you can’t be held hostage to a bad employee

A reader writes:

I belong to a small country church of the type where people’s families have attended for generations. One of our members has acted as secretary for over 20 years. A few years ago, we hired a new pastor and this secretary does not like him. She’s always been a prickly person to work with, frequently overstepping her professional boundaries because of her family connections. However, over the past few years her unprofessional attitude has started affecting the rest of the members, as well as outside groups.

She has flat-out refused to embrace and use new technology which would allow her to adapt to her changing job, and her work quality has gotten worse over time. Today in a meeting about an upcoming fundraiser, she showed up and publicly accused the pastor of misappropriating some of the funds in the budget. The finance committee assured her that the pastor’s compensation was correct and in line with the standards used by the governing board of our denomination and she spoke over them, asking “Oh, so we have to do what they say?” It’s like she’s forgotten that she’s an employee and the committee members and governing board are her bosses.

Apparently she’s been name-calling and losing her temper with the pastor’s wife in private, calling the pastor’s wife a “loser” and yelling at the pastor for wearing jeans to the office on Saturdays. She’s also been making decisions that are none of her business, such as whether or not outside groups can use the facilities, or who can contribute which items and talents at which church events. She’s been mean and bullying to other church members in general, and has been a poor representative of the church these past few years.

I’m curious as to how you would approach this situation. On one hand, she is a church member and is entitled to ask questions about the budget. On the other, she’s an employee, and should know that the best way to bring up legitimate concerns isn’t by shouting them at a public meeting, but by going to the elders and raising those concerns quietly. Once those concerns were addressed, she should have respected their findings. It seems that the main trouble is that she’s threatening to leave in a huff and take her family and friends with her. In our small church, that will actually have an impact.

I feel that this has become a conflict of interest. If she doesn’t respect the pastor and believes he’s involved in wrongdoing despite being proved otherwise, she can’t be working as his assistant. I’m of the mind that the elders should tell her that her concerns are welcome as a church member but that she’s no longer welcome to stay on as an employee, as she has not been properly performing her job duties. I also feel that once she’s gone and not stirring up trouble, we’ll attract more people because we won’t have someone so off-putting acting as front for the church.

How would you approach this situation?

Yep, yep, yep, totally agree with you. The only thing I’d tweak is that because there’s an audience for this decision (other church members), it would be wise to give her a final warning before firing her — they should clearly lay out how they expect her to operate in her job and what behavior is unacceptable and can’t continue, and should clearly state that if the issues aren’t immediately resolved, they’ll need to let her go. It sounds like it’s probably a lost cause and she isn’t likely to suddenly start performing at the level needed, but by giving her a warning and a final chance, they’ll be able to tell church members who ask about the situation that they did those things.

And I’m saying “they” here rather than suggesting that all of this come from her boss, because it sounds like this is an environment where she needs to hear it from the board (elders?). Normally this is something that her boss should handle with her one-on-one — and it would even be undermining to suggest that it be dealt with by a committee instead — but most churches aren’t typical work environments in that respect. (But if I’m wrong about your church and it would be appropriate and effective to just have the pastor do it — and if the elders will back him up if the secretary tries to take it over his head — then that’s the better way to do it.)

But here’s the big thing that I want people to take away from your letter: You cannot let yourself be held hostage to a bad employee.

I regularly hear managers say “we have a terrible employee who is causing problems like X, Y, and Z but we can’t fire her because it’ll cause upheaval on the staff / she’s connected to a VIP who we have to keep happy / no one else knows how to do her very crucial job / she has too much institutional knowledge / she’ll badmouth us in the community / etc.” As soon as you hear yourself saying that you can’t fire a bad employee because of Reasons, that’s a flag that you have a huge problem on your hands and that you need to immediately and actively start working to change the situation. You have to find a way to be okay with firing bad employees; you can’t let your organization be hostage to a destructive force.

And really, the reasons that people feel “held hostage” are generally pretty bad ones. If you won’t let someone go because no one knows how to do her job, what are you going to do when she resigns one day? Or has a serious health issue that takes her away from work for a few months? Or makes demands that you just can’t meet? Or, if you won’t let someone go because she’ll trash-talk you in important communities, why are you entrusting knowledge of the inner workings of your organization to someone who you believe would basically act as an enemy if given the opportunity? And are you really willing to give this person what amounts to the power to make any demand on you that she wants?

If you find yourself feeling hostage to a bad employee, you can’t just shrug your shoulders and figure that you have to deal with it. You have to actively work to free yourself and your organization from that trap. Sometimes that means short-term pain (like a VIP is upset with you — although often that can be cleared up by a straightforward account of what happened). But 99% of the time, dealing with that short-term pain is going to save you far more pain over the long-term.

{ 151 comments… read them below }

  1. AMT*

    I wish this advice were posted on workplace bulletin boards in the same way that you see posters on labor law and how to assist a choking victim.

  2. Amy the Rev*

    Echoing Alison’s advice 100%!!

    Also, a helpful resource:

    There’s a really good set of case studies (many of which include situations like this) in the book “Making Spiritual Sense” by D. Scott Cormode, which can help navigate some of the unique politics that show up in church employment situations, particularly Protestant denominations.

  3. sssssssss*

    And that’s why our Church secretary is deliberately NOT a member of our church. No emotional investment beyond doing a good job for her employer and the trustees/board members. And she does do a great job.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I applied once for an assistant job in a big church here (not to the pastor; it was in their well-renowned music department)–they told me they specifically did NOT hire members for these positions to avoid conflicts of interest. I thought that was an excellent idea. Didn’t get the job, but I had to admire them for that.

      1. Mina*

        As a long time church secretary – this is right on the money. I was hired from outside because I did not have internal ties, and I’ve maintained that for almost 14 years. I have seen the results of loyalties to other than the church office. Not pretty.

    2. BadPlanning*

      Interesting! Makes me wonder if any of the members of the church blunder and try to encourage her to join? Or perhaps it’s widely known as The Policy.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        That sometimes happens at our church. She will come for special services or events (Christmas Eve, the Parish Picnic) but otherwise is really good at demurring when well meaning people try to get her to join Bible Study or come every week. If it happens in my hearing, I’ll quietly explain it to the well-meaning person when I have an opportunity to pull them aside.

    3. Lemon Zinger*

      That’s a great idea. My childhood church has been lucky enough to find a member who is a CPA and remarkably professional and objective. She’s done a wonderful job, but I don’t know what they’ll do if she ever decides to move on!

    4. sunny-dee*

      Same here. I have to admit, I wondered why at when I found that out, but not so much any more.

    5. Jessesgirl72*

      That is the choice our Pastor has made, as well. Which sometimes causes problems on its own, since she lacks a basic understanding of some things that impact her ability to just put out the weekly Bulletin correctly (She was told to leave off the Recessional one week. She didn’t know what that meant.) But it’s a lot less potential problems than having an assistant who is a member.

      1. Sami*

        Maybe she could go to a new member seminar or class? Not with the intent of actually becoming a member, but simply to familiarize herself with the inner workings of your church/denomination.

      2. nonymous*

        In my last church, each of the leaders (clergy, choir director) etc was responsible for sitting down with the admin person and editing their part of the bulletin, then she would run the printer/fold/insert colored pages. So basically the admin lady was in charge of operating the technology and content was not her responsibility. We always knew when someone forgot to sit with her for the week because their section was just nonsense letters (and ribbed that person appropriately).

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          They give her the information to plug in (and it’s really the same every week- only the hymns and bible verses change!) but I’m the one who gets to proof it. ;)

          I’d been asking her to fix something for 3 weeks, and the week she asked me about the recessional, I realized the reason she hadn’t fixed the thing I’d asked her to fix. Which, I wish she’d asked me what I meant. Normally she does, so I don’t know what that was about.

      3. DragoCucina*

        We tend to “trade” with the neighboring Episcopal church for that reason. Once-in-awhile there will be some vocabulary difference between our RC and their High EC, but the fundamentals are there.

          1. DragoCucina*

            Ouch. But, as someone who taught RCIA (adult convert classes) for years some of biggest hurdles were teaching the cradle RCs.

    6. Mary*

      I’m a lay (non-clergy) church employee. In my denomination there’s a lively debate over whether members of the church should be hired as employees. I disagree with your church’s choice–I think my church has gotten much stronger in the last few years, since we’ve begun actively hiring folks who have skin in the game, so to speak. The real problem here is that neither an employee NOR a member of the congregation should be allowed to get away with stuff like this.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        The problem is if you have too much skin in the game, you think you have ownership over your areas. The #1 thing we combat is people wanting to control things they have no right to control.

        A non-member can be just as committed to the church, if they are treated well, as a non-member.

      2. Eliza Jane*

        The biggest problem my churches have had with hiring members is that their paid responsibilities gradually begin to get supplemented with stuff they do “on their own time”, so the music director starts working with soloists in their off time, or people wind up feeling like they need to do committee work in addition to their official responsibilities.

        This is a) unfair to the employee, and b) not really good for the church, because something they’ve been budgeting a half-time salary for actually ends up taking 50 hours a week to replace.

        1. Honeybee*

          This is the problem that I’ve seen arise at a church I was heavily involved in that primarily hired from within. Their employee members blurred the lines between volunteer work for the church and paid work for the church, but then later became resentful because they felt like they were putting all these hours into the church for their jobs and were forgetting that it was their choice (sort of*) to do the extra work. The * is that over time, as they volunteered to take on more, those extra activities became parts of their responsibilities.

    7. Honeybee*

      My MIL used to be the secretary and then pastor’s assistant for the church she belonged to. It…is not a good idea. She has a close friend who also works as a church secretary and she deliberately works for another church she does not belong to.

  4. KR*

    I wish I could tell my boss this. If the employee isn’t working up to standard despite extensive training and coaching, fire them. If the employee isn’t showing up to work or is unreliable despite warnings, fire them. If the employee is constantly disruptive and you constantly have to give them “last straws” or send them home, FIRE THEM AND FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL WORK WITHOUT DRAMA. Don’t feel bad – they will find another job and hopefully learn from the experience.

  5. Jen*

    Yes, yes, yes to all of this.

    I recently got a chance to sit and listen to a panel on leadership and the question of “poison employees” came up – one of the leaders said “Often, you can’t fire them so I just have to ignore them” and I wanted to scream. If the person in charge ignores the poisonous employee – they don’t go away, you’re just making everyone else deal with them. And everyone else does not have the power to deal with the issue. So the poison spreads and infects others, either turning other people into sour complainers or by killing the morale of previously content employees.

  6. Certainly anonymous for this comment!*

    I work for state government, and I have two very underperforming employees with attitude problems. However, since they’re out of their probation period (happened before I got here!) the process to fire them takes over a year. Involves multiple meetings, official write ups, months-long improvement plans, waiting until performance review time rolls around (6 months later), finally being able to “write them up” at a higher level… etc. It’s a nightmare. We’re definitely held hostage by bad employees, which is sad seeing as they’re paid with tax dollars.

    1. BabyShark*

      But there is a process, however long it may take, which is good. I think the important thing is that you start the process though, not get bogged down and say “well it’ll take so long so it’s not even worth trying.” (which I’m not saying you’re doing or applies to your specific situation, more of a general comment).

        1. Bugsy*

          Yes, we went through it with an employee and did terminate his employment. He filed a complaint with the EEOC, but it was rejected pretty quickly with no other repercussions. The employee has been gone for about a year and it’s been great without him. He called HR after about nine months to apologize and ask to be rehired. He knew that we didn’t replace him. He was told no.

        2. Certainly anonymous for this comment!*

          Thank you for the helpful link. Not impossible- but a very long road! This- and the comments- reminds me not to give up, though! The knowledge that I wouldn’t be here if my predecessor didn’t put off firing them during the probationary period (which he has told me he should have done) helps as well. I don’t want to leave the next person in this position!

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’m reminded of two of my neighbours who are really horrible people. The problems they caused their landlord were already apparent when we moved into our flat and he wanted to terminate their lease, but they had just lived there long enough that their notice period had increased to five years and that was way too long for him and yadda yadda. Well. We’ve lived here for eight years now. The problem neighbours could have been gone for three years already but somehow their landlord preferred to do nothing and keep complaining.

        1. Jean*

          What country do you live in that a landlord has to give his tenant FIVE YEARS notice? That is excessive.

          1. Myrin*

            Germany. I normal notice is three months on both sides but it increases the longer you live somewhere. I’m not sure on the details but I do know that having lived in this flat for eight years, ours is at nine months now, and these neighbours had just lived here for… fifteen years, I believe? I think it was some kind of weird extra clause with the old landlord (the one I’m talking about above bought the flat with these guys still inside) because even here, the usual and most-I’ve-ever-encountered notice is one year after having lived somewhere for more than ten years. But these neighbours are very know-your-tricks-and-niches and I think that came into play here as well.

    2. Bad Candidate*

      This is like me saying I don’t want to lose weight because it will take too long. Well that time is going to come whether I try or not, might as well be on the right path.

      1. alter_ego*

        what’s the expression? “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today”

    3. Certainly anonymous for this comment!*

      Oh I’m definitely working on it, and am very fortunate that my boss heard the problems from my predecessor, then had to deal with them himself until he filled the position. So he’s perfectly aware and supportive. It’s very discouraging in the meantime though. It feels like a huge waste of money and resources.

    4. Lia*

      But you need to do it. Think of the additional costs to keeping them on.

      In a previous state-funded job, my boss inherited a problem employee due to reorganization. After working with her, he realized she needed to go. It took him a solid YEAR to terminate her, but he did it — he logged absolutely everything and got through the process. The replacement employee was a great fit and with her efficiency and attention to detail, actually saved us a ton of money and time.

    5. Mental Health Day*

      Ugh. so sorry. This was one of the main reasons I had to leave my job at a major, prestigious university in Texas. The department I worked in just carried so much dead weight. I just couldn’t stomach continuing to do other people’s jobs when I was being paid so little. The running joke was that these useless employees were like tree rings. You could tell when the job market had been really good, because there would be a group of them that had been hired around the same time because anybody that was worth a damn had gotten a job in the private sector at that time. I certainly don’t want to work in an environment where people are constantly fired, but it really, really crushes morale when that pendulum swings too far in the other direction.

    6. Jillociraptor*

      I know you didn’t hire these folks, but this also speaks to how critical hiring is in places with very long and involved progressive discipline process! I work in a large university, and it’s on our minds a lot now: knowing that you’re going to need to dedicate multiple hours a week for months if you ever want to fire someone does create a little more of a fire lit under folks to be exhaustive in their hiring processes.

  7. Kathleen Adams*

    At a lot of churches, though the pastor is head of staff, there’s some sort of board (trustees, board of elders, whatever) that has the ultimate hiring-firing authority. And in fact there’s often a personnel committee that is a subcommittee of the board of elders. I’ve only belonged to one church that had serious personnel issues (there were only two, but hoo-boy, were they nasty), and those were handled by the personnel committee.

    This does sound like a nasty one here, but yeah, you really do have to handle it. If you can leave the pastor out of it, that would be best.

    1. You down with OP-P?*

      OP here, this is the situation exactly. The pastor does not have the authority to fire her. The board that manages the pastor is the same board that manages the secretary. Since she’s so hateful towards the pastor, it would be ideal to leave him out of it – especially since she’s turned this into a “he goes or I go” situation.

      1. AMG*

        Well, it sounds like she has made this easy for you. I wouldn’t show Alison’s patience by issuing a final warning. I’d meet her in the parking lot with a box of her stuff.

      2. Amanda*

        If there’s a higher level than the personnel board (I’m thinking of a church that is part of a larger denomination that has regional bodies reporting up to a larger regional body etc.) then once the personnel committee makes their decision it may be worthwhile to notify someone on the synod (or whatever it’s called) because if there’s someone who understands the politics of a church organization it’s the preacher and then the secretary and she may try to stir the pot at a higher level to get the whole congregation “in trouble” with the next level of church governance.

      3. MC*

        You mentioned that she has extensive family and friends. If any of them are elders then they may be very hesitant to leave their standing with the church where they have influence and position to start over in a new church. She may drag them along kicking and screaming, but if she’s like this at work, I can see where some of her family may draw the line at losing their church.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Am chuckling, very seldom do we think of things like “The family will be relieved not to have to deal with her at church now. MORE family will come just so that can avoid Negative Nancy on one day out of the week.”

          But this could happen. People can be very unpredictable.

        2. Marisol*

          I haven’t attended church since I was a child, so maybe I don’t understand the social dynamic, but my first thought when I read that the secretary threatened to take her family and friends from the church was that it was a ridiculous empty threat. Presumably, this is a community of people who have an emotional investment in this institution. Would they really give that up out of a misguided sense of loyalty? It’s not a middle-school clique!

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            They might. We had a patriarch get mad over something- that ended up being untrue, but he wouldn’t believe it- and he left and took his children and their families with him. The secretary likely treats her family like she does the church board and pastor and wife, and they won’t stand up to her if she demands they leave.

          2. Chinook*

            “but my first thought when I read that the secretary threatened to take her family and friends from the church was that it was a ridiculous empty threat. Presumably, this is a community of people who have an emotional investment in this institution.”

            I think how you react to her threat is based on what type of church you grew up in. For RC and other types where there is no “church swapping” and you go to the closest one and if you don’t like the priest, maybe the next one over but you aren’t leaving your “church,” just the local community that gathers in a particular building, it would a confusing threat.

            But, I have friends and acquaintances who have switched churches and go from Pentecostal to Lutheran to United and back again over anything from what committees each one has to whether or not they like local minister. In that case, they are switching denominations along with the community in the building and it doesn’t matter overall because they are all Christian communities. This is also the type of place where a minister with the wrong personality can devastate a church because everyone leaves to go to the one down the street.

            1. Jessesgirl72*

              I have a friend who had MAJOR problems with her church leadership being outright rude and verbally abusive to her special needs daughter, and then herself. So we were suggesting she find a new church, but she’s LDS. They need to get special permission from the local hierarchy to move to another congregation if you want to go to a church other than the one they assign you to!

      4. Jessesgirl72*

        Honestly, it can be just as bad the other way. In our denomination, the Priest makes all staff decisions. The board can suggest things and his poor choices would be reflected in his own performance review, but we can’t make him fire anyone.

        Since she has said it’s him or her, the choice should be clear.

      5. Liane*

        In United Methodist congregations there is a Pastor-Parish (or Staff-Pastor-Parish) Relations Committee that deals with hiring/retention in the church. (It is required for all Methodist Congregations by the Book of Discipline.) Hopefully the OP’s church has something similar.

        Also, as a church-goer and believer, I am telling you that yes, the congregation will face problems if Secretary is fired &/or leaves the church. But letting the situation continue is also causing problems, bad ones–the kind of problems that will lose you other church families.

        1. Judy*

          When I was on that committee at my UMC congregation, it was explained to us that we advise the pastor as a liaison between the pastor and the congregation, not that we get to make any decisions.

          1. Liane*

            I’ve never served on ours so I don’t know exactly how these committees work, but I do know ours deals with at least some aspects of hiring staff and that they convey to the Bishop whether or not the congregation wants the pastor to stay another year (the pastor also tells the Bishop if s/he wants to stay).

      6. Interviewer*

        Is there an opportunity to let her go, and then immediately make an announcement to the church about her departure from the role? Something brief from the board, not the pastor; the decision was made with thoughtful and careful concern for her and the church; there were misunderstandings on both sides, and the professional relationship was damaged. It can be a message that allows people to read between the lines on her behavior being the main cause, while not actually pinpointing her or her actions in specific detail. Getting in front of it in a kind way speaks better of your church leadership than her possible vitriol and nonsense.

        1. You down with OP-P?*

          I have heard a suggestion to re-write the job description to include the technology she refuses and the church constitution to specify that we want this position to be non-member, then host a nice all church retirement party for her. Then it looks like something out of her control and may soften feelings if she decides to stay as a member. I thought this was a nice suggestion if this is how the board chooses to approach the situation. But honestly, given the outburst and disrespect I saw Sunday, I doubt she’d go for that and an announcement or meeting may be necessary. Especially given how long she’s attended and how many friends and family she has.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            Well, you can try the retirement bit, but that’s how my church got rid of the old secretary. I wasn’t even living in the state when it happened, and I can still tell you full details about how the pastor “unfairly forced her into retirement.” So even without the outburst, I wouldn’t have hold my breath. People usually see right through that kind of thing.

          2. Jesmlet*

            I think (knowing my church and some of the long time members) that if she’s this difficult with other people, there’s a good chance her friends and family see this side of her as well and may be more understanding than you think.

      7. KR*

        I feel like there’s so much upheaval when getting a new pastor for a church that especially since she’s an underperformer, there’s ample reason for her to go in the “he goes or I go” aspect. People have possibly confided in the pastor, he might have officiated weddings for members of the church, so on. Good assistants can be hard to find but they aren’t a rarity.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Oh, I feel like they are a rarity! At least at the salary a small church can afford.

          But they already don’t have a good assistant!

        2. J*

          The key is who feels like she’s underperforming. The congregation likely doesn’t see it. Only the pastor and, possibly, the board and committees. So, they could let her go for “underperformance”, but if the congregation is on her side, it won’t make a lick of difference.

          /former church secretary

      8. sstabeler*

        “he goes or you go? Ok, I accept your immediate resignation.”

        Yeah, I know that probably wouldn’t fly, but I would love to see the expression on her face

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Wasn’t there a letter once where Alison suggested doing that with an employee who kept giving ultimatums like that? “Oh, you’re quitting? Let me help you pack.”

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            One of my best work days ever was when a consultant told our boss in a team meeting that things were just not working between him and our team. Our boss said, “OK,” then fired the consultant on the spot.

            The consultant just gaped, open-mouthed, a gasping goldfish. Boss continued, “What? Did you expect me to fire my entire team to make you happy? Let’s get your badge and laptop – I’ll walk you out myself.”

            I swear, the clouds opened, angels appeared and sang, and the world was bright and glorious for a brief shining moment.

            I’ll never forget that day or that boss.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          A good board can stand together on this one. It’s basic to governance you cannot make decisions based on threats. And that stands alone.

          “I am sorry but we cannot make our decisions based on threats. If you wish to leave then you may. We will not force anyone to work here. The issue you are complaining about has been investigated, an answer has be reached and that issue is a closed issue.”

          The answer to “either he goes or I go” is “bye!”. The person needs to be reminded that other employees could say the same thing about her and given a different board SHE could be fired because of a threat.

          This is not behavior to encourage. If left unchecked she will just threaten to quit any time something does not go her way.

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      And the other thing to consider is that if the pastor leaves, you’re likely to lose people, too. So would you rather lose people for doing the right thing or the wrong thing?

      I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. In fact, it’s not even easy if the person isn’t a member of the church. But it’s certainly less…messy that way.

      Oh, and re. Annony’s comment, I don’t know how it works in your church/denomination, but in mine, once somebody starts accusing the pastor of stuff, that’s when the denomination gets involved. You do NOT want that because they’ll have to take some sort of action, and it will get really complicated really quickly.

      1. EmmaLou*

        This! I was thinking the same thing. How many people are not coming to your church because they are turned off by her weight-throwing? Who was in that meeting and turned off by her belligerence when they were just there to find out how they could help, not to hear the pastor accused of embezzlement? Yes, she may go and she may take a lot of people with her. And then you may grow as a church of people with a common purpose which isn’t to drag down the pastor. (Note unless the pastor shouldn’t be pastoring, but you said, that’s not valid.)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I have a nice church and I have seen people leave for reasons A LOT tamer than this one. People come and go that is what they do.

          If the church is worried about losing people, then the church can take a look at its program to draw new members, they can look at having greeters so everyone feels welcomed, they can have a social hour after service and invite all in attendance and so on.

          Things should be in place such that her threats to leave and take her people with her are a non-issue. I wonder if her threats have such weight is because nothing is being done to bring in new people. Bringing in new people should be an on-going activity year round.

  8. Annony*

    I work at the church I attend, and I can verify it’s an environment unto its own. I’m currently looking for other work so church can feel like church again. Alison’s advice is great.

    Let me add a bit of urgency: whether she realizes it or not, this secretary is actively working to ruin the pastor’s reputation permanently by accusing him of mishandling church finances. If the finance committee didn’t back him up, he could lose his position at this church, plus be crippled in finding another church. And when we talk about a pastor, we’re typically talking about his family, as well. That’s a lot of collateral damage.

    Not sure what position you’re in to deal with this, but it will not get better on its own.

    1. sunny-dee*

      She is even threatening the wellbeing of the church, since embezzlement is a really big deal at non-profits.

      1. So anon for this one*

        I have a family member who embezzled funds from their church while working as the church’s bookkeeper. They were caught and prosecuted, and the whole thing just tore the church community apart – some argued for forgiveness, others were devastated by the betrayal. What’s worse is that the financial impact was such that the church actually had to close.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        It’s a very big deal with non-profits, for sure. Not going into detail, but I’ve been through such an incident with a non-profit, and there are still members of the community who are upset with some aspects to this day…and it’s been a number of years.

        With something like a church, I think the emotional impact would be even worse.

      3. Jesmlet*

        My priest embezzled $1.4 million over the course of his tenure at church. The associate pastor found out, hired an investigator and exposed him with the help of our accountant. Naturally what the diocese decided to do was shuffle the associate pastor off to another church. He left the priesthood several years later and really who can blame him?

        The crooked priest had been using the money to throw lavish parties and take trips down to Florida with his boyfriend. He died of cancer in jail. Karma at work.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This one made news headlines, right? It sounds familiar. I cannot imagine the pain that congregation went through. I wonder how many regular people left the church also.

    2. Certainly anonymous for this comment!*

      That’s an excellent point. Would you rather lose one member who, worst case scenario goes to another church in town, or uproot an individual and their entire family?

      1. Lady Montworth (née Janice in Accounting)*

        The problem is, the worse case scenario isn’t that she just goes to another church, it’s that she goes to another church *and takes her contributions with her.* Small churches often can’t afford to lose certain members and will go to great lengths to retain them, even when they’re toxic.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          No. Small churches *believe* they can’t survive without a member’s contributions. They are usually mistaken. Toxic environments don’t grow.

        2. Observer*

          Jessegirl is correct. Keep in mind, that even assuming this woman gives money to the church, it’s almost certain that she is also keeping the church from raising as much as it could. Not just because she’s toxic *in general*, but because she has actually “been making decisions that are none of her business, such as whether or not outside groups can use the facilities, or who can contribute which items and talents at which church events.

          In other words, she’s blocking the church from building networks, renting the facilities and accepting donations that she doesn’t want. Seriously?!

  9. MissGirl*

    My church doesn’t have paid positions; it’s all volunteer but with assignments. One particular woman raised cain when she wasn’t given an assignment she felt she earned. (Her good friend was in charge of assigning so she assumed the spot was hers—not how it works.) If she didn’t get the job, she said, she would leave the church. The leadership quietly stood their ground. She denounced her faith publicly and declared she was going to the local Catholic church where she would run things. We all felt a quiet sense of relief mixed with pity for the Catholic congregation. My guess is she’s bouncing around from church to church until she gets her way.

    If this member is behaving like you say, I would worry more about the other members reactions to keeping her rather than firing her. The family may be upset but it’ll strengthen the congregation as a whole.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      We have one like that, and I keep waiting for her to go. But she never does, because she knows she can run things, to a point, with 40+ years at our church and doesn’t have the political capital to run things anywhere else.

    2. Formerly Catholic Anon*

      My favorite part of your story is that she thought she was going to run things at the Catholic church, and she’s a she…she’s not running anything! Ultimately, the priests get to make all the decisions there.

      1. MissGirl*

        Her plan was to take over the women’s group there. The woman heading it had been at it for more years than most people could remember so I’m not sure why she thought she would just take over.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Reminds me of someone who involved herself with a local Pagan event some years ago. Those running it at the time were all fairly young (late 20s or so, mostly), and she was a bit older. She’d come in from out of town; I think she thought she’d wave her doctoral degree around, and the rest of us would fall in line. Why she thought that would work with a bunch of Pagans, I don’t know…

          I vividly remember one conversation at one of the first meetings she attended – she started condescendingly explaining to the guy in charge of scheduling that he shouldn’t put noisy stuff next to quiet stuff. And when he gently explained that he’d done this before, she doubled down with “Well, I didn’t know that – how was ‘I’ supposed to know…??” As though he somehow reported to her and owed her an explanation of his experience.

          Her attitude from the beginning was that we were all too young to possibly have any idea what we were doing, and we should be grateful for her presence, even though we’d been running things for several years by that point. And she made no attempt to understand what we’d been doing, the community, or do anything but push her own agenda. It…didn’t work out. She did find a group she could run, eventually. Just not that one.

        2. Chinook*

          “Her plan was to take over the women’s group there. The woman heading it had been at it for more years than most people could remember so I’m not sure why she thought she would just take over.”

          Speaking as a head of one of those types of women’s group *snork*. What makes her think she is the only pushy woman that would be there? I would love to have been a fly on the wall of that meeting where she tries to charm/convince/bully a bunch of Catholic women that she, an obviously non-Catholic, should be in charge.

      2. doreen*

        In theory. But it’s not unheard of for a woman to influence the pastor of a Catholic church to the point where it’s fair to say she’s running things- sure, she can’t say Mass but she can sure decide she does or doesn’t like some program and get the pastor to go along with her.

        1. KG, Ph.D.*

          There are also very positive, functional situations in which women might be in positions of authority in Catholic parishes. Some parishes are run in a much more, shall we say, egalitarian manner than is condoned by the Church leadership. :) The parish I grew up in was unofficially run for many years by a priest, a lay man, and a lay woman. It was very clear within the parish that they regarded each other as equals and made decisions accordingly. It was really pretty awesome. And then the archbishop got wind of it and shut it down, as he is wont to do. They weren’t even making any decisions he disagreed with, as far as I know; he very plainly said that he didn’t want a woman helping to run the parish.

      3. Mookie*

        she was going to the local Catholic church where she would run things

        I am honestly never going to forget this because it’s such an embarrassing thing to say out loud during a flounce. “Right, I’ll just be crowned queen somewhere else, then, and find another group of people I can dominate and bully. That’ll show you! That’ll show you all!”

    3. Moonsaults*

      Cackling that she thinks the Catholics are going to be easier to push around. What a nightmare on wheels at least she actually did leave though, it’s always nice when they follow through on their threats.

      1. Golden Lioness*

        Yup, because Catholicism is so well known for their openness and willingness to embrace new ideas and change all of their dogmas… sigh!

  10. Alucius*

    Yes, Alison’s advice is excellent here. This would be a hard one even if the secretary wasn’t connected throughout the church since firing someone for performance issues doesn’t fit at first blush with virtues like grace, mercy, and charity.

    Although we don’t know the governance structure of OPs church, I would definitely underline that it is CRITICAL that this decision come from board of elders/deacons, or whatever type leadership team is used. Churches have weird power dynamics where a long-serving secretary’s social capital could outweigh the fact that she technically works for the new pastor. This decision has to come from both lay leadership and the pastoral staff. If the pastor goes into this without full support from the church leadership, he is not going to survive.

    My church does the same as “sssssssssssss”‘s above (that was a weird one to type!). Occasionally there are minor issues with her not quite having the pulse of what is going on with the congregation since she isn’t here on Sundays, but given this story and one or two similar ones with which I have first hand experience, I’d say that the trade-off is more than worth it.

    Also, openly accusing the pastor of misappropriating funds?!? This situation is long past the point of being salvaged.

    1. ArtK*

      Since the accusation was clearly false, someone needs to sit her down and discuss “bearing false witness.” That’s a no-no just about everywhere.

      1. You down with OP-P?*

        In her defense, she wasn’t lying. She just didn’t understand the budget and rather than ask “hey, why is the pay structure like this?” she went to a public meeting, balls to the wall, and shouted about how improper he was. It’s the approach and then the response to being told she was wrong that slayed me. It was very hard to keep a neutral face!

        1. EmmaLou*

          But that is false witness. She accused without facts. The fact is that he wasn’t improper and she stated that he was. Not a question of, “Are we sure this is how this is supposed to work?” but “He is improperly using funds!”

    2. Engineer Girl*

      Excuse me, I’m going to call you on your statement “firing someone for performance issues doesn’t fit at first blush with virtues like grace, mercy, and charity”

      A basic premise of Bible believing churches is accountability to God’s laws. Jesus rescued the adulterous woman from stoning and told her that he would not condemn her. He also told her “go and sin no more”. In short, he had a standard of behavior that he expected. He gave mercy, but also told her that her actions were hurting her.

      I see so many biblical leadership fails in the letter:
      * Submission to authority – NOT!
      * False witness
      * Failure to speak the truth in love
      * Threatening retaliation
      * Hateful actions

      I would remind the leadership that they have a moral obligation to:
      * Correct their church members (Galations 6:1) They can’t fix something unless they know its broke
      * Hold the person accountable and have an increasing level of correction (Matthew 18:15-17)

      Note that the moral obligations are plain basic good leadership. Let people know what you need, and make them accountable to it. If they refuse to change, “fire” them.

      It appears that people have already talked to the secretary about her behavior. The board has taken all the steps except the last one – kicking her out of the church.

      What I’m seeing here is a person in full rebellion. That attitude is straight out of the pit. She needs to be held accountable. Your elders, by not taking action, are participating in her sin.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Rock on.

        There you go, OP. This story has strayed so far from church teachings it’s unreal. There are hundreds of bible verses that can be applied to management and how to manage employees. You can google and also find books on this. It’s fascinating stuff.

        The fact that she was allowed to scream at a meeting right away telegraphs that there are many, many problems here. Intervention should have started right then and there.

      2. Alucius*

        Oh, I don’t disagree with you. I was more commenting on the perception that’s bound to percolate out to at least some in the church.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Ok. I get it. People think “acting in love” means letting them do whatever they want. When truly acting in love is trying to keep the person out of self destruct mode.
          When you see someone sin and stay silent then their blood is on your hands.
          If you correct in love and they ignore you then their blood is on their own head.
          This woman has shot off the rails. The most loving thing the board could do is sit her down and tell her to stop it.

          1. Anonymous 40*

            Nobody has said anything like that. I don’t agree with most of your initial post – particularly the “Bible believing churches” bit, as though there are other kinds – but no one has suggested ignoring her behavior entirely.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              I’m in California. There are all kinds of “churches” out here. I have no idea what flavor of religion the OP has.

              And people absolutely have been ignoring her behavior, which is why it has come to such a bad point.

    3. Candi*

      From the secular side, IANAL, but I believe “openly accusing the pastor of misappropriating funds” is tap dancing into defamation and slander territory- in front of witnesses yet.

  11. Jessesgirl72*

    OP, I speak this as a member of a church board in a small church. Someone needs to fire her. Immediately.

    Yes, there will be consequences. But the consequences of what happens if she stays will only be worse. Our Bishop told the board outright that if someone doesn’t like a decision we make and tries to undermine our leadership and “threatens to take their toys and become Presbyterian” to wish them well and let them go. You can’t let one person- employee or member- hold the church hostage. How many more people will she chase away if she’s allowed to continue on as she has? How many newcomers has she already insulted or frozen out so that they don’t stay? How many people were willing to take leadership roles and were prevented? My church had this problem shortly before I moved here, without the verbal abuse, and the new Pastor decided to replace her. Which he had the right to do in our denomination. And there was backlash over him not even giving her a “fair chance” even though she was completely unwilling to use a computer. In 2012! But it blew over. Some people left, but a healthy congregation attracts new people. You don’t have a healthy congregation.

    And then when she’s fired and probably going to the community church down the street, make sure her replacement is *not* a member of the congregation.

    1. Mary*

      I would like to second this wholeheartedly. People who abuse positions of power in churches like this (and any church employee is in a position of power) put the entire community into huge disarray. The worst-case scenario isn’t “This woman leaves the church and takes several beloved members of the congregation with her.” The worst-case scenario is “This woman makes it impossible for the church to carry out its mission of reconciliation, prevents any new members from joining because they see how ugly things are, and keeps promising young church leaders from building their true potential.”

      Though, again–I do find that having employees come from the congregation, or at least belong to the denomination, is a good idea (if they are qualified in other ways). It doesn’t make sense to me to refuse to hire the people who care most about your organization and understand it the best. I fully realize the problems that can come into play–I’ve seen many of them!–but they tend to be problems arising ultimately from poor leadership and ineffective boundary-setting all around.

    2. Minister of Snark*

      This. In the long run, firing this woman and letting her family have their tantrum and quit/whatever, may cause chaos for a while. But it is less damage than she will be able to do representing the church in such a rude, unprofessional manner.

      1. starsaphire*

        And, for another thing… maybe her family and “friends” aren’t as enamored of her as she believes? Maybe they won’t all quit en masse, as she believes they will?

        If she has delusions about how important she is to the church, and that she has the right to fire the pastor, perhaps she has delusions about her importance to these people as well. Anything’s possible.

  12. KatieKate*

    I was in an organization where a program manager was this “bad employee.” He was beloved by some folks in the community, and because nothing was written down everyone insisted we couldn’t do the program without him. New ED comes in, has sense, fires him, community revolts. We figure out how to run the program and it’s thriving so much better than before.

    1. You down with OP-P?*

      Hah, true! That is the one benefit of having an admin who won’t learn new technology :)

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      Too bad it doesn’t work that easily. She has children and probably grandchildren who know how to use social media! :)

      1. Candi*

        Assuming they love her as much as she claims she does.

        Her family may well not be as worshipful and devoted as she thinks they are; it could well be more tolerance and ‘well, she is family… unfortunately’ behind closed doors.

  13. Chickaletta*

    You mention that she’s been “prickly” in the past and questions the authority of the board, which I assume are members also? When I was on the board at my church, we had a problem employee who, as long as he was only causing problems between him and other staff members, we tried to work it out and mitigate the issue. But as soon as he stepped out of line with one of the parish members he was out the door. All I’m saying is don’t forget that the other members of your church have to deal with this person also, and as soon as she crosses the line with other members of the church, don’t be afraid to let her go for those reasons.

  14. Anony*

    Hi, OP. Myy church has a history of Very Ugly Staff Issues, and one thing that jumps out at me is your employee is also a member. In one situtation after the Board finally got unencumbered from one particular person they put in the by-laws that external applicants get first consideration for any church employment opportunities,. If a member truly is the most qualified they have to give up their membership in the church upon hiring. There are pros and cons to it, but the strict boundaries make disciplining easier. Especially if you’re a small denomination or isolated congregation where you may not have external options.

    Also I’m sure your congregation has general rules about how members treat each other. One thing that soured me pretty bad in my church (I’m not currently going) is there was a couple that were known to be sour and mean to everyone, and they were treated like the broken stair. “That’s just how they are, ignore them as they are noisily mean and petty and grumpy in every single interaction.” I’m not the only one who stays away (in part) because of them. Fix your church’s stair.

  15. Argh!*

    “You cannot let yourself be held hostage to a bad employee.”

    I have been dragged down by one that my supervisor at the time wouldn’t let me escalate discipline with. I finally decided that if substandard work was okay with her, it is okay with me, and I stopped trying to coach and rehabilitate him. I put my energy into things my boss actually seemed to care about, but dealing with customer disappointment (to say the least) due to this employee was exhausting.

  16. Catnip Melba Toast*

    Ugh. This reminds me of the local public library system, where the Friends of the Library volunteers became increasingly opinionated and argumentative about how the library should be run. It was like they thought the board should bend to their will. The response of the management was to permanently disband the group.

  17. Looey*

    You might be surprised how many of those friends and family won’t follow her out the door. And if they do, perhaps all those people she drove away will fill the pews?

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      Our Bishop told us to do that too, with a troublesome committee. No one has had the cajones to do it. I mean, I would, cheerfully, but I’m just a single board member, and every time I remind the rest of the board about what the Bishop suggested, they all look at their feet.

  18. Lady Montworth (née Janice in Accounting)*

    Ohhhh, church secretaries. When they are good, they’re very very good, but when they are bad they are toxic monsters who suck the will to live out of half your congregation. (that’s how the poem goes, right?)

    The first step should be to have the elders meet with her, lay out the behaviors she’s shown that are unacceptable (list the incidents!), and ask what is going on and why she’s having so much trouble working with the pastor. They might find there’s something going on that they were unaware of; they might find she’s having some personal issues that are affecting her job; or they might realize she cannot be pacified. They can make it clear that they love her and her family, and don’t want her to leave.

    The suggestion to make technology skills a non-negotiable part of the job description and retire her into that good night is a great one, as long as your elders are on board. I said up-thread that the danger is that she’ll take her contributions with her; that’s something that the elders will have to weigh and decide if they’re willing to risk it. Best of luck, and for your next secretary I wholeheartedly recommend finding someone who is NOT a church member.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, you’ve mentioned the contributions more that once. I find it baffling. The practical issues have been mentioned. In addition, though, it fundamentally makes no sense. You’re basically suggesting that the Board allow improper behavior in exchange for cash. That’s bribery, when you get right down to it. And, not only is that a bad idea, in this context it totally knocks the church off the moral high ground it needs to be able to stand on.

      There is a story that Churchill was sitting next to some society lady at a function and he asked her if she would have a tryst for $1m. She said that she would. He then propositioned her. She responded by asking if he thought that she was just some prostitute. He responded “We have already established that you are. The only question is your price.”

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Our Pastor puts it this way “If our focus is primarily on keeping the lights on, we should close the doors and disband immediately!”

        Yes, to do good works, we need to keep the lights on. But when you are so fearful of doing what is CLEARLY the right thing, for fear that it will have a financial impact, then you’re losing sight of what a Church is supposed to be. It also shows a lack of Faith.

      2. Lady Montworth (née Janice in Accounting)*

        NOOOOOO Sorry to baffle you, maybe I wasn’t clear–I’m ABSOLUTELY not saying that they allow improper behavior in return for her contributions!!! But in my experience, it does happen; elderships will sometimes do things that do not make sense in order to keep a donor. That isn’t right, it isn’t fair, it isn’t even moral, in my opinion, but the OP should be prepared that it could happen.

        The church my parents attend hired a new pastor about five years ago, and there was a small but wealthy segment of the congregation that did not like him and made his life an absolute misery for three solid years. The eldership was afraid to take action because they didn’t think they could afford to lose that segment. Eventually something happened and they all left in a huff, taking their donations (and some church property they had donated, ripping it right off the wall) with them, and guess what? The congregation survived! It’s thriving, actually, now that the source of toxicity is gone. But that pastor won’t get those three years back, and his trust in the eldership has been damaged by their lack of action.

  19. Mena*

    “If you find yourself feeling hostage to a bad employee, you can’t just shrug your shoulders and figure that you have to deal with it. You have to actively work to free yourself and your organization from that trap.”

    My former boss disallowed me to fire a new employee on a 90-day probation that lied on her resume about her skills and experiences and could not do her job. My boss wanted me to train this ‘senior’ team member with a P.h.D that was highly paid and expected to hit the ground running. It was the last straw for me – this manager couldn’t manage and couldn’t lead, lacked business and interpersonal judgment, over-valued herself, and couldn’t come to work on time or with consistency.
    I freed myself from this organization and found another job.

  20. Christine*

    This one of the letters I would like to see an update from. If she treats the pastor and the governing body this way, just think of the way she must treat her family. The family might be tickled to death to see her walk away. They can go to church without worrying about her. The latter is an assumption on my part. Be sure to have everything written down . . . behavior along with the refusal to update her skills. Since she disrespects the pastor it’s best that the board or elders termite her. If she has check writing privileges, get that revoked e terminating her.

  21. MsChandandlerBong*

    Great question and great advice from Alison, as usual. At my previous church, it was actually our *pastor* who was the problem. He drove so many people away with his actions that it’s not even funny. Not only did he encourage conflict between church cliques, but he also openly criticized (not in a constructive way) other pastors in our denomination. I was so relieved when he left; unfortunately, the people who were in his little in-group still hate the new pastor simply because he’s not the old pastor, and the poor guy has already been there for several years.

  22. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m going to chime in from a couple different perspectives.

    As the child of a pastor. (That’s right, I’m a preacher’s kid.): Watching church members publicly denigrate your parent is awful. Gossip extends to the youngest ears. Seeing people whom you’ve trusted and liked your whole life get pulled, well, to the dark side is pretty demoralizing. Please keep in mind what this person’s actions are doing to your pastor and his family. Because odds are in a small church, it’s not just one person.

    As someone who served in a paid PT ministerial role. Yep, did that too. I led worship for almost 5 years. Knowing people were out there talking about me and what they liked or disliked and linking that with my spiritual maturity was a killer. Trying to lead our dying church with a senior pastor who was also getting flayed on a regular basis because people wanted the old glory days but wouldn’t put in the work to have some new ones was exhausting. I really hope that if God ever calls me to serve in a ministerial role again that it’s in a healthy church. A small, dying one is a soul killer in a real way.

    As a church member who watches people who claim to be a follower of Christ but yet act in direct opposition to all of the commands we are given, it’s a quick way to find the door. Younger people especially aren’t going to put up with that. They will just leave. New people won’t stay long. You’ll be left with old people who might be giving but your church isn’t growing.

    So, you need to fire this person because she isn’t doing the duties of her job at an acceptable level. You also need to follow the steps of Christian discipline since she’s a church member. She should not be allowed to behave that way within the congregation. Don’t let her blackmail you because that’s what she’s doing.

    1. Alucius*

      Preach it, fellow PK!

      I have never seen my father so distraught as when a church business meeting turned into an unfounded assault on his character from some of the older “saints.”

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        My dad used to say that you couldn’t see a better fight in ten rounds than a business meeting.

  23. Marcia*

    I’m a church minister with a large Presbyterian denomination with a law department who were very helpful to me when I had to deal with a similar, albeit more subtle, bully and power-freak. I am based in a Christian Outreach Centre where we have church activities, other charities, dance schools etc going on all through the week.

    First off – this woman is very obviously bullying your pastor and his wife. This is unacceptable and on its own should provide grounds for summary dismissal.

    I don’t know how the OP’s church is set up in terms of governance, but the pastor should not be involved in the disciplinary action against this woman except for providing written statements about how he has been treated. His wife should also be asked to provide statements, and as at least some of bullying has taken place in front of others, they too should be asked to provide written statements of what they witnessed. It might be that the most appropriate way forward would be for a the Board of Elders to agree to form a small Committee who would go through the disciplinary process. Given all that the OP has said, I really don’t see that this woman can remain in post, but it is important that her dismissal is carried out properly and in as pastorally sensitive way as possible.

    It may be that the woman may choose to resign when she senses that her actions are no longer being tolerated. I had that experience a couple of months ago with the bullying power-freak I mentioned earlier. She, let’s call her Jane, had been a problem for years but nothing could be proved. I’ve been in post for 18 months and was aware of her as being a problem before I even applied for the job. This summer her behaviour became really bizarre, and she clearly overstepped the line with someone who is employed by the congregation. Although Jane was a volunteer, I started looking into how best to “dismiss” her and contain any potential fall-out. Before I got to that stage, though, I spoke to her about the inappropriateness of the way she’d spoken to our employee. She shrugged that off, gave me a litany of woes and complaints, and ended by tearing up, saying that she didn’t feel she could continue as it seemed I didn’t trust her. I simply said that that was her decision to make, and off she went. She had been a serial resigner before I got there, and she fully expected the Parish Minister to ask her to come back – as had happened several times in the past. However, I’d already told him that the costs of her being there greatly, greatly outweighed the benefits, and he simply listened to her, and got her keys back!

    The atmosphere in the Centre lifted considerably and noticeably as soon as Jane left. Many, many people commented on it, and several people came forward to offer assistance with covering the office in her absence. After Jane had gone a number of different people came and told me stories of Jane’s dysfunctional and bullying behaviour. Yes, it has been a bit of hassle for me now she’d gone, but that’s largely because she wasn’t actually doing the admin she was meant to be doing. Overall, losing her has been a huge benefit to us.

    Oh, and although Jane never told me to my face, apparently she had been complaining about me wearing jeans too!

  24. NoMoreMrFixit*

    Former organist. Started in my home church and left for reasons best left in the past where they belong. Since then I worked at other churches within different denominations before eventually retiring from playing due to carpal tunnel syndrome. FT job was computer geek so I really messed up my hands. :-(

    For my own spiritual comfort I would occasionally attend a church of my own denomination in my best friend’s community. Being an employee with no vested interest in the parish made my job much easier as I could focus on the music and choir directing and try to stay out of the politics. Also made it easier to leave when the politics and head games got out of control.

    Keep employees separate. It’s a lot less stress on both sides. At least that’s been my experience.

  25. NPDBGJ*

    Hi there-
    As someone who holds a BA and MA in Pastoral Studies, and who has served on church boards in the past, let me reaffirm the advise that Alison gives. Fire the secretary and let God sort out the rest of it.
    Furthermore, the attitude and behavior that this person is manifest does not align at all with the behavior that God expects of Christians (Galatians 5:19-21, James 3:13-18), and s/he (don’t remember which) needs to have that – lovingly but firmly – pointed out to them. If they refuse to repent, they will experience spiritual consequences as well.
    There’s a lot at stake here. Let me encourage you and others to do the right (but hard!) thing.

    1. NPDBGJ*

      Fire or warn the secretary. Otherwise you’ll have a HUGE mess to deal with that might split the church and destroy it.

  26. Chaordic One.*

    Alison’s advice is sound.

    This situation is decidely different from the letter that was written earlier in the week about the grumpy and over-stressed co-worker.

  27. Racheon*

    Did everyone else picture this employee like that woman who refused to issue gay marriage licenses? Because I did :D

  28. Whats In A Name*

    If someone already pointed this out I am sorry; don’t have time this morning to read through everything but she is not questioning the budget. That is “I see we used part of the capital budget but don’t see a receipt filed that matches the amount.” She is making decisions to not allow groups to use your facilities, which may or may not (depending on groups and your requirements) affecting overall income and she is accusing your pastor of embezzlement.

  29. newerabooks*

    There was a book recommendation above, but I have another one to suggest: “When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations,” by Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont. Most elements are helpful for any church with staff, honestly. I work at a church, and I received the book as a gift when I started supervising another employee. It has been a very helpful reference!

  30. Sadiemae*

    I worked for a church about five years ago that had a few members like this lady. What I learned is that there are *always* people like this. They go from congregation to congregation looking for people who will let them throw their weight around, because it makes them feel special. And there are plenty of them – you might hope that one will get fed up and leave, but if you haven’t taken care of the situation that allowed him/her to act this way, someone else will step into the gap.

    If someone is holding the church hostage with awful behavior, the church MUST shut it down. Even if the person’s family will leave if they leave, even if their absence will be a financial problem for the church. Set boundaries and enforce them. Many others in the church are waiting for you to do so, whether you know it or not. Enforce rules for kind and loving behavior in your congregation no matter what. In the long run, it’s the only thing that helps build a healthy church. Some of the “difficult people” will reform and start acting decent; most will leave and inflict themselves on another church. We can absolutely love them and sympathize with them, but their actions, if they refuse to rein themselves in, can destroy a church, and that just can’t be allowed, for the good of the quiet people who say nothing but who need church to be a place of loving kindness.

    It is SO hard when you’re worried about the budget – but it is the right thing to do, both for the congregation and for the troubled member. Good luck!!

  31. seoa4*

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