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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