Ten-Ways-to-Be-Better-Church-Staff-Person

After about a quarter of a century of church consultations, I have dealt with a plethora of church staff matters. I continue to hear many of the same themes since I left church consultation.

Today I present the top ten issues from the senior pastor’s perspective. In an upcoming post, I will offer ten issues from the church staff perspective. My desire in writing these two blogposts is to offer a positive framework, and to allow church staff today, and pastors on Saturday, to have the best possible work relationships.

  1. Have a strong work ethic. This encouragement expressed by pastors about the staff was pervasive.
  2. Be loyal. Pastors do not expect blind loyalty, but they do want to know that the staff member has his back.
  3. Execute well. It’s great if the staff member is full of ideas and dreams, but he or she should also be excellent at accomplishing a task.
  4. Work on personality chemistry. Sometimes the chemistry is just not good. Most pastors understand that this issue is two-way, and both parties need to work at liking each other.
  5. Same vision. Make certain that any vision you may have at the church complements and does not conflict with the vision of the pastor.
  6. Do first the work you were hired to do. Church staff persons typically are hired with specific job descriptions. Make certain those ministries and tasks are accomplished first.
  7. Be careful about accepting a position that had no senior pastor input. Some churches do not allow the pastor to have a say in the hiring of staff members. This approach can be problematic. The pastor has a staff member he did not have input on or did he request. Conflict is highly common in these situations.
  8. Work to have healthy relationships with other staff members. Unity among the staff members is vital.
  9. Work to have healthy relationships with church members. The pastor is usually the person that gets involved if these relationships are not healthy.
  10. Attend all staff meetings if possible. I’ve been surprised how often I’ve heard this one. My advice to church staff members: Don’t miss staff meetings.

Most churches have staff with very healthy relationships. It is my prayer that this list of ten items from several pastors’ perspective will help. On Saturday we will look at this same issue from the church staff’s perspective.

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Comments

  1. David Troublefield says

    I look forward to reading the content of the follow-up blog posting you indicate planning for soon. Senior pastors obviously have huge responsibilities (100% of the SBC’s 33,000+ plateaued/declining congregations are led by them, and their staffs know it); working together with their staffs in wise and godly ways, the churches they serve can experience the potential God has planned for them).

  2. says

    Thanks for the tremendous insights! After being a staff member for 18 years and a lead pastor for the past 10 years, I have a much deeper appreciation for the Team Members that I serve with on a daily basis. More specifically, I agree with you that the pastor-staff relationship is vitally important and one which must be both guarded and enriched constantly. I’m looking forward to your future posts on this subject.

  3. says

    Quality content that I feel is right on. If the average staff member would just do most of these points you laid out in a consistent manner, I believe the church’s impact for the Kingdom on earth would grow at an incredible pace.

  4. Moira Barclay-Fernie says

    So many points could be dealt with plain common sense and sensitivity! Good and honest communication as to who does what helps a lot. Too often in my experience confusion as to who is responsible for what leads to resentment through e.g. loss of control, power, recognition for accomplishments, informal decisions being made that are often taken as official, etc. Everybody is doing their best but too many different ideas of what needs to be done and who needs to do it leads to above mentioned frustration. Sad as this too often it leads to much waste of precious time and energy which should be channelled into helping the congregation concentrate on worship. community, helping those in need etc.

  5. says

    Great stuff! Being a church staff person for the last 18 years, I find your insight on these ten issues very informative and helpful for me to be the best staff person I can be.

  6. Steve Pryor says

    Love your posts. So many of your blogs apply in non-Church roles as well. All 10 of these can be modified for 4-profit organizations.

  7. David Troublefield says

    1. Finding problems: a Management function, and almost everyone everywhere can do it–evidence: the number of real problems identified; 2. Finding solutions: a Leadership function, and many, many fewer people can do it–evidence: the number of real problems identified but still existing this long afterwards; 3. Finding effective ways to bring solutions to bear on problems so that the status quo (among staff or members) is overcome and progress/growth occurs: a function of Organizational Administration, and almost no one seems able to do it–evidence: again, the number of real identified problems still existing BUT also the state of the paid/volunteer team (a leader who doesn’t teams/teamwork also doesn’t really know leadership). As our good friend Dr. Mark Simpson points out: (A + B + C) > D = Change. My church staff experience as an associate pastor is that senior pastors don’t understand these things (also a former senior pastor myself; seminary degree is MDivBL) and their ministries show it, but they wish they did–the concepts are part of almost all of their conversations with staff these days.

  8. Mark Triplett says

    All great points here Thom, 10 is an interesting one though. Many staff don’t want to attend staff meetings mainly due to the fact that many of these meetings are perceived as useless. Some are nothing more than a rehash of other meetings and others have too many attendees that practically guarantee a lack of participation. I’ve attended meetings where the senior pastor asks for input on an important situation and because there are 50 people in the room, no one wants to step forward and provide an opinion or input.

    Also, many of these mass meetings just take too much time out of the day. Why should a meeting consume an hour when many of the points could just be announced in an email or a 10 minute update meeting after staff prayer time.

    Strangely enough, at a previous church, my boss suffered a back injury. It cut all of our meetings to about 10 minutes and we all stood for them. We accomplished more in this time than any other. We got to the point and we got back to work.

    • David Troublefield says

      Mark: Exactly.

      Google “Patrick Lencioni””Death by Meeting” for Lencioni’s terrific suggestions.

  9. Darrell Wrigh says

    I highly recommend that every church, on a semi-frequent basis, use a consultant to come in and do a staff eval/retreat that focuses on trust, communication, alignment and clarity. Without organizational health ministry effectiveness suffers at best and dies at worse. The Table Group does a great job and uses Patrick Lencioni’s material(5 Dysfunctions of a Team) to work through the issues to build a stronger, more effective staff team. Of course in deference to Dr. Rainer and his colleague, the Lawless Group does a fine job as well. I would interview both and see which approach is best suited for your staff’s dynamic.

    • David Troublefield says

      The thing about consultants is, organizational development research shows: unless interventions can follow as often as necessary their (expensive) efforts among us, the group will shortly fall back to previous behavior/etc. (with some new vocabulary learned, maybe) because one limitation God makes people with is latency (the person who can solve people’s motitvation problem so that it stays solved will become a zillionaire overnight). Someone among a congregation must become the dependable discipler of the body–always present, always focused, always training believers for their work in ministry; if it is no one else, that is supposed to be the senior pastor. He certainly is paid for it (the disparity between his salary–whatever it is–and that of other staff pastors usually is great), he is looked to for it (congregations will follow their associate staffers only to a point and no farther), and he is biblically responsible for it if anyone is. The deal: if Colleges of Education in universities across the US cannot easliy produce graduates who truly know how to teach in America’s public/private/homeschool classrooms so that students actually learn, what makes seminaries or their administrators (with PhDs in something totally unrelated to leadership development) or churches’ pastor search committees think it can be done via MDiv (or equivalent) programs?

      Christendom in the US today appears to need two things desperately on the human level: (1) a Christian evangelist, to call God’s people back to the spiritual health we received when coming in faith to Christ as Savior; and, (2) a Christian educator, to show God’s people what to do with that revival lest the services of the evangelist are required again in about three weeks. Church growth is a spiritual matter; the rest of it is administrative and can be learned/taught and realized.

  10. Emerson says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Most of the bullet points above are simply normal standards of healthy work habits. Anyone in an office should learn to embody them.
    But points 2, 5, and 7 assume a lot about church polity. If your goal is to promote healthy staff relationships, perhaps you ought to consider that the very idea of a senior pastor who is owed unique loyalty, who is the visionary of the church, and who should have unique hiring power is absent from Scripture, conflicts with the pattern of plurality and mutuality found in the New Testament, and runs counter to the character of leadership which the gospel produces.
    The type of leadership and power structure this post assumes is taken from modern day corporations and is usually justified with poor proof-texts and/or faulty claims of vast leeway on matters of polity.
    This post will not serve to improve staff relationships. It will feed the delusion that many pastors have that people should stop challenging them and start doing what they say. It will work against the humility created by the gospel that drives pastors to listen, to be open to others, to work for consensus, and to practice constant self-examination. It will also silence those who see the problems that pastors cannot see themselves. What we learn about wisdom and the pursuit of wisdom from Scripture and from Jesus himself tells us that this whole account of leadership is nothing but arrogance and foolishness. It is about the power of control.
    Points 2 and 5 may work in corporations, but they have no place in the church.

    Emerson

    • David Troublefield says

      In the end, the group probably will need someone to lead it forward. Peter seems to have functioned in that way during the first century of the church (Paul, too), and we know how that turned out: very, very well. But, unless that leader/senior pastor can be made to understand about groups working together as teams, then the chances are great that he simply will be “out for a walk” and not truly leading. No one who DOESN’T understand well about teams/teamwork actually DOES understand much about leadership (and so doesn’t deserve as much attention or money from us as is so often given), as that person will work through a team to reach goals or really not at all. No seminary that I know about offers any degrees in Teamwork in addition to Leadership or Management. In my opinion, the majority of today’s pastors (and denominational workers and seminary profs) don’t understand these things, and our congregations understand them even less; the evidence: the current state of the Church in the US, including the SBC.

      • Emerson says

        Mr. Tourblefield,
        I would encourage you to ask yourself why you believe, “the group will probably need someone to lead it forward.” This assertion is made over and over again as a justification of the invention of “senior” pastor. The answer I have heard time and time again is that nothing will get done otherwise. But this answer reveals the very thing that I am arguing in my last comment. When the church is aimed at results, activity, efficiency, and producing something, we find ourselves borrowing leadership structures and principles from corporations. But when we remember that the church is aimed at faithful worship and witness, our leadership is not built on getting something done but on seeing how our conflicts and differences in the body force us to confront our sin, trust in the gospel, and work for peace and unity. I would argue that this approach to discerning a wise vision for a local church will actually be a more powerful witness and a stronger catalyst for discipleship/transformation than models of decision making that are about power and who gets to make the final decision to keep things moving.
        Furthermore, your attempt to ground the senior pastor position in the example of Peter and Paul doesn’t work. It is faulty application on two counts. First, Peter and Paul actually never exercise the sort of “visionary owed loyalty who makes the final call” leadership mentioned in this post. In fact, both were corrected by others when they sinned. Both were open to the wisdom and input of others (take the Jerusalem counsel for instance or Peter’s reception of Paul’s rebuke recalled in Galatians). In the Corinthians letters, Paul frequently seeks to persuade and stops short of demanding loyalty and obedience to him because of his authority as an Apostle. This brings up the second reason your appeal to Peter and Paul fails. They were Apostles with a unique role in the history of the Church, sent by Jesus as witnesses of the resurrection to proclaim the gospel and faithful write Scripture. Pastors are not prophets. They are not Apostles. It is a mistake to make strong parallels between them in terms of the authority they are to exercise. The authority of a pastor only goes so far as the Scriptures. Pastors are to exercise their authority together by teaching the word.

        I ask you to reconsider your basic assumption about the church and its leadership.

        Thanks.
        Grace and peace to you,
        Emerson

        • David Troublefield says

          Mr. Emerson:

          It definitely appears that you have a passion for what the content of your postings is trying to say. I would simply suggest that that content appears to be of the spiritualistic sort (viewed at a distance: truly spiritual–but up close, silk rises) often offered in response to ones like mine. Somewhere in between probably is the real truth and with enough dialogue you and I can find it. But not today, brother. Have a refreshing Saturday.

  11. Dan Farmer says

    Good morning Tom:
    I serve our church as the Personnel Committee chairman and have a question I’d like to ask. Back in April this year, our senior pastor retired and we decided to bring an intentional interim and its going well, but while in transition we were starting the processs to remove our student pastor, but he resigned before the process was fully engaged. We’ve been without a student pastor for 10 weeks and my committee has the responsibility for searching for ministerial staff. After vetting 52 resumes, contacting 5 candidates, interviewing 3 of them, we believe we’ve identified our guy. The personnel committee has six members, but we also included 8 church student leaders that have kept the ministry going as well as our interim pastor and current staff in the process and all 16 of us are 100% in agreement on the candidate. Although we haven’t got a senior pastor onboard and we’re still in the processfor looking, should we move forward with the hiring without a senior pastor onboard? I’ve heard pros and cons for both, but I haven’t found any research to back either opinion. Thanks for any assistance.
    Blessings,
    Dan

    • Thom Rainer says

      Dan –

      The number one factor in a successful staff ministry is his or her relationship with the pastor. You will not know if they are compatible without a pastor. I strongly suggest you wait on the pastor and get his input.

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