Five staffing mistakes to avoid

Tim-Spivey-bloggerBy Tim Spivey

“The single most important thing great companies did that good companies didn’t was make superb people decisions.” That was from Jim Collins at the Catalyst West conference last week. Collins is one of my favorite…OK, my favorite, author on leadership from a business perspective. The research his team has done over the years has changed even the everyday language of leadership for many.

While not everything Collins says from a business perspective should be used in churches, that statement can. At a strategic level, nothing matters more than using good judgment in people decisions. So, I’ve compiled a list of five huge staffing mistakes either I or people I know have made. Avoiding these will help your church immensely:

1. Hiring close friends or family – just because they are friends or family. Of course it’s good to work with people you love. However, hiring someone on that basis alone is a recipe for problems. Some churches hire people they know and love who simply need a job or who grew up at the church. In addition, they often lack the personal differentiation to hold that friend accountable or to transition them out if the fit isn’t good.

One giveaway that a church is in this cycle is to see how many “rehires” they’ve done. How many people who left the church staff for some reason are rehired later? If this happens much at all, you have a nepotistic family system at play, not a healthy church hiring process. Go ahead and hire friends and family if: (a) they’re actually the best for the position, and (b) you’re completely committed to doing what’s best for the church as it pertains to them…even if it means their departure. Don’t use the church’s money to help a brother out. Use it to help the Kingdom advance.

2. “Swifting.” The reference here is to love life of one Taylor Swift. This track-record of quick break-ups is more commonly instigated by church boards than senior pastors, in my experience. You’ve seen “Swifting” in churches where there’s a new minister every 18 months. High turnover churches usually mean one of two things – and usually both: (a) poor hiring practices, and (b) power issues.

If you’re looking for a place to serve, be very cautious in considering a church with high record of turnover. I know of a church that had three senior pastors in the same year. They also blamed each of those three for the transition based on “wanting a new direction.” They’re right – they need a new direction. They can start by taking responsibility for either poor hiring or a quick trigger finger in personnel matters – or both.

3. The slow trigger. Here we have the church that can’t hold people accountable or transition them out when they need to. This leads to ministry mediocrity over many years, and having even one of these can seriously impact your church. How do we know when it’s time to release someone? If they demonstrate a lack of effort or ability to improve their character, competency or chemistry on the team over a six-month period. If they’re trying, I might go a year. If they won’t try, I might not even wait six months – provided they knew what the church expected from them and I was coaching them along the way. Allowing people to languish does no one any favors.

4. Settling. There might be times when a church should hire someone to fill a spot that really needs attention immediately. I just can’t think of one. Don’t hire someone who can fill a necessary role quickly, unless they’re the best person to fill it permanently. The one exception is interim hiring in which everyone understands it’s interim. Don’t settle.

5. Handcuffing your staff. Don’t hire people if you don’t plan to make virtually every resource you can afford available to them. Care for them spiritually, and be generous in budgeting for their areas of ministry. If you’ve hired good people, they won’t waste it. They will multiply its impact.

True story: I have a friend who is a highly capable youth minister. He was hired to work with a youth ministry of roughly 20 students. The church, which had plenty of money at the time (very important), allowed him only a whopping $200 youth ministry budget – total! Just as exciting for him, conference attendance was considered vacation time. It took him all of six months to figure out that his hands were tied and he couldn’t deliver what they had asked him to – and he didn’t want to be there long-term. The church rehired the position, and that minister was gone in a year, as well.

If you’re going to spend the money on a staff position, give them the tools. Or, expect a lot less. But, who wants to hire someone with low expectations? If you don’t have enough money to resource the position you’re hiring, you can’t afford the position. If you have the money, use it to equip the substantial investment you’ve made in position. It’s a worthwhile investment of God’s resources.

What would you add to this list? Any thoughts on the above?

Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book “Jesus, the Powerful Servant.”


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