In the world of church, there are many different kinds of giants. Some are the kind we need to get our slings out to slay. But there are other giants who have earned our respect. For instance, there are giants of the faith: women and men who have already died to self and live for Jesus. There are also churches who have become giants in the faith as well. These churches effectively reach out to the lost, the misplaced, and the searching. These giants may start off small, but those obedient to the ways of faithfulness tend to become giants proportionate to their communities.
Becoming a giant is tough. Most churches struggle with growing pains as they face the 200–300 threshold. These face the stress of getting past the bottled milk and personal care of the pastor; practices that must be supplanted by becoming mature spiritual adults who learn to minister and care for each another in the congregational community. Sadly, in most congregations there are those who suffer from the Peter Pan syndrome and refuse to grow up. A few of these create conflict and become bullies or terrorists who will do almost anything to keep the congregation from growing up either. These are the greatest giant killers of smaller churches. However, a few congregations refuse to be slain and continue on in their faithfulness. To do so, they must convert, neutralize, or remove the bullies and/or terrorists in order to continue to mature and grow.
Those congregations who weather the growing pains discover they must add staff to further the ministry of reaching their local community for Jesus. Without additional staff, the congregation ultimately falters and they lose their effectiveness. Program staff, on the other hand, becomes the leverage for continued faithfulness, growth, and maturity. These growing and faithful churches truly are giants in their communities. Like all giants, though, they face the slings of giant killers who would fell them with a single stone. These giant killers are only rarely bullies and terrorists from within the congregation – these were dealt with as the church grew. No, the most common giant killer of churches over 300 is staff disharmony.
There’s an old Southern saying I learned in Georgia you might be familiar with: “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.” Over the years I’ve learned this is especially true in the world of church, except for the person of “momma” substitute the word “staff.” If there is disharmony in the staff, there will be disharmony in the congregation. And where there is disharmony, there is dis-ease. And where there is dis-ease, there can be no effectiveness or growth.
You may have visited churches where you could “feel” the tension even before you were met by the greeters. Disharmony within the staff has a trickle down effect that will bring even otherwise healthy giants to their knees. Those leaders who refuse to allow their congregations to be slain by staff disharmony are intentional in their hiring, their boundaries, and their staff support.
Make the right hire and you’ll eliminate many of the causes of staff disharmony. Here’s a list of considerations to make when you set out to fill a position.
- Hire for passion. Many leaders still believe that the measure of a good hire is credentials and education. This is a holdover tenet from the Enlightenment that presumed knowledge produced effective leaders and/or followers. Don’t get me wrong, education and training are necessary, but for good hires, they aren’t the criteria for employment. Instead, hire for passion. You can always get the new-hire trained, but you can’t train passion. They either have it or they don’t.
- Hire from within. The biggest mistake many churches make is to rely on interviews, job performance reviews, and recommendations to make their hires. Almost anyone can whip up some passion for a couple of job interviews, especially if a salary is at stake. And job performance are about as subjective as you can get. And recommendations? Unless the staff member was completely anti-social, they’ve made enough friends in the biz who would be willing to write a letter of pleasantries. However, if you hire from within, you’re engaging a known quantity. You’ve seen them volunteer passionately in ministry. You know whether or not they’ve fully embraced the church’s ethos and DNA*. You know whether they have a coachable and teachable spirit. And you know whether or not they’re a good “fit” within your team.
* DNA: The church’s mission, vision, values, bedrock beliefs, expected behaviors, strategic statement, and unique ministry proposition.
- Hire for loyalty. This is a touchy subject, because it sounds self-serving and self-protecting. When you make your hire, make sure the person you’re hiring is going to be loyal to you above anyone else. You’re not looking for a “yes-man,” but you are looking for someone who’s going to stand beside you when the chips are down … and the chips are always going to go down. This doesn’t suggest that they won’t question you or your motives. It doesn’t even mean that they won’t help hold you accountable. But it does mean that the only coalition they’re going to build will be with you.
- Hire in consultation. Many churches are organized around a power-sharing (or not sharing) deal wherein a committee does the hiring. Whatever you have to do to get this changed, do it … and that includes not taking a position at a church that has this policy. If you’re in a denomination that requires a judicatory to hire and/or approve staff (and their idea of a great staff member begins and ends with formal education and ordination), then find ways to work around it – and there are ways.
However, that doesn’t mean to do your hiring in a vacuum. If you’re working in a multi-staff church, hiring without the input of your staff can create disharmony and disenchantment within the staff. Once you’ve chosen a final candidate and are ready to do the hiring, and not before, take the time to allow your staff to have some face time with him/her. Don’t skimp on this time. Allow several hours, or even a whole day for the staff and possible new hire to get to know each other. Then listen to your staff. You’re probably not the only one on staff that has good discernment gifts, so listen carefully. If there’s budding disharmony from the beginning, don’t ignore it. It won’t get better by minimizing it or ignoring it. Better to either not hire someone or else to release an existing staff member than to allow the seeds of discord to take root.
The list of articles that directly or obliquely reference the need for effective staff boundaries written in the Harvard Business Review alone would probably fill a dozen pages single spaced at 10 pitch. However, in many of these articles, the issue raised isn’t about how to deal with staff that routinely oversteps their boundaries, but how to get management to lighten up and allow staff members the latitude to do their jobs with all the tools and space needed.
- Develop proscriptive job descriptions. Most job descriptions are prescription and include a laundry list of what a staff member has to do and what a staff member can’t do. This kind of job description seldom allows a staff member to be creative enough to take their ministry to the next level. In fact, prescriptive job descriptions are often oppressive and encourage mediocrity.
A proscriptive job description sets boundaries using the congregational ethos and DNA and releases the staff member to accomplish their job within their gifts. For instance, a worship pastor’s proscriptive job description might read “To provide pastoral oversight and leadership for worship services indigenous to the community.” Certainly there would be rubrics about resources and so on, but coupled with their passion and a congregationally embodied DNA (especially a clear vision, values, and strategy statement), the staff member would have a good idea about what they could and couldn’t do in order to get the job done.
- Keep them in the loop. Information is power and the withholding of information creates a power vacuum that hamstrings staff. The larger the church, the more critical this becomes and the deeper the distrust when information isn’t shared. Staff members need to be in the know about pretty much everything every staff member is planning, doing, and even thinking about. They need to have access to the latest financial picture and changes to the calendar. If there’s a conflict brewing, they ought to know about that too. Every scrap of information they can get their hands on helps them to plan and implement their own ministry. In addition, keeping them in the know helps ameliorate the feeling of isolation, a serious problem in larger churches.
Like the Ginsu knives, though, there’s more! When you develop a staff information sharing environment, solutions to potential problems are more easily solved. Many of us in leadership somehow believe that we’re the best problem-solvers in the organization, when in fact multiple minds are more likely to develop a solution that’s both outside-the-box and highly effective.
- Good fences may make good neighbors, but shared ministries build stronger churches. Many, if not most, staff infighting incidents occurs because someone started a ministry on someone else’s turf. The solution is often for the job description to be precisely precise so that there is no doubt about the boundaries of the ministry area. Sounds like a great solution, but in practice, almost no ministry has precise boundaries. When the “HR” department tries to define them, job descriptions begin to move from proscriptive to prescriptive. For example, a Christian Education minister might be in charge of adult small groups, which makes sense. But what if the someone in the choir wants to start a music-affinity small group? Will that fall under worship or Christian Ed? Although for most of us that seems pretty self-evident, questions begin to emerge if the Christian Ed small group leaders are expected to be involved in ongoing coaching, training, or mentoring events. Do all small group leaders have to attend? You can see that it could get messy in no time.
The alternative is to allow and even encourage shared ministries. This is where keeping everyone in the loop is critical. Open boundaries, open doors, and good communication in the above example quickly solves any issues that may arise. If the ministries are truly shared, then the two staff members aren’t threatened by overlap. Further, because there’s no secret about what the left and right hand are doing, the Worship minister would be aware of the need for small group leadership support and would have included that rubric when the new music-affinity small group began.
- Clearly define decision-making authority. Staff sometimes find themselves in untenable situations when a needed decision looms before them, but they’re not certain they have the authority to make it. In general, a staffer only has to get burned once before they become seriously gun-shy about stepping out to make another decision.
Each member of your staff needs to know the rubrics by which they can make decisions. Typically, the decision making rights are defined in terms of financial expenditures. That’s a good start, but it’s not sufficient. Can a staff member launch a new ministry? What if it’s not precisely in the midst of their ministry area? Can they fire a subordinate on the spot if they feel the need? And the all-important question is whether they’ll be second guessed. If there’s any chance that someone is going to step up and undo a decision, even if it’s a lousy decision, it will affect the whole staff. Trust and confidence are hard commodities to rebuild. If a staffer looses their confidence in their decision making ability because someone second guessed them, they’ll quickly loose their trust for the organization (and their trust of you for not backing them up).
Finally, though you may have hired the greatest staff member on earth and clearly defined their boundaries, you run the risk of disharmony if you don’t lead in supporting them both individually and your staff as a team.
- Support each staff member individually. In a large and busy church, it can be difficult for senior leadership to spend enough time with their staff. There always seems to be something more urgent that gets in the way of building staff relationships, but there’s nothing more important. If senior leadership is too busy to meet with each of their immediate reports at least weekly, then they have too many immediate subordinates and they’re most likely over-administrating and under-delegating (a disease rampant in church leadership). You shouldn’t have more than five immediate team members/subordinates to care for. Then plan on spending an hour or more each week meeting one-on-one with each for feedback, mentoring, and encouragement. During this time, make sure you’re resourcing them so that they’re constantly getting the training and ongoing support they need. Encourage transparency, honesty, and near-immunity during these meetings. Your staff members must feel free to disagree with you to your face behind closed doors. If not, they’ll learn to disagree with you outside of your earshot.
- Develop your staff team. It’s been said that team-building is more an art than a science, and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest there’s some truth in that. However, the staff that spends significant time with each other both on and off “the field” are most likely to develop into a team. Weekly all-staff meetings, worship, retreats, day-trips, conferences, and intentional team-building events are all crucial to the health of your team. Though it’s tempting to schedule some of these events “once in awhile,” once-in-awhile won’t build team. Shared time together is the only way to build team.
The culture of your getting together time is nearly as important as the time your spend. Open lines of communication need to be more than encouraged, they need to be intentionally built. That means you will need to develop your facilitating skills so that you innately know when to say, “Brian, you haven’t weighed in on this. What do you think?” as well as when to intervene in a jalapeño conversation, “Let’s take a break from this conversation for a few minutes to center, pray, and regroup our thoughts.”
Perhaps the most pernicious problem in developing teams is jealousy. Recently, I was with a multi-staff church and the Adult Discipleship minister shared that for the previous three years the lead pastor had chosen to put his attention into other areas. The responsibility for building adult small groups continued to rest on the Adult Discipleship minister, but he perceived that there was no longer any senior leadership support. He felt both his area of responsibility and his ministry personally was devalued by the lead pastor. In this case, disharmony amongst the staff was minimal, but only because of the spiritual depth of the staff member. In most circumstances the minister would either be looking to leave or planting seeds of discord. It became clear that the lead pastor was so involved in another area that he’d stopped spending time building his team. Open communication had been curtailed and no one felt “okay” enough about their positions to be honest with the leader. If the senior leadership doesn’t get serious about team building, this mega church will soon be facing a giant killer face-to-face as the number of disaffected staff grows.
In the end, it’s easier to prevent a giant killer than it is to try and slay one once it shows up on your doorstep. By hiring carefully, setting and maintaining boundaries, and supporting your staff, you can minimize the chances of staff disharmony.
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