Few things can be as fraught with tension as hiring a new staff member to help lead your church. Lead pastors put their credibility on the line each and every time they make a new hire. If the new hire does well, the pastor’s credibility usually rises. If the new hire does not do well for some reason, the pastor can lose credibility and his leadership weakened. If the pastor makes several bad hires in a row, he’s torpedoed his own ministry effectiveness.
Scripture gives us the necessary spiritual qualifications for being a pastor, but the process is not really discussed. About the closest we get is Paul telling Titus to appoint elders for the churches on Crete (Titus 1). That does not directly instruct the 21st century pastor who is looking to add a new student pastor to the staff.
1. Consider the candidates gifts and skills in light of the ministry requirements.
Aside from moral and spiritual requirements, matching a candidate’s skills and spiritual gifts with the role’s needs is paramount. If you are hiring a children’s pastor, for instance, does the candidate really love kids and parents? Is he good with them or do kids run and hide when he comes around? Does she know how to relate to parents? Can he teach the Bible at the grade-school level or is everything a doctoral thesis in the works?
If he’s a worship pastor what is the extent of his musical and vocal skills? If your church utilizes a band, does he play an instrument that integrates into it? If not, how will he lead the band? If you do not have a choir and all his experience is choral, how will he perform the tasks required?
Whatever position you are seeking to fill, make sure the candidate’s skills are commensurate or do not even bring them in for an interview.
2. Administer a personality profile.
Most churches are familiar with personality profiles whether DiSC, Myers-Briggs, or something else. While none them may be perfect, they are very helpful at helping us understand each other (not to mention ourselves). This is critically important in work contexts where people are consistently engaging on all kinds of subjects. When we know what tends to irritate people we can more readily avoid it. When we know what tends to excite or empower people, we can more readily employ it.
Related to this, asking a potential hire whether they are an introvert or an extrovert is helpful. Neither is superior to the other, but it does give insight as to whether your potential staff member recharges around people or gets fatigued by them.
3. Do extensive, honest interviews with people from former churches and close friends.
I’ve been surprised in talking to church staffers through the years who were hired by a church without the church even contacting their references! Talk about asking for trouble. Talking to the references the candidate provides is fine, but do not hesitate to ask for others. Specifically, former co-staff members at multiple other churches, volunteers in the area(s) the candidate led, former supervisors, and church elders. Ask questions related to theology, practice, temperament, job performance, and the like. Then, describe the job requirements for the position you are trying to fill. Ask pointed questions as to whether the candidate would be a good fit.
This might sound difficult and for some people it might be. But, as has often been said, “A broken engagement is better than a bad marriage.” Hiring the wrong staff member is bad for both the church and the staffer. Better to end things before the marriage.
4. Spend at least half of a day together.
If at all possible (and this is easier than it seems) schedule at least a half day of hanging out with the other staff members who will be working most closely with the potential new staff memeber. If you are a small- to medium-church with a small staff, this is easy: everyone comes. If you are a large-church, all the people in the specific area of ministry should be invited.
Besides get-to-know-you time, go to lunch, and do something engaging to see his personality and tendencies in real-time. Play miniature golf to measure competitiveness. Go to an Escape Game to witness responses to teammates under pressure. Visit an axe-throwing establishment or a go-kart track. All of these reveal tendencies you will never see in an in-room interview no matter how many questions you ask.
5. Allow the candidate to interview other staff members about the lead pastor.
This one might be a challenge for some pastors, but it’s one of the more helpful things I’ve ever done. Before hiring, after the half day together, I would leave the other staff with the candidate for an hour or two to ask any question he or she wanted. Nothing was off limits. Specifically, the candidate was instructed to ask questions about working with and for me. I never looped back to ask about the substance of those conversations. They were entirely private by design.
Not only did I trust the other pastors to tell the truth about working for me, I wanted them to. The candidate would not be well served to only see me as the guy conducting the interview, being on my best behavior. Every candidate has the right to know whether they could work for the person considering hiring them. If they get a bad report, or the good vibe goes away, they can self-select to exit the process. Two or more bad declines might mean the lead pastor needs a personal review!
None of these are infallible of course; mistakes or poor choices can still be made. However, adding these steps to your process help create a healthy path for adding new staff members and create safeguards from bringing the wrong person into the ministry of your church.