It was the best of times.
It was the worst of times.
So begins the classic Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
It echoes my memories of leading our church staff.
It’s the best of memories.
It’s the worst of nightmares.
However, my overall experience of leading a church staff was wonderful. They developed me as I gave them opportunities to flourish in their call and passion.
While I didn’t always get it right I did gain valuable insights along the way.
How To Get The Best Out of Your Staff
Building a church staff can be one of the most rewarding elements of ministry life.
The sense of team spirit, shared achievement and mutual respect while serving together in the majestic cause of Christ is something to be treasured.
However, creating and cultivating a high-performance staff is not for the faint-hearted. It requires significant interpersonal skills, emotional maturity and a robust spirituality.
It requires a shift in a pastor’s thinking and orientation.
When they initially answered the call of God very few pastors gave much time to think about being a boss and leading a staff. They generally thought in terms of ministry activities such as preaching, praying, counselling, reaching people for Christ, planting churches, missions’ trips and so on.
However, as churches grow so does their need for staff. Suddenly a pastor discovers they are more than a pastor and now they are a boss.
Establishing A Staff
One of the first things you need to define is what constitutes someone being a member of your staff.
Will you restrict staff roles to only those who are paid a salary?
Or will you broaden it to include key leaders or office volunteers?
The advantages of including key leaders and office volunteers:
- Healthy connections to paid staff
- Stronger ownership of culture, values and mission by unpaid key leaders
- People feel honoured when included
The disadvantages of including key leaders and office volunteers:
- Difficulty in getting all your staff together in one place at one time
- Some volunteers feel overwhelmed by being called a staff member
- A staff of 10 in a church of 100 can feel disproportionate and inappropriate
- People can develop inappropriate expectations of future employment
How To Hire Staff
Hiring from within your church gives you significant benefits and generally should be your first option. These staff members will have a proven track record of effectiveness and support of you and your church.
They already understand the mission, distinctives and culture of your church and this background knowledge will enable them to adapt quicker.
However, the expertise you are seeking may not always be found in your church and you may decide to hire from another church.
When hiring from another church remember that their process of connection to your people and your culture will take a minimum of two years.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that this will be easy or quick.
Getting to know people and earning their trust takes considerable time.
Cultural adaptation is also a lengthy process that requires patience and perseverance.
Six Key Rules For Hiring
1. Look for integrity and right attitudes
Never hire on skill alone. Skills can be taught. Healthy attitudes and integrity are much harder to grow.
2. Ensure the fit is right
Don’t ignore the chemistry. If you have a relatively small staff you should never hire someone who doesn’t click with you. Also, ensure their commitment to your culture is seen in their language and life.
3. Hire the most skilful person
Once the integrity and chemistry boxes are ticked, aim to get the most skilful person available.
4. Personally interview the person
In a smaller to medium church don’t be afraid to utilise the expertise on your board or within your church during the interview process. In a large church where a manager handles the hiring process, take the time to interview the leading applicants before the final decision.
5. Use a personality profile
A personality profile will give you helpful insight into the person. The big five personality profile is one of the more accurate predictors of employment success.
6. Put it in writing
Whether you use a formal contract or offer/acceptance correspondence, ensure all the relevant details are in writing and signed by both parties.
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An important aspect of hiring a staff member is the induction process.
Induction should cover such matters as:
Your expectations and their role profile
Office logistics and operational policies
Salary and benefits procedures
All legal requirements
Don’t Reinvent The Wheel
A staff handbook and operational policies manual are essential for a thorough induction process. The new staff member should read these documents and sign off on them.
If you are a smaller church don’t reinvent the wheel.
All larger churches have developed these types of documents and will usually give them to you for your adaptation.
Be careful to only incorporate those elements that are relevant to your size church.
Once you employ someone as a staff member your relationship with that person alters and now incorporates a new dimension.
You are now more than their pastor.
You are their boss and this adds a complexity to your relationship.
What makes it even more difficult is our unique workplace.
We work with people who are not only our colleagues but are our covenant brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. Yet we are their boss and are connected in a workplace that has boundaries, expectations, policies, legal entities and more.
This added layer of complexity can be confusing for everyone and can produce unbearable tension that damages your emotions and sense of enjoyment in your call.
Here are a few concepts that will help you navigate your way through this maze:
1. Set The Tone
Decide what atmosphere you want amongst your staff in your office.
Do you want it formal, informal, fun, serious, distant, connected, corporate, community, peaceful, chaotic, raucous, calm, sensible, frivolous?
Find the mix that suits you. Then model it, encourage it and amplify it.
This will help you establish what type of relationship you will have with your staff.
2. Establish Protocols For Different Contexts
In Philippians 2.25 Paul calls Epaphroditus his “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier”.
These words describe three different relationships that can exist simultaneously amongst co-workers. We are part of the family of God; there’s work to be done and we are fighting for the greatest cause on the planet.
Therefore, train your staff to recognise that there will be different contexts that will call for different protocols.
For example, during a performance review, your focus is on their productivity not on your covenant connections.
Again, when you are celebrating an achievement at a local café your focus should be on ‘brotherly kindness’ not on taking the next mountain for Christ.
3. Establish Boundaries
Work out the boundaries of friendship and work relationship.
Don’t allow staff to get so familiar with you that they can disrespect your authority as their boss.
However, don’t swing the pendulum so far the other way that they tiptoe around you, fearful of awakening the berating boss.
Navigating your way through these murky waters is often tricky, complex and emotionally demanding.
Give yourself space and time to learn the right balance between you and your team. Keep at it and you will get this right.
If you want to learn more about how to get the best out of your staff then let me recommend one of my all-time favourite books Fire Someone Today: And Other Surprising Tactics for Making Your Business a Success by Bob Pritchett. It’s a classic and so helpful.