Staff leadership: If only he/she/they…

If only people were different, everything would be easier. It can be easy to think this about church staff members. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about church staff members who are insubordinate, incompetent, or lose their temper on the job.

However, when there are issues with staff, it pays to look in the mirror. If there are persistent issues with staff, you probably play a part in it. When I was a pastor, I was not a great boss. I let people get away with too much because I don’t like confrontation. I blamed them for not measuring up. But I wasn’t candid with them about the issues. I’ve gotten a lot better over the years, but it’s still not my greatest strength.

Whether you have a staff of one or 30, leading staff is one of the most challenging parts of ministry. I often find myself coaching pastors through a difficult staff issue. Sometimes it’s a part-time musician who is underperforming or members of a larger staff who can’t seem to get along.

Most clergy have no training in how to supervise. You have to learn on the job, as I did. So how can pastors lead their staff?

Here’s one important way:  Get clear. Here are at least three ways you can work on clarity with your staff:

  1. Be clear about direction. Tell your staff where you are heading and why. Ask for their help in achieving that purpose. To follow you, they need to know where you are going. If you are new, your purpose is to get connected with the church and with them. Let them know that’s what you’ll be doing, and take action. 

  2. Be clear about roles and responsibilities. If roles are not clear, you can’t expect staff members to function as they should. People can’t do their job if they aren’t clear what that job is. One caveat: Don’t revisit job descriptions just because you can’t take a stand with a troublesome individual.

  3. Be clear about feedback, both giving and receiving. Be open to feedback from your staff. Let them know you value their opinion. If you can truly listen and respond without getting defensive, you will gain valuable information. 

Be clear about giving feedback as well. Many pastors are tentative about talking with staff about problem performance areas, just like I was. One idea: Frame your feedback as a request rather than a complaint or criticism. “I’d like to get the financial reports a day before the finance meeting.” Problems unaddressed do not go away. Remember also to give plenty of positive feedback. Tell people what they are doing right, and thank them. 

Get a checklist for sustainable ministry here.