Tim served as Lead Pastor for a large and growing church when he contacted me for coaching. By all measures of success, he was doing well as a pastor: the church was flourishing under his leadership, his staff members were thriving, his family was healthy, and his own soul was growing. So I wondered what reasons he could have for working with a coach. Come to find out, Tim faced a challenge that very few otherwise-capable leaders can handle effectively: adding top-level staff.
Why can hiring a new staff member be so difficult? Four reasons.
- We do it so infrequently. Most churches hire top-level leaders only once or twice a decade. Such infrequency means church leaders and boards never develop any real competence in this area.
- The stakes are so high. Making a poor hiring decision can have disastrous consequences for a church, setting the church back months (or even years) and costing the church a lot of money and momentum. Such high stakes make the hiring process all the more challenging.
- There are (too) many stakeholders. In many congregations the hiring process is a muddled mess that can involve senior staff, an elder board, a personnel committee, and a congregational vote. Having so many cooks in the kitchen can create a messy process.
- Super-spiritualizing takes over. Of course a church wants God’s will to be done in every decision – especially one so significant as adding staff. But the spiritual element can become a detriment when individual opinions and assumptions get wrapped up in (and confused with) God’s will.
Pastor Tim recognized the difficulties involved with hiring staff and wanted help. Our coaching relationship unfolded in a way that helped minimize (not eliminate) the difficulties and provide a reasonable way forward for him and the church.
Tim and I started by determining the need. Too many churches start the hiring process by trying to determine a title (“Executive Pastor” or “Community Pastor” for example). The better place to start is with the church’s need, asking, “What need(s) will the person help meet?” At the highest level of congregational leadership, I find the three-fold office of Christ (prophet, priest and king) to be a clarifying lens for discerning congregational need. Since no Protestant evangelical church is going to hire a prophet, priest or king, these titles don’t translate into a staff member’s title. Rather, the titles help highlight congregational needs. For Tim, the needs of the church centered on the kingly function – administration, right ordering of things, managing staff and resources, and operationalizing the culture and organizational DNA for the church.
Next, we defined success. I asked Tim, “If this new staff member hit a home run in every way possible, what would be the results?” Results are the positive flipside of needs, helping you identify success for the person, the position and the church. The more tangible you make the desired results, the greater clarity you gain in recognizing out-of-sync responsibilities (trying to meet too-disperse needs with only one staff member) or out-of-bounds expectations (crafting a staff position that only Jesus could fill adequately). Tim recognized that he had two distinct sets of results, one of which could be met by hiring a part-time administrator (who would cost the church less than $1000 per month) and another that required a high-level leader with a proven track record. By separating the two sets of results, Tim allowed himself to shoot for the moon with the one position and adequately resource the other. Before, he had been hesitant to pursue a high-caliber leader because he didn’t want to ask such a person to do some of the mundane work needed to keep schedules coordinated, ensure resources and meeting spaces were properly utilized and produce other similar results.
Once we had a clear sense of needs and results, we proceeded to profile the position. In order to meet the needs and create the desired results, what kinds of things would the new pastor do on a day-to-day basis? What would be his typical schedule? How involved would he be in different aspects of the ministry? At what level of detail would he be engaged? How would he be expected to interact with supervisors/board members? Direct reports? We also explored the ideal candidate’s stage of life, personality type, core values, work style, communication style, and spiritual gifts. By the end of the profiling process, we had painted a crystal clear picture of the person ideally suited for the role.
Finally, we aimed in the right direction. Once Tim had a clear profile of the ideal person for the position, finding that person was very simple. I always encourage clients to ask, “Who do I know that most closely resembles the ideal candidate?” For Tim, the answer was obvious, but not encouraging. He knew the perfect fit for the position, but doubted the person would want the job. Why? The person who first came to mind worked for one of the most respected companies in the world, had recently relocated to the corporate headquarters where he was on the fast-track to becoming a Vice President, and earned five to ten times what the church could afford to pay. I pushed Tim, saying, “Now that you’ve identified all the reasons why he should not explore whether the position is a fit, how about calling him and finding out the reasons he should explore this fantastic opportunity.” Tim smiled and reminded himself that he should never say “No” for another person.
Three months later, this stellar candidate joined the church staff. What occurred during those three months included Tim leading well and helping the church to overcome the difficulties outlined above. With the clarity gained from our coaching, he was able to navigate the decision-making process and gain agreement from the various stakeholders and decision-makers. He didn’t lower the stakes, but he did demonstrate to his elders that he’d raised his game to match the level of the decision at hand. And his willingness to pursue such a seemingly impossible candidate kept the process firmly in the hands of God.