Who Should Select Church Staff? Pastor? Search Committee? Personnel Committee? Congregational Vote? Judicatory Authority?

It is both a question and a frustration.

The question is often stated as the title of this post: Who should select the church staff?

The frustration takes place when different parties feel left out of the process. Sometimes it’s the pastor who is frustrated. Sometimes it’s a committee. Sometimes it’s the entire congregation.

After working with churches for over thirty years, I have seen these issues become points of unity, and I have seen these become points of divisiveness. As a consequence, I have developed the following guidelines. In some cases, polity determines the selection and hiring of staff, so there will obviously be exceptions.

  1. If the pastor has no say in the selection of staff, the church is asking for problems. Particularly with direct reports, the pastor will be working with these people day by day. If pastors feel they are left out of the process, tensions could naturally be the consequence. There are very few organizations anywhere other than some churches that hire direct reports for a supervisor without the supervisor’s input. It’s just not wise.
  2. If pastors do have unilateral authority, they still should seek input from others. I have been in situations where I had complete freedom to hire someone without consulting others. One of my most difficult hires took place when I did not seek counsel. I learned a painful lesson. Even if pastors can hire without the approval of others, it is good for these leaders to listen to others.
  3. Congregational votes for staff can be problematic. Pastors should do a thorough work to prepare for that vote. No, I am not a fan of congregational votes for staff members other than the pastor. Most of the members do not have nearly the knowledge of the prospective staff member as those making the recommendation, whether it’s a pastor or a committee. Sometimes the process can become a popularity contest. Sometimes members in the church are mad because their cousin was not chosen. If a congregational vote is mandated by polity or bylaws, the pastor should be fully prepared to answer any or all questions about the candidate before the vote takes place.
  4. Search firms can be helpful to the process. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the role of search firms more and more. Most of them go through the process exceedingly well. There are two common objections to retaining search firms. The first is that it’s the church’s role to hire staff. I totally agree! Search firms do not choose the staff person. They provide candidates for the church or pastor to decide. The second objection is that search firms cost too much. If the search firm helps the church find the right candidate, it is a bargain. If the church gets the wrong staff person without a search firm, the cost is much greater to replace him or her.

These are some of the thoughts I provide churches looking for staff members, especially those who will work directly with the pastor. I would love to hear your perspective on this issue. What does your church do? Does it work well?

Posted on September 16, 2019

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Even when pastor and committee work together, bad outcomes are result of unclear thinking. two Sec. informed on Tues. they were no longer needed, removal was done for cost saving. Their last day was Thurs. The new hire, replacing them, was in the office the following Monday with no information give out to the church membership until a week later. I know not all details can be shared but this caused a major distrust in the pastor and the committee. Membership needs to be advised of change when possible.

  • With 50 plus years of ministry I think the subject is somewhat broader. I speak from experience as a Senior Pastor as well as staff pastor. Full autonomy to the Senior or Lead pastor may result in associate pastors being seen as employees or hirelings.

    Full autonomy without the Lead Pastor’s involvement is a recipe for disaster.

    All pastors regardless of their title, be it Senior, Lead, Associate etc are equally called of God and should all be treated with the same level of reverence and respect. I have always worked with the staff I inherit and treated them with the respect they deserve because they were called of God.

    Terminations should be rare and when in order should be handled with the utmost compassion and responsibility. There should be a written policy in place on terminations of pastoral staff.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    I really don’t encourage putting hiring processes in a church constitution. Perhaps they belong in bylaws or in a policy manual.

  • So much depends on the church’s constitution. Our church is right now in the process to “hire” two new staff. Members of the church built the search committee. I do not serve in any of these. Sometime for highly respected members it can be frustrated be left out. Our church, not on paper, but realty is led by Pastor and chairman of the board. From what I hear the candidate for Adult ministry has not even the qualification!!! Many MDiv grad are clueless about teaching

  • Our Senior Pastor hires all staff, consulting with the Stewardship Committee (our one and only standing committee) for salary. He can discharge freely, after consulting with the Stewardship Committee and Corporate Directors. In practice, he will consult current staff, Elders, and personal confidants for opinions and feedback.

    We (the staff) like it this way. The congregation likes it, because it results in an effective and efficient staff that cooperates well.

  • John W Carlton says on

    I have been a Baptist all of my life; however, I had the opportunity to work with a UMC church for 3 years. There were advantages and disadvantages to the appointment type of pastoral selection. It worked well for job security with the pastors, but also I witnessed that often the church did not like the person who was being appointed to the pastoral position.

    On another note, when I was a staff member in a Baptist church and a new pastor was coming in, I submitted a resignation letter that he could accept or reject. I did not ever want to stand in the way of the pastoral leadership. When I served as a Bi-vo pastor, we didn’t have any paid support staff.

  • Terry Cheek says on

    As a pastor I feel the depth of involvement and the groups of people involved need to be weighed against spiritual maturity, or maturity in general. It’s impossible, I believe to remove emotions and even presuppositions from a selection process. It is possible for individuals to be mature enough to look beyond these hindrances and prayerfully seek Gods direction for a staff position. Of course a sound pastor will look ahead and prepare the church for this situation by incorporating guidelines in the by-laws to direct the congregation and staff for the day when staff selection will be taking place. With advance preparation and teaching that matures the congregation I believe the process can be done without conflict or division.

    • Some of these guidelines and by-laws were written 50+ years ago to preserve power by some and keep others from having any power while letting them think that they do.

  • I have seen this topic come up before. I have seen pastors take your point #1 a step further to think that when the pastor is brought on he then has the authority to remove all existing church staff and bring in his own hires. Would you address that in your article?

  • Minnesota Dave says on

    Bob, I would add, “As long as the Search Committee or Pastor is not being held hostage to the decision of some other person/committee. I think it more important that the pastor not be held hostage to a decision than for the search committee being held hostage. Any hire must be vetted at some level by the pastor who will supervise them.

  • Minnesota Dave says on

    I’m very much on the side of the typical “business approach.” The person that the new hire will report to should be the primary decision maker. That said, depending on the level of the new hirer, candidates for ministerial positions should be vetted at least at one other level. Hiring policies will, and should differ a bit depending on the level of the position and the size of the church.
    *For example, a personnel committee may bring candidates who have been vetted to the table. Then the senior pastor might make the final selection based on fit with his style of leadership, the critically important “Fit” between the two, etc. and then perhaps the Elder Board is engaged to affirm that decision.
    *For support positions, such as Admin Assistants, building support staff, etc. the person the applicant will report to should again be the primary decision maker. But again, because of the critical importance of any role in a church or ministry, it should be policy that any person hired should be vetted or affirmed at one other level.

    The worst approach is for personal committees or Elder Boards is to make final hiring decisions without at least some level of input or involvement from the staff member the applicant will report to. I have seen numerous disastrous repercussions when a new employee is forced on a the senior staff person that they’ll report to.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Totally agree, Minnesota.

    • Minnesota Jim says on

      I am also from Minnesota. Minnesota Dave could have been the pastor that helped turn a great church into a poor (both in quality, funding, and gospel proclaiming) church. Running the church in business style is a terrible idea. I should also mention I have a masters degree from a local seminary, but I am *Not* a pastor.

      Here is the question: many of you are pastors. In scripture, I don’t ever see pastors being voted on or hired on. There aren’t staffing questions and administrative positions. No search committees. Early pastors were mostly chosen by and out of local congregations. Stay with me, that’s important to the question:

      Why should any church member/goer/attender submit to the authority of someone who they don’t even know? In the modern church, why should a church member submit to the authority of someone that someone they didn’t get to chose and know?

      The issue of submission to the local elders and pastors and the ability to chose someone you know for those position go hand and hand.

  • The Pastor and Search Committee working together is the best option as long as the Committee is not being held prisoner by any person or group within the church to include the Pastor. I have seen the worse side of this as well as when the Committee has 100% control and when the Pastor has 100% control of the process. Plus, it should come before the church to vote on as well.

    • Minnesota Dave says on

      I would add, “As long as the Search Committee or Pastor is not being held hostage to the decision of some other person/committee. I think it more important that the pastor not be held hostage to a decision than for the search committee being held hostage. Any hire must be vetted at some level by the pastor who will supervise them.

  • Andrew Fouts says on

    This is very frustrating for the candidates also we have seen this question cause considerable unnecessary stress for our family as well.

    1. A committee had full control, but the committee was full of businessmen and they didn’t like the interviewing style of any candidates because they weren’t business enough. Had nothing to do with the position or my character that lost us the job.

    2. A church that was congregation vote only had a small group of senior adults that didn’t think their should be a youth pastor position and so they called up a bunch of their friends who were members but not attendees to come and vote no. I was told that my name was never mentioned in the discussion before the vote but I was the one that ended up getting hurt in the process.

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