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I don't know if I should laugh or cry as I write this article. Maybe a little of both! I have made all of these mistakes over the last 20 years, but I have learned from them as well. The landscape and culture of ministry continue to change, so I still make mistakes, but hopefully new ones. Leaders must keep learning!

What makes staffing mistakes tricky is that they rarely look like mistakes when you make them. It's in hindsight that we learn. I stopped just short of begging a friend who is a senior pastor not to hire a certain person to be his associate. He was convinced that they could conquer the world together and build a great church. The person he wanted to hire was his wife.

He hired her anyway and things went well for a while. She was smart, organized, and, candidly, tougher than he was. Things looked good, until about a year into the process when she began to make decisions that he didn't like. Over the next six months it got so bad he wanted to fire her.

Fire his wife!? Right! He called me in as a consultant. Now I'm charging him for advice I tried to give him for free. But he needed a consultant to "speak into the issue."

Honestly I was torn; she was good. I thought about firing him. It was a mess, but it actually worked out over a long period of time. We re-organized, still utilizing her leadership skills but creating some space between their responsibilities.

How About You?
How are you doing with your church staff? Are you learning, growing, and therefore making fresh "new territory" mistakes? Or do you continue to repeat mistakes from lessons you could have benefited from by now?

The more I think about it, the more "big mistakes" I could add, relative to what I have done personally and what I've seen other pastoral leaders do.

So, this list represents the most common big mistakes that most of us make. My hope is that it prompts you to find your resolve in these matters and remember to do the following things the right way.

Before I jump in, I want to say that the biggest mistake of all is the failure to love, care for, and appreciate your staff. I trust that rings true—enough said.

5 BIG Staffing Mistakes:
  1. Failing to separate redemption and results
    Pastors love people, and are often shepherds at heart. So when it comes to the cause of the Kingdom (redemption), and actually measuring the results of a church staff member, it is difficult at best.

    A common illustration of this big mistake, though there are many variations, is when someone needs to be released from the church staff. How can a loving, redemptive leader fire a fellow brother in Christ? Don't they know he has a family to feed? What kind of compassion is that!? After all, the young couple that the pastor proposes to let go is pregnant and it's December with only two weeks to Christmas.

    Aside from poor timing, the problem is likely that the pastor or the people don't know how to separate redemption and results. Said another way, they find it difficult to separate benevolence and productivity. If the person cannot get the job done, then they should not receive a paycheck. It's that simple. (It's not easy, but it is that simple.)

    So, what about a redemptive community? If you or the board feels led to help the person or couple, then do so because you love and care forthem—because God is prompting you to help them financially or otherwise.

    The answer isn't a paycheck. There are a number of possibilities, from a one-time generous financial gift out of your benevolence account to whatever you may feel prompted to do. The key is to separate benevolence from productivity.
  2. Lowering standards during the hiring process
    Let me get right to the point on this potential big mistake: When you are hiring a new staff member, never—and I mean never—lower your qualifications during the process.

    Trust me, I know the pressure of being short a staff member or two. There is a huge temptation to say, "Well, this person meets most of our qualifications and we have been looking for months; let's just hire her." Sometimes it carries on so long that you hear something like, "Look, this person is breathing and claims to be saved. I'm hiring him!"

    This isn't complicated. Think through your official hiring criteria, put it in writing, and stick to it. It might be a certain amount of education, experience, and size of church. It might be certain skills or aptitudes.

    Whatever the case, write it down and stick to it.

    Another caution concerns the hiring of a temporary employee. This is the common scenario of hiring someone on a temporary agreement to help fill the gap while you look for the permanent staff member. Remember why you wouldn't consider this person for the permanent role in the first place.

    Here's an illustration: A lay person in your church is acting as the temporary student pastor. This person is loved, and they relieve your pressure from dealing with the student ministry. Several months go by and you can't seem to find someone for the permanent spot. You begin to think (about the temporary person), "You know, he's doing okay, no one seems upset, let's just give him the job." BIG mistake. If you start temporary, stay temporary.
  3. Failing to hold high expectations
    Every successful company or winning sports team in the country demands high expectations from everyone on the team. Why would the local church be any different? Is the cause of Christ less worthy than building ships, practicing law, or playing football? No way!

    Set your goals, make them clear, and make them big. Push and stretch your team. The truth is people want to excel. They want to do well. They want to win. Don't hold back.

    How you do this matters. Command and control aren't the answer. Power and intimidation aren't right either. Leadership at its best is influence for the good of the people. High amounts of expectation require high amounts of investment in leadership development, encouragement, and permission to have fun in the process.

    One more thought: People know when they are under-performing and wonder why you let them get away with it. If you let this continue, they lose respect for you and your leadership.
  4. Getting sloppy in communicating employment contract issues during the hiring process
    This big mistake is more technical than the others, and it can cause seriously painful situations. The local church is about relationships. We are a "warm and fuzzy" bunch in general. We meet, eat, pray, eat, talk, eat some more, laugh, discuss, and then go out for dessert.

    Fellowship is an important component of the body of Christ—but enough is enough. At some point we must be smart, crisp, clear, and above all else written.

    Never, ever offer a job of any kind, no matter how small, without having an offer of employment contract in writing. This offer of employment includes a number of things, including a summary of the job description, salary and benefits, and special hiring considerations. Make it clear and write it down. This should all fit on one page.
  5. Compensating for personal needs rather than results
    The local church in general has made some good progress on this issue. This big mistake made is made less and less often. That is a good thing.

    Unfortunately, there are still too many churches that pay for things like how long a person has been on staff, how old they are, how many kids they have, how well they are liked, political pressures, fairness, or how much education they possess.

    None of those things should affect the amount a person is paid. Results are the bottom line—reward results. There are a number of big-picture things to take into consideration, such as comparative pay scales in other churches of similar size and geographic location.

    But a good rule of thumb is to be as generous as possible. Remember, you get what you pay for!
This article is used by permission from
Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter
The Pastor's Coach available at

Author Biography

Dan Reiland
Web site: 12 Stone Church
Dan Reiland is Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

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