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.)

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Someone is rocking the boat? Good.

The deacon made no attempt to hide his disgust with his preacher.  As far as he was concerned, preachers were the hired servants of the church. And, as a head deacon, that put him in charge.

“Preacher, I have some new rules for you.”

“You have rules for me?”

“From now on,” said the old man, “you will keep a written account of every copy you make on the copier.  And you will keep a notation on every phone call you make.”

And that was not all.

“Furthermore, you are not to make any personal calls from the church office.  If you have a personal call to make, you will go to your house and make it.”

Pastor: “What if I need to call my wife when she is at home?”

“Then, you will get in your car and go there and talk to her. But you will not call her from the church phone.”

This conversation actually happened, just this way.

The pastor said, “I’m sorry, sir. This is not going to happen.  I will use this church phone in any Christ-honoring way I see fit. And I will not be keeping a record of every call or every copy made on the copy machine.”

“Now,” said the pastor, “is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”

There wasn’t.

The old fellow left, one unhappy camper.

The pastor survived and serves that church to this day (i.e., to the day I wrote this).  That deacon, however, after fuming for a year or more, was suddenly summoned home to meet the Lord of the Church (see Matthew 16:18) and give account of his stewardship.

There’s no record of how that visit went.

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Church staff member: The pastor’s best friend and biggest headache

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark. (Acts 12:25)

The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them…. and they also had John as their helper.”  (Acts 13:2,5)

Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, and John left them and returned to Jerusalem.  (Acts 13:13)

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return…’  And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also.  But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.  And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another.  And Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.  But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord….” (Acts 15:36ff.).

Staff members! Can’t live with them and can’t live without them!

The biggest headaches most pastors will know in a lifetime of ministry will probably involve staff members.  Some will be his best friends, strongest advisors and most loyal supporters.  Others will write the script for his nightmares, will be Absalom to his David, and will turn hairs in his head either to gray or loose.

For many pastors, the three greatest problems he will face in his entire ministry will be choosing members of his ministerial ministry team, overseeing them, and (occasionally) having to terminate them.  A quick look at each of these three areas….

First: Employing a staff member

I make no boast about having a spotless record in choosing staffers.  Several have been the finest companions and fellow servants imaginable.  One or two have been the stuff of nightmares.  And in between are all the rest.

A pastor who chooses a new member of his ministry team cannot be too careful.  He will need a small team of his best people to assist, interview, raise issues, do background work, and advise him.  Almost without exception, I would say that the pastor who tries to do this completely on his own with no one helping him is going to regret his choice.  Don’t do this alone, pastor! If you do not have a standing personnel committee, enlist a small team to assist on this project.

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Sometimes we lead; sometimes we follow.

That the leaders led in Israel, and that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord.  (Judges 5:2)

No one is a leader all the time in every situation. When the biggest corporate head in America goes to church, as a member of the flock he looks to the pastor as the leader. At his club, someone else is the executive and he is a dues-paying member.

Sometimes we lead; sometimes we follow.

In their book, Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee wondered what goes into making a good follower.

Wanting to find out what leaders expect from members of their teams, they came up with four answers.

1) “I expect my people to speak up and tell me what they really think.”

In huge companies that failed scandalously such as Enron and WorldCom, it appears this quality was missing in the executive offices. No one was telling executives Kenneth Lay or Bernie Evers that the company was in trouble, that his decisions were faulty, and that disaster was looming. They told the boss what he wanted to hear, and everyone paid dearly for this failure.

It takes courage. As a pastor, I’ve been there. The others in the room are either agreeing with the boss or keeping their mouths shut. And yet, they all know the boss’ plans are wrong. They’re just not willing to lay their jobs on the line. Better to be quiet and still have a paycheck coming in. That’s how everyone ended up losing their paychecks.

Bible students will recall that in Genesis 35, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Not a lot is made of that at the time, but anyone knowing the origins of those names sees a powerful point. The name Jacob–which comes out to Ya-a-cov in Hebrew–literally means “a heel-holder,” one who takes advantage of others, who gets a ride at their expense. Israel, Yitz-rael in Hebrew, means “one who wrestles with God.”

God was saying, “I would rather have you wrestling with me than taking advantage of your brother.” And don’t we appreciate that about our wonderful Lord!

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Joe’s 10 iron-clad rules for success in the ministry. .Some of which may work

You’re new in the ministry, right?  And you want to do well, of course. You have definitely come to the right place, friend.  Pull up a chair and get ready to take notes.

Some alternative titles for these ten little gold nuggets (aka, iron pyrite) might be “How not to rock the boat.” “How to last 50 years in the ministry without creating a ripple.”  “How to please everyone and secure a good retirement.”

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, seat-belt fastened, sense of whimsy intact…..

1) You’re going to need sincerity to make it in the ministry. If you can fake that, anything is possible.

2)In any church service, the crowd will be bigger if you don’t count them.  We learned this truth from fishing. Any fisherman knows, A fish not weighed is heavier than the one that is.

3) To feel better about your sermon, do not ask your wife on the way home, “Well, what did you think?”  She will tell you, and then where will you be?

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It’s the little things about pastoring that drive ministers to early graves.

…there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28).

Pastoring God’s people can be exhausting.

Even when you do your best to serve God by ministering to His people, some are not going to give you the benefit of the doubt on anything nor forgive you for not living up to their impossible expectations.

You didn’t do it their way, weren’t there when they called, didn’t jump at their bark. They don’t like the way you comb your hair, your wife did not speak to them in the grocery, your children are just too perfect.

Such members are the exceptions, true. I say that to those who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of healthy members and focus on the two percent who drive us batty.  It’s the two percent of drivers who are the crazies on the highways and ruin the experience for everyone else.  It’s the two percent of society who require us to maintain a standing police force to protect the citizenry.  Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that two percent will kill you.

I confess it as unworthy of a child of God that I remember these difficult moments with God’s headstrong people more than the precious times with the saints.  Perhaps it’s because the strained connections and harsh words feed into my own insecurities.  Or maybe it’s because there are so many more of the blessed times.

Even so, here are two instances from my pastoring journal that stand out…

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When church committees begin to jump the track

“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees formed a council and said, ‘What do we do? For this man does many miracles. If we let him alone, all will believe on him” (John 11:47-48).

After watching the Lord Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, the religious leaders were faced with a choice. They could either do what the common folk were doing and worship Jesus, or not.  Pastor Josh Carter points out what they actually did: they formed a committee.

By creating a committee, we hand off the assignment–the decision on what to do and how to do it–to a group of “others.”

Sometimes that works out.  Often it doesn’t.

A friend texted to say that her nephew, an associate pastor of a church–a young man with seminary degrees and several years of experience–had just received a visit from the congregation’s personnel committee. According to them, the minutes of the business meeting in which he had been hired several years back identifies him as a youth director, not associate pastor. Thus they are cutting his pay and hours commensurate with that position.  My friend wrote, “He has plaques on the wall from the church identifying him as associate pastor.”

Veteran pastors know precisely what’s happening here.  What it “ain’t” is a committee trying to be true to the original vision of a staff minister.  What it “is” is some folks deciding to do an end run on the pastor and trim the sails of a staff member, with the end result being to run him off.

Make no mistake. That’s what the point of this is.

Rogue committees. Maverick committees.  They are all the rage these days, it seems.

At what point, we wonder, does a small group of nice church people start to “go bad?”  Can we spot the trouble-signs in order to be prepared for their jumping the tracks?

Are there identifying and tell-tale signs to watch out for?

Here are several we have identified. You’ll think of others.

–1. The chairman says, “I thought it would be best to discuss this without the pastor (and/or staff) present.”  Now, unless they are planning a surprise party for the preacher, nothing about it is good.

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The most important person in the church office

The receptionist–the one who greets the public–is in many ways your most important staffer.

She is the first person most people see when they walk in, the voice they talk with on the phone, and the only one a lot of outsiders will deal with from your church.

Pastor, she can make you or break you.

She can be a light to someone coming in from the dark, lift the spirits of a visitor who ran out of hope miles up the road, defrost the spirit of Jack Frost himself, and protect the beleaguered pastor who desperately needs an hour of study time without interruptions.

She can do all these things and more. But she can also run people off faster than Sunday’s lousy sermon or Wednesday night’s cold ham and peas.

Where does one find a receptionist sent from Heaven?

Answer: Heaven.

Ask God. He knows them all, has full resumes on each person on the planet, and runs the best placement service ever. Pray.

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Lord, deliver us from helpful, meddlesome friends!

My journal tells of a revival in our church in 1992.  After the final service, my wife and I took the guest evangelist and singer to lunch.  And there they proceeded to unload.

My journal…

At lunch for one solid hour, they filled me with their suggestions for improving our work here.  Finally Margaret intervened and said, “You guys are overdoing it.” I was about to overdose on their helpfulness!

I don’t recall asking for their input.  And to be sure, they presumed upon the relationship.  I’m confident they felt they were serving the Lord well by suggesting ways we could get this big church off the ground and into the air.  And because they have been in full-time itinerant ministry for decades and have seen it all, they have definite opinions and convictions on what works and what doesn’t.  And they are friends, although not with a lengthy history. Anyway…

My well-meaning friends had no clue the forces I was contending with inside the membership of the church.  But, they wanted to help me, so I listened.  And praise the Lord for a good wife.  She spoke up and told them that was enough already. Smiley-face goes here.

She was right.  There is such a thing as overdoing a good thing.

These days, in retirement, I’m in a different church almost every Sunday.  I preach in big ones and little ones, taking them as the invitations arrive.  And frequently after ministering in a church, I do have thoughts on what the pastor can do to serve the Lord better there.

But unless I’m asked, I keep it to myself.

These days–

Perhaps one time out of ten, the host pastor will say to me toward the end of our meeting, “So, Brother Joe, I’d welcome any suggestions you have on what I should be doing.”  And this is the honest truth, the pastor who says that almost never needs anything from me.  The very fact that he is looking for ways to do a better job speaks volumes about that pastor and his leadership.

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The best thing you’ll ever do for yourself

I’m remembering the time I bumped into Jeff Ingram in the hotel breakfast area. The previous evening, I had spoken at a local church while Jeff had led a conference for Sunday School directors in a neighboring community.

Jeff said, “I had 14 directors in my conference. It was great.”

I have never worked for Jeff’s employer–the Louisiana Baptist Convention with headquarters in Alexandria, Louisiana–but I knew what he is experiencing.

Without asking him, I can tell you the high point of his day.

Jeff is sitting in his office and the phone rings. A pastor or church staffer or lay leader from somewhere across this state is on the line.

“I need help,” he says. Jeff’s heart races. “Great,” he thinks to himself. “Someone needs me.”

What he says is, “Well, I’ll be happy to do anything I can for you.”

If the caller has a problem of untrained leaders or an anemic organization that needs a shot in the arm or his Sunday School is in disarray and he is desperate for assistance, all the juices start flowing in Jeff Ingram’s veins.

This is great.

This is what a denominational worker lives for. (He may even quote the Esther verse to himself : “I’ve come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”)

This is why he’s there.

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