10 Things To Consider Before Your Church Hires Another Staff Member

Orginally published on Sunday, June 01, 2008 at 7:53 AM
by Todd Rhoades

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask a group of pastors and church leaders what they would do differently the next time they hired a church staff member.  I asked what they would change about how they conducted their search.  I’ve always been a firm believer in learning from other’s mistakes.  Their upfront and honest answers, I believe, can give you a wealth of information and wisdom before you start your next staff search.  Here’s what they told me:

1.  Don’t base the new job description entirely on the last person who held the position.

When filling an existing position, don’t just pull the past job description from when the last person was hired.  Take the time to evaluate the direction and missional changes that have occurred in your church since the position was last hired.  Now is the time to make changes to current job positions and roles.  Don’t miss this opportunity to fine-tune the position before re-hiring. 

2.  Get as much input on your new job description as possible from as many people as possible.
If you’re hiring a youth pastor, for example, talk to teens and parents of teens.  The more input, the better.  It’s important that you hire according to your church’s needs, and the best way to find the church’s needs is to ask.  There is nothing worse than hiring someone only to find out soon thereafter that they are not a fit for your church.

3.  Pre-screen your candidates early so that you can spend more time with the people you are really interested in hiring.
As much as possible, these pastors and church leaders told me that they try to pre-screen as much as possible.  They do this through advertising certain job requirements (experience, style, denominational background, desired education, etc.) upfront.  They then make the first cut by weeding out the people who don’t meet all of their published criteria.  This allows them to concentrate on candidates that really interest them.

4.  Ask better questions during the interview.
If you’re a member of the search committee, don’t just come to the interview; come prepared.  Ask questions that you’ve thought about beforehand.  This group said they would ask more questions about the candidate’s passions, experience, and relationships to really find out what kind of an employee they might be.

5.  Give ‘what if’ scenarios and/or small assignments.
“What would you do if…” type questions really help you get a grip on how a potential employee might respond on the job.  Give them some common conflict scenarios (maybe even some real life one’s from your church’s past) and ask them how they would handle the problem.  If you’re hiring a worship leader, you could ask them to put together a sample worship order that they would share with you.  You’ll find out a ton of information by giving small assignments and asking ‘what if’ questions.

6.  Spend more time with your candidates in ‘non-church’ settings.
Several pastors told me that they would spend some additional time in non-church settings.  Going out to eat; playing a game of golf; spending some downtime with the candidate and their spouse are all important ways to get to know not only the candidate’s skills, but also their personality.

7.  Consider bringing in someone from outside your church to be on your search committee for a fresh ‘outsiders’ perspective.
This one might be a little controversial in some churches, but why not consider bringing one outsider into your interview process?  Select a well-respected Christian leader who is not a member of your church to sit in on the hiring process.  They can offer you some unbiased input from a totally different perspective.

8.  Be even more diligent in checking references.
One of the biggest things I heard was that it was imperative to check references… EVERY TIME.  One person remarked that he was surprised by the number of negative references he received when he contacted people.  Others responded that you should go beyond the two to three references the candidate gives you.  However you tackle checking out references, everyone agreed:  it’s important to be diligent and exhaustive in this area.

9.  Make the chain of command crystal clear, both internally and externally.
Who will the employee answer to?  What is the chain of command?  Who has the right to ultimately hire and fire?  Who decides the pay increases?  All these are important to communicate and work out prior to the hire.  Both the employee and the people on the search committee need to know who is ultimately responsible to whom.

10.  Take special care when communicating the job description to the congregation.
When announcing your new staff person to your congregation, be clear what this person’s responsibilities are, and what they are not.  Be open about the areas this new staff person will work in.  And be clear about the things that the person will not be in charge over.  Communication is key.
Take this information into your next search committee meeting and learn from those who have been in your shoes.  Implement these ten tips into your next job search and see how much more smoothly it goes!

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  There are 24 Comments:

  • Posted by

    We just went through this, and number nine was one of the big hangups.  The person hired could not accept his place in the food chain, even though it was spelled out crystal clearly throughout the interview process.  It seems everyone thinks they should be first in line to the senior pastor…

    And because of other issues with this hire, if you have a board of elders, and it’s a crucial position, let the elders grill the candidate, (slowly over an open pit fire) for a week, to really dig into character issues.  I’m very serious about this!

  • Posted by Pastor Tony


    Are you by any chance a Beatles fan?

    (maybe only the older readers will get this one)

  • Posted by

    I think that every medium-sized church (350-1000) and larger churches should hire specialists to help them in the search process, especially for lead (or senior) pastors. This would be the equivalent of corporation head-hunters. Most laypeople are well-intentioned, but they don’t know what to look for and how to do it. They waste thousands of man hours in the review of resumes, committee meetings, and phone calls, not to mention interviews. Ironically, the hiring of a consultant would probably save churches money in the long run.

  • Posted by

    This is great info.  I will tell you that we have a lay committee that does the hiring.  The process took me over 2 months to get the offer letter.  It was a great test of strength.... and I was able to also really think if this was a good fit for ME as well as the church deciding if I was a good fit for them.

    Likewise, we just recently went through s staff member resigning.  We took the time of 2-3 months to do 1,2, and 5.  We ended up bumping up a current employee’s status and salary rather than hiring another admin position.  This is a beautiful process!

  • Posted by

    I love number 6!

    Chemistry is a much bigger issue than it gets credit for being. I think church leaders need to do this much more often with candidates.

  • Posted by

    Great List.  However, I think there is one HUGE question missing.  Actually it is a string of questions.  As it is often said by many HR Reps., “past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.”

    Therefore, there should be plenty of questions that start with, “tell me a time you....”, “describe a past scenario when you....”. 

    Hypothetical questions are very helpful (ie - how would you approach...) because they’re not based on reality. They’re based on the aspirational hopes of the candidate rather than the present actions shown by the candidate.

    Just a thought...take it or leave it.

  • Posted by

    Clarification to top comment..."Hypothetical questions are NOT helpful....”

  • Posted by Tom Holmes

    An error that I have seen often is making up a job description to fit someone you already want to hire.

  • Posted by

    I have been a bivocational minister for many years and a professional HR execuitive for 15 years.  This is a GREAT list to follow.  I would add a couple of points (1) PUT THE OFFER IN WRITING!  Businesses always give executive candidates an offer letter, and churches should do this too.  The letter should spell out every aspect of pay and benefits, lines of responsibility (up and down), job description, performance management (that’s another whole topic I could write on), conflict resolution (another topic I could write on) and any exceptions to written church policy in these areas.  It’s perfectly acceptable to use attachments.  But the document should be able to stand on its own if there are any questions later about the terms of employment.  Pastors and committee memberships change, and no one may remember what was said verbally when the staff member was hired.  This cannot be overly emphasized.  (2) Be sure someone on the Finance or Personnel committee understands the issues surrounding ministerial pay and housing allowance and other ‘allowances’.  IRS Publication 517 can help with this.  Sometimes even the ministers don’t fully understand all of this and both the church and the minister attempt to do things that are illegal.  If you have questions, your denomination or an accountant who deals with ministers can help.

  • Posted by HEATHER

    Great stuff!  As an interview novice, I might also add to interview the spouse as well. Esp. for a leadership role.  We want to set them up to be in this together, during the highs and the lows of ministry.

  • Posted by Dave

    We are going through this right now - very helpful.  Thanks!

  • Posted by

    We find it best to have an organization chart already made up and filled out. This eliminates many future problems.
    We also ask their references to refer us to others who know the candidate “better”. It will supprise you what these 2nd level references have to say.
    But—CHECK THEM !!

  • Posted by Brent

    We just went through this process, albeit, with a lead pastor position, and one extremely helpful prescreening request was for the candidate to list the books and authors he was reading, enjoyed, disagreed with, etc. This gave us an immediate sense of whether we were aligned philosophically. We also fashioned a list of questions for the candidate, exploring such things as passions, regrets, theology, family, etc. Those questions also provided the candidate some insight into our identity as a church.

  • Posted by Camey


    What about a list for the potential staff member to ask? Great list!


    As a pastor’s wife and mother of his children - I greatly appreciate this. If more churches considered the whole family’s involvement - or lack there of - the better.

  • Posted by

    Todd, now do one on the church from the perspective of the potential candidate. 
    As a one time candidate, i sure wish i had done a background check on the church leaders and asked them “what if” scenarios.
    Heather has a great point as well.

  • Posted by

    I have a great list entitled “50 Suggested Questions For Ministers of Music
    Interviewing with a Prospective Church”.  It could probably be adapted to almost any position or at least cause a person to think of the questions relevant to their position.  I’m happy to email it to anywho who asks for it.  My email address is

  • Posted by Sam Shultz

    One additional tip I learned at a ChurchSmart workshop was to hire a potential candidate as an intern first--especially if it’s a new position or a church plant. Hiring as an intern before placing them with a contract on staff brings you the people who are most committed to the church (because often interns have to raise their own funding) and you have the temporary hire that allows you to release the person early if they don’t work out (which saves a lot of pain if they had been hired with a contract). I thought it was excellent. Start the position as an internship with the possiblity for a long-term contract. Saves headaches, money, and gets you the right person.

  • Posted by

    I don’t know anything about ChurchSmart, but internships are fine only for junior level or associate positions.  They aren’t suited to senior level positions.  Internships limit you to local candidates - no candidate is going to move from out of town to a position which is ‘iffy”.  Furthermore, using internships or temp-to-perm or any other kind of ‘trial’ position isn’t necessary if the right kind of screening and interviewing has been done, the job has been well laid out, etc.  I think most ministers would find this approach insulting.  In 20 years of hiring people, I’ve never used it - and I’ve only every had to fire 2 peope.  Something I should have said earlier - be sure that the people on your Personnel or Search committee have the skills and back ground to BE on that committee.  It is probably the MOST important committee of the church - even more than Finance.

  • Posted by

    Larry, you have hit the nail on the head with all your comments!!
    Wish more people were like you in the ministry, level headed that is.

  • Posted by Pastor J

    I disagree with your comment about interviewing the wife.  No other interview process interviews the spouse for a position.  My will serve where and when she is called.  If she chooses not to serve that is also between her and God.  So many churches are looking for the 2 for 1 hire.

  • Posted by

    I agree with Pastor J.  The role of minister’s spouse is… to be the spouse, not the ministerial assistant.  If between the two fo them they have some working arrangement whereby she (or he!) participates significantly in the ministry, that’s great.  When I produce musicals my wife is my drama director, but that’s her choice because she’s skilled and loves it and we work well together.  But the church is not hiring the minister’s spouse and a true interview would he highly inappropriate. Instead, social settings where members of the staff, search committee, or church members can engage both of them in polite conversation would be a more appropriate way to get to know the spouse.

  • Posted by

    Make sure to have the list consistant for all candidates and write down the responses.  It is hard to keep track otherwise.  This was our first time and we didn’t do this.

    As for the Pastors’s wife; although an official interview is not needed, her attitude towards ministry is critical.  I feel that it should never be considered a “2 for 1 deal” unless she is also hired and paid.  I feel strongly that she needs to be an active part of the body - just like any other person.  And she deserves the courtesy to know what are those expectations from the church - not from her husband.

  • Posted by Sam Shultz

    For those who disagreed with my earlier comment based on position, my hurray for the internship idea was for an associate staff position, and I should have clarified, for a church just beginning to add staff. Often it’s difficult to make that adjustment if you’ve never had more than one pastor and your church is growing to the point where an associate pastor is needed.

    Secondly, I truly agree with “JustServing” about the pastor’s wife interview. When I interviewed with my current church, they asked about my wife, “is she good with kids, does she play piano, etc.” I was very clear and up front to say, “My wife isn’t going to be employed. Her role will be to support me and to serve the church as she would any church she attends whether I’m employed there or not.” I think churches need a hard lesson in breaking the old pastor-wife team model we’ve grown accustomed to for too long. The reality is, the pastor and his wife don’t serve the church, they serve the Lord--and in the capacities that God has called them. I’m afraid we need to break away from the Consumer-driven church mindset and focus on a Kingdom-driven (or yes, I’ll say it, purpose-driven) mindset.

    For those of you searching for a church now, run away from the churches that are seeking to employ you. You’ll find yourself serving THEM. Look for the churches that need someone to serve the Lord with them, looking for a leader to help them follow Christ. You’ll actually get to serve the Lord there!

  • Posted by

    I agree with Sam Shultz - the last comment made.  I would be very cautious about a pastor or board that wants to question my wife.  HOWEVER, a Pastor has every RIGHT to ask what her involvement will be in ministry, and also to share what HIS philosophy is on the spose’s involvement.  But that’s what he needs to do is ask, but also share what he wants to see.

    So, if a man is seeking a Youth Pastor position, and his wife is not going to be involved much at all, but the senior pastor wants a Youth pastor’s wife to be deeply involved, then it’s simple - don’t hire the guy!

    I DO agree that it’s NOT a “2 for the price of 1” deal when hiring staff pastors.  Any Lead pastor with that philospohy then needs to pay the spouse a salary as well.

    In my opinion, when there is a problem with a staff pastor and his working/relationships with the other Staff and lead Pastor, it’s most likely an issue of the wrong person was placed into that job, or the person was placed into the wrong position.  We have to better inform and prepare our churches and potential staff people for these positions.

    I disagree in part with the idea mentioned above about bringing someone in as an intern first.  Well, what if you’ve moved them from hundreds of miles away, where they take that position, get their family settled, kids in school, then 6 months later, “oh well, sorry, it’s not working out”?  While that DOES help in making sure you know what and whom you are getting in a staff, as a result, you’ve hurt a family deeply by making them up and move again, having to seek out a new place, with a sense of failure.  And the kids will be hurt the worst, as I see it.

    Now that didn’t happen to me, but that’s my opinion on it.

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