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Along the Journey|Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Guaranteed Ways to Ruin Church Staff

For those pastoral leaders who want to keep and develop quality ministry staff colleagues, here are the ten most common ways pastors ruin church staff—and how to avoid them.

1. Demand perfection and conformity. 

Insecure leaders tend to demand unrealistic expectations. If you are a secure leader, however, you will seek mature and competent staff and free them to work out their ministry. You will learn from them—they will be good teachers to you, challenge you, and be colleagues in ministry. Let your staff members make mistakes; that’s often a sign they are innovative and risk-takers, and remember that their mistakes and failures are not a reflection on you.

2. Micromanage and over-function. 

Insecure leaders tend to be willful and cannot respect boundaries. Those tendencies manifest themselves in over-functioning, herding, and groupthink. Over-functioning leaders take responsibility for what is not theirs. They take on others’ anxiety and impose themselves on their staff: micromanaging their work, setting their schedules, and thinking for them.

Effective leaders treat their staff like professionals, knowing that staff members will rise to the leader’s level of expectations. Still, more importantly, they will rise to the level of example the leader sets. Influential leaders allow their staff to shape their ministry—it’s what they were called to do.

3. Divide and conquer. 

Insecure leaders tend to play a game of divide and conquer with their staff. Fearful of losing control or influence, they cannot develop their staff into a team of colleagues and often play favorites. They engage in secrecy, sharing information with some individuals on staff while withholding it from others.

The result is that staff members never really know what’s happening and become perpetually territorial. Effective leaders realize that specialization does not mean compartmentalization. Influential pastoral leaders work at cultivating a team of ministry colleagues by developing trust through honesty. They appreciate that a strong staff team is their primary resource for ministry leadership.

4. Neglect a theology of calling. 

A key question for a theology of calling is, “Does the church call the staff, or does the pastor “hire” the staff?” Answer the question one way, and staff “belong to the pastor.” Answer another way, and it reframes the staff’s relationship with the congregation and its members. Insecure pastors tend to get in the way of staff members’ relationship with the church. This puts them in a perpetual triangle between staff members and the congregation. Secure pastoral leaders foster a theology of calling in their communities. They allow the church to call and cultivate its relationship with staff.

5. Do not plan corporate worship together. 

There is no better way to isolate staff members and fail to develop a shared staff culture (and a shared theology of ministry) than to fail to do weekly worship planning together.

There are few ways as meaningful and effective for developing a solid staff than to plan the weekly worship service together. Here are some of the benefits of doing so:

6. Maintain a dysfunctional personnel committee. 

Most congregations of a specific size have a personnel committee, church-staff committee, staff parish relations committee, or a variation. And, in most congregations, that committee tends to be one of the most under-functioning and ineffective committees. There are many causes for it, including the fact that laypersons often feel inadequate and, therefore, reluctant to critique the work of the clergy. Most church members do not understand what their work entails regarding staff persons.

Another factor, however, is that pastors spend too little time investing in that committee and developing it into an asset for the congregation and its staff. Influential pastoral leaders cultivate the resources that foster health and responsibility in the congregation, and the personnel committee can be one of those. That group can challenge its congregations to hold its pastoral staff accountable and encourage all called to serve to aim for high standards.

7. Make staff members responsible for other people’s functioning. 

A sure sign of reactivity and anxiety is when pastoral leaders start making staff members responsible for the functioning or behavior of others. For example, a church educator is pressured to increase the number of people attending educational programs; a youth minister is held accountable for the behavior of the church youth; a staff member on the stewardship committee is held responsible for the shortfall in budget giving; a children’s minister is held accountable for the spiritual decisions of the children in the church.

Effective leaders understand that staff members are responsible for the stewardship of their ministry, not for the decisions or functioning of the members of the church.

8. Lower your expectations and your standards.

I am constantly taken aback at the low expectations congregations and their pastors seem to hold for their staff members. Too many congregations seem to believe they do not deserve or cannot get the best persons out there. So, they take the attitude of “settling” for whomever they get.

Effective pastoral leaders cultivate the perspective that their congregations deserve the best, and therefore, they choose the best staff. Their church deserves it, they deserve it, and the kingdom of God deserves it. There is no valid reason for settling for and tolerating mediocrity in church staff. You’ll lose your best people if you accept lower standards and tolerate mediocre staff performance.

9. Neglect your own spiritual and personal growth. 

You can only influence your staff to be spiritual leaders to your congregation to the extent that YOU are growing spiritually. Congregations love over-functioning staff; they do not mind asking staff to sacrifice their families and health on the church’s altar.

The pastoral leader must set the example for stewardship of one’s vocation and personal life. Modeling ways to invest in personal and spiritual growth, professional development, and self-care can empower your staff to follow suit.

Additionally, here are three facts that pastoral leaders often neglect when it comes to their care and needs:

10. Do not invest in your staff’s professional development. 

Developing a good staff does not come about by happenstance. A collegial staff relationship can be one of congregational ministry’s most sustaining and gratifying aspects. The pastoral leader needs to be intentional about what kind of staff he or she desires to have eventually. That requires investing in the cultivation of a good staff, including:

Adapted from Perspectives on Congregational Leadership. You can read the full article there. To learn more about how not to ruin your staff, and other leadership issues, join us in The Center for Lifelong Learning’s Leadership in Ministry workshops. Four locations to choose from: Atlanta, Boston, Portland OR, and West Virginia. You may click here to learn more about the Leadership in Ministry workshops.

Along the Journey|Dr. G. & Friends