What to tell a new staff member joining your church team

Let’s say you’re the pastor of a growing church.  The church has just brought in a new minister to assist you in leading the congregation.  He/she might be a worship pastor, minister of music, student minister, or in charge of education or pastoral care. Or a hundred other areas. (They keep finding new titles and creative assignments for staffers!)

One of the best things a pastor can do with the incoming minister is to make them aware of your expectations.  You will want to think them through and write them out, then share them after you both have agreed that God is leading him/her to your church.  Give the person the printed copy and don’t lose your own.  This will be important if the time comes when you have to deal with a difficult or uncooperative staff member.

I suggest you share these graciously, not dictatorially as though you are going to be looking over their shoulder all the time.

You might even follow this by asking for their expectations concerning you.  I guarantee you they have them.  They will expect you to deal with them as ministers of the gospel, to give them room to do their job, to pay them well and protect them on their off days, and to support them when the criticism is unfair.  If the new staffer expects something which was neither spoken nor implied, you need to know that before you get too deeply into the employment process.

What follows are things I shared with our staff members in six churches over forty-two years.  Some of them evolved, while some of them were there from the first.  The list is not complete, but only things I recall at the moment…

You are a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I promise to always treat you that way, and not as a “hired hand.”  I will go out of my way to magnify your ministry from the pulpit.

–But you must conduct yourself as a God-called minister of the Lord Jesus.  You will have no private life in which you may do as you please without it being a reflection on the Lord or the church. (I once knew a church pianist who moonlighted in a bar.  She insisted her private time was of no concern to the church.)

No one expects perfection from you.  If you will work hard and give your best effort, if you make a mistake sometimes or if some event does not go off as well as we all had hoped, we will still be there to support you.

–Laziness has no place in the ministry.

Never surprise your pastor.  I once had a student minister announce from the pulpit that next summer’s mission trip would be to New England.  That was news to me and I was his pastor.  You may believe we had a heart-to-heart talk the next morning in the church office. And yes, we did take that mission trip.  I had no desire to punish him, only to see that things were done right.

–Never share your disagreement with the pastor with someone else in the church.  If you and the pastor are having a problem and you share it with a friend in the congregation, no matter how much he/she insists, they will pass it on to a few people who promise to tell no one.  When you and the pastor get together on matters, that juicy piece of gossip is still making the rounds in the congregation.  (I gave him a severe reprimand in private to the staff member who did that, and warned him that a second time would be grounds for dismissal.  He never did it again.)

–If you cannot carry out a task you’ve agreed to do, you must get back to me and say so.  Never leave your pastor expecting something from you which you have no intention of carrying out.

–Pay attention during the sermon.  Show the congregation how that’s done.  If you want to take notes on the sermon, so much the better.  (If the pastor ever mentions you in the middle of his sermon, woe to you if your mind was wandering and you have no idea what was said! These things matter to the congregation, and should to you.)

Do your job.   If as minister of music, let’s say, the choir is growing smaller and weaker, because you have been too busy that week making hospital visits or counseling people with problems, the congregation will conclude that you are not doing your job.  Do your job.

–Do not expect me to be sensitive enough to pick up on any problem you are having with me.  Either handle it yourself with prayer or come and tell me about it.  Worst of all would be to let it fester and grow to the point of endangering our relationship.

To incur great unpaid debts in our city will be considered the same as some obscene sinful act.  Bad credit will ruin your reputation, set a horrible example, and bring shame upon our church.

–I will do all in my power to see that you are paid as well as the church can afford.  Your job is to live within your income.

If a church member gives you something of value–I’m talking about more than a mess of collard greens or a new necktie or a $100 bill for doing a funeral–you should make the pastor aware of it.  Even if I say it was fine, I will appreciate knowing it. The idea is not to be a Pharisee or nit-picker, but to anticipate any possible problems before they occur.

–Members of the ministerial staff will sometimes have disagreements or rivalries.  We expect the two of you to act like adults and not children.  Childish jealousies or silly competitions between ministers of the gospel will not be tolerated. If you have a problem the two of you cannot resolve, tell me.

Once a trust level is established–and that will often take a couple of years–then all these considerations will be taken for granted and will never be referred to again.

A healthy relationship between pastor and ministerial staff is a beautiful thing.  Let’s do everything we can to build one of those!

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