I have hired many ministry staff … this includes hundreds of volunteers, dozens of paid interns, and multiple executive-level pastoral team members. I've worked through internal promotions, external hires, use of search firms, networks, and search committees.
Admittedly, I have learned from my own mistakes as well as mistakes made by others. I continue to learn and grow as I seek to keep the church's health my primary focus.
So ... What do I know now that I wish I knew
before my first pastoral hire?
Here are four go-to tips before hiring for any ministry position:
1) Establish the ground rules for the process
Church hiring CAN become very complicated. We often include marketplace professionals on our search team. The downfall is that while these individuals are knowledgeable and helpful, they may not be looking through the right lens. Most have never had to navigate the theological, cultural, and chemistry implications of a church hire. And, in fact, most pastors have never had to hire more than a few people in their entire career.
Those responsible for hiring in pastoral situations often err either by using only marketplace practices or disregarding all business practices to develop their own way of doing things. Neither is actually complete.
I would suggest asking for outside help. Tap into the knowledge of other churches, search firms, consultants, and denominational resources. Be transparent with your staff and congregation before entering and throughout the hiring process regarding the job description and reasons for the hire. Remember to use best business practices to avoid glaring H.R. pitfalls, but remind your search team that hiring a pastor is a unique experience and probably unlike any hiring decision they have ever made.
2) Hire people not skills
This one simple statement can turn a search team upside down. A good job description describes what needs to get done with a list of required skills and abilities. The search team evaluates sermons or other skills to see if they can do the job. CAUTION! This is precisely where great search teams often go sideways on a hire. Consider a job description that addresses both skills and character in tangible ways.
When you focus on the person before the skills you remind yourself that ultimately pastoral success is not sermon downloads, social media following, or even charisma.
If hired, this person will deeply impact your community. So, ask yourself … would you trust them to care for your aging parents? Would they have the ability to confront sin in a fellow elder with loving boldness? Are they humble and can they submit to others? Do you feel honored to be in their presence because of who they are?
In his book, The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni outlines hiring practices and encourages us to look for those who are: humble, hungry, and people smart.
3) Hire like-mission rather than like-minded people
Like-minded people can finish each other's sentences, cheer for the same team, and very often have similar childhood experiences. In middle school, we call it a clique; in college, we call it a fraternity, and in other group settings, we call it an echo chamber. If you look around the room and see a hiring committee that is more of a good ol' boys club than a diverse Spirit-filled team, this WILL impact your hire. They are interviewing you at the same time you are interviewing them.
Like-mission people have bought into a way of reaching people, a way of reading Scripture, and a way of being together that is more naturally cross-cultural. When you hire based on a clear mission and values, you have a better chance of finding a more diverse group of applicants. One of them could be who God is bringing alongside you to help you grow in your next season of fruitful ministry.
Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. – Simon Sinek
4) Hire for character over charisma
In a celebrity culture, it is important to remind ourselves what is most important. We are not hiring a CEO whose main job is vision and fundraising – or are you? Be honest. Consider Jesus, who seemed to avoid crowds. Paul was routinely stoned and driven out of cities. Would you hire either one of them based on your search criteria? So often, we are wowed by incredible stage presence, dynamic preaching, advanced degrees, or powerful vocals, but these attributes can actually end up being a detriment if the character of your hire has cracks. Do they model what it looks like to be a faithful follower of Jesus?
Never mistake great gifting with great spiritual formation.
If you hire for skills and charisma and find yourself having to fire for character, it is messy EVERY SINGLE TIME. I have seen it far too often. You will be questioned why you didn't see it before the hire. You will be accused of not being gracious because now people love the stage act you hired. There is simply no good exit because the truth is, the hiring committee was also wowed by charisma in a way that excused character flaws.
When it comes to pastoral hiring, there is a lot at stake for the church. Let me also highlight how much is at stake for the pastor. The new staff member will be moving their entire family. Their spouse will change jobs; their kids will be adapting to new schools; their family will be selling, buying, and settling into a new home; and they'll be moving away from old friends (and potentially family) to establish new relationships. They are doing this because they have discerned that this new ministry opportunity is where God is calling them.
When you make a job offer for someone to work at your church, you are not just inviting that person onto your staff but also into your church family. I see this more as an adoption than a transaction. I encourage you to treat each candidate as a gift from God, whether they have potential at your organization or not.
Better taking a year to hire than making the wrong hire and regretting it all year.
I'd love to hear what you have learned.
If you need help hiring a new, long-term church staff member, I'm happy to partner with you. Set up a time to talk with me here.