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?

First, ask God. “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38). He knows them all. Ask Him to send that special one who would be just right for your church. After all, it’s His church!

Then, remember how the Lord loves to work: “out of the box.” That is, He is not real good at following our rules and guidelines. He loves to do new and unexpected things, to use people in surprising ways, to open doors where we saw only a blank wall.

Therefore, you might find your new staffer in your own congregation (someone who is presently teaching school and is gifted with working with children or teens), in a neighboring church congregation (that’s why you’ll want to spread the word about your search to local pastors), and a hundred other places.

3. Okay, we’ve got our new staff member. Now what?

You the pastor and he/she should spend a good deal of time together–planning, talking, sharing, getting to know one another, praying, thinking, dreaming.

The worst mistake pastors make with new staffers is to bring them in and abandon them.

The second worst is to hand the new hire a list of duties and expectations a mile long. He has to be in the office each morning by 8:30, he has to visit the hospitals at least twice a week, he cannot visit in church members’ homes without the pastor’s approval, he will give a written report of each day’s activities. A strait jacket. A heavy burden. Not good at all.

Get to know each other well, making sure you’re on the same page, and then set up weekly staff meetings in which you plan the worship service, reflect on the previous Sunday services, go over the calendar for the future, and deal with any problems that arise. Have the schedule for these staff meetings set in stone for Monday mornings at 9 or Tuesdays at 5 or whenever. Otherwise, you will soon begin to skip them, because “well, it’s just us two and we talk in the hallway a lot.”

It’s not the same. Stay with the scheduled sessions.

4. What if the new staff member is a “she” and the pastor is a “he?”

Then, you’ll need to do some things differently. Staff meetings should never be held between just the two of you in your office. Bring in the church secretary (if your church has one, she should always be included) or the chairman of deacons, anyone in leadership. If it’s just the two of you, have your wife and her husband present.

Should the pastor and “she” travel together in the car? Only as a last resort. The last thing the church needs–not to say your ministry and reputation, or her reputation–is gossip. You will have to go out of your way to do the responsible thing.

5. The staff member has been at a church 10 years. The congregation calls a new pastor, young enough to be his son. What to do?

The staffer ignores his age, as difficult as that may be. He’s the pastor and thus the church’s leader and overseer (Acts 20:28). He is your leader. Put yourself under his authority.

If you find yourself critical of how the pastor is doing things, you have few choices: a) If he will receive your counsel, offer it to him. b) If he will not, keep it to yourself. c) Tell no one but the Lord.

6. The new pastor is hurting our church. Members are coming to the staff member with their complaints. He’s sympathetic to them. What to do?

No church staff member should ever get caught in the middle of such a struggle. Nothing good can come from it. This is an issue the lay leadership of the church is going to have to handle without your input.

At some point when matters are going well in the church, a staff member tells the pastor and then, with his approval informs the leadership of the church, “If you ever have a problem with the pastor, do not come tell me. I work under his leadership. This is how God and the church have set things up. So, if you ever have a problem with the pastor, please bypass me and go straight to him with it.”

7. What if the staffer has some good suggestions to the pastor? Should he tell the preacher?

A staff member will quickly discern whether the pastor receives this kind of counsel well. If so, the staffer should consider himself most blessed. If not, then that’s the reality of the situation and he should learn to live with it.

The pastor of my church is as gifted as anyone I have ever met in the ministry. And yet, Mike Miller has a trait most rare: he welcomes suggestions on how to do something better.

What a staffer could do sometime when he and the pastor are having a friendly visit is to bring up the subject: “Brother Tom, give me some guidance, please. If I ever have a suggestion for you on something you are doing, should I keep it to myself or bring it to you, or would you prefer I’d just tell the Lord? I’m perfectly willing to do whatever you wish.”

Now, the pastor is going to say, “Hmmm. That’s a new thought. Give me an example, Ed.” This is where you will need to be prepared. If you aren’t, you are about to walk into a buzz saw.

What you do is give a hypothetical illustration, something that did not happen. “Okay, let’s say that last Sunday from the pulpit you thanked a group of people for the great banquet the night before. But you left out a key worker. Should I tell you or not?” Or, maybe, “Let’s suppose you said that nowhere in the Bible does it say such-and-such. Yet, I know where it says precisely that. Do you want me to tell you that or not?”

Good luck. Hope the pastor hits that one out of the park.

8. The pastor is preparing to bring in a second staff member. Does he consider the present staffer’s opinion?

You bet he does. Unless he is dissatisfied with his/her work and is making plans to end their employment, he should be seeking input from this person who works closest with him. When the new staffer comes in, the staff relationship will be one of the most critical aspects of his ministry.

And let’s make this point. If the two staffers become best friends, in no way should the pastor be threatened. Except in unusual circumstances, the church will only be blessed by this close friendship.

9. What if the pastor has to terminate a staff member? All suggestions welcome.

Been there, done that. It’s no fun. And yet, if a minister is not working out at the church–he’s not capable, he’s lazy, immature, or ill-fitted for the assignment, or unwilling to work under the authority of the pastor–it’s best for everyone if the pastor ends his employment.

If something immoral, illegal, or unethical is involved, the pastor will handle this discreetly with a few key leaders. No “two-weeks-notice” is given to such a staffer, either. He’s gone immediately.

But what about his family? What about his friends in the church? That’s why terminations always hurt. But one should never keep a poor staffer in place because “if we let him go, we’ll lose members.” That’s the worst of all reasons to do a thing.

My wife once listened as I went on and on about the behavior of a terminated staffer. Finally she said, “I wish you could hear yourself. Joe, think about it. You want to fire a guy and have him like it.” Zing. That’s true.

Termination should be the final step in a long process of working with the person in which we try to make them effective or find another place in the church where they could serve. They should not be surprised, but should see this coming.

10. Any final thoughts about termination?

Do it in love, be generous, and be as helpful for future employment (references, etc) as the individual will let you and the Spirit of God within you leads.

Some years back, I told a friend to lift me up that morning, that I was going to have to terminate the youth minister. He was killing the ministry, driving the kids away, and we had to stop the hemorrhage. She said, “May I make a suggestion?”

She said, “When you call him in, ask how he assesses his ministry. He might fire himself.”

That’s what I did, and it’s what he did. I was so relieved.

He and I are friends to this day.

Sooner or later, pastor, someone is going to pull out that old joke and say to you, “Don’t be like Jacob. (Or David, or whoever) The Bible says he leaned on his staff and died.”

It’s a funny line, maybe, but the Bible says no such thing.

One of the best things that ever happened to me was serving for 3 years on the staff of a large church. I learned lessons in that time it would have taken decades to master in the smaller churches I’d been pastoring.

Hmmm. I can see that needs to be the theme of the next article in this series. So, I’m not quite through yet, it appears.

2 thoughts on “10 Questions About Church Staffs

  1. Bro. Joe, I also had the privilege of serving for a time on a very large church staff. All my subsequent ministry was positively affected by this experience, even though not much of that particular ministry itself was very pleasant!

  2. I’ve known too many pastors who fervently wished they could do everything and not be forced to work with a staff, usually because of a bad experience with a divisive or sinful staffer. But only Jesus does “all things well”, so this series is a good basis for developing a broader ministry and trusting the work to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also”. Written any good books lately?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.