Monday, September 05, 2016

Seminary PL21: Hiring, Recruiting, and Firing

This is the seventh post on church management in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the twentieth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

Last week we looked at what good communication looks like. Today reflects on the question of hiring, recruiting, and firing in the church.
1. The process of hiring a lead pastor may be somewhat set depending on the denomination. In churches with an episcopal form of government, priests or senior pastors are appointed by bishops or a hierarchy that stands above the local church. In congregational forms of government, the local church is responsible to find its own next pastor. In more presbyterian church forms there can be some form of cooperation between local church and hierarchy.

For example, the Wesleyan Church has a somewhat presbyterian form of church governance. In this form, local churches vote on who their next pastor will be. In the past, the local church has played the dominant role, with the local church board often playing the role of a search committee. However, as such pastors become part of the district in which that church is located, the incoming pastor also has to be approved by the district that "receives" his or her credentials.

In the presbyterian form of government, there is usually a known network of pastors that provides a pool of possible pastoral replacements. District superintendents can play a more or less active role in coordinating the new hire.

2. In many churches like the Wesleyan Church (WC), the lead pastor plays a key role in the hiring of any other pastors and the pastoral staff. In fact, in the WC, all ministers have to resign at least as a formality when a senior pastor resigns. That allows the new pastor to have the ministerial team that he or she hires, and of course that new team can include members from the previous pastor's team.

In episcopal forms of governance, all the ordained ministers of the church are appointed by the hierarchy. Some staff, on the other hand, may outlast these appointments, since some episcopal churches move pastors fairly often.

3. The "who" of a church, of any organization, is an extremely important element in what identity and direction it takes. That is, unless the denomination as a whole has such a set and prescribed identity and direction that the people involved make little difference. The more institutionalized the church, the more cultural or habitual the attendance, the less significant the individual leaders, their giftedness, their gifts and graces become.

On the other hand, if the local church to some extent sets its own mission and vision, its own individual direction, then who is on the bus and what seats they sit in, becomes incredibly significant. "You need the right people on the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus." [1] Jim Collins' research suggests that you won't really best know where an organization is going until you know who is there--"First Who--then What." [2]

Hiring is thus one of the most important things that an organization does.

4. If a church is to work as a team--which seems obvious from a theological standpoint (cf. 1 Cor. 12), then hiring pastors and staff who work well together would seem to be a primary goal. It is often the case that having individuals who work well with others is more important to the thriving of a team than having individuals with extreme talent. [3]

This is one of the problems with the modern university. Universities tend to hire lone ranger scholars who are primarily interested in their own research but with little team spirit for the university as a whole. Needless to say, over time this does not create an environment that is pleasant to work in, nor is it attractive to prospective students, nor does it create an environment in which the university will thrive in a changing world. A college with lesser (but competent) scholars, but with people who enjoy each other and believe in the mission of the university, is going to thrive much more than a place where a lot of research is done, but all the professors are just out for themselves.

A church shouldn't hire in desperation, nor should it expect perfection. You don't want to hire a pastor that you will never be able to get rid of, nor do you want the church to steadily atrophy because you are in some never-ending interim. No pastor is going to be perfect. No congregation is going to be perfect. We all have to give each other some lee-way. Once the weaknesses of a situation are clear, we support in the weak areas.

5. Pastors tend to have different personalities. There is, for example, the preaching/teaching pastor. This is the thinker whose strongest suit is the Sunday morning sermon. [4] Then there is the "pastoral care" pastor. This pastor's strong suit is counsel, visitation, and caring for the people in the congregation. Then there is the "administrative" pastor, the one who is good with the "bookkeeping" of the church.

A congregation may have to put up with less than inspiring sermons from a pastor who is nevertheless an extreme encouragement one-on-one. And a church may take pride in a pastor who knows how to manage a church well, even if that particular pastor is not known for his or her sermons or individual care. For those churches that are well-funded enough to hire multiple staff, you will want to have the right personalities in the right seats on the bus.

6. For thriving, "mission fit" is extremely important when a church or organization is on a mission. It is more important than individual talent, just as "team fit" is more important for thriving than individual talent. This should be obvious from the definition of mission. If the mission of a church or organization is to be or do something, then individuals who distract from this mission are harmful to the purpose of the church.

Of course sometimes the stated mission is not the "real" mission. Who you hire and retain creates the mission of your church or organization far more than some official statement on the books. You may say you are a church that exists to spread the good news, but if you hire and retain individuals who don't care about spreading the good news, that is not really your mission.

7. An article in Forbes magazine suggests "7Cs" for hiring new people: [5]
  • competent (base line)
  • capable (has capacity for growth)
  • compatible (team fit)
  • commitment (for long term)
  • character (mission fit, in one area)
  • culture (culture fit)
  • compensation (will they be content)
A good list!

8. It is usually much harder to remove someone who is damaging an organization than it is to hire someone new. Large turn-over in an organization is a bad sign in itself. It could suggest a number of things. It could suggest a shallow pool from which to hire. It could suggest that those in charge of hiring do not have a good sense of who is best to hire. It could suggest that the workplace is such an unpleasant place to work that employees soon are looking to go somewhere else once they arrive and realize the culture.

When I was a seminary dean, I boasted to new professors that once they were hired, it was extremely unlikely that they would be unhired. I joked of a certain "eternal security" once they were hired. Of course I also made it clear that I was being tongue in cheek, but this is indeed the kind of work environment you hope will be the case, where hiring is done right so that individuals will scarcely ever have to be removed.

Sometimes a person is a positive contributor, but not in the right place in the organization. A good church or organization wants its staff and pastors to succeed and so will have a bias to retain. Obviously if an organization is always moving people around, it can be a sign that someone lacks the courage to bite the bullet and let some people go (and again, that someone does not know how to hire the right people). This is a long term problem. But as a Christian I admire the impulse to want to retain if possible.

Hard choices are better made on the front end than on the back end.

9. But there is clearly a time when a pastor or staff person needs to go. This can be difficult in the congregational system, where there is no hierarchy to pull the trigger. Church splits sometimes result as part of the congregation goes off with the old pastor to start a new church.

If a staff person is not doing what his or her role is supposed to do, then the longer that person stays in that position, the longer that part of the church will suffer or fail. Give the person adequate notice, make the hard choice, and then hopefully the right hire next time will move the mission forward.

Sometimes leaders can take a more subtle approach. The job description of a lackluster employee can be changed enough to where the person self-selects to leave. Sometimes an employee is connected in some way to powerful forces in the church that would create a huge stink if their incompetent or divisive favorite were removed. The church's finances or half the church's attendance might be at stake.

One technique is to work around the person. You can hire individuals whom you slowly load up with the real responsibilities, while there becomes less and less for the incompetent or divisive favorite to do. If the work around is successful enough at their work, there may be a point where the favorite is simply not needed.

The direct approach is however much more ideal, especially when it is supported by data. In our litigious environment, an employer who lets someone go should have a file they have collected with appropriate evidence to support the action. It goes without saying that no one should be fired for prejudicial reasons. Gender, race, ethnicity should play no role in firing someone. Sometimes the problem is the person doing the firing, not the person being fired.

10. It is not healthy or desirable for the official staff of a church to do all the work. We can debate the original meaning of Ephesians 4:11-12, but the meaning that the Spirit seems to be using the most in our current age is that one of the roles of church leadership is to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." That is to say, the lay people in a church should be heavily involved in the mission and ministry of the church.

That means that a significant percentage of the work of the church should be done by "volunteers." Those who teach Sunday School (if your church still has it), those who are on the church board, those who greet and take up the offering, often the musicians of a church--most of the time these individuals are not paid staff but volunteers who attend the church. Youth sponsors, guardians on trips that the children and youth take, there is no end to the roles volunteers often play in the church.

It is often harder to get rid of a bad volunteer than it is to get rid of a bad employee. Again, this calls for great care on the front end to avoid conflict on the back end. There are ways to try to channel people in profitable directions. Spiritual gifts tests, although they are often only a shadowy image of what the Bible was actually getting at, might help provide some rationale for who does what. Strengthsfinder is perhaps a more helpful tool.

Having roles on rotations means that you won't have to live with someone in a certain role forever. Try to create opportunities for young blood to get opportunities. A church where seniority decides who gets to do what is a church that is bound not to have the best people in the best roles, although feelings often run high around sacred spots. Best to set the ground work for rotation long before there are any elections or appointments.

11. In many churches, the problem is not having enough volunteers. You don't want the good volunteers you have to burn out or go somewhere else, so recruitment becomes important. Good leaders train and equip new leaders. So pastors and lay leaders should always be on the look out for individuals that might be mentored to become future volunteers for key roles.

If the church is not growing, however, there won't be a healthy pool from which to recruit volunteers.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 22: Causes of Conflict

[1] A common leadership saying, not least by John Maxwell, although he did not originate it. David Maxwell is sometimes mentioned as a source.

[2] Good to Great.

[3] See Patrick Lencioni's, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and our post on healthy teams.

[4] I'm not talking about official roles here, but individual personalities and strengths.

[5] "The 7 C's: How to Find and Hire Great Employees," Forbes (June 19, 2012).

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management

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