A Team Concept for Hiring

One of the most crucial responsibilities of a senior pastor of a church with one hundred and fifty people or more in worship is the discovery, recruitment, coaching, and empowerment of a diverse, talented staff who are all pursuing the same goal. As a church grows larger, this responsibility becomes more central and crucial to the role of the senior pastor. Denominational officials seldom communicate this truth to pastors who move through the ranks from small to medium to large churches or who are appointed or called to a larger church. Thus, most pastors waste valuable time trying to figure this one out. Small churches do not prepare either the pastor or the personnel committee to be aware of these responsibilities. This section focuses directly on the process’ aspect of recruitment, and indirectly on empowerment.

Before Bringing Them for the Interview

Before spending the money to bring a person to the church for an interview, do the following. One, have the candidates submit a resume of where they have served, along with three references. Two, have the candidates take several personal inventories to see if they have the temperament and gifts that are needed on your team. These inventories do not measure the skills of the person but how this person might use their skills on your team. Many inventories exist to assist you in this process.[i] Three, if the persons who appear to be possible candidates are at a distance, contact them by phone and boil the list down to one to three candidates that you are going to bring to the church for personal interviews.

The On-Site Interview

A great method of on-site interviewing that I have found to work consists of four questions that are asked of the candidates by the Senior Pastor at the beginning of the interview process. The questions are sequential, with each one built on the ones before it. The next question is asked only if the candidate enthusiastically and adequately responds to the previous question. If a candidate does not answer a question well, the interview is terminated without wasting any more time of the candidate or the church. It may be that you ask the candidates to answer these questions before bringing them to your church for interviews. Still, you would go through the following process eye-to-eye. Here then are the questions.

1. Describe for me your spiritual journey. More important than one’s skills, talents, attributes, or qualities is whether or not the person has been on and is on a spiritual journey. You want all of your staff to be spiritual giants. Staff should be about kingdom business, not just looking for a place to use their skills or merely earn a living.

I run into the two following examples most often. The music director or organist who works in a church only because it is a place where they can use their talent. If they were not directing the choir or playing the organ, they would not be in that church or perhaps any other church. The other example is the business manager, financial person, or secretary who works at the church only because it is a place to earn a living. No one should work on a church staff simply to earn a living. What you want are people who passionately yearn to pursue their spiritual journey as well as the journey of others.

Just being able to enthusiastically describe their journey is not enough. The journey must be one that has prepared them for ministry in the 21st century. I would use the following chart to evaluate their journey.

Ineffective Paid Staff Are:                           Effective Paid Staff Are:

            Committed to the church                          Committed to Christ

            Managing committees                               Deploying missions

            Holding offices                                             Doing hands-on ministries

            Making decisions                                        Making disciples

            Trained for membership                            On a life-long quest for quality

            Serving at the church                                  Serving in the world

            Preoccupied with raising money              Preoccupied with rescuing people

            Doing church work                                      Finding personal fulfillment

            Surveying internal needs                           Sensitized to community

            Eager to know everyone                             Eager for everyone to know God

            Loyal to each other                                      Drawn to the unchurched

            Building faith on information                   Building faith on ex. with Christ

            Perpetuating a heritage                              Visioning a future

If most of their spiritual journey is on the left side of the chart, the interview is over. If most of it is on right side, then continue the interview.

2. How do you FEEL about our mission, vision, and values (referred to from now on as church culture)? At this stage of the interview, look at the eyes of the candidate. Do they dance and sparkle when the person answers this question? Do they do so in such a way that you are convinced they really resonate with the church culture? Does his or her response convince you that this person would be a great ambassador of your church culture? You are looking for staff who are so in love with your church culture that they are willing to set aside personal agendas and conduct their ministry based on what is best for the church in the long run. Avoid recruiting anyone whom you suspect is only using this position as an opportunity for advancement to a better church. You are looking for people who are so in love with what they do and with the One they are doing it for that they have no desire to leave, even if offered a promotion.

Never, ever give the candidate a job description. You want to recruit people around your church culture, not a job or task to perform. You are asking this person to join you on an adventure. In most churches, you are asking the person to take a journey where perhaps neither of you have gone before and therefore, a map must be drawn as you go.

All a job description does is discourages staff from taking a journey, becoming a team player, being a life-time learner, taking innovative risks, coloring outside the box, and looking for ways to expand their responsibilities. Job descriptions are the prelude to hearing “That’s not my job.” Such a statement should never be heard in a team-based ministry.

3. What gifts do you bring that would add value to our church culture? Instead of asking the candidate to do something that the church feels must be done, let the candidate explain to you how they would use their gifts to enhance the church culture. Doing this helps ensure that the person understands how their particular gifts bring more completeness to the Body.

4. How would you go about adding this value? Using this approach allows the Holy Spirit to work more freely in your midst. You may be surprised how often this approach leads to effective ministries that would otherwise never be discovered. It might be good at this point to explore if the candidate has any previous experience working in a team-based environment or if the candidate has any feelings about working in such an environment. Listen for such responses as, “I know I’ll need to put together a team because I don’t have all the necessary skills to do the kind of ministry that the culture calls for, but I’m open to learning;” or “To be effective here, I’ll have to develop and empower a team.” Such responses are what you want to encourage in all leaders of the church.

Those who make it to the end of the interview process are then interviewed by the appropriate staff members. A great method of corporate discernment is to have as many appropriate paid and unpaid staff interview the candidate as possible. I would start the interview at 8:00 a.m. with the Senior Pastor asking the above questions. Then, at thirty minute intervals, have the paid staff individually interview the candidate. They will ask questions based on their role within the team. Give each of them a sheet of paper that asks of them three things: Would you hire them, yes or no? Could you work with this person? What further questions would you like asked of them by the Personnel Committee at the end of the interviews?

At the end of the interview process, the Senior Pastor tallies the interviews and lists the questions. If any one person says they could not work with this person, do not hire the candidate. If two or more vote no, do not hire this person.

Depending on the size of the church, this process could take one or two full days. At the end of the process, the Senior Pastor would meet again with the candidate. Part of the purpose of a grueling schedule is to see how the person’s stamina is holding out. Do not ever bring anyone on board who has low energy. If the candidate did not pass the interview process, the Senior Pastor would meet with him/her and explain why. The hope here is that the candidate might learn from the experience. If the candidate did pass the interview process, the Senior Pastor would ask the candidate the questions the staff compiled during the interview process.

Finally, the candidate is interviewed by the Personnel Committee. In most church structures, this committee has the final word. This final word is a check and balance of the power of the Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor meets with the committee prior to the candidate doing so and shares with them the results of the interviews as well as a recommendation about whether or not to hire the candidate. In most well-run organizations, if the Personnel Committee disagrees often with the Senior Pastor, the Senior Pastor is out of a job.

No model insures absolutely perfect hiring discernment. This one maximizes the team concept and eliminates most of the mistakes made by most congregations.

Question: What methods does your church use, good or bad, to hire new staff? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.