One of the typical weaknesses of the local church that I have observed over the years is the ability to assess and evaluate people for a variety of leadership positions. That runs the spectrum from new hires to elder/deacon selections to church planters.
How can I make such a rash and generalized statement? In my 42 years of supervising, managing, and leading people, I have made almost 1,850 hiring decisions…and fired 55 staff (to the best of my recollection) for a variety of reasons. From 1991 to 1993, I served as an Assignment Officer at Coast Guard Headquarters where I assigned over 1,500 officers and reviewed hundreds of thousands of resumes and performance reviews. And I have the privilege of serving in executive leadership roles in business, nonprofit organizations, and the local church for over 20 years now. Loads of opportunity for me to learn this competency area by making just about every mistake possible.
Back to the church. This is a far more important issue than generally understood by church leaders. In preparing for an Executive Pastor training workshop an interesting verse in Proverbs leaped out. “Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by” (Proverbs 26:10).
Wow! In modern language, King Solomon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was comparing a bad, quick, or lazy hire to a drive-by shooter. That really captured my attention and renewed my desire to elevate the issue and inspire leaders to take action.
“People are not your most important asset…the right people are” penned Jim Collins. So how is it that church leaders make so many “bad” hires? The quick answer is 4. Yep, 4 typical hiring or selecting mistakes made:
- Avoid risks of the unknown – that means hiring a friend or acquaintance simply because they are known to you.
- Lazy, naïve, or inexperienced leader – the skipping of a deliberate process designed to bring multiple eyes and perspectives to evaluate and assess candidate. If you lack a process, send me an email and I’ll send you free material that has been developed by multiple HR experts and employment-law attorneys.
- In a hurry – this is the rationale (really an excuse) when a fast decision is needed and “we simply can’t bother with any process”.
- Control freak – ouch…we can’t or won’t trust any others for input or perspectives.
10 Key Questions
Ask yourself these questions about the process used by your church right now. Hopefully the questions will lead you to consider taking a deeper dive into this critically important facet of leading the church.
What aspect of assessing, evaluating, and selecting candidates for _________ (staff positions, ministry leadership, eldership, etc.) works best at your church?
Why do you think it works well?
What areas do you sense a need to improve your processes and procedures?
Does your church have written job descriptions, processes and/or procedures for assessing, evaluating, and/or selecting people?
How many rounds of interviews would be conducted to hire a ministry leader at your church?
If you hold a panel interview, who would be the members of the panel and why?
What social, legal, or technological considerations should be factored into your processes?
How do you handle reference and background checks?
Do you regularly develop “one-off” references (someone apart from a candidate’s list of references)?
Do you conduct a credit check as well?
When you were hired, what type of process was used? What would you want to do differently?
How do you gain a sense of:
Call to your church and to this position?
Character of the candidate?
Competency (beyond the experience history)?
Capacity (how big a “plate” the candidate can manage?
Chemistry (the “fit” with your church’s DNA)?
How do you assess whether the candidate is a great team player?
Are they humble?
My prayer and hope is that church leaders will invest far more time into making selection decisions. Our staff, volunteers, and members depend on us to perform these duties with great diligence, vigilance, and competence. This is a good start. We have some advanced materials if you want to explore this subject in greater depth.