5 Ways to Hire Right the First Time

It seems that often churches don’t have a well-defined process for hiring staff. Maybe that’s because many church leaders just haven’t experienced what a healthy process for personnel selection looks like, or they assume their network of church staff is broad enough to already know the “perfect person” for the job.

I’ve seen a number of cases where a new pastor comes to a church, and he insists on hiring staff from his former church. While this might seem to make sense in terms of building a team that already has proven working chemistry, I think this approach has more risks than rewards. It makes an erroneous assumption that the same team, working in the same roles, will be as effective at a the new church as they were in the previous one. There are just too many other variables to make this a reality. It might make the pastor more comfortable, but in my experience, it can be detrimental to the rest of the staff and even the congregation.

Whatever the reason, I believe we’d do well in the church to elevate the sophistication for how we identify, assess, and ultimately select our church staff. 

I’m fortunate to serve in a church that does just that. We have a very thorough process for personnel selection. Most of the staff we hire from other churches are astonished at how thorough the process is. But they always respect that we have gone to such lengths to ensure we’ve hired the right person.

Rather than outline the specific process for how we do our hiring, let me share just five concepts that are part of the philosophy behind our process.

1. Define the role before even considering a candidate.

I’ve experienced cases in which a pastor wants to hire a seminary buddy or his former “#2 man” when there hasn’t even been an expressed need for the position. Churches would do well to have a process for identifying and then prioritizing new staff positions. These should be based on criteria defined by the church’s mission, vision, and objectives. And it may be best to assess this priority list annually in the budgeting process. Once the position is identified, it should be defined with a job description.

2. Define the characteristics of the person in the role.

Most churches stop with the job description. We add a position profile as well. The job description defines the role. The position profile defines the ideal person for the role. If a church has a good idea of the job that needs to be done, the next step is to “picture” the person for the job. That should be done by identifying the specific spiritual gifts, personality type, and strengths needed for the candidate to succeed in the role. Most roles in the church can be best defined as needing a certain blend of  strengths and gifts. The top candidates can complete any number of assessments that will tell with a great deal of accuracy whether they possess those characteristics. We use an assessment called PLACE. We often supplement that with the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and the StrengthsFinder assessment. Like the job description, the position profile should be written before any candidates are considered.

3. Identify at least three top candidates.

Once the job description and profile are written, we go through a typical search process, receiving resumes and recommendations. The hiring manager weeds out the unqualified candidates and gets the list down to a manageable number. Phone interviews are conducted in order to narrow down even further. The goal is to find three candidates who fit the profile and could likely do the job with success. A series of personal interviews with key stakeholders is conducted with the candidates, which usually brings to the surface the one candidate out the of the three that most decision-makers agree is the best candidate.

4. Put accountability for the process in place.

These first three items alone provide a great deal of accountability for the process. The requirement to identify three viable candidates should eliminate the opportunity for a leader to push through his own personal choice for the position. But other aspects of accountability would include having a policy on which levels of staff (from senior pastor down to support staff) require what level of scrutiny. In our church, our Staff Resource Team (personnel committee) is actively involved in the process for hiring all ministerial staff. Their level of involvement is less for support staff, but the process for identifying the job, picturing the person, and considering more than one candidate is the same. According to our by-laws, only the senior pastor position requires a vote of the church body. To me, this eliminates the tendency for poor selections to be falsely “affirmed” by a large number of people who have not even been part of the process.

5. Don’t stop with the hiring.

Despite the strategic approach to this process, sometimes someone is hired that’s still just not right for the job. That’s where an intentional performance review process comes in. Many churches have a meager or non-existent performance review process. If we’re to be fair to the church and the employee and to be good stewards of the resources God has given us, we must not neglect a process of employee evaluation. Our church has a thorough process for that too, but that’s a subject for another post!

Conclusion

In identifying this process, I certainly don’t mean to imply that there’s neglect for the spiritual aspects of hiring staff. Of course, this process assumes an ample amount of prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and it takes into account the concept of calling that ministers have on their lives. But we must not allow an over-spiritualization of calling staff to cause neglect of due diligence.

I’ve seen a lot of conflict in the church over its selection of church staff leadership. A thorough and intentional process for hiring staff that’s backed up with a reasonable and practical application of accountability should reduce the difficulty churches often experience when calling their leadership.

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