By Don Wilson
One of a church leader’s most important tasks is to hire the right staff to expand the ministry.
This is true whatever the church’s size. In fact, I believe there is more pressure to hire the right staff person in a smaller church than a larger church. If a church that averages 200 in weekly attendance and has three staff members makes one bad hire, it conceivably will impact their effectiveness by 33 percent. On the other hand, if a church averaging 2,000 in weekly attendance and has 30 staff members makes one bad hire, it likely will impact their effectiveness by only about 3 percent.
Why Should a Church Add Staff?
Lack of adequate staff in a church can lead to burnout in the senior pastor, affecting his ability to adequately shepherd the flock. In Exodus 18, Jethro realized that Moses, his son-in-law, was trying to do everything by himself and was in danger of physically destroying his health. He advised Moses to find capable, God-fearing men who would lighten his leadership load. Moses listened to Jethro’s advice and shared some leadership responsibilities to more effectively meet the people’s needs; this enabled Moses himself to become more effective.
It should also be noted that inadequate staff can hinder the church’s ability to grow because people can too easily fall through the cracks.
How Do You Find the Right Staff?
For the past several decades, Christian churches have found people to serve on staff from Christian colleges of the Restoration Movement. Most of these graduates had excellent theological training, were from healthy Christian families, and were certain of their call to ministry.
Over the past 20 years our colleges seem to be graduating fewer students with degrees that truly prepare them to work in the local church. In addition, many of those graduates who desire a career in church ministry come from broken homes and have more personal brokenness. Their pain often goes unseen in an interview, but it is revealed later in ministry when they find themselves in situations where the pressure of their work becomes very demanding.
In light of this, many of our churches, especially larger churches, are finding staff members from within their own church. The positive in this change is that most such “internal hires” clearly understand the church’s mission and vision. And because most of these folks have worked in the corporate world, they expect to be held accountable through goals and objectives. The negative is that many of these new pastors and staff members tend to lack theological or pastoral training. One of the major adjustments for those hired from within is that they no longer have their weekends free.
What Qualities Do You Look for When Hiring Staff?
Here are the top three things I looked for when hiring staff.
• Character. Never compromise on character. Moral failure in leadership damages the church family and hinders its witness in the community. Many churches now give more attention to a candidate’s social media activity than their professional references. Some of the key character traits I look for include a servant attitude, a teachable spirit, humility, and the capacity to work well as part of a team.
• Chemistry. When considering a candidate, I ask myself, Will they fit with the team? A church team that has chemistry and works well together will almost always accomplish more. One of the best ways to assess chemistry is to do a project together or travel together; it will help you assess a person’s flexibility and sense of humor.
• Competence. Does the candidate have the giftedness to get the job done? Do they have the capacity to manage others? I list this as the third quality because you can usually improve someone’s competence through training and accountability. On the other hand, you either have character and chemistry or you don’t.
No doubt, I made mistakes in hiring people over my 50 years of ministry. I graduated from a Christian college but also played and coached college basketball. A coach’s job is to continually improve the players’ competency and performance. If a candidate was good in three areas but needed real improvement in two areas, I would sometimes hire them, convinced that with “my great leadership” they would become good in all five areas. I was usually wrong. Past performance is a good indicator of future performance.
To tell the truth, hiring the right candidates improved when I involved my wife in the process. She has the gift of discernment and usually knew who would work best with me and who would fit best.
What Qualities Do I Look for After I Hire Someone?
After hiring someone, the first thing I assess is communication. Can they take direction from their supervisor? Can they give direction to those under them? Can they clearly share our vision and explain responsibilities to volunteers?
The second consideration is their openness to critique. An organization must continually be willing to improve. This can happen only when there is a culture of critique. As a church grows, it must overcome complacency and complexity. That is why repeated success is more difficult than initial success.
The third thing I look for is consistency. When we are consistent, our fellow staff members (and church members at large) know what to expect from us. That is why worship services that rate an 8 on a scale of 1-10 every week are better than services that are a 10 one week and a 5 the next week. People will invite their friends to church when they know what to expect.
Hiring the right staff is truly a key art in successful ministry.
To church leaders—pray for discernment and do your homework before hiring.
To church members—pray for and encourage young people to go into ministry.
To Christian colleges—have a renewed emphasis on local church ministry.
After faithfully serving Christ’s Church of the Valley in Arizona for 35 years, Dr. Don Wilson launched Accelerate Group with his wife Sue, and they have served scores of pastor couples across the U.S. to date. Don has the unique ability to relate to varying age groups and demographics to inspire their leadership in advancing the gospel.