Reprinted by permission from First Days
Record: A Journal of Liberal Religious Response, September, 1998.
by DAN HOTCHKISS
When hiring staff, congregation leaders often ask, "Should we consider
members?" Members have some obvious attractions. They are apt to be familiar with the
congregation and its program, committed to its mission, and accustomed to working hard
without pay. Furthermore, most staff roles pay too little to attract many strong
candidates from outside.
The drawbacks of hiring members are also mostly obvious. A former lay leader may have
difficulty accepting supervision. A minister or board who try to fire a member may wind up
in hot soup with the members friends and family.
(I should add, here, that in the first week of my first ministry I fired a janitor, the
teenage daughter of a board member, who had been turning in false time sheets. Having
worked in factories, I assumed stealing from the "company" required immediate
dismissal. Not a word was said about my unilateral decision but I would not do it
that way now!)
Looking at the disadvantages, some congregations resolve "never again" to
hire a member for a staff role. There are two troubles with this policy. The best
qualified candidate, especially for part-time jobs, is often a member. And for
"program" positions director of religious education, director of music,
membership development director there are advantages to hiring someone in sympathy
with the unique style, theology, and emphasis of the hiring congregation. Often the pool
of such persons comprises mostly members.
Luckily, by orienting applicants and lay leaders in advance to the potential
difficulties members face when they become staff, it is possible to head off some of the
worst problems. On the next page is a list that may be useful to share with
I assume that the minister, no matter what the congregation says, is responsible for
staff morale and effectiveness. It follows that all staff members need to accept the
minister as leader of the staff team. It should go without saying (but unfortunately
doesnt) that the minister, like any leader, must be loyal to those he or she leads.
A minister who plays favorites among staff or speaks with scorn about lay leaders is
asking for trouble. The ministers first obligation is to make sure the staff has
what it needs to do its job effectively: resources, political support, and a sense of
Too many congregations pay good money for the privilege of watching their staff fight!
High on any congregations list of goals should be a unified, effective staff.
When a member joins the staff
A congregation member who joins the paid staff can expect important changes in his or
her relation to the church. The following list is meant to help you to anticipate how
these changes may affect you. You may wish to discuss some of these items with the
minister and search committee at your interview.
A staff member is both a leader and an employee. Unlike a committee chair or
congregation president, as a staff member you work for the church. You are expected to
follow policies adopted by the board and committees and to cooperate with the minister and
other staff. In order to keep the distinction clear, a staff member should normally not
also hold lay leadership positions in the congregation. If you have a spouse in
leadership, he or she must take care not to speak or vote on anything directly affecting
you. You will of course promote your program, but objectively, advocating for the
congregations larger mission, not for what you personally prefer.
A staff member belongs to the staff team. Especially in small congregations,
this may seem a little odd. Doesnt the RE Director really work for the RE program,
and the music director for the choir? These relationships seem real and practical, while
the "staff" may rarely meet. But in congregations of all sizes, conflict among
staff is frequent and destructive. Lack of cooperation among staff causes frustration,
failure, burnout and high turnover. For these reasons, no one should accept a paid job who
does not expect to balance loyalty to ones "department" with a positive
relationship to the whole staff team.
A staff member may need to find another minister. Your minister is still your
minister for weddings, funerals, and other public functions, but for the more private,
pastoral aspects of ministry there are some limits. Whether he or she is formally your
supervisor or not, the ministers first role with staff is to lead the team. This
means articulating the mission and goals of the congregation to you, seeing that you have
the support you need to do your job, and giving you frank feedback about how you are
doing. These roles may not be compatible with intense pastoral care or counseling, in
which case you may have to look elsewhere for the ministry you need.
A staff member may need to find a new peer group. Your enjoyment of your peer
group in the church may be part of what moved you to apply for a staff job. For a time,
the satisfactions of group membership continue, but eventually with new members
especially you will be more a leader than a peer. As a staff member, you cannot be
casually available to anyone who wants to chat. In time your relationship with fellow
members shifts, and you will find that to feel truly relaxed and "off work," you
need to find friends who are not part of your congregation.
As a member of the congregation, you bring unique experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm
to the paid staff. If you say "yes" to a staff position, you will join thousands
of others who have moved from lay membership to professional service. Best wishes!