By Don Wilson
Climbing the corporate ladder is the American way. For most employees, no matter what their position, the ultimate goal is to get ahead in their career. The better an employee performs, the greater his chance of advancing, either in his current company or at another company. His advancement may come in the form of a job offer from within or without, or from his own inclination to seek another position. Whatever the case, there is potential for misunderstanding and hard feelings between the employee and his current employer.
As in the corporate world, church employees who do their jobs with excellence will be noticed. Churches are continually seeking leaders who can help build their ministry, so when a key leader hears of someone who is doing it well, he may begin to investigate the possibility of bringing that person onto his staff. A church staff person may be faced with a decision of staying or leaving.
I think it is unfortunate that, just as in the corporate world, such decisions can often leave both sides with misunderstanding and/or hard feelings.
A NEW MODEL
How should churches deal with such scenarios? Should we take our cue from the business world and operate in secrecy, or lean more toward the policies of the sports world, where possible changes are discussed openly?
Although some aspects of church must be treated as a business, the church does not exist to make money, and therefore is not a business. Neither is the church a sports team, although we are greatly concerned about winning souls. The church is called to a higher level of accountability than businesses or sports teams, so we can’t really look to either as our model for handling staff changes.
The Bible teaches that the church is the body of Christ. As that body, we must work together with character and integrity. Individual churches—all of which are part of the larger church—want to assemble the best possible team to accomplish their ministry. We all want to do our jobs with excellence and bring honor to the One we serve. However, we must carefully examine the methods we use.
As I look back on my 40 years of ministry, I recall many times when other churches hired members of my staff. Sometimes I knew in advance and sometimes I didn’t.
I have hired staff from other churches, too. Sometimes I discussed it with the pastor of that church before speaking to his staff member, but regrettably, other times I didn’t.
I’m convicted that if we in ministry expect people in our congregations to live with complete honesty and integrity, then we, as leaders, must maintain those same high standards. Rather than maneuvering in secrecy to hire another, should we not communicate openly with our counterparts? Are we not called to work within our community with trust and respect?
A pastor should not find himself caught off-guard by a fellow servant who tells him another church has offered him a job and he has decided to take it. Rather, the employee should expect that before he is offered a job, his prospective employer will contact his current employer and discuss the possibility of the change. I am convinced that, as a pastor, I must offer other pastors the courtesy of a phone call before attempting to hire one of their leaders, and I expect the same from them. I believe an employee considering a change should trust his pastor enough to tell him so.
TRUST AND HONEST
Adopting this code of conduct would help eliminate the hard feelings that can develop when a pastor is caught off-guard. And it might also afford him the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process with an employee who may feel God is calling him elsewhere—for whatever reason. A time of discussion and prayer would offer both the employer and the employee an opportunity to consider all the options and to seek God’s guidance. This might also help eliminate an underlying sense of competition between churches as pastors communicate with trust and honesty about whatever change is being considered.
Perhaps as parts of the body serving in different areas in different ways, we can help each other develop strong teams that will fit the DNA of the churches we lead. Perhaps we can begin to recognize that fulfilling the call to “go into all the world” is something we can accomplish more expediently if we work together—even if it means trading our staff so that each one is placed where he can serve most effectively.
As pastors provide selfless leadership, perhaps staff members will also adopt a selfless attitude about finding the place where God wants them to be at any given point in time. Perhaps the misunderstandings and hard feelings associated with staff changes will be diminished and the time spent dealing with those issues can be spent in building the church.
As a pastor, I seek the same discernment and wisdom from God in leading my staff as I do in leading my church, and I have committed myself to my goal. I think as other pastors do the same, we will not only bring honor to the body of Christ universally, but also to the individual parts of that body that we have been called to serve.
Don Wilson is pastor with Christ’s Church of the Valley outside Phoenix, Arizona.