The pastor was sharing his frustration about one of his executive team members during a recent consultation. “No matter what I do, Cyndi finds a problem with pretty much anything I suggest. She either tries to fix what’s not broken or she sabotages the idea completely. I wish I’d never invited her onto the team, but now I’m stuck.”

“How did she end up on your Cabinet?”

“When I was putting my inner team together, the board chair suggested I put her on because she’s such a powerful person in the congregation – and by “powerful person” I mean she holds influential positions on the finance and the personnel committees. I knew it putting her on would be a mistake, but I bowed to the pressure.”

It’s one thing to have to deal with a committee or a board that you little or no input in their selection (a foolish proposition, but nonetheless a common thread, especially in smaller churches and mainline churches). That scenario is another blog for another time. But it’s something else altogether to have to deal with a life-sucking problematic committee, board, or team that’s of your own making. And yet, too many church leaders end up with exact problem because they’ve made selection mistakes.

Here are the top five mistakes church leaders must avoid when recruiting potential team members. 

Recruiting Someone You Don’t Fully Trust

This is the #1 worst recruiting mistake you can make. The first and most important litmus test for recruiting or vetting any potential church leader is whether or not you trust them. If you don’t fully trust someone, and I mean full 100 percent trust, then do whatever you have to do to keep them off your team. In fact, if you don’t trust someone, don’t put them on any team. Don’t give them any responsibility. If you don’t trust someone, then do not trust them.

I’m not talking about just those who have done something to violate your trust already. If they’ve shown themselves to be disloyal or untrustworthy, then don’t put them into leadership. Ever. I’m not just talking about the disloyal. I’m talking about those who raise questions in your mind, the ones who give you indigestion when you think about them. I’m talking about discernment and listening to your inner voice that’s screaming, “What the heck are you thinking?!?!” or the quiet whisper that asks, “Are you really sure?” Really – if your gut raises a question, listen to it. Don’t rationalize it away. Don’t give into pressure. You ignore those thoughts or feelings to your peril – and worse, to the church’s detriment. If you don’t trust someone, there’s a reason for it … even if you can’t quite lay your finger on it. Don’t risk putting them into leadership. When the board chair suggested Cyndi to the executive team, the pastor went against his own gut … and it cost him dearly.

Recruiting Someone Who Doesn’t Fully Support the DNA

Every church leader’s top priority must be to protect the church’s DNA … it’s mission, vision, values, and core culture. The DNA is the building block of the church and contains the genetic code for the congregation’s future. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to mutate a congregation’s DNA in the best of times, but a church’s DNA is particularly vulnerable during the first five years of its transition into effective growth. And it turns out, it’s during those first years when a pastor is most likely to succumb to the pressure of putting a “powerful” or “influential” person into a key leadership position, even though they haven’t fully embraced the church DNA.

Don’t do it. Cyndi clearly couldn’t get behind the pastor’s vision … a key component of the congregation’s DNA. If someone doesn’t fairly gush with enthusiasm when you share the church’s mission and vision, or if they don’t reflect the congregational values or ethos, then they have no place in leadership. Indeed, they’ll undermine pretty much everything you try to do.

Recruiting Someone Who’s a Cultural Christian

Loosely defined, a cultural Christian is someone who may “assent” the facts about Christianity, but whose lifestyle and/or day-to-day choices demonstrate their lack of commitment to actually following Jesus in any significant or sacrificial way. The church isn’t a business, it’s the bride of Christ. It’s a faith-based organization (or organism). Only those who are actively practicing the faith in their everyday lives have any business leading the church … even the business part of the church. Just because someone attends worship, sings in the choir, and volunteers for a committee or three it doesn’t mean they’re faithful followers of Jesus. At a minimum, they should be reflecting a healthy dose of the Spirit’s Fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) and reflecting virtually none of the Anti-Fruit (Galatians 5:19-21). Every church leadership position should be exclusive and arguably elitist … they must be conspicuously practicing Christians in every area of their lives.

Recruiting Someone Who Doesn’t Bring Something to the Party

I’ve served as board president for a ministry school for several years and sat on several boards for other non-profits over the years. Every single one of these positions put high expectations on their board members. We were expected to do more than just attend meetings. We were expected to raise funds, give funds, recruit future board members, manage resources, and so much more. In addition, each board member was closely vetted by the board president and the executive director to ensure that their gifts, talents, skills, and passions brought something “extra” to the table. In other words, these organizations had no use for volunteers … then demanded much from their board members.

I’ve written this before: Ministry is too important to be put into the hands of mere volunteers. The last thing you need in any church leadership position is someone who’s going to attend meetings and “sit on the bench.” At a minimum, you should expect a high level of passion for the faith and for the church’s DNA from any potential leader in every position. But that’s a minimum. You should expect a high level of passion from any leader. You should expect them to bring gifts, skills, and talents that compliment the team and the church. And if they don’t … don’t put them into leadership. The work of ministry has eternal consequences … only recruit leaders who understand their ministry is more important than just attending meetings. People’s destinies hang in the balance.

Recruiting Someone Who Doesn’t Financially Support the Church

In church planter’s school, our lead trainer asked us a question: “What are the top three ways to tell if someone has truly bought into your vision?”

We stumbled around for answers, but didn’t get it right.

The trainer shook his head in disappointment. “The number one way to tell if someone has bought into your vision is their money.”

We nodded our heads. That made sense.

“The number two way to tell if someone has bought into your vision is … their money.”

“And the number three way to tell if someone has bought into your vision is their money.”

We all thought he was being both cynical and shallow at the time. Twenty-five years later it turns out he was spot on. It’s not the amount of the gift, it’s the level of sacrifice. And it’s the regularity. And it’s the attitude when given. People invest in what they believe in. If they don’t believe in the church’s mission and vision, they won’t be faithful in their support. They’re really not committed.

If someone isn’t supporting the vision with their checkbook, debit card, etc. then they’ve not bought into the church’s mission and vision. Don’t make the mistake of putting them into leadership. Their commitment just won’t hold up.

There are other rules for making good leadership choices and Bill Easum and I go over them in the Effective Staffing for Vital Churches book. But if you opt out of these five leadership recruiting mistakes, you’ll avoid a lot of headaches.

Question: What other hiring mistakes have you made … or seen others make? Share your insights with others in the Comments section below.