Your Church Can Solve 90 Percent of Personnel Conflicts Before They Happen

Nothing stresses a pastor like conflicts occurring on his staff. A secretary in the office, the minister of music, the organist, the head custodian–each of them was brought to the leadership team for good reason. Now, here they are threatening the unity of the church–not to say its mission and ministry–by a conflict with another team member.

In my four-plus decades pastoring six churches, I’ve seen the following (and plenty more, too, let me add) up close and personal….

–a senior staff member addicted to prescription drugs

–staffers using the computer for online porn.

–associate ministers who were protective of their turf, who resented anyone–including the pastor!–intruding to tell them what to do.

–Staffers who wanted to be left alone to do their work and not be asked to cooperate with anyone else

–Staffers who were angry at me about something and shared that little bit of gossip to laypeople in the church before telling me.

–Lazy staff members.

–Ministers who delighted in smutty stories and had flirty ways.

Wow. I’m imagining someone reading this and wondering if I ever worked with a single godly servant of the Lord! Of course I did. The great majority of them were sincere, hard-working, sweet-spirited men and women with servant hearts. And even these above were not bums. Most had endearing qualities about them and had served well in previous churches, according to the recommendations we received on them.

If you add to these the ministers I’ve known not in my church but in others nearby, we could add adultery, homosexuality, embezzlement, and a host of other conditions to this list.

Any one of these could wreak great damage to a congregation once it gets out that the minister (or one of the ministers) is engaging in such a practice.

Here is my offering today on how to solve a great majority of these conflicts either before they occur or at least before they are allowed to wreck a good church.

First, refer to the article just prior to this one regarding a second-tier of leadership in the church.

I think of this group of unelected leaders who hold the unqualified respect of the entire church as a foundation and strong underpinning of the congregation. If they are there and serving well, although quietly in the background, your church has a strength for whatever comes along.

Second–and this is what this article is about today–you need a great personnel committee.

In most cases, these articles of ours are said to be most helpful to smaller churches, and that’s fine. Because larger churches tend to have better and more experienced leadership, they will almost always have structures in place to deal with personnel matters normal and abnormal.

The church with a staff (full-time or part-time) but no personnel committee (by whatever name) is asking for trouble. But not just any committee. You need the best hearts and sharpest minds in the church for this assignment.

Ideally, if you have a member who directs human resources for a business in your town, he/she is perfect for this committee. They will have training and bring experience that the rest of the members will benefit from.

The committee should be put on a rotating basis, otherwise you are setting up a “super committee” to which the staff may eventually be held hostage.

In selecting members, look for mature Christians, wise minds, and a history of positive support for the pastor and staff. Every church has critics of the ministers who would love to be on this committee. To put them there would be a disaster. Even if they volunteer and politic to be appointed, avoid it at all costs.

The committee needs to write a complete personnel policy and have the church understand it, adopt it, and abide by it.

Here are matters to be considered in writing personnel policies….

1) Contact other churches requesting copies of their personnel policies. Usually these are in booklet form.

2) See if your state denominational office has someone on staff or as a resource who is knowledgeable about writing personnel policies. If so, call them with questions that arise.

3) Write into the policy a foundational statement on which everything governing staff is based. For instance, it might include the following:

–This is the Lord’s church and does not belong to the pastor, staff, deacons, or church members. (Matthew 16:18 and Ephesians 5:25)

–Our only question in matters of operation is “Lord, what would you have us do?” (Acts 22:10)

–Whatever we do for the church, Jesus takes personally. (Acts 9:3; Matthew 25:40,45)

–The moment any one of us begins thinking the church owes us anything (respect, honor, appreciation, position), we become part of the problem.

–The primary responsibility of the personnel committee is to make it possible for our leadership to do the work to which the Lord has called them, and to encourage them in it. (I Corinthians 16:15-16)

–Our goal is for each minister and worker in our church to look back on their time with us as being the most wonderful and productive years of their entire ministry.(Philippians 1:3-11)

If I were chairing a personnel committee and we had the above in our policy statement, I would make sure we read this aloud several times a year. From time to time, we would publish it in the Sunday bulletin just to apprise the congregation on our work, our priorities, and commitment.

4) How will this committee and the pastor work together?

Certain matters concerning their working relationship must be worked out, but cannot be spelled out here. It may well be that this cannot be written into any personnel policies because so much depends on circumstances and changing leadership roles.

–When staff members are to be added to the church, who takes the initiative in seeking them out and interviewing them?

–What will be the process for this committee and the senior pastor cooperating?

–What if the committee wants to bring in a staff member whom the pastor does not favor?

–And, perhaps as important as anything, what will be the procedure for terminating staff members? (The procedure for removing a pastor should be spelled out separately and more difficult to accomplish.)

Bear in mind that if a staffer can be removed only by a vote of the church, you are asking for major problems. That staff member can hold you hostage because of the disruption such a business meeting could cause. As a rule, even the most ineffective staff member will have supporters in the church. If he/she can be removed only by the congregation as a whole, you have set the individual apart from any supervision by or accountability to the pastor and created a situation due to fail.

Bottom line: Conflicts between people is human and natural. No one can establish rules to keep it from happening. What we can prevent to a great extent is conflicts among church leadership becoming major church-damaging events.

We’ve not said a word about how often this committee would meet, how its members would be chosen, or a hundred other considerations.

What we are urging here is a solid team of committed laypeople working in union with the pastor to build a solid corp of leader-servants for the church.

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