My Three Years on a Church Staff

It recently dawned on me that all my church experiences have come in threes: I pastored six churches, three rather small and three rather large, and in between served on the staff of a large church for three years.

As you know, we preachers love our threes. Sermons seem to always have three points.

In doing these church staff articles, it occurred to me that the time I spent on the staff of First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, was critical to everything that came afterwards. In some ways, I received more from those 3 years than from a similar period in seminary working for a master’s. Of course, the lessons learned and skills received from each were different and invaluable, and are not to be compared.

When Ken Westbrook left FBC Greenville, MS sometime in 1970 (he had been assistant pastor; it was a fairly large church) for a pastorate in Florida, I said, “I wish I’d had the experience you’ve had, to serve on the staff of a large church. There are lessons and experiences not available in smaller churches.”

Little did I know.

A few weeks later, Pastor Joe Walker suggested that FBC of Jackson was looking for a minister of evangelism. He wondered if I’d like my name in the pot. “Not me,” I said all too quickly. “I’m a pastor. I couldn’t be a staff member.”

One week later, Joe Walker and James Richardson–two of my best friends in the ministry–mentioned my name to Larry Rohrman, pastor of FBC Jackson. He called late that night, asking if I could drive down the next day to talk about the position.

I knew before the interview had ended this was of God.

For the three calendar years of 1971, 1972, and 1973–exactly 36 months–I served that wonderful church as their Minister of Evangelism. (Although, student minister Derrell Murphree could never get the title right. Murph kept calling it “minister of vandalism.”) When I departed, it was to become pastor of the equally wonderful FBC of Columbus, Mississippi, where we stayed an even dozen years.

Now, let’s get to the question: What difference did serving on the staff of a large church make in my life and subsequent ministry? Originally, I’d planned to limit the list to five things, but the more I’ve thought it, it could easily be fifty!

And–lest readers get lost in what follows–may I emphasize that the whole point of this is to encourage someone who is thinking of joining the staff of a big church to go for it!

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10 Questions About Church Staffs

(This should be the final entry in this little series of postings regarding church staff teams. For a pastor to bring in associate ministers for his church can be a wonderful boost to his work, a blessing to the congregation, and a lift to the associate’s career. But it’s also scary, a real faith venture which can and sometimes does go badly. Here are a few considerations on the subject.)

1. The pastor and congregation of a small church agree it’s time to add a staff member, their first. How should they go about it?

Very deliberately. Cautiously, prayerfully, intelligently.

The most common error I’ve seen pastors in this situation make is to bring in a buddy whom they have known through the years, who is presently without a church. On the surface, it looks like a gift from Heaven, a situation handed them from on high.

Maybe so. More likely not.

Pastor, it’s one thing to be friends with that colleague through the years. But when you become his supervisor, the relationship changes. Be careful here.

I suggest to the pastor of a small congregation about to bring in a new staff member that he do the following:

a) Put together a small team of mature church members to assist him. They are not “the” search committee, although they and you work as a team. You will need their counsel, their wisdom, their judgment, and the new minister will need their support. (It’s best if they do not select a chairman; you are their leader.)

b) Be very clear as to what you want the new staffer to do. If it’s to work with the youth or administer an educational program or develop a senior adult ministry, spell it out.

c) Have an understanding with your committee that all must be on board with a recommendation before it goes to the church. Prepare them for the possibility of everyone except you agreeing on someone, or you wanting a candidate whom they do not accept. Make sure they are able and prepared to deal with that. Immature members will quickly lose patience with a pastor who seems hard to please or who does not accept their choice.

d) Call other pastors and get their help. They know people you don’t.

e) Once you find a likely candidate, do not fall in love with him/her too quickly. (Caution your committee about this, too.) Take your time to get to know him, to run plenty of references, to check thoroughly into his past.

After all, this being the church’s first venture into staff members, you want the experience to be a good one.

2. Where do we find great staff members?

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Shy? Sorry, No Place for That Around Here.

We all have our pet peeves. This is one of mine: People who excuse themselves from obeying the Lord or doing difficult tasks that would require them to stretch because, “I’m shy” or “I’m just not able to do that.”

Get over your shyness, friend. There is no place for shyness in the Kingdom of God, not if you’re planning on being obedient to the Master.

The Lord is going to be asking from you things you cannot easily do, and you will be forced to decide whether to give in to your reserve or to obey Him. You will not be able to do both.

The Lord will ask you to step out of the crowd and confess Him. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked, and called a woman to step forth and admit that it was she who had stretched out the hand of faith to the Savior (Mark 5:31).

For some of us, that means responding to the invitation at church next Sunday morning and stepping forward, into the aisle, to publicly affirm that Christ is our Savior and Lord.

The Lord will ask you to go into your world and confess Him. He said, “You shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in Judea….” (Acts 1:8).

He said, “Whoever confesses me before men, him the Son of Man will also confess before the angels of God” (Luke 12:9).

He may ask you to suffer for Him. “Beware of men,” Jesus said, “for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues” (Matthew 10:17).

Clearly, if one’s natural shyness is dominant, if it keeps us from letting others around us know of our commitment to Christ, if it silences us when to speak out would be costly or hard, our discipleship is going to suffer.

I’m only a Baptist preacher, let me admit here, and not a psychiatrist with insights into human personalities and psyches. So, what follows is not the last word on this subject, but if it moves the discussion along and helps someone to leave their cubicle of withdrawal for Jesus’ sake, it will be worth the effort.

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The Bi-Vocational Pastor Assembles His Staff

A friend in Georgia who had read these articles on church staffs raised a good question: “How do do you begin to build a staff when the pastor is the only employee of the church, or even when you are bi-vocational?”

I sent the note to a friend in Alabama who knows all about the bi-vo business. While working full-time for a government agency, Bo has another full time job: pastoring a Southern Baptist church. And, a growing one at that. In fact, Bo’s church is sufficiently large to have two or more ministers on board full time. And yet, he and every member of his staff are bi-vocational.

A word about definitions. Bo called my hand on saying he is part-time at the church. “Hey, no minister is part time! No matter where you are, and no matter what you are doing, you are a minister of the gospel. There is no such thing as a part-time minister.” Good point.

So, how does Bo go about assembling a staff? Before telling you what he said, let me point out that he seems to have a great concept of whom to hire. The times I’ve preached for him, I’ve been impressed by the quality of the leadership of his team.

All right. Here are the eight principles that guide this bi-vocational pastor in seeking staff members….

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