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.
Pastors can be in a tough spot—on the “losing” end of an evaluation process—whether they’re the evaluator or the employee. Unclear expectations and flawed accountability structures create stresses that can threaten any pastor’s ministry. Fortunately, the church can do better.
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.
I still dread performance management, especially annual evaluation of staff. I’ve built a structure that makes evaluation conversations doable, but they still make me so anxious that I want to run away and hide. Recently, Frederick Buechner collided with Harvard Business Review in my morning brain, and I started to wonder about adding a new question to the evaluation process—Should we alter course?—that could draw me out of my anxiety into a richer and more meaningful evaluation conversation.