Our leadership at Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland, has worked hard to create a mission-first, team-first staff culture. We work hard to facilitate, encourage, and protect this culture with existing staff, but we work extra hard to ensure prospective staff understand, buy in, and fit in with our culture.
In fact, we believe selecting new staff to join our team at Mountain is one of the most important tasks of leadership. Few decisions have a longer-term impact on a church’s health and mission than the people it hires. Selecting wisely can move the mission forward and heighten a positive staff culture. Selecting poorly can derail or deter the mission, hold back a given ministry area, or create negative energy within the entire church.
We always enter the hiring process by stating clearly that we want what God wants. If God is directing us to hire someone, we believe we can determine his will through a deliberate process. This includes face-to-face contact and the involvement of discerning people.
Getting a Clear Picture
Our goal is to get a clear picture of the candidate’s “four C’s”: character, competence, chemistry, and calling.
Character is the heart and integrity of a Christian leader.
Competence includes the skill sets, gifts, education, experience, and leadership required to fulfill the responsibilities.
Chemistry is the degree to which a person fits within the staff team and staff culture. This includes the specific team in which the person would be serving and the church staff as a whole.
Calling is the person’s sense of God’s voice directing him or her to this particular role, to our particular church and mission, and to impact our community (the most unchurched county in Maryland).
We can gain some understanding of these qualities through phone calls, reference checks, and a personal questionnaire, but we gain the most clarity through following these steps with face-to-face visits—sometimes on the candidate’s turf and always on our turf.
I should also point out that we hire a number of staff from within our church. For these “internal” candidates, we adjust the process described below based on our familiarity with the individual. However, the intentionality in ascertaining each of the four C’s remains.
Typically, we reserve visits to the candidate’s turf for those we need to see firsthand in their role and context in order to assess their level of competence and discern if they would fit into our church culture. This is usually reserved for candidates whose role would demand significant “up-front” leadership responsibilities (teaching, worship leading, etc.).
However, today’s technology more and more reduces the need for us to visit their turf. Instead, we use video recordings (DVD as well as Web-based video options) to gain a feel for their level of competence and fit with Mountain.
Experiencing Our Culture
While we may not go to visit each candidate, we require every candidate to visit Mountain for at least one weekend, usually two, and sometimes three. These visits are important in determining “fit” and effectively gauging the four C’s.
We always bring the candidate and his or her spouse, if married, and usually their children. Our staff culture is somewhat unique in that staff, spouses, and families truly function as family. Obviously, we are hiring only the candidate and do not interview the spouse or children. But we do believe it is important for them to experience the staff culture we enjoy and have worked hard to create. Our current staff members also have a tremendous investment in our culture and they have a great desire to help us keep it healthy. As a result, we gain their full investment in these weekend visits and they become an enthusiastic sales force for what it’s like to work at Mountain.
The weekend itinerary includes not just visits with the specific team members the candidate would be working with (supervisor and colleagues), but also a broader circle of staff members, volunteers, and families. There’s always time for social gatherings to relax and talk about things other than ministry.
The weekend involves focused interview time with the supervisor, the executive pastor, the senior pastor, and sometimes with the elders who make up our personnel team. These times provide an opportunity to explore character, competence, and calling, as well as continuing to assess chemistry. They also give the candidate an opportunity to ask specific questions about the role, the ministry team, and Mountain in general.
Depending on the position, we may give the candidate an opportunity to demonstrate competency by teaching or leading worship. We have brought in “guest” worship leaders or teachers partly to discern their giftedness and fit with Mountain.
The weekend may also include some time to explore the area (the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, for example), learn about local schools, and look at housing options with a Realtor.
Finally, the weekend includes experiencing worship at Mountain. The visit typically concludes with a wrap-up conversation with the candidate about what he or she is sensing and also an impression of what we are sensing. We then spell out anticipated next steps in the process and commit to pray for clarity.
After the visit, we gather input from every person who encountered the candidate to make observations about how the person would fit with the role in question and with Mountain.
In our experience, our worst hiring decisions, while few in number, have resulted from shortchanging this process in some way. We became enamored with the person’s competence and our needs, and we lost sight of the importance of calling, character, and chemistry. After these missteps, it took months and sometimes years to regain the ground we lost in terms of mission and staff culture.
Enjoying the Celebration
Putting extra effort into assessing all four C’s through extensive and exhausting face-to-face visits is more than worth it. And it has created a fifth C—celebration—as we hire new staff. The new staff member and his or her family celebrate because they have a great feel for the team and mission they will be joining. Our staff, elders, and church celebrate a new hire because we have developed a trust in the thoroughness of the process.
There is no doubt this process can be time-consuming and even exhausting, both for us and the candidate. However, the end result is a sense of certainty for everyone involved that we have discerned the best fit for the candidate, for Mountain, and for the kingdom. That assurance is priceless—that God is at work directing the right people to us, so we can say, “We are clearly following God’s leading.”
Rob Kastens is executive pastor of Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland.
A convenient, 12-page download that includes all seven articles about Hiring a New Minister–and which may be reproduced up to 10 times for church and ministry needs–can be purchased at www.standardpub.com.