Why You Need a Better Theology of Staffing

Pastor David is perpetually frustrated, and he is self-aware enough to know it. As his church is growing, it seems he is always overwhelmed with details, dropped balls, and urgent discussions and decisions. In response, he is about to hire another part-time staff member. He thinks, If I can just get another body on my team, surely some of this chaos will dissipate.

He meets for lunch with one of his elders to “show him the plan.” The supportive elder responds with, “David, if this move will help the church and you, I am for it, but the level of frustration and chaos sounds greater than where we were six months ago when we brought Steve on part-time. How confident are you that this move will be different?”

Pastor David is stung by the question, and as he reflects over the next several days, he realizes his staffing philosophy has been more reactive than proactive.

Is your staffing philosophy reactive or proactive?

Reactive staffing responds to the urgent, the chaotic and the squeaky. Reactive staffing certainly addresses the needs that the leader feels, but these “felt needs” are not necessarily the “real needs” of the church. Because reactive staffing responds to the most chaotic and squeaky areas or departments, these underperforming areas are prone to receive more resources and support than areas or departments that are more likely to advance the mission of the church. While relieving short-term stress, reactive staffing only treats the symptom of the problem—not the deeper issue. So within a few months, the chaos returns.

Instead of addressing chaos, reactive staffing may in fact elevate the chaos. To “fill a gap,” a pastor will sometimes hire a hardworking but unskilled leader. In these cases, the individual, because he lacks wisdom and the ability to mobilize a team, actually adds more work to the team rather than effectively distributing the load throughout the body. A hardworking yet foolish staff member only creates more and more unproductive work for everyone else. Far from a stress reliever, this staff member is a chaos contributor. While a lazy staff member is a disgrace, at least he does not clutter everyone else’s calendar or inbox with meaningless discussions.

Proactive staffing considers the important and future needs of the church and plans to staff accordingly. This practice doesn’t necessarily mean that a leader hires before more growth occurs, as resources must be in place to finance the personnel costs. But it does mean the leaders hire strategically rather than reactively. The practice of proactive staffing requires deep discipline because it looks past the current and seemingly more urgent “fires” in favor of another entirely different direction or initiative. The thought of robbing the ministry areas poised for the greatest impact by rewarding the chaotic ones with more resources terrifies leaders who practice proactive staffing.

Ultimately a pastor’s approach to staffing, whether reactive or proactive, reveals his theology of staffing. Reactive staffing is built upon an unbiblical, or at least an incomplete, ecclesiology.

A Jethro Rebuke

When I was a 22-year-old student pastor, a godly mentor revealed my faulty theology of staffing by lovingly and graciously confronting me about my reactive approach. I was feverishly attempting to minister to every student, be at every game, know every issue in each student’s life, while simultaneously preparing messages, running details for programs, and planning events. As the ministry grew, things began to feel more and more chaotic. The logical solution, in my mind, was to hire part-time staff members and interns.

This godly mentor confronted me with Jethro-like precision: “What you are doing is not right. You will wear yourself out and the needs will never be met. Before you hire anyone, you need to understand why you would want more staff and the reason must be deeper than helping you with a task list.”

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Eric Geiger
Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, Eric served local churches, most recently investing eight years as the executive pastor of Christ Fellowship Miami. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.