I checked my inbox early in the morning to find something sent from a coworker at an odd hour, and it went something like this, “My wife and I have been praying and processing about some things that we need to talk with you about. Is there anytime that we can talk tomorrow?”
You know where this is going, right? Someone I worked with was leaving. I laid there, thinking about what would need to happen next—how we would communicate this to our volunteers, our students, our staff, what responsibilities we would need to reshuffle to survive until the next person arrives, thinking about potential people who could take the job. When transitions happen on staff, there’s a bittersweet sting that comes with it.
My dad, who has been in pastoral ministry for 40 years, always told me that as a leader in a church, it can sometimes feel like managing a revolving door. As much as we hope to stay put with the people we work with, it rarely stays that way. The unique part about ministry and working in the church is that you’re usually doing life with the people you work with, and you call them friends as well as coworkers. For that reason, it hurts when they leave. On the opposite end, a transition allows you to do just that—transition. You can rethink not only about who you are going to hire, but what you are looking for in the hiring process.
In the final session of Orange Conference last year, Tom Shefchunas said, “The effectiveness of your ministry will ultimately be determined by your people.” Our team has been camping out on this phrase these past months—not just regarding volunteers, but our staff as well. No matter where we lead—in the nursery, preschool, elementary, middle school, or high school—what we do only happens once for that person at that age. This made our team ask an important question: Are we being as intentional as possible with who we hire to reach the families, kids, and students in our community? While I am still learning a lot, here are four things our team has learned in the last year as we’ve approached our open positions:
Make time in your schedule to think about what God wants you to do.
Before you hire, spend time with God to process how He is guiding you to lead. Don’t misuse the time to the point that you are not present and available, but don’t neglect it, either. Ultimately, He is the one who will guide your steps and provide the people, but we need to be disciplined long enough to listen to His guidance.
Create time to research the research and apply it to your needs.
We have more podcasts, data research, blog posts, and conferences than ever before. This is an awesome thing! Often, though, we lack the discipline to make time to begin the application for all of the content we consume. Researching the research in the midst of the day-to-day can become incredibly time-consuming and overwhelming, but it’s always worth it. We took the data we knew, and our team asked one another these questions before we made our next hire:
- Where is the Lord leading our church? (Hint: You will need to engage senior leadership on this.)
- What gaps on our team currently exist?
- What does our culture need that our student ministry can provide?
Get in a room with people who know more than you do about the age you work with.
In every community, there are well-informed people who are experienced in the culture and ages you work with—parents, coaches, teachers, social workers, etc. By whatever means necessary, get in a room with those people. They’re in the trenches in unique ways and can offer a lot of wisdom to those of us serving in the local church. We have a great partnership with our local schools and other community partners around, and they have informed much of what we do. We try to get in rooms with respected educators, coaches, administrators, parents, and other experienced staff at our church as often as possible. We have found that if we ask two great questions with each person who knows more than us, they know we care and are likely to meet with us again. Not only does this encourage them to keep going in what they’re doing, but it also helps our team stay on top of trends, priorities, and rhythms of the families we hope to engage. Foundationally, it keeps our minds fresh to what we need in new hires.
We are called to ministry, but we are paid to be experts.
This sounds harsh, but it’s not. We get paid from people’s generous tithing dollars. They are not paying us to be Christians or disciples; those things should be true no matter what our jobs are. We are getting paid to work with families, so we should know what we’re talking about so that we can reach them with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that being pastoral is unimportant—it is, but do not let that get in the way of growing wiser in the phase of life you oversee. The more our church has grown, the more specialized (in age level) with our hiring we can become. We still need to train people as generalists, though, so that they know all the parts work together for the bigger purpose. Raise the bar for the next person to get your church better at what it does.
I agree with Tom Shefchunas—the success of your ministry will ultimately be determined by the people. It’s worth your time to take the time to think before you hire, to create something new, and to raise the bar to do what you do with excellence. Take it seriously, and take your time. It is always worth it.