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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes

5 questions pastor candidates must ask MQ1: who admins the staff

When Jesus told his followers to be wise as snakes and innocent as doves, he was no doubt speaking to them right before their Q & A with a pastor search committee. It's not that pastors are all that naive or innocent. No, like Peter and Andrew and James and John, they just don't ask many questions when assessing the mysteries of his claim on their lives. You have to admit, there's a certain "stars in your eyes" glamour when the dance between candidates and committees begins. Both parties are usually so swept-up in the heavenlies they forget or ignore the MQ's.

The MQ's are the MUST QUESTIONS, the ones that should be asked early in the courtship between a serious candidate and a church. The trouble is, the interplay is such a flirtatious exchange that the MQ's are thought to be too pragmatic and mundane for such lofty, holy rites. You can't muck up the sanctity of such a God thing with petty, trivial practicalities. You know, as culture affirms, "don't sweat the small stuff". So, as a result, the MQ's are usually an afterthought, something discovered after all of the arrangments have been made and the parties start to learn the truth about themselves.

MQ1 is simply the one about who administers the church staff. In thirty-two years of pastoral ministry and three years as Director of Pastoral Ministies for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, it has been the focal point of more church and pastoral distress than any other single question. There have been compensation issues, misunderstandings about vacation, personal time, education, revivals, conferences and conventions, and thirty-eleven other issues relatd to the church staff. But, the most contested matter among them all has been the question of who administers, supervises, evaluates, communicates with, or is responsible for, the church staff.

The pastoral revolving door doesn't help much here because most church leaders want the staff freed from the drama of rapid pastoral turn-over. With pastoral tenure at less that three years, most churches therefore assign staff administration duties to a personal committee, a staff elder, or the deacon body. In many instances the pastor is an unwelcome guest at staff evaluations and when staff issues become a hinderance to the mission of the church. Group administration policies usually include the publication of all staff salaries and benefits in the broadly distributed financial data of the church. As a result, pastoral influence in the staff areas is minimal. Salary administration is typically across the board COL adjustments with little merit ability to reward hard or excellent work.

Somewhere in the process of church life and mission fulfillment MQ1 pops up. In many instances it was an unknown in the process of calling the new pastor because it wasn't asked or it wasn't mentioned. It may have been one of the assumed administrative matters that often characterizes those negotiations. Eventually though, down the road, the pastor may need some leverage to motivate the staff toward mission or to deal with some malfunction in the staffing relationships and administration of the staff becomes vital to the mission of the church. The collison between the spiritual leader of the church and those who have assumed the duties of staff administration may be loud and disastrous.

Pastoral candidates must be encouraged and emboldened to ask the MQ's. This week I will outline what I have found to be the five most crucial of them, at least the five that seem to be central in the pastor movement that is so destructive to church mission today. This is, of course, a two-way street, and churches can be forthright about their administrative pecularities and the real-time situations that may have necessitated them. At the least, those who are coaching candidates and committees, perhaps at the associational or state convention level, can provide a list of the MQ's so that the important matters can be discussed in the courtship leading up to a final call.

Administration is the broader context of the staffing questions. In many church contexts the committee structure and administrative functions are thought to relieve the pastor of duties that may distract him from the main tasks of preaching and prayer. In Acts 6 the service ministry was passed from the apostolic leaders to the first chosen "deacons" for this very same reason. As the early church became more established and the Body of Christ image became the norm for growing congregations the separation of laity and clergy became more distinctive. In modern times the doctrine of the priesthood of every believer emerged to incorporate the Body of Christ motif from Romans and 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 into the functional ledaership grid of the church. Committee structures and ministry teams were given supervisiory leadership over most of the administrative duties. Today many churches are committee led and the adminsitrative functions are superintended in that way. All well and good.

Staff leadership must be the prerogative and responsibility of the lead pastor or his designee! Many larger congregatons and mega-churches have entrusted staff functions to an executive or administrative pastor. Those, of course, are the more exceptional situations. Even there, the lead pastor is most often central to the administrative guidance and policies of the one serving under his guidance. In the greatest number of congregations, however, to include the smaller churches with voluntary or part-time staff, the senior or lead pastor should be closely affiliated with the staffing fucntions. There are several reasons--

1. Staffing will always be significant to fulfilling the mission of the church. The lead pastor, as the the prime visionary and congregational leader, must have the authority to shape staff fucntions toward the fulfillment of the mission.

2. The staffing component will usually comprise 40-50% of the church budget. The senior or lead pastor must be able to influence such a large element of church resources in the accomplishment of the local mission.

3. Committee, group, or team personnel functions create confusion among the church staff as to leadership, ministry assignments, expectations, and shared responsibility.

4. Pastoral leadership in the other administrative functions of the church is often validated and supported as he leads the church staff.

5. Evaluative processes are undermined without significant pastoral input. The lead pastor is best positioned to perform staff assessment, future staffing needs, and changes in the staff functions as the church grows and fulfills its mission.

Recently I was involved in a church dispute occasioned by staffing difficulties. Administration of the staff was conducted by several committees, the Personnel Committee providing the overall staff supervision, the Youth Committee being hands-on with the Youth Pastor, the Children's Committee having day-to-day responsibility for the Children's Minister, and the Music Committee leading all the personnel functions for the Worship leader. It was chaos. Family member interactions between the committees created drama for the staff and the entire church. The Pastor was out in the cold. What is even more to the point, he said this system of personnel administration was never mentioned in his interaction with the Pastor Search Committee. He hadn't brought it up either.

Church influence is waning in secular America. Pastoral movement is among the most critical issues, with pastoral leadership at the top of the shortened tenure list. Administration of the church staff is one of those functions that must be addressed in the processes leading up to a pastoral call.

It is MQ1 in my book.

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