“Mama said, life is like a box of chocolates.
You never know what you are going to get.
Nothing is worse than opening a perfectly packaged box of chocolates and selecting the perfect bite designed by a sweet genius, only to have your soul crushed when you realize you selected your least favorite flavor combination. My least favorite flavor combination is chocolate and peanut butter. Ugh, and don’t get me started with the crazy little maps of confectionary lies they put on the boxes to help you avoid such travesties. Some companies are cruel enough to put those maps on the bottom of the box. Unbelievable! As fun as this topic is, I want to write about something more serious – hiring staff.
For many of us, Mama Gump’s life advice rings true for us in hiring staff. While finding statistics of bad church staff hires is difficult, you don’t have to look long or hard to find someone with a story. According to the internet, the corporate world is not safe either. A Career Builder survey revealed “nearly three in four employers are affected by bad hires.” Inc. Magazine found that “only 1 in 5 hires are considered successful” and “46% are considered failures by 18 months”. Part of the solution for us is understanding what goes wrong. In the ministry world, it seems to come down to three key areas: the ministry never really develops as expected, the candidate and church have ideological differences, or the candidate or church are not what the other expected.
So how do we take the guesswork out of our search processes and find the right fit for the right time? Here are three helpful questions to answer before posting your opportunity online to help you hire on purpose.
What kind of church or ministry does your community need?
While most staff searches begin with an internal need, overlooking the mission field your church is called to reach can lead to a missed opportunity and a slow fade into ineffectiveness and decline. God called us to GO and make disciples, and he has given the church leaders to show us how and where to go. So the first step in finding the right leader is clearly understanding our mission field.
This discernment process in leadership circles is often called “Exegeting Our Community.” Exegete simply means to rightly interpret. The basics of this process are determining who lives in your community, what they believe, and how to intersect their values with meaningful gospel-centered ministry.
Without understanding who you are trying to reach and the unique opportunity in front of you, you are just hiring to fill a position. It’s like hiring someone to maintain a house that has not yet been built.
When you develop a holistic view of your community, your ministry plan matures and your candidate profile deepens. You move beyond thinking like, “We need to reach young families, so we should hire a Jesus-loving Millennial who wears skinny jeans and Warby Parkers to help us reach the youth.” A sound exegesis of your community could reveal, the majority of young people in our community are raised by single mothers who struggle to see God as Father and need healthy male role models. In this case, an older leader who exudes the love of the Heavenly Father and knows how to rebuild trust would be a better hire. Not to mention, he would not have to be the youth pastor. He could serve in several roles leading the church to reach this demographic.
Without understanding who you are trying to reach and the unique opportunity in front of you, you are just hiring to fill a position. It’s like hiring someone to maintain a house that has not yet been built. When we clearly understand the community we are trying to reach, that same hire can lead your ministry to an amazing season of effective ministry. The best part is, you are not guessing at the needs of your church and the community.
How equipped is your church to meet that need?
With a clear view of your mission field and your calling as a church, it’s time to do some evaluation. You need an honest assessment of your church, a clear picture of who you are, and what needs to be developed, changed, or addressed. Skipping this reflective step of the process sets you and your future team member up for conflict and disillusionment. If you take the time to do this part of the process well, you set yourselves up for a long and healthy season of ministry.
Let’s start with the question, “What needs to be developed, changed, or addressed”? Regarding development, if this is a new ministry for your church, you will need a very different kind of leader than if the ministry is well-defined but needs to go to the next level. Do you need someone who can start from nothing or build upon a foundation?
Then there is our favorite word, change. When discussing change, it is crucial to move beyond generalities here and discuss specifically what needs to be changed. This goes a long way in minimizing conflict. As far as areas to address, you are thinking through ethnic diversity in the community and church, if the church is thriving, declining, or inefficient. The right team member can make all the difference.
Now that we have looked at strategy, it’s time to reflect on who you are as a church. This is all about awareness of the foundations that shape why and how you approach ministry. The key word here is alignment. Healthy churches are led by healthy teams all praying, serving, and working towards the same outcome. It comes down to clarity of the values that shape why you do ministry the way your church does ministry.
Healthy churches are led by healthy teams all praying, serving, and working towards the same outcome. It comes down to clarity of the values that shape why you do ministry the way your church does ministry.
There are two primary areas you need to explore. First is theological convictions. Know your essentials and non-essentials. Pastors, be aware of how your non-essentials shape your leadership. You and your team members need to be on the same page here. The second area to explore relates to values. Values are all about defining what motivates your actions. They answer why you do what you do. If your team is out of alignment in either of these areas, you will feel the tug and pull in every meeting and gathering.
The desired outcome is to answer, “What will it take for our church to move from where we are to where we need to be in reaching our community?” and “What shapes our approach to ministry?” This information should make it into a Church Profile and be made available for Candidates to review before applying. Taking the time to develop this profile will serve you and your church well. Having an outside voice to help you and your team create a Church Profile is very helpful.
If your team is out of alignment in either of these areas (theological convictions and values), you will feel the tug and pull in every meeting and gathering.
What kind of leader do we need to get us there?
Assessing a candidate’s “fit” and potential effectiveness can be tricky. I cannot overemphasize the importance of developing a great Candidate Profile and interview process before posting your ministry opportunity. A good Candidate Profile clarifies expectations, provides a basis for evaluating candidates, and informs the interview process. A common Candidate Profile outline explores a candidate’s Character, Competencies, Calling (ministry motivations), Chemistry (fit on the team), and Culture (your church’s values and context).
The temptation here is to rely solely on Personality Profiles, Resumes, Doctrinal Affirmations, and References to discern whether a candidate fits. While these tools can be helpful, they will not Inform you if a candidate has the maturity to know how their personality temperament affects other people or how their theology impacts their interactions in controversial settings. To interact at this level, you need to explore motivations and behaviors. Here are some high-level questions to get you started.
Character What aspects of their faith do you want to see passed on in your church? How does their theology shape their everyday life and view of the world around them?
Competencies What skills are needed to serve your ministry and mission effectively, and how are these skills demonstrated?
Calling What motivates the candidate in ministry? Who and what are they drawn to in their calling? Is that a good fit for your church?
Chemistry Does the candidate bring a needed voice to the leadership table? Is our leadership team stuck in a pattern of group thinking? What voice needs to be represented in our decision-making?
Culture How are your church's values seen in the candidate’s life? Do they bring additional needed values to the table? Has God used them to reach those you are trying to reach?
Knowing how and when to ask your questions is the key to knowing if you are being told what you want to hear. For example, if you ask a candidate to “Describe a time they were in conflict with a staff person and how they resolved it”, you need to consider if you want a polished or raw answer to that question. If the question is presented in a questionnaire, you will get a polished response. When asked in an interview, you will get different insights.
One last word of wisdom that is almost always overlooked in search processes: acknowledge expectations and growth areas in the candidate and the church while extending an offer to serve. This goes deeper than compensation, time off, and codes of conduct. The candidate will have an impact on your church, and your church will have an impact on the candidate and their family. Communicate the opportunities and areas of growth.
When you settle on a candidate, let them know why you are offering them the role. Give specifics of their anticipated contribution to the team and the church. Explain how you see them interacting and using their gifts in the church’s mission. Share areas of personal and professional growth you are willing to support. Take the time to confess areas of growth your church and leadership team will experience if they join the team. Extending a call is a mutual acknowledgment to serve and support one another. Leadership decisions are always two-sided relationships. Let’s strive for healthy relationships by taking the guesswork out of our search processes.
We are here to help
We have free resources to help you develop your Community, Church, and Candidate Profiles. We offer free demographic reports, tools to help you exegete your community, Next Step Guides to help you identify and communicate your church’s unique DNA, and resources to help you develop interview practices and questions to explore the how’s and why’s of a candidate’s ministry impact.