I hate the word “staff” because it’s a rather mechanical, de-personified way to refer to those who feel called the serve the Lord and His Church in a special way. But, you know what I mean.
In my experience, churches (and each individual Christian) have a view of staff — a culture — that might be categorized as low-staff, mid-staff or high-staff. Here are the definitions I’m using:
High-staff. Ministers are generally respected for their calling, training, experience and competency. Salaries are toward the high end of the ministry pay scale, and considerable freedom in ministry is given. Those serving in ministry are viewed as gifts to the church, but not gods or hirelings. Church leadership cares about the personal and spiritual well-being of all who serve, not only their “work product.” When staff transitions out, severance pay is sufficient and P.R. is gracious. Ministry tenure is longer, however — not to earn credibility, but because the church has a healthy work culture.
Mid-staff. Ministers are given a base level of respect — but not a whole lot more. Additional respect is usually based on tenure and earned over time. Some staff enjoys high respect; others are viewed with suspicion, based on tenure or certain unwritten congregational code. Salaries can be anywhere from poor to slightly above average, usually depending on tenure. Mid-staff churches might honor the minister’s milestones — 10 years of service, etc. However, they rarely show appreciation at other times. Ministers get pay raises when they ask for them, but raises are not usually volunteered by the church. Freedom in ministry is sporadic — frequently depending on whether any elder/board member takes issue with things. Hiring the senior minister is done carefully. Other ministry positions are hired less carefully.
Low-staff. Ministers are hired to do what the congregation cannot do because they have “real jobs.” Low-staff churches embody the classic hireling culture. Things you are likely to hear around the building from time to time are, “What in the world are we paying him/her for?” and “At my job, I have to…,” and “I don’t understand why we have to pay someone to…” The underlying attitude here is that staff is generally unnecessary and works for the members of the church rather than God.
Salaries in “low-staff” churches are generally in the bottom 20 percent; turnover is fairly high; and people often hire family members or friends of people in the church. When such churches do hire from outside, the hiring process is not typically done carefully. Church staff rarely exceeds three in number. The reason is two-fold and chicken-or-egg: Churches try to hire the absolute minimum amount of staff, and “low-staff” churches don’t usually grow large enough to need more than three.
Some questions to think about:
- Would Jesus be pleased with how we treat those serving His church?
- Which environment do you believe most ministers would choose to serve, if given the choice?
- Is there generally a correlation between congregational size and staff culture?
- Which environment best facilitates a minister’s maximum contribution to church health and growth?
- Which environment best facilitates staff continuity?
- Which environment best nurtures the spiritual and emotional well-being of those who serve the church?
Here’s where I’m going with this:
Many churches undervalue the role staff plays in their growth and health over time. It’s actually hard to overestimate its importance. Rather than spending energy trying to figure out how to hold whatever staff they hire accountable, some of that energy might be better directed at cultivating the right culture for staff flourishing.
Accountability should be present and can be built into the tasks of any ministry; however, it shouldn’t be the priority in hiring/managing staff. Creating a greenhouse for the growth of vibrant servanthood is much more worthwhile.
Healthy churches foster a climate of appreciation toward and partnership with staff. Healthy staff serves the Lord diligently with character, competency and chemistry. This will serve the church much better over time than low-appreciation, high-management culture.
Thoughts? Agree or disagree?
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.