By Chuck Lawless
Last week, I posted about burdens pastors often share with our Lawless Group consulting team. Others have since asked what we hear from church staff members. In response to that request, here are topics of pain we often hear from staff. Again, I ask you to use this post as a catalyst to pray for your church’s staff members.
- Lacking time with senior leadership – Given the size of some churches, it may be difficult for staff to spend significant time with the senior leader – but that reality seldom lessens the desire of staff to have face-to-face conversations. Staff often struggle when they have no more time with the senior leader than does the typical layperson.
- Lacking clear role expectations – Sometimes leaders know in their mind exactly what they expect from staff, but the church has provided no written job descriptions. In other cases, a job description is provided, but expectations are different than the written narrative. In either case, staff are then held accountable to unstated expectations.
- Longing for a God-sized vision – Too often, staff cannot answer our question, “What is the vision of this church and its leadership?” When this happens, we usually learn that senior leaders have lost their vision as well. Staff yearn to serve with a leader whose vision compels them each day.
- Having few friends, especially among other staff – I am an introvert, but even I am surprised by how many staff members are lonely. Church members become acquaintances, not friends. Staff families seldom spend time together. Staff themselves are sometimes at odds with each other, especially in struggling churches.
- Living in a ministry silo – Staff love their sphere of ministry (e.g., students, music), but few others share their level of passion. Others make decisions that affect their ministry without discussion or dialogue. Calendaring events becomes competition rather than cooperation. The silo gets lonely.
- Ministering with few funds – Many churches find salary money by decreasing ministry funds. Thus, they hire personnel but provide little money for them to do the work they are called to do. A vision without resources can bring frustration and fatigue.
- Perceiving they have no voice – Some staff believe no one in authority listens to their ideas or concerns. In some cases, that perception is based in the church’s history: the staff’s previous attempts to voice their opinion went unheard.
- Having no “safe” place to be honest – This burden is obviously connected to the previous one. Our consultant team often hears these concerns simply because staff believe they have no other place to go with their concerns.
- Receiving poor salary and/or benefits – Our team has not heard from staff who are ungrateful for their positions, but we have heard from staff who are struggling with their bills. Our salary and benefit evaluations often do show some staff are underpaid when compared with averages for similar positions.
- Longing for affirmation – All leaders operate differently, but most staff appreciate a “pat on the back” once in awhile. Even little gestures – a public “thank you,” a lunch invitation, a drop by visit, or a small bonus – can go a long way toward building a strong team.
- Competing for volunteers – Every ministry needs workers, but willing volunteers are limited. Because most churches do not have a strategy to enlist and train workers, staff often compete for the same workers. Recruitment thus becomes organizational rivalry.
- Seeing and hearing too much – I wish I could ignore this burden, but integrity demands I include it. Too many staff members wrestle internally because they have listened to leader and staff language, overhead jokes, and watched actions that are less than Christian. Typically, they express this burden to us with a heavy heart and deep grief.
To be frank, I wish I had appreciated my staff members more when I served as a full-time pastor. Take time right now to pray for your church staff. If you are a pastor or staff member, direct your folks to this post and ask them to pray for your team. Nobody on the team should carry burdens alone.