After some 30 years of ministry, I can honestly say there were a lot of things I would do differently, especially in hiring a church staff member. Many I have served with can attest to that.
I’ve always been a firm believer in learning from my mistakes.
Here are some of the things I have learned:
1. Don’t base the new job description entirely on the last person who held the position.
When filling an existing position, don’t just pull the past job description from when the last person was hired. Take the time to evaluate the direction and missional changes that have occurred in your church since the position was last hired. Now is the time to make changes to current job positions and roles. Don’t miss this opportunity to fine-tune the position before re-hiring.
2. Get as much input on your new job description as possible from as many people as possible.
If you’re hiring a youth pastor, for example, talk to teens and parents of teens. The more input, the better. It’s important that you hire according to your church’s needs, and the best way to find the church’s needs is to ask. There is nothing worse than hiring someone only to find out soon thereafter that they are not a fit for your church.
3. Pre-screen your candidates early so that you can spend more time with the people you are really interested in hiring.
Do this through advertising certain job requirements (experience, style, denominational background, desired education, etc.) upfront. Then make the first cut by weeding out the people who don’t meet all of their published criteria. This allows you to concentrate on candidates that really interest you.
4. Ask better questions during the interview.
Don’t just come to the interview; come prepared. Ask questions that you’ve thought about beforehand. Ask more questions about the candidate’s passions, experience, and relationships to really find out what kind of an employee they might be.
5. Give "what if" scenarios and/or small assignments.
“What would you do if …” type questions really help you get a grip on how a potential employee might respond on the job. Give them some common conflict scenarios (maybe even some real life one’s from your church’s past) and ask them how they would handle the problem. If you’re hiring a worship leader, you could ask them to put together a sample worship order that they would share with you. You’ll find out a ton of information by giving small assignments and asking "what if" questions.
6. Spend more time with your candidates in "non-church" settings.
Spend some additional time in non-church settings. Going out to eat; playing a game of golf; spending some downtime with the candidate and their spouse are all important ways to get to know not only the candidate’s skills, but also their personality.
7. Consider bringing in someone from outside your church to be on your search committee for a fresh "outsiders" perspective.
This one might be a little controversial in some churches, but why not consider bringing one outsider into your interview process? Select a well-respected Christian leader who is not a member of your church to sit in on the hiring process. They can offer you some unbiased input from a totally different perspective.
8. Be even more diligent in checking references.
It is imperative to check references … EVERY TIME. Even though you may think you know the candidate personally, you might be surprised by the number of negative references you receive when you contacted people. You should go beyond the two to three references the candidate gives you. However you tackle checking out references, it’s important to be diligent and exhaustive in this area.
9. Make the chain of command crystal clear, both internally and externally.
Who will the employee answer to? What is the chain of command? Who has the right to ultimately hire and fire? Who decides the pay increases? All these are important to communicate and work out prior to the hire. Both the employee and the people of the church need to know who is ultimately responsible to whom.
10. Take special care when communicating the job description to the congregation.
When announcing your new staff person to your congregation, be clear what this person’s responsibilities are, and what they are not. Be open about the areas this new staff person will work in. And be clear about the things that the person will not be in charge over. Communication is key.
Implement these ten tips into your next job search and see how much more smoothly it goes!
[Based on research by Todd Rhoades]