Vanderbloemen Explores the Challenges of Church Staffing
At first glance, it seems that church staffing should be a piece of cake, or at the very least not that different from hiring in the secular arena. “You love Jesus? We love Jesus! You grew that ministry from 30 to 300? Great! When can you start?” But if you’ve worked in ministry for any amount of time, you know that finding the best DNA match for your church is a delicate task and, in all reality, far from simple or easy. It’s a task covered with prayer, discussions, committees, and maybe even drama. Most church leaders will say that their number one challenge is related to team building. So what makes church staff member searches so different and, at times, so difficult? Maybe it’s because of the confluence of the eternal and the earthly all intermingled with daily affairs, or that the requirements for a church job are much more nuanced than, say, those of a mid-level sales manager. What we know is that staffing the church is unlike any other type of staffing out there. From my perspective, there are three different factors that play into why church staffing is unique and different from other kinds of staffing. Each of these three areas affects the others and deeply impacts the outcome of any ministry search.
1. Focus needed by church & search team One of the greatest factors that sets church staffing apart is the group of people assembled to find and evaluate the candidates – the search team, search committee, call committee, or pastor nominating committee, etc. Often, there is a lack of ministry-specific hiring experience in church search committees. Plenty of people on search committees have hired people before, but rarely have they hired a pastor. Also, most pastor search committees are made up of people who are volunteering their time. They are not full-time search staff, hired to review information, research and recruit candidates, or interview them for the best fit. And even if the search team is made up of full-time church staff members, those members have a myriad of other responsibilities. Thus, it can be difficult for a team – whether volunteers or church staff members – to dedicate the time necessary for a ministry search. Another potential hindrance for search teams is a lack of vision for the church as a whole. If the church doesn’t know who they are, they absolutely will not know who they need to hire. Everyone on the leadership team or search committee has to understand and be on board with the same mission & vision. Only from this place of unified understanding can you best evaluate who is the best fit for your team. The other difficulty in church staffing as regards the search team is the difference between expectations and actual needs. The search committee may have a long list of desired traits, and they are evaluating so much more than demonstrated experience. They’re interviewing for theological, cultural, and missional fit. A search team member may find the search process to be a frustrating experience of unmet expectations. Church search teams must be prepared to differentiate between traits they desire in their candidate and traits they absolutely need and be able to interview for both cultural and experience fit. It requires going far beyond the resume and is not easy.
2. Assessing cultural fit of candidates There are many more contending factors besides salary that pastors consider when taking a ministry job, and for that reason church staffing is difficult on the candidate side as well. In the corporate world, most people take a job if the position and the salary is on mark. But for church leaders and staff members, it is crucial that they and their family enjoy the staff and community and, even more than that, understand and love the community. Hiring for community and cultural fit is just as important to the candidates as it is to the search team. What also makes church staffing unique is that ministry candidates are being hired into their social, spiritual, and emotional support system. The place they’ll be ministering will also be the place they are closest to personally and spiritually. This is likely the biggest question mark that the candidates consider as they are sifting through the more surface questions of compensation and duties. It’s clear that the needs and the questions the ministry candidates have are different than in the corporate world. Questions of compensation turn quickly into questions of mission, community, and more importantly: spiritual calling. Which leads me to the third factor in what makes church staffing unique.
3. Discerning God's calling Along with the questions mentioned above, there is also the ultimate question in all of this for both candidates and churches: “Is this God’s call on my life?” or “Is this who God is calling to our church?” This voice, nudge, discernment, or call is different for every candidate and every search team, and it’s a huge part of what differentiates church staffing from secular staffing.
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