Dear Addie,

I am new in my ministry position at a small church, but I quickly discovered that several of the key lay leaders, the ones in charge of financial details and decision making, are … well, they are incompetent. They haven’t done their job. They don’t keep good records. They don’t seem to comprehend any simple accounting practices. They can’t provide reliable information and are of no help with budget planning or management. So I am wondering how to “fire” lay leaders without splitting this church. Any thoughts?

No One Ever Told Me This Would Happen.


Dear N.O.E.T.M.T.W.H.,

First things first. It is impossible and unwise to fire volunteers, especially when you are a new minister in the church, and even more so when you are in a small congregation. It just isn’t worth it for the church family or for your ministry. The better route to go when you discern a deficiency in leadership  is to add some people to the mix who have the skills to not only get the job done, but to teach others how to do the job well. With smaller congregations, it takes everyone doing something to get the work done.

In church ministry, we often encounter volunteers who have no idea how to do what they are doing, but they love the church family and recognize that there is a need so they answer the call to serve. May we be grateful for willing hearts! May we be patient with them, remembering we are all community together. An ideal church world does not exist in which there is competency in everything, but somehow we must manage to limp through it and to proclaim the love of Christ.

If you have tried adding more people to the mix but cannot make that happen, the reality is that sometimes you just have to ride things out, but you ride it out together. Start small with your expectations, and start cheerfully. Determine what financial information the church absolutely needs to improve the ministry. Pray toward that and ask God to help you see with clarity how you can draw this out of the people. Always be affirming in genuine ways. Most of the time people in the church are trying their best and are hoping for the best for their church family.

There are times we have to let go of our expectations of how things should be done. We can keep asking for financial reports so that we can make good decisions and be faithful leaders of God’s people, but if the reports do not come, we have to keep leading and making decisions the best we can. It can be an interesting journey of trusting in God for ministers who have to make ministry decisions based on something other than hard fast financial reports. You can embrace this reality as a blessing or as a curse.  But be encouraged by remembering that somehow the church has made it this far.

On that note, talk with church leaders about how they have made it this far, keeping the records like they have. Perhaps the leaders are nervous and concerned too, but perhaps they just do not know how else to do it. Over time, help them tweak the process to make it better for God’s glory, but take baby steps. Money makes people nervous, and anytime we highlight people’s deficiencies, it really makes people nervous. Be kind and generous and very patient. And remember—it is a blessing to serve the people of God!

Prayers for you, my sister,



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*The photo of Addie Davis is provided courtesy of Special Collections, Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.