With toxic leaders, your church’s mission is on the line

Image from the eBook, Toxic Leadership: 5 People Churches Should Never Hire, from Pushpay. Image courtesy of Pushpay.
Image from the eBook, Toxic Leadership: 5 People Churches Should Never Hire, from Pushpay. Image courtesy of Pushpay.

Nothing will slow down a growing church faster than a few bad hires (or, frankly, even one bad hire). Every hire you make changes the dynamics of your church staff so the cultural fit, spiritual maturity and competence of each hire either helps build your staff or distracts from your church’s mission.

Churches don’t set out to hire toxic leaders — but it happens. (Pretty often, too.)

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Just to be clear from the outset, these hires aren’t bad people. They may make great contributions someday to a Kingdom-advancing church. But a bad hire is someone who chronically detracts from your church’s efforts to accomplish its ministry goals. It’s the person who has been corrected but isn’t improving, stirs up strife on the team, creates more work than they perform or just grieves your community in some way.

But bad hires don’t just undermine a church’s culture, efficiency and progress. They hurt the church budget. Meaning a couple of bad hires left on staff for too long can threaten a ministry’s survival.

Some in the secular world have claimed that bad hiring decisions can cost employers two-and-half times a candidate’s annual salary. Writing about church staffs in particular, Holly Tate from the Vanderbloemen Search Group suggests that churches need a “Bad Hire Fund” to mitigate against some of the costs associated with the transition of a staff member who was a poor fit (such as the inevitable decrease in giving when it happens).

She specifically cites the bad hire of a senior pastor but adds that poor hires of other staff members — like a small group pastor or volunteer director — can bring a decrease in giving as well. In fact, Vanderbloemen Search Group has a “Bad Hire Calculator” on its website to help you figure out what those costs might be.

But money isn’t the biggest problem. It’s what a bad hire does to the working relationships among your staff that can be extraordinarily problematic.

Sarah Robins from Vandebrloemen writes, “Working in ministry is not easy. Often, churches are already understaffed or their leadership is working overtime and are stretched thin. By adding the strain of a bad hire, it can become a huge drain on the church staff’s morale or create a toxic staff culture. Whether the bad hire was a poor fit, divisive, lazy or simply ill-equipped to do their job, their presence (and their leaving) creates a ripple through the staff that lasts even after they’ve left.”

Bad hires simply aren’t worth it. No church can ever completely insulate themselves from the potential of bad hires.

You just don’t want them on your staff right now. Your church’s reputation with your community, your ministry effectiveness, and your gospel witness are on the line. …

6 characteristics you need

It’s never enough to talk about what kind of teammates you don’t want on your staff. You have to intentionally look for characteristics that will make each new hire a true asset to your church.

What are the intangibles that lead to a winning combination and will impact your community for years to come? Start with these.

  1. Multiplier: Jesus gives every one of His followers a job description: “Make disciples” [Matt. 28:19]. No one gets a pass on this. Staff members sometimes don’t see themselves as “disciplers,” but you can use all the disciplers you can get. All church staff must be able to train a new generation of leaders in whatever ministry they are in.

  2. Team-player: No ministry is a solo effort. The New Testament describes ministry as something that’s done in the context of a local church. Make sure whoever you hire has a track record of working well with others. A good teammate makes everyone else better.

  3. Grows in intimacy with Jesus: You’re putting together a team that will turn your community upside down for Jesus. Don’t settle for staff members who can do their jobs with excellence but don’t truly get why they’re doing it. Make the effort to find people who are growing in their relationship with Christ.

  4. Forward thinker: You need staff who know how to minister in the context of the 21st century, not the 20th. This isn’t about age, either. Look for staff who are willing to adapt to current ministry models — and to technology.

  5. Exemplifies your values: Your values can’t simply be words on a page in some dusty employee handbook. For them to guide the ministry practices of your church, they must guide the work of your staff. If you claim to have a passion to reach new people with the gospel, then hire people with a pattern for personal evangelism in their lives. If you value authenticity, hire people with a track record of demonstrating it. Go through your set of church values as you pray through any potential new hire.

  6. Handles conflict: Nothing will detonate a church staff quicker than unresolved conflict. You’re not looking for people who avoid conflict or charge forward uncritically. You want to bring people on your team who know how to handle conflict in a healthy, biblical manner.

You’ll never find a perfect candidate for any open position you have. But if you pursue these characteristics, you’ll take a great step forward for your present-day and future ministry.

Want more, including descriptions of the five people not to hire? Get the free ebook, Toxic Leadership: 5 People Churches Should Never Hire, from Pushpay.

Tobin Perry

Tobin Perry has served as a writer and editor for Saddleback Church, the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, where he has frequently focused on church leadership issues. He has also served as the lead pastor of a church in Southern Indiana. He has written for numerous publications, including Christianity Today and has ghostwritten for a number of Christian ministry leaders. Check out his website.

Article excerpt from Toxic Leadership: 5 People Churches Should Never Hire by Tobin Perry, courtesy of Pushpay. Pushpay builds world-class digital giving solutions and custom smartphone apps designed for faith-based organizations.