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Churches: Employers of Last Resort?


“I used to think the government was the employer of last resort. I now think it has become the local church.”

That’s a quote from my a friend, who sums up a generalization about what I see as an unfortunate truth. Many, many churches hire from a place of sympathy or empathy rather than from a position of wisdom and discernment.

It’s not hard to see why so many churches make this choice. After all, if we have friends and neighbors who have a heart for our church and community, who also have a need for a job, we look to fulfill their need with our desire.

The net result is generally a very sweet and kind person who loves the church but doesn’t have the capability or gifting to accomplish the goals for the position. In the end, the church leadership is forced to: A) do nothing, because change is hard; B) move the person to another position, hoping for a better fit; or C) fire a friend/church member. If you’ve worked at a church, you know how rare that third option is exercised.

In his book “Ladder Shifts”, Dr. Sam Chand explains how leaders must make the hard relational decisions to move, demote or even fire people they love in order to not be limited by a person who is not capable of rising to the next level of growth and change.

Firing may seem harsh, but how much more harsh is it to keep a person from fulfilling the unique gifting they can offer the Kingdom for fear of hurt feelings? “Releasing into ministry” may not be a mere kind term for a church job termination, but the real truth of the matter for many good people who may have simply been part of the Peter Principle (the concept of promoting a person to their level of incompetence, formulated by Dr. Laurence Peter).

However, before any staffing decisions are made, the facts need to be presented. Has the job description been defined, along with some stated expectations and goals? What kind of measurements are used, consistently, to determine the effectiveness for the employee? How often, and in what format, are critiques and praises offered and recorded for each employee? What kind of improvement program, including training and mentoring, is offered to help employees grow? Are time lines for improvement defined and communicated up front? Which leaders are involved in determining if the issue is with the employee or with how they are managed?

Now I’m no Human Resources expert, but without some basic guidelines and a metric system in place – in combination with the input and testimony of peers – churches are simply setting themselves up for failure, both at the point of hiring and at termination.

How does your church define goals and set expectations? What kind of tangible metrics are used to evaluate effectiveness? Who is holding a team back from the growth that is necessary to meet the current and future needs of your local church?

Don’t be an employer of last resort; be an employer of Kingdom-minded people with savvy processes for getting results.