When I speak or teach about my book Governance and Ministry, someone almost always says, “That’s all well and good for large congregations with a lot of staff. But we are small. Our board would love to delegate, but there is no one they can delegate to.”
Hiring great people with excellent skills is a first step toward building a cohesive, high-performing staff. Retaining those outstanding people is just as important—indeed, may be even more important in today’s competitive job market.
When I was in seminary, my father, a long-time pastor, started to impart his wisdom: “If you have a great janitor or secretary, do whatever is necessary to keep them on the staff. Give them a higher salary, more days off, better working conditions—whatever it takes!” Once out of seminary, I learned the wisdom of his advice.
In “Staff Team Design for a New Era,” I wrote about the ideal staff team to meet your congregation’s future challenges. But let’s be frank: designing a new staffing structure is the easy part. The hard part comes when you realize you have the wrong player in a key position and you have to do something about that if you’re going build a better team.
“We don’t have enough people to fill all of our positions.” I hear this complaint a lot, especially in congregations that are smaller than they used to be. Their official structure may call for a dozen or more boards and committees. Add it all up, and a congregation that sees 50 people on its pews feels obliged to fill up 60 or more seats around committee tables. Streamlining the official structure is a challenge, but with a clear plan and some determination, it can be done.
It is impossible to check my email without a bunch of articles popping up regarding the “macro” context for ministry these days. People are obsessed with it. They can’t stop writing and talking about all the changes that have taken place post-pandemic, most of which actually started about forty years ago. In contrast, I am obsessed these days with “micro.” Congregations cannot seize the macro-opportunities of this decade without tackling their many micro-issues—getting the nuts and bolts right.
As the Covid era passes, employers and churches face some similar dilemmas. Employers struggle to decide how and whether to transition back to in-person work. Churches wonder whether they should try to bring everybody back into the sanctuary or accept remote worship as part of the new norm. Since going backwards is hardly ever successful, we need to benefit from one another’s thinking about how to move ahead.
Church staff approach the beginning of a program year with enthusiasm and energy, but as the year winds down, this often gives way to malaise and exhaustion. Staff rely on the summer months for revitalization before the cycle begins anew. This cycle of overwork, exhaustion and renewal has never been healthy, but during the pandemic, the summer hiatus has not offset months of overwork and stress. Many staff are running on empty—already burned out while the program year is still new.
It’s time to break the burnout cycle by instituting healthy, sustainable church workplace practices.