The Pitfalls of Hiring Church Members on Staff


It can be a mistake for your church.

Or it could be a win.

Sometimes it’s the path of least resistance.

And sometimes it’s exactly the right decision.

Hiring church members onto your church staff can cause problems. Not unlike hiring family members (previous post on nepotism on church staffs), there are benefits for doing this as well as drawbacks. In both cases, the drawbacks often have more wide-ranging impact.

An unwise hire can not only affect the work done at the church, but also potentially the individual’s relationships with the church or with God. Most problems can be minimized by good communication during the hiring process (previous post on our hiring process). As church leaders, we need to communicate with our staff early, often, and thoughtfully regarding what they can expect in their role, what our expectations of them are, and what the implications are if these don’t match.

But, before you begin communicating what it means for a church member to take a position on your church staff, you first need to deal with it philosophically. While not comprehensive, here are a few questions to help you do that.

  • What’s your church’s track record? If you’ve hired church members onto your staff before, have they succeeded? If not, was the work the only thing impacted, or did it leak into their church membership (i.e. the way they felt about the church)?
  • How important is it that the individual in that specific role knows the DNA of your church? (This answer will vary based on type of position: custodial, administrative, minister, director, etc.)
  • Do you believe the person is capable of keeping the confidentialities of the work?
  • Are they mature enough in their Christian walk to appropriately separate their role on staff from their role as a church member?

If you decide that you’re open to hiring existing church members onto your staff, then you need to practice problem avoidance (a previous post’s topic).

Make sure your church and prospective staff members have clarity on the following issues:

Being on staff is not like volunteering. Many prospective employees might think being on church staff is like being a volunteer, but with pay. There are a lot of differences, and you need to let them know what they are.

Being employed by a church doesn’t mean everything is “ministry” in nature. Many church members don’t realize how much business and “corporate” work happens behind the scenes. They have high hopes of their work directly being tied to benevolence or baptisms, and may become disenfranchised quickly when they don’t see their output tied to actual ministry.

Working in a faith- and grace-based environment doesn’t mean you get a pass on performing well. Many think because it’s a church, there won’t be standards, reviews or improvement plans. But the church is God’s choice of institutions to bring people to Him — we should set the bar for excellence.

Their experience in their work environment can (and likely will) affect their spiritual experience. Many church members who want to be on staff think there will be no conflict when their work and their church membership intersect. And certainly, there can be a positive benefit of working where you worship. However, there can also be a negative result from mixing these two worlds.

For example, an employee’s work as an assistant to their pastor may make them appreciate all that’s involved in the role of the pastor. They may see the dedication involved in preparing a sermon or they’ll get a glimpse of the kind of care a pastor provides to people in need. Then again, the pastor may have a bad day on Thursday, be unkind or impatient with the assistant, and suddenly, it’s three days later, and their pastor is leading communion and the only thing the employee can think is, “He treated me a like a jerk last week!” Now their work environment has suddenly negatively impacted their spiritual environment.


When church members consider joining your staff, it presupposes that your specific church was first their place of worship, discipleship, and community. Likely, this is paramount to them – and as a church leader, I hope it’s also paramount to you.

So when I’m meeting with a church member who’s applied for a staff position, I try to communicate that by taking this job, they’re jeopardizing their current relationship with the church.

It seems negative to put it that way – and of course I hope it doesn’t come to that. But the truth is, they’re putting that possibility on the table by being employed by their church. I hope their employment furthers their love and commitment to the church – but if it doesn’t, they need to be aware of the wide-ranging impact on other areas of their life.

It’s important that you as a church leader and employer have clarity about these potential risks. My experience is that we’ve been able to successfully employ many church members who’ve thrived in both worlds. These church members and staff are productive in their work, and also growing in Christ-likeness. That being said, it’s still a risk. And because we as leaders should care most about the church being a place of discipleship for them, we need to assess the inherent risks, lead conversations about them, and choose wisely.


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Free On-Site Church Leadership Consulting For You

In early 2016, I’m calendaring two in-person consulting times for churches. I will do these at zero cost* for the churches I select (I’m grateful for serving a church who wants to serve other churches and allows for this).

If you’re interested for your church…

Consider  the “practical takeaways for everyday church leadership” topics I’ve blogged about at Brian, and if you feel I may helpful to you as a church leader, to your leadership team, or perhaps to a larger group within your church—I’d be honored to consider a day long or day and half long trip to your church.

My selection of the churches to consult will be based on:

  • Your preferred date of consulting time working on my calendar
  • My assessment of whether I can be of help to you in your ministry context
  • Perhaps geography (I’m open to long U.S. travel if I believe it’s a good use of time)
  • And there will be preference given to those who subscribe to my weekly blog


If you’d like to submit a request that would occur January-April in 2016, email me and respond to the following:

Who: (church/organization)
What: (preferred topic[s])
When: preferred dates
Where: (geographically)
Why: (Why you feel you could use the help/outside perspective—just an idea is fine, it doesn’t need to be lengthy)

I’ll follow-up with all who submit a request with three weeks.

*If I agree to serve you in this way, there will be no financial cost to you, nor will it be accepted.

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The Example of Ministers (“Don’t be this me”)


Are you willing to embrace the reality that your title makes you a role-model?

When church members watch your life, are you a good example only in theory – or are you living a life that’s reflective of Biblical teaching?


As ministers, we should be an example when it comes to spiritual matters and disciplines. At stake is both our personal discipleship and our modeling it to church members.

The Bible sets clear expectations for the church’s leaders. (For one example, see I Timothy 3.)

This is ultimately a matter between you, God, and the church you serve. But I’ve listed some things I feel are non-negotiables for those in a ministry role at a church (and arguably, for every Christian in some way).


Baseline expectations for Ministers

Devoted time with God each day

This can be very subjective, so in my church setting, we define this further as “substantive and systematic time God.” We don’t go a lot further in delineating formulas of time, place, or reading requirements, but we want our ministers to systematically spend substantive time with God.

Substantive time will allow them to lead and minister from the overflow of their own time with God. Sentence-long prayers or reading one page from their favorite devotional isn’t enough. As ministers, we have a great privilege of service Christ and others, and our pursuit of Christ should be a matter of great intentionality.

Service outside your role

Most churches (and their ministers) ask people to step up and serve amongst the church body. Most of the people we ask have hectic, family and work-filled lives. Should we ask something of them we aren’t also willing to do? Ministry without pay is good for your soul, and it also models what committed discipleship looks like.

What are you doing for your own church (or the larger Kingdom of God) that’s not in your job description?

Involvement in group life

Whatever your terminology, you need to be in consistent community with other believers who are studying God’s word. There’s a lot of ways to do this, but the church is built on the idea of believers in community studying the Bible.

Although it can be hard for a minister to find an appropriate time for biblical community (sometimes it’s an issue of fit or trust, and sometimes, your role’s responsibilities don’t allow for it), we’ve got to be in community.

Financial Giving

As ministers and leaders at our churches, we should believe in the vision God has given of our church. Our belief should lead to commitment, which means participation in funding that vision. God’s plan for financing His church is simple economics. It’s called tithing.

Although I’ve heard people argue against it, I’ve never been convinced that ministers should get a pass on giving to the church. Rather, I think we should take the lead in giving generously. No matter your circumstances, financial stewardship is related to personal discipleship.

Does your giving to the church reflect your trust in God? If the members of your church knew how you gave financially, would your giving show faithfulness and commitment to God and your church?

Sharing Christ with others

Many ministers like to delegate “sharing Christ” to our church members who are “out there amongst the non-believers in the real world” (as opposed to working in a church building where most, if not all employees are Christians). As ministers, we’re only called to equip the saints, not find them… right?

Our title doesn’t relegate us to simply managing the results of other people sharing Christ. We should be engaged ourselves. I’ve heard the arguments for ministers not being great at this because of our positions (mainly because I’ve argued them), but our job can’t be an excuse.

As ministers, it takes an extra effort to rub shoulders with those who don’t share our faith. (I’ve blogged before how one such effort led to me playing softball with Hooters’ employees.) The extra effort is not only good modeling for other church members, but the stakes are eternal.


Confession: I’m not perfect when measured against what I consider these baseline expectations. At the same time, I don’t consider them aspirational. Rather, these are areas I should always be striving  to excel in.

Again, this is first a personal discipleship issue. But secondly, we’ll have a hard time effectively “equipping the saints” if the saints look at us and know we’re all talk. Don’t be a theoretical example.

DIRECTV has a series of commercials where famous people (this one includes NFL player Tony Romo) are shown as they are, and then show some lesser (usually humorous) version of themselves. Each commercial ends with the famous person saying, “Don’t be this me.”

Let’s agree together to avoid having to say to our churches’ members, “Don’t be this me.”


Photo credit: YouTube

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