hiring church staff

The Science of Hiring New Church Staff

Intuition and hiring strategies — the first of a two-part series on hiring and firing church employees.

I KNOW AND RESPECT much of the discus­sion on hiring strategies in circulation these days. For example, I get that you hire for chem­istry, character, competence and to the culture. And that you administer “type” surveys such as StrengthFinders, DISC or Myers-Briggs. These approaches can be very useful.

For myself, it also boils down to a lot of intuition.

There’s an old sermon illustration that goes something like: A successful, seasoned ship’s captain was asked how he navigated difficult seas. He said, “I look at the stars, use my compass and sexton; and then I feel the riggin,’ and breath in the salty air, and I look out over the seas and navigate accordingly.” He was then given new, more sophisticated electronic navigation equipment and soon after was asked how he navigates. He said, “I turn on the navigation equipment, print out the new course, study its results…and then I go on deck and pull out the sexton, look at the stars, feel the riggin,’ breath in the salty air and look out over the seas.”

We may use our analytical tools and surveys but, in the end, there is still a fair amount of intuition in the hiring process. Here’s what I do — though I’m always tweaking my method, and my intuition is turned up high through each of these steps:

1. STUDY RESUMES AND RELATED MATERIALS (E.G. TESTIMONIES)

Review to the point that you have a strong idea of the candidates’ backgrounds. Let these persons swim in your mind for a while.

2. LISTEN, LISTEN, AND LISTEN SOME MORE

Don’t talk much when you interview candi­dates online and in person.

I like to ask a general question near the beginning of an interview. “I’ve read your materials, but I’d like for you to give me a 10-minute narrative of your work history and what in your personal work story is most important to you.” In this way, I get to sense from the get-go the candidates’ key leanings.

3. DON’T ASK LEADING QUESTIONS

I find that a lot of interviewers ask questions that give away what the interviewer is look­ing for, e.g., “We had a youth minister who didn’t like youth; do you like youth?”

Rather, ask questions that draw out the candidates experience and passion, e.g., “What gave you the greatest joy at Central Church?” Solicit stories from your candidates to illustrate responses, and then sense from those stories who the storytellers really are and what they care about.

4. I SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH A CANDIDATE IN PERSON BEFORE HIRING

I have taken candidates to hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants, concerts in parks, bike riding, strolling Boston Commons and simi­lar things.

I try to get to know the candidate as a per­son and sense what (s)he is like. I pay a lot of attention to little things that combine to cre­ate a more complete picture of who the can­didate is. When I am with candidates in infor­mal settings, especially one on one, I am very candid and real rather than stiff or analytical in hopes of drawing out the candidate.

Ultimately, I try to get underneath Chris­tian pretense that pervades the church and find what’s real.

5. KNOW YOUR STYLE OF LEADERSHIP AND HOW THE CANDIDATE FITS INTO THAT – OR NOT!

For example, if you are a high command and control leader you probably won’t work well with a person who wants a lot of permission and innovation to operate a ministry. If you are a collaborative leader as I am, look for those who talk about teams they’ve been on in the past, who are self-starters and like to invent new things.

In the midst of hiring others, I find it im­portant to humbly remember I am a hire! Do I live up to way I represented myself when I was interviewing? Do I have the best inter­ests of the church in mind or am I promot­ing me? If I were the Lead Pastor, would I hire me again?

The best hires I’ve done are those I took a risk on. Something about him or her felt right even though there was a lack of expe­rience. They turned out to be coachable. The worst hires have been highly capable people who acted as lone rangers, never fully engag­ing with the team, and acting as if they were too valuable to be let go.

They weren’t.

And that leads to my next article: letting employees go and the pain of it all!

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