How can your congregation help those in paid staff roles perform most effectively? Ann Michel of the Lewis Center staff outlines five ways to clarify expectations and help church staff develop their professional skills.
1. Clear and reasonable expectations
Many churches hire staff without a clear vision for what the person will actually do, desperately hoping that adding staff will turn around a struggling area of ministry. This can be a surefire recipe for disaster. The staff member must labor against sky-high expectations. Short of working a miracle, his or her efforts are likely to fall short. But at the same time, any initiative can run afoul of unspoken assumptions about what the church hopes to accomplish. The absence of a clear vision for the job can easily create a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation for a church staff member.
2. Job descriptions
A clear, accurate job description is an essential tool for clarifying expectations and goals, but it is critical in many other respects, as well. A job description promotes a fair and objective hiring process. It clarifies reporting relationships. And it provides a standard for ongoing evaluation. But for a variety of reasons, far too many church workers labor without the benefit of a formal job description – for example the youth worker who was told only that his job was “to be the education and youth guy.”
It’s ideal if a staff member begins work with a job description in hand. But what about those who have worked, perhaps for a long time, without the benefit of a formal job description? The opportune moment for developing a job description might come at one of those critical junctures when it is logical to reassess job responsibilities — such as in the context of a performance evaluation, when there’s transition on the staff team, or when a new pastor arrives.
3. Clear lines of accountability
Because church staffers often function within complex multilayered organizational systems, the lines of accountability and reporting relationships are sometimes unspecified or unclear. In some congregations, staff report to programmatic committees. But this arrangement is rife with potential confusion, triangulation, and conflict of interest. The staff member must satisfy a constantly changing group of bosses with different expectations and varying levels of knowledge about their workaday tasks and responsibilities. Moreover, in this arrangement, the staffer has no direct accountability to the church’s overall mission or leadership except through the committee.
While it is logical for a program committee to have input into hiring or evaluating a staff member responsible for their area of ministry, every employee should be accountable to a single supervisor. In most churches, it is most appropriate for staff to report to a senior pastor or another senior staff member who is present during working hours and therefore has direct knowledge of a staffer’s work activities.
4. Evaluation and feedback
Periodic performance appraisal is standard in most workplaces. But since many congregations do not have well-developed human resources policies, it’s not uncommon for church staff to work for extended periods of time without any formal evaluation or feedback. Or an evaluation is scheduled only when problems arise. Sometimes, anonymous input is solicited from the congregation in ways that risk making the evaluation process a popularity poll or a gripe session.
Both a church and its employees benefit when well-thought-out review procedures are in place. Objective feedback can be obtained through a 360-degree leadership assessment instrument, such as the staff version of the Lewis Pastoral Leadership Inventory™. LPLI Staff Version was created by the Lewis Center specifically for church staff and lay ministry professionals.
5. Professional development
A common theme among church staff I surveyed some years ago was a need for more training of various kinds. While clergy often have continuing education requirements and funds provided to fulfill those requirements, there are fewer standards and resources to assist church staff in their professional development. Pastors, supervisors, and personnel committees should encourage staff members to chart a course of appropriate and accessible professional growth and provide funds to support it.
According to Phil Martin of the National Association of Church Business Administrators, a typical congregation invests 45 to 55 percent of its operating budget in staff expenses. So, it’s well worth an additional investment of time and resources to make sure staff function as they should.
- LPLI Staff Version, a 360-degree leadership evaluation instrument developed by the Lewis Center for church staff and lay ministry professionals
- Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon Press, 2017) by Ann A. Michel
- 7 Ways to Invest in Your Staff Culture by Phill Martin