Trends and changes impacting houses of faith have been accelerated by the global pandemic.
Changes to staffing models are now a top priority for congregations to respond constructively in this new era of ministry.
Most churches with which I am acquainted employ a hierarchical staffing model – a top-down organizational template that may have served well in the past.
However, as the attractional approach to ministry became less effective and the missional approach began to gain traction, a transitional trend in staff models began to emerge.
Such transitions are being influenced by both ecclesial needs and economic realities. Although some congregations began a gradual shift in their staffing model some time ago, the pandemic is expediting the execution of the shift.
Staffing models are not one-size-fits-all. To be effective, a staffing model must be contextualized to the mission and opportunities of a local congregation.
The following shifts should be construed as compass points that must be navigated within each unique congregation as churches revisit and reaffirm their central mission.
Once a staffing configuration has been affirmed, important documents such as bylaws, policies and procedures can be adapted to empower a church’s chosen staffing paradigm.
Here are five examples of the kinds of shifts I see underway in churches aiming for a healthier and more effective ministry:
- From program planning toward mission implementation
When I first started as a young student minister, the church I served specifically told me that I was hired to run the youth program. Churches would refer to their ministry areas as “programs,” such as the youth program, the children’s program and the music program.
Currently, churches may refer to these areas as “ministries,” such as student ministry, children’s ministry and music ministry. Staff ministers may best perceive themselves as ministers fulfilling a mission rather than directors running a program.
- From performance model toward a coaching model
Program planning is mostly based on the performance of the staff minister assigned to the program. Program-driven ministry is almost always evaluated on the effectiveness of the program manager. If the program is failing, churches assume the solution is to replace the program manager.
A healthier approach is found in Ephesians 4:12, which describes a coaching model of ministry wherein ministers are encouraged “to equip … people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
The coaching model calls on the minister to bring out the best in the congregation by discipling and preparing individual Christ followers for their work of ministry.
- From compartmentalization toward collaboration
Program-driven ministries easily become compartmentalized in the minds of congregants and staff ministers. Program-oriented ministers tend to become siloed within their assigned area.
A collaborative staff may prove healthier and more effective than a siloed staff. Just as hospitals now utilize a team of physicians to collaborate in diagnosis and prognosis, a church can be strengthened by a collegial, interdisciplinary team of ministers who function as a missional brain trust on behalf of the congregation.
- From a team of specialists with general responsibilities toward a team of generalists with specialized assignments
To help staff members shift from a silo mindset to collaborative thinking, it may be helpful for the church to engage in team-building activities and adopt team-oriented vocabulary.
For example, rather than having a youth pastor, a church may have an associate pastor whose primary area of focus is student ministry. Every associate pastor has general and shared responsibilities within the staff team, and one or two primary areas of focus unique to her or him.
- From a pyramid toward a circular organizational chart
Pyramid charts are designed to denote supervisor/employee relationships. In practice, pyramid designs promote hierarchical leadership behaviors, wherein an employee’s ultimate aim is to satisfy their supervisor rather than to fulfill an assignment with excellence.
A circular organizational chart (or a molecular organizational chart or cluster organizational chart) emphasizes the working relationships and connectivity within a staff rather than focusing on who has authority over each staff member.
I once heard the exemplary pastor Hardy Clemmons say, “As the pastor, I am ultimately the leader of the staff. And the way I have found it most effective to lead is by empowering staff ministers to lead in their specific areas of expertise.
“Rather than micromanaging our staff, I want to mentor our staff in a way that enables them to succeed. And I want to have the humility to invite them to mentor me in a way that makes me a better pastor.”
Shifts are typically gradual. A change of culture is seldom instantaneous, and a healthy change in leadership culture may best be produced via a progressive process.
Unless a church determines to do a hard reset on a specific date, a shift in staffing models should be strategic, proactive and relevant to the overall mission of the church.
A church that determines to stick with yesteryear’s staff paradigm will risk missing their window of opportunity to build a vibrant and healthy ministry for the future.
A church that transitions gradually and intentionally may seize the moment to bring out the best in their staff who in turn will bring out their best in the congregation.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.