearts are connected to their ministry at your church. They’ve served, cried, prayed, eaten, fellowshipped, sung with you and in the blink of an eye – its gone? It can literally break someone’s heart and that’s just not what the Church is about. If they must leave the position, explore every way you can to guard their hearts in Christ Jesus. Assure them of their gifts, value their service, help them find other ways to serve within your organization when appropriate. Don’t just leave them bereft of not only a job but their circle of care, too. “Bear one another’s burdens.”

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2) Don’t do it over the phone: Depending on the tenure, involvement, length of job – “that’s just some weak tea, dude.” (A quote from Raj in Big Bang Theory) If someone has worked for you for a number of years, it deserves more than a call or email. It especially DOESN’T deserve an ambush meeting in the SP’s office.

3) Celebrate their contribution: Maybe a party is or isn’t called for, depending on the circumstances. But there are other ways to say, “We appreciate what you did for us these past 5 years.” A really great gift card, thank you flowers, letters from others in the ministry organization. Something that tells the person being asked to leave, “My time here wasn’t wasted. I do have worth.” Without reminding them of the good they did do, it can leave the employee or volunteer with brokenness that no one intended.

4) Make sure it doesn’t come as a complete surprise: No church politics or financial bottom line is worth the sudden surprise and resulting heart break. Fair warning should always be given. Evaluations showing the concerns should have happened long before the firing point. Even Jesus gave second chances. The eval’s of the thief on His right weren’t so good, but Jesus gave the guy paradise anyway.

5) Follow-up after the fact: Show the love and care of Jesus by checking up on the person a few days later and again in a few weeks after the deed is done. Give them the chance to ask the questions they couldn’t think of when the surprise hit them.

Friends, I know all this is easier said than done. I know its fraught with politics. I know that pulling the bandaid quickly is better in the long run…I’m just asking ministry leaders to use more love in the process and care for the person who’s left behind wondering what to do next with their life.


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  • Nate Harrison says:

    Great thoughts, Stephanie. I’d be interested to see some of your thoughts on churches that are stuck in a staffing rut because they err too far on the side of being polite and not ruffling feathers. While I definitely agree that the church should fire people with care I’m curious what advice you’d have for churches that may need to approach this with more of a marketplace approach. How does the small, uber relational church reconcile being supportive and compassionate while making sure the right people are in the right seats on the bus?

  • Bill Holleran says:

    Stephanie this is an amazing heartfelt, well thought out, passionate peice. Your heart for preventing this type of pain is so huge. You are giving leadership the opportunity to never do this wrong again. You are so awesome. Thank you for this.

  • T.D says:

    I would also make sure to add something about making it a quick transition. Having them stick around for 4 months after is not healthy for anyone.

  • Timbo says:


    I think this is very well written and very insightful. Unfortunately so often, by the time someone is terminated as a church staff member the situation has become so full of emotion (sometimes without the staff member’s knowledge) that things like the SP ambush happens.

    One of the things I’ve personally learned is the great value of regular evaluations. We all dread them, but when they happen consistently issues are raised before they become big problems and employees have the opportunity to address them. And if they aren’t being addressed it comes as no surprise when the axe falls.

    Great insight! Keep up the great posts! :o)

  • Robski says:

    I think one very important one has been left out. Don’t discuss it openly before talking to them. It is not loving for someone to find out that they are being dropped from another member of the congregation before someone in charge has spoken to them. And if it is youth work, the children should never be told that “their youth leader has chosen to move on”, BEFORE the leader is told that they are being let go.

  • Ronald Crider says:

    As a youth pastor that has been let go, or fired, or terminated (whatever terms you may use) for the mere fact that the “budget couldn’t hold another full time staff member,” I can honestly say that it hurt, sucked and many other choice words came to my mind also. Churches think they are able to do what they want and there is no long-term problems from any staff changes. It hurts when I saw a youth ministry go from 45-50 to 9. When I left I found the real reasons for my departure: the deacons didn’t like/trust the youth that were from the neighborhood that came to church because I invited them.

    Thank you for this article. I wish all senior pastors and church boards would read this. It could ease some hurt, rejection, disappointment. After all I went 6 months with attending a church because I didn’t want what the church offered. I saw the politics not the love. I saw the backbiting not the sweet spirit of Christ. It was bad.

    Eventually I found a job -outside of ministry – and I found a church I can just be a part of. I don’t do anything but go. I don’t want to do anything else. My termination just about caused me to give up on church -not Christ but the church.

    Thank you again.

  • tlc says:

    One other thing…as a church, really think about who/what you want in the position in the first place. I have been hired by churches that say they are open to a woman in full-time ministry only to find out that they really aren’t…which is very frustrating, since I’ve never actually tried to hide that fact from anyone! 🙂 This goes for other situations/personality traits as well, it just happened to be one I thought of off the top of my head!

  • Joe Brown says:

    Thanks for some great thoughts Stephanie! It would also be interesting to discuss how a person should leave. Should they go quietly? Should they make a stink? Whether they’re fired or whether they voluntarily decide to “move on”, leaving quietly is often unhealthy because the issues are not addressed. Systemic problems get swept under the rug and the church goes through yet another staff member.

  • Bert says:

    I am literally in this right now. In five hours I have a meeting with our church deacons and their wives. I was called into a surprise meeting a week ago Tuesday and asked to resign. I said I needed time to think and pray about it and now we have this meeting. I learned last night that one of the board members has talked about the issue at home and his kids know, I learned this because said student told other students in our youth ministry that I was gone in 30 days. She said this two weeks before my first meeting.
    Pray for me tonight please!

    • Mama Caro Stephanie Caro says:

      I am so sorry about this, Bert. Really. So many of us have experienced this in some form or another. Hold your head up. Don’t be ashamed. Do the right thing. Finish strong.

      Let me know how things went.

  • Maryjo says:

    I’m in a situation where we were having a small finance problem which always ended up taken care of by the end of the year. The pastor decided that he wanted me gone. The Church board met & wanted to keep me. He got mad because they didn’t do what he wanted. He has done several things to get me to quit. I’ve done everything that he has asked of me & denies wanting me to quit. He says that they can’t afford me but we have more money coming inthan ever before & a surplus. He is making things miserable for me. I’m

    • Maryjo says:

      (continue) Should i just quit. I know it will split the Church. This is my home Church. He will not take up what i do fir the kids & youth. He has me doing older senior adults activities & visitation also. Praying for God’s direction.

  • Cheryl Reber says:

    Sorry to hear that. Its just wrong. It s late, but my sympathies and prayer s for you.

  • Jen says:

    Thanks so much for this article. Almost two years ago – I was ‘asked to resign’ from my congregation of 5.5 years, those doing the asking citing that they wanted to go in a different direction. It hurt, so much – and your piece about wanting to turn to the church for support and that option being gone is so true. It’s tough – and more tough because I watched the same type of thing happen to several of the support staff at my church before me. Watching something like 11 people transition in and out of a 7 person full time staff in 5.5 years was crazy.

    I am starting to look back on it realizing how far I’ve come, looking at how blessed I am by the new church I’m in (in the same town of 10k – there’s another blog post for you…), and just seeing God work through pain and how much it has grown my then stagnant faith.

    I had the decision told to me on a Tuesday afternoon, with no one the wiser, and got to spend the next day, Wednesday, acting during confirmation and our other youth events like nothing had changed while carrying out my duties to the kids. The church found out by letter a week later. I think the suggested additions of a short transition and keeping it under wraps are huge – I was blessed to have the second one be true for me – I was the one who wrote the letter to the congregation that informed everyone.

    I am in a better place now, in both my faith and my ministry, but still deeply miss the other congregation I had come to know. Thank you for providing a place where we can relate and come together and support others. Bert, hang in there. It’s a tough road – I am so glad we can support and pray for others when we go through this junk.

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