How to Avoid Hiring a Staff Infection

Are you asking these questions to everyone who interviews with your church?
Are you asking these questions to everyone who interviews with your church? (iStock photo)

In most cases, your church's hiring practices will have major ramifications that reach beyond your awareness. It's not just a matter of whether a candidate can do the job or not. The real impact of your hiring decision will be seen in:

  • How they interact with your church members
  • Whether they make the people around them better or bitter
  • The amount they "buy into" the overall mission of your church
  • How passionate and loyal they are toward the people they serve

There are plenty of basic "measurable" by which to judge a potential staff member such as education, experience, and skills. But those sort of issues only deal with the science of hiring—not the art.

The art of hiring requires more observation and interaction. It is hard work to be sure—but well worth it.

Some key questions that a church should ask when hiring staff are:

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Will this person fit in our church's culture? It has been said that culture trumps strategy every time. This doesn't mean that the new hire must come from the same culture (He doesn't have to be a city slicker to minister in NYC), but instead that he can fit in that culture. It's really a question of the person's adaptability. The last thing you want to do is hire someone who will always feel (and act) like they are a fish out of water. That's not helpful for the church or for them. We are all different, and we must recognize that we all have different levels of adaptability.

Discerning whether the prospect will be a good fit for your church's culture means that you must first identify your culture! Is it a busy or laid back culture? Is it a meeting driven or relationship driven culture? Is it a culture of calm or chaos? Is it formal or informal? How do people view the importance of appearances, grammar, professionalism, availability, etc?

After getting a clear picture of your own culture, take the time to ask about the prospects current cultural environment. Take note of which elements make the comfortable or uncomfortable. Consider visiting them in their current setting. Be open with them about your culture. Be transparent about things you think they will and won't be comfortable with.

Don't overlook this. I've seen too many good men leave the ministry because they got chewed up and spit out –all due to cultural difficulties.

What drives this person? Past success is not always a positive on a resume. Consider what drove the person to that success. Was it greed or a hunger for power? That's probably not the kind of person you want to hire.

So how can you find out what drives them and motivates them? I think there are two main ways. First, spend plenty of time listening to the person. Most people, if given enough time, will talk about what is most important to them. This requires more than just the time of a formal interview, so you will want to schedule a few other times to meet with them for extended periods (dinner at your home, etc). If they tend to talk about themselves, their possessions, or their accomplishments more than their family, their friends, and their faith; you should see red flags.

If you hire a person with sinful motives, one of two things will happen. The church will eventually have a scandal on its hands, or the church will always sense something is wrong. Since most churches avoid firing staff barring a moral failure, this misery could go on for years and damage a church for decades. I've seen it happen.

Will his family be on board? The Bible makes it clear that pastors should lead their family well. After all, if they can't lead their family, how will they lead the church?

But beyond the minister's ability to lead his family, consideration must be given to how the family feels about the possible move. If a family is divided over a ministry environment, it will soon become obvious to the church.

Family members who aren't on board will tend to withdraw and sometimes even resent the location. This presents all sorts of problems. A congregation's suspicions may turn to gossip and mistrust.

The prospect should be asked if he has discussed the possible move with his family and what their reaction was. Further, if the candidate moves forward in the process, his wife (and possibly children) should be engaged in the conversation.

Issues of culture, motivation, and family will not show up on a resume. They are not easily measured or reported. And yet, they are among some of the most important factors in hiring new staff. It is better to not make the hire if you can't make the right hire. It saves everyone a lot of time, energy, and heartache!

Scott Attebery is executive director of DiscipleGuide Church Resources, a department of the Baptist Missionary Association of America. You can read his blog at

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