Leading Them Well

Leading and managing church staff can be one of the most challenging and exhilarating aspects of pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, staff can develop relational tension with other staff or volunteers. They can become resentful or bitter toward the leadership of the church. Sometimes, they can even begin to work independently from the overall mission of the church and gather adherents to their “side,” stirring up division within the body.

However, when staff are being properly shepherded and led, when they know the expectations that the leaders have of them, when they have a clear sense of their purpose and significance within the greater body of the church, when they are appreciated and given adequate feedback, and when they are being equipped to carry out their tasks with greater competency and faith, leading and managing staff can be one of the most exciting aspects of pastoral ministry.

Here are a few very practical principles of leading and managing church staff that will help you build up the body of Christ in both maturity and unity.

Principle #1: Hiring

Having the right or wrong person in the position you’re looking to fill can make a world of difference in your expendable time and ministry joy. When it comes to hiring church staff—whether it’s a maintenance coordinator or a secretary or a youth director—there are at least five categories to consider, oftentimes referred to as the five “Cs”.

First, calling. I’m not necessarily referring of the category we usually think about when it comes to a pastoral “call”—although it could, depending on the position—but ask the question: do they have a sense of serving “as unto the Lord”? This is what I mean by “calling.”

Second, character. Is their character consistent with their profession of faith? If the individual is not known, a variety of references can really help.

Third, convictions. What are their beliefs? Many within the Reformed world hold to the Westminster Standards as the guardrails for their system of doctrine. If this is your church, ask the prospective candidate (1) if he or she has actually read the Standards and, if so, (2) if there are any areas in which he or she disagrees with them. Many problems can be diverted, especially those in ministry staff positions, by knowing what the staff member believes. Also, make sure their “beliefs” are not just beliefs of convenience, but beliefs of conviction.

Fourth, competency. Do they have the necessary skills to adequately fulfill the job you are needing to fill? Additionally, if they lack some portion of the necessary skills, do they have a humble and teachable spirit that could receive instruction? Experience often plays a large part in this element of hiring.

Fifth, chemistry. Do you get along with them? Do you share similar values? Could you function well together? Personality tests and an informal dinner with the candidate (perhaps with spouses) can help with this aspect of hiring.

I also need to address two other issues related to the hiring process. First, the church needs to compensate staff well! Please read that again. Just because they are working in a church doesn’t mean that they should have to work for lower pay than other places of work. A worker is deserving of his wages. Moreover, adequate compensation shows that you value them, which only propels them to serve with greater desire and motivation. We make it a regular practice to increase staff pay every year.

Second, be cautious about hiring from within your own congregation. It can be done (and it can be done well), but there are also some risks. For example, if there is a need to let a staff member go, it may be very difficult for that individual (and his or her family!) to stay members at your church. If you’re going to be hiring from within, the best approach is to be clear about all possibilities from the outset, and that the leadership will do their best to shepherd him or her even if the job doesn’t end up being the best fit.

Principle #2: Purpose, Significance, and Appreciation

If you want your staff member to be an actual member of your ministry team and not just an employee, then they need to know—and be regularly reminded—of their purpose and significance within the overall mission and body of the church. When you cast the bigger vision of why they do what they do and their significance for the present and future generations of saints, it propels them to serve with a greater zeal and desire. It also increases the joy they have in their job, even if it is difficult.

Take a children’s director as an example. In twenty or thirty years from now, those children—who are being taught and encouraged in the faith week in and week out—will look back and remember how your children’s ministry director made a lasting impact because of his or her passion for the gospel. Your children’s director could very well be a part of those children’s testimonies of how God brought them to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s significant! Your janitor needs to know that he provides the vital part of the body that encourages Christian hospitality by preparing the facilities for worship and ministry of God’s people every week. That’s significant! And it’s these sorts of encouragements that give your staff a heavenly perspective of their daily ministry.

Moreover, tell your staff members how much you appreciate them—regularly, sincerely, privately, and publicly. This not only builds loyalty among your ministry team, but they will usually adjust their ministry to the content of your praise. (So don’t praise something that you don’t want to see repeated!) But look for reasons and opportunities to show your appreciation.

Principle #3: Equip and Train

Ephesians 4:12 teaches that leaders are called to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” 2 Timothy 2:2 teaches us to take what we’ve learned from God’s Word and “entrust [it] to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” By equipping others, the capacity of your ministry grows, which in turn grows the effect of gospel ministry in your church and community.

The elders need to consider how best to equip and train not only church members (are they doing that?), but also the staff. I have found it best to regularly talk about job performance, instead of waiting for a once-a-year review. Not that such a review isn’t important, but staff usually prefer to hear regular feedback about how they are performing their job. So tell them!

Be intentional about providing the tools, instruction, and models your staff need to succeed in their job. Pray for them, shepherd them, and make it as easy as possible for them to thrive in whatever position you’ve called them to. Have them develop a leadership mindset, where they are constantly on the lookout for others to equip and train. Remember this: The more people who are properly equipped, trained, and encouraged to use their gifts for the building up of the body of Christ, the greater capacity and impact of the gospel ministry there will be. Not only does this help steer the ministry team toward a more proactive goal—thereby minimizing any strife among the team—it also puts ministry structures in place as preparation for future ministry growth.

A pastor can begin to implement these three easy principles today! In the next post, we'll consider four more principles that can help change your staff from being simply employees of your church to a functional and joy-filled ministry team.


Dr. Brian H. Cosby is senior minister of Wayside Presbyterian Church (PCA) on Signal Mountain, Tennessee, visiting professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta, and author of over a dozen books, including Uncensored: Daring to Embrace the Entire Bible.

Brian Cosby