Three Essential Staff Hires

One of the key challenges with any organization is finding and staffing the best talent. Churches are not unique among organizations even though they have different staffing needs. There are some essential positions that need to be filled and, for many churches, finding the right staff member for these positions can make or break a ministry area.

As I’ve been talking with other ministers and staffing professionals, we’ve noticed that there are three specific positions that are needed in churches. Maybe if we were to title this a bit more provocatively, we’d say they are the Three Fastest Growing Staff Positions.

In short, these three positions (possibly in order of need):

  1. Worship leader
  2. Children’s Minister
  3. Executive/Administrative Pastor


Now, what do we mean here? Well we’re first anticipating that the senior pastor position is filled. A church without a lead pastor (or at least lead communicator) needs to secure that position before anything else. The other three are essential to staffing a growing church.

Worship Leader – more than any other position on staff, the worship leader is of central importance. They are to be the lead worshippers, not superstars or rockstars, not showmen or entertainers. They have the unique calling to lead others into worship and set the tone for a worship service. The skill set required to accomplish that previous sentence is immense, and the calling from God must be just as immense. Yet for a quality, and qualified, worship leader, they are in short supply and great demand. As many of us have seen, the right worship leader can lead us into the holy places of God. The wrong worship leader (even if they have musical talent coming out the ears) can lead us into spiritual wilderness and rob of a church of its greatness. Finding a worship leader who understands they aren’t a rock star and can shoulder the burden of authentic leadership is difficult, but worth every moment of prayer, exploration, and interest.

Children’s Minister – there is nothing more precious in Jesus’ ministry than the children who sat before him and took in his teaching. As he noted in Matthew 19:14, child like faith typifies the earnestness with which we pursue to the Kingdom of God. Having a great children’s minister will help grow the faith of an entire church as the entire family is properly ministered to and reached with the Gospel. For many leaders in new churches, having a great children’s minister is more important than a student/youth pastor. For the one who is called and equipped to minister gently, firmly, and authentically to children and their parents, the pathway for ministry is great. Great children’s ministers understand that their ministry isn’t just to the littlest among us, but also to their parents. They have a platform for instruction unparalleled by almost any in the church, when they minister properly. Just like with worship leaders, children’s minister must be so cautious about their own lives and the lives of the adult volunteers they work with. Jesus words in Matthew 18:6 stand out as one principal text. Yet in the the right hands, a ministry to children grows a church from its youngest to its oldest members with deep roots of firmly planted families.

Executive Pastor – this also includes the administrative pastor role. So many senior pastors of churches have a deep passion for their people but lack the time, or perhaps skill set, to properly look after the daily ministry of a church. Having a quality executive pastor who understand their role is the same as the person who sits in the second chair of the orchestra can help a church and its staff grow and see seasons of faithfulness. Being a senior pastor necessitates involvement in the lives of attenders, members, and staffers. This kind of activity takes time and time devoted here draws away time from administrative and oversight tasks. The executive pastor position provides someone who can, when properly empowered and fully trusted, direct the staff, manage the facilities, align the strategy, and execute the vision at a level that permits the senior pastor to be true under-shepherd to the congregation. It is a challenging position because of the need for a great leader who is willing subordinate themselves publicly to the authority of a senior pastor and upholding the shared vision of the leadership team. This role also requires a refined skill set. Too often the executive pastor can draw their own limelight, but ultimately they must be willing to redirect everything to glorify God.

In all three of these growing staff positions, there are needed skills and even more needed calling. When a young seminarian asks about potential leadership avenues in a church, these are generally the three categories of staff positions I mention if they are uninterested in being a senior, or lead, pastor.

Though just hiring a great staff member won’t grow a church beyond that congregation’s trust in the leadership of the Holy Spirit, it can be a signal of the movement of the Spirit in their midst.

For each of these three positions, there is a growing number of churches looking for individuals who will fulfill these roles. Having great staff members who can impact those in our communities and churches provides a continued basis for growing and thriving churches. These three positions are key staffing positions also reflect the changing nature of ministry in the new century.

So, what staff positions are you looking at hiring? What are key positions in your church that go unfilled but are vitally needed?


Succession Planning Perspectives

One of the growing challenges confronting many growing and thriving churches is what to do when the leader leaves.

A simple, but definite, rule for ministry (and life) is that regardless of how wonderful our ministry and impact, we are ultimately going to have to leave one day.

leadersPart of being an effective and Jesus centered undershepherd (i.e. pastor) is recognizing that one goal in ministry should be to leave the church, or division, better than when you found it. Recently I read of a pastor who, after thirty long years of ministry, retired from his church and encouraged them to go and united with another church because they had grown down to such a small amount and no other leader had been risen up to take his place. The pastor, who is well thought of in some circles, mentioned this in an off-the-cuff illustration in a sermon. Yet it resonated with myself and a few others as to what happens when we don’t follow God’s command to raise up and equip new leaders and what failing to plan really looks like…a planned failure.

For corporoate human resources work it is challenging, or horrifying as one friend in HR put it, when your CEO (or senior leader) finally begins leaving. Just like in churches when the well established senior pastor announces his retirement, a sense of both panic (we call it urgency to smooth it over) and uncertainty can easily creep in to any organization. Imagine how much more magnified this is if it is a Fortune 500 company with revenues in the billions.

Last night I came across an article on Retuers about the impending succession plan that the NASDAQ is going through as their CEO, Bob Greifeld, plans a possible exit, even after signing a new five year extension on his contract. For various reasons, there is a possible shift coming to the exchange whose leader has been in place for ten years (which in the real world would be like running a company for 30 years.) Yet Greifeld has been at the helm of an international stock exchange that has been navigating massive shifts in the markets, its own strategic planning, and increasing diversification in the entire sector.

How does a company go about replacing such a vital person?

How does a church go about replacing a senior pastor who has been there for twenty plus years and seen it through many seasons, generational changes, and even facilities transition? Not to mention the spiritual and emotional attachment rightly given to senior pastor?

For the NASDAQ several leading staff departures have left the remaining candidate pool from within drained to a low number. An outside candidate might be worth exploring, but there are some risks. Perhaps the person wouldn’t understand the complex DNA of the exchange, they are too junior and executive understand the task priorities of a CEO, the sector is loaded with talent but not at the same level as the NASDAQ, and other concerns populate the confounding questions of succession.

Sounds a lot like questions churches have about a new senior pastor.

Over at the Harvard Business Review Blog they’ve provided some tips that might help frame how to go about this process for any organization:

1. Call the process succession development – though this might sound trivial, the idea is pretty solid, it helps educate expectations.By developing your next leader instead of planning for them there is a chance to embed crucial organizational DNA and also allow them to step up into the position. The person, by the time of succession, comes from within and is a known figure.

2. Keep it simple – HBR is right that this shouldn’t be a complex process. Ultimately, it is about one person giving another their seat. HR and org charts convolute the structures. Make this a baton pass between teammates, not a bait-and-switch.

3. Stay Realistic – nobody expects the next person in for a senior leader to walk on water the same way the other person has done for years. There will be transitions and adjustments. One of the benefits that churches have over other organizations is the ability to seek unity through prayer, fellowship, and the outpouring the Holy Spirit. Seek out these means and remember that every leader still puts their pants on the same way.

An article over at Forbes adds an additional point:

4. Realize what got us here won’t get us there – with a new senior leader comes an opportunity to bring a fresh perspective and rejuvenate any organization. Any decently degreed candidate can look at the strategic plans, programs, and operations of a new organization and imitate success for several years and have success. However, what most organizations need is someone who will take them to a new place. Because the new leader isn’t the old leader allows for the opportunity to change and cross over to a new way.

For any organization with an established leader, the next person up isn’t going to be the same. There will be some natural turnover in staff and, for our churches, possibly our members. This still remains an opportunity to move forward. 

As we have seen excellently modeled in the ministries of John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Jerry Vines at First Baptist Jacksonville, and Bob Russell at Southeast Christian Church, successful ministry succession is possible. Being able to humbly and earnestly seek God’s blessing in this process will always help find the best candidate to be the best pastor they can be.

For churches seeking assistance with this kind of succession planning (or development) I always encourage them to talk to an expert at an staffing organization which works with churches. Three of the best I know of (in no particular order) are: Minister Search, the Shepherd Staff, and the Vanderbloemen Group. Call them and talk as soon as possible. One general rule I always follow on church staffing, free sites get you bad results. This kind of search requires a specialist.