ArticlesStaff Management

Staff Management

By Megan Trotter, BSM Director at Tarleton State University

As a BSM Director, I know that having a staff is crucial to reaching the campus. Managing a leadership team of over forty university students, serving three campuses, and partnering with over thirty local churches would be an impossibility on my own. The year I became the BSM Director, the former director wisely gave me the book Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team and Staff on the Same Page by Larry Osborne. He must have known this would be the most difficult part of my new role. The subtle transition from being a part of the staff to leading the staff added a layer to every task I had on my plate. 

There’s an ease that comes from working alone that I think many church leaders enjoy. There is no need for long meetings or hearing out other perspectives. It’s very efficient, even if it’s headed in the wrong direction. Consider dictatorships, for example. There is no accountability, but also no lag in the implementation of new laws. This is not how God designed the church. He built us to work within teams, and the mission will only be accomplished by all of us. Having a team, whether paid or volunteer, is necessary for your church or ministry to grow past your limitations and to reach your surrounding community. Here are three things I have learned about staff management during my time as a BSM Director. While I have discovered these in a campus ministry context, I think they can easily apply to a local church setting. 

 

It’s not business, it’s just personal. 

Picture the movie scene: the employee is sitting in front of a big, bad, berating boss as he says, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” We have all seen it and maybe even lived it, but our ministries are very different. Of course, there are workplace laws we must adhere to and a certain professionalism we must carry, but our ministries are not businesses. Everything about serving in a ministry is personal. This is because everything about following Jesus is personal. You are not leading organizations, events, ministry structures, conferences, trips, etc. You are leading people. It is better said, that you are leading disciples. 

That being said, leading a staff requires a family mindset. A healthy staff needs regular time to eat, play, and pray together. This gives space to build trust and learn each other’s personalities, callings, and giftings. Plan a yearly staff retreat. Go bowling with your staff and their families. Do a Christmas present exchange. Break out the silly icebreakers. Boundaries are necessary and encouraged, but you need to be invested in your staff’s home lives and their daily walk with God. These things do affect their work and your overall ministry. 

As tempting as it may be, you can’t always just clock in, clock out, and stay in your own lane. Ministry always overflows into our personal space. It’s part of the privilege of working much more than “just a job.” Personally, I believe that your staff should take higher priority than your students or congregation. This is because, as you invest in them, you are investing in those they invest in. By caring for your missions coordinator, you care for your missionaries. By caring for your youth minister, you are caring for your youth. Lead your staff and invest energy into them as they are faithful to lead others. 

 

Let leaders lead.  

I have learned that leading a staff requires letting your staff lead. Pride and fear can tighten the hold of control leaders have on their staff and ministries. You want to win, accomplish your goals, throw the best event, make your deacons proud, and gain new supporters, so you subconsciously only go with your ideas. This is because we have fallen for the lie that no one could love our ministry as much as we do. But there is One who loves our ministry more than us, and He is the One who puts our teams together! So, as good leaders, we must get out of the way and let our team lead. This means creating space for your team to innovate and… potentially fail. 

My first year of ministry, I read Hero Maker: Five Practices for Leaders to Multiply Leaders by Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird. One of the practices is called “Permission Giving.” The book describes a “yes reflex” that ministry leaders need when approached with new ideas. Saying yes is good because our voice is not all that matters and our perspective is not always the most accurate. Paul writes on multiple occasions about how God designed the church like a body, each part having a unique role and gift. Hopefully, you and your teammates disagree sometimes. Now I know the saying is true that birds of a feather flock together, so I have no doubt that some staffs are an echo chamber of the same voice. However, I believe that in God’s good plan, He has surrounded each of us with those who cover our weaknesses and bring about new ideas. You want to fight against the urge of consistently saying no, otherwise, you will inadvertently create a culture that discourages creativity, problem-solving, and ownership. 

Some of these new ideas may surprise you! They might just take your ministry to the next level. Now undoubtedly, some ideas will flop. Some will more than flop, they’ll tank. This gives us as leaders an opportunity to extend grace and debrief our staff on lessons learned, encouraging them to grow and be better in the future. This is part of how we disciple our team. You may take heat for the failed idea and your pride might hurt. But creating space for your team to learn, sometimes means defending them when they fail. There is a temptation to quickly throw them under the bus by saying “wasn’t my idea” or “I would have done this instead.” In these moments, I encourage you as a leader to lay down your life for your team and to take shots in the back that you do not deserve. Taking the blame and ownership for your team’s mistakes can sometimes be what it means to love like Christ. A lack of grace feeds insecurities and discourages innovation and risk. You want to be the one that says, “That didn’t quite work. It happens to us all. It’s going to be okay. How can we learn for the future?”

 

Clarity is kindness. 

Miscommunication is clear evidence that we live in a broken world. Every day someone somewhere is quitting (or losing) their job because they misunderstood their assignment. All parties can live in frustration without clear expectations and defined roles. Too often, we live as if others can read our minds and always use the same definitions. We asked them to preach, but we didn’t mean to preach that way. We wanted them to clean up the kitchen, but we didn’t want it done that way. They don’t do it how or when we expected. Over time, these small rifts can become unbearable. It isn’t good for us or our ministries, and it isn’t fair to our staff. 

Clarifying expectations and defining roles is key to the success of your staff. Usually, this happens when a person is hired. However, rather than a “one and done” interview conversation, it must be a continuous process as they adjust to the ministry context and the existing team. It takes time to discover someone’s strengths and weaknesses. We must also consider the fact that people grow and change and so do our ministries. Twice a year, my staff and I review their expectations. Each year, we evaluate our defined roles. This doesn’t mean they change that often, but it does mean that we take them to the Lord and consider the possibility of change. This allows them to be reminded of the vision of the ministry and their part in it. It’s also a great time for you to celebrate your staff members and encourage all that they got right! Most cringe at the thought of an evaluation because they picture only criticism. This time needs to set your staff member up for success by clarifying what is blurry or confusing and celebrating what expectations they are already exceeding.

On a smaller scale, this can be done weekly. I meet with each of my staff members individually each week. This allows us to debrief past projects and clarify expectations and roles on upcoming projects. As ministers, we know to plan our yearly calendar in pencil and see what actually unfolds. Week to week, things change. In campus ministry, not only do plans change, but our plans were already to do something different each week. Having a weekly staff meeting and one-on-one meetings with staff help bring clarity to the chaos. 

 

In conclusion

As God blesses you with a staff, let them be the first group you invest in. Let your staff be the example of where you want your ministry or church to go. When Ephesians 4 talks about the body of Christ, it describes it as something serious that takes real effort. In fact Paul says, to “make every effort” to be unified. While having a staff means more work, it also means more work done. Working together, according to Ephesians 4, is the way we attain “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” It’s worth every effort. I pray that the Gospel will be proclaimed in how you manage your staff and that it overflows into your ministries and mission field. 

 

 

 

*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common

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